9th Battalion at Salonika (1918)
The Pioneers: Salonika 1918
The new year opened with a continuation of reinforcements arriving for the French and British forces on the Macedonian Front. It appeared, at this time, that what was occurring on the Western Front was to ultimately have an effect on what was happening at Salonika. As the bitter fighting raged in France and Belgium, and with a shortage of troops, it had at first been examined as a possibility to withdraw a large body of men to the Western Front from other less important theatres; as a result of this a decision was made to extract no less than 24 battalions, 12 from the French and 12 from the British, to help with the fighting in France. How this was achieved from the British was thus: there were 12 brigades containing 4 battalions each; each of these brigades had one battalion removed to cover the numbers required. Roughly each battalion at full strength will consist of 900-1000 men so this would have totalled 12,000 men from the British and roughly the same from the French. This, however, would not have tipped the balance especially when armies are counted in millions. The reduction of men on the Macedonian Front did not hit the fighting force too hard and the Italian, Greek and Serbian forces were still plentiful, all be it if dispersed across a wide area.
Total battalion strength
The months were passing by, the 9th Border Regiment spending the first eight months still encamped at Cugunci. They had spent considerable time there; drafts of men, though small, were continually added to their numbers to cover for loss of overall battalion strength through various mishaps, accidents, enemy action and occasional illness. Generally though the health of the men remained strong. The following table shows the number of officers and other ranks that reinforced the 9th Battalion over this eight month period, with the total Battalion strength shown in September.
In his final despatch, General Milne writes:
- "Towards the end of July, I received instructions from the Allied Commander-in-Chief to prepare for my share in a general offensive of the Allied Armies which was timed to take place during the first fortnight in September. In this the British troops - provided the Allies on the front held by the Royal Serbian Army succeeded in piercing the enemy’s centre - were to attack and take the height to the W. and N.E. of Lake Doiran. To reinforce my three divisions in this sector General Franchet d’Esperey placed at my disposal two divisions of the Corps of national Defence of the Hellenic Army, a regiment of Hellenic cavalry, and a group of Hellenic heavy artillery….In the general instructions which I had previously received it was indicated that the main operations should be directed against ‘P’ Ridge and the neighbouring heights W. of Lake Doiran, the scene of the battles in the spring of 1917. I had decided to reinforce the British troops here by one of the Hellenic Divisions of the Corps of National Defence, which, as I have previously stated, had been placed at my disposal, and had selected the Seres Division for this purpose. In addition, between Doiran Lake and the Vardar were the 22nd and 26th Divisions…and on the W. of the Vardar the 27th Division….The Allied Commander-in-Chief reinforced my command by a regiment of French infantry. The whole of this composite force of British, Hellenic and French troops I entrusted to the command of Lieutenant-General Sir H.F.M. Wilson, K.C.B., K.C.M.G."
When ordered on the 15th September, as a direct result of the projected attack, all the detachments of the 9th Border Regiment were called back to Headquarters for further instruction, which was given the following day. It was the duty of the 22nd Division, to which the 9th Borders still belonged, to make an attack on the named 'P' Ridge including that of the high ground close by; added to their numbers and included in this attack was also a regiment of Greek troops. A and C Companies of the Borders, for work under the C.R.E., at a date and time to be notified later, were to move to Pillar Camp whilst the rest of the Battalion were to move to Oxford Camp. For tactical purposes they were all under the direct orders of the Divisional Commander. The following information was given for the employment of the 9th Borders where they had to "prepare the Doldzeli-Volovec track, from the British lines to a point near the Tongue, where the track was then in use by the enemy, first for mule and then for wheeled traffic; to search for an open up the water supply in the area captured by the right brigade; continue the Doldzeli-Jackson Ravine mule-tracks and improving them where necessary along the slopes of 'P' Ridge; search for and open the water supply in the area captured by the left brigade; also assist in forming forward dumps of R.E. material in the captured areas."
On the 17th September the Battalion move forward as originally instructed. A and C Companies duly moved out to Pillar Camp where they were temporarily attached to the 66th Brigade whilst B and D Companies, along with Battalion Headquarters, moved to Shrew Nullah, under the command of the general officer commanding the 67th Brigade. Heavy shelling took place at Shrew Nullah the following morning and the companies located here ultimately withdrew to Senelle Camp by the evening. The adjutant, Captain J.R. Brownlie, MC, was replaced by Lieutenant J. Warrington due to being injured, possibly in transit or at the new camp. At this time the men of the 9th Border Regiment, although separated into smaller units by reason of duties that were demanded of them, were now concentrated at Senelle Camp. Wylly describes the situation as a result of the fighting that took place:
- "the Allies had everywhere won a certain amount of ground but not all their objectives; the 66th Brigade reached the enemy third line of the defences on 'P' Ridge, but having lost 65 per cent of its effectives was unable to hold on, while the British and Greek forces attacking between 'P' Ridge and the Grand Couronné penetrated here about a mile and reached the lower slopes of the Grand Couronné. The failure of the attack on 'P' Ridge, however, made it impossible for those to hold their ground and they were forced to fall back. On the E. of Lake Doiran the 28th British and the Cretan division had been no more successful, and on the 19th General Milne decided to hold and consolidate the line Petit Couronné - Teton Hill - Doiran Town. Happily the Franco-Serbian troops had won ground and had turned the enemy’s flank before General Milne, thus cutting the Bulgarian communications down the Vardar Valley, and by noon of the 21st it was become apparent that a rapid retreat of the enemy had commenced on the Doiran front. He was seen to be blowing up his ammunition depots, our aircraft reported that the only good line of retreat open to the Bulgarian Army was congested with masses of men and transport moving northwards, and our airmen flying low bombed the hostile columns, causing heavy casualties and general panic."
The enemy trenches on the British front by that very evening were vacant and without haste the entire Allied Army was on the move forward passing these lines and making chase of the Bulgarians in all directions. The 9th Border Regiment, on the 22nd, left Senelle Camp moved to Zeus Junction passing Volovec, Cerniste and Hasanli on the way. They remained here for several days. On the 30th a telegram was received, which would ultimately change the outcome of this particular theatre of war, stated that "by reason of the Convention which had just been signed, hostilities with the Bulgarian Army were to cease at midday."
General Sir George Milne published the following Special Order on the 4th October stating: "Thanks to your gallantry, determination and devotion to duty, the Bulgarian Army is now defeated and the Bulgarian nation has sued for peace. This result has been obtained only by your extraordinary exertions after three summers spent in a malarious country and against obstacles of great natural and artificial strength. What appeared almost impossible has been accomplished. I gratefully thank you all, of every arm and of every rank, for your steadfast loyalty, your perfect discipline, and for the magnificent manner you have answered to every call made on you. No one knows better the odds against which you have had to content, and I am proud to have had the honour of commanding you."
By the 4th October King Ferdinand of Bulgaria abdicated in favour of the Crown Prince Boris. The Allies, advancing further, made way for the Danube. By the end of the month the enemy had been cleared from the Balkan states with little to no opposition and so the war for the 9th Border Regiment and the Allied forces in this theatre was over. The Battalion strength at this time was given as 29 officers, of which Lieutenant-Colonel C.G. Jones, D.S.O. was in command, and 786 other ranks.
References / notes
- The new French Commander-in-Chief, who proposed to commence offensive operations in September 1918.
- Colonel H.C. Wylly, C.B. (1925). The Border Regiment in the Great War. Gale & Polden Ltd. ISBN 1847342728. p.p.213-214.