Witnesses state that in neither of the two Balkan wars was there such ferocious fighting, such awful slaughter, as during the encounters between the Serbians and Bulgarians along this section of the frontier. Both sides lost heavily; whole companies and even battalions were hemmed in against the rock walls, then exterminated to the last man.
But finally numbers began to show the advantage, and the Serbians were obliged to retire from ridge to ridge. Village after village was taken and burned.
In Macedonia, Todoroff, though his force was much smaller, was having comparatively easy work. A large part of the vital railroad line passed through this section and it was Todoroff's first aim to throw himself astride of it, thus effectually breaking off communication between the vanguard of the French army and the Serbians. It was this portion of the country that the Greeks would have defended, had they joined the Allies.
The first thing that Todoroff did was to detach a strong force from his main body, with which he struck at the railroad between Vranya and Zibeftcha and succeeded in cutting it. The detachment of the Southern Morava was driven back at the first encounter and on October 17, 1915, the Bulgarians entered Vranya. On the same day the main body of the Bulgarians advanced down the slopes from Kustendil and took Egri Palanka, on the road toward Kumanova and Uskub. Farther south they penetrated the Valley of the Bregalnitza, the scene of the Bulgarian defeat in the Second Balkan War, where they captured the important strategic point, Sultan Tepe, and the town of Katshana, taking twelve field pieces. Passing rapidly on through Ishtip, they occupied that part of Veles lying east of the Vardar River, where, on October 20, 1915, they again cut the railroad line and so made any further advance on the part of the French almost impossible. The next day the Bulgarians captured Kumanova and then, on the day following, drove the Serbians on through Uskub. The Serbians retired fighting to Katshanik Pass, north of Uskub, where they made a stand that became one of the notable achievements, on their part, of the whole campaign. For by the defense of this pass they made the Bulgarian effort to cut Serbia in two for some time fruitless.
THE TEUTONIC INVASION ROLLS ON
Meanwhile, Bulgaria having plunged into the fighting, the Teutonic allies in the north resumed their efforts to advance southward. But for some time they had all they could do to maintain themselves on the banks of the rivers. Before them rose the rock-ribbed hills skirting the mountains of the interior, and along these hills the Serbians had, during the previous ten months, built up line after line of strong intrenchments, one behind the other. To carry one line was only to gain a few hundred yards of territory.
Just as soon as Koevess felt his hold on Belgrade secure, he began an attack on the heights to the south. After three days of intense bombardment he succeeded in taking Mount Avala, an eminence some 1,600 feet in height and ten miles from the city. On the same day, October 18, 1915, Obrenovatz fell into his hands, and Shabatz three days later. However, these two places were still only on the banks of the river.
The chief efforts of the invaders, however, were directed toward making an advance down the Morava Valley. Their first assault was made against the Serbian positions in the mountainous country of the Podunavlie. Gallwitz here had an exceedingly difficult task, for the ground rose in rocky, steplike formation, offering all the advantages to the defenders. But the bombardment from the heavy artillery had its effect and slowly the Germans advanced. By October 23, 1915, they had reached the southern bank of the Jesenitza, not far from Palanka and had passed Rakinatz on the road to Petrovatz on the Mlava.
During this same period the German left wing, having smashed Tekia with gunfire, crossed the Danube near Orsova and succeeded in taking the heights overlooking the river. On the extreme western front the Austrians crossed the Drina at Vishegrad. Thus all the rivers forming the frontiers had passed completely into the hands of the invaders. But it had been a costly gain. By this time the Austro-German forces had lost very heavily. The Serbians also had had heavy losses, but not half so many as the enemy.
It was the policy of General Putnik, the Serbian Chief of Staff, to prolong the fighting as much as possible, for during this time the transports of the Allies were disembarking troops in Saloniki, at the rate of 5,000 men a day, and there was hope that eventually they would be able to advance northward, and at least save the Serbians from the Bulgarians. This same hope had stiffened the resistance of the soldiers in every skirmish. Then came word that the Russians would relieve the pressure by attacking the Bulgarians, either through Rumania, or by landing troops in either Bourgas or Varna. And once indeed the Russian ships did bombard Varna, but without any attempt at disembarking troops.
As the days passed and no help from outside came, the belief began gradually to dawn on the Serbian people that they were doomed as a nation. This feeling first manifested itself in the flight of the civil population. At first the noncombatants had merely retired with the fighting line. The first three invasions had shown that the Austrians did not always refrain from committing atrocities, especially when their armies had suffered unusually. Nor was there any reason to suppose that the Germans were any kindlier to civilians. Thus it was that hardly any of the civil population remained behind in conquered territory.
Then, gradually, came the conviction that Serbian soldiers alone must face the enemy, and even the most patriotic realized what a hopeless fight it was. The whole population began moving southward; along every available road trailed long lines of slowly moving ox carts, loaded with the few movable belongings of their peasant owners. South continued the exodus and then—the Bulgarians blocked the way. The roads to Greece were closed. There remained nothing for them to do but to turn toward the awful mountain wilderness intervening between them and the Adriatic sea coast, infested by fierce bands of Albanian brigands and tribesmen.
The weather was bad; rain fell heavily and incessantly, the roads were deep in mud and the plight of these people, most of them old men and women and children, became intensely miserable.
The Austro-German lines in the north continued their slow but persistent southward advance; the invasion rolled on, the Serbians retiring before them step by step. During the last week of the month Gallwitz came to the heights east of Banitzina, south of Jesenitza, and began storming them. Then followed another spurt of severe fighting and Livaditza and Zabari, on the Morava River, fell into their hands, after which they occupied the region south of Petrovatz. By the 28th they had gained Svilajnatz, beating down the Serbian resistance by sheer weight of men and guns, and by the last day of the month they were within a day's march of Kragujevatz, in which was located Serbia's chief arsenal. Situated on the Lepenitza, a branch of the Morava, it lay about half way between Belgrade and Nish, on a branch line of the main railroad. It was a point well worth defending, and the Serbians did defend it stubbornly, but on November 1, 1915, they were compelled to evacuate it, after first destroying the arsenal and all the materials it contained.
It was here that the Shumadia Division especially distinguished itself. The regiments of that unit had been recruited in this section; it was literally defending its native soil. During the first part of the fighting it had been intrenched in the hills to the north of the town. The day was wet and dense mists rolled through the mountain passes down over the hills. The Germans had effectually shelled the positions of the Shumadians and were under the impression that they had retired, wherefore they advanced upward to occupy the deserted trenches.
And then, suddenly, wild yells and shouts burst out from the rolling mist and the Shumadians fell upon the invaders with set bayonets. The latter, who had been growing accustomed to the purely defensive tactics of their enemy, were completely taken by surprise and thrown into disorder.
The first line of the Teutons wavered, then broke and scattered. Coming up against reenforcements behind, they re-formed and advanced again. And again the Shumadians burst down on them and engaged them hand to hand. Fighting like savages, they drove the invaders before them for a considerable distance, taking over 3,000 prisoners and several guns. When finally they retired just as the main body of the advancing foe was coming up, they left behind them hundreds of enemy dead, the fallen literally covering the ground in heaps.
The mixed forces of Koevess, keeping in touch with Gallwitz's right wing, had been advancing more or less in line with the Germans, marching along the railroad from Belgrade and Obrenovatz toward the Western Morava. South of Belgrade the Serbians had put up a stout resistance at Kosmai, but were finally dislodged by the heavy artillery fire. On October 25, 1915, Koevess arrived at Ratcha, south of Palanka, on the right side of the Morava. After a hard fought battle at Gorni Milanovatz, he reached Cacak on November 1, 1915, a few miles west of Kragujevatz. Here it was that he struck the Western Morava and the railroad passing along it eastward from Ushitze to its junction with the main line. Farther to the westward his cavalry, on October 26, 1915, had occupied Valievo on the Upper Kolubara and one of his divisions had crossed the Maljen Mountains, where the Austrians had been so humiliatingly defeated the year before. Farther west, but more to the south, the Austrians, who had pushed on from Vishegrad, arrived in Ushitze on November 2, 1915, and presently effected a junction with the main body.
Meanwhile, a day or two before the end of the month, an incident up in the northeast foreshadowed the attainment of the main objective of the Austro-German forces. The Serbians had, naturally, withdrawn from this section and now a German cavalry patrol, scouting in advance of its own lines, met with a body of Bulgarian scouts. The Bulgarian and the Teutonic forces had come in contact with each other. But the chief significance of this fact was that now the road was open for communication between Germany and Turkey. Even if the railroad running from Belgrade to Constantinople, by way of Sofia, should be temporarily cut, or should not be captured throughout its entire length for some time, shipments of war material could already be made to Turkey by way of the Danube down to Rustchuk in northern Bulgaria and thence by railroad. Thus the Turks at Gallipoli, who had been running short of ammunition, could now be relieved.
