As we enter September we come to the centenary of the last month of hostilities for the BSF. September 1918 saw the final allied offensive – which for the British was the Second Battle of Doiran – which brought about the Bulgarian armistice at the end of the month.
During the month I will be adding posts on key events 100 years ago. To start, though, I thought I should introduce the architect of this final offensive, French General Franchet d’Espèrey – known to his British allies as ‘Desperate Frankie’.
His predecessor, General Sarrail, managed to upset all his allies: the Russians found him high-handed, the Italians refused to send any more troops as long as he was in command and the Prime Ministers of Britain and Serbia – supported by Venezelos of Greece – urged his recall. His political connections in France kept him in place until the establishment of the Clemenceau ministry in November 1917, then in December he was swiftly recalled and replaced by General Guillaumat.
General Guiilaumat had commanded the French Second Army at Verdun and was sent with instructions to plan for an offensive in summer 1918. Recalled after just six months to defend Paris, his achievements were to improve the system of command within French units and win the confidence of British, Serbian and Greek commanders, although the Italians remained suspicious! Much work was done in opening up new roads and light railways to the front and preparations were well underway for an offensive on his departure. He was replaced by General Louis Félix Marie François Franchet d’Espèrey.
In the opinion of historian Alan Palmer:
There could have been no better choice than Franchet d’Esperey for Allied generalissimo in the Balkans. Ever since the first battles of 1914 he had shown himself to be a remarkable commander in the field, with a Napoleonic instinct for attack and the broad strategic sweep of a mind never content with local successes. He believed in a fast-moving campaign rather than a war of attrition, and he remained loyal to the cavalry tradition in which he had been reared. Although he had a volcanic temper and an impulsive sense of independent command, he also possessed a personal magnetism and a touch of showmanship which could lift the spirit of a downcast army. Above all, he was an ‘Easterner’ rather than a ‘Westerner’ by strategic conviction and he knew central and south-eastern Europe better than any other high-ranking Frenchman … His first remark on landing at Salonika in the first week of June 1918, set the tone for the following three months: ‘I expect from you savage vigour’ …
From ‘Defeat of Bulgaria – The Central Powers Begin to Crack’ by Alan Palmer, published in History of the First World War No. 107 by Purnell for BPC Publishing Ltd, London, in cooperation with the Imperial War Museum.