The Serbians, while defending themselves so valiantly against their foes, had been buoyed up by the hope that the French and English would come to their assistance.
There were promises, too, that the Russians would launch an offensive against the Bulgarians. But as the weeks passed, and no help arrived, the Serbian peasants began to lose heart. At first, as their villages were occupied by the Huns, they had merely accompanied the Serbian armies in their retreat. but in late October, a general exodus of the peasantry southward began, the roads being choked with slow-moving ox-carts.
Soon these avenues of escape were closed by the Bulgarians, and then nothing remained for them to do but attempt to cross the forbidding mountain wilderness of Albania, which blocked the way to the Adriatic Sea coast. These mountains were infested by fierce bands of Albanian brigands and tribesmen, to whom murder was a pastime. To add to the distress of the Serbians, the rain fell incessantly; the roads were deep in mud and food was scarce. The plight of those poor peasants, especially the women and children, may well be imagined. They dropped by thousands along those mountain trails, scarcely half of them reaching the Adriatic Seacoast.
The Austrian Army, advancing from the north, kept pushing before them the small divisions of Serbians. On October 28, 1915, they found the Shamadian Division defending the hills north of the Kragujevats. After shelling the Serbian position, the Austrian infantry began the ascent of the heights, but met a wall of bayonets which they could not pierce. Wave after wave of Austrians advanced and each was thrown back in confusion, leaving 3,000 prisoners behind them and the field covered with their slain. On the approach of the main Austrian Army, the gallant Serbians evacuated the heights, November 1st, after destroying the arsenal and all the stores it contained.
By November 2, 1915, all Northern Serbia had been conquered, the railroad had been opened between Berlin and Constantinople and the armies of Austria had come in touch with each other. Farther south, in Macedonia the Bulgarian Army of General Teodoroff, after occupying Uskub, had advanced toward Katshanik Pass, which was held by the Serbian Army under General Bojovitch. Repeated assaults upon this pass failed to dislodge the Serbians, who used their bayonets most effectively.
Meanwhile, Colonel Vassitch, with a small Serbian force, was holding Veles, where he expected to form a junction with General Sarrail's French Army, whose guns could be heard assaulting the Bulgarians some miles to the south. After holding back the Bulgarian hordes for an entire week, Colonel Vassitch retired to the Babuna Pass, which marks the division of Macedonia from Upper Serbia. It was soon apparent that the Serbians could hope for no aid from the outside. General Sarrail's French troops had indeed penetrated north as far as Gradsko, defeating the Bulgarians in several engagements, and were within sound of the Serbian guns, but lacking in strength, or for whatever reason, they could advance no further. General Sarrail's conduct of this campaign was afterward made the subject of a military inquiry, which left him with a clouded reputation. Great Britain had offered Greece the Island of Cyprus if she would keep her pledge to Serbia, but to no avail. Italy had declared war on Bulgaria, October 20, 1915, but had been unable to render any direct assistance.
Relief Comes Too Late
England had been able to land only 13,000 soldiers at Salonika. The French Government, too, had failed to meet the emergency to the satisfaction of the nations and the Cabinet had been forced to resign on October 28, 1915. A new French Cabinet, with M. Briand as Premier was then formed. General Joffre visited England to insist that energetic measures be taken for the relief of Serbia. In a few days, as a result of his mission, large forces were sent to Salonika, but they arrived too late to render effectual assistance. The Greeks were now openly aiding the Austrians by obstacles in the path of the Allies.
Capture of Nish by Bulgarians
Meanwhile, the German steam roller was advancing steadily toward Nish. The Serbians were expelled from their headquarters at Kralievo on November 5, 1915, and two days later Krushevatz surrendered with nearly 5,000 prisoners. The Heights of Lugotzni were taken by storm and on the next day, the German forces united at Kirwin, while the forces of General Boyadjieff were advancing on Nish from the south. The whole Serbian Army was being enveloped.
Battle of Babuna Pass
The Serbians in Macedonia were still holding tenaciously to the Babuna and Katshanik Passes, their only remaining avenues of retreat. The Babuna Pass was defended by Col. Vassitch with a force of only 5,000 men. Here, within 10 miles of the French Army, was fought one of the most desperate battles of the Balkan War. Twenty thousand Bulgarians with heavy artillery, hurled themselves daily against the Pass during the first week in November, but were driven back at the point of the bayonet.
