Under the Devil’s Eye - The British Military Experience in Macedonia 1915 - 1918
By Alan Wakefield and Simon Moody
Pen and Sword (www.pen-and-sword.co.uk)
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The British military expedition to Macedonia during World War 1 receives very little attention. If you enquire with the ordinary public and ask them about World War 1 campaigns they will probably tell you they know about France, Flanders, Ypres, Passchendaele, the Somme or Gallipoli. Few, if any, will have heard of the Macedonian experience or the British Salonika Force (BSF). Indeed the exploits of the BSF in Macedonia are completely overshadowed by the more famous campaigns. The BSF was a forgotten army and they often called themselves this. They were always the last in the order list for supplies, men and equipment.
This interesting book seeks to enhance the awareness of this mysterious and neglected campaign. The authors have conducted excellent research and this has been helped by their employment in national museums / archives. One of them was motivated by having a relative who served in this campaign and through this the campaign was brought to his attention. Unfortunately the relative died prior to the author recording his relative’s experience. The memory of him spurred the author into action and when this book was originally produced in 2004 it was the first book on the subject for 39 years.
The first British troops arrived in this dangerous and volatile region during 1915. They were mostly drawn from Gallipoli and by troopship from Marseilles (France) with the intention of fighting alongside their French allies. The local Serbians were fighting against a numerically superior enemy namely the Bulgarian Forces. The British landed at Salonika in Greece and used this port as their main base. They had to retreat to the port in winter due to the severe winter weather. Initially the Greek Government was not too receptive to this “foreign” army on its land and there were fractions within the Greek Government – some supporting the allies and others the Central Powers. The King of Greece supported the German (Central Powers) because he was related by marriage to that side.
Eventually the Greeks joined the British and the French in helping the Serbians against the Bulgarians and the Imperial German Army. Also, Italians and Russians joined and fought alongside the Allies in this multi-national army. The offensives by the British were designed to divert the Bulgarian’s resources from major Franco-Serbian offensives. The spring 1917 offensive by the British (called the “First Battle of Doiran”) was a disappointment and this contrasted with the successful attempt in the Struma Valley. During September 1918 with the Bulgarians on the verge of collapse they still presented a strong enemy with the Bulgarian 9th (Pleven) Division proving a hard enemy.
This book uses first-hand accounts, drawn from a variety of sources, to illuminate the experiences of those serving in this hostile environment. Both frontline operations and those in base camp are revealed. The effects of the Great Fire of Salonika (August 1917) and the role of the medical services against malaria are aptly illustrated. This recently updated edition is now the standard work on the campaign and the authors have done an outstanding service to its memory.