Battle of Cer
|Battle of Cer|
|Part of the Serbian Campaign of the Balkans Theatre of the First World War|
Map depicting the initial Austro-Hungarian invasion of Serbia, August 1914.
|Commanders and leaders|
|Oskar Potiorek||Radomir Putnik
Pavle Jurišić Šturm
|Casualties and losses|
The Battle of Cer (Serbian: Церска битка, Cerska bitka), also known as the Battle of the Jadar River (Serbian: Јадарска битка, Jadarska bitka), was a military engagement fought from 15 August 1914 to 24 August 1914 around Cer mountain and several surrounding villages, as well as the town of Šabac during the early stages of the Serbian Campaign of the First World War. The triumph of the Serbians over their numerically superior Austro-Hungarian opponents marked the first Allied victory over the Central Powers in the First World War.
On 28 June 1914, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo by Bosnian Serb student Gavrilo Princip precipitated the July Crisis, which led to Austria-Hungary issuing an ultimatum to Serbia on 23 July 1914 on suspicion that the assassination was devised in Belgrade. The document, made intentionally unacceptable, was, to the Austro-Hungarians' surprise, not entirely rejected by the Serbs, who only declined to accept point six which demanded the involvement of Austro-Hungarian officials in a criminal investigation on Serbian territory. However, the acceptance of most of the ultimatum was not sufficient, as it was the intention of the Austro-Hungarians to provoke a war with the Serbs. Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on 28 July 1914, and Belgrade was shelled the next day — marking the beginning of the First World War.
The number of Austro-Hungarian troops assigned to the invasion of Serbia was far smaller than the originally intended 308,000-strong force, given that a large portion of the Austrian Second Army was moved to the Russian Front, reducing the number of troops involved in the initial stages of the invasion of Serbia to approximately 200,000. Opposing the Austro-Hungarians, the Serbs could muster some 450,000 men upon full mobilization. The main elements that would face the Austrian onslaught were the First, Second, Third and Užice armies — a combined strength of approximately 180,000 men. During the Balkan Wars, 36,000 Serbian soldiers died due to combat and disease, while 55,000 men were seriously wounded. Serbia had gained few recruits from its newly acquired territories and its army had to garrison them against Albanian insurgents and the threat of Bulgarian aggression. To compound matters, the Serbian army experienced a dangerous shortage of artillery, as it was just beginning to replenish the shell stocks used up during the Balkan Wars. It could not supply proper footwear to its recruits, many of whom reported for duty barefoot. Furthermore, it was estimated that full mobilization would see some 50,000 Serbian soldiers without any equipment at all and many units lacked any uniform other than a standard issue greatcoat and a traditional Serbian cap known as a Šajkača. Rifles were also in critically short supply for the Serbs because the Kingdom of Serbia could not produce any domestically, nor could it import them from abroad. The Austro-Hungarians, on the other hand, possessed modern rifles in abundance and had twice as many machine-guns and field-guns as the Serbs. They also had better munition stocks, as well as a much better transport and industrial infrastructure behind them. However, the Serbs had a slight advantage over the Austro-Hungarians as many of their soldiers were experienced veterans of the Balkan Wars and because many were better-trained than their Austro-Hungarian counterparts and, despite the fact that many went to the front wielding pitchforks and axes brought from their farms, most were highly motivated, which compensated in part for their lack of weaponry.
Austro-Hungarian forces assigned to the invasion of Serbia were placed under the command of General Oskar Potiorek, who had been responsible for the security detail of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. Prior to the battle, Potiorek had predicted an easy victory over the Serbians, whom he deemed "pig farmers."
The Serbian army was commanded by Crown Prince Alexander, with the Chief of the General Staff, vojvoda (Field Marshal) Radomir Putnik, who had led the Serbs to victory in the Balkan Wars, as his deputy and de facto military leader. Generals Stepa Stepanović and Pavle Jurišić Šturm also commanded forces during the battle of Cer, and during other battles against Austro-Hungarian forces.