General Sarrail, meanwhile, found himself unable to pierce the Bulgarian line and join the Serbs at Babuna Pass. To reach them he must first cross the Tserna River and take the strongly fortified Mount of the Archangel, which the Bulgarians held in superior numbers. Crossing the Tserna, Sariail's Army, now reinforced, began scaling the heights, 1,000 feet in air. Driving the Bulgarians out of the villages at the base of the mountain, he encircled the heights, forcing the Bulgarians to evacuate Sirkovo half way up the slope.
On November 10, 1915, being reinforced, the Bulgarian Army of 60,000 assumed the offensive. Their plan was to take the French in the rear, cut off their retreat across the Tserna River, and annihilate them at the base of the mountain. For three days the battle raged, but the French Army fought so valorously that the Bulgarians were routed, leaving 4,000 dead upon the field. General Sarrail, however, dared not resign his sole path of retreat across the Tserna River and cross the mountain to the relief of the Serbians who, again forsaken, withdrew from Babuna Pass, falling back upon Prilip on November 16th. Four days later, the Bulgarians returned to Mount Archangel and again attacked General Sarrail, but failed to oust him from his position.
The main armies of Austria, Germany and Bulgaria were now conducting a great converging movement, closing in upon the Serbians from three sides and sweeping them forward toward the awful defiles of the Montenegrin and Albanian Mountains, through which no army could possibly pass. With the cutting of the railroad, the Serbian line of supply was destroyed and they were woefully lacking in food and ammunition.
Separate Peace Terms Declined by Serbians
On November 12, 1915, General Mackensen had offered a separate peace to the Serbians, if they would resign all of Macedonia, and a strip of territory along the Bulgarian frontier, but Premier Pachitch declined the proposal, saying: "Our way is marked out. We will be true to the Entente and die honorably."
Battle for the Katshanik Pass
Hemmed in on three sides, the retreat of the Serbians presented many difficulties. To escape by way of the mountains of Montenegro and Albania, where no railroads or even good wagon roads existed, seemed impossible. Yet the only alternative to a flight over the mountains was to cross the Greek frontier, where they might later join the Allies. This road was blocked by the Bulgarians, who had wedged themselves in between the Serbians and General Sarrail's forces. The Serbians, at all costs, resolved to break through the circle of steel. They must, however, first drive the Bulgarians out of the Katshanik Pass before they could advance westward to Tetovo and thence proceed south to Monastir, and finally to Salonika.
ON November 10, 1915, General Bojovitch, with 8.000 Serbians and 100 field pieces, shelled the Bulgarian trenches at Katshanik Pass, forcing the Bulgars to retreat four miles. The Serbian infantry then rushed upon the retreating Bulgars, and as the two lines merged there ensued a battle that for savage fury never had been equaled during the campaign. Day and night, for three days, they fought with bayonet, rocks, hands, teeth. They fought oftentimes blindly, friend crushing the skull of friend or rending his limbs with teeth and claws. Despite the odds of four to one, the Serbians almost opened a gap in the enemy line, but at the crucial moment the Bulgars were reinforced and the Serbs on November 15, 1915, retired from the Pass, rolling back toward Prisrend.
Battle of Pristina
The main Serbian forces, by this time, had been rolled back upon the great Kossove Plain, 40 miles long, where they were joined by a hundred thousand Serbian refugees. Here they decided to risk all upon a final decisive battle at Pristina, on the same battleground that saw the defeat of the Serbian Czar Lazar by the Turks in 1389. The battle of Pristina was fought November 13th amidst a ceaseless downpour of rain, with thunder reverberating and lightning flashing. It was reciprocal slaughter, not warfare. Whole regiments were blotted out in a trice. Along that battle line of 40 miles, quarter was neither asked nor given. While the guns were roaring their loudest, the aged King Peter of Serbia knelt in prayer in a neighboring church, asking that his kingdom might be saved from destruction. But it was not to be. The Serbians were overwhelmed by the numbers of their enemy and retreated toward Prisrend, leaving 50,000 dead and 50,000 prisoners behind them. A final stand was made by 80,000 Serbians at Prisrend, November 27th, but they were driven from this position on the following day, fleeing across the frontier into Albania with the whole population in wild pursuit.
