Austria Strikes Serbia, Its Troops in Belgrade.

Bulgaria Joins Attack Against Serbia

Special to The Great War Project

(6-9 October) The forces of Austria-Hungary and Germany are preparing to invade Serbia, where this whole tragic slaughter began with the assassination in Sarajevo of Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne.

Until now, Serbia is not a major front in the war. Austria-Hungary began the war by invading Serbia in 1914. But at that time the Serbs deal Austria a crushing defeat and drive enemy troops off of Serbian territory.

Austria-Hungary carve up Serbia, 1915.

Austria-Hungary carves up Serbia, 1915.

Now, on October 5th 1915 Austrian and German forces prepare to unleash a shattering artillery bombardment, including, according to historian Martin Gilbert, 170 heavy guns and 420 heavy mortars. This is the prelude to the invasion of Serbia, reports Gilbert.

“At last,” he continues, “and despite the set-backs of the autumn of 1914, the murder of Franz Ferdinand was going to be avenged and with a terrible vengeance.”

There are four Anglo-French naval guns stationed in the Danube River to protect Belgrade, the Serbian capital, but they are overwhelmed by the invading Austrian troops. “Weakened by a typhus epidemic,” the Serb forces evacuate their capital on October 9th “a century ago.

At the same moment another major military move is unfolding in the Balkans. The Austrians invade Serbia’s ally Montenegro. And Bulgaria, which up to this moment has kept out of the war, now enters the conflict.

Bulgaria, according to Gilbert, is “eager to annex the southern Serb region of Macedonia.”

“The Central Powers had gained a new partner.”

At the same time, “the Bulgarian government had their own ambitions,” writes historian Norman Stone, “to reconstitute the medieval Bulgarian empire. Bulgaria was strategically placed to invade Serbia from the east.”

Still the situation in the Balkans is actually in flux. Secret talks are underway between Bulgaria and the Allied Powers, designed to bring Bulgaria into the war on the Allied side. Those secret talks would also bring the carving up of the Balkans. The Allies even offer Bulgaria “its desired share of Macedonia after all,” reports war historian John Keegan.

Austrian invaders take vengeance on Serbian forces, circa 1915.

Austrian invaders take vengeance on Serbian forces, circa 1915.

But this offer comes too late, according to Keegan. The stalemate on other fronts convinces the Bulgarian king and leadership “that their best lay in alliance with the Central Powers rather than Britain, France, and Russia.”

Secretly, Bulgaria pledges to invade Serbia within thirty days of the agreement it signs with Austria and Germany. One of the strategic goals of this gambit is to establish open lines of communication between Constantinople, the Ottoman capital, and Berlin.

Austrians execute Serb soldiers, circa 1915.

Austrians execute Serb soldiers, circa 1915.

The German-Austrian invasion of Serbia begins on October 7th one hundred years ago. Despite the fact that the Serbs are fighting on their own territory, German and Austrian troops quickly gain the upper hand.

They enter Belgrade on October 9th.

With Bulgaria secretly preparing to invade Serbia from the east, and Austria’s invasion coming from the north, the prospect of a two-front war is too much for Serbia.