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Battle of Kolubara commemorative vase
Battle of Kolubara commemorative vase
1914 Kolubara Battle vase
This is a small vase, produced by Stoke-on-Trent firm B.R. & Co., which stood for Birks, Rawlings & Co., commemorating the 1914 Battle of Kolubara in Serbia. The front of the vase has a Serbian shield with a cross and four fire-steels in each section, and the back says ‘AUSTRIANS DEFEATED BY SERBIANS AT KOLUBARA DEC 3-6.1914’. The bottom of the vase is marked with the manufacturer’s crest.
The military-political strategic background to this was that Austro-Hungary intended to expel masses of Serbs from Serbia and replace them with Austrian colonists to take over their land and property. Furthermore, there was an explicit military policy within the Austro-Hungarian military to kill Serbs. Ahead of the invasion, from the Austro-Hungarian Supreme Command, General Lothar non Hortstein issued instructions to his soldiers where he referred to the Serbian people as the worst barbarians, that his troops should show no mercy to them, to destroy all that is Serbian and to shoot anyone speaking Serbian. Also that, when they enter a village or town, to arrest all Serbian civil servants, teachers, and priests, to take 3 from each group and to hang them immediately. This is what the Serbs faced as long as the Empire’s soldiers were on their land.
In early November 1914, Austria launched its Third Offensive against Serbia. Prior to this, the Serbian Army and it’s Chetnik guerrilla detachments, plus Montenegrin forces, pushed into Bosnia to try and open a second front at the request of Russia, who wanted military action elsewhere to relieve some of the pressure they themselves had been under from the Austrians. Despite their initial success and strong effort, the tide turned at the Battle of Drina and the Serbian forces were turned back by the Austro-Hungarian offensive in August and September. From late September through late October was the trench warfare stage of the fighting and the Serbian Army was running short of everything: food, clothing, and ammunition. Austria could smell potential victory over an opponent who was running out of resources and was tiring badly and on the back foot.
After the first week of November, Serbian ammunition was running out and they were forced to go through a series of controlled and calculated withdrawals. The plan was to eventually pull back to the Kolubara river and its surrounding towns. Being winter, Serbia was calculating that the Austrians would be held up by poor communications through the muddy roads, and operated a scorched earth policy of destroying bridges and telephone lines as a last resort during their planned, tactical retreats toward Serbia’s interior. Running short of supplies not fully replenished from the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913, and so much also expended since the summer of 1914, Serbia requested ammunition from its allies.
Though exhausted, the Serbian Army’s series of controlled, tactical retreats, kept them together as a coherent force and, despite the Austrian accurate assessment that Serbia was tired and low in morale, it was also mistaken in thinking that Serbia was necessarily ready for the taking, despite impressions.
By mid-November, the Austrians were pushing to the Kolubara, which was looking like the last stand of the Serbian Army. The Austrians attacked with certain strategies involving trying to gain positions for communications purposes as well as militarily-advantageous locations. The fighting was very hard in places and Serbs kept on being pushed back, albeit in a controlled way. The mud, rain, and frostbite affected both sides.
The Serbian Army was running out of artillery shells and the Austrians felt that they were on the threshold of success. Despite this, the Serbs did not spare the big guns and continued to match the Austrians in a series of battles. By the end of November, the Austrians had applied so much persistent pressure over so wide a front that it forced the Serbs to evacuate their capital, Belgrade.
On 1st December, the Austrians decided to pause and consolidate their supply lines, and so Serbia withdrew its 1st Army some 12 miles from the front-lines to allow their exhausted troops to rest. At this time, Serbia also received by rail, courtesy of a major French requisition, large supplies of 75MM artillery shells. This was the life-blood in the fight-back, the means to match the Austro-Hungarian artillery and gain the chance to match strategic and tactical wits. On 2nd December, Serbia counter-attacked on all fronts. To say that the Austrians were caught by surprise in exemplified by the fact that they were holding a military victory parade in Belgrade when the Serbs attacked. The tide was about to turn as the Austrians faced a complete change in fortunes. Land was re-taken, the Austrians put into reverse, prisoners and war materiel were captured. Serbia had incredibly snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
The Austrians were rolled-back, eventually having to give up their prize of Belgrade, and whatever they had temporarily taken in Serbia, by mid-December. A relatively short recap of words cannot do justice to the magnitude of this achievement. Arguably, the result encouraged Romania and Italy, with some other incentives, to join the Allies and kept Bulgaria out of the war for the time being.