This opening of communication with Turkey was made much of in the German official reports and some of the newspapers began referring to Mackensen's army as "the army of Egypt."
On the first day of November, 1915, Mackensen could really say that he had conquered all of northern Serbia. But the fact remained that the Serbian army was still in the field; not even a part of it had as yet been captured or annihilated. And it is a military axiom that no matter how far an army may retreat and no matter how much territory may have been conquered, no battle is decisive until the enemy has been destroyed, either entirely or in large part. The Germans were to be reminded of this fact more than once on the Russian front.
Up till this time Boyadjieff, at the head of his Bulgarian army, was attacking the Serbians from two directions: along the Timok against Kniashevatz, Zaichar, and Negotin, and along the Nishava against Pirot. Both movements were directed ultimately toward Nish, but the more northerly had also the purpose of effecting a junction with the left wing of the Germans under Gallwitz, which was advancing from Tekia, in the northeast corner of Serbia. Negotin and Prahovo, the latter a port on the Danube, had been taken on October 25, 1915. Lower down, the Bulgarians, who were in overwhelming strength, occupied both Zaichar and Kniashevatz on the 28th. Meanwhile, the Serbians were also compelled to abandon the commanding heights of Drenova Glava, fifteen miles northwest of Pirot, and on the 28th Pirot fell, though not without heavy fighting. With Pirot on the south and Kniashevatz on the north in the hands of the Bulgarians, the situation of Nish became very precarious. The Serbian Government was now shifted to Kralievo.
Down in Macedonia the Second Bulgarian Army, under Todoroff, seemed to have come to an end of its initial success. After its occupation of Uskub it had advanced to Katshanik Pass, which was occupied by the Serbians under General Bojovitch. Todoroff at once began a violent attack and by October 28, 1915, part of the defile seemed to have been cleared of the Serbians. But presently the Serbians were reenforced by two regiments of the Morava Division and two of the Drina Division, whereupon Bojovitch suddenly turned and once more possessed himself of the pass.
Again and again the Bulgarians attacked, determined to take the pass, but as often as they hurled themselves up the defile, just so often the Serbians drove them back with fire and bayonet.
During this same period another Serbian force under Colonel Vassitch was fighting farther south. On October 22, 1915, he succeeded in recapturing Veles, which, it will be remembered, Todoroff had taken in his rapid advance during the first few days of his fighting. Here it was that the Serbians expected to make a juncture with the French forces under Sarrail, and for several days they could even hear the thunder of the French guns repelling a Bulgarian attack, so close together were they.
For a whole week Vassitch held Veles against the overwhelming attacks of the Bulgarians; then, finally, on the 29th, he was compelled to retire to the Babuna Pass, the narrow defile also known as the Iron Gate, through which passed the highway from Veles to Monastir, by way of Prilep. By the first of November, 1915, the Serbians were still holding this pass, which was all that prevented the Bulgarians from driving in the wedge that was to separate Upper Serbia from Macedonia.
While it was true that no important part of the Serbian army had as yet been eliminated from the field; that it was, as a whole, still intact, yet it was now evident that the little nation had come very near to the end of her resistance. By this time it was quite obvious that no real help could be expected from the Allies. Great Britain had offered the island of Cyprus to the Greeks, if they would stand by their agreement by joining the Serbians, against the Bulgarians, at least. But even that tempting offer would not induce them to risk themselves in a fight whose outcome seemed so doubtful. On October 20, 1915, Italy had given her moral support by declaring war against Bulgaria, but for the time being she offered nothing more material. On October 21, 1915, British and French ships bombarded the Bulgarian port of Dedeagatch, on the Gulf of Enos, and also a junction of the railroad connecting Saloniki with Constantinople, but this had no material result in deterring the Bulgarians from pressing their campaign against the Serbians in Macedonia. On October 28, 1915, Russian ships bombarded Varna, on the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria. This was done, not so much for any material damage that could be done to Bulgaria, but for the moral effect it might have on the population, which was supposed to have very deep feelings of regard for Russia, because she had freed them from the Turks in 1878. But the Bulgarian troops previously stationed at this point had been replaced by Turkish forces, so that it is probable that the Bulgarian population was not much affected.
On land, the French troops under Sarrail had advanced farthest north; on October 23, 1915, they defeated the Bulgarians severely at Rabrova and pushed on to Krivolak, where they again engaged the Bulgarians on the 30th and repulsed their attack. By November 2, 1915, the French were at Gradsko, where the Tcherna joins the Vardar River, hoping to get in touch with the Serbians who were defending the Babuna Pass and whose guns they could hear pounding over the ten miles of intervening mountain ridges. The British bore little of this fighting, having made their advance over toward Lake Doiran.
But though the French had arrived within hearing of the Serbian guns, they lacked the numbers that would give them the strength to push farther. The French, indeed, had done well in their efforts to support the Serbians in their distress. It was Great Britain that had not lived up to her promise of affording "our Allies all the material assistance in our power." So obviously had the British military authorities failed that much public sentiment in Great Britain was worked up against them, which became all the more acute when a telegram from M. Pachitch, the Serbian premier, was published, in which he said: "Serbia is making superhuman efforts to defend her existence, in response to the advice and desire of her great ally. For this she is condemned to death.... In spite of the heroism of our soldiers, our resistance cannot be maintained indefinitely. We beg you to do all you can to insure your troops reaching us that they may help our army...."
On the same day this was published in the London papers, there was also printed a speech made by Lord Lansdowne in the House of Lords, in which he stated that the British had landed in Saloniki a force of only 13,000 men.
In France the sentiment in favor of assisting the Serbians was so strong that the Cabinet, which did not approve of a Balkan campaign, was forced to resign. The French president thereupon found a new prime minister in M. Briand, the ex-Socialist, who once before had been premier, and, associating with himself M. Viviani and other ex-ministers, he formed a Cabinet which was prepared to push the campaign in aid of Serbia to the fullest extent. On the following day, October 29, 1915, General Joffre went to London to consult with the British Government and to persuade them to take more energetic measures with regard to transporting troops to Saloniki. Apparently his mission was successful, for after that large forces were sent to the Near East, but so far as any effectual help to Serbia was concerned, it was now too late.
At about this time Greece was showing a decided change of attitude. Evidently this change was not a little due to the success of the Austro-Germans and the Bulgarians in the north, and the nearer they came to her own frontier, the less cordial became Greece to the Allies. Every obstacle, short of armed interference, was put in the way of transportation of troops and supplies to the front up in Macedonia. This attitude was to continue until the Serbians were finally swept out of their native land and the question came up of retiring the allied troops back to Saloniki, across Greek territory, when the British and French took very severe measures against the Greek authorities.
Meanwhile, the invasion of Serbia was rolling onward. Having taken Kragujevatz, where they began restoring the arsenal to working order with feverish haste, the Austro-Germans crossed the Cacak-Kragujevatz road and continued onward. Koevess advanced over the Posetza and the Germans entered Jagodina on November 3, 1915.
By this time the Serbian headquarters at Kralievo was seriously threatened; in fact, the Serbian Government was able to withdraw just in time to prevent capture and establish itself in Rashka. On came the enemy, along both banks of the Western Morava. In the streets of Kralievo there was fierce fighting, at times hand-to-hand, between the defenders and the Brandenburg troops of the invaders, but finally, on November 5, 1915, the town was taken.
Here the invaders made their first large capture of war material, which included 130 guns, though most of them were said to be of an obsolete pattern, the others being without breech-blocks. Within forty-eight hours the Germans had reached Krushevatz, where 3,000 Serbian soldiers were captured, not counting 1,500 wounded lying in the hospital.
The whole Western Morava was now in the hands of the invaders. To the eastward Gallwitz pressed on until he came to the hills south of Lugotzni, where he was held up for a short space by the Serbian rear guards. Finally, the heights were taken by storm. On November 4, 1915, Parachin on the railroad was taken; from this point a branch line runs back to Zaichar, already in possession of the Bulgarians, so that now the two armies, German and Bulgarian, were almost in touch with each other. And next day, in fact, their lines joined up at Krivivir, which was taken that night by an assault under cover of darkness. Their lines were now only thirty miles from Nish.
During this time other large bodies of Bulgarians under Boyadjieff were also advancing on Nish; one from Pirot, in a southerly direction, and another along the road from Kniashevatz, marching north. They were now closing in on that city in overwhelming strength.
