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Serbia in 1914

Serbia in 1914


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Conquered by the Turks in 1389, Serbia did not regain independence until 1878, and established a monarchy in 1882. Geographically a land-locked state, Serbia had the Austro-Hungarian Empire on its borders in the north, and Romania and Bulgaria in the east. To the south lay Macedonia and the northern shores of Greece, including the major port of Salonika.

Serbia was an overwhelmingly rural society. It had few mineral or industrial resources and had less than 10,000 people employed in manufacturing. The economy relied heavily on the exports of food to Germany, Turkey and Austria-Hungary.

In 1903 Dragutin Dimitrijevic, Voja Tankosic and a group of junior officers planned the assassination of the the autocratic and unpopular King Alexander of Serbia. The group stormed the royal palace and killed both the king and his wife, Queen Draga. Soon afterwards, Karadjordjevic was elected king of Serbia by the Serbian parliament and Nikola Pasic became prime minister. The new National Assembly was elected by all civilian male tax payers.

Serbian encouragement of Slav separatist movements in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia angered the government of Austria-Hungary. Serbia received support from Russia in this policy but the two countries were unable to prevent the Austro-Hungarian Army from seizing Bosnia in 1908.

In May 1911, ten men in Serbia formed the Black Hand Secret Society. Early members included Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijevic, the chief of the Intelligence Department of the Serbian General Staff, Major Voja Tankosic and Milan Ciganovic. The main objective of the Black Hand was the creation, by means of violence, of a Greater Serbia. Its stated aim was: "To realize the national ideal, the unification of all Serbs. This organisation prefers terrorist action to cultural activities; it will therefore remain secret."

Dragutin Dimitrijevic, who used the codename, Apis, established himself as the leader of the Black Hand. In 1911 he sent a member to assassinate Emperor Franz Josef. When this failed, Dimitrijevic turned his attention to General Oskar Potiorek, Governor of the Austrian provinces of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Dimitrijevic recruited Muhamed Mehmedbasic to kill Potiorek with a poisoned dagger. However, Mehmedbasic returned to Belgrade after failing to carry out the task.

In 1912, during the Balkan War, Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria and Montenegro won a series of comprehensive military victories over Turkish forces. The following year, Bulgaria, disappointed by the terms of the Treaty of London, attacked Greek and Serbian forces, but was quickly defeated when invaded by Romania. The subsequent peace treaty doubled the size of Serbia and gave Greece control over most of the Aegean coast.

After the war Serbia had a population of 4.5 million. All males aged between 21 and 46 were liable for compulsory military service and by 1914 the Serbian Army contained about 260,000 men.

Austria-Hungary has addressed a strong Note to Serbia, attempting to place upon her a great part of the responsibility for the murder at Sarajevo of the Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his wife. That crime was, it is known, the outcome of the Greater Serbia propaganda which aims at joining the Serb provinces of the Dual Monarchy to Serbia.

The Austrian Note is severer in tone than well-informed persons thought probable, and its delivery may be followed by a grave international crisis.

Austria has declared war upon Serbia. An unconfirmed report says Austro-Hungarian troops have invaded Serbia by crossing the River Save at Mitrovitz. Two Serbian steamers have been seized on the Danube.

In Vienna it is believed that Montenegro, which stands with her Serb sister state, is mobilising, and that a joint force is gathering near the Bosnian frontier in readiness to deliver a counter-stroke towards Sarajevo.

Our St. Petersburg correspondent, telegraphing last night, says if Austria occupies Belgrade, Russia will reply at once by mobilising all her army. Her partial mobilisation is in full swing.

In Berlin, it is believed that if Russia calls her troops to the colours, Germany will at once follow her example. The fleet has returned to home waters.


Serbia in 1914 - History

The Serbian Campaign began in late July of 1914. It started with the Austria-Hungary invasion of Serbia which is considered a main factor in the outbreak of World War I. The campaign swiftly included forces from the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Russia. The warfront extended from the Danube River to the southern regions of Macedonia and then once again to the north.

Major Serbian Casualties

The Serbian army suffered severe casualties during this conflict with its troops falling from 420,000 to 100,000 along the way. Upwards of almost another 800,000 Serbian civilians were victims of the war as well. Over half of these people were males. Serbia was the country hit hardest with the loss of 25% of its mobilized population. This is compared to losses by France of 17%, Germany at 15%, Russia at 11.5% and Italy’s 10%.

Leading to the Serbian Campaign

The First Balkan war involving the Balkan League and Ottoman Empire was fought in 1912 and 1913. Bulgaria attacked both Greece and Serbia in mid-June of 1913. This led to them losing most of Macedonia to the two countries they had invaded.

The Second Balkan War, which lasted just 33 days, was precipitated by the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. This in turn led to the “July Crisis.” An ultimatum was given to Serbia by Austria-Hungary intended to lessen the power of the Kingdom of Serbia in the northern Balkans. The rejection of these demands led to the declaration of war by Austria and Hungary against Serbia.

Start of the Serbian Campaign

The Serbian Campaign began on July 28, 1914. The next day, Serbia’s largest city and capital, Belgrade, was heavily bombarded by their opponent’s artillery. The Austro-Hungarian Empire had a huge advantage in manpower as the comparative populations of Austria and Hungary were a dozen times higher than that of the Serbian Empire.

The Battle of Cer

The Battle of Cer is so named due its proximity to Cer Mountain, although it is sometimes referred to as the Battle of the Jadar River. Many of the clashes occurred in the town of Sabac. Over 3,000 Serbs perished in the conflict, but low morale by the Austro-Hungarian forces led to their retreat and a Serbian victory.

It is believed that upwards of 10,000 of the Austrian and Hungarian troops were killed, many of them drowning in the Drina River upon their withdrawing. Another 4,500 of their troops were captured and held as prisoners of war.

The Battle of Drina

As part of the aftermath to the Battle of Cer, Serbia decided to go on the offensive and attack the Hungarian region of Syrmia. To counter this, General Oskar Potiorek launched his own offensive against Serbia in hopes of forcing the Serbian contingent back to protect their homeland.

This time the Austro-Hungarian army eventually held the upper hand, although both sides suffered comparable loss of life.

The Battle of Kolubara

Coming off their success in the Battle of Drina, the Austrian and Hungarian forces decided to keep the pressure on with another attack on Belgrade. While initially successful, ultimately, with the assistance of ammunition from Greece and France, the Serbians were able to crush their foes’ outlying positions and return to their capital city and retake it as well.

Aftermath of the Battles

On December 7, 1914, the Serbian Parliament adopted a declaration stating the war goals of the country. The charter contained the Serbs’ willingness to persevere through any battles that would protect them as well as the non-liberated territories of Slovenia and Croatia.

For all intents and purposes, the Serbian Campaign lasted throughout World War I. It ended with the Treaty of Neuilly which afforded Serbia some relatively minor geographical concessions from Bulgaria.


Serbia: History

Serbs settled in the Balkan Peninsula in the 6th and 7th cent. and accepted Christianity in the 9th cent. Their petty principalities were theoretically under a grand zhupan, who usually recognized Byzantine suzerainty. Civil strife and constant warfare with their Bulgarian, Greek, and Magyar neighbors characterized the early history of the Serbs. Rascia, the first organized Serbian state, was probably founded in the early 9th cent. in the Bosnian mountains it steadily expanded from the 10th cent. Bulgaria, meanwhile, challenged Byzantium for suzerainty over the Serbs.

