Bulgaria Deserts Germany
( Originally Published 1918 )
DURING the year 1916 there was little movement in the Balkans. The Allies had settled down at Saloniki and entrenched themselves so strongly that their positions were practically impregnable. These entrenchments were on slopes facing north, heavily wired and with seven miles of swamp before them, over which an attacking army would have to pass. It was obviously inadvisable to withdraw entirely the armies at Saloniki. So long as they were there it was possible at any time to make an attack on Bulgaria in case Russia or Roumania should need such assistance. And moreover, it was evident that it was only the presence of the Saloniki army that kept Greece neutral. During the year there were a few fights which were little more than skirmishes; almost all of the German soldiers had been withdrawn, and it was chiefly the Bulgarian army that was facing the Allies. On May 26th Bulgarian forces advanced into Greece and occupied Fort Rupel, with the acquiescence of the Greek Government.
The Greeks were in a difficult position. It was not unnatural that King Constantine and the Greek General Staff believed that the Al-lies had small chance of victory. Moreover, they had no special ambitions which could be satisfied by a war against the Central Powers. On the other hand, Turkey was an hereditary enemy, and the big sea coast would put them at the mercy of the British navy in case they should join their fortunes to those of Austro-Germany. To an impartial observer their policy of neutrality, if not heroic, was at least wise. The Greek Government, therefore, did its best to preserve neutrality. The surrender of Fort Rupel was not, however, a neutral act and roused in Greece a strong popular protest.
Venizelos, who at all times was strongly friendly to the Allies and who was the one great Greek statesman who not only believed in their ultimate victory but who saw that the true interests of Greece were in Anatolia and the Islands of the AEgean, was strongly opposed to King Constantine's action. The Allies showed their resentment by a pacific blockade, to pre-vent the export of coal to Greece, with the object of preventing supplies from reaching the enemy. This led to a certain amount of excitement and the Allied embassies in Athens were insulted by mobs. The governments, therefore, presented an ultimatum commanding the demobilization of the Greek army, the appointment of a neutral Ministry, and the calling of a new election for the Greek Chamber of Deputies, as well as the proper punishment of those who were guilty of the disorder.
In substance, the Greeks yielded to the Al-lied demand, but before a new election could be held an attack by the Bulgarians on the 17th of August changed the situation. The Bulgarian armies entered deep in Greek territory in the eastern provinces and captured the city of Kavalla without resistance from the armies of Greece. A portion of the Greek army at Kavalla surrendered and was taken to Germany as "guests" of the German Government.
This action of the Greek army led to a Greek revolution which broke out at Saloniki on the 30th of August. The King pursued a tortuous policy, professing neutrality and yet constantly bringing himself under suspicion. The Revolutionists organized an army and finally M. Venizelos, after strong efforts to in-duce the King to act, became' the head of the Provisional Government of the Revolutionists. The Allies pursued a policy almost as tortuous as that of King Constantine. They could not agree among themselves as to the proper policy, and took no decided course. King Constantine apparently had the support of Russia and of Italy.
Meantime the fighting against Bulgaria was still proceeding. The main force of the Allies was directed against the city of Monastir, which, after considerable fighting, was captured on November 19th. This gave the Serbians possession of an important point in their own country and naturally proved a great stimulus to the Serbian armies.
From that time on, and during the year 1917, little was done. Minor offensives were under-taken, some of which, like the Allied attack upon Doiran, deserve mention, but on the whole the fighting was a stalemate. Meanwhile the action of the Greek Government had become so unsatisfactory that it was finally determined to demand the abdication of King Constantine, and on June 11th he found himself compelled to yield. In his proclamation he said:
Obeying necessity of fulfilling my duty toward Greece, I am departing from my beloved country accompanied by the heir to the crown, and I leave my son Alexander on the throne. I beg you to accept my decision with calm.
Early the next morning the King and his family set sail for Italy on his way to Switzer-land, where he became another "King in exile. His son Alexander accepted the throne and issued the following proclamation:
At the moment when my august father, making a supreme sacrifice to our dear country, entrusted to me the heavy duties of the Hellenic throne, I express but one single wish—that God, hearing his prayer, will protect Greece, that He will permit us to see her again united and powerful. In my grief at being separated in circumstances so critical from my well-beloved father I have a single consolation: to carry out his sacred man-date which I will endeavor to realize with all my power, following the lines of his brilliant reign, with the help of the people upon whose love the Greek dynasty is sup-ported. I am convinced that in obeying the wishes of my father the people by their submission will do their part in enabling us together to rescue our dear country from the terrible situation in which it finds itself.