THE FALL OF NISH—DEFENSE OF BABUNA PASS
At a small village called Svrlig, six miles outside the city, the Serbians began a fight which presently assumed the character of some of the bloody battles they had fought earlier in the campaign. Again and again the Bulgarian attacks were hurled back; thus the battle lasted for three days, from November 2 to 5, 1915. The Serbians retired only when the Bulgarians began bringing up their big guns, and the shells were already dropping into Nish. On November 5, 1915, the Bulgarians entered the city and took possession, where even yet the British and French flags were flying, raised by the Serbians when they still thought that only a few days intervened until they would be welcoming the allied troops. A hundred guns were taken with Nish, though the Serbians claimed that they were old and obsolete.
The fall of Nish, from a political point of view, at least, was the worst blow that the Serbians had suffered since the capture of Belgrade. The German and Austrian papers made the most of it, and indeed all Europe now realized that the last days of the Serbian resistance were at hand.
In Macedonia the Bulgarians under Todoroff were not having an easy success. They were being held up still at Katshanik Pass, where the Serbians under Colonel Bojovitch were daily beating back the Bulgarian assaults and thus keeping open the retreat of the main Serbian army. Down in the Babuna Pass the Serbians were making a similar stubborn defense, hoping against hope that the French would come to their relief. And possibly, had it not been for the defeats that the Bulgarians were receiving from the French at Strumitza, they would have been able to take the pass long before. For in that direction Todoroff had been suffering great loss; so severely was he pressed that he was, for the time being, unable to press his advance into the heart of Macedonia. To this extent, at least, the Allies, and especially the French, did help the Serbians.
The Bulgarians were in exactly the same position, and trying to accomplish exactly the same thing, as in the Second Balkan War. At that time they were endeavoring to drive a wedge in between the Serbians and the Greeks. Now the situation was the same, except that the French were in the place of the Greeks.
From Katshanik to Krivolak the railroad was in Bulgarian hands. From Krivolak south to Doiran it was in the hands of the Allies, though parts of it were at times under the fire of the Bulgarian artillery. South of Katshanik the Bulgarians had crossed the road and had pushed westward until they were held up at the Babuna Pass. Should the pass be forced the Serbian line was in immediate danger of being flanked and the French, too, would be in a similar danger, for by striking south the Bulgarians could make a move around toward the French rear. Hence the almost superhuman efforts both Serbians and French were making to close this gap.
The stand that the Serbians made in Babuna Pass was one of those feats which will remain inscribed on the pages of history through the ages and will excite the admiration of all people, regardless of how their sympathies may lie toward the main issues of the war. During the first week of November Colonel Vassitch had only 5,000 men with which to dispute the right of way against 20,000 Bulgarians. And not only had the Bulgarians a great advantage in the matter of numbers, but they were well supplied with big guns. Day after day and night after night, the little force of Serbians crouched among the deep shadows of the defile, sometimes without food, always under a heavy fire, now and again making the rock cliffs about them echo with bursts of their plaintive, national folk songs. After November 4, 1915, the Bulgarian attacks became more persistent, and their infantry would hurl itself up into the pass; then the Serbians would spring up from behind rocks and ledges and throw themselves at their hated kinsmen with naked bayonets, shouting such words in their common language as send the flush of rage burning through the cheeks of men and make things red before their eyes. Again and again were these sanguinary hand-to-hand struggles enacted under the towering rock walls of those forbidding mountains, and again and again the Bulgarians were thrown back. Meanwhile, the French, only ten miles away, were within sound of the firing.
As a matter of fact, General Sarrail had already done wonders, considering the shortness of the time he had had and the small forces and few facilities at his disposal. It seemed, to those at a distance, such a small gap to fill. And indeed, so nearly did Sarrail effect the junction that nothing but the absence of reenforcements at a critical moment caused him to fail.
As soon as he had landed at Saloniki he had sent every soldier under his command along the railroad up the valley of Vardar, toward Veles. Unfortunately, transportation facilities were poor; the road was only single track; curving and twisting in and out among the rising foothills and mountain spurs.
His first fighting had been at Strumitza station, where he defeated the Bulgarians and so assured himself of possession of Demir Kapu defile, a cleft in the mountains ten miles in length and from which, had they held it, the Bulgarians could easily, with a comparatively small force, have prevented any further advance. Having secured this pass, Sarrail pushed through it to Krivolak, which was reached on October 19, 1915. But here he was compelled to make a halt, to fortify this advanced position and to await further reenforcements.
When news of the proximity of the French advance reached Vassitch, he redoubled his efforts, and on October 22, 1915, he thrust his little army forward and succeeded in recapturing Veles. This town lay along the railroad, about thirty-five miles northwest of Krivolak.
Three miles north of Krivolak, on the road to Ishtip, rises a steep and forbidding height, called Kara Hodjali (the Black Priest), which the French were fortunate enough to take before the Bulgarians came up in force. It was this height which enabled them, when the Bulgarians did swarm down on them, some days later, to hold their position. From October 30, 1915, until November 5, 1915, the fighting here was furious, but finally the Bulgarians were driven back. Meanwhile, however, the advance had been delayed and Vassitch, after holding Veles a week, was forced to retire to Babuna Pass again.
From Krivolak to the pass was twenty-five miles, due east. For fifteen miles the road lay across a rolling plain, to the River Tserna, as the Macedonians and Serbians called it, or Tcherna, meaning "Black," in Bulgarian. Beyond that rose steep and difficult mountain ridges, which the Bulgarians had occupied and fortified. Yet Sarrail determined to make an effort to force his way across.
By this time reenforcements had arrived from Saloniki, so he began moving across the plain through Negotin and Kavadar to the Tcherna. This stream, though narrow, was deep and unfordable. It could be crossed only in one place, by a small plank bridge, at Vozartzi.
On November 5, 1915, the French troops began crossing this bridge and scaling the heights before them, some of whose peaks towered fully a thousand feet above the river. And here it was that they first heard the booming of the Serbian guns, on the other side of the ridge.
Sarrail now advanced his men northward, along the west bank of the Tcherna, and next day he delivered an assault on the Mount of the Archangel, ten miles below Vozartzi. Here was the center of the Bulgarian positions, and here their lines must be pierced, if Babuna Pass was to be reached.
But not only was this position well fortified, but the Bulgarians were in superior force to the French. Moreover, as soon as Todoroff heard of what was going on, he hurried reenforcements to the Bulgarians on Mount Archangel. And this Sarrail knew; yet, without hesitation, he began the assault.
At the first attack the Bulgarian advance lines were driven out of the villages at the base of the mountain. The French continued their advance, and on November 10, 1915, they began a circling movement which resulted in the Bulgarians being squeezed out of Sirkovo, a village some distance up the mountain.
But by this time the Bulgarian reenforcements were beginning to arrive, and by the end of the second week of the month they began to take the offensive. They now had 60,000 men; against this force it was obviously impossible for the French to make any further headway.
The Bulgarian commander now showed that it was his intention to circle about the French, cut off their retreat by destroying the wooden bridge over the Tcherna in their rear, then pin them up against the mountain and pound them until they surrendered, all of which might have been accomplished by a more skillful general.
For three days a violent battle raged, in which the fate of the French army more than once hung in the balance, but superior military skill counted in the end. Possibly, too, the hearts of the Bulgarian soldiers were not in this fight, for the Bulgarian people have an almost reverential respect for the French. At any rate, they did not show here the same qualities that so distinguished them in the war against the Turks. At the end of the third day their lines began wavering, then broke. So completely were they routed that the French were compelled to bury nearly 4,000 of the dead they left behind. So close had the fighting been that at times the Bulgarian infantry charged the French positions to within a dozen yards, but in the last moment lacked the dash to carry them through the machine-gun fire and into the French ranks. At such moments the French would countercharge, whereupon the Bulgarians would turn and flee. Had the French been only a few thousand men stronger, they could have followed up their advantage, completely routed the Bulgarians, pushed their way across the mountains to Babuna Pass and so relieved the Serbians, as well as closing the gap through which the Bulgarians were yet to penetrate into Macedonia.
The French completed their victory on November 14, 1915; until the next day the Serbians held out, hearing the French guns, now loud and clear, then receding, hoping every hour to see them come streaming over the mountains to their aid. But the French could not do the impossible. The Bulgarians had been thrown back, but not crushed. Sarrail dared not leave that slender crossing over the Tcherna too far behind.
On November 16, 1915, the Serbians finally fell back from the pass on Prilep. The French, however, not knowing of the Serbian retirement at the time, continued to hold their advanced position at Mount Archangel until November 20, 1915, when the Bulgarians returned to give them fresh battle. And again the French were able to repulse their attacks, but further advance was now out of the question.