Further to this, the aftermath of the Austrians being kicked out exposed the brutality of the Austrian occupying forces towards the Serbian civilian population, including against the old and infirm, as well as women, children, and even babies. Over 18 towns had been abandoned and large areas deserted. If the Austrians had not been kicked out, the number of civilian victims would have been higher. You won’t find photos of the hangings of civilians by the occupying Austrians here, but you can find them elsewhere, and these photos were made by the perpetrators. German-Swiss criminologist, Dr.Archibald Reiss documented some of the atrocities with further research, interviews with both perpetrators and surviving victims, and photographs, including many grisly ones. After the War, he was marginalised by the new government of the new country of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, and his work was discouraged, supposedly for the sake of the unity of the country. Also, remarkably, the new country also allowed veteran organisations for ex-Austro-Hungarian troops alongside its ‘own’, Allied-affiliated ones. Hitler once asked, rhetorically, who remembered the Armenians, but one might also have asked who remembered the Serbian victims of the same period?
Within a year, in 1915, however, the Austro-Hungarians would be back in greater force, though this time the Empire that failed with its military and political ambitions in Serbia in 1914 would have the help of the Germans and the Bulgarians, and the Serbian military and civilians would experience deja vu.
Also shown here are a couple of pages from the Serbian-language book ‘Skice uz Strategiju’, the title translating into English as ‘Sketches of Strategy’, by General Ljubomir Maric, of the Royal Army Geographical Institute of the Kingdom. One image is of sketch number 56 from the book, titled, in Serbian Cyrillic, ‘KОЛУБАРСКА БИТКА – ПРОБОJ ФРОНТА АУСТРО-УГАРСКЕ VI. АРМИЈЕ ОД СТРАНЕ СРПСКЕ I. АРМИЈЕ 3. 4. и 5. ДЕЦЕМ. 1914 ГОД.’, which transliterates as ‘Kolubarska Bitka – Proboj Fronta Austro-Ugarske VI. Armije od Strane Srpske I. Armije 3, 4, i 5 Decem. 1914 god.’, and which translates as ‘Kolubara Battle – Breach of the Front of the Austro-Hungarian 6th Army from the side of the Serbian 1st Army 3, 4, and 5 December 1914 year’. Also shown is sketch number 58 from the same book, titled, in Serbian Cyrillic, ‘ГОНЕЊЕ СРПСКЕ ВОЈСКЕ ПОСЛЕ ПОБЕДЕ У KОЛУБАРСКА БИТЦУ ОД 6. ДО 14-XII-1914г.’, which transliterates as ‘Gonenje Srpske Vojske Posle Pobede Kolubarska Bitcu od 6 do 14-XII-1914g.’, and which translates as ‘The Pursuit by the Serbian Army After the Victory of the Battle of Kolubara from 6 to 14-XII-1914’.
There are also some pages from the book ‘KINGDOM OF SERBIA – AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN ATROCITIES – REPORT’, by Dr. Archibald Reiss, who surveyed a number of locations in Serbia, interviewing victims and survivors as well as some of the perpetrators. A number of the images might not be suitable to show here but a couple of pages listing illustrations from the book is shown and there are a few images such as that of a building where 100 women and children were burnt to death, a pit where 109 Serbian civilians were buried alive, a schoolroom where 17 victims were burnt after being wounded, and a bank where the safes had been opened and pillaged by the Austro-Hungarian Army. Serbia’s victory at the battle of Kolubara brought some temporary respite to the victims of such actions.
The Kolubara victory vase is small object, but the story behind it is big.
1914 Kolubara Battle commemorative vase
The book ‘KINGDOM OF SERBIA – AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN ATROCITIES – REPORT’, by Dr. Archibald Reiss
- 2017-10-02 17:19:43 UTC
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- Špiro Vranješ