French liners in WW1 – slaughter in the Mediterranean
October 4th was the one-hundredth anniversary of the sinking of the SS Gallia, one of the worst maritime disasters of the First World War. What made it even more terrible was that this was one of four similar tragedies, each involving troopships, each involving very heavy loss of life. It also underlines the fact that the closed waters of the Mediterranean became a happy hunting-ground for German and Austro-Hungarian U-boats in those years. Without effectively escorted convoys, and in the absence of effective submarine-detection technology, highly vulnerable Allied shipping was offered up likes lambs to the slaughter.
The Salonika front, on which British, French and Serbian troops faced Bulgarian and German forces in Macedonia, is all but forgotten today. Though it absorbed large numbers of troops, who sustained serious losses through disease, it saw only intermittent though bitter and inconclusive fighting in 1916 and 1917. A major Allied offensive was to be unleashed successfully from it in the last months of the war. Established in October 1915, this front tied down a vast number of troops – by 1917 no less than 24 divisions were deployed there: six French, six Serbian, seven British, one Italian and three Greek, plus two Russian brigades. Supply had to be by sea, necessitating a heavy commitment of troop and hospital ships, plus innumerable cargo vessels, to maintain a long and vulnerable supply line that led primarily to France.