The situation of the Serbian armies up in the north was now truly desperate. The combined Austro-German and Bulgarian lines, beginning at Vishegrad, north of Montenegro, swept in a straight line across the heart of Serbia to Nish, where it curved downward to Vranya, then swept into Veles and down to where the French army prevented it from reaching the Greek frontier. It was, in fact, like a great dragnet, which had only to be contracted to sweep the Serbians inward, over against the awful defiles of the Montenegrin and Albanian Mountains, a country through which no organized army could pass in a body, and through which only the strongest of the noncombatants could hope to escape alive. And for a time it seemed as though the French would prick a hole through this net, through which, by rending it into a wide gap, the Serbians could have been saved. But with the retirement of Colonel Vassitch from Babuna Pass that last chance was gone; Serbia was left to her fate.
Meanwhile the pressure from the north continued irresistibly; steadily the Serbian armies were being pushed back against the mountain ranges, in comparison to which their own mountains were mere hills. And while the Serbians were waxing weaker every day, their enemies were growing stronger, not only because their long line was contracting, but because now they were being constantly reenforced. Also, with the cutting of the railroad, all means of supply were gone; the Serbians must now continue the fight with their own resources. They were now becoming woefully short, not only of ammunition, but of food as well. Yet they continued the struggle, retreating before the enemy facing them, step by step backward, taking advantage of every little natural position to cause the invaders as much loss as possible.
During the two weeks following the fall of Nish the three commanders of the invading armies began, and continued, a great converging movement on the Kossovo Plain, their object being to completely encircle the main Serbian armies. Koevess was advancing his forces toward Mitrovitza on the north side of the plain from Kralievo up the valley of the Ibar, branching out of the Western Morava. In the hills north of Ivanitza the Serbian rear guards made a stubborn attempt to hold him back, but finally they were dislodged and the Austrians occupied Ivanitza on November 9, 1915. Four days later, after driving the Serbians from their intrenchments in the Stolovi ranges, he reached Rashka, which had been the seat of the Serbian Government after its flight from Kralievo and which was situated on the Ibar, some distance along the road to Mitrovitza and only a few miles from Novi Bazar. This place he took on November 20, 1915, and with it a small arsenal, in which were fifty large mortars and eight guns, which even the German reports described as of "somewhat ancient pattern."
To the eastward the Austrians had taken possession of Sienitza and Novi Varosh, up toward the Montenegrin frontier. Being expelled from Zhochanitza, the Serbians retired to Mitrovitza. By November 22, 1915, the Austrian lines had followed to within five miles of that point.
Gallwitz and his Germans, in the meanwhile, operating on the left flank of the Austrians, was pushing southward, his object being to take Pristina, on the east side of the Kossovo Plain and about twenty miles southeast of Mitrovitza. But this was a task that could not be accomplished without much difficulty, for before him towered the backbone of Serbia's main mountain ridges, each ravine and each ledge sheltering strong Serbian forces.
As usual, however, the big guns cleared the way before Gallwitz, though at Jastrebatz the Serbians made him pay a heavy price in the losses he suffered. On this front the Bulgars were now coming close enough to the Germans to support them; against the two the Serbians had not the slightest chance.
By November 8, 1915, Gallwitz was starting out from Krushevatz, after which he followed the banks of a small branch of the Western Morava in a southwesterly direction, toward Brus, with one part of his force, another being sent due south across a range of high hills toward Kurshumlia. He soon reached Ribari and Ribarska Bania, where the retreating Serbians gave him what he himself described in his official report as "very stiff fighting." Next he stormed the pass through the mountains and thus gained an entrance to the valley of the Toplitza, through which flows a river westward into the Morava, the main stream by that name, though in this district it is known as the Southern Morava.
A week's hard fighting and marching followed before Kurshumlia could be taken, which the Serbians evacuated without resistance, though not before they had stripped it of everything that might be of value to the enemy. Here was located a Serbian hospital, full of wounded soldiers, all of whom fell into the hands of the Germans.
Moving on from this town, which lay about halfway between Krushevatz and Pristina, the Germans next pushed on to Prepolatz defile in the eastern part of the Kopaonik Mountains, which they reached on November 20, 1915, then scaled the intervening ridges on their way southward. The Serbians struggled on, but the same day on which Koevess came within striking distance of Mitrovitza, Gallwitz was threatening Pristina from the north end of the Lab Valley.
Thus the Serbians were finally driven out of the last corner of their native land, on November 20, 1915. Only a week previously Mackensen had communicated with the Serbian leaders, offering them terms that certainly should have seemed alluring to them in their dire extremity. This offer had been to the effect that if they would make peace they should lose nothing but Macedonia and a strip of territory along the Bulgarian frontier, including Pirot and Vranya.
The answer of the Serbian Premier, M. Pachitch, to this offer of separate terms was:
"Our way is marked out. We will be true to the Entente and die honorably."
After the evacuation of Nish the Serbians, under Marshal Stepanovitch, retreated to the west bank of the Morava, blowing up the bridges as soon as they were across. Here they held up the Bulgarians for some time, the river acting as a screen. It will have been noted that the Serbian forces always offered the most stubborn resistance to the Bulgarians, often coming to close quarters with them, whereas the Austro-Germans drove them on miles ahead of them. The reason was that the Bulgarians were not so well provided with heavy artillery, such as they had being more or less matched by the Serbian field pieces. The Germans, however, could stand off several miles and shell a Serbian position without the Serbians being able to reply with one effective shot.
In this battle along the Morava, King Peter appeared, hobbling up and down the lines under fire, talking to the men here and there and uttering words of encouragement. This had the effect of reviving some of the old enthusiasm which was somewhat dampened after such a continuous series of reverses and retreats.
BULGARIAN ADVANCE—SERBIAN RESISTANCE
On November 7, 1915, the Bulgarians captured Alexinatz in the north. The Serbian army of the Timok, retiring from Zaitchar, barely succeeded in crossing the bridge over the river in time to avoid complete disaster. In the south, and on that same day, the Serbians were compelled to abandon Leskovatz. With the capture of these two towns, and several other minor points along the line, the enemy secured complete possession of the main line of railroad from Belgrade through Nish to Sofia and Constantinople, and of the Nish-Saloniki railroad as far south as the French intrenchments at Krivolak. This was to them a very material triumph, for hitherto they had been transporting munitions to the Turks by the water route, along the Danube to Rustchuk in northern Bulgaria. This route was not only more direct, but much quicker. Their main object had now been accomplished in full. Thus Germany was now in direct railroad communication with Asia, and again the German and Austrian papers made frequent references to a possible Egyptian campaign in the future. Another great advantage resulting to both Bulgaria and the two Teutonic empires from the capture of the railroad was the fact that Bulgaria, whose cereal crops had been accumulating in big stores because they could not be exported, could now send them into Germany and Austria, where they were badly needed, thus defeating in some measure the object of the British blockade.
From Alexinatz the hard-pressed army of the Timok had only a single line of retreat, which was by the road to Prokuplie and Kurshumlia, and, in danger of being cut off by the Germans in the west, it began a hurried march, though fighting rear-guard actions all the while, and was thus able to make a junction with the Serbians retiring from Krushevatz. Prokuplie did not fall into the hands of the Bulgarians until November 16, 1915. Northwest of Leskovatz, where the pressure was not quite so extreme, the Serbians under Stepanovitch made a determined stand on November 11-12, 1915. Charging the Bulgarian center suddenly, they broke through their lines and threw them back in great confusion and took some guns and a number of prisoners. But as usual, the Serbians were not strong enough to follow up their advantage, and presently strong reserves came up to reenforce the Bulgarian forces. Two days later the fight was renewed and the Serbians were compelled to retire down the road toward Tulare and Pristina.
Meanwhile the Bulgarians in Uskub were sending forces north toward Pristina, and this sector of the campaign was to witness the battle of Katshanik Pass, in which the Serbians were yet to put up a fight as heroic as any of the whole campaign.
It has now become quite obvious to the Serbians that they were not to receive from the Allies the assistance that was necessary to save their main armies. At this time there were reports of a Russian invasion of Bulgaria to be led by General Kuropatkin, and it was even said that the czar had himself sent a telegram to the Serbian Premier, M. Pachitch, promising him such aid if only he could hold out until the end of November, 1915. How much of these rumors reached the Serbians is not known, but at any rate they did not materially affect their plan of action. There was only one plan now possible, and that was to effect an orderly retreat to some territory where their enemies could not follow, and thus keep the army intact. The way behind them, into the mountains of Montenegro or Albania, lay open. But without railroads, without even one good wagon road, it was impossible for an army to pass this way in a body. It would have to break into small bands, each taking a separate trail by itself. Aside from that there was no food supply; the soldiers would starve to death. It was true that the ships of the Allies controlled the Adriatic, but without roads no adequate food supply could be forwarded to the retreating armies. Nor did those barren regions offer any local supply; the poverty-stricken natives could barely maintain themselves. The only alternative to a retreat through this wilderness was to escape south over the Greek frontier, where they could join the French and British forces outside Saloniki.