Stephen Nemanja, whom the Byzantine emperor recognized as grand zhupan of Serbia in 1159, founded a dynasty that ruled for two centuries. His son and successor assumed the title king of all Serbia in 1217 with the pope's blessing. However, the king's brother, Sava, archbishop of Serbia, succeeded in having papal influence eliminated from the kingdom in 1219 he won recognition from the patriarch of Constantinople of an autocephalous Serbian Orthodox Church. The Serbian kingdom was at first overshadowed by the rapid rise of the Bulgarian empire under Ivan II (Ivan Asen), but under Stephen Dušan, who became king in 1331 and czar in 1346, Serbia became the most powerful empire in the Balkan Peninsula, much of which it absorbed. Its might contrasted sharply with the decadent Byzantine Empire.

Even among European states, Serbia was noted for its high economic, social, and cultural level. After Stephen's death in 1355, however, the empire decayed and fell victim to the onslaught of the Ottoman Turks. The Serbs suffered defeat at the Maritsa River in 1371 that same year the last czar, Stephen Urosh V, died without male issue. His successor, Lazar, contented himself with the title prince of Serbia. Lazar was slain in 1389 during the battle of Kosovo Field, in which the cream of Serbian nobility was massacred and the fate of independent Serbia sealed. For Serbs, Kosovo retains its symbolic significance, which contributed to Serbia's opposition in the late 20th cent. to Kosovo's separatist movement.

Lazar's son, Stephen, was allowed to rule (1389–1427) over a diminished and divided Serbia by Sultan Beyazid I, to whom he paid tribute. Although he and his successor, George Brankovich (reigned 1427–56), received the title despots (lords) from the Byzantine Empire, the Turks gradually absorbed their lands. The quarrel over the Brankovich succession facilitated the complete annexation of Serbia by Sultan Muhammad II in 1459. Belgrade, then held by Hungary, fell to the Turks in 1521. During the centuries-long Turkish occupation of Serbia, national traditions and the memory of the Dušan's empire were preserved by the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Serbia became a Turkish province, with its pashas residing at Belgrade. Turkish rule in Serbia was more oppressive than in most Turkish provinces. The Serbian nobility was annihilated and its lands distributed to the Turkish military aristocracy, while the Christian peasants (rayas) were treated like virtual slaves. Although the Serbs were forbidden to possess weapons, frequent insurrections erupted. No attempt was made to curb Christianity but the Serbian Church was placed in the hands of unpopular Greek Phanariots (see under Phanar). Many Serbs fled to Hungary and Austria to help those countries fight the sultans. Turkish reverses in 17th- and 18th-century wars against Austria and Russia revived Serbian hopes for independence.

The liberation struggle began in 1804, when Karageorge ( Black George, Serbian Karadjordje) led a rebellion that eventually freed the pashalik (province) of Belgrade from the Turks. Russia, also at war with Turkey, then formed an alliance with Serbia. The Treaty of Bucharest (1812) forced Turkish recognition of Serbian autonomy, but Russian preoccupation with Napoleon's invasion allowed the Turks to renew their tyranny in Serbia. A revolt flared in 1815 under Miloš Obrenović, who in 1817 procured the assassination of his rival Karageorge and became prince of Serbia. Turkey proved unable to challenge his power. In 1829, Russia forced the Treaty of Adrianople upon the sultan, who had to grant Serbian autonomy under Russian protection and to recognize Miloš as hereditary prince. Except for garrisons in Belgrade and other fortresses, the Turks evacuated Serbia.

Much of Serbia's ensuing history revolved around the bloody feud between the Karadjordjević and Obrenović families. Miloš's absolutist tendencies caused popular resentment and forced his abdication in 1839 his son, Michael, shared the same fate. In 1842, Alexander Karadjordjević was recalled to the throne. The Congress of Paris, meeting in 1856 at the conclusion of the Crimean War, placed Serbia under the collective guarantee of the European powers while continuing to acknowledge Turkish suzerainty.

Miloš returned to power in 1858 at the behest of the Serbian parliament, but died two years later. Miloš's son Michael returned to the throne in 1860. In 1867 the last Turkish troops left Serbia. Upon the assassination of Michael (1868), his cousin, Prince Milan Obrenović, succeeded.

Milan liberalized the constitution in 1869, granting more power to the Skupchtina (lower house of Parliament). He also supported the rebellion of Bosnia and Herzegovina against Turkish rule and in 1876 declared war on Turkey. The rout of the Serbs led Russia to enter the war on the Serbian side. The Congress of Berlin (1878) recognized Serbia's complete independence and increased its territory. The placing of Bosnia and Herzegovina under Austro-Hungarian administration disappointed the Serbs, however.

Serbia's championship of Pan-Slavism in the Balkans engendered bitter rivalry with Bulgaria and Austria-Hungary. Milan, who was proclaimed king in 1882, harmed Serbian prestige by fighting an unsuccessful war with Bulgaria in 1885 over the question of Eastern Rumelia. The assassinations of King Alexander Obrenović (reigned 1889–1903) and his unpopular queen marked the end of the Obrenović dynasty.

With the accession of Peter I in 1903, the Karadjordjević dynasty entrenched itself. Peter restored the liberal constitution of 1889 and in 1904 appointed as premier Nikola Pašić, leader of the strongly nationalist and pro-Russian Radical party. The strengthening of parliamentary government and expansion of the economy greatly raised Serbia's prestige and exerted a powerful attraction on the South Slavs who remained under Austro-Hungarian rule. Austria-Hungary's annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908 was designed to quell sentiment in that region for union with Serbia. The angry Serbs retaliated by creating a Balkan League (Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, and Greece) to liberate the Balkan Slavs from both Austro-Hungarian and Turkish rule.

In 1912 the league declared war on and defeated Turkey, but the allies could not agree on division of the spoils. Dissatisfied with its failure to secure a major portion of the region of Macedonia in the first of the Balkan Wars, Serbia in 1913 turned against and defeated its former Bulgarian ally in the Second Balkan War. Serbia's victory made it the foremost Slavic power in the Balkans but greatly increased tensions with Austria-Hungary. When a Serbian nationalist (acting without governmental collusion) assassinated Austrian archduke Francis Ferdinand in 1914, the empire declared war on Serbia, thus precipitating World War I.

The Serbian army fought bravely, but in 1915, when Bulgaria joined the Central Powers and Germany reinforced the Austrians, Serbia was overrun. The Serbian troops and government were evacuated to Kérkira (Corfu), where in 1917 Serbian, Croatian, Slovenian, and Montenegrin representatives proclaimed the union of South Slavs. In 1918 the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, headed by Peter I of Serbia, officially came into existence. After that, the history of Serbia is essentially that of Yugoslavia.

Serbia's predominant position in the new kingdom was a major cause for unrest in Croatia and Macedonia in the period between World Wars I and II. After the conquest and dismemberment of Yugoslavia in World War II, German occupation forces set up a puppet government in a much-diminished Serbia. The Serbs waged guerrilla warfare under the leadership of Draža Mihajlović. Later, Marshal Tito and his pro-Communist partisans attracted the majority of the Yugoslav resistance fighters, while Mihajlović's following became mostly restricted to the Serbian nationalists. The Yugoslav constitution of 1946 stripped Serbia of Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro, which became constituent republics. In the postwar years, Serbia had one of the more conservative Yugoslav Communist governments. The desire of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo for independence or for union with Albania resulted in periodic unrest.

In 1986, Slobodan Milošević became leader of the Serbian Communist party. He and his supporters revived the vision of a Greater Serbia, comprising Serbia proper, Vojvodina, Kosovo, and the Serb-populated parts of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Beginning in 1989, Serbia ended Kosovo's autonomy, which had been granted in the 1974 constitution, and sent in troops to suppress the protests of Kosovo's Albanian majority.

