Military Wiki
Balkans theatre
Part of World War I
Death in the snow.jpg
A dead Serbian soldier in the snow, Albania 1915
Date28 July 1914 – 11 November 1918
LocationSerbia, Montenegro, Albania, Greece, Bulgaria

Allied victory

Central Powers:
 Kingdom of Bulgaria (from 1915)
 German Empire (from 1915)
 Ottoman Empire
Allied Powers:
 Kingdom of Serbia
 Kingdom of Montenegro
 French Third Republic (from 1915)
 United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (from 1915)
Greece (from 1917)
 Kingdom of Italy (from 1915)
 Russian Empire (1916–17)
Commanders and leaders
Kingdom of Bulgaria Nikola Zhekov
Kingdom of Bulgaria Kliment Boyadzhiev
Kingdom of Bulgaria Dimitar Geshov
Kingdom of Bulgaria Georgi Todorov
Kingdom of Bulgaria Stefan Nerezov
Austria-Hungary Conrad von Hötzendorf
Austria-Hungary Oskar Potiorek
Austria-Hungary Stjepan Sarkotić
Austria-Hungary H. K. von Kövessháza
German Empire August von Mackensen
German Empire Otto von Below
German Empire Friedrich von Scholtz
Ottoman Empire Abdul Kerim Pasha
Kingdom of Serbia Radomir Putnik
Kingdom of Serbia Petar Bojović
Kingdom of Serbia Živojin Mišić
Kingdom of Serbia Stepa Stepanović
Kingdom of Serbia Pavle Jurišić Šturm
Kingdom of Montenegro Janko Vukotić
French Third Republic Maurice Sarrail
French Third Republic Adolphe Guillaumat
French Third Republic Louis F. d'Espèrey
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Bryan Mahon
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland George Milne
Greece Panagiotis Danglis
Kingdom of Bulgaria 1,200,000[1] Kingdom of Serbia 707,343[1]
Kingdom of Montenegro 50,000[1]
French Third Republic 300,000[2]
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland 404,207[3]
Casualties and losses
Austria-Hungary ~300,000[4][5][lower-alpha 1]
Kingdom of Bulgaria 267,000[6]
87,500 killed
152,930 wounded
27,029 missing/captured
German Empire Unknown
Ottoman Empire "a few thousand"[7]
Kingdom of Serbia 481,000
278,000 killed[8]
133,000 wounded
70,000 captured[9]
French Third Republic Unknown
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland 30,000[10]
9,668 killed
16,637 wounded
2,778 missing/captured
5,000 killed
21,000 wounded
1,000 captured
Kingdom of Montenegro 23,000
13,325 killed/missing
~10,000 wounded[12]
Kingdom of Italy 10,538[13]
Albania: 298 KIA 1,069 wounded 847 MIA
Macedonia: 2,971 KIA/MIA 5,353 wounded

The Balkans campaign, or Balkan theatre of World War I was fought between the Central Powers, represented by Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, Germany and the Ottoman Empire on one side and the Allies, represented by Serbia, Montenegro, France, the United Kingdom, Russia and Italy, later joined by Greece, on the other side.

The campaign began with Austria-Hungary's offensive into Serbia being repulsed. A new attempt led to the Austrian and Bulgarian conquest of Serbia and Montenegro. This led to the Serbian army retreating through Albania and being evacuated to Salonika by the Allies. Here they joined with the Franco-British Allied Army of the Orient and fought a protracted trench war against Bulgarian forces on the Macedonian front. The allied army was stationed in Greece, which resulted in the National Schism regarding whether Greece should join the Allies or remain neutral (to the benefit of the Central Powers). Greece eventually joined the allies in 1917. In September 1918, the Vardar Offensive broke through the Bulgarian lines and they were forced to surrender, leading to the Liberation of Serbia, Albania and Montenegro.


The prime cause of World War I was the hostility between Serbia and Austria-Hungary. Consequently, some of the earliest fighting took place between Serbia and Austria-Hungary. Serbia held out against Austria-Hungary for more than a year before it was conquered in late 1915.

Dalmatia was a strategic region during World War I that both Italy and Serbia intended to seize from Austria-Hungary. Italy entered the war in 1915 upon agreeing to the Treaty of London that guaranteed Italy a substantial portion of Dalmatia.

In 1917, Greece entered the war on the Allied side, and in 1918, the multi-national Allied Army of the Orient, based in northern Greece, finally launched an offensive which drove Bulgaria to seek peace, recaptured Serbia and finally halted only at the border of Hungary in November 1918.

