This Day In History: The French Occupy the Island Of Corfu (1916)

This day in history during the height of WWI the French occupied the Greek island of Corfu. The Greek government allowed the French to occupy the island so that they could establish a refuge for the Serbian government and army. In 1914 Serbia was invaded by the Austrians who blamed Belgrade for the assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand. The Serbian army had defied the Austrians  and the Germans for over a year, but by the end of 1915, their homeland had been almost overrun. By December 1915 the Serb army and government was forced to flee their homeland. The Serbian Royal family and much of the army retreated into Albania and made it to ports on the Adriatic Coast. Some 250,000 Serbian soldiers had retreated into Albania.

The western allies were determined not to abandon their allies and they sent an armada to rescue. By the end of 1915, in a massive rescue operation involving more than  200 ships, from the Italian, French and British navy. The rescue mission was a remarkable feat and it rescued an entire army. It is estimated that over 300,000  men, women and children were taken to safety by the allies navies.  They were all taken to Corfu and the island became their new base. In mid-1916 approximately half of the Serbian army was taken by ship to Salonika where they would fight on the Macedonian Front against Bulgaria and the German 9th Army.  The Serbian army were to fight for over two years on the Macedonian Front and they fought very bravely. They were instrumental in the defeat of Bulgaria in the autumn of 1918 and they later re-occupied their homeland after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian army.

Members of the Serbian Royal Family on Corfu (1916)

The island also became the de-factor capital of the Serbian government in exile. In the summer of 1917, there were important negotiations on the island. The Serbian government and members of various Slavic minorities were present. The Austrian-Hungarian Empire was on its last legs and its various Slavic minorities were very keen to become independent. They agreed to enter into a pact and under its terms, Serbia and the Slavic minorities agreed to form a new Pan-Slavic state. They all agreed that the new state would be ruled by the current King of Serbia. The Corfu agreement was warmly received by many Slavs, weary of living under the rule of the Austrians and the Hungarians. The American President Woodrow Wilson later endorsed the ideas and visions expressed at Corfu in the summer of 1917. The so-called Pact of Corfu was to form the basis of the future state of Yugoslavia.