In May, 1991, Serbia blocked the ascension of Croatian leader Stipe Mesić to the head of the collective presidency, triggering the breakaway of Slovenia and Croatia and the end of the old Yugoslavia. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, established in 1992 by Serbia and Montenegro, was thoroughly dominated by Serbia, a situation that led by the end of the decade to a strong movement in Montenegro for increased autonomy or independence.

Serbia was the main supplier of arms to ethnic Serbs fighting to expand their control of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In response, the United Nations imposed economic sanctions on Yugoslavia, which were eased in Sept., 1994, after Yugoslavia announced it was cutting off aid to the Bosnian Serbs, and in late 1995 Serbia signed a peace accord with Bosnia and Croatia. Milan Milutinović was elected president of Serbia in 1997, but most power remained in the hands of Milošević, who became president of Yugoslavia (1997–2000). In Mar., 1999, following the continued repression of ethnic Albanians in the province and the breakdown of negotiations between Albanian Kosovars and Serbia, NATO began bombing military and other targets in Serbia as hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians were forcibly deported from Kosovo. In June, Milošević agreed to withdraw his forces, and NATO peacekeepers entered the province.

The Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) won early parliamentary elections held (Dec., 2000) after Milošević lost the Yugoslavian presidency to Vojislav Koštunica, and formed the first noncommunist, nonsocialist government in Serbia in 55 years. Zoran Djindjić became prime minister. The DOS pledged to create a market economy and to dismantle the authoritarian state Milošević had established, and subsequently (2001) turned the former president over to the UN war crimes tribunal at the Hague.

Relations between Djindjić and Yugoslavian president Koštunica became increasingly strained, with the prime minister more concerned about improving the economy and relations with Western Europe than preserving the Yugoslavian federation, which had become strained as Montenegro demands for greater autonomy turned increasingly into demands for independence. However, in Mar., 2002, a pact designed to preserve the federation was signed by Serbian and Montenegrin representatives. The pact, which was approved by the federal and republics' parliaments, gave both republics greater autonomy while maintaining a shared foreign and defense policy. The federation officially became the state union of Serbia and Montenegro in Feb., 2003.

Three elections for Serbian president in late 2002 resulted in a victory for but failed to produce a sufficient turnout to be valid under the constitution Nataša Mićić was appointed acting president. Djindjić was assassinated in Mar., 2003, and Serbian officials accused a criminal gang of responsibilty. The assassination resulted in extensive arrests of governmental, security, and criminal figures associated with organized crime and the former Milošević regime, and 12 men were convicted of involvement in 2007. Zoran Živkovic was elected as Djindjić's successor.

A fourth attempt to elect a president failed, as the Nov., 2003, balloting again did not draw a sufficient number of voters. The parliamentary elections the following month resulted in a plurality for the the Serbian Radical party, an ultranationalist opposition party. Three pro-reform parties, however, formed a minority government in Mar., 2004, with the support (but not participation) of the Socialist party, and Koštunica became prime minister. That same month Kosovo erupted in anti-Serb violence that appeared designed to drive Serbs from mixed areas. Koštunica called, as he had before, for the partition of province into Albanian and Serb cantons. The United Nations and Albanian Kosovars rejected that solution, but Serbia remains opposed to complete independece for Kosovo, and the ultimate status of Kosovo is unresolved.

In June, 2004, Boris Tadić, a pro-Western reformer and the Democratic party candidate, won the presidency after a runoff, defeating Tomislav Nikolić, the Serbian Radical candidate and front-runner in the first round. When Montenegro finally held a referendum on declaring independence in May, 2006, Montenegrins approved the move, and the following month Montenegro declared its independence from the union of Serbia and Montenegro. Two days later, on June 5, Serbia proclaimed itself a sovereign state and the legal heir of the defunct union. The action marked the complete, if prolonged, dissolution of the former Yugoslavia into the constituent republics that had been established after World War II. In Oct., 2006, one of the parties in Koštunica's coalition withdrew, forcing new elections in Jan., 2007. In November Serbia adopted a new constitution one of its articles proclaimed Kosovo an inalienable part of Serbia.

In 2007 the International Court of Justice (ICJ), in a case filed by Bosnia that originated in 1993, found that Serbia had violated international law when it failed to prevent genocide against Bosnian Muslims and then failed to prosecute those responsible for it. The ICJ did not, however, find Serbia guilty of genocide, as Bosnia had charged. Such a finding would have required proving intent on the part of Serbia's leaders, and the ICJ had limited access to internal Serbian and Yugoslavian government evidence.

The Jan., 2007, parliamentary elections were inconclusive, with the strongly nationalist Radicals placing first, the president's party second, and the prime minister's third no party won as much as 30% of the vote. A coalition between the president's and prime minister's parties seemed most feasible, but Koštunica's insistence that a coalition government take a hard line on Kosovo's independence stymied negotiations until mid-May, when the two parties agreed on coalition with two smaller parties. Koštunica remained prime minister, but divisions in the coalition have since threatened the government's stability. In Mar., 2007, UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari, unable to reach a compromise with Serbia and Kosovo, presented a plan for Kosovo's eventual independence to the UN Security Council, but Russia insisted on a solution acceptable to both Kosovo and Serbia, and the year ended without a resolution to the issue.

Tadić was reelected in Feb., 2008. Shortly thereafter, Kosovo declared its independence, an act that Serbia refused to recognize. (In 2010 the International Court of Justice ruled, in a case brought by Serbia, that international law did not prohibit a unilateral declaration of independence.) Tensions in the government over joining the EU, many of whose members had recognized Kosovo, led Koštunica (who objected to proceeding with EU membership) to resign.

New elections were called for May, 2008. In early May a stabilization and association agreement with the EU—a first step toward EU membership—was signed, and in the subsequent elections Tadić's Democratic party placed first. After negotiations the party formed a government (July) with the Socialists, who favored entering the EU, and several other parties Democrat Mirko Cvetković became prime minister.

One apparent effect of the new government's installation was the arrest (July) in Serbia of Radovan Karadžić, the former Bosnian Serb leader wanted on war crimes charges, and his extradition to The Hague. The EU, however, did not begin the ratification process for the agreement until June, 2010, over concerns about Serbian cooperation with the war crimes tribunal in 2011, Ratko Mladić, the former Bosnian Serb commander, and then Goran Hadžić, a former Croatian Serb general and political leader, were also arrested and extradited. In Mar., 2010, the Serbian parliament condemned the 1995 massacre of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica, Bosnia, and apologized for failing to prevent it from happening.

In Feb., 2012, Serbia agreed to allow Kosovo to participate in W Balkan regional meetings and to joint management with Kosovo of their common border. That agreement led in March to the European Union granting Serbia candidate status for negotiations on EU admission, but conflicting interpretations of the agreement subsequently stymied the joint attendance of Serbia and Kosovo at regional meetings. EU-mediated talks aimed at normalizing Serbia-Kosovo relations occurred in 2012–13 in Apr., 2013, an agreement was signed that was intended to integrate the Serb-dominated regions of N Kosovo into Kosovo's jurisdiction. The agreement led to formal talks concerning Serbia's admission to the EU beginning in 2014. An agreement signed with Kosovo in 2015 granted greater local powers to Kosovo's Serb areas, but aspects of it were declared unconsitutional by Kosovo's highest court.

