from ‘the War Illustrated Deluxe’ volume 5 page 1008
'The Resurrection of the Immortal Serb'

The Great Episodes of the War


It dumbfounds a man to recollect that, only a few short years ago, the Serb was commonly despised as a coward. His reputation directly led the Hungarian and German intriguers to plan a parade march through Serbia to Salonika, Constantinople, and the Persian Gulf, the attempt at which produced the ghastliest scenes of carnage ever seen on this blob of mud spinning round our gas-jet of a sun. The Serb used to be remembered only by his conduct in his first war with the Bulgars in 1885. It was notorious that he then mutilated himself by the thousand to escape military service, and his Army was so violently defeated that only the intervention of Austria saved the Serb nation from destruction. Had anyone at the time told the politicians of Europe that the Serbs were simply too sincere Christians and too true patriots to fight strongly against their Slav kinsmen the Bulgars, he would have been laughed at. Even the Socialistic pacifist, Mr. G. B. Shaw, jeered at the Balkan Slavs for their apparent cowardice in his play, "Arms and the Man." This was afterwards produced as a satirical comic opera, "The Chocolate Soldier," by a Viennese composer, under the subtle inspiration of the German-Hungarian intriguers. Shaw may have written in all innocence, merely in a spirit of buffoonery, but the Viennese composer knew well what he was at. His work was a light-hearted prelude to the march to Mesopotamia.


History's Most Fateful Murder

But by December, 1914, the march became the funeral dirge of the Hapsburg Empire. Three times had the. Imperial armies been beaten back from the Serbian mountains. The defeated commander, General Potiorek, had at last to be locked in a madhouse. Potiorek had won his command by taking a very active part in the Sarajevo assassinations, where, by checking the carriage of the doomed Archduke to enable the Bosnian assassin to fire accurately, he had helped to accomplish the double task of removing the chief opponent of Hungarian ascendancy and of fixing the guilt on the Serbs, whose territory was coveted. But in the end, the combined burden of achieving the most fateful murder in history and of failing afterwards in the military operations against the scapegoat Serb people, caused Potiorek's mind to give way. Then his master. Count Tisza, who, like many extreme villains, was superstitious, feared to attack the Serbs for the fourth time. The mountaineers at the time were terribly enfeebled by five campaigns in three years, and ravaged by a mortal epidemic of typhus. But Tisza was unnerved by the strange doom of his assistant conspirator Potiorek.

The stronger-minded, free-thinking Prussians openly contemned their partners in crime. When Mackensen reached the Pripet Marshes in August, 1915, and finished with his great siege train, the German Staff found in the indomitable Serbs a means of diversion. The drive into the heart of Russia had practically failed, but it had at least removed from the cautious mind of the ruler of Bulgaria his fear of Russian action in the Balkans.

So, towards the end of September, 1915, there came about the monstrous combination of German, Austrian, and Bulgar forces against the small, weakened Serb race. As first arranged, the scheme of destruction would have given the three attacking nations the odds of ten to one in both men and guns. But the sudden Russian offensive in Galicia, the Italian offensive on the Trentino and the Carso front, and the more violent movement of the French and British armies in Champagne and Artois, upset the plan of the German Staff. Only three armies of Austro-German troops could be spared for action against Serbia. and their total numbers were scarcely as large as those of the three armies of Bulgar troops. The Serbs were faced with the odds of about three to one in men, but the artillery power brought against their frontiers of six hundred miles remained still more overwhelming, and modern battles were mainly decided by artillery.

This was clearly seen when Marshal von Mackensen in person, with the German general, Gallwitz, and the Austrian general, Kovess, as his subordinate commanders, opened

the final struggle for the Danube crossings on October 3rd, 1915. Great arcs of artillery—3 in. field-guns in front, 6 in. field-cannon and howitzers behind, 8 in. siege pieces farther back, and 12 in. batteries right in the rear—were drawn over against Belgrade and Semendria. These two river cities, picturesquely rising above the broad waters of the Danube, commanded the entrance to the valleys by which the invading armies intended to advance and connect with the Bulgar forces. Against these cities, therefore, the chief attacks were made. But to compel the Serbs to extend and thin their lines, all the northern, northwestern, and western river fronts of the Danube, Save, and Drina were assailed, from Orsova, near the Rumanian frontier, to Vishegrad, near the Montenegrin border.

Serbia's Inadequate Artillery

Some French batteries helped in the defence of Belgrade, and a small British force with naval guns operated between Belgrade and Semendria. The Serbian armament consisted chiefly of light 3 in. guns, suitable for mountain warfare, but utterly inadequate to answer siege ordnance. The first effects of the enemy's hurricane fire seemed overwhelming. It swept the banks of the Danube and Save, wrecking the trenches and redoubts of the defending forces, smashing Belgrade citadel, and wrecking city, towns, and villages. The gunners then used shrapnel instead of high- explosive shell, and lengthened their range, forming a wall of falling death a mile or more beyond the river banks. Behind this wall the German and Austrian engineers built without any serious opposition the great pontoon bridges by which the armies of Kovess and Gallwitz could cross. A flotilla of Austrian monitors steamed up to help to protect the pontoons.

It was then that the French, British, and Serbian gunners took full payment for the terrible bombardment they had endured. The British sailors, with their long-range naval guns, smote the monitors, sinking two and damaging another. The French artillerymen, with quick-fire melinite shell, mowed down the massed brigades along the riverside near the pontoons, while the more numerous Serbian gunners worked with deadly speed at all important points along the rivers. The movement of the hostile troops stopped. Again the huge arcs of artillery came into action with a more intense and more sustained fire. The unexpected check made Kovess's men and Kovess himself diabolically cruel. The defeat of the forces defending Belgrade did not content them. They put a curtain of shrapnel behind the city, and then poured some fifty thousand great explosive and thermite shells into palace, church, house, and hovel. The design was to annihilate the civil population by cutting off the flight of the fugitives. The result was only to exalt every Serb in the city—soldier, woman, boy, and girl-—-to a tremendous height of courage.

Women and Children in the Van

The Austro'-German troops, under cover of the last bombardment, got over on the pontoons, by way of a river island, and entered the streets of Belgrade. There, however, they met with such resistance as dims the old story of the Saragossa battle in Spain. For two days and nights the struggle went on, house to house, floor to floor, room to room, the boys of Belgrade becoming, as bomb-throwers, especially dreadful to their murderers. And as a small army of veteran Serb, French, and British fighting men, led by expert and ingenious commanders, headed the frenzied population, the slaughter was terrific. It was not until October 9th that the city was conquered.

Then, on the southern hills, there followed epic combats, in which heights were lost, retaken, lost again, and again recovered. On October 10th the enemy was smashed back into Belgrade. If the Bulgars had not opened the attack on the eastern frontier of Serbia on October nth, the armies of Mackensen would, as soon as they had reached the mountains, have met the terrible fate of the armies of Potiorek.


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