But this was just the alternative which the Austro-Germans and the Bulgarians were determined to deny them. The Serbian forces still numbered somewhere around 200,000; this body, combined with the allied troops, who would presently be numbering another 100,000, would form a military force, its rear protected by the British and French ships, which the Teutons and Bulgarians would never dare to attack, even though the Greeks still continued neutral. Moreover, there was no doubt that the Greeks would interfere should the Bulgars cross their frontier.
This force, then, would continue a constant threat to the lines of communication and transportation which had just been opened up between the Central Powers and Turkey, and along which they would soon be sending large quantities of war munitions to the Turkish forces at Gallipoli. At any moment the enemy at Saloniki might strike, and to guard against such a possibility, the Austro-Germans would have to maintain larger forces along the railroad than they could spare. At all costs the Serbians must be prevented from joining the Allies. And this was the object of the powerful effort made by the Bulgarians to hurl their forces through the gap between Sarrail and the Serbians in the Babuna Pass.
However, the Serbians decided on a determined effort to break through the net that was being drawn around them. This meant, first of all, that the Katshanik Pass, which in the second week of November, 1915, was still in the hands of the Serbians but was being attacked from the south by the Bulgarians, had to be first cleared of the enemy, who must then be driven out of Uskub, whence the Serbians would then be able to force their way west to Tetovo, and then south by the main highway through Gostivar and Kitchevo, to Monastir. Once at Monastir the road would be comparatively easy to Saloniki, by way of the short branch of railroad whose terminus was at Monastir.
In the effort to carry out this plan one of the most desperate battles of the whole Serbian campaign was fought, quite as bloody and as heroic as any of the large engagements that were fought in the beginning of the invasion. It failed, but it was a failure of which no army need to have been ashamed.
On about November 10, 1915, Bojovitch's army with which he had been holding the pass against overwhelming numbers of Bulgarians, had dwindled to 5,000. At about that time he was reenforced by three regiments, including one from the famous Shumadia Division and one from the Morava Division, which were sent to him along the railroad, the only bit of railroad remaining to the Serbians, leading from Pristina to Ferizovitch, the latter point being some ten miles distant from the Katshanik Pass. The weather had begun getting cold and raw by this time, and the roads were in a miserable condition. The Serbians, though exhausted by their many hardships, and weak from the want of proper food, set out from the terminus of the railroad and pressed on toward the pass. As soon as they arrived Bojovitch prepared to deliver his final attack on the Bulgarians.
The Serbian general had now about one hundred field pieces, mostly of the French 75 and 155 type; 3 inches and 6 inches. With these he began a vigorous bombardment of the Bulgarian trenches, raining a continuous shower of shrapnel and high explosive shells on them. Under this terrible fire the Bulgarians were compelled to retire from their defensive works and retreat south for four miles, out of range of the Serbian artillery.
Then the Serbian infantry charged, pouring volley after volley into the ranks of the retreating Bulgarians. The latter began fleeing in disorder, but presently they came up against their reserves, whereupon they rallied. On came the Serbians with cries of "Na nosh! Na nosh!" and "Cus schtick! Cus schtick!" ("With the knife!" and "With the bayonet!")
Those were cries that the Bulgarians knew well, and they too set up the same shouts. The rifle firing died down. The two lines charged each other silently, like warriors of old, with points of glittering steel before them. Then came the merging clash, and the rows of running men broke into turbulent melees, knots of struggling, writhing bodies. Shouts and hideous curses sounded up and down the lines like the snarls of savage animals. Wounded men reeled, panting and sobbing, sometimes in their savage agony springing on their friends and rending them with their hands and teeth before they finally collapsed into inert heaps, dead. Others, throwing down their unloaded rifles, picked up jagged rocks and hurled them into knots of struggling men, regardless of whether they smashed in the skulls of friends or foes. There had been greater battles in that campaign, but never had the fighting been so savage, so bitter; even the battle of Timok, the first encounter between Bulgar and Serb, was far outdone.
For a while it seemed as if the Serbians would actually batter their way through. One Serbian regiment charged seven times and each time captured three guns, only to have them wrested out of its hands again. Once the Bulgarians' center was pierced by a tremendous effort on the part of the Shumadians and the Morava troops. The Bulgarians sagged back, and some broke and fled.
But again reserves came on the scene, whereas the Serbians were, every last man of them, on the front line of the fighting. Fresh forces of Bulgarians, being shipped up from Uskub by rail, were constantly arriving on the field, and in the end they were enough to turn the balance.
For three days the battle had raged, one continuous series of sharp, hand-to-hand encounters, by night as well as by day. But finally, on November 15, 1915, the Serbians had reached the limit of their strength; the battle was going against them. And then they retired from the pass by way of the Jatzovitza Hills toward Prisrend.
Thus the plans of the Serbians to cut their path south to their Allies on the Greek frontier were defeated, and they were forced back into the north again. The effect of the collapse of this effort was immediately seen in the withdrawal from Mitrovitza of the Serbian staff, such members of the Serbian Government as had remained there and the diplomatic representatives of the Entente nations.
The Bulgarians had been perfectly well aware of the plans that lay behind the tremendous effort made by the Serbians at Katshanik Pass and they had sought to forestall part of it by attacking Kalkandelen, a point which had been taken and retaken more than once. On November 15, 1915, they took it again, and finally, driving the small Serbian force that had occupied it before them, they took Gostivar on the following day, the Serbians retiring to Kichivo, on the road to Monastir. On about the same day, or a little later, Boyadjieff, after a stiff fight, stormed the heights near Gilan, northwest of Kutshanik Pass, and, after occupying Gilan itself, advanced toward Pristina, reaching its vicinity by November 22, 1915.
The invaders had succeeded in their main object, which was to round up and if possible corner the main Serbian forces; they were now rolled back on to the great Kossovo Plain, where they were united, but considerably confused and hampered by the vast crowds of fugitives fleeing from all parts of the north, center and east of the country. Near Mitrovitza, on the north of the plain, near Pristina on the east of it, and at Katshanik at its southern extremity, the Austro-Germans and the Bulgarians had, by the beginning of the fourth week of November, 1915, absolutely rounded up and hemmed in all the larger forces of the Serbians. Here they must either surrender, engage in one last desperate battle that meant certain destruction, or retire backward into the mountains of Montenegro and Albania, which by this time were covered with deep snow.
It was finally decided to give the enemy one more battle and if that failed, as seemed inevitable, to retreat into the wilderness, thus defeating the main hope of Mackensen, which was to eliminate the Serbians entirely as a factor in the war, either by capturing the whole army or destroying it. King Peter himself was present, hoping by his presence to revive the spirits of his soldiers to such a pitch that they would make a hard fight, for by this time they had undoubtedly lost a good deal of their morale.
Von Gallwitz had passed through Nish and was now driving back the Serbian advance posts in the Toplitza Valley, while the Austrians, on his right, were pressing on toward Novi Bazar. As will be seen by a glance at the map, the Serbians were therefore bearing the concentrated attack of four armies; that which operated from Vishegrad, the mixed forces under Koevess, Gallwitz's army and the main Bulgarian forces. The pressure was incessant. Reenforcements had been hurried through from Germany to make good the heavy losses which had been sustained during the campaign. Communication between the main Serbian armies and the Serbians in the south had now been cut completely and only Prisrend and Monastir remained to be taken before the whole of Serbia and Serbian Macedonia would be cleared of the Serbian fighting forces.
The fight in the region of Pristina was to be the last grand battle of the retreat. Here what remained of the Serbian main forces took battle formation, finally to dispute the enemy's advance. To this end the remaining stock of gun ammunition and rifle cartridges had been carefully saved and a store of war material gathered at Mitrovitza in readiness for such a stand. The weary bullocks were turned loose from the gun carriages they hauled, for there could be no taking them along up among the crags of the mountain country. The guns themselves were brought into position on the surrounding hills, trenches were dug wherever possible. Machine guns were located to cover the mountain paths and valley roads, and strong redoubts, which had been thrown up with civilian labor before the army had arrived, were manned. And then there remained a brief period during which the weary soldiers could take some much needed rest.
There was something tragically significant that this last stand should be made on the plains of Kossovo, or the "Field of the Ravens," as it is sometimes called by the natives, on account of the great flocks of those birds that frequent it. For on this same field it was that Lazar, the last of the ancient Serbian czars, whose empire included the whole of Macedonia, Albania, Thessaly, northern Greece, and Bulgaria, had fought just such a last desperate battle against the Turks in 1389, and had gone down before the Moslem hordes, and with him the Serbian nation. Each year the Serbians had commemorated the anniversary of this event by mourning.