700,000 Civilians and Soldiers in Retreat
The horrors of the retreat of the Serbian nation and the remnant of the Serbian Army through the snow-clad mountains of Albania are beyond description. A fierce northerly gale swept the mountains as the refugees, numbering 700,000, staggered through the defiles. Ill-clad and often barefoot, so famished that they fed upon flesh of dead horses by the wayside, they plunged through drifts of snow up to their knees—some westward to Scutari, others southward to Greece. Thousands of mothers, hugging babies to their breasts, sank in the snow or sought shelter behind rocks, there to perish miserably in the fury of the gale. The whole route, from Prisrend to Monastir, 90 miles away, was lined with human corpses and the carcasses of horses and mules dead of starvation. Finally the tattered, half starved ranks of the refugees managed to reach their destinations, some at Monastir, others along the Albanian Seacoast, whence they were transferred in Italian ships to the Island of Corfu. Here King Peter set up a new Serbian Government.
Greek King Angers the Allies
The destruction of the Serbian Army left the French forces of General Sarrail at Mt. Archangel in a position of much peril. A small force of British troops had deployed on the French right wing late in November, holding the mountain chain that forms a natural boundary between Greek and Bulgarian territory. On November 27, 1915, General Sarrail decided upon a general withdrawal of the Allied Army into Greece, with Salonika as a base.
King Constantine of Greece at once objected and even proposed the internment of the Allied Army. More menacing still, he planted 200,000 Greek soldiers between Salonika and the line of retreat of General Sarrail. This act of treachery aroused both France and England. They demanded assurances from Greece that the Allied Army should not be molested, yet the King was so reluctant to yield the point, that it was not until after they had laid a partial embargo on the Greek ports and the city of Athens had been menaced with starvation that King Constantine finally agreed to play fair.
Bulgarians Attack the British and French
The British, on the right wing of the French Army, occupied a double line of trenches among the snow-clad hills north and west of Doiran. A Bulgarian Army, 100,000 strong, under General Teodoroff, attempted to force these trenches at two points on December 5, 1915, but was sent reeling back at the point of the bayonet. A second attempt was more successful, the Bulgarians gaining the first line of trenches, but failing to expel the British from the second line. On the following day, their movements masked by dense mists, the Bulgarians showered the British trenches with high explosive shells. Then, advancing in mass formation, they drove the British back to Var- dar, where they were able to unite with the French.
French Retire to Grodetz
Meanwhile, General Sarrail had stolen a march on the Bulgarians. Early in December, he had withdrawn his entire army with all his stores from the Tserna River, and entrained at Krivolak. After destroying the bridges and railroad tracks at this point, he continued his retreat toward the Greek border. A large Bulgarian Army overtook him at the Demi Kapu Gorge, but he conducted his retreat so skillfully that his army reached Grodetz intact. Here heavy intrenchments were thrown up. The Bulgarians now attempted to drive a wedge in between the French and British armies, but Sarrail's strategy defeated this purpose, and by December 11, 1915, the Allied Armies were back on the Greek frontier. As they retired, the Allies destroyed the railroads and set fire to Gevgheli and other towns along the way. During the entire retreat the Allies lost only 3,500 men. The Bulgarians, fearing the Greeks, did not carry the pursuit any farther, and General Sarrail's army was soon back in Salonika.
Round Up of German Consuls
On December 30, 1915, a fleet of German airplanes dropped bombs on Salonika, doing much damage. In retaliation, a squad of French soldiers visited the German, Austrian, Bulgarian, and Turkish consulates, arresting all the consuls and sending them to Marseilles, France, whence they were taken to Switzerland. Later, the Teutonic consuls at Mitylene were arrested and sent out of the country. The Island of Corfu was seized and utilized as a sanitarium for Serbian refugees, and the Island of Castellorize was occupied as a base for operations against the Turks.
Our way is marked out. We will be true to the Entente and die honorably.”— Nikola Pachitch, Prime Minister of Serbia, after being offered and declining a separate peace pact if Serbia would resign all of Macedonia to Bulgaria