Salonika Expedition Overview

This page gives a very brief overview of the war in Macedonia from the British perspective.

Bulgaria attacked Serbia in October 1915. This new threat led Serbia to appeal to the British and French governments for military assistance. At the same time Greece asked the Allies for help with their treaty obligations to Serbia. The British and French sent a small force which began landing at the Greek port of Salonika (Thessalonika) at the end of October. They advanced into Macedonia but were too late to help the Serbs who had to retreat through the Albania mountains. The Allies then withdrew back to Salonika and set up an entrenchment camp around the town known as the "Bird cage" and waited for the Bulgarians to attack. The Bulgarians did not advance on Salonika but instead consolidated their gains in Macedonia.

Map showing the location of Salonika.

The British continued to build up their forces and by early 1916 the force had increased from just the 10th (Irish) Division to the 10th, 22nd, 26th, 27th and 28th divisions.

The Allies advanced up to the Serbian frontier and liberated Monastir. Trench warfare then began. The Allies attacked in the spring of 1917 but failed to break through. However, in September 1918 they attacked again and within two weeks had obtained Bulgaria's unconditional surrendered.

The campaign in Macedonia was considered by many to be a "side-show". The Allied army was known back home as the "Gardeners of Salonika" due to the apparent lack of activity and people would comment "If you want a holiday, go to Salonika".

Despite the view of those at home life in Macedonia was far from easy. The British Salonika Force not only had to cope with the extremes in temperature but also malaria. By 1916 it was possible to evacuate the most serious cases. However, with the introduction of unrestricted submarine warfare in April 1917 this was no longer possible. Consequently the cases of malaria soured as the infected men were compelled to stay in Macedonia. Hospital admissions in 1917 alone were 63,396 out of a strength of about 100,000 men. By early 1918 the British were again able to evacuate the worst cases and under the 'Y' scheme nearly 30,000 were evacuated.

British troops taking their daily quinine
issue of 5 grains on the Salonika front, July 1916.
(Photograph courtesy of the Imperial War Museum,
London - Q 32160)

Many men suffered numerous relapses made worse by having to remain in Macedonia. Even when they were finally evacuated many would still suffer relapses for many years to come.