The Suffering of Victors and Vanquished.
Belgrade Now a City of Beggars, Cripples, and Orphans.
Special to The Great War Project
(6-7 December) Fighting in Serbia on these days a century ago seems first to favor Austria-Hungary. The Serbian government abandons Belgrade, and despite the incompetence and chaos within the Austrian forces, they appear to seize the initiative.
Once again there is panic among the Serb civilian population. Writes historian Max Hastings, “Hundreds of thousands of civilian refugees, terrorized by their earlier experience of Austrian occupation, fled for their lives with the retreating army. Serbia’s fortunes seemed irretrievable.”
Despite their dire circumstances though, the Serbian army fights on. “The sufferings intensified,” Hastings writes, “of both Serbs who clung to their native land and those who fled as refugees.”
Yet, reports Hastings, the Austrian victors are in no better shape.
“Men slept in mud,” and rations often fail to reach the Austrian units.
“Packs and blankets grew so heavy with the wet that…men struggled to avoid falling over backwards. [Artillery] Guns kept getting stuck so deep in the mud that their wheels vanished.”
Civilians suffer as much in the mud as do soldiers.
But miraculously the Serbs regain the initiative. As the Serbs advance, reports Hastings, they discover the Austrian army crumbling. Still, “there seemed no end to the shared sufferings of victors and vanquished, soldiers and civilians…With little food for themselves, the Serbians gave less to Austrian POWs, their would be conquerors.
Disease also takes a heavy toll. “One in five of the 60,000 Austrian prisoners in Belgrade’s hands was already dead of typhus and more would follow, reports Hastings. “By the year’s end Austria-Hungary had paid for its hubris towards Serbia,” with some 274,000 casualties out of 450,000 troops deployed in Serbia.
Tragically Belgrade is reduced to “a city of beggars, cripples, and orphans,” ravaged by typhus, dysentery, and cholera.
By this time a century ago, Serbia, the land where the war is ignited, is laid waste, with suffering shared by Austrian soldier and Serb soldier and civilian alike.
And finally this development a half a world away. Japanese forces have been fighting the Germans on the remote islands of the Pacific Ocean, reports historian Martin Gilbert.
Japan has joined the allied powers in the first days of the war, their eyes on Germany’s Pacific island colonial holdings and on the German concessions in China’s Far East.
Now the Japanese obtain “a promise from Britain that Japan could occupy all German territory north of the equator.”
Because of promises like this, Japan will become a colonial power in the Far East and will confront the Americans at Pearl Harbor on this day twenty-seven years later.