From 29 July 1914 to 11 August 1914, the Austro-Hungarian army launched artillery attacks against the Serbians in northern and northwestern Serbia and subsequently managed to exploit the bombardments by constructing a system of pontoon bridges across the Sava and Drina rivers. The Serbians knew that it was impossible for their forces to line the entirety of the Austro-Serbian border, which extended 340 miles. Hence, Putnik ordered that the Serbian army fall back upon a traditional line of defence as he grouped the bulk of his forces in Šumadija, whence they could rapidly move either north or west. Strong detachments were posted in the towns of Valjevo and Užice, and outposts were stationed at every important point on the frontier. At this stage, all the Serbian General Staff could do was wait until the enemy's invasion plan materialized.
At the beginning of August, Belgrade, Smederevo and Veliko Gradište were subjected to more vigorous artillery bombardments and a number of Austro-Hungarian attempts to cross the Danube were repulsed with heavy losses on the Austro-Hungarians' part. The Serbian General Staff knew, however, that the bulk of the Austro-Hungarian forces were stationed in Bosnia and refused to be misled by these feints on the Danube. Subsequently, the Austro-Hungarians attempted to cross the Drina at Ljubovija and the Sava at Šabac, and these attacks were looked upon as being more significant. On 12 August, Austro-Hungarian troops entered Serbia through the town of Loznica. There, and in the village of Lešnica, the Austro-Hungarian Thirteenth Army Corps made a crossing, while on the same day the Austro-Hungarian Fourth Army Corps crossed the Sava to the north of Šabac while other Austro-Hungarian troops crossed the Drina. By 14 August, over a front of about 100 miles, the Austro-Hungarians had crossed the rivers and converged on Valjevo.
At approximately 11pm on 15 August, elements of the Serbian 1st Combined Division encountered Austro-Hungarian outposts on the slopes of the Cer, and fighting erupted. The Austro-Hungarian positions were lightly held, and their defenders were driven back away from the Cer. By midnight, fierce clashes between the Austro-Hungarians and the Serbs were underway and chaos ensued in the darkness. By the morning of 16 August, the Serbians had seized the Divača range and dislodged the Austro-Hungarians from their positions in the village of Borino Selo. The Austro-Hungarians, who had suffered heavy casualties during the fighting, retreated in some disorder. As the day progressed, the Serbs prevented the Austro-Hungarian 21st Infantry Division from linking with the Austro-Hungarian Second Army in Šabac by driving it off of the slopes of the Cer.
On 17 August, the Serbs attempted to retake Šabac, but their efforts failed. The Serbian 1st Combined Division attacked the villages of Trojan and Parlog, before moving on towards the small town of Kosanin Grad. Elsewhere, the Austro-Hungarians succeeded in repulsing the Serbian Third Army, forcing it to manoeuvre one of its divisions to protect the approach to the town of Valjevo, which was threatened by the Austrian 42nd Mountain Division.
In the early morning of 18 August, the Austro-Hungarians launched another attack, with the intention of pushing the Serbian 1st Šumadija Division off the Šabac bridgehead in order to allow the Austro-Hungarian Fifth Army to advance. However, the attack failed miserably as the Serbs annihilated the Austro-Hungarian forces at the Dobrava river, forcing the surviving Austro-Hungarian soldiers to withdraw. Elsewhere, the Serbian Second Army's counter-offensive continued along the Cer and Iverak, with the 1st Combined Division attacking the village of Rašulijača and coming under severe pressure at Kosanin Grad. The first Serbian assault was fought off, but a wave of further attacks followed throughout the night. In the early morning of 19 August, the Serbs finally crushed the Austro-Hungarian defences and seized the small town. The 1st Morava Division drove the Austro-Hungarian 9th Infantry Division from its positions, and fought off the division's subsequent counterattack, inflicting heavy losses. The Austro-Hungarian Fourth Corps renewed its attack against the Šumadija Division, forcing the Serbs to withdraw having only sustained light casualties. The fact that the Serbs were not broken by the Fourth Corps' attack meant that the Austro-Hungarian division was unable to alter the direction of its advance towards the Cer, since doing so would have put the Šumadija Division in a position to attack the Fourth Corps from the rear. As a result, the Fourth Corps was unable to join other Austro-Hungarian forces fighting at the Cer.
