The Capture of Yenikoi in Oct 1916

yenikoi map

On October the 3rd, both battalions of the Dublin Fusiliers were in the front line between the Greek village of Jenikoj (Yenikoi) to the north and the Struma River to the south a distance of about a mile and a half. The strength of the 7th Dublins was twenty eight officers and 741 other ranks. The 6th Dublins and 7th Munsters were in the firing line and the 7th Dublins with the 6th Munsters were in support, later the 6th Irish Rifles followed on. Their objective was the village of Jenikoj. Crossing at the ‘Jungle Island Bridge’, the Dubs crossed the River Struma at 02:30 a.m. The Dublins and Munsters took up their position 1,000 yards south west of Bala.

5 am hell was suddenly let loose, and British big guns sent shell after shell, into Yenikoj village. In the dim light of early dawn, one could just discern the smoke rising from the houses set alight by our artillery fire. At 5.30 am the village was easily seen, and troops moved up behind the artillery barage. Two companies of Royal Irish Rifles were in the right of the first wave and two of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers on our left. Behind the leading waves came the Royal Dublin Fusliers and a second Battalion of the Royal Munster Fusiliers, the former with orders to clear the village after the first wave had gone through, the latter to remain in support during the initial stages of the attack.

At dawn we moved forward in waves, and, much to our surprise, were allowed to reach the outskirts of the village without opposition. Here the garrison of Yenikoj opened on us with rifles and machine guns. For perhaps a couple of minutes we blazed back at them. And then some one yelled, "The Bulgars are running". It was enough! Our men were off through the village, charging with fixed bayonets over some half dozen almost deserted Bulgar trenches, and through at the other end. Yenikoj had fallen. As we charged, a surprising number of Bulgars emerged, and without stopping to test the quality of the force behind the lines of cold steel, commenced running like sheep. Those who did not take to their heels waved white flags and even ran towards us, arms upstretched, preferring to be on the safe side of those advancing bayonets, which was not a surprising thing, all things considered. The majority of the garrison were fleeing for their lives, and our machine guns and rifles enjoyed a long looked for opportunity.

6:30 the village was taken with little or no casualties. The 7th Dublins cleared the village and took up a position north of the village (along the Serres Road). The Bulgarian trenches at this point were about 450 yards away.

7.20 am British troops in control of Yenikoj. They had captured the village rather sooner than the Big Gunners had reckoned on, and were not quite comfortable on realising that more than one of their own shells were still falling into the village. The Bulgar Gunners must have been equally mystified, for they did not fire a shot.

We dug in like fury when we could see no more Bulgars to slaughter, for we were quite aware that the enemy artillery would very soon wake up to the position of affairs, and that we should not have to wait long for the inevitable counter attack. We didn't. It is curious that the Bulgar much prefers to lose a position, and then commence a series of futile attempts to retake it, than to defend it thoroughly from the beginning, for this is what he has invariably done up to the present. Nobody can deny, however, that he is a tough customer in the counter-attack. Before long our artillery was playing havoc among the retreating Bulgars who were now out of rifle and machine gun range.

During the day the enemy launched three heavy counterattacks. The first two were stopped by artillery fire, which caused severe loss to them.

10.30 the first Bulgar counter attack had been stopped by our gunners, and a second was commencing. It failed to reach 1000 yards of the village, for our artillery again got on the advancing lines and blew huge gaps in their ranks.

12:30 p.m some of the 7th Dublins were killed by their own artillery. The two battalions of the Dublins were caught in the middle of their own and Bulgarian counter barrage. The 7th Dublins diarist wrote:

An intense bombardment by the enemy followed as his infantry advanced in strong force. This battalion together with the 6th R.D.F suffered severely from shell fire and retired to the position of the sunken road which had been held earlier in the morning.

2pm, the Bulgar batteries opened up, and they launched a new counter attack was launched with fresh troops. Their shelling was accurate, and the British troops had the impression that they were living in a maze of H. E.s and bursting shrapnel. The telegraph poles along the Seres Road gave them the registering marks. The Dublins had more than their share, owing to the fact that the nature of the ground left them more exposed to the shell fire. Meanwhile, the enemy infantry pushed forward for the attack with a reckless disregard for the heavy casualties they were incurring, both from the terrific barrage put up by our artillery and the machine gun and rifle fire.

3 pm., the enemy's bombardment suddenly ceased and the air whistled with bullets. Bulgars suddenly sprang up from everywhere. Before many of us quite realised what had happened, a mob of Bulgars had rushed up through a sunken road a little on our left and a fierce struggle ensued. It gave the enemy just a foothold at the far end of Yenikoj village. For more than two hours a terrific fusilade was maintained.

4 p. m. the village, the ground in the rear, and the bridges were subjected to an unexpectedly heavy bombardment from several heavy batteries which had hitherto not disclosed their positions. Following on the bombardment was the heaviest counterattack of the day, six or seven battalions advancing from the direction of Homondos, Kalendra, and Topalova with a view to enveloping our positions. This attack was carried forward with great determination, and some detachments succeeded in entering the northern portion of Yenikoi, where hard fighting continued all night, until fresh reinforcements succeeded in clearing out such enemy as survived

4.10pm Colonel Becher of Royal Irish Rifles had news that the 6th and 7th Dublins had been driven out in some confusion and that he was to go forward to their support.  The two Dublin battalions were considerably disorganized.  Colonel Becher, who had gone forward with his own battalion alone, therefore collected such bodies of them as he could, and sent back for the Leinster companies to move up also. 

5:00 p.m, the 6th Leinsters and 6th Royal Irish Rifles arrived at the sunken road which was in the centre of the village and proceeded to dig themselves in and consolidate the line of defence which the Dublins had established. But the Bulgarians attacked strongly. Conflicting orders were issued and some troops withdrawn, leaving others still within the village. After nearly 24 hours continuous battle, those members of the 6th and 7th Dubs who had been withdrawn were sent back to retake the village.

One officer in the 6th Royal Irish Rifles described the Bulgarian infantry. They were in line of companies. I could see the officers mounted on their charges. On they came, line upon line of them. … At the same time, like a clap of thunder or one thousand claps of thunder, our guns opened up. Never had artillery such a target, a mass of troops, closely packed together and in full view. I don’t believe the Bulgars had a chance of firing a shot.

7:00 p.m in the evening the Bulgarians attacked in strength

7:30 p.m the order came to the 7th Dublins to leave the village. During the night, the battalion retired to their original line outside the village  and on arrival was told that the order to retire was cancelled and also that part of their ‘A’ Company plus a party of the 6th Dublins and 7th Munsters were still in possession of the village.

8.15 p.m. Colonel Becher of Royal Irish Rifles also received orders from the 30th Brigade to retire to his original position.  An hour later, immediately after his return, a message arrived to the effect that the retirement was " cancelled."  The order had been due to an error, but it was impossible to rectify it that night. 

As darkness set in, we were awaiting an almost certain pressing home of the attack, but it never developed, and our Verey lights very soon revealed that as far as our own particular front was concerned the enemy had, to all appearances, given up the attempt. A company of the Suffolks on the left of the Brigade line broke up an impetuous attack by the enemy during the night. With the exception of a few snipers who had been left behind by the Bulgars, and who were very promptly captured, a number of wounded, and" a horde of dead, Yenikoj long before daylight was clear of the enemy.

03:00 the next morning on the 4th of October, after nearly twenty four hours continuous fighting, an exhausted 6th and 7th Dublins counter attacked the village

05:30 a.m Dublins reoccupied Jenikoj (Yenikoi) without opposition.

The Salonika Campaign