The whole country to all appearance received the abdication with satisfaction. On June 21st, M. Venizelos came to Athens and the Greek Chamber, which was illegally dissolved in 1915, was convoked and Venizelos once again became Prime Minister. At last he had succeeded, and he proceeded at once to join the whole of the Grecian forces to the cause of the Allies. Of all the statesmen prominent in the Great War, there was none more wise, more consistent or more loyal than the great Greek statesman.
For more than a year the Allied armies facing Bulgaria, remained upon the defensive when suddenly, on the 16th of September, 1918, in the midst of the wonderful movements that were forcing back the German armies in France, a dispatch was received from the Allied forces in Macedonia. The Serbian army, in cooperation with French and English forces, had attacked the Bulgarian positions on a ten-mile front, had stormed those positions and progressed more than five miles. On the next day news was received that the advance was continuing; that the Allies had occupied an important series of ridges, and had pierced the Bulgarian front; that more than three thou-s and prisoners had been captured and twenty-four guns. The movement took place about twelve miles east of Monastir and the ridge of Sokol, and the town of Gradeshnitsa were captured by the Allied troops.
It soon became evident that one of the most important movements in the whole war was being carried on. The Bulgarian armies were crumbling, and the German troops sent to aid them had been put to flight. The Allied troops had advanced on an average of ten miles and were continuing to advance. The Serbs, fighting at last near their own homes, were showing their real military strength. Four thousand prisoners had been taken, with an enormous quantity of war supplies. The Bulgarian positions which had yielded so easily were positions which they had been fortifying for three years, and had been previously thought to be impregnable.
On September 23d it became evident that the retreat of the Bulgarians had turned into a rout. Notwithstanding reinforcements of Germans and Bulgars rushed down in a frantic effort to check them, the Allied armies were advancing on an eighty-five-mile front, crushing all resistance. The Italian army, on the west, was meeting with equal success, and the news dispatches reported that the first Bulgarian army in the region of Prilep had been cut off. A dispatch received by the British War Office reported "As the result of attacks and continual heavy pressure by British and Greek troops, in conjunction with the French and Serbian advance farther west, the enemy has evacuated his whole line from Doiran to the west of the Vardar." As it retreated the Bulgarian army was burning supplies and destroying ammunition dumps, burning railway stations and ravaging the country.
By this time it was felt throughout the Al-lied world that the Bulgarian defeat would have important political consequences. It was remembered that a short time before King Ferdinand had paid a visit to Germany, and after long conferences with the German War Lord, had hastily returned to Bulgaria. It was recalled that there had been many signs of serious disorder in Bulgaria, where the Socialist party had been in close touch with the advance parties in the Ukrainian Republic. It seemed possible that the Bulgarian defeats had been brought about by Bulgarian dissension and it was also evident that Germany was in no position to offer effective support to its Bulgarian accomplice.
As the days passed by the news from this front became more and more favorable. At all points the Bulgarian armies were retreating in the most disorderly manner, closely pursued by the Serbians, French, English, Italians, and Greeks. Bulgarian troops were deserting in thousands, and thousands of others were surrendering without resistance.
On September 26th it was announced that the Bulgar front had disappeared; that the armies had been cut into a number of groups and were fleeing before the Allied troops. Town after town was being captured, with enormous quantities of stores. On Friday, September 27th, it was announced that Bulgaria had asked the Allies for an armistice of forty-eight hours, with a view to making peace.
The situation was now causing intense excitement. The Germans tried to minimize the Bulgarian surrender. A dispatch from Berlin declared that Premier Malinoff's offer of an armistice was made without the support of other members of the Cabinet or of King Ferdinand, and that Germany would make a solemn protest against it. German newspapers were demanding that Malinoff be dismissed immediately and court-martialed for high treason. The Berlin message asserted that the Premier's offer had created great dissatisfaction in Bulgaria and that strong military measures had been taken to support the Bulgarian front. According to statements from Sofia it was added a counter-movement against the action of the Premier had already been set on foot. It was declared in Germany that the Premier's act was the result of Germany's refusal to send sufficient reinforcements to Bulgaria. Secretary Lansing made the announcement that the United States Government had received a proposal for an armistice.
