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Battle of Kajmakcalan - Macedonia - Sept. 1916

In July 1916 the Russian Brussilov offensive had made sweeping gains along the Dniester encouraging Romania to enter the war. One of the conditions for Romania's participation was an allied offensive in Macedonia ,which they hoped would engage the Bulgars and prevent a counter offensive over the Danube.

The allied CinC in Macedonia was the French General Sarrail. The French, British, Serbian, Russian and Italian troops were in position by the middle of August ready for the Romanian declaration of war on the 28th. However, the Bulgars and Germans had spotted the allied preparations and pre-emptied allied plans with their own offensive on August 17th. This had some early success capturing Florina, forcing Serb and French forces back into Greece. The offensive eventually petered out against strong Serb positions at Ostrovo. By the end of August the fighting had stopped.

Sarrail now reorganised his planned offensive. The British and Italian armies would demonstrate on their fronts whilst Serbian and French divisions would attack Monastir. The capture of Monastir would enable a flanking of the strong Vardar defences, if it could be captured before the autumn rains.

The key Bulgarian position was on the twin peaks of the Kajmakcalan mountain, a 1500 yard ridge, 8200 feet up at the highest point. This had to be taken by the Serbian First Army (General Misic) before any advance on Monastir.

The offensive began on September 12th and the Serbs made good progress through the foothills up to the village of Batachin. After that the bare slopes of the mountain with its natural gullies provided shelter from the artillery support and the Serbs had to advance by hand to hand fighting. By the 19th the Drina division had reached the summit. The Bulgars counterattacked on the 26th and for four days the summit ridge was lost and regained several times until on the 30th the Bulgars retired from the mountain.

The attack by two French divisions and a Russian brigade on the Bulgar right flank recaptured Florina on the 17th and then came up against three lines of Bulgar trenches around Kenali and the Crna River. It would be six weeks and at a cost of a further 2000 allied lives before the position was taken. The French commander Cordonnier was repeatedly ordered to attack these lines frontally with inadequate preparation by Sarrail. In fairness, Sarrail's focus was on the bigger picture and the need to ease pressure on the Romanians.  

Both sides reinforced. Additional French troops for the allies and German battalions (from France) strengthened key points on the Bulgar lines. Throughout October and early November allied troops fought through rain, blizzards and fog to push the Bulgars and Germans from the trenches until Monastir was eventually captured on November 19th. However, the victory could not be exploited due the winter and Sarrail suspended all operations on December 11th.

The battlefield today is largely situated in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on the border with Greece. It is in a restricted military area  which requires special permission to visit.  The battlefield is well preserved with trench lines visible along with shrapnel, bullets and even human bones. I am grateful to Tom Bierschenk for the photographs below. Space precludes using all Tom sent me but I would be happy to e.mail more to interested readers.

 

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The Kajmakcalan (butter churn) mountain

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Trench lines

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View from the top

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A US Greyhound Armoured Car

Obviously not WW1 vintage! Probably a leftover from the Greek Civil War.

 

Further Reading:

Alan Palmer     The Gardeners of Salonika          Andre Deutsch 1965

 

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