Battlefield Archaeology: The forgotten Battle of Skra di Legen, May 29–30, 1918

Interviews

By Pierre Kosmidis

Greek researcher and battlefield archaeologist Giannis Karageorgiou, recently visited the battlefields around Skra, where fierce battles took place during World War I.

Giannis Karageorgiou shares his photographs of the military cemeteries and monuments erected by the Greeks with www.ww2wrecks.com as well as photos of Serb monuments and cemeteries in the areas of Chrissi and Foustani in Pella region of Greece.

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The Battle of Skra di Legen (Skora di Legen) was a two-day battle which took place at the Skra fortified position, located northeast of Mount Paiko, which is north-west of Thessaloniki, on May 29–30, 1918, on the Macedonian front of World War I.

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Skra de legen, or as it is known in Bulgaria “Jarebichna” was a fortified position around the three peaks of the Paiko (Pajak) Mountain just west of the city of Gevgely and the current Greek-FYROM border crosses that position.

Bulgarian troops fortified it in 1916 and in 1917 it withstood a strong frontal assault of the French troops. In May 1918 this triangular in shape position was defended by the Third brigade of the Bulgarian 5th “Dunavska” (Danubian) division: 2nd IR defended its right (west) wing, 50th IR defended its east (left) wing and on the top of the triangle, occupying the front position, were the three battalions of the 49th IR.

On 30th May 1918 two Greek divisions and one French Brigade with a crushing supremacy in artillery attacked the whole position. They succeeded in breaking the flanks of the “triangle” and on the next day 49th IR was surrounded.

After almost 10 hours of desperate fighting the whole regiment was practically annihilated. Bulgarian losses were heavy – 600 killed, 2045 taken prisoners. Greek losses were also heavy – around 2000 killed and wounded.

From a tactical point of view it was a minor engagement. Only a position 5 km wide and 3 km deep was lost. However the loss of a whole regiment – 49th, was felt deeply by the Bulgarians.

The battle was the first large-scale employment of Greek troops of the newly established Army of National Defence on the front, and resulted in the capture of the heavily fortified Bulgarian position.

The Allied force comprised three Greek divisions of the National Defence Army Corps under Lieutenant General Emmanouil Zymvrakakis, plus one French brigade.

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The three Greek divisions included the Archipelago Division under Major General Dimitrios Ioannou, the Crete Division under Major General Panagiotis Spiliadis, and the Serres Division under Lieutenant Colonel Epameinondas Zymvrakakis.

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The 5th and 6th Regiments from the Archipelago Division were in the center, the 7th and 8th Regiments from the Crete Division were on the right flank and the 1st Regiment of the Serres Division was on the left flank.

In the early morning of 29 May 1918, Greek artillery fired on Bulgarian positions in preparation for the next morning’s assault.

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On 06.30, 30 May 1918, Allied forces captured Skra from the heavily outnumbered Bulgarians. Starting from the evening of the same day until May 31, the Bulgarian army launched several counterattacks on positions held by the Crete Division. All attacks were repelled, cementing the Allied victory.

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In the battle, 441 Allied soldiers were killed, 2,227 wounded and 164 missing in action. Bulgaria suffered 600 soldiers killed and 2045 taken prisoner. 32 machine guns and 12 artillery pieces were also captured.

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