No Saluting Incompetent Generals,
Plan Second Serbia Invasion.
Espionage in Istanbul.
Special to The Great War Project
(28-29 September) By this time a century ago, there are secret plots in abundance involving the Germans in Istanbul and the British in Cairo.
The Ottoman Empire remains neutral – for the moment– but many in Britain fear and many in Germany hope that the Turks will enter the war on the side of Germany and Austria-Hungary.
The Germans are doing everything they can secretly to bring the Turks into the war on their side.
And in Cairo the British are in secret talks with the Arab sheikhs of Mecca to bring in an Arab army should the Turks side with Germany.
One of those German covert plots involves an effort to spark holy war against the British in the Middle East and among the Muslims of south Asia and India. The British secretly offer the Arabs “control of vast regions of the Turkish Empire,” reports historian Martin Gilbert, “in return for Arab participation.” Meanwhile in the Balkans where it all started, the Austrians are still smarting at their defeat by tiny Serbia when war broke out in August.
The Austrians are led by General Oskar Potiorek, who in the face of defeat came to be called incompetent, imbecile “and worse” according to historian Geoffrey Wawro.
So Potiorek decides to invade Serbia again, but this time, with fewer troops. Preparations are made in early September.
The Austrian general has another problem, and it’s serious…
…insurrection among his own troops.
“Impressed by the incompetence displayed by their generals,” Wawro writes, “troops on all fronts stopped saluting and obeying.”
The Austrian soldiers spread so much barbed wire that they are “wired in” and unable to mount attacks.
Nevertheless Austrian generals order only “suicidal” frontal attacks. Artillery and shells are in short supply as is food, Wawro reports. The Austrians single out Serb civilians for bombardment. Hundreds are killed or rounded up.
“Thousands of Austrian soldiers surrendered more or less willingly to the Serbs,” reports Wawro. The Serbs on the other hand refuse to surrender and are fighting in deplorable condition.
Writes the Serb commander to his War Ministry: “A high percentage of my men are fighting barefoot, in just underwear and shirts, without any military insignia.”
He pleads for uniforms and 200,000 pairs of shoes.
At the end of this month, a century ago, the Austrian offensive in Serbia bogs down in the face of fog and rain, mud, and the wooded, mountainous terrain. The Serbs cut the Austrians to pieces, according to Wawro.
The second Austrian invasion of Serbia is another Austrian failure, and within days the Austrian offensive ends. Observes another Austrian general: it is “a crime to continue running headfirst into a wall and sacrificing thousands of our brave troops so uselessly.”