Meanhwhile, President Tadić resigned in Apr., 2012, in order to have the presidential election coincide with the May parliamentary elections the resignation was intended to aid his party's chances of success. Slavica Djukić Dejanović, the parliament speaker, became acting president. The parliamentary elections were narrowly won by the Serbian Progressive party, and in a subsequent runoff election for the presidency, Tomislav Nikolić, the Serbian Progressive candidate, defeated Tadić. A coalition consisting of the Progressives, Socialists, and smaller parties formed a government in July, with Socialist Ivica Dačić as prime minister. In Sept., 2013, the government was reshuffled the new cabinet consisted of Progressives and Socialists only.

In snap elections called for Mar., 2014, the Progressives secured a landslide victory, winning nearly two thirds of the seats. They subsequently formed a five-party coalition government headed by Aleksandar Vučić, leader of the Progressive party. In 2016 Vučić called a snap election, and though the Progressives retained their majority after the April vote, they lost nearly a quarter of their seats. Vučić was elected president a year later after a campaign marred by some irregularities and Vučić's dominance of the media coverage. Vučić nominated Ana Brnabić, a nonparty former government minister, for prime minister she became (June) the first woman and first openly gay person to hold the office.

In Mar., 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the president declared a state of emergency and began ruling by decree the move was criticized because under the constitution the president is largely a ceremonial figure. The June, 2020, parliamentary elections, postponed from April due to the pandemic, were boycotted by most opposition parties, who were critical of holding the voting during the pandemic as well as of the Progressives' control of the media the latter situation was also criticized by the OSCE. The Progressives won a landslide victory, securing three quarters of the seats.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Former Yugoslavian Political Geography


Casualties

  • Military dead (all causes): 450,000
  • Civiliandead: 650,000

Serbia suffered more civilian deaths than military ones in the First World War. This makes Serbia unique amongst all the combatant nations. The reasons are to be found in Serbia’s landlocked location, which isolated it from friendly Allied states and left it at the mercy of the surrounding Central Powers. Serbia was blockaded from the start of the war, and the civilian population suffered badly from famine and disease. The repeated Austrian invasions destroyed much of the north of the country’s infrastructure and farmland. An outbreak of cholera in early 1915 killed 100,000 Serb civilians. Thousands more died alongside the remnants of the Serbian Army during its epic retreat across the Albanian mountains in November–December 1915.

The situation worsened after the conquest of the country by the Central Powers in late 1915. Still more civilians died as Austrian and Bulgarian occupation forces implemented a harsh regime of martial law. Thousands were executed or sent to internment camps and what was left of the country’s industrial and agricultural resources was stripped bare to supply the war economies of the Central Powers. Serbs struck back through guerrilla warfare which led to brutal reprisals from the Austrian and Bulgarian military authorities. This culminated in a mass uprising centred on the Toplica region in February 1917 that at its height drew in 25,000 Austrian, Bulgarian and German troops. An estimated 20,000 Serb civilians were killed or executed in two months by the occupation forces. This cycle of oppression, guerrilla warfare and death through hunger and disease continued to take its toll on the civilian Serb population until the end of the war.


July 1914 (3) The Storm Gathers

11 Friday Jul 2014

The storm was brewed in Russia through the malevolent French President, Raymond Poincare, as St Petersburg became the focal point of meaningful decision making in Europe from mid July 1914. That is not to infer that Czar Nicholas II or his foreign minister, Sazonov, suddenly asserted themselves and stood determined to see this through. Far from it. At each stage, the Secret Elite placemen were physically present to continually reassure the czar and Sazonov that they were making the right decisions, reinforcing them in the certainty that their actions were being forced on them by Austria, and behind Austria, mendacious Germany. The Secret Elite knew that Sazonov would make the defence of Serbia an issue of national pride, and that the aggressive Russian response would draw Germany into the trap of a European war. Paléologue and Buchanan, the French and British ambassadors in St Petersburg, were there to constantly embolden him and keep him from wavering from this course. The lure of the greatest prize drew the Russians on to recklessness. The golden carrot of Constantinople was almost within their reach. This is what they had been secretly promised by Grey and the British foreign office. It was an empty promise, but served its purpose well.

Poincaré’s presidential visit had been scheduled to renew promises of a joint attack on Germany that would destroy their common enemy. Reports of his private conversations with the czar were carried in the press, but no word was written about the substance of the discussions. [1] Indeed, French diplomatic telegrams were altered and suppressed after the war, to conceal the true nature of Poincaré’s visit. [2] His sole purpose was to reassure the czar and Sazonov that France would stand beside them, and to encourage them to begin military preparations immediately for war with Germany. Every Russian at court in St Petersburg believed that the enemy was Germany and that war would be the outcome. The Russian military greeted him enthusiastically. They too were convinced that war was ‘inevitable’ and Poincaré’s endorsement was precisely what they wanted to hear. [3]

Ambassador Buchanan sent a telegram to the Foreign Office in London on 24 July, summarising Poincaré’s visit: ‘The French ambassador gave me to understand that France would not only give Russia strong diplomatic support, but would, if necessary, fulfil all the obligations imposed on her by the alliance.’ [4] Poincaré and Sazonov had agreed the deal. When Russia went to war against Germany and Austria, France would fulfil her commitment to Russia. This telegram explicitly proved that by 24 July Sir Edward Grey knew that his world war was ordained.

In the Foreign Office, Buchanan’s telegram was subjected to minute scrutiny, and the private notes attached to it demonstrated the inner convolutions of Secret Elite thinking. [5] Sir Eyre Crowe’s surgical analysis cut to the heart of the matter. Whatever the merits of the Austrian case against Serbia, he believed it would be ‘impolitic’ to interfere in St Petersburg or Paris, ‘dangerous’, even. Dangerous? As in, any intervention from Britain might stop them starting a war?

Put all of this into perspective. Austria had suffered assassination, humiliation and taunts from Serbia, but that didn’t count. Russia and France had agreed that they would stand together and go to war, which seemed perfectly reasonable to Sir Eyre Crowe, so Britain should simply let that happen.

He phrased his diplomatic comments in the following way: ‘The point that matters is whether Germany is or is not absolutely determined to have this war now.’ [6] His twisted logic flew in the face of what he already knew. It was not Germany that was determined to ‘have this war now’ it was the Secret Elite. Crowe’s reasoning contained an awesome revelation: “Our interests are tied up with those of France and Russia in this struggle, which is not for the possession of Serbia, but one between Germany aiming at a political dictatorship in Europe, and the Powers who desire to retain individual freedom. [7]

Ask yourself this question: what were the coincident interests between Britain and Russia? Shared ambition that could only come to blows in Persia? No, it was war with Germany. Would Britain ever have seriously contemplated giving Russia possession of the Straits? No. Was Russia a land of individual freedoms? No. The very notion of the czarist empire being associated with freedoms was ludicrous. Not one single Jewish Member of the British Parliament was free to travel into Russia. [8] This twisted, illogical bias was nothing more than the bile of Secret Elite philosophy. Crowe ended his minute with a recommendation that the fleet be mobilised as soon as any of the Great Powers made their first step to war, but Edward Grey had previously checked that point with Winston Churchill. The fleet was ready and waiting for the coming storm.

Austria presented the ‘Note’ to Serbia once Poincaré and the French delegation had departed St Petersburg on 23 July. The delay was futile. The French and Russians had already made their fateful, but still secret, tryst and Sazonov’s commitment to protect Serbia was absolute. All had been determined long before the Austrian demands became public. [9] Berchtold insisted that the Note was non-negotiable ‘We cannot be satisfied with anything less than their unconditional acceptance within the stated terms otherwise we should be obliged to draw further consequences.’ [10] The consequences were not as he imagined.

