Primary Documents - The Fall of Serbia by General von Cramon, November 1915

Serbian infantrymen Reproduced below an account of the fall of Serbia in November 1915 by a German General - von Cramon - attached to the Austro-Hungarian Army Chief of Staff, Conrad von Hotzendorf.

Although the Serbs had successfully repulsed a concerted Austro-Hungarian offensive the previous year - much to the surprise of the major European powers - the entry of Bulgaria into the war in October 1915 effectively doomed Serbia.

Bulgaria entered the war for the openly stated purpose of annexing territory from Serbia; her participation in the planned Austro-German offensive against Serbia ensured the latter's defeat.

Click here to read German Army Chief of Staff Erich von Falkenhayn's account of Serbia's defeat.

The Fall of Serbia, November 1915 by General von Cramon

Toward the end of September the Imperial Austrian Army, composed of Austrian and German troops, stood to the northwest and north of Belgrade, the German Eleventh Army in the region of Versetsch.

Tersztyansky had originally been chosen as the commander of the Austrians.  Shortly, however, before the operations began he had a quarrel in his headquarters with one of the officials of Tisza and this assumed such proportions that the all-powerful Hungarian president of the ministry brought the question before the Emperor, Franz Josef.

The latter, as could not otherwise be expected, in view of the powerful position occupied by Tisza, dropped the general.  In Teschen, at least among the younger men, the departure of Tersztyansky was not particularly regretted.  Instead of him, General von Kovess now had the honour of winning Belgrade.

The Bulgarians drew up on the western frontier of their country.  Czar Ferdinand had stipulated that he was not to move forward until several days after our own advance.  He wanted absolute security.  Nevertheless, the turn in the policy of Bulgaria could not remain unknown to the Entente.  Russia sent an ultimatum on October 3rd to which Bulgaria replied "in unsatisfactory form" three days later; whereupon the quadruple alliance severed its relations with the government at Sofia.

On October 6th the German and Austrian troops of Mackensen crossed the Danube.  While the Austrian battalions fastened themselves upon the northern edge of Belgrade, the 22nd Reserve Corps of the Germans forced its way through west of the city and compelled the enemy to evacuate the place.

The Serbians offered an obstinate resistance, but could not arrest our advance.  A week of great successes passed and now the moment had come also for a decision on the part of the Bulgarians.  One day the report arrived at Sofia that the Serbians had passed across the western border of Bulgaria at several points.

On the following day the Bulgarian armies invaded old Serbia and Macedonia.  Toward the end of October another Imperial division joined in the encircling movement by penetrating into the Sandjak.  By the end of November, Serbia and Macedonia were in the hands of the armies of the Central Powers.  Only the shattered remnants of the enemy forces were able to effect their escape across the snow-covered mountains.

To the Entente the turn of affairs on the Balkan Peninsula was a great blow.  When Bulgaria glided from its grasp, it endeavoured to equalize this by an increased pressure on Greece, where, in the astute Venizelos it possessed a sure ally.  But King Constantine was for the time the stronger.  Venizelos had to yield.  The German Emperor gave a personal guarantee that no Bulgarian would cross the Macedonian-Greek border.

The fears of the Greeks because of the Bulgarians were thus to some extent allayed.

The Entente did not content itself with the just mentioned unsuccessful attempt in Athens.  In the middle of October French and English troops were landed at Salonika.  Greece could only make a protest against this breach of neutrality, which mild procedure greatly displeased General Conrad von Hotzendorf, chief of the General Staff of the Austrian army.

General Falkenhayn tranquilized him with the assurance that he, for his part, considered the attitude of Greece as "perfectly wonderful and particularly propitious."  He assured the Austrian chief of staff that Germany would do all in its power to support the friendly disposed King of Greece.  These efforts on the part of Germany, as we know, met with success.

During the preparations for the campaign in Serbia no great enthusiasm for it was manifested at Austrian headquarters.  The primal moving factor had really been Falkenhayn.  General von Hotzendorf was not in accord with all points of the plan of operations.  He was of the opinion that more powerful forces would have to be put in action from the direction of the Upper Drina, in order to make the success in Serbia complete.

Mackensen, however, drew to the barrier on the Save a division already congregated on the Bosnian front.  The catastrophe in Northern Serbia would surely have been greater had a timely attack been made on the enemy's rear at Uzice.

A similar difference of opinion arose during the course of the further operations when the Serbians in Macedonia were hard pressed from north and east, and it was a question of throwing them back into the Albanian mountains.

General von Hotzendorf earnestly tried to persuade General Falkenhayn to use all available forces to strengthen the Bulgarian troops which were exerting pressure from the east.  He was, as ever, a master in recognizing the direction in which strategy could most effectively be exercised.

Falkenhayn, however, could rightly object on the ground that it would be impossible to add several divisions to the Bulgarian army under Bojadjeff because of the difficulties attending the transportation of supplies.

It is not necessary to enter into details.  In a little over six weeks' time old Serbia and Macedonia were conquered.  The remnants of the Serbian army wandered about in the desert mountains of Albania or after losing all accoutrements and supplies found touch with the Orient army of the Entente.

Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. III, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923

French tanks were used for the first time in battle on 17 April 1917, when the 'Char Schneider' (as they were known) was used during the Second Battle of the Aisne.

- Did you know?

Primary Docs