How Austria Took Belgrade But Still Lost in Serbia

Week 19 of the Mediakraft Networks YouTube show The Great War, written and presented by Indiana Neidell.

Russians Stopped in Poland

Having already stopped the Russian advance on Krakow Conrad von Hötzendorf odered the Austrian army to march on a Russian force which was paused in southern Poland. The Russians had stopped due to disputes between its commanders Russki and Iwanow, the former advocated regrouping while the latter advocated a march on Budapest. The Austrians were able to drive back the hesitating Russians preventing Iwanow’s planned offensive into Hungary.

This would, however, be Austria’s final operation independent from Germany. Although this victory was important the Austrians had 8 million men fewer than Russia in terms of potential conscripts. In addition to that pressure on manpower German commander-in-chief Erich von Falkenhayn had announced on 1 December that no further reinforcements would be sent to the eastern front.

Austrians Take Belgrade

The Serbians had inflicted heavy losses on the Austrians in their crossing on the Kolubara River and halted their advance but Belgrade still lay dangerously close to the front lines. It was decided therefore that the Serbian  High Command ought to evacuate from Belgrade. They did so on 29 November and by 1 December Austrian troops had taken the city. Seizing Belgrade had been the only war objective in the Austrian declaration of war made in July. The army paraded through the Serbian capital on 3 December and the were celebrations in Vienna for the impending victory.

Serbian Victories

While some Austrian’s were parading in Belgrade others spent 3 December fighting the Serbian army at Arandelovac. The Serbians had recently recieved fresh ammunition from the French and were able to inflict a decisive defeat on the Austrains. In their rush to take Belgrade the Austrian forces had become over extended and by  4 December they were in full retreat under Serbian pressure.

Defeat Ignored by Senior Figures

Archduke Karl, the heir to the Austrian throne, still believed the war in the east to be successful, so much so as to predict the imminent defeat of the Russians.  He was one of a number of leaders who, not truly grasping the situation on the ground, suggested the western front was unimportant and that other options should be explored, for instance an invasion of Italy. This lack of understanding among senior military and political figures was one of the most enduring and dangerous characteristics of the Great War.

Alex is a history student at King's College London focusing on Europe and the Near East in the Middle Ages. He currently works writing and editing content for madefromhistory.