The occupation of Eastern Macedonia

 

 

At the beginning of August 1916, when the Bulgarian Army became its advance, the Fortress of Kavala was not in good condition. The fortification works had not been finished. Of the five forts covering Kavala, only three were completed, of the 90 guns that had been planned for the fortified positions, there were only 2 obsolete naval guns, and of the 2,000 gunners foreseen there were only 140. The infantry for the defence of the forts, which should have been five regiments, was entirely missing. The machine guns only then had begun to be placed in their positions. The Fortress Command was tasked largely with the supervision of works under construction rather than the conduct of war. Its force numbered 25 officers and 250 enlisted men.

 

Since the negotiations with the Allies were inconclusive, the Greek government decided not to resist the German-Bulgarian invasion and on 15 August ordered Kavala Fortress to withdraw the guns and machine guns from the fortified positions. The 7th Artillery Regiment transported the armaments of the forts of Lisse, Perithori and Tulunbar to Drama.

On 18 August the screening companies of 5th Division in the area of Drama were withdrawn. A few outposts that remained were captured by the Bulgarians. The troops of 5th Division assumed a defensive deployment, but on the evening of the same day, Army Corps D received from the Minister of the Army, general Konstantinos Kallares, the order to avoid any kind of friction with Bulgarian army: if 5th Division was unable to remain in Drama, it had to withdraw to Kavala.

On 19 August in the are of 6th Division, the Bulgarians attacked the Greek troops and after a brief negotiation two companies based in Achladochori and Phaia Petra were disarmed. However the mobilization equipment and the armament of 6th Division were not captured because it had been sent to Old Greece.

On 20 August 2nd Trakiska Infantry Division captured the forts of Lisse and Perithori. The materiel of the forts was scattered by the Bulgarian cavalry while being transported to Drama. Since one Bulgarian column was approaching the forts round Kavala, 7th Division was ordered to defend them. The following day the commander of Army Corps D, Colonel Ioannes Chatzopoulos, received the order to avoid the use of force. In meantime, between 19 and 22 August the advancing Bulgarian troops drove back the Greek forces inside Eleutheroupolis, Siderokastro, Serres, Drama, and Kavala, cutting off all the communications and capturing the whole of eastern Macedonia.

On 23 August Army Corps D ordered 5th Division to leave Drama and to relocate to Kavala, but this movement was postponed since the provisioning of the Division would be easier in Drama. The same day the Bulgarians demanded to occuoy fort D (= Delta). While the commander of Army Corps D was waiting for instructions from its government, the Bulgarian captured both forts D and E (= Epsilon).

On 24 August 10th Belomorska Infantry Division captured the heights around Eleutheroupolis, and tightened the encirclement of Kavala with the capture of saddle of Stauroupolis, and forts I (= Iota), Z (= Zeta), and H (= Heta). The following day they captured the remaining forts.

On 1 September, being not able to restore contact with Army Corps D and the government, 6th Division, which was encamped in Nea Zichne, minus the 16th Infantry Regiment, departed for Kavala, arriving there on 4 September after passing through Eleutheroupolis and the forts captured by the Bulgarians.

 

On 3 September 1916 the general situation in eastern Macedonia was as follows:

-      5th Division in Drama, 16th Infantry Regiment of 6th Division in Serres and 20th Infantry Regiment of 7th Division in Eleutheroupolis were encircled by the Bulgarians;

-      6th Division, minus the 16th Regiment, was moving towards Kavala;

-      the forts of Kavala had been captured by 10th Belomorska Infantry Division;

-      the commander of Army Corps D sent repeated telegrams requesting that the equipment be transported to Old Greece;

-      fifteen rebel officers of the Kavala garrison, following an order issued by the Committee of National Defense, went from Thessalonica to Thasos in order to spread the revolt to 6th Division.

Faced with this situation the Ministry of the Army ordered that 5th and 6th Division, along with the non-divisional units of Army Corps D, assemble in Kavala, but this was impossible, since those units were encircled by the Bulgarians.

On 6 September Colonel Hristo Burmov, the commander of 10th Belomorska Infantry Division, and the German Lt. Schmidt requested the commander of Army Corps D to be allowed to occupy the heights north of Kavala, in order to defend against a possible landing by the Allies. The Corps commander, having no other choice since the orders of the government called for the avoidance of any kind of friction, was forced to succumb and to evacuate the heights. Thus, the garrison of Kavala was confined to the city, with no possibility of defence. In the meantime the commander of 6th Division was persuaded to move his troops to Salonika on Allied ships and to accede to the National Defense movement, in order to avoid their capture by the Bulgarians.

 

On 9 September, the British landed a Marine detachment in Kavala which destroyed the wireless of the city. Army Corps D was now cut off from the government, and Kavala was blockaded by land and sea. That night Allied transport vessels sailed into the harbour secretly to transport the men of 6th Division to Salonika, but the commander of the Corps blocked the departure. Only 15 officers and 50 enlisted men managed to leave by boat to Thasos.

On 10 September 1916 in a meeting with German major von Schweinitz, the commander of the Corps, in order to avoid the capture of its troops by Bulgarian forces, asked weather German High Command could guarantee the transportation of the Army Corps, along with its armament, to Germany. Major von Schweinitz promised to submit the proposal. An attempt to escape during the night of 9-10 September through British ships failed because the commander of Army Corps D refused to join the National Defence movement.

On 11 September the corps commander met again major von Schweinitz, who delivered to him the reply of Field Marshal von Hindenburg : he accepted the transfer of the Army Corps D and its weapons to Germany. The men of the Greek forces would not be considered prisoners, but rather guests of the Germans. During the night of 11-12 September the garrison of Kavala - 400 officers and 6,000 enlisted men with 15 mountain guns - moved towards north. All materiel - except 7th Artillery Regiment - was abandoned in Kavala and fell into the hands of Bulgarian Army. Part of the Greek fortress artillery was used by 10th Infantry Division for coast defence.

 

 

 

The Bulgarian offensive in Eastern Macedonia in August 1916