The Battle of Doiran 1917

The winter of 1916-17 saw a deadlock in Macedonia as complete as that on the Western Front. In March the weather improved and the Allied forces prepared for active operations. The 22nd and 26th Divisions were to attack the enemy’s positions, preliminary to a general Allied offensive astride the River Vardar.

On 21st April the British artillery began with a systematic bombardment of the enemy’s wire and trenches. On the morning of 24th the bombing increased in intensity. Under a heavy barrage of enemy artillery the Worcestershire platoons made their way across the Jumeaux Ravine and up the steep slope opposite. Captain A. R. Cooper, commanding the leading company, dashed back into the midst of firing shells to find supporting platoons to assist the front line supporters. Scrambling up through the scrub till they reached the Bulgarian trenches, they were able to take the enemy’s front line along the O6 Ridge.

Captain Cooper was awarded a D.S.O for his part in this action

On the right of the captured trenches a strongly fortified redoubt (Z44) at the apex of the spur beat back all attacks for some twenty minutes. Then over the crest of the ridge came the first counter-attack. The attack was met be rapid fire and driven back. The enemy sent reinforcements from the rear into the redoubt on the right flank; and from that point commenced to bomb along the trench. They gained some twenty yards; then the Worcestershire bombers, headed by Private B. Harris (awarded MM), established a block and held firm.

Away on the left flank an attempt was made by a small party to bomb along the communication trench which ran across the spur (Lance-Corporal G. Harold was awarded an MM for his bravery). Sergeant W. J. Blood (awarded MM) was now commanding a platoon and led his men forward to a renewed attack, reoccupied part of the communication trench and held it thenceforward against all counter-attacks.

The enemy’s trench-mortars from beyond the ridge kept up a continuous fire. The Battalion Signal Officer, 2/Lt L. C. Ryder led forward a party of men through the barrage and up to the enemy’s position. Ryder was killed in the process, but Corporal H. Evans (awarded MM) took over command and was able to establish a station. Captain B. Baden (awarded MC) sent information back through flares.

Through the smoke and up the steep slope came struggling the reserve companies, who had lost half their number. Lt. G. Thomson (awarded MC), who had been severely wounded, took in hand the work of organisation. The enemy were determined to recapture their lost trench and commenced a fresh onslaught. The platoons were now hopelessly intermingled, and in the darkness control was very difficult; nevertheless they managed to fight off two more successive attacks. A big bomb struck one Lewis-gun, killing or wounding all its team. Bombs were striking all around, but 2/Lt F. S. Shaw (awarded MC) already wounded, got to the Lewis-gun and brought it back into action.

At one point the enemy regained part of the trenches; Sergt F. Potter (awarded DCM) led the counter-attack and reorganised the defence. Medical Officer Capt J. P. Lusk (MC) RAMC worked along the parapet of the captured trench, assisted by a devoted stretcher-bearer, Private W. Keyte (MM).

A group of officers and men the 11th Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment behind the line in the Doiran Sector

The defence of the captured trench had been maintained for four hours, under constant fire and against repeated attacks. More than half of the Battalion had fallen. Ammunition was almost exhausted. Gradually the length of trench held grew shorter, as from both flanks the enemy bombers passed in. At about 04.00 there came an order to retire. All along the line to their right the attack had failed. The order to retire was passed down the line, and squad and squad, the remnant of the 11th Worcesters fell back down the slope. Out of a battle-strength of perhaps 500, the Battalion had lost over 350 of all ranks.