Baron von Gieslingen, the Austro-Hungarian minister at Belgrade, handed the Note to the Serbian government at 6 p.m. on Thursday, 23 July. It comprised ten demands that had been leaked over the preceding weeks and, as far as Berchtold was aware would be acceptable in the courts of Europe. A 48-hour deadline was set for an unequivocal acceptance of every point. Every demand was already known to the Secret Elite agents, including the timescale for a reply.

Berchtold and his advisors were totally unprepared for what happened next. Despite all of the international support and encouragement that they had been given over the preceding weeks, what followed was an orchestrated overreaction from Russia, France and Britain, whose well-coordinated pretence at outrage was completely at odds with previous statements. Those who had encouraged strong Austrian action now declared that, rather than aiming for justice from Serbia, Austria was abusing the situation as a pretext to provoke a war. The argument turned in a most bizarre way. Austria was accused of having presented ‘no evidence’ of the Serbian complicity, and they insisted that ‘more time ’ought to be given for the Serbian Reply. [11] It was a sham, a blatant attempt to gain additional time for the Russian and French military preparations. [12] Austria remained unmoved and insisted on a reply within 48 hours.

On 24 July, Austro-Hungarian ambassadors were subject to verbal abuse when they presented their demands on Serbia to the entente governments. In St Petersburg, Sazonov exploded at the Austrian ambassador, constantly interrupting his attempt to explain the Note. ‘I know what you want. You want to go to war with Serbia … you are setting fire to Europe.’ [13] Point by point, Sazonov challenged and rejected every part of the Austrian Note. His lack of perspective made nonsense of his tantrum, but since he already had detailed knowledge of the demands, it was a sham.

Sir Edward Grey met with Count Mensdorff, the Austrian ambassador to Britain, at Downing Street on the morning of 24 July. Given that he was not known to rush to judgement, Grey’s immediate pronouncement that the Note was ‘the most formidable document that has ever been addressed from one state to another’ [14] was ridiculous. When Mensdorff tried to explain the merits of the case, Grey rejected the arguments as ‘not our concern’. He could hardly have been more dismissive. This too was a sham.

It was different in Paris. With all the senior ministers who might have dealt with the Austrian explanation literally at sea, the Note was handed to the minister of justice, whose moderate and unemotional reaction was in complete contrast to the paroxysms elsewhere. No one had thought to give him sight of the entente’s official script. With near indecent haste, Paul Cambon, the French ambassador at London, was ordered back to France to hold the fort at Quai D’Orsay.

While the entente foreign ministers orchestrated as close to a perfect storm of indignation as they could muster, several British newspapers considered the Austrian demands to be perfectly justified. The Manchester Guardian, the Daily News and the Daily Chronicle all voiced a reasoned understanding of the Austrian position. Of the conservative newspapers, the Daily Telegraph was the most impartial. It supported the Austrians in ‘demanding full and prompt repudiation of all those nefarious schemes which have politics as their excuse and murder as their handmaid’. [15] The Manchester Guardian deeply regretted that Russia was prepared to threaten ‘extreme measures’ if strong Austrian action was forced upon Serbia. As its editorial explained, Austria had a good reason to be overbearing towards Serbia, but ‘Russia’s threat of war is a piece of sheer brutality, not disguised by her sudden discovery of the sacredness of the balance of power in Europe’. [16] It was a sarcastic but justified rebuff to the Russian presumption of interest in Serbian affairs. Predictably, The Times was batting for the other side. An editorial, published two days before the Note was handed over, under the heading, ‘A Danger to Europe’, supported the Russians and cast doubt on Austrian intentions to localise the war. [17] As ever, the voice of the Secret Elite was a step ahead.

The Serbian Reply was carefully crafted and moderate in character. [18] It not only won the approval and sympathy of the entente powers but also of neutrals everywhere. It even commanded the admiration of Berchtold, who described the Reply as ‘the most brilliant example of diplomatic skill which I have ever known’, but he added that though it appeared to be reasonable, it was ‘wholly worthless in content’. [19] The diplomatic language certainly had all the hallmarks of a professional tactician. Pasic had previously relied on Hartwig, the Russian ambassador, whose untimely death ought to have left him bereft of ideas. Yet, out of nowhere, this comparative nonentity apparently produced a masterstroke of international diplomacy. Pasic was reputedly a lost, floundering soul without his Russian mentor, so who was behind the Serbian Reply? Belgrade had immediately appealed to Sazonov, Paléologue and the czar for help. [20] Behind the scenes, the telegraph lines between London, Belgrade, St Petersburg and Paris nearly went into meltdown. Sir Edward Grey telegraphed Belgrade on Friday evening (24 July) at 9.30 p.m. to advise the Serbs on how they should respond. He specifically suggested that they ‘give a favourable reply on as many points as possible within the limit of time, and not to meet Austria with a blank negative’. He wanted them to apologise, express regret for the conduct of their officials and reply in a manner that represented the best interests of Serbia. Grey refused to give any further advice without liaising directly with Russia and France. [21] His time-serving words covered the fact that Britain, France and Russia had already agreed their joint position.

The input from London, Paris and St Petersburg represented a massive public-relations offensive on behalf of Serbia. The Reply was couched in very conciliatory language, with feigned humility and apparent openness and sincerity. European opinion still sided with Austria rather than Serbia, and that would have been reinforced had the Serbs presented an arrogant or insulting reply. Serbia had to be reinvented as a brave and helpless little nation that had gone beyond the boundary of national dignity in surrendering to Austria’s harsh demands. Of all the diplomatic ruses before the war began, there was no cleverer ‘subterfuge than the planning of the Serbian response to Austria’. [22]

To the unwitting, it appeared as though all points bar two had been accepted and that ‘poor little Serbia’ had yielded to the immense and unfair pressure from her neighbour. Kaiser Wilhelm, for example, returned from his three-week cruise and hailed the Serbian Reply as ‘a triumph of diplomacy’ when he first read it. [23] Wilhelm jotted on it: ‘a brilliant performance for a time-limit of only 48 hours. This is more than one could have expected!’ [24] He was convinced that the Austrians would be satisfied and that the few reservations Serbia had made on particular points would be cleared up by negotiation. Kaiser Wilhelm’s immediate and spontaneous response clearly indicated his belief, indeed his joy, that all risk of war had been removed. ‘With it [the Serbian response] every reason for war falls to the ground.’ [25]

Wilhelm’s analysis was sadly naive. He accepted the Serbian concessions at face value, but the Austrians did not. While the Serbian response appeared to consent to virtually every Austrian demand, it was so hedged with qualifications that the Austrians were bound to take umbrage. Only two of Austria’s demands were accepted in their entirety, while the answers to the others were evasive. [26] Reservations and lies had been carefully disguised by skilful dissembling. The most important Austrian demand was rejected outright. Berchtold insisted that judicial proceedings be taken against everyone associated with the assassination plot and that Austro-Hungarian police officers be directly involved in the investigations. Serbia baulked at this, claiming that such an intrusion would be a violation of her constitution. That was not the case. The Austrians had demanded that their police be allowed to assist in the investigation of the crime, not that its officials be allowed to participate in internal Serbian court procedures. There were numerous precedents for such cross-border police involvement. [27] But the Serbs nailed their colours to this spurious assertion and claimed that the Austrian Note was an infringement of their sovereignty.

