Serbian guerrilla war brings Austrian reprisals
Special to The Great War Project
(12 August) Today, a century ago, the forces of Austria-Hungary invade Serbia – the almost forgotten conflict that ignited the war.
The Austrians are met with a level of resistance – from armed civilians using guerrilla tactics — they do not anticipate. The Serbs hide in cornfields and attack the rear of Austrian columns. These tactics cause chaos and rage in the Austrian ranks.
In response, echoing the behavior of the German army in Belgium, the Austrians take their revenge. The action quickly turns into a slaughter, according to historian Martin Gilbert. “At the town of Sabac, on the Serbian side of the River Sava, “there were horrifying scenes; many male civilians were rounded up and shot, children were massacred and women raped.” “Thus thousands of Serb civilians, most of them innocent, were summarily shot or hanged,” writes historian Max Hastings. “It is estimated that around 3,500 civilians were summarily killed by the Austrians during the first two weeks of their August campaign.” Justifying their actions, the Austrians claim civilians commit atrocities against them. On this same day, the first troops of the British Expeditionary Force cross the English Channel and reach France. The German army is unaware of this crucial movement of British forces. Also today a century ago on the Eastern Front, Russia invades the German province of East Prussia.
And Britain and France complete the circle of diplomatic formalities by sending notice to Vienna of their declaration war on Austria-Hungary – not because of any actual quarrel but because of the requirements of alliances. Writes historian Gilbert: “These extra declarations of war, widening the geographic and human scale of the conflict, cost nothing to send, though they were to prove costly to redeem; more costly than anyone imagined.”