12/12/1915 Bulgaria’s army chases the British and French back to Salonika

As Serbia was invaded by the armies of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria, a British and French force advanced from Salonika in Greece to provide some assistance. Unfortunately the might of the Bulgarians has proved too much for the ineffectual Allied force. At Krivolak the French were defeated and at Kosturino the British too were obliged to retreat. Now the Allies are back in Greece, but showing no sign of going home, much to the annoyance of Greece’s King Constantine, who wants to keep his country out of the war.

The Bulgarians are keen to cross the Greek border and attack the British and French. They would probably like to annex Salonika while they are at it, as they feel this unfairly ended up with the Greeks after the recent Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913. But Germany’s Falkenhayn forbids an advance across the Greek frontier. He fears that a Bulgarian invasion would be enough of a provocation to bring Greece into the war on the side of the Allies. Better to leave the Allies to fester in Salonika where they can do no harm.

image source (Wikipedia)

8/12/1915 Kosturino: the British face the Bulgarian onslaught

British and French forces landed in Salonika hoping to lead the Greek army to Serbia’s aid. Constantine, the Greek king, is however opposed to entry into the war and his kept his country neutral, though he has not attempted to dislodge the Allies from Salonika. French forces moved into Serbia from Salonika, hoping to secure a line of retreat for the Serbian army into northern Greece. In this they have failed and now the French are in retreat themselves.

Now it is the turn of the British to move into southern Serbia. They are trying to cover the French withdrawal. They have taken over positions near the town of Kosturino and have found themselves themselves under increasing attack by the Bulgarians. Today the Bulgarians launch an all-out attack on the British positions. The British try to hold on but in the face of overwhelming numbers and the determined assaults of the Bulgarians they find themselves with no option but to begin their own retreat back to Salonika.

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Soldiers of Britain’s 10th (Irish) Division at Kosturino (Royal Irish)

4/12/1915 Albania: the retreating Serbs elude their pursuers

The Serbian army and its civilian followers are fleeing for their lives through the mountains of Albania. As they march their numbers are being cut down by hunger, cold and disease. Stragglers also face attack by Albanian raiders, whether motivated by patriotic dislike of the Serbs or a desire for plunder. But the Serbs have at least one thing to be thankful of. The three armies that invaded Serbia (Bulgarian, German and Austro-Hungarian) have given up the pursuit, leaving the Serbs to the tender mercies of the elements. The desperate Serbs press on, anxiously hoping to reach the coast and evacuation by the Allied navies.

image source (Heroes of Serbia)

1/12/1915 Uninvited guests in Albania

Albania is a small Balkan nation that has only recently become independent. The country is in a disordered state with no effective central government. Following the invasion of their own country, the Serbian army is retreating through the mountains of northern Albania, hoping to reach the coast and rescue by the Allied navies. The Serbs are suffering terribly from exposure and lack of food, with many of the soldiers dying on the roadside as they desperately try to escape the invaders of their country. The large numbers of civilians fleeing with them are experiencing even more terrible sufferings.

The problems of the Serbs are exacerbated by the uncharitable response of the Albanian population. Many of them are resentful of the Serbs’ violation of their country’s neutrality and are responding by attacking and robbing them whenever opportunity arises. There are reports that the Austro-Hungarians have supplied the Albanians with arms to assist them in their resistance.

The Serbian army is not the only one that has made its way into Albania. Italian troops have landed in the southern port of Vlorë, known to Italians as Valona. Italy is Serbia’s ally so one might think that the Italians are coming to the rescue of the retreating Slavs. But no, the main aim of Vlorë force is to assert Italian rights in Albania. Under the secret agreement that brought Italy into the war, Albania was to become an Italian protectorate. Now the Italians are trying to cement their claim to what they see as their just desserts. The Italians set to work on chasing away Greek forces who have crossed into the southern part of the country.

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Albania (The Balkan Wars)

25/11/1915 The embattled Serbs begin their retreat through Albania

Serbia has been invaded by Austria-Hungary, German and Bulgaria. The Serbian army has conducted a fighting retreat and now finds itself at bay in Kosovo, on the border with Albania. Bulgarian forces have cut them off from the Greek border, so there is no prospect of the Serbs retreating to the Allied-held port of Salonika.

Kosovo is the site of the 14th century Battle of Kosovo, at which a Serbian army fought the Turks until it was annihilated. The historical resonance makes Kosovo a good place for today’s Serbian army to stage a last stand against the nation’s invaders. But to do so would mean its elimination as a fighting force, possibly bringing an end to Serbia’s existence. Field Marshal Putnik, the Serbian commander, decides that the army must retreat to ensure the continuance of the Serbian nation.

But where can the army retreat to? With the road to Greece blocked there is only one option: the Serbs will have to retreat to the coast through the mountains of Albania. Albania is neutral in the war engulfing Europe, but the country is in a state of anarchy and unable to offer organised resistance to this violation of its sovereignty. Bandits and partisans might trouble the Serbs but Putnik is confident that his army will be able to push through. He orders the retreat through Albania to begin at once.

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map (On-line books about Macedonia)

Field Marshal Putnik

Retreating Serbs (Heroes of Serbia)

23/11/1915 Krivolak: Bulgarians force a French retreat from Serbia

Serbia is being invaded by the armies of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria. A small French force has advanced north from the Greek port of Salonika, hoping to keep open a line of retreat for the Serbs. However the Bulgarians have managed to interpose themselves between the Serbian army and the French. Now at Krivolak the French themselves come under increasing attack by the Bulgarians. Their commander, Maurice Sarrail, had called for his men to be reinforcement but alas the Allied cupboard is bare. Now his men are forced to begin a fighting retreat back to Salonika. Their mission to aid the Serbs has failed.

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Maurice Sarrail at Krivolak in October (Chemins de Mémoire, a French defence ministry site)

16/11/1915 Serbia cut off from Greece

Serbia is being invaded by German, Austro-Hungarian and Bulgarian armies. Rather than letting their forces be annihilated, the Serbs are conducting a fighting retreat. Unfortunately for them, their country is small and they are running out of space to retreat into. They are now at bay in Kosovo.

It had been hoped that the Serbian army would be able to retreat south to join the British and French force in Salonika. That would mean abandoning their country but they would live to fight for its liberation on another day. But the Bulgarians have already cut the rail link to Salonika. Now further advances by the Bulgarians force the Serbs to abandon Monastir, on the Greek border. Serbia is now completely cut off from the south. The Serbian army finds itself cornered, its back to the Albanian frontier.

The human suffering involved in Serbia’s invasion is immense. Many have fled their homes, fearing the vengeance of their enemies. They are now threatened by hunger. With winter drawing in, cold and the elements are pressing dangers. Serbia also finds itself in the grip of a typhus epidemic, with many being struck down by this terrible disease.

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Retreating Serbian troops (Heroes of Serbia)