This Day In History: The Allies Are Asked to Land Forces At Salonika (1915)

On this date in history the Greek government asked France and Britain for help and to land forces in Salonika (now Thessaloniki) during WW I. This is despite the fact that the country was officially neutral. David Lloyd George, the British  War Munitions Minister, and future Prime Minister had previously called for the allies to land troops in Salonika in Northern Greece in order to help Britain and France’s allies in the Balkan’s. However, the plan did not go ahead and instead, plans were made for a landing at Gallipoli. By early October 1915 in response to the Greek government’s request, the allies agreed to send a sizeable force to Salonika.

Some 75,000 men were to be sent to Salonika, they were men from all over the British and French Empire and included Indians, Vietnamese, Arabs, and Africans. The force was to have two objectives. Firstly, they were to help Serbia in its life and death struggle with the Central Powers. Then it would help to defend Greece against any attacks from Ottoman Turkey and the other Central Powers. In particular, the force would defend Greece from an attack by the Bulgarian army.  Greece was still technically neutral at this time and the allies were fearful that the Turks and Germans could occupy it.  However, the operation did not go as planned the allies had become bogged down in Gallipoli and forces designated for Salonika were diverted to the Dardanelles. The force was not established in Salonika until the following January and by then it was too late to help Serbia. The political situation in Greece was tense as the country was split between those who wanted to join the war on the allies side and those who favored neutrality. The King of Greece was a relative of the Kaiser and he was sympathetic to Germany.

Monument to those killed on the Salonika Front (1916-1918)

Lloyd George was determined to land a large allied force in the country and he claimed that it would not violate the neutrality of Greece. In fact, he hoped that the presence of a large Allied force would make sure that Athens would eventually join the allies. The entry of Greece into the war would greatly help the Serbs who had suffered a series of defeats.   However, the allies arrived too late in Salonika and by the time that they arrived Serbia had been defeated and its capital Belgrade was occupied by the Austrians. The allies remained in Salonika despite the opposition of the Greek king and this eventually led to Greece being dragged into the war. Northern Greece became another front in the war. The Greeks were dragged into the war as Lloyd George had anticipated. Soon the area of Northern Greece became another battle zone, known as either the Macedonian or the Salonika Front. The front at Salonika became another bloody stalemate in the course of 1916. Here the Bulgarians with other Central Powers forces battled the Greeks and units from the British and the French armies, until 1918.