It appeared that Bulgaria had been maneuvering toward peace for some time. The Bulgarians had foreseen their inability to meet the expected Allied attack, and had made every effort to obtain German reinforcements. Moreover, they were highly dissatisfied with the ' treatment they had received from Germany in connection with Bulgaria's dispute with Turkey as to territorial dispositions to be made after the war. Probably the most important reason, however, for the Bulgarian overthrow was that by this time they were sick of the war. They had not, in the first place, gone into it with any enthusiasm, and though they could fight bravely enough against their Serbian foe, no true Bulgarian could feel him-self in a natural position facing his old-time Russian friend.
Bulgaria had come to the end. Malinoff, the Premier, had from the beginning been op-posed to the war. Mobs in Sofia were demanding surrender. Ferdinand was compelled to give way to the wishes of his Cabinet and his people, and in spite of the fact that he had promised the Kaiser to remain faithful to the Alliance, he gave his consent to the movement for unconditional surrender.
An official Bulgarian statement read as follows: "In view of the conjunction of circumstances which have recently arisen, and after the position had been jointly discussed with all competent authorities, the Bulgarian Government, desiring to put an end to the blood-shed, has authorized the Commander-in-Chief of the army to propose to the Generalissimo of the armies of the Entente at Saloniki, a cessation of hostilities, and the entering into of negotiations for obtaining an armistice and peace. The members of the Bulgarian delegation left yesterday evening in order to get into touch with the Plenipotentiaries of the Entente belligerents." This statement was dated September 24th.
When the Bulgarian officers entrusted with the proposal for an armistice presented them-selves at Saloniki, General d'Esperey gave the following reply: "My response cannot be, by reason of the military situation, other than the following. I can accord neither an armistice nor a suspension of hostilities tending to interrupt the operations in course. On the other hand, I will receive with all due courtesy the delegates duly qualified of the Royal Bulgarian Government." The Bulgarian delegates were General Lonkhoff, commander of the Bulgarian Second Army, M. Liapcheff, Finance Minister, and M. Radeff, a former member of the Bulgarian Cabinet.
On the evening of the 29th an armistice was signed. The terms of the surrender were approved by the Entente Governments, and hostilities came to an end at noon on September 30th. The terms of the armistice were as follows :
Bulgaria agrees to evacuate all the territory she now occupies in Greece and Serbia; to demobilize her army immediately and surrender all means of transport to the Allies. Bulgaria also will surrender her boats and control of navigation on the Danube, and concede to the Allies free passage through Bulgaria for the development of military operations. All Bulgarian arms and ammunition are to be stored under the control of the Allies, to whom is conceded the right to occupy all important strategic points. The military occupation of Bulgaria will be entrusted to British, French and Italian forces, and the evacuated portions of Greece and Serbia, respectively, to Greek and Serbian troops.
This armistice meant a complete military surrender, and Bulgaria ceased to be a belligerent. All questions of territorial rearrangement in the Balkans were purposely omitted from the Convention. The Allies made no stipulation concerning King Ferdinand, his position being considered an internal matter, one for the Bulgarians themselves to deal with.
The armistice was to remain in operation until the final general peace was concluded.
The request of Bulgaria for an armistice and peace, stunned Germany, which at that time was living in an atmosphere of political crisis and military misfortune. The German papers laid much of the blame on the desperate economic conditions in Bulgaria, which had been made worse by political strife.
After the Bulgarian collapse the Serbians, with the other Allied troops who had just captured Uskub, swept northward to drive the remaining Germans and Austrians out of Serbia and beyond the Danube. On October lath they captured Nish, thus cutting the famous Orient railroad from Berlin to Constantinople. German authorities announced that henceforth trains on this line would run only to the Serbian border.
On October 4th King Ferdinand abdicated his throne in favor of his son Crown Prince Boris, and left Sofia the same night for Vienna. Before leaving he issued the following manifesto:
By reason of the succession of events which have occurred in my kingdom, and which demand a sacrifice from each citizen, even to the surrendering of oneself for the well being f all, I desire to give as the first example the sacrifice of myself. Despite the sacred ties, which for thirty-two years have bound me so firmly to this country, for whose prosperity and greatness I have given all my powers, I have decided to renounce the royal Bulgarian crown in favor of my eldest son, His Highness the Prince Royal. Boris of Tirnovo. I call upon all faithful subjects and true patriots to unite as one man about the throne of King Boris, to lift the country from its difficult situation, and to elevate new Bulgaria to the height to which it is predestined.
