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)

12/6/1917 The Allies finally get rid of Greece’s uncooperative King

Greece has for some time now been divided between the followers of Venizelos, the pro-Allied politician, and King Constantine, who wishes to keep the country out of the war. Allied forces have established themselves in the northern port of Salonika and are trying to contest the Central Powers’ control of the Balkans. Venizelos established a pro-Allied government there too but Constantine remained ensconced in Athens.

A previous French attempt to oust Constantine failed. Now the French have another go, occupying key points in southern Greece and presenting an ultimatum to Constantine, demanding his abdication. This time Constantine accepts defeat, agreeing to leave Greece for exile in Switzerland (but not formally renouncing his throne).

Constantine’s second son Alexander is installed as king, bypassing his elder brother George who is believed to have pro-German sympathies. Alexander agrees to recall Venizelos to the capital and invite him to form a government. With many of Constantine’s supporters following him into exile, the way is now set for Greece to formally join the Allies.

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King Constantine (Encyclopaedia Britannica)

Eleftherios Venizelos (Wikipedia)

25/4/1917 Britain attacks in the Balkans

There has been relatively little fighting in the southern Balkans over the last number of months. The Germans have been content to leave the Allies alone in Salonika while the Allied force there has not been strong enough to attempt a push north. Disease has taken more of a toll on both sides than the efforts of their enemies.

Now though the British make an attempt to push north against the Bulgarians holding the line against them. Attacking near Doiran, the British make some initial gains. However the Bulgarian defence under General Vasov is dogged; they are also favoured by the terrain. The British advance is contained, with Bulgarian counterattacks recovering many of the positions lost. Any dreams of an Allied breakthrough in the Balkans remain unrealised.

image source: Vladimir Vasov (Wikipedia)

7/1/1917 Romania overrun

Romania’s rash decision to declare war on Austria-Hungary has proved a terrible mistake. The country has now largely been overrun by the Central Powers, her armies smashed by the implacable might of Falkenhayn and Mackensen.

Bad weather and Russian reinforcements now bring an end to the enemy’s advance. Bucharest has fallen, together with the south and centre of the country. The remnants of the Romanian army hang on in Moldavia, where they desperately hope that they can preserve the independent existence of their country.

image source (Wikipedia)

24/12/1916 Germany seizes Romania’s granaries

The German food situation is grim. The British navy prevents Germany from importing food or fertilisers from overseas. The dislocation of war has led to a significant decline in domestic agricultural production. This year’s potato harvest has been struck by blight. Germans are calling this the “turnip winter”, as they are having to eat turnips (normally used as animal feed) instead of potatoes.

But there is one bright star on the horizon. When Romania joined the Allies, there was consternation in Berlin as Germany no longer had access to Romanian grain exports. Now, though, Romania has mostly been overrun by Falkenhayn and Mackensen. In their advance they have managed to seize the country’s granaries intact. The Germans will be able to eat bread made from Romanian wheat after all. Their food situation is still desperate but the conquest of Romania will allow Germany to continue fighting the war.

7/12/1916 Greece: the royalists’ revenge

Greece now has two governments. Eleftherios Venizelos leads a pro-Allied government in Salonika. Venizelos wants to bring Greece into the war on the Allied side. As Salonika is now under French and British occupation, many see Venizelos as little more than their puppet. Meanwhile in Athens another government is loyal to Greece’s King Constantine, who is determined to keep the country out of the war.

The recent French attempt to occupy Athens and force a change in Constantine’s line has been a fiasco, with royalist forces obliging French to beat a hasty retreat. Since then Athens has seen a brutal purge of Venizelos’ supporters. Many of his partisans have been arrested and their homes or businesses ransacked. There are reports of some Venizelists being roughly mistreated or even murdered. The Archbishop of Athens excommunicates Venizelos, with Constantine issuing a royal warrant for his arrest.

In Salonika meanwhile Venizelos formally declares war on the Central Powers. This however is an empty gesture as he lacks any serious military force of his own.