The Secret Elite knew that Austria would not accept the Reply. It was specifically designed to be rejected. No amount of cosmetic wordplay could hide the fact that it did not accede to the Austrian stipulations. The lie that Austria-Hungary deliberately made the Note so tough that Serbia would have no choice but to refuse it has unfortunately been set in concrete by some historians. The myth that the Secret Elite wanted to promulgate, was that Austria was ‘told’ by Germany to attack Serbia. The best lie is the big lie. If Austria was hell-bent on war with Serbia, why did she entertain the gruelling three-week diplomatic route? Freed from extraneous interference the Austrian army was entirely capable of defeating Serbia. Hawks in the Austrian military had demanded an immediate attack, but the diplomats insisted on the long-delayed Note that unwittingly gave Britain, France and Russia time to lay their trap. [28] The Serbian Reply, and Austria’s consequent reaction, sprang that trap.

On 25 July, Sir George Buchanan in St Petersburg penned a strictly confidential telegram to Sir Edward Grey. It arrived in the Foreign Office at 10.30 p.m. The message could not have been clearer: ‘Russia cannot allow Austria to crush Serbia and become the predominant Power in the Balkans, and, secure of support of France, she will face all the risks of war.’ [29]

The allegation that Austria wanted to crush Serbia was yet another piece of propaganda manufactured to justify the entente over-reaction. But worse still was the French connection: the blank cheque. ‘Secure of support of France’, Russia was prepared to ‘face all the risks of war’. Buchanan spelled out the absolute reassurances that Poincaré had given to Sazonov. These were in fact more than reassurances this was an incitement to war. Poincaré was inviting Sazonov to lead the line, promising that both countries would march behind the same banner. It was precisely what the Secret Elite had planned.

It was not the Austrian Note that made war inevitable, it was the Serbian Reply designed to provoke the reaction for which Russia, France and Britain were thoroughly prepared.

[1] Sidney B. Fay, Origins of the World War, vol. II, p. 280.
[2] A detailed analysis of the French official telegrams was printed in 1927 showing the omissions and alterations to original documents that had been approved at the Quai d’Orsay. In particular, details of Poincaré’s visit to St Petersburg and subsequent Russian military manoeuvres were removed. G. Demartial, L’Evangile du Quai d’ Orsay, p. 11.
[3] Harry Elmer Barnes, Genesis of the World War, p. 331.
[4] Buchanan to Grey, 24 July, BD 101, in Geiss, July 1914, p. 196.
[5] Buchanan to Grey 24 July, BD 101. The notes appended to this telegram are particularly valuable. Sir Eyre Crowe at the Foreign Office, a rabid anti-German, advocated immediate preparations to back up France and Russia. The telegram was then passed to the permanent undersecretary, Sir Arthur Nicolson, who added his support to Crowe. Sir Edward Grey responded that he had discussed the matter with Churchill. Layers of support and influence surrounded Grey.
[6] Imanuel Geiss, July 1914, p. 198.
[7] Ibid., p. 199.
[8] Hansard, House of Commons, Debate, 10 July 1914, vol. 64, cc1397–398.
[9] Max Montgelas, British Foreign Policy under Sir Edward Grey, p. 65.
[10] John S. Ewart, Roots and Causes of the Wars, vol. II, pp. 1062–3.
[11] Montgelas, British Foreign Policy under Sir Edward Grey, p. 66.
[12] Barnes, Genesis of the World War, p. 200.
[13] Extract from the Austrian Red Book, OD 10616, 24 July 1914, in Geiss,
July 1914, p. 174.
[14] Geiss, July 1914, p. 175. Mensdorff to Berchtold, 24 July 1914.
[15] Irene Cooper Willis, England’s Holy War, p. 32.
[16] Manchester Guardian, 25 July 1914.
[17] The Times, 22 July 1914.
[18] Pierre Renouvin, The Immediate Origins of the War, p. 99.
[19] Fay, Origins of the World War, vol. II, p. 340.
[20] Ibid., p. 337.
[21] Ibid., p. 339.
[22] Barnes, Genesis of the World War, pp. 200–1.
[23] Niall Ferguson, Pity of War, p. 156.
[24] Fay, Origins of the World War, vol. II, p. 348.
[25] Ferguson, Pity of War, p. 156.
[26] Joseph Ward Swain, Beginning the Twentieth Century. p. 353.
[27] Ewart, Roots and Causes of the Wars, vol. II, p. 1040.
[28] Harry Elmer Barnes, In Quest of Truth and Justice, p. 47.
[29] Buchanan to Grey, 25 July 1914, BD 125, in Geiss, July 1914, p. 213.


Conflict with Serbia

Since the Bosnian crisis of 1908–09, Austrian diplomats had been convinced that war with Serbia was bound to come. Aehrenthal died in February 1912, at a moment when an Italian-Turkish conflict over Tripoli (now in Libya) had provoked anti-Turkish sentiment in the Balkan states (see Italo-Turkish War). Leopold, Graf (count) von Berchtold, who directed Austro-Hungarian foreign policy from 1912 on, did not have the qualities required in such a critical period. Aehrenthal had been able to silence the warmongering activities of Conrad, the Habsburg chief of staff who continued to advocate preventive war against Italy and Serbia, but Berchtold yielded to the aggressive policies of the military and the younger members of his ministry. During the Balkan Wars (1912–13), fought by the Balkan states over the remnants of the Ottoman Empire, Austria-Hungary twice tried to force Serbia to withdraw from positions gained by threatening it with an ultimatum. In February and October 1913, military action against Serbia was contemplated, but in both instances neither Italy nor Germany was willing to guarantee support. Austria-Hungary ultimately had to acquiesce in Serbia’s territorial gains. But by supporting Bulgaria’s claims against Serbia, Austria-Hungary also had alienated Romania, which had shown resentment against the Habsburg monarchy because of the treatment of non-Hungarian nationalities in Hungary. Romania thus joined Italy and Serbia in support of irredentist movements inside the Habsburg monarchy. By 1914, leading government circles in Vienna were convinced that offensive action against the foreign protagonists of irredentist claims was essential to the integrity of the empire.

In June 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir of Franz Joseph, participated in army maneuvers in the provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina, disregarding warnings that his visit would arouse considerable hostility. When Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated by the Bosnian Serb nationalist Gavrilo Princip at Sarajevo (Bosnia-Herzegovina) on June 28, 1914, the Austro-Hungarian foreign office decided to use the opportunity for a final reckoning with the Serbian danger. The support of Germany was sought and received, and the Austro-Hungarian foreign office drafted an ultimatum putting the responsibility for the assassination on the Serbian government and demanding full satisfaction. The attitude of the foreign office was shared by Conrad and the Austrian prime minister, Stürgkh, but it was opposed by the Hungarian prime minister, István, Count Tisza, who wanted an assurance that a military move against Serbia would not result in territorial acquisitions and thus increase the Serb element in the monarchy. His demand satisfied, Tisza joined the advocates of war.

In ministerial meetings on July 15 and 19, a deliberately provocative ultimatum was drafted in words that supposedly excluded the possibility of acceptance by Serbia. The ultimatum was handed to the Serbian government on July 23. The Serbian answer, handed in on time on July 25, was declared insufficient, though Serbia had agreed to all Austro-Hungarian demands except for two that, in effect, entailed constitutional changes in the Serbian government. These demands were that certain unnamed Serbian officials be dismissed at the whim of Austria-Hungary and that Austro-Hungarian officials participate, on Serbian soil, in the suppression of organizations hostile to Austria-Hungary and in the judicial proceedings against their members. In its reply, the Serbian government pointed out that such demands were unprecedented in relations between sovereign states, but it nevertheless agreed to submit the matter to the international Permanent Court of Arbitration or to the arbitration of the Great Powers (comprising France, Germany, Great Britain, and Russia, in addition to Austria). On receiving this reply, the Austro-Hungarian ambassador left Belgrade (Serbia), severing diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Foreign Minister Berchtold and his government were clearly determined to make war on Serbia, regardless of the fact that such action might result in war between the Great Powers. While the European governments frantically tried to offer compromise solutions, Austria decided on a fait accompli. On July 28, 1914, Berchtold asked Franz Joseph to sign the declaration of war, informing him that

it cannot be excluded that the [Triple] Entente powers [Russia, France, and Great Britain] might make another move to bring about a peaceful settlement of the conflict unless a declaration of war establishes a fait accompli [eine klare Situation geschaffen].