Before signing his declaration of abdication he had consulted with the party leaders and received their approval. King Ferdinand had lost his popularity ever since it became apparent that he had made a mistake in siding with the Teutonic Powers. He was undoubtedly in fear that a revolution might upset the whole dynasty. Premier Malinoff announced the abdication to the Bulgarian Parliament, and the accession of Prince Boris to the throne was received with much enthusiasm. The church bells were rung, and great crowds gathered in the streets.
Speaking from the steps of the Palace the new King said: "I thank you for your manifestation of patriotic sentiments. I have faith in the good star of Bulgaria, and I believe that the Bulgar people, by their good qualities and cooperation, are directed to a brilliant future.'' King Ferdinand, it was given out, had renounced politics and was intending in the future to devote himself to his favorite pursuits, chiefly to botany.
The surrender of Bulgaria was at once recognized as the overthrow of Germany's "Mittel-Europa" threat, which had apparently been carried into effect when Turkey and Bulgaria joined the Central Powers. It had for a long time been one of Germany's most coveted aims. After the Franco-Prussian war the German people had grown enormously in wealth and in numbers. It had become one of the greatest manufacturing powers in the world. Its ships were transporting its commerce on every sea, but it was not satisfied. The German leaders, most of whom were young men at the time of the war with France, and had been deeply impressed by a sense of the German power, were full of the idea that Germany was the greatest of nations, and that she should impress her will on all the world.
They might have done this peacefully, for the seas were free, but German self-esteem was not satisfied with peaceful progress. They felt that it was necessary to reach out in the world for colonies. They seized a province in China. They meddled with affairs in Morocco. They annexed colonies in Africa, but none of these projects were wholly satisfactory. They provided no great outlet for the products of their workshops, nor for their overflow population, which largely went to North and South America and became citizens of these foreign nations.
Their eyes finally turned to the great East. There in China and India and the neighboring countries were three hundred millions of men whose trade would be a worthy prize for even Germany's ambition. Then began the development of what is sometimes called Germany's Mittel-Europa dream. Her scholars encouraged it ; her travelers brought reports which stimulated the interest, and soon she began practically to carry it into effect. It meant the building of a great railroad down to the Persian Gulf ; a railroad to be controlled by nations where her influence would be all-powerful. She needed Austria, she needed Serbia, she needed Bulgaria and Turkey.
At first the project was carried out peacefully. Friendly relations were stimulated with Turkey and the other necessary powers; permits were obtained to build the railroad. But Germany was not the only power that had dreamed this dream. Alexander the Great had done it. Napoleon had done it, and England had carried it out. From the days of Queen Elizabeth the English control of India was one of its greatest assets.
Through most of the nineteenth century the English power in the East was threatened, not by Germany, but by Russia. It was because of this threat that England had always protected Turkey. Turkey and Constantinople were her' barrier against Russia. The literature of England in the last days of the nineteenth century shows clearly her fear of Russian intrigues in India. Kipling's Indian stories are full of it. But now that fear had passed. It was no longer the imaginary danger which might come from the great Slavic Empire, but a trade weapon in the grasp of the most efficient military power ever developed that was threatening. Against this threat England had been doing her best. Here and there near the Persian Gulf she had been ex-tending her influence. Here and there, as German Consuls obtained concessions, they would find them later withdrawn, bècause England had stepped in. Yet just before the war, England, anxious for peace, had come to an agreement with Germany practically admitting the German plans to be carried out as far as Bagdad.
It looked as though it were only a question of time, but when the Balkan wars established Serbia as the greatest of the Balkan powers, and gave Russia a preponderating influence among the Balkan nations, and when it began to look as if some great Balkan state might be established which should be friendly to Russia and consequently a hindrance to the German scheme, then it was that it was necessary that war should come. The Germans had been wonderfully successful. For a time they con-trolled Austria, Bulgaria, Serbia and Turkey, but with Bulgaria's fall the end of the Mittel-Europa dream had come.