Battle of the Vardar, 15-29 September 1918

The battle of the Vardar, 15-29 September 1918, was the decisive battle on the Balkan Front of the First World War. The Allies had maintained an army at Salonika since 1915, at great cost and with very little success. The Allied troops at Salonika had failed to rescue Serbia in 1915 or Romania in 1916. A series of Allied offensives had been defeated by the Bulgarians, with the aid of German and Turkish troops.

In July 1918 General Franchet d’Esperey had been appointed to command the Allied troops at Salonika. In theory he had eight French, seven British, six Greek, six Serbian and four Italian Divisions, a total of thirty one divisions. At full strength this would have given him around 450,000 men, but at best half of them were fit for duty in September 1918.

They faced seventeen Bulgarian and two Turkish divisions, which at full strength would have been equal to the available Allied forces.  Bulgarian morale was now poor. The majority of German combat troops had been removed from the front, leaving von Mackensen and a few artillery batteries to bolster Bulgarian resistance.

The Allied offensive began on 15 September. The first attack was by the French and the Serbs, with the Serbs in the middle of the line. The British joined in on the right of the line (battle of Doiran, 18-19 September 1918). The Bulgarians resisted for a few days, but then began to fall back. On 25 September the Allied advance reached the Vardar, the next day the British reached Strumitza.

That day the Bulgarians began armistice negotiations. On 28 September the Bulgarians agreed to surrender terms, which came into effect on 29 September. Under the terms of the armistice the Bulgarians demobilised their army, surrendered all territory gained during the war and placed her railways at the disposal of the Allies.

Bulgaria was the first of the Central Powers to surrender.  One month later Turkey followed (30 October), followed by the collapsing Austro-Hungarian Empire (3 November) and finally German on 11 November. The failure of Germany’s summer offensive and the start of the Allied counterattacks had undermined the morale of Germany’s allies, while their collapse had contributed to the eventual German surrender.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (4 September 2007), Battle of the Vardar, 15-29 September 1918 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_vardar1918.html

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