Serbian–Montenegrin campaign

The Serbian Army was successfully able to rebuff the larger Austro-Hungarian Army due to Russia's assisting invasion from the north. In 1915 the Austro-Hungarian Empire placed additional soldiers in the south front while succeeding to engage Bulgaria as an ally.

Shortly after the Serbian forces were attacked from both the north and east, forcing a retreat to Greece. Despite the loss, the retreat was successful and the Serbian Army remained operational in Greece with a newly established base.


Italian soldiers in Vlorë, Albania during World War I. The tricolour flag of Italy bearing the Savoy royal shield is shown hanging alongside an Albanian flag from the balcony of the Italian prefecture headquarters.

Prior to direct intervention in World War I, Italy occupied the port of Vlorë in Albania in December 1914.[14] Upon entering the war, Italy spread its occupation to region of southern Albania beginning in the autumn 1916.[14] Italian forces in 1916 recruited Albanian irregulars to serve alongside them.[14] Italy, with permission of the Allied command, occupied Northern Epirus on 23 August 1916, forcing the neutralist Greek Army to withdraw its occupation forces from there.[14]

In June 1917, Italy proclaimed central and southern Albania as a protectorate of Italy while Northern Albania was allocated to the states of Serbia and Montenegro.[14] By 31 October 1918, French and Italian forces expelled the Austro-Hungarian Army from Albania.[14]

Dalmatia was a strategic region during World War I that both Italy and Serbia intended to seize from Austria-Hungary. Italy joined the Triple Entente Allies in 1915 upon agreeing to the London Pact that guaranteed Italy the right to annex a large portion of Dalmatia in exchange for Italy's participation on the Allied side. From 5–6 November 1918, Italian forces were reported to have reached Lissa, Lagosta, Sebenico, and other localities on the Dalmatian coast.[15]

By the end of hostilities in November 1918, the Italian military had seized control of the entire portion of Dalmatia that had been guaranteed to Italy by the London Pact and by 17 November had seized Fiume as well.[16] In 1918, Admiral Enrico Millo declared himself Italy's Governor of Dalmatia.[16] Famous Italian nationalist Gabriele d'Annunzio supported the seizure of Dalmatia, and proceeded to Zadar in an Italian warship in December 1918.[17]


Bulgaria during World War I.

In the aftermath of the Balkan Wars Bulgarian opinion turned against Russia and the western powers, whom the Bulgarians felt had done nothing to help them. The government aligned Bulgaria with Germany and Austria-Hungary, even though this meant also becoming an ally of the Ottomans, Bulgaria's traditional enemy. But Bulgaria now had no claims against the Ottomans, whereas Serbia, Greece and Romania (allies of Britain and France) were all in possession of lands heavily populated by Bulgarians and thus perceived as Bulgarian.

Bulgaria, recuperating from the Balkan Wars, sat out the first year of World War I. When Germany promised to restore the boundaries of the Treaty of San Stefano, Bulgaria, which had the largest army in the Balkans, declared war on Serbia in October 1915. Britain, France and Italy then declared war on Bulgaria.

Although Bulgaria, in alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary, won military victories against Serbia and Romania, occupying much of Southern Serbia (taking Nish, Serbia's war capital in November 5), advancing into Greek Macedonia, and taking Dobruja from the Romanians in September 1916, the war soon became unpopular with the majority of Bulgarian people, who suffered enormous economic hardship. The Russian Revolution of February 1917 had a significant effect in Bulgaria, spreading antiwar and anti-monarchist sentiment among the troops and in the cities.

In September 1918 the Serbs, British, French, Italians and Greeks broke through on the Macedonian front in the Vardar Offensive. While Bulgarian forces stopped them in Dojran and they didn't proceed to occupy Bulgarian lands, Tsar Ferdinand was forced to sue for peace.

In order to head off the revolutionaries, Ferdinand abdicated in favour of his son Boris III. The revolutionaries were suppressed and the army disbanded. Under the Treaty of Neuilly (November 1919), Bulgaria lost its Aegean coastline in favour of the Principal Allied and Associated Powers (transferred later by them to Greece) and nearly all of its Macedonian territory to the new state of Yugoslavia, and had to give Dobruja back to the Romanians (see also Dobruja, Western Outlands, Western Thrace).

Macedonian front

In 1915 the Austrians gained military support from Germany and, with diplomacy, brought in Bulgaria as an ally. Serbian forces were attacked from both north and south and were forced to retreat through Montenegro and Albania, with only 155,000 Serbs, mostly soldiers, reaching the coast of the Adriatic Sea and evacuated to Greece by Allied ships.

