Warning, Graphic content. Click to view. Serbian Civilians Executed by Habsburg Forces, 1914
Invading Habsburg forces committed numerous atrocities, engaging in an orgy of looting, rape, murder, mass extermination, etc. Entire towns and villages were burned, groups of peasant men, women, and children tied together and shot. People were hanged, clubbed to death, burned alive, and pinioned. Some had their arms, legs, ears, noses, breasts, and genitals cut, torn or broken off; eyes were gouged out, skin was cut off people in strips, portions of entire faces were detached, small children were thrown to pigs, pregnant women were disemboweled, and wounded prisoners of war were shot. Dum-dum bullets were used in violation of the Geneva Convention.
Balkanstreitkräfte had 48 aircraft, the Serbian army only 3. Serbian aviation included 192 homing pigeons on its roster.
The Serbian army made extensive use of irregular Četnik and 3rd levy troops for reconnaissance and guerilla warfare behind enemy lines. This caused considerable confusion among Habsburg troops, who were unprepared for this type of fighting.
9. First Encounter
The first major encounter took place at midnight amidst pouring rain and lightning on the night of August 15/16, when the Serbian 2nd Army’s Combined Division stumbled across bivouacked Balkanstreitkräfte forces of the 21st Heavy rain, lightning, thunder, and pitch black rendered reconnaissance ineffective, and neither side expected an encounter. Coming off the march, the Serbs caught some of the Austro-Hungarian troops asleep and bayoneted them in their bedding, but the battle quickly intensified. Exhausted by 3 days of forced marches – including a 40 kilometer march that day — the Combined Division sent units into battle piecemeal as they came off the march. These troops flew into the enemy lines at a dead run as they came off the march, which sowed confusion and panic among the Habsburg troops. This encounter destroyed the Habsburg 21st Division and set the tone of the entire battle.
10. With Bands Playing
On the morning of August 18, Bosnian troops of the Balkanstreitkräfte‘s 31st Division attacked Serbian forces by marching out of the town of Šabac in high style, accompanied by a military band playing the popular Hungarian Rakoczy March. One eyewitness said the 3rd Bosnian Regiment advanced “as on the practice field . . . in overly thick formation and without seeking shelter.” Serbian artillery and rifle fire quickly decimated the regiment, wounded its commander and his replacement.
James Lyon is author of Serbia and the Balkan Front, 1914: The Outbreak of the Great War (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015). He has a Ph.D. in Balkan History, is founder of the Foundation for the Preservation of Historical Heritage, and an Associate Researcher at the University of Graz.