In the meantime, the German government had taken control of the situation. Placing German strategic and national plans over Austro-Hungarian interests, Germany changed the Balkan conflict into a continental war by declaring war against Russia and France. (See World War I.)


Battle of Kolubara 1914

On the 16 th November 1914 the battle of Kolubara began when the Austro-Hungarian armies, under the command of Oskar Potiorek, reached the Kolubara River during their third invasion of Serbia in 1914, after capturing the town of Vaijevo.

The Austro-Hungarians reached the Kolubara River on the 16 th November and launched an assault against the Serbian defensive positions there. The Serbs managed to force the Austro-Hungarians back and over the next five days they fought a series of battles suffering heavy casualties in heavy rain and snowfall, resulting in many soldiers succumbing to frostbite or hypothermia.

During the night of the 18 th November the Austro-Hungarians moved into position to carry out a further assault which began the following morning. The Austro-Hungarian’s main goal was to break through the defences of the Serbian army in order to drive them back towards the town of Gornji Milanovac, so they could capture the strategic town of Lazarevac. This town’s capture would give the Austro-Hungarian’s access to the Mladenovac railroad and an ability to outflank the Serbian forces guarding the road to Belgrade.

The Austro-Hungarian’s managed to capture the village of Vrace Brdo by the evening of the 19 th November and seized the higher ground from the Serbs in the South. The Serbian army was forced to retreat giving the Austro-Hungarian’s the ability to advance deeper into Serbia. By the 24 th November the Austrian commander Potiorek predicted that Serbia would be defeated within a matter of days.

Although the Serbian Army had put up fierce residence and inflicted heavy casualties on the Austro-Hungarians, the Serbian commander Putnik became concerned that his lines were over extended and began to plan for another strategic retreat, one which would include the evacuation of Belgrade. On the 29 th November 1914 the Serbian Supreme Command decided to abandon the capital Belgrade. On the 1 st December the Austro-Hungarian’s entered the city prompting celebrations in Vienna. They now believed that their war with Serbia would soon be over and began preparing for the countries occupation.

After the capture of Belgrade, it became increasingly clear to both Potiorek and Putnik that the Austro-Hungarian supply lines were over extended, so on December 1 st Potiorek ordered the advancing 6 th Army to wait for the 5 th army to secure the supply lines resulting in a pause of all Austro-Hungarian operations. The Serbians exploited this respite and withdrew the 1 st Serbian army from the front line allowing his soldiers time to rest. The Serbian’s then converged around Mount Rudnik where it received its long promised supplies from its allies. After he and his forces had rested and were resupplied, Putnik’s confidence in his forces ability to counterattack returned.

On December 2 nd 1914 Putnik ordered an attack on the Austro-Hungarian front line and told his officers that the offensive was solely for the purpose of raising Serbian morale. Determined to play his part, the Serbian king Peter I also took a rifle and accompanied his troops to the front. The attack caught the Austro-Hungarian’s completely by surprise who were at the time holding a military parade through the streets of Belgrade. The Austro-Hungarian’s had not prepared a defence for a Serbian counter attack as their artillery was positioned far behind the front line and could not be used in the defence. By the night of December 2 nd the Serbian’s had advanced far into Austro-Hungarian lines inflicting heavy casualties and taking many prisoners. The offensive’s initial success served to greatly enhance the morale of Serbian troops, just as Putnik had wanted. Significantly weakened, the Austro-Hungarians did not have time to recover before the offensive resumed the following morning and they were forced into retreat by the end of the day abandoning their weapons and equipment as they fled.

The Serbs anticipated that their opponents would entrench themselves and attempt to block the Serbian Army’s advance, but the Austro-Hungarians had failed to construct any defensive networks and were in no position to block the Serbian offensive. Their lack of prior preparation meant that the surrounding hills were devoid of any significant defensive positions. The Serbs exploited this weakness by maneuvering around the hills and encircling the Austro-Hungarians, suffering minimal casualties while breaking through.

By the 9 th December the Austro-Hungarian counter attack lost all momentum and began to retreat to the city center. On the 10 th December the Serbian’s captured the lower reaches of the Drina forcing the surviving Austro-Hungarian forces back across the river. By the 13 th December the Austro-Hungarian’s in Belgrade could not hold the city for much longer and were ordered to withdraw from the city. On the 15 th December the Serbian Army re-entered Belgrade and was in full control again by the following day.


Serbia in 1914 - History

The Projected Austrian Intervention in Serbia in 1913.

The ex-premier of Italy, Signor Giolitti, in a speech delivered in the Chamber of Deputies on December 5, 1914, revealed the fact that in 1913 Austria-Hungary had planned to attack Serbia. He said that on August 9, 1913, he had received the following telegram from the Marquis di San Giuliano:

Austria has communicated to us and to Germany her intention of taking action against Serbia, and defines such action is defensive, hoping to bring into operation the casus foederis of the Triple Alliance.

If Austria intervenes against Serbia, it is clear that a casus foederis can not be established. It is a step which she is taking on her own account, since there is no question of defense, inasmuch as no one is thinking of attacking her.

The fact that the Treaty of Bucharest was signed on the day following Giolitti's receipt of the telegram reveals Austria's motive as a desire to prevent Serbia from profiting by the conclusion of a highly advantageous treaty.

The telegram indicates that the assassination of the Archduke was the occasion rather than the cause of Austria's ultimatum to Serbia, and it reveals the reason for Austria's action in July, 1914, in omitting to notify Italy in advance of her demands upon Serbia.

The authenticity of the telegram is established by the fact that the Austrian Government has not denied it. Its contents are brought into relief by the statements of M. Pichon, ex-minister of foreign affairs of France. The Paris correspondent of Il Giornale d'Italia reported (December 29, 1914) a conversation which he had with M. Pichon on the subject of Giolitti's disclosure. M. Pichon said that in June, 1913, when he was minister of foreign affairs, at the time of the affair of Scutari, the Italian Government had informed him that Austria had notified it of her intentions with regard to Serbia, and that the Italian Government had replied that the casus foederis was not applicable.

Source: Anderson, Frank Maloy and Amos Shartle Hershey, Handbook for the Diplomatic History of Europe, Asia, and Africa 1870-1914. Prepared for the National Board for Historical Service. Government Printing Office, Washington, 1918.


SERBIA AND THE BALKAN FRONT, 1914 – The Outbreak of the Great War – Review by Wayne Osborne

This is an accessible, detailed, readable and thoroughly researched book. It is a clear analysis of the Serbs in 1914 and of their early war against the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Eloquently written by a historian who has experience of the Balkans and a deep understanding of his subject. The main theme of the book is that the little underdog state did well against the evil empire. A common theme in all fairness but as Lyon rightly points out Serbia gave the Entente Powers their first victory of the war. How much do we hear about that in the West? Not much, until now.