Rašulijača was conquered by the Serbs at noon, and the Serbian 1st Combined Division exploited this to advance towards Lesnica. Meanwhile, the Serbian 1st Morava Division attacked the Iverak and managed to drive the Austro-Hungarians back. The village of Velika Glava fell before midday, and by the late afternoon the Rajin Grob ridge was retaken by the Serbs. At around this time, the Austro-Hungarians began retreating with increasing rapidity, their will and cohesion apparently shattered. The Serbian Third Army enjoyed similar success, routing the Austrian 36th Infantry Division and forcing them to retreat in considerable disorder. The Serbs then moved to purse the fleeing Austro-Hungarians all along the front. By 20 August, Austro-Hungarian forces were fleeing across the river Drina, still being pursued by the Serbs back into Bosnia, with the entire Austro-Hungarian Fifth Army being forced across the Austro-Hungarian side of the river. Many Austro-Hungarian soldiers perished in the water as they fled in panic. Radomir Putnik notified King Peter in a telegram, saying, "the main enemy has been defeated in Jadar and on Mount Cer, and our troops are in hot pursuit." Upon their triumpth at the Cer, the Serbs sought to recapture Šabac — which the Austro-Hungarians had heavily fortified. Violent clashes occurred on 21 and 22 August, during which the Serbian army fought its way to the western approaches of the town. By 23 August, the Serbs had the town encircled and that evening the Serbian army brought up its siege artillery. On 24 August, the Serbians entered the town and discovered that Austro-Hungarian forces had decamped the previous night. By 4pm of that day, the Serbian army reached the banks of the river Sava and brought the first Austro-Hungarian invasion of Serbia to an end.
The Serbian victory at the Cer and the Austro-Hungarian retreat back across the Drina brought an end to the first Austro-Hungarian invasion of Serbia. By 23 August, no enemy soldiers remained free on Serbian soil. The Commander of the Serbian Second Army, Stepa Stepanović, was promoted to the rank of vojvoda (the Serbian equivalent of a Field Marshal) after his successful command in the battle.
In the battle, at least 3,000 Serbian soldiers were killed and 15,000 were wounded. The Austro-Hungarians suffered much higher casualties, with 8,000 soldiers killed and 30,000 wounded, compounded with the loss of forty-six cannons, thirty machine guns and 140 ammunition wagons. 4,500 Austro-Hungarian soldiers were taken prisoner. The number of fatalities suffered by both sides during the battle heralded the massive cost in human lives of the First World War. French journalist Henry Barby reported:
The area between Cer and the river Jadar where this tremendous battle took place was nothing but mass graves and putrefying flesh [...] From the shadow of the woods emerged a stench so foul that it rendered the approach to the summit of Cer impossible. The number of corpses there was so enormous that the Second Army was constrained to abandon their burial due to a lack of time.
At the conclusion of fighting, the Serbs discovered evidence of atrocities in the towns and villages that had been occupied by the Austro-Hungarian army. Hundreds of men had been summarily executed and numerous women and children were found to have been raped and then shot. Many were the victims of fellow South Slavs (Croats and Bosnian Muslims) serving in the Austro-Hungarian army.
Serbian General Pavle Jurišić Šturm was quoted saying:
The Austrian army has committed frightful atrocities in our territories. A group of nineteen (men, women and children) has been found by the Krivajica tavern. They had been roped together and then horribly massacred. Such a group of fifteen people was found in Zavlaka. Small groups of slaughtered and disfigured people, mostly women and children, are to be found throughout the villages. One woman had belts of skin cut off and another had had her breasts cut off... Another group of twelve women and children has been found who had been tied together and massacred. Peasants say such sights are to be seen everywhere.
