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Serbian and Macedonian fronts

Created by Sal Khan.

Video transcript

- [Voiceover] As we've already talked about multiple times, World War I broke out in 1914 and the beginning of it was all about Austria-Hungary declaring war on Serbia using the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand as the pretext for declaring war on Serbia. This was in July, July 28, 1914, they declare war on Serbia and if you were a military analyst at the time, you would've assumed that this would've been kind of a quick action and this is why frankly Austro-Hungary was so eager to declare war on Serbia. They thought that it would be very easy for them to put the Serbians out of commission. Austro-Hungary , you're talking about this empire here. Huge economy, huge military industrial complex, huge army. Serbians, much smaller country, much poorer country. They had also fought several recent wars. They were very ill-equipped so any military analyst would thought that this would be a short war, but 1914 did not prove that way for the Austro-Hungarians and this actually could be viewed as a huge victory, a huge surprise, for the Serbians, that the Serbians were able to keep the Austro-Hungarians back. Serbians hold. Now this isn't to say that it wasn't incredibly, incredibly, incredibly bloody. You've had several offensives across the border into Serbia. The Austro-Hungarians briefly captured Belgrade. Then the Serbians capture it back. In the meantime tens and hundreds of thousands of folks were dying, but at the end of 1914, you would have surprised the military analyst and the Serbians were able to hold despite being less equipped and despite just being a smaller country. Now the luck for the Serbians did not hold out that well as we go into 1915. By 1915, other parties other than the Austro-Hungarians decided to get involved against the Serbians. In particular, you have the Bulgarians that prior to 1915, they were kinda trying to figure out which side of the war they want to fall in on, but they have had several battles or several wars recently with Serbia, one as recently as 1913. They were eager to capture back some territory so in 1915 the Bulgarians joined the war on the side of the Central Powers and as we exit 1915, you have a joint offensive between the Bulgarians, the Austro-Hungarians and the Germans against the small country of Serbia and the Germans interest other than the fact that they wanted to support their ally, Austria, they were also eager to take control of the railways between Berlin and Constantinople and that railway went into Serbia and so if they were able to capture this, take Serbia out of the war, then they would be able to send supplies much more easily to their other ally, the Ottoman Empire. So on October of 1915, October of 1915, you have a joint offensive between the German army and this is what this map right here is depicting right over here. This is the third Austrian army, this is the 11th German army. This is the first Bulgarian army, this is the second Bulgarian army and their joint offensive is hugely successful for the Central Powers. They're essentially able to roll into Serbia. It's actually impressive on the side of the Serbians that it took this much force to be able to roll through Serbia, but they were able to roll through Serbia, essentially occupy all of Serbia. They put the Serbian army on the run and the only redeeming thing for the Serbians is that some element of the Serbian army was actually able to escape through Montenegro and Albania and some of the civilians and then they were transported by the allies, by the entente, to be able to recuperate and then join as we'll see on the Macedonian front. So 1915 you have the Central Powers roll through Serbia so to any observer right now, Serbia is essentially lost. Now right when that was happening, the allies had recognized that Serbia was in a very difficult situation and as we got to the end of 1915, they did start... The French and British troops did start to land in Salonica right over here in order to, one would think, help the Serbian forces. Now they weren't able to arrive and act in enough time to prevent what happened in October of 1915. You have some French forces that were able to essentially distract the Bulgarian second army that aided to some degree the Serbian retreat, but essentially they started to build their own forces right over here in Salonica. Now this is interesting because we're talking about this region right over here, kind of Macedonia and Greece and at this point in the war, Greece had stayed neutral. The king was leaning towards... King Constantine the first, he was leaning towards the Central Powers while the prime minister and I'm sure I'm going to say this incorrectly, Venizelos, he was leaning toward the ally parties so you started to have this kind of disconnect between the two and the prime minister resigns, but he has active support, especially in kind of Macedonia and Greece and obviously he has support amongst the allies. So as you go into 1916, you have a coup for Venizelos in Macedonia and Greece, especially in around Salonica, which is essentially being held by the allies, even though Greece is essentially... Is officially neutral. So coup for Venizelos, which leads to a very interesting situation. So after the coup for Venizelos, you essentially have Greece, kind of Macedonian and Greece is under the control of the supporters of Venizelos and supporters of the allies while the rest of Greece is still loyal to the king and the king is leaning towards the Central Powers, but it's not really clear what he wants to do about it. Then you get into 1917, the allies start to get a little bit forceful about it. In 1917 they have a blockade. They apply a blockade of southern Greece. Obviously blockades are always inflict a lot of hardship, economic hardship, human hardship, on civilians, but this essentially forces in June of 1917 Constantine the first... Constantine goes into exhile and essentially at this point, all of Greece is under... Is kind of supporting the allies and Greece goes on the side of the allies so in this map right over here that shows kind of the Allied Powers, the entente powers and the Central Powers, Greece right over here is depicted as an Allied Power, but it was officially neutral as we go through 1917 only after the overthrow as... Only after Constantine the first goes into exile, do we have Greece formally becoming an ally. And so that set gives us the set up into 1918. So you had regrouped Serbian forces and at this point , it would be called the Macedonian front. Serbia has been lost to the Central Powers. You have regrouped Serbian forces at Salonica. They've been transported to Salonica and in Greek Macedonian general. You now have the Greek army who is now on the side of the allies. You have the British and the French army and so as we get into September 1918, they are ready to go on the offensive and you need to remember what's happening in the rest of Europe at this point. You might remember August 1918, this is the beginning of the 100 days offensive that marked the allied victory on the western front so news was already getting in there. You had great morale amongst the allies, you had not so great morale amongst the Central Powers and so in 1918, September, you have the allied offensive coming out of Greece, coming out of I guess you could call it Macedonian Greece. Hugely successful. They were able to retake Serbia and actually some of the British forces are able to go east and retake Constantinople and so this part, this Macedonian front, is part of this overall we saw on the western front, kind of the end to the Central Powers ambitions in World War I and it ends with an armistice on this front and as we know, as we get into November of 1918, you have essentially armistices or cease fires on all the major fronts and the allies have essentially won.