29/9/1918 Bulgaria throws in the towel

Bulgaria has been gripped by war weariness for some time now. It joined the war to avenge its defeat by Serbia in the Second Balkan War of 1913 and its leaders were initially pleased to conquer Macedonia in 1915. If the war had come to an end then Bulgarians would have been happy but instead it has dragged on, with the country now suffering food shortages and other privations. Bulgarians increasingly came to feel that they are being subordinated to German interests and are enduring great hardships to benefit others, a point rammed home by the lack of attention paid to Bulgarian interests when Germany made peace with Russia and Romania.

The Vardar offensive in the southern Balkans shattered Bulgarian resistance there. The Germans declined to send any troops to the aid of their Balkan ally, citing the primacy of the Western Front. Austria-Hungary is experiencing its own travails and is also unable to help the Bulgarians. Allied troops have crossed the Bulgarian border and their advance appearing to be unstoppable. Meanwhile disorder is rife within the country as mutinous soldiers demand an end to the war. Fearing total defeat and revolution, Bulgaria’s leaders now accept the inevitable and agree an armistice with the Allies.
Bulgaria’s defeat is a disaster for Germany and Turkey, as it severs the only land link between the two powers. It also leaves Constantinople vulnerable to attack by the Allied armies in the Balkans. Moreover Austria-Hungary is now vulnerable to an assault from the south by the Allies (including resurgent Serbian forces seeking vengeance for their country’s occupation). Bulgaria’s fall may well mean that the end for Germany’s other allies is not far off.

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map (Wikipedia: Liberation of Serbia, Albania and Montenegro (1918))

Bulgarian delegates at the armistice talks: Ivan Lukov, Andrey Lyapchev and Simeon Radev (Wikipedia: Armistice of Salonica)

23/9/1918 Bulgaria’s Balkan disaster #1918Live

Germany’s allies are receiving a battering. Allenby‘s Megiddo offensive in Palestine looks like it will destroy the Turks’ ability to mount effective resistance there. The Bulgarians too are now facing an Allied battering ram in the southern Balkans. After the initial French and Serbian attacks on the Vardar broke through Bulgarian lines, British and Greek troops attacked near Lake Doiran. These attacks were less successful, as the Bulgarians had deployed higher quality formations to this sector. This engendered some hope on the part of Bulgarian commanders that the Balkan situation remained salvageable. Bulgarian troops near Lake Doiran were ordered to break contact with the Allies there and move to launch a counter-attack against the advancing Serbs and French. But the counter-attack is stillborn. Allied control of the air means that the Bulgarian columns are subjected to relentless aerial bombardment as they attempt to move through the Kosturino Pass. Their morale and cohesion is shattered and they are unable to strike back against the Allies.

The Serb and French advance into Macedonia now appears unstoppable. Many of the local people welcome the Serbs as returning liberators, while others who had initially welcomed the Bulgarians fear the victors’ retribution. In Bulgaria itself meanwhile the combination of defeat on the battlefield and the privations of war mean that increasing numbers of people are calling for an immediate peace at any price.

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map and Bulgarian prisoners (Wikipedia: Vardar Offensive)

15/9/1918 The Vardar offensive: Allied breakthrough against the Bulgarians

The Balkan theatre has remained relatively quiet since Serbia was overrun in 1915. The Allies established a military base in Salonika in Greece but were unable to expand much beyond it, while other priorities meant that the Central Powers left the Salonika force largely unmolested. Even the entry of Greece into the war on the Allied side did not obviously make much difference to this deadlocked front.

This apparent stasis masks a fundamental change in the balance of forces in the Balkans. The Allies have been building up their strength while that of their enemies has been eroding. German troops were withdrawn to take part in the Western Front battles, leaving the line to be held mainly by the Bulgarians, with some Austro-Hungarian units in support. The Bulgarians fought well during the conquest of Serbia but since then their morale has fallen as their homeland has been gripped by food shortages. The lack of significant German attention to Bulgarian interests in the peace treaties with Russia and Romania have made clear to Bulgarian soldiers that they are being used as pawns for Berlin. War weariness now has a hold on the Bulgarian army.

Today the Allied Balkan force attacks the Bulgarians defending positions on both sides of the Vardar river. Commanded by French general Franchet d’Espèrey, the Allied force is mainly composed of French and Serbian troops, with Greek units in support. The initial bombardment shakes the Bulgarians, with frontline units too weakened by desertion to effectively resist the enemy assault. There are pockets of resistance but the Allied offensive shatters the Bulgarians, holding out to the Allies the tantalising prospect of their total collapse.