The Serbian patriotic song "March on the Drina" (Serbian: Марш на Дрину, Marš na Drinu; pronounced [mârʃ na drǐːnu]) was written by Serbian composer Stanislav Binički shortly after the battle to commemorate the victory. Binički dedicated the march to his favourite commander in the army, Colonel Stojanović, who was killed during the fighting. A Yugoslavian war film also titled The March on the Drina was released in 1964 and is loosely based on the battle. In 2009, the Serbian film St. George Shoots the Dragon was released, featuring the Battle of Cer.
- Pavlowitch 2002, pp. 94.
- Jordan 2008, pp. 28.
- Tucker & Roberts 2005, pp. 604-605.
- B92 22 August 2004.
- Glenny 2012, pp. 316.
- Jordan 2008, pp. 16.
- Pavlowitch 2002, pp. 93.
- Jordan 2008, pp. 17.
- Jordan 2008, pp. 20.
- Stevenson 2004, pp. 59.
- Tucker & Roberts 2005, pp. 605.
- Glenny 2012, pp. 314.
- Neiberg 2006, pp. 54.
- Griffiths 2003, pp. 57.
- Cooper 2010, pp. 28.
- Jordan 2008, pp. 26-28.
- Horne 2005, pp. 4-5.
- Horne 2005, pp. 5.
- Jordan 2008, p. 26.
- Jordan 2008, pp. 27.
- Glenny 2012, pp. 315.
- Mitrović 2007, pp. 69.
- Horne 2005, pp. 7.
- Tucker & Roberts 2005, pp. 172.
- Blic 18 August 2012.
- Stevenson 2004, pp. 60.
- Glenny 2012, pp. 315-316.
- Mitrović 2007, pp. 73.
- Glas Javnosti 3 March 2003.
- B92 28 June 2011.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Battle of Cer|
- Glenny, Misha (2012). The Balkans: 1804-2012. London, United Kingdom: Granta Books. pp. 314–317. ISBN 978-1-77089-273-6.
- Griffiths, William R. (2003). The Great War. Garden City Park, NY: Square One Publishers, Inc. p. 57. ISBN 0-7570-0158-0.
- Hall, Richard Cooper (2010). Balkan Breakthrough: The Battle of Dobro Pole 1918. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. pp. 28–29. ISBN 978-0-25300-411-6.
- Horne, Charles F. (2005). The Great Events of the Great War Part Two. Kessinger Publishing. ISBN 978-1-41913-369-5.
- Jordan, David (2008). The Balkans, Italy & Africa 1914–1918: From Sarajevo to the Piave and Lake Tanganyika. London, United Kingdom: Amber Books Ltd. pp. 26–28. ISBN 978-1-906626-14-3.
- Mitrović, Andrej (2007). Serbia's Great War, 1914–1918. London, United Kingdom: Purdue University Press. ISBN 978-1-55753-477-4.
- Neiberg, Michael S. (2006). Fighting the Great War: A Global History. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. pp. 54–55. ISBN 0-674-01696-3.
- Pavlowitch, Stevan K. (2002). Serbia: The History of an Idea. New York, NY: New York University Press. p. 94. ISBN 0-8147-6708-7.
- Stevenson, David (2004). Cataclysm: The First World War as Political Tragedy. Basic Books. pp. 59–60. ISBN 0-465-08184-3.
- Tucker, Roberts, Spencer C., Priscilla Mary (2005). The Encyclopedia of World War I : A Political, Social, and Military History. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, Inc. pp. 172–173, 604–605. ISBN 978-1-85109-420-2.
- "Obeležena godišnjica Cerske bitke". Blic (in Serbo-Croatian). 19 August 2012.
- "Marš na Drinu: Iz blata i kaljuge do prve pobede saveznika u Prvom svetskom ratu". B92 (in Serbo-Croatian). 28 June 2011.
- "Obeležena 90. godišnjica Cerske bitke". B92 (in Serbo-Croatian). 22 August 2004.
- "Marš na Drinu: Stanislav Binički komponovao je jedan od najlepših marševa". Glas Javnosti (in Serbo-Croatian). 3 March 2003.