The front stabilized roughly around the Greek border, through the intervention of a Franco-British-Italian force which had landed in Salonica. The German generals had not let the Bulgarian army advance towards Salonika, because they hoped they could persuade the Greeks to join the Central powers.

In 1918, after a prolonged build-up, the Allies, under the energetic French General Franchet d'Esperey leading a combined French, Serbian, Greek and British army, attacked out of Greece. His initial victories convinced the Bulgarian government to sue for peace. He then attacked north and defeated the German and Austrian forces that tried to halt his offensive.

By October 1918 his army had recaptured all of Serbia and was preparing to invade Hungary proper. The offensive halted only because the Hungarian leadership offered to surrender in November 1918.


The French and British kept six divisions each on the Greek frontier from 1916 till the end of 1918. Originally, the French and British went to Greece to help Serbia, but with Serbia's conquest in the fall of 1915, their continued presence was did not product major effect and mobilized useful forces need on Western Front. For nearly three years, these divisions accomplished essentially nothing and only tied down half of the Bulgarian army, which wasn't going to go far from Bulgaria in any event.[citation needed]

In mid 1918, led by General Franchet d'Esperey, these forces have been augmented in order to conduct a major offensive on the south flank of the Quadruplice (8 French Division, 6 British Division, 1 Italian Division, 12 Serbian Division[18]). After the successul offensive launched on the 10th September 1918, they freed Belgrade and forced Bulgaria to Armistice on 29th September. This had a significative effect by threatening the Austro-Hungarian Empire (Armistice on 4th November 1918), and by domino effect, on the German political leadership.

In fact, Keegan argues that "the installation of a violently nationalist and anti-Turkish government in Athens, led to Greek mobilization in the cause of the "Great Idea" - the recovery of the Greek empire in the east - which would complicate the Allied effort to resettle the peace of Europe for years after the war ended."[19]


  1. Note that this does not count casualties suffered during the occupation period.
  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Spencer Tucker. The European powers in the First World War: an encyclopedia. Taylor & Francis, 1996, pg. 173.. Retrieved 30 November 2014. 
  3. "British Army statistics of the Great War". Archived from the original on 13 December 2014. Retrieved 30 November 2014. 
  4. Lyon 2015, p. 235.
  5. Spencer Tucker, "Encyclopedia of World War I"(2005) pg 1077, ISBN 1851094202
  6. Military Casualties-World War-Estimated," Statistics Branch, GS, War Department, 25 February 1924; cited in World War I: People, Politics, and Power, published by Britannica Educational Publishing (2010) Page 219.
  7. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-11-18. Retrieved 2015-05-19.  turkeyswar, Campaigns, Macedonia front.
  8. Urlanis, Boris (1971). Wars and Population. Moscow Pages 66,79,83, 85,160,171 and 268.
  9. Statistics of the Military Effort of the British Empire During the Great War 1914–1920, The War Office, P.353.
  10. The Army Council. General Annual Report of the British Army 1912–1919. Parliamentary Paper 1921, XX, Cmd.1193.,PartIV p. 62–72. Casualties for the Salonika Front are given as 9,668 "killed in action, died from wounds and died of other causes", 16,637 wounded and 2,778 missing (including prisoners). Given the drastically understated casualties for other fronts in the same document based on later data, such as Mesopotamia and the Dardanelles, this is likely to be an underestimation.
  11. Military Casualties-World War-Estimated," Statistics Branch, GS, War Department, 25 February 1924; cited in World War I: People, Politics, and Power, published by Britannica Educational Publishing (2010) Page 219. Total casualties for Greece were 27,000 (killed and died 5,000; wounded 21,000; prisoners and missing 1,000)
  12. International Labour Office,Enquête sur la production. Rapport général. Paris [etc.] Berger-Levrault, 1923–25. Tom 4 , II Les tués et les disparus p.29
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 14.5 Nigel Thomas. Armies in the Balkans 1914-18. Osprey Publishing, 2001. Pp. 17.
  15. Giuseppe Praga, Franco Luxardo. History of Dalmatia. Giardini, 1993. Pp. 281.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Paul O'Brien. Mussolini in the First World War: the Journalist, the Soldier, the Fascist. Oxford, England, UK; New York, New York, USA: Berg, 2005. Pp. 17.
  17. A. Rossi. The Rise of Italian Fascism: 1918-1922. New York, New York, USA: Routledge, 2010. Pp. 47.
  18. Bernard SCHNETZLER Les erreurs stratégiques pendant la Première Guerre Mondiale, ECONOMICA, 2011 ISBN 2717852255
  19. Keegan, John (2000). World War I. Vintage. pp. 307. ISBN 0375700455. 


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