The Battle of Vetrina and the Liberation of Sidirokastro, 27 June 1913

Eve of the Battle…

After their defeat at Kilkis, Lachana and Doirani, the Bulgarian troops turned towards the area of ​​Sidirokastro, with the sole aim of regrouping and preventing the Greek advance to the north, the Rupel Straits and the Bulgarian hinterland thereafter. In the attempt to reorganize the Bulgarian military forces, on the morning of June 13. the commander of the 11th Bulgarian division, Ivanov, ordered the following to Athanasof, military commander of Serres: The military commander of Serres, assumes command of all armed divisions with orders to assemble the remnants of the Drama brigade and organize a strong defense on the left bank of the Strymonas . As long as the enemy does not press you there will be no retreat.
The river, although accessible in many places, presents great difficulties to the enemy if he has to deal with our artillery. Bring your troops back to these crossings and organize a strong resistance. Keep divisions available for counterattacks at the right time.' After this order, Athanasof's troops set out for the crossings of the Strymons and for the organization of the line Haropou - Komisis, - Rupel.
June 25, 1913. Heading to Vetrina...
At the time when the Bulgarians were attempting the final regrouping of their forces, Greek military units were approaching the SW foothills of the Kerkini mountain range. By the morning of June 25, the Greek divisions had advanced to the village of Mandraki, driving the enemy out of important positions, mainly above 'no Poroia and the strategically important pass "Sidera Pyli" in Beles. Due to the Greek advance, General Sarafov hastily left Ano Poroia and arrived at Neo Petritsi, where he established his headquarters.
In the evening of the same day, the Manousogiannakis army department issued the following order to the 1st and 6th divisions: The enemy occupies the village of Vetrina. About 12 to 15 guns have been placed around the railway bridge, while a wooden bridge has been constructed 500 meters north of the railway bridge. Enemy forces are present in Puliovo (Thermopigi) and Radovo (Haropo). The village of Hatzi Beylik (Byronia) is occupied by Bulgarian rebels". Then the General Manousogiannakis orders the movements of the Greek forces on the morning of the next day, June 26: "Tomorrow the army division will continue its march towards Vetrina, in order to drive the enemy across the river. The 1st division marched divided into 2 parts. The left part will be directed from Dervedi (Akritochori) and Hadzi Beylik (Byronia). The right section will follow the normal carriageway. The 6th division will follow the carriage road, placing its artillery at the head of the right phalanx.'

Eve of the great attack...

June 26, 1913. The eve of the great offensive...
The 1st division started at 4 am. The right wing consisted of the 4th Infantry Regiment and 2 Artillery Regiments of the Mountain Artillery Squadron as the vanguard, as well as the 2nd Infantry Regiment together with a surgical unit. Together with General Manousogiannakis, they followed Mandrakiou - Neo Petritsiou street, where their final destination - goal. The left wing consisted of the 5th infantry regiment and a mountain artillery. Follow the route Mandraki, Akritochori, Byronia Aetovouni, with the only destination and goal here being Neo Petritsi.
The two divisions were still advancing east towards Neo Petritsi. In front was the Greek cavalry, which drove the Bulgarian troops out of Byronia, but without being able to advance further than the railway station, due to the enemy pounding, by the Bulgarian artillery on the heights of Neo Petritsi. After this development, the cavalry turned towards Agriolefka and Gonimo, in order to guard the bridges of Strymons, from enemy attacks.
Πορεία προς το Σιδηρόκαστρο (Αρχείο Δ.Ι.Σ)

When the 4th infantry regiment reached Byronia, it was heavily and continuously attacked by the 4 field guns, which were placed on the heights above Neo Petritsi, but also by the 20 field guns on the left bank of the Strymons and the railway bridge. The cannonade of the Greek forces in Byronia lasted until the afternoon hours. The Bulgarians mercilessly wasted their ammunition in order to prevent the Greek advance. The shells combined with the unbearable heat of the day created a suffocating atmosphere for the Greek soldiers. The 1st Battalion - which led the 4th Regiment - attempted to advance east. But it was hit hard by the Bulgarian artillery of Neo Petritsi, which forced it to consolidate and retreat to its previous position, it was impossible to advance further than the railway station of Byronia, without the assistance of the Greek artillery. In addition, he had to deal with cases of sunstroke among his men. The remaining 2 battalions, as soon as they left Byronia, took cover on the heights created by the railway line to this day, outside the village towards Neo Petritsi. The heights were surrounded by tall trees, reeds and bushes and it was difficult for the enemy to distinguish them, So did the 2nd Infantry Regiment.
The 2 mountain artillery units arrived at the railway station of Byronia and began to hit the enemy positions, from 10.30 in the morning. But they quickly stopped, since their shot was short and did not even come close to the target. The advance south of the railway line was impossible due to the unsuitable terrain, with its thickets and reeds. After the inability of the right wing to advance east, Major General Manousogiannakis ordered to fortify on the heights of the railway line outside Byronia, where it remained until the afternoon hours, despite the hot sun and the constant Bulgarian pounding.
In the meantime the left section, led by the local Konstantinos Parthenis from Ramna, started at 3 in the morning on June 26 and followed the route that had been determined from the previous day. From the highway at the foot of the mountain, he arrived undisturbed at 10 in the morning, outside Aetovouni. At the entrance of the village, however, the vanguard (3rd battalion) was attacked from the northern heights, which were occupied by Bulgarian rebels, but they were easily pursued, turning towards Neo Petritsi. The division commander decided not to advance beyond Aetovuni, since the Bulgarians held important positions on the left side of the mountain. The enemy had constructed strong defenses on the heights from Aetovouni to the railway bridge of Strymonas. By noon the 5th Regiment managed to capture several enemy strongholds, but at a slow pace due to the strong Bulgarian defense and the peculiarity of the terrain. At noon he was notified by the staff to remain in his position, since he had no support from the south, due to the inactivity of the right Greek division, outside Byronia.
At 3:30 in the afternoon, Lt. Col. Papadopoulos submitted the following report to the commander of the army division, Manousogiannakis: "I arrived in Keseslik (Aetovouni) but was recognized by the enemy, who fired their artillery at me. For want of a guide I could not proceed and reconnoitre the ground. I arrived with my men exhausted from the heat, I even have 7 cases of sunburn. If I go to Ramna with 2 cannons my mission will be successful since I will be above the enemy. The sergeant who follows me as a liaison and a soldier were wounded."
After 4 pm the Bulgarians moderated their fire and a little later, stopped completely. In the meantime, the 5th regiment had managed to reach outside of Neo Petritsi and capture the dominant defenses, which the enemy had strongly fortified. However, due to the lack of support from the left and the suspected enemy movements from more northern Bulgarian strongholds, the attack was set for the following day. Moreover, the darkness that was falling was a deterrent factor for a final offensive action. As the sun set, General Manousogiannakis issued the following order: "1. The enemy still holds the entrance to the Derwendi (Rupel) lock. 2. The army division will spend the night on the battlefield. 3. The 5th Infantry Regiment and the 1st Infantry Regiment will remain in their positions throughout the night.
Είσοδος Ελληνικού στρατού στο Δεμίρ Ισσάρ-Σιδηρόκαστρο (Αρχείο ΔΙΣ)

