During World War I, in 1915, the Serbian army had no other option but to retreat from their territory, over Albanian mountains, to Greece, who was an ally. Just to note that it was in winter, and people were generally really poor (meaning that there was not so much food, horses etc.), so it was quite a challenge.

Some sort of a deal was made that many Italian, French and British ships will wait on the coast of Albania, to transfer those exhausted people to a safe haven, but the actual situation was a little bit different, because mentioned countries had other activities at that time, so the number of ships was below needed.

Here we come to a question of mine. I came across various articles that say that Nicholas II of Russia, when hearing what is going on at the shores of Albania, sent a telegram to the other entente allies demanding that they get more ships and transport every single person to Greece, or he (Russia) will leave the war. Some say that this message never happened, and some say that it did, so my question is about the authenticity of the telegram written about above.

One version states this telegram was never sent:

The story that the last Russian tsar loved the small Balkan country so much that he threatened the British with a telegram that he would withdraw from the First World War is also popular among historians.

The ultimatum was - "withdrawal, if the Serbs who withdrew through Albania are not helped."

"That apocryphal [sic!] story about the telegram to the British is not true," Markovic explains.

"Apart from the fact that the telegram was never found, such a text would not be in the spirit of the then diplomatic military correspondence." BBC.com (Google translation link is not stable; still searching for an English translation)

While another version states that it was sent and was even somewhat effective:

SR.Wikipedia.org: 'Albanian Golgatha' My translation:

Nikola Pasic (Serbian PM at the time) sent a letter on 15th of January 1916 to Russian Tsar, seeking for help. Nicholas II received the letter on January 18 and sent a telegram to the British King on the same day, as well as the French President, in which he stated that if the Serbian army doesn't get saved, Russia will cancel all the relationships with GB and FR. The intervention of the Russian tsar accelerated the allied aid, and the Italian government allowed the Serbs to enter [the Albanian port of] Vlorë.

  • Your English Translation link goes to the Serbian (?) article. Both of them do. Sorry, can't read that.
    – RedSonja
    Commented Apr 5, 2022 at 13:37
  • That was edited by MCW, but yeah, it's the whole point. You have English translation in question, and the link that refers to a Serbian article.
    – aca
    Commented Apr 5, 2022 at 13:39
  • 2
    Just a quick note - This is a rare question that gets my upvote despite being a challenge to the existing narrative. This is well researched, precisely formulated and interesting. Good job.
    – MCW
    Commented Apr 5, 2022 at 17:05
  • For the question: we might benefit quite a bit from A Serbian speaker proofing the translations once more & further. // For any answers: this WP-page gives a ref for the claim (unlike the linked one above): " [10]: ВРС, књ. 13, стр 320, 351, М. Николајевић, За време рата у Лондону, „Ратник” 1933, св. 4, стр 53-60, св 4" Commented Apr 5, 2022 at 20:38
  • Another aid: this page details the alleged telegram in quite a different wording srbin.info/en/pocetna/aktuelno/… making the the Q all the more interesting (a telegram might have been sent, just with much less consequences attached…). @aca please weigh the info from comments and decide to either update the Q with it, or try to prepare a self-answer, once you have enough references for that. Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 6:31

1 Answer 1


Okay, since we've been shown a various articles regarding this event, I think that I can, as LangLangC suggested, self-answer this question.

[This is blockquote1 in question] We have Wikipedia's paragraph that states that Nikolai II wrote a telegram by himself, demanding help on Albanian shore for Serbs (from IT, FR and GB), or else he will resign the alliance and leave the war. Now, if we take in mind that almost everyone can write what they think that is correct on Wikipedia's pages, I personally, wouldn't take this as 100% correct answer.

[This is blockquote2 in question] Then, we come to the BBC's article about the same situation, where Serbian historical Predrag Markovic (who graduated History on Belgrade University with a degree of 9.88/10(Bachlor degree), and later finished Master studies, as well as Doctor studies) says that the telegram itself was never found, and thinks that writing in that way (threatening to leave the war) was not in common at that period of time, so he is quite sceptic.

As written in the comment section, Lang found a link that says:

After reading the reports and the telegram(From Nikola Pasic, Serbian PM), Tsar Nicholas immediately wrote a telegram to the King of England, in his own name and with his signature, the telegram in English read:

"I ask you to try to help our brave allies, the Serbs." As you know, a large part of their army is waiting to leave the Albanian coast. It is necessary to save Serbian troops as soon as possible. They will undoubtedly be of great benefit to all allies later. "If England and France can ensure their fast and reliable embarkation and transport to Corfu, I am convinced that they will do a just and noble deed." The dispatch, with approximately the same content, was sent by Tsar Nicholas and the President of the French Republic, Mr. Poinquere.

This personal commitment to the authority of the Russian Tsar Nikolai himself had an effect on the allies.

In RTS's (Radio Television of Serbia, who is the biggest national TV company) article, they state - (Again, my translation)

Help of Russian Tsar

Ally's didn't know what to do with Serbian army, where to evacuate and reorganize. At one moment, after the sinking of Brindsi (Italian) ship, in December of 1915, every shipment of help was canceled. Regent Aleksandar, who was desperate sent a letter to Russian Tsar Nikolai, begging for help. After energetic reaction of the Tsar, evacuation and help has started.

I've asked my relative, who is, one could say sort of a fanatic for history about this event, and whose opinion I personally appreciate, whom stated that reaction of Nikolai must have been harsh, probably including a declaration of peace with Germany. Eventually, Tsar's daughter was supposed to get married for Regent Aleksandar of Serbia , so their relationship must have been on a high step. "He was said to have wished to marry Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna of Russia, a cousin of his wife and the second daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, and was distraught by her untimely death in the Russian Civil War."

Conclusion - After gathering everything together, my personal opinion about this occurrence is that Telegram was actually sent, but Russia, if not threatening to leave the war, said something as much important as that. Nevertheless, they did definitely ask ally's to hurry with help, which they did, and this significantly helped Serbian people who were on the Albania coast.

  • Nice. Could you also expand on this: assess the validity for the ref from the other srWP-page in one comment ("[10] ВРС, књ. 13…"), who Markovic is (or where else he might have written about this), and how presumably reliable the link I provided seems to you (srbin.info: a site that's known for or does what (quote from their page: " It is only important that you share with us a great love for Serbia.")) / Ideal would be if you could find that milder version of the telegram itself! Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 8:03

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