Kossovo Plain is a high plateau, forty miles long and ten wide; from its rolling fields the forbidding crags of Montenegro and Albania are plainly visible, black in summer and white with snow in winter.
The gray dawn of a November day brought the first mutterings of the storm that was presently to break in fury up and down the whole front. The ragged, mud-stained cavalry of Serbia came trotting wearily through the infantry lines, bearing signs of the many skirmishes they had taken part in. The outlying posts were exchanging rifle fire with the advance guards of the enemy and now, through his powerful field glasses, the Serbian commander could see great masses of the invading troops deploying against his front.
"You have come to see the death of a nation," he remarked to an American correspondent who was present.
"It is sad that a stranger's eyes should see us die," said another officer in high command.
Soon the crackling and sputtering fire of the Mannlicher rifles was rippling up and down the lines; the whole front from Pristina to south of Marcovitza blazed flame, and the last big battle of Serbia's resistance was on. Two lines of men, the one thick and heavily equipped, the other attenuated and half-starved, were locked together in a desperate hand-to-hand struggle.
As though to afford a proper setting for the scene, nature herself broke into a wild fury; overhead the sky darkened, then the black clouds burst into a howling storm, full of cold sleet and rain. Amidst the black, stark hills, in a ceaseless downpour, men trampled and slipped through the clay mud, dripping wet from head to foot, stabbing, shooting, hurling hand bombs, until this peaceful valley echoed to the shouts and roar of combating armies.
And as the first day's fighting increased in intensity, the fury of the elements overhead intensified, and presently it was impossible to distinguish the roar of the big cannon from the deep crash of thunder; intermingling with the shouts and cries of men roared the blast of the gale as it whipped over rocky eminences.
Here again was raised that dreaded battle cry: "Na nosh! Na nosh!" With such a shout a whole regiment of the fierce Shumadians leaped out of its trenches and tore across the intervening ground between its trenches and the rocks of a near-by eminence which a force of Magyars had made into a position. Haggard from pain and starvation, their hair long and matted, some still in ragged uniforms, but most of them in the sheepskin coats of peasants, their eyes bloodshot with rage, they formed not a pleasant picture to the intrenched Huns. The rifle fire from the eminence leaped to a climax; the Hungarians knew they were fighting for their lives. In the horde rushing up the steep slope lay an appalling danger. Up they surged, without firing a shot, the bayonets gleaming in the lightning flashes. Among the rocks appeared white faces behind black rifle barrels. And then, with one fierce yell, the men in the shaggy sheepskin coats were hurling themselves in among the men in blue-gray uniforms. For a few brief moments there was a wild melee; then the men in blue-gray broke and ran.
Such scenes were common throughout the three or four days of the battle.
What made the resistance of the Serbian soldiers so fierce was the knowledge possessed by each that there was no alternative to victory but a retreat into those white, bleak wilds behind him. And there was not a Serbian boy in those ranks who did not realize what a winter's march through that country would mean.
From the fall of Nish, in fact, the Serbians had been fighting with their backs to a wall, and grim and bloody were the struggles between Serb and German in the wild tangle of hills that surrounded the Plain of Kossovo. Quarter was neither given nor asked, and unlucky was the too venturesome Austrian regiment that penetrated the Serbian lines the first few days without sufficient support.
"The 184th Regiment," said one of the soldiers' letters, which were published in the Austrian papers, "went into a valley and was never seen again." One Serbian regiment, stationed to hold the mouth to a small valley, to cover the retirement of another Serbian regiment, remained at its post for four days, fighting off the greater part of an Austro-German division, until, of the 1,200 men of the original detachment, only sixty-three remained on their feet, and most of those wounded.
To his credit be it said that the aged King of Serbia remained with his battling men to the end. While the guns were thundering against Pristina and the thin line of the last resistance was frenziedly holding back the German and Bulgarian lines, there came to an ancient church, which was under fire, a mud-stained old man in a field service uniform. The few foreign correspondents who saw him pass into the church did not recognize in this old man, bent, haggard and unshaven, the king who had sat on the throne of Kara-Georgevitch—the grandson of that famous swineherd.
Before the high altar the old man knelt in prayer while a group of staff officers stood at a distance, watching him in silence. The crash of bursting shrapnel came to them from outside and once a window was shattered and the little church was filled with splinters of flying glass and still the King of Serbia knelt at his devotions, praying that at the last moment his kingdom might be saved from destruction.
But in spite of his appeals the end came.
END OF GERMAN OPERATIONS—FLIGHT OF SERB PEOPLE—GREECE
With the fall of Pristina and Mitrovitza on November 23, 1915, ended the operations against Serbia, so far as Mackensen and his Germans were concerned. On November 28, 1915, German Headquarters issued an extraordinary report in which it announced that with the flight of the scanty remains of the Serbian army into the Albanian Mountains "our great operations in the Balkans are brought to a close. Our object, to effect communications with Bulgaria and the Turkish Empire, has been accomplished." After briefly describing these operations and admitting the "tough resistance" of the Serbians, who had "fought bravely," this communique asserted that more than 100,000 of them, almost half their original force, had been taken prisoners, while their losses from killed and desertions could not be estimated. The impression left by this document was that there were very few of the Serbian soldiers left. On the other hand, the Allies claimed that on the date mentioned Serbia still had 200,000 fighting men left.
At any rate, it was true that Germany had now opened railroad communications with the Orient. Her engineers and military railroad staff had repaired the damage the retreating Serbians had done to the main trunk line, and early in December through trains were running from Berlin to Constantinople. Having accomplished this, Germany withdrew most of her troops from the Balkans, leaving the Bulgarians to finish Macedonia, and Austria to deal with Montenegro.
It was a nation, rather than an army, that was in flight; not for many hundreds of years has there been such an instance in history. When Nish had fallen into the hands of the enemy, the population in general had realized that the whole land was going to be overrun by the invaders. Then almost the whole people had set out in flight for Monastir, near the Greek frontier, where the Bulgarians had not yet closed in. On its retreat from Kossovo Plain the Serbian army caught up with the rear of this fleeing throng. Winter had set in unusually early that year. Even at Saloniki on the shores of the tepid Aegean and sheltered behind a ring of hills, where snow had not fallen in November in ten years, a fierce northerly gale, known as the "Vardar wind," had sprung up on November 26, 1915, and kept the air swirling with snow-flakes, while up in the near-by hills the snow was already two feet deep. Up in the Albanian Mountains the paths and trails were already choked, while chilling blasts of sleet-laden winds howled through the defiles.
The way from Upper Serbia to Monastir led across great, bleak slopes, which were now being lashed by these terrible winter storms. Old women and children fell by the wayside; young mothers, hugging their babies to their breasts, sought shelter behind rocks and died there of weakness and starvation. All along the road of retreat was marked by the abandoned dead and dying. One of the very few descriptions of this phase of the Serbian flight that has appeared was written by Mr. William G. Shepherd, special correspondent of the American United Press:
"The entire world must prepare to shudder," he writes from Monastir, "when all that is happening on the Albanian refugee trails finally comes to light. The horrors of the flight of the hapless Serbian people are growing with the arrival here of each new contingent from the devastated district.
"They say that nearly the whole route from Prisrend to Monastir, ninety miles, is lined with human corpses and the carcasses of horses and mules dead of starvation, while thousands of old men, women, and children are lying on the rocks and in the thickets beside the trail, hungry and exhausted, awaiting the end.
"At night the women and children, ill-clad and numbed with cold, struggle pitifully around meager fires of mountain shrub, to resume in the morning the weary march toward their supposed goal of safety—Monastir. But by the time this dispatch is printed Monastir, too, may be in the hands of the enemy. This will leave them to the mercy of the inhospitable mountain fastnesses, where for the past two days a terrific blizzard has been raging, or to the Bulgarians."
The chief of the Serbian General Staff, Field Marshal Putnik, old and now very ill, was driven along the road in a carriage until his horses fell dead of exhaustion. His escort of soldiers carried him for two days in an ordinary chair to which poles had been tied for handles and so brought him to safety. One account reported that the carriages of the retreating Serbians literally passed over the dead who had fallen in the road, for it was impossible either to spare the time to drag them out of the way or to make a detour to avoid them.
King Peter himself had escaped from Prisrend by motor car, accompanied by three officers and four men, arriving in Liuma over the Albanian frontier. Thence the monarch and his remaining handful of followers set out through the mountains, the king traveling part of the way on horseback and partly in a litter slung between two mules, through mud and a constant downpour of rain. During the evening of the second day they lost the trail, which was only rediscovered after much wandering.