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French (?) troops attack in the Balkans (MetroPostcard guide to the Balkan campaigns of World War One on postcards)

7/5/1918 Romania agrees to harsh peace terms with Germany #1918Live

Once Russia signed a peace treaty with the Central Powers it was inevitable that Romania would follow suit. Most of Romania was overrun in 1916 after its leaders joined the Allies, with only Bessarabia in the east remaining unoccupied. Without Russian help it was no longer possible for the Romanians to fight on. After agreeing an armistice last December, today the Romanians sign a peace treaty with the Central Powers near Bucharest.

The terms are harsh. Romania is obliged to cede territory to Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria. The remainder of the country becomes little more than a German client state, its oil industry and railways placed under German control and the country obliged to supply its agricultural surplus to the Central Powers. Romanian trade is now tied to Germany through its forced membership of a customs union.

As with Brest-Litovsk, the Treaty of Bucharest serves to remind the western Allies of the kind of terms they can expect if they are forced to make peace with Germany.

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Prime Minister Alexandru Marghiloman of Romania signs the treaty (Wikipedia: Alexandru Marghiloman)

French cartoon depiction of Germany forcing Romania to sign the treaty (Wikipedia: Treaty of Bucharest)

territory lost by Romania (Wikipedia: Treaty of Bucharest)

9/12/1917 Romania throws in the towel #1917Live

Romanian leaders declared war on Austria-Hungary last year, thinking that the early successes of the Brusilov Offensive meant that the war was about to end with an Allied victory. Unfortunately German help allowed the Austro-Hungarians to contain Brusilov; Romania then found itself invaded by Mackensen and Falkenhayn. Most of Romania was overrun and the small unoccupied rump only remained so thanks to the deployment of Russian troops.

Now the Russian army is collapsing and the new Soviet government is negotiating an armistice with the Germans. Romanian leaders accept that they cannot continue the war on their own. Today they sign their own armistice with the Central Powers. For Romania the war is over.

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Mackensen at the train station in Foçsani, where the armistice was signed (Foçsani: Armistiţiul de la Focşani din anul 1917)

20/7/1917 The Corfu Declaration: plans for a future Yugoslavia

No country is doing very well out of the war but Serbia is having a worse time of it than most. The Central Powers have overrun the country and driven the Serbian government into exile. Occupied Serbia is now a land of famine and pestilence.

Yet the Serbian government in exile, now based on Corfu, is still looking forward to the post-war future. Serb nationalists have long dreamed of uniting all Serbs into single kingdom; this after all was what motivated Gavrilo Princip when he shot Austria-Hungary’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Up to now the great power patron of the Greater Serbia project was Russia. With Russia now succumbing to revolutionary chaos, Serbian leaders are having to fine-tune their plans for the post-war settlement.

Some politicians from the other Slavic peoples of southern Austria-Hungary went into exile at the start of the war and began to agitate for the formation of a new country for all the southern Slavs, to be called Yugoslavia. Their aims were antithetical to those of the Serbs, as they want a federal country in which the separate Slavic peoples will enjoy equality while the Serbs want a unified Greater Serbia. But the Yugoslavs fear Italian plans for expansion on the Dalmatian coast and want to use the Serbian army as a counter-weight. The Serbs meanwhile are willing to make concessions now that their Russian patron is no longer able to fight their corner.

So it is that today that Nikola Pašić, exiled prime minster of Serbia, and Ante Trumbić of the Yugoslav Committee issue the Corfu Declaration, proposing to establish a Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (with the existing King of Serbia becoming the King of the Yugoslavs).

Britain and France are supportive of this new endeavour, but Italian politicians regard it with immediate suspicion. They had entered the war with dreams of establishing an empire on the eastern shores of the Adriatic. Perhaps if Italian armies had spent the last few years winning a string of impressive victories then Italian politicians would be better able to press their claims, but alas, successive failures on the Isonzo have made Allied leaders less receptive to Italian demands.

Text of the declaration

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Page one of the declaration (Wikipedia)

2/7/1917 Greece formally joins the Allies

For some time now Greece has been divided between a pro-Allied government headed by Eleftherios Venizelos based in Salonika and a neutralist government in Athens loyal to King Constantine. But now the Allies have successfully forced the Constantine into exile. Venizelos returns to Athens and establishes a pro-Allied government there whose writ will run over all of Greece, albeit relying on Allied arms to intimidate any remaining supporters of Constantine.

Today Venizelos finally achieves his great ambition: declaring war against the Central Powers and bringing Greece into the war on the side of the Allies. The Allies hope this will allow them to increase the pressure on the Central Powers in the southern Balkans.

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A pro-war propaganda poster (Wikipedia)