Time for freedom...

June 27, 1913. The hour of freedom...

At 3 in the morning the field artillery squadron of the 6th division occupied positions east of the heights of Aetovouni. With the first light of the sun, dawn of June 27, the clashes started again. The Bulgarian artillery began to pound the Greek divisions west of Byronia, but also of the front line. By 6 am, the 1st infantry regiment and the 5th infantry regiment had driven the enemy from important positions and heights around Neo Petritsi. In their written report to General Manousogiannakis, Lt. Col. Papadopoulos writes: This morning, at about 4, I acted with a company on an offensive reconnaissance north of the village of Vetrina, within which there are 2 battalions of speed diggers () I will combine a timely attack with the front of the other regiments, and then I am certain we shall throw them into the river.'
At 7 a.m. the attack was generalized along the whole length of the line. The plain squadron began to fire against the enemy positions, which facilitated the advance of the Greek divisions towards Neo Petritsi. Despite this, the enemy artillery continued to hit the advancing Greek military units, but without managing to scare them
The 1st infantry regiment rushed against the enemy positions in Neo Petritsi at 8 am. He quickly reached the point where the Greeks of the village had hidden, who hurried with unbridled enthusiasm and tears in their eyes to welcome and serve the needs of the tired euzones, led by the later general Georgios Kondylis. The heights above the village, where 567 T.P. is located today, were well fortified by the Bulgarians. There were placed the 4 anti-aircraft guns, which made it extremely difficult for the Greek units to move around the village. So a new effort was needed to capture and drive out the enemy. At 9 a.m. the euzones company, led by Captain Georgios Papadopoulos, moved towards a general attack, hand to hand with the enemy. The brave captain, revolver in hand and leading their men to the enemy's forts, fell dead by a Bulgarian volley. The well-wishers, however, were not deterred. They advanced undisturbed and with the characteristic "Air" shout captured the 4 cannons, displacing the remaining Bulgarians, who fled in disorder towards Strymonas.
At 8:15 Lt. Col. Papadopoulos reports to General Manousogiannakis "I captured Vetrina, displacing the enemy from the positions he held on the heights north of the village, until now seven in a row. The enemy retreats to the north." After 530 years, Neo Petritsi was free and Greek.
Already from the final phase of the operations in the early morning of June 27, the general retreat of the Bulgarians had begun, which quickly turned into a disorderly flight. The area from Neo Petritsi to the Strymonas bridge was overrun by panicked Bulgarians trying to cross the Rupel Straits. For a moment, their escape was stopped by 2 Bulgarian divisions, which tried to restrain the fugitives. However, they did not succeed, since they were carried away by the retreating stream. The divisions that were on the left bank of the Strymons (Thermopigi, Haropos) as soon as they saw the Greek army coming down from the heights of Beles, they were afraid that the Greeks would cross the Strymons and surround them. Thus began a general retreat to the north, supported by the Bulgarian artillery, which blew up the Strymons railway bridge at 9.30, before leaving the Rupel Straits behind.
The losses in the two-day battle of Vetrina amounted to 36 dead, 207 wounded and 36 missing. Among them is Captain Georgios Papadopoulos, head of the Evzones company that liberated Neo Petritsi. The heroic captain is buried where he fell dead, on the heights above the camp of 567 T.P., which also bears his name. The spoils were 4 field guns, 8 battleships, a number of shells and the depot of Sidirokastro railway station full of sacks of sugar, barley and other supplies.
King Constantine, at the Entrance of the Bridge
After their defeat at New Petritsi, the Bulgarians blew up the first arch of the Strymonas railway bridge, before leaving the Rupel Straits behind. In the photo, King Konstantinos, at the entrance of the bridge, after its repair, by the engineer of the Greek army.
The battle of Vetrina opened the way for the liberation of Sidirokastro, Serres and the whole of eastern Macedonia, while it gave impetus to the victorious advance of the Greek army towards the north and the straits of Kresna. In the afternoon of June 27, a cavalry company commanded by Lieutenant Ioannidis entered the martyred Sidirokastro. The blue and white flag was raised in the Byzantine castle and the mourning of the massacre of the 100 inhabitants of the city by the Bulgarians was covered by the tears of joy and the exclamations of those who lived through the tragedy.