After two weeks' rest at Scutari, King Peter continued his journey to San Giovanni di Medua, Durazzo, and Avlona, whence the party crossed over the Adriatic to Brindisi in Italy, where the king remained incognito for six days. After a two days' sea voyage from Brindisi the old monarch finally arrived in Saloniki, where he was received with all honors by the Greek authorities and the Allies.
It is estimated that the number of civilians in flight over these terrible roads numbered fully 700,000. And of these fully 200,000 died.
"It seems so useless," writes a German officer, in a letter which was published in a German paper, "for there is nowhere else for us to reach except the sea and there is nothing but the smell of dead bodies of horses, men, cattle—a discord of destruction that seems contrary to all our civilization. Our own men are apathetic and weary, and have no heart in the business. The Bulgarian soldiers are not very popular with us. In the first place they are more like Russians than Germans, and there is something about the Slav that makes one's hair bristle. Their cruelty is terrible."
Meanwhile, Prisrend, on the extreme right of the Serbian main force, did not fall till November 30, 1915. From Mitrovitza a part of the Serbian army had retired and fought the Austrians again at Vutchitra, but was beaten and driven across the Sitnitza, on the western bank of which stream it continued fighting until finally it fled into the mountains.
The main line of retreat was along the highway from Pristina to Prisrend. The Bulgarians, pressing on after, took the heights west of Ferizovitch and also advanced northward toward Ipek, against which point Koevess had sent a detachment. The retreat to Prisrend was covered by the Shumadians. On November 27, 1915, 80,000 Serbians stood at bay in front of this town, but next day, after a few hours' fighting, and having used up all their ammunition, they unbreeched their guns and fled across the frontier into Albania, making along the White Drin for Kula Liuma, while several thousands of them fell prisoners into the hands of the enemy. Thus was the last shot of the Serbian resistance in the northern section of the country fired.
The retreat of the Serbian armies through the mountains of Albania was almost as heartrending as the flight of the civilian population. Day by day, thousands of men, ill-clad and ill-shod, or with bare and bleeding feet, so famished that they fed on the flesh of dead horses by the wayside, stumbled painfully and wretchedly along, over trails deep in snow, some going west toward Scutari, others attempting to reach Greece through Elbassan and Dibra. All semblance of military formation or order was lost; they were now nothing more than a fleeing mob of disorganized peasants, some unarmed, others with guns but no ammunition. Officers and men trudged on side by side, on equal terms. Once an Austrian light mountain battery, following on the heels of the retreat, had arrived at the mouth of a long defile through which the last of the retreating Serbians were winding their way into the mountains, in single file. The Austrian battery immediately opened fire and swept the defile from end to end of all human life.
While the main Serbian armies were being driven out of their native land, the Bulgarians, after taking Babuna Pass and Kitchevo and Kruchevo, on November 20, 1915, halted on their way to Monastir, now only a few miles distant. Monastir itself is practically an unfortified city; it lies on the edge of a broad level plain, offering not the least advantage to a defending force. A few guns might easily sweep the city into a heap of ruins. But above Monastir towers a lofty mountain, so steep that even under peaceful conditions a strong man finds it hard to climb. A few guns placed in position among the rocks on top of this mountain could command the city and all of the surrounding plain within range of their fire. Therefore, the problem of an invading force is to take the mountain outside the city, rather than the city itself.
Beyond this lofty eminence, to the westward, rise thickly wooded ridges, rugged mountain fastnesses, through which, along the bottom of a winding defile, runs the road to Resen and Ochrida and three large lakes: Ochrida, Prespa, and Little Prespa. Below these lakes, which almost join, is the Greek frontier; above them, and some distance beyond, lies the Albanian frontier.
For some days Vassitch and his remaining force of a few thousand footsore soldiers remained at Prilep, awaiting the Bulgarians. When finally they took Brod, with the object of cutting off his retreat, he quitted Prilep and fell back on Monastir, then retired over the mountains to Resen. Here he was joined by two barefooted regiments that had come down from the north with the refugees, but they were too exhausted to be of much value for fighting. Altogether they numbered about 7,000, while the pursuing Bulgarians were at least 30,000 strong. At Resen, where the roughness of the country enabled them to make some resistance, they fought the last battle, or skirmish rather, that was to take place between the Serbians and the invaders, then retired down along the eastern shore of Lake Prespa and so over into Greece. And now not one Serbian soldier remained either in Serbia proper or Serbian Macedonia. Many of them were yet to do some more fighting, against the Austrians at least, for Austria had yet to invade and conquer that other little Serbian state, Montenegro. As yet the Austrian right wing of Koevess's army had not entered Montenegro, but maintained itself at Vishegrad, from which, using it as a pivot, the center and left wing had swept over Serbia. From Vishegrad across the northern boundary of Montenegro stretched another force of Austrians, meant only to hold the Montenegrins back. Hitherto, the Montenegrin army had been facing this line, without being able to afford the Serbians much assistance. It was not until after the last of the Serbians had been dealt with that the Austrians turned their attention toward the Montenegrins and the conquest of their rugged country. Nor did they seriously undertake this task until toward the end of the year; the whole of this campaign is an episode by itself and will be dealt with presently.
With the disappearance of the last of the Serbian armies into the defiles of the Albanian Mountains, the French and British forces, which had been vainly endeavoring to save Serbia, had no longer any special object in holding their advanced positions in Macedonia, especially as they were not strong enough to undertake an offensive movement, even after the last Serbian defeat, though during November, 1915, large reenforcements had been arriving and disembarking in Saloniki. As already stated, the rumors of military action on the part of Russia against Bulgaria had proved unfounded and a second bombardment of Varna had had no effect on the course of the campaign. Italy had done nothing in the Balkans as yet, except to fire a few shells into Dedeagatch on November 11, 1915. A month later she landed an army on the Albanian coast, at Avlona and elsewhere, but, while this facilitated the escape of many of the Serbian refugees, it was too late to have any effect on the military situation.
Throughout the latter part of November, 1915, after the battle between General Sarrail's army at Mt. Archangel, the British had sent up considerable forces which were deployed on the French right and were holding the mountain chain to the north of Lake Doiran, forming a natural boundary between Greek and Bulgarian territory.
Though Sarrail had repulsed all the Bulgarian attacks, his position was rendered embarrassing by the fact that the Greek Government had decided to concentrate a large part of its army in that particular corner of its frontiers. Obviously, the Greeks had a right to make whatever movements they wished on their own territory, but the consequences were singularly unfortunate, both for the French and the British, for the Greek commander in chief found it necessary to move troops and stores along the same line of railroad which the British and the French were using. This meant a curtailment of supplies and the checking of effective and continuous supports for the fighting line.
Added to this was the sudden coming of an early winter. While snow was falling even in Saloniki, up in the hills where the advanced lines were deployed a furious blizzard was blowing, against which the soldiers were only prepared with small tents of waterproof sheets for shelters. Down in the base camps the gale swept down the tents so that the men were practically unprotected from the fury of the freezing blasts. At the front the enemy's positions were no longer visible, the intervening valleys being full of swirling clouds of snow. On November 27, 1915, the French War Office issued an official communique, which gave the first indication of what was about to happen:
"In view of the present situation of the Serbian armies our troops, which have been occupying the left bank of the Tcherna, have been removed to the right bank of the river, the movement being effected without difficulty."
ALLIES WITHDRAW INTO GREECE—ATTITUDE OF GREEK GOVERNMENT
A general withdrawal into Greece, with Saloniki as base, had been decided on by General Sarrail, in accordance with instructions from Paris and London.
This now brought up a very peculiar and delicate situation between the Allies and Greece. As a neutral, Greece was strongly disposed to take up the same attitude toward the belligerents as Holland, who during the early part of the war had been interning great numbers of the English and Belgian soldiers who had sought refuge inside her boundaries when the Germans had taken Belgium. The Allies, on the other hand, were not inclined to accept this point of view, as Greece was bound to Serbia by a defensive treaty and therefore could not assume full neutrality without repudiating this treaty. To this Greece opposed the contention, based on a technicality, that the treaty with Serbia had in view only a defensive alliance against Bulgaria, whereas now the Austrians and Germans were attacking, as well as the Bulgarians. The successes of the Austro-German forces had stiffened the determination of the Greek King and his Government to stand by this policy.
However, there was ample room for a diversity of opinion among the Greeks themselves; on which side Greece's political interests lay was largely a matter of individual opinion. The chief, and probably the only, reason why there was any popular feeling in favor of the Allies was because they were opposed to the Bulgarians, whom the Greeks hate in season and out.
