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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave
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Wednesday 8 February 2023

The Forgotten Front: Macedonian Campaign 1915-18

 This is a new book by Jon Lewis on the Macedonian (often called the Salonica) Campaign of WW1. My bookcases already groan with books on this campaign, although most tend to focus on one aspect of the conflict. Under the Devil’s Eye by Alan Wakefield and Simon Moody is the best book on the British contribution, and Balkan Breakthrough by Richard Hall covers the all-important final offensive. This study is a rare comprehensive look at the campaign, albeit from an Entente Powers perspective.

The Forgotten Front is a fair description of this campaign. The High Command on both sides regarded it as a sideshow and begrudged the men and materials to sustain it. Clemenceau famously called the troops 'The Gardeners of Salonica'. It started as a French initiative to assist Serbia, using troops freed from the failed Gallipoli Campaign. Unfortunately, despite a bold advance by French and British forces, it was too late to save Serbia, as their army trekked through Albania to be rebuilt on Corfu. 

The Central Powers decided to dig in along the Greek border in what is today North Macedonia to hold what they had captured rather than moving into Greece to capture the Entente base at Salonica. Greece had a pro-German King and a pro-Entente Prime Minister, and its troops formally entered the conflict later. In the meantime, the Entente line was held by British, French, Italian, Serbian and even Russian troops. The Bulgarians did the heavy lifting for the Central Powers, stiffened by German and Austrian units. The Turks held the Thracian end of the line, but that was the quietest part of the front.

The author takes the reader through the different stages of the campaign, from consolidation in 1916 to some limited offensives and finally to the 1918 offensive. He covers all aspects of the campaign, including the Zeppelin attacks on Salonica, the political tensions between the Allies and Greece, and the different commanders. The Italians in Albania are often ignored, but not here. The front line had elements of the Western Front trench warfare, but mountains were the dominant defensive features. The British banged their heads against formidable Bulgarian defences at Doiran, while the Struma front was more fluid. I have visited both of these battlefields, which have mostly stayed the same since 1916-18. 

The Bularian positions at Doiran.

The post of CinC was always a French general. For most of the campaign, it was Sarrail, but he was replaced by Guillaumat in 1918, who built the foundations for Franchet d'Espèrey, who devised the final offensive. The author rightly gives him credit for the victory while recognising that the Serbs did most of the fighting and dying. The Serbian Army, supported by French and Greek divisions, made the breakthrough at the Battle of Dobropolje. The exploitation of the victory saw the most significant advance on any WW1 front, knocking Bulgaria out of the war and making a massive contribution to the collapse of the Central Powers.

The importance of this campaign has been consistently ignored during and since the war's end. The Western Front commanders got all the plaudits. In Britain, the Salonica Campaign Society does a great job remembering those who fought there. This book rightly puts the campaign in its proper place. An excellent read as well.

I have all the armies in 28mm, adapting Bolt Action for the armies that fought here. A much more interesting tabletop experience than the Western Front.

Bulgarian Infantry

1 comment:

  1. It sounds an excellent book about an interesting, but frequently overlooked campaign. You have some lovely figures 👏👏