‘… the success of the entire offensive depends upon rapid penetration …”

In his book Balkan Breakthrough – The Battle of Dobro Pole 1918  (Indiana University Press, 2010), Richard Hall writes that several days before the start of the offensive, Serbian soldiers were told by their high command:

All officers and men must bear in mind, the success of the entire offensive depends upon rapid penetration … It is necessary to violently penetrate, without resting to the final limits possible of human and equine ability.

The Serbian and French infantry attacks began at 0530 on 15 September at Dobropolje (or Dobro Pole) against the Bulgarian 3rd Thracian Division. Soldiers of the Serbian Second army attacked defensive positions to the east of Veternik, whilst Senegalese troops from the French 17th Colonial Division attacked west of Veternik. Further west the Yugoslav Division and French 122nd Division attacked between Dobropolje and Sokol. There was no lack of stubborn resistance, but the previous day’s bombardment and aircraft attacks had caused heavy casualties and damage to defences and a lack of guns and shells meant the Bulgarians were unable to disrupt the attacks with artillery fire. Serbian, French and French colonial troops all succeeded in taking Bulgarian positions early in the day, in spite of infantry counterattacks and machine-gun fire. Even the Pyramid – the high point of the Dobroplje ridge – was in French hands by 0800, with further peaks taken “literally man by man, from rock to rock”. The Sokol proved a tough nut to crack but was in allied hands by nightfall.

The British Official History (Vol. 2) has this to say about the day’s achievements:

Thus on the whole front of the Serbian Second Army the assault had been successful, the crest had been gained and the breach in the defences opened … the way was now open for the advance on the Koyzak, while the [Serbian] First Army … could also go forward. This splendid feat had been attended by losses heavy enough, but lighter than might have been expected. The Šumadija Division had about 500 casualties, the 17th Colonial 1230, the 122nd 790 … in all nearly 3000 [prisoners], with 33 guns, had been captured.

Moglena Front on the Eve of the Offensive, Sept. 1918; from Alan Palmer's 'The Gardeners of Salonika' (Andre Deutsch, 1965).
One of the many classy maps in Alan Palmer’s ‘The Gardeners of Salonika’, first published in 1965 by Andre Deutsch Ltd, and still – for my money – the best single volume account of the whole campaign and associated political machinations.

 


Find out more

  • Falls, Capt. Cyril, (1935), Military Operations Macedonia – From the Spring of 1917 to the end of the War; HMSO, London
  • Hall, Richard C., (2010), Balkan Breakthrough – The Battle of Dobro Pole 1918; Indiana University Press, Bloomington & Indianapolis
  • Palmer, Alan, (1965), The Gardeners of Salonika; Andre Deutsch, London
  • Palmer, Alan (197?), ‘Defeat of Bulgaria – The Central Powers Begin to Crack’, published in History of the First World War No. 107 by Purnell for BPC Publishing Ltd, London, in cooperation with the Imperial War Museum.

Author: SCS Web Editor

Robin Braysher joined the SCS in 2003 and soon after became editor of the Society's journal, 'The New Mosquito', a role he held until 2008. He then became the Society's web editor, a role he seems unable to shake off. His interest in the campaign comes from his grandfather, Fred, who served as a cyclist with the BSF from 1915-1917, mainly in the Struma valley. Opinions expressed in these posts are his and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Society.