But on the other hand, Greek ambitions and Italian ambitions clash in Albania, in the islands of the Archipelago and in Asia Minor. Both nations hope to acquire territory in those countries. And Italy was one of the Allies. Had Italy not entered the war it is very probable that Greece would have aligned herself with the Serbians, French, and British in the early stages of their operations. But when Italy declared war on the side of the Allies, there was no doubt in the minds of the Greek politicians that she had been promised much, if not all, of the territories on which they had their own eyes. Added to this, the King of Greece was related to the German Emperor through marriage, his queen being a sister of Emperor William.
All through November, 1915, and during the early part of December, 1915, the ambiguous, doubtful attitude of Greece was causing the French and the British much anxiety. It was a curious and, for the Allies, a very dangerous situation. Faced as they were by an enemy much their superior in numbers, there was danger of finding that disadvantage considerably intensified by the inclusion of Greece among their enemies.
The unrestricted command of the base at Saloniki was now indispensable for the safety of the allied forces. They had landed under the terms of a "benevolent neutrality," even at the request of the Greek Government, while Venizelos was at its head. With the change in premiers had come a complete change in attitude. The Greeks had begun hampering the Allies at every turn. Prices were raised; they were called upon to pay in advance, and in gold, for the use of the railroads in transporting the troops. Further, the Greek troops were actually occupying the defensive positions around Saloniki; positions which the Allies should occupy and strengthen, if they were to make their base secure. The Greeks stretched barbed-wire entanglements between themselves and the allied troops. Submarine mines, stored as if ready to be launched, were discovered at the mouth of the Vardar River, and the fort at the entrance to the upper Gulf of Saloniki had been secretly strengthened and heavy guns mounted. The port swarmed with German and Austrian and Bulgarian spies; its atmosphere was heavy with hostility to the Allies. Prince Andrew of Greece, in an interview with a neutral journalist, said that as long as 80,000 French soldiers were hostages to the Greek army for the Allies' good behavior, the Allies would never dare to bombard Athens or any other Greek port. So critical did the situation become that one Sunday the British ships cleared for action.
And now, after the failure of the French troops to join up with the Serbians in Babuna Pass, arose the probability of withdrawing their forces in Serbian and Bulgarian territory across the frontier to Saloniki. Thus arose the question: How would Greece comport herself on their retirement? Would she give them complete freedom of communication south of the frontier to Saloniki? Or would she seek to disarm and intern them and such Serbians as crossed the border?
A brief review of the political events that had been happening in Athens since the situation of the Serbians had become acute will show how divided Greece herself was on these questions.
When France and Great Britain decided to assist Serbia by sending forces to her support, Venizelos was premier of Greece and it was with his consent that the first contingents began disembarking in Saloniki on October 5, 1915. His policy of thus aiding the operations was thoroughly discussed in the Greek Chamber of Deputies and approved by a majority of 45 in a house of 257.
The following day King Constantine summoned the premier and told him that he could not support his policy and demanded his resignation, which was given. In his place the king installed M. Zaimis. In a meeting of the Chamber a day or two later, on October 11, 1915, the new premier defined the policy of his Government as one of armed neutrality, adding that "our attitude in the future will be adapted to events, the course of which will be followed with the closest of attention." Whereupon Venizelos arose, protesting, and made a speech that clearly defined the attitude that he thought Greece should follow, and which he felt was supported by a majority of the people.
"Even if there did not exist the treaty with Serbia," he said, "our interests oblige us to depart from neutrality, as another state wishes to aggrandize itself at our expense. The question is not whether we ought to make war or not, but when we ought to make war. In any case we ought not to allow Bulgaria to crush Serbia. The national soul will say that it is to the interest of Greece that Bulgaria should be crushed. If Bulgaria should conquer, Hellenism will be completely vanquished."
That Venizelos spoke for the majority of the deputies was soon to manifest itself. On November 4, 1915, in the course of a debate in the Chamber, a Venizeloist deputy, M. Vlachos, made some criticism of the minister of war, which caused the latter to leave the Chamber in violent anger. The scene provoked a tumult, in which cheers and protests mingled. The deputy finally apologized and order was reestablished, the minister of war returning to his seat. It was then that Venizelos arose and expressed the opinion that an apology was also due from the war minister because of his disrespectful behavior in leaving the House. The premier, M. Zaimis, thereupon declared that, in the opinion of the Government, the war minister's conduct had been perfectly correct and he demanded a vote of confidence from the assembled deputies.
M. Venizelos replied by delivering a strong attack on the Government's war policy, which, he said, was not supported by a majority, deploring that Bulgaria was being allowed to crush Serbia, that she might fall on Greece later.
As a result of the vote that followed this discussion, the Chamber refused to express confidence in the present Government by a vote of 147 against 114, in consequence of which the premier, Zaimis, was compelled to resign. The king, however, still persisted in his opposition to the policy of the Venizelos party and immediately called upon M. Skouloudis, one of his own partisans, to form a new cabinet. To avoid any more expressions of disagreement with the king's policy on the part of the Chamber, the new premier, only a week later, ordered the dissolution of that body, his pretext being that the country at large should have an opportunity of expressing itself through a general election. This was a move which Venizelos had always opposed; for, he pointed out, so long as the Greek army was mobilized and Greek soldiers were excluded from casting their votes, the true opinion of the people could never be determined. And even if the soldiers were allowed to vote, they would be under the influence of their officers, who always supported the king's policy.
This high-handed procedure on the part of the Government created a bad impression in France and Great Britain. What added to that was the dispatch which announced, only a few days before, the arrival in Saloniki in a special train from Sofia of four German officers: Baron Falkenhausen, Colonel von Erbstner, General von der Goltz's A. D. C., Prince von Buelow's son, and another. After a short stay in Saloniki they departed for Athens in a Greek torpedo boat, accompanied by Greek officers of high rank. It was just after the arrival of such a mission in Sofia that Bulgaria had made her agreement with Germany, promising her support in driving out the Serbians. And meanwhile Premier Skouloudis, doing as Radislavov, the Premier of Bulgaria, had done, was protesting daily that Greece had no intention of going against the Allies.
But incidentally he also expressed the opinion publicly that Greece's "benevolent neutrality" did not extend to protecting the allied troops, whether French, British, or Serbian, from the operation of international law, and that, therefore, these troops would be disarmed and interned on their passing over into Greek territory.
His words created some alarm in the allied countries, which was deepened when it became known that Greece was concentrating 200,000 men in and around Saloniki. The question now arose, Should the Allies submit quietly while Greece carried out this publicly declared intention, or should they persuade her to a change of opinion by the application of armed force?
Ordinary arguments had proved unavailing and much time was lost in talk. Opinion and feeling began growing heated in France and Great Britain over the delay, as well as over the question itself. France in particular called for immediate and energetic action, urging that it was necessary to show the iron hand under the velvet glove. The iron hand was not a mere figure of speech, for the British and French fleets could not only bombard the coast cities of Greece, but institute a blockade which would cut off all her supplies.
On November 19, 1915, the British Legation in Athens, communicated a statement to the press, beginning with the following passage:
"In view of the attitude adopted by the Hellenic Government toward certain questions closely affecting the security of the allied troops and their freedom of action (two privileges to which they are entitled in the circumstances in which they landed on Greek territory), the allied powers have deemed it necessary to take certain measures, the effect of which is to suspend the economic and commercial facilities which Greece has hitherto enjoyed at their hands."
At the same time came a dispatch from Athens announcing that the French and British ships had begun to institute a severe search on board all steamers flying the Greek flag in the Aegean and in the Mediterranean.
Thus a partial embargo was placed on Greek shipping, only severe enough to make the Greek Government realize what might happen should a thorough blockade be established. At the same time two visits that were paid to King Constantine while this crisis was acute had a favorable influence on it. One was from M. Denys Cochin, a member of the French Cabinet and a man held in the highest esteem in Greece; the other was from Lord Kitchener, who was on his way back from an inspection of the British forces in Gallipoli, whither he had been dispatched by his colleagues in the British Cabinet to report on the advisability or the reverse of abandoning that peninsula.
Still the negotiations were spun out and it was not till November 23, 1915, that matters were brought to a head by the presentation of a combined note to Greece.
This note demanded formal assurances that the allied troops should under no circumstances be disarmed and interned, but should be granted full freedom of movement, together with such facilities as had already been promised. Greece was only required to live up to her previous promises; she need not abandon her attitude of neutrality. On the other hand, the note categorically stated that the Allies would make restitution for all territory occupied and pay suitable indemnities. Two days later the Greek Government replied in friendly but somewhat vague terms, which were not considered satisfactory, and on the 26th the Entente sent a second note asking for a precise assurance regarding the liberty of movement of the allied troops. The Greek answer was liked so little that it was decided to tighten somewhat the grip of the iron hand.