Lyon says that Western historians always focus upon Austro-Hungary’s shortcomings without really analysing the Serbian response and capability. Serbia’s importance in the war has been unsung but it tied down enemy troops that could have been deployed against the Entente Powers elsewhere and it blockaded the Danube causing no end of trouble for the Triple Alliance Powers. Lyon says that Western historians have all too often accepted the Hapsburg attempts to exonerate themselves from the blame for the war and therefore have played down the resounding success that Serbia had in 1914 when its forces destroyed the Austro-Hungarian Fifth and Sixth Armies. Therefore, Lyon has written an excellent book that seeks to redress the balance and place Serbia where she belongs in the line-up of victorious allied, Entente powers.

The first part of the book deals with the rise of war from the cauldron of the Balkans. Politics, nationalist ideals and identity, intrigue and machinations, mass executions, hostage taking, transportation, refugees, atrocities and attacks upon the press that came in the early days of the war. “A Sunday in Sarajevo” is a tremendous chapter it is a highly detailed account of the assassination of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand and the Duchess Sophie. It is so detailed that the reader is almost there, on the day and at the centre of momentous and deadly events. Serbian history says that the country did not want war and was unprepared. Lyon tells us that Serbia in 1914 was a nation reeling from the material, financial and manpower losses of the first and second Balkan Wars. Despite the fact that it had increased its territory in those wars it did not appear to be in any fit state to fight the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

After dealing with the political Lyon goes on to discuss the military forces that were engaged in 1914 and to compare the belligerents. Serbian soldiers were experienced combat troops whereas the Austro-Hungarians were not. The Austro-Hungarian army was well trained and well equipped with the latest gear, the Serbs were combat ready but with little in the way of modern equipment. Serbian mobilisation was swift, between four and six days and the Austro-Hungarians were not set up to fight Serbia, seeing Russia as a greater enemy the railways pointed in that direction. Austro-Hungary wanted a limited war to avenge Ferdinand’s death and subdue Serbia before Russia could get involved. They also hoped that this action would induce Bulgaria, Greece, Romania and Italy to join the Triple Alliance. Lyon gives us a blow-by-blow account of military operations from the outbreak of the war in July through to December 1914.

The book is made up of eleven subdivided chapters and is illustrated with maps and photographs, copious end-notes, a good index and a superb bibliography. Lyon has used numerous Serbian primary source documents to produce a compelling and engrossing book. If you have no other books about Serbia and the Great War in 1914 on the shelf, you can do no worse than obtain this one. It will, as the author has set out to do, redress the balance and give Serbia the place she deserves in the history of the Great War. Excellent reading.

Reviewed by Wayne Osborne for War History Online.

SERBIA AND THE BALKAN FRONT, 1914
The Outbreak of the Great War
By James Lyon
Bloomsbury Academic
ISBN 978 1 4725 8004 7

Dr Wayne Osborne is a respected Great War historian who specialises in and writes about British Great War manufacturing and the workforce, Gallipoli, the 17 th (Northern) Division and the 10 th Battalion, the Notts & Derbys.


The Austro-Hungarian ultimatum (1914)

The Austro-Hungarian ultimatum to Serbia (July 1914):

Now the history of the past few years, and particularly the painful events of the 28th of June, have proved the existence of a subversive movement in Serbia, whose object it is to separate certain portions of its territory from the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. This movement, which came into being under the very eyes of the Serbian Government, subsequently found expression outside of the territory of the Kingdom in acts of terrorism, in a number of attempts at assassination and in murders…

The Royal Serbian Government has done nothing to suppress this movement. It has tolerated the criminal activities of the various unions and associations directed against the Monarchy, the unchecked utterances of the press, the glorification of the authors of assassinations, the participation of officers and officials in subversive intrigues it has tolerated an unhealthy propaganda in its public instruction and it has tolerated, finally, every manifestation which could betray the people of Serbia into hatred of the Monarchy and contempt for its institutions.

This toleration of which the Royal Serbian Government was guilty, was still in evidence at that moment when the events of the twenty-eighth of June exhibited to the whole world the dreadful consequences of such tolerance…

The Imperial and Royal Government finds itself compelled to demand that the Serbian Government give official assurance that it will condemn the propaganda directed against Austria-Hungary, that is to say, the whole body of the efforts whose ultimate object it is to separate from the Monarchy territories that belong to it and that it will obligate itself to suppress with all the means at its command this criminal and terroristic propaganda. In order to give these assurances a character of solemnity, the Royal Serbian Government will publish on the first page of its official organ of July 26/13, the following declaration:

“The Royal Serbian Government condemns the propaganda directed against Austria-Hungary, that is to say, the whole body of the efforts whose ultimate object it is to separate from the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy territories that belong to it, and it most sincerely regrets the dreadful consequences of these criminal transactions. The Royal Serbian Government regrets that Serbian officers and officials should have taken part in the above-mentioned propaganda and thus have endangered the friendly and neighbourly relations, to the cultivation of which the Royal Government had most solemnly pledged itself by its declarations of March 31, 1909. The Royal Government, which disapproves and repels every idea and every attempt to interfere in the destinies of the population of whatever portion of Austria-Hungary, regards it as its duty most expressly to call attention of the officers, officials, and the whole population of the kingdom to the fact that for the future it will proceed with the utmost rigour against any persons who shall become guilty of any such activities, activities to prevent and to suppress which, the Government will bend every effort.

This declaration shall be brought to the attention of the Royal army simultaneously by an order of the day from His Majesty the King, and by publication in the official organ of the army.

The Royal Serbian Government will furthermore pledge itself:

1. To suppress every publication which shall incite to hatred and contempt of the Monarchy and the general tendency of which shall be directed against the territorial integrity of the latter.

2. To proceed at once to the dissolution of the Narodna Odbrana to confiscate all of its means of propaganda, and in the same manner to proceed against the other unions and associations in Serbia which occupy themselves with propaganda against Austria-Hungary the Royal Government will take such measures as are necessary to make sure that the dissolved associations may not continue their activities under other names or in other forms.

3. To eliminate without delay from public instruction in Serbia, everything, whether connected with the teaching corps or with the methods of teaching, that serves or may serve to nourish the propaganda against Austria-Hungary.

4. To remove from the military and administrative service, in general, all officers and officials who have been guilty of carrying on the propaganda against Austria-Hungary, whose names the Imperial and Royal Government reserves the right to make known to the Royal Government when communicating the material evidence now in its possession.

5. To agree to the cooperation in Serbia of the organs of the Imperial and Royal Government in the suppression of the subversive movement directed against the integrity of the Monarchy.

6. To institute a judicial inquiry against every participant in the conspiracy of the twenty-eighth of June who may be found in Serbian territory the organs of the Imperial and Royal Government delegated for this purpose will take part in the proceedings held for this purpose.

7. To undertake with all haste the arrest of Major Voislav Tankosic and of one Milan Ciganovitch, a Serbian official, who have been compromised by the results of the inquiry.

8. By efficient measures to prevent the participation of Serbian authorities in the smuggling of weapons and explosives across the frontier to dismiss from the service and to punish severely those members of the Frontier Service at Schabats and Losnitza who assisted the authors of the crime of Sarajevo to cross the frontier.

9. To make explanations to the Imperial and Royal Government concerning the unjustifiable utterances of high Serbian functionaries in Serbia and abroad, who, without regard for their official position, have not hesitated to express themselves in a manner hostile toward Austria-Hungary since the assassination of the twenty-eighth of June.

10. To inform the Imperial and Royal Government without delay of the execution of the measures comprised in the foregoing points.

The Imperial and Royal Government awaits the reply of the Royal Government by Saturday July 25th, 6pm at the latest.


Watch the video: Serbia Before World War 1 I THE GREAT WAR Special (June 2022).