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The War in Serbia, 1914

Mounted backwards on an ass, a bellicose Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph is borne away from Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. Austria-Hungary invaded Serbia three times in 1914. At the end of the year, the Serbians had driven them out at great cost to the invaders. Signed MT.
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Mounted backwards on an ass, a bellicose Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph is borne away from Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. Austria-Hungary invaded Serbia three times in 1914. At the end of the year, the Serbians had driven them out at great cost to the invaders. Signed MT.

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August 12 to December 15, 1914

Serbian Front

The Three Austro-Hungarian Invasions

Rivers shape nearly all of the Serbian border from Montenegro to Romania. From Montenegro, the Drina River flows north into the Save River flowing east from Bosnia. The Save continues flowing east to Belgrade and into the Danube. From Belgrade, the Danube flows to Romania, where it turns south and then east, forming the border between Romania and Bulgaria. Behind these natural defenses are the mountains of northern Serbia. Most of Serbia's neighbors - Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, and Albania - were neutral at the beginning of the war. Only Montenegro was also at war with Austria-Hungary.

Approximately 200,000 strong at the beginning of the war, the Serbian Army had been hardened by the First and Second Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913, but had limited artillery and machine guns. It was divided into the First, Second, and Third Armies under the command of Vojvoda (Field Marshall) Radomir Putnik.

Anticipating an invasion after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Putnik positioned his three armies south of the capital of Belgrade for rapid deployment to the front in response to Austro-Hungarian moves. General Oskar Potiorek, Governor of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Franz Ferdinand's host in Sarajevo, commanded the Austro-Hungarian armies in the region.

In Austria-Hungary, Chief of the General Staff Conrad von Hötzendorf had plans for war on two fronts, against both Serbia and Russia. The Austro-Hungarian First, Third, and Fourth Armies were positioned in Galicia facing Russia. The Fifth and Sixth Armies were stationed in Bosnia facing Serbia's northwestern border. The Second Army could be moved into position for action against Serbia or Russia.

Austria-Hungary prepared its war badly: Although its forces could not be mobilized until August 12, it declared war on Serbia on July 28 despite evidence – diplomatic and other - that Russia would respond to the declaration by mobilizing its forces. Responding to Russia's action, Germany mobilized on July 31. The military staff of Austria-Hungary did not coordinate its plans with its German counterpart. Executing his offensive against Serbia, Conrad sent the Second Army to take part, but then, responding to Russia's mobilization and Germany's request for support, routed it in the opposite direction to execute his offensive against Russia. The Army arrived on the Russian Front in time to be defeated in the Galician Battles.

August: Battles of the Jadar River

With the Second Army held for its redeployment to Galicia, the Austro-Hungarian Fifth and Sixth Armies began their invasion of Serbia on August 12, 1914. The Sixth Army, on the right wing, made little progress against Serb and Montenegrin forces in the mountains. The Fifth Army made some progress, and on August 16, Putnik counter-attacked with his Second and Third Armies, reinforced with units of the First Army, and defeated the Austro-Hungarian offensive. Potiorek lost 100,000 men.

September: Putnik Overplays his Hand

After his victory over the Austrians, Putnik crossed the Save River into Austria-Hungary on September 6. In response, Potiorek launched his second invasion of Serbia the following day, on the night of September 7 and 8. Putnik stopped the advance by September 17, but, unlike his August victory, failed to drive the invaders out of Serbia, losing the salient between the Drina and Save Rivers, and leaving the invaders on the Serbian side of both rivers. Although they had stopped the advance, the Serbs were vulnerable to a larger Austro-Hungarian invasion, particularly one that fell on their rear. Low on ammunition and supplies, Putnik withdrew to the east and a more defensible line.

November: The Serbs Retake their Capital

Potiorek began his third offensive against Serbia on November 6, 1914, capturing Valjevo on 15 November. The Serbs executed a fighting retreat. Heavy rains slowed both sides and turned to snow at higher elevations. On December 2, the Austrians took Belgrade which Putnik had evacuated. Putnik had retreated to a strong defensive line, and one that put his armies close to his supplies. The same day the invaders seized Belgrade, Putnik ordered the counter-attack that began on December 3. Putnik lead four Serbian armies totaling 200,000 men against 80,000 Austro-Hungarian troops. On December 9, Potiorek ordered an Austro-Hungarian withdrawal. The Serbs retook Belgrade on December 15, 1914.

Potiorek had begun his three invasions with an army of 450,000 men, and had lost half of them, including 28,000 dead, and 122,000 wounded. His Fifth and Sixth Armies were merged into a single Fifth of 95,000 men. The Serbs had suffered 132,000 casualties, with 22,000 dead, 91,000 wounded, and 19,000 captured or missing. On December 22, 1914, Potiorek was replaced as commander of Austro-Hungarian fores in the Balkans by Archduke Eugen of Austria.

As the year ended, Serbia was struck by a typhus epidemic.

1914-08-12

1914-12-15

Events contemporaneous with The War in Serbia, 1914

Start Date End Date View
1914-08-02 1914-11-11 Turkey Enters the War
1914-08-04 1914-11-24 Germany Conquers Belgium
1914-08-07 1914-08-23 Battle of the Frontiers
1914-08-11 1914-12-09 Austria-Hungary Invades Serbia, 1914