Battle of Doiran (1918)
The Third Battle of Doiran was fought from 18–19 September 1918, with the Greeks and the British assaulting the positions of the Bulgarian First Army near Dojran Lake. The battle was part of World War I and took place in the Balkan Theatre. The battle ended with the Bulgarians repulsing all attacks.
The Greeks and the British set off from their base at Thessaloniki at the same time as the Serbs and the French. The Greeks and the British, under the command of George Milne set off the attack on the Bulgarian positions at Dojran while the Serbs and the French under the command of Franchet d'Esperey went to penetrate the Bulgarian defences in the Vardar Valley. The Greeks and the British were aiming to capture the Bulgarian positions in the hills above Dojran Lake.
This was not the first time the Allies had attacked Dojran - in 1916, an Anglo-French attempt was repulsed by the Second Thracian Infantry Division; the British had twice failed to capture it in 1917. The fortifications were well built (by Bulgarian engineers), the Bulgarians having spent the first months of 1916 and early 1917 strengthening the positions. The terrain around the area was rough, the fortifications being surrounded with three miles of scrub and rocks. Part of the defences were the dangerous Pip Ridge and the Grand Couronné.
On the left flank, the British XII Corps with the 22nd and 26th divisions, reinforced by the Greek Serres Division was to attack the difficult Pip Ridge. The British concentrated 231 pieces of artillery, including heavy 8-inch howitzers. The bombardment took place over two days, included gas shells and concluded with a rolling barrage, behind which the infantry was to advance. The British spent the time before the battle practising for the assault. Facing them was the Bulgarian 9th Pleven Division with 122 guns, in very well prepared defences, commanded by General Vladimir Vazov.
On September 18, the British XII Corps attacked with the 66th and 67th Brigades of the 22nd Division and the Greek Serres Division. The Bulgarian first line of trenches was overrun and the Serres Division penetrated to the second line. The Bulgarians responded with heavy artillery fire and counter-attacks that recaptured the ground lost. Meanwhile, the British 66th Brigade's 7th Battalion, South Wales Borders lost heavily and failed in its attacks. Attacks by the 11th Welsh Regiment and 9th Border Regiment did not go well either. The British 67th Brigade's 12th Cheshire Regiment followed by the 9th South Lancashire Regiment and 8th Kings Shropshire Light Infantry (KSLI) advanced into Bulgarian artillery and machine-gun fire. the 67th Brigade lost 65% of its soldiers. At the end of the day the XII Corps was back at its starting point. On September 19, the XII Corps attacked again but because the XVI Corps attacks north of the lake had failed, the XII Corps would attack alone. The Greek Serres Division repeated the previous day's performance, taking some Bulgarian trenches, before being thrown back by heavy artillery, machine-gun fire and counter-attacks. The British attacked with the 77th Brigade, the weakened 65th Brigade, and later the 2nd French Zouaves. The 66th Brigades and 67th Brigades were fit only for defensive duties and did not participate. The 77th Brigade took some Bulgarian trenches but it was in an exposed position, being bombarded by artillery and eventually retreated before the Bulgarians counter-attacked. The brigade suffered about 50% casualties. The 65th Brigade's attack failed also, as did the French Zouaves.
Meanwhile, also on September 18, the British XVI Corps attacked with the Greek Cretan Division and the British 84th Brigade in support. They faced the Bulgarian 1st Macedonian Brigade with 24 guns and 64 machine-guns. The Greek division attacked with two of its regiments up front and a third in reserve, supported on its flank by the 84th. Firing in support were six batteries of British artillery. The British 85th Brigade in reserve. At 05:00 the Greeks attacked, clearing out the Bulgarian outpost line. They then had to move across a long plain to attack the Bulgarian positions on a series of hills that overlooked the plain. The Greeks recklessly attacked across the plain, and penetrated the Bulgarian lines but were thrown back with heavy artillery, rifle, and machine-gun fire. The British artillery deployed behind them to provide fire support. The Greeks rallied and made several more attacks on the Bulgarian lines with the same result as the first time. By the evening the Greeks withdrew, followed a few hours later by the British artillery. The XVI Corps did not attack on 19 September due to casualties. The attack failed due to the lack of artillery support, problems with inter-unit communication and the reckless first attack by the Greeks.
The Allies' losses totalled between 6,559 and 7,819 British and Greek soldiers, against 2,726 for the Bulgarians. Most of the British and Greek losses were to the XII Corps and Serres Division, with less than 1,000 coming from the XVI Corps and Cretan Division.
|Greek casualties on 18 and 19 September|
|1st Serres Regiment||35||481||86||602|
|2nd Serres Regiment||178||563||176||917|
|3rd Serres Regiment||146||669||353||1,168|
|8th Cretan Regiment||5||33||0||38|
|9th Cretan Regiment||92||285||0||377|
|29th Infantry Regiment||47||255||0||302|
|Bulgarian casualties and expended material.|
|Killed||Wounded||Missing||Total||Rifle Rounds||MG Rounds||Hand Grenades||Flare Rockets||Mines||Artillery Shells||Damaged Guns||Prisoners||MGs||Automatic Rifles|
Several days after the battle, the British realized the Bulgarian fortifications were quiet. The Greek and British armies advanced only to find the Bulgarian positions abandoned. The Serbs and French armies had defeated part of the Bulgarian army during the Battle of Dobro Pole in the Vardar valley and were advancing towards Doiran. This prompted the command of Army Group Scholtz to order the Bulgarian First Army to retreat so that it would not be cut off from the rear. The British were weary and pursued slowly, and Bulgarian rear guards fought well enough to allow the rest of their troops to get away. The British Royal Air Force did attack the retreating Bulgarian columns, inflicting some casualties.
The Allies continued to advance into Bulgarian-held territory and some[who?] said the Bulgarian army had mutinied and were threatening Sofia. On September 30, the Bulgarians surrendered to the allies in Thessaloniki in order to avoid occupation.
The British paid great honor to General Vladimir Vazov when in 1936 he arrived in Victoria Station in London, by lowering the flags of all their regiments who participated in the battle. The chairman of the British legion Major Goldy said in his speech: "He is one of the few foreign officers whose name features in our history".
^ a: According to the official Greek history the strength of the Greek divisions was 416 officers, 13,519 soldiers and 3,511 animals for the Serres Division and 423 officers, 14,970 soldiers and 3,840 animals for the Crete Division. Both divisions had 16 artillery guns and 74 machine-guns each, while the Serres Division had 177 light machine-guns and the Crete Division 233.
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