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Serbia, Europe, Historical Profile (1922), #030-The Conquest of Serbia



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On Sept. 6 Bulgaria concluded a secret alliance with the Central Powers. Meanwhile the Serbian Govenimenl was unduly optimistic as to Greek and Rumanian intervention, and its disbelief in a German invasion-was encouraged by Allied military opinion, which clung obstinately to the illusion that Bulgaria might enter on the Entente side, and therefore vetoed the Serbian general staff's plan for an immediate attack upon Sofia before the Bulgarian army was ready (Sept. 27).

Next day Sir Edward Grey in the House of Commons announced that in the event of Bulgaria's aggression, "our friends in the Balkans" would receive help "without reserve and without qualification." Relying on the fulfilment of this pledge, the Serbs devoted their main effort to checking the Austro-German advance and remained on the defensive towards Bulgaria. The danger was increased by King Constantine's repudiation of Greece's treaty obligations towards Serbia and the overthrow of Venizclos.

That statesman, however, had inquired of the Allies as early as Sept. 23 whether, if Bulgaria declared war on Serbia, and if Greece asked Serbia to supply the 150, 000 men stipulated by the Serbo- Greek Treaty for such a contingency, France and Britain would assume Serbia's obligation for her; and an affirmative answer was received within 48 hours.

On Oct. 6 the rupture with Bulgaria was complete. The fatal delays in sending the promised troops, coupled with Allied insistence that the Serbs should hold back Mackensen to the last moment, belong to military history": but their results were emi-nently political. At the critical moment of the Bulgarian menace to the Nis-Salonika railway there were at Salonika not 150, 000 Allied troops ready for action, but 35, 000 French and 13, 000 British, the latter under strict injunctions from London not to cross the frontier into Serbia. His was decorated to welcome Allies who never came.

The whole Serbian plan of campaign collapsed, and the armies, losing control of the railway southwards, retired precipitately through the passes leading to the plain of Kosovo. General Sarrail, informed that he must not expect reinforcements, was forced to arrest his belated offensive northwards (Nov. 12) and soon to withdraw to the west of the Vardar. The Serbs were thus cut off from Allied help, lost Skoplje and only just escaped being cut off between the converging Austro-German and Bulgarian armies.

The final retreat of the Serbian Army and Government across the inhospitable snowy mountains of Albania and Montenegro stands out as one of the great tragedies of the war. After dreadful sufferings the fugitives were conveyed by Allied transports to Corfu, which for the remainder of the war became the seat of the Serbian Government and a base for the convalescence and reorganization of the army.

Notable assistance was rendered by British voluntary units, and some idea of the generous response of the British public to Serbia's need may be gathered from the fact that the Serbian Relief Fund from first to last collected over 1, 000.000. in money and material, and employed over 700 workers in Serbia, Albania, Corfu, Salonika, Corsica, Biserta and France; while the Scottish Women's Hospitals, under Dr. Elsie Inglis, performed notable services for the Serbs both on the Balkan and the Russian fronts.

Conquered Serbia was divided for administrative purposes between Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria; all that remained to the Serbs was a fragment of territory south of Monastir. Bulgaria, officially declaring the Serbian State to have ceased to exist, enrolled all men of military age throughout the occupied territory, and in Feb. 1917 extended this to include the whole male population. It refused to recognize the Serbian Red Cross and seized the Serbian Legation in Sofia; all Serbian schools, law courts and inscriptions were Bulgarized, libraries and collections were either destroyed or removed to Bulgaria, the Serbian clergy were evicted or executed.

A formidable rising in the mountains behind Kur sumlje was brutally repressed, with over 2.000 executions (March 1917). The war aims now repeatedly avowed by Sofia were the annexation not only of Macedonia, but of Kosovo, Prizren and the whole upper Morava and Timok valleys; a common frontier with Hungary; and the prevention 01" Yugoslav unity.

Radoslavov more than once proclaimed Bulgaria's resolve to keep all her conquests, and his official organs declared that Serbia's reconstitution, "no matter under what form, would be a perpetual menace to Balkan peace." Austria-Hungary showed much greater reserve, airing from time to time various alternative schemes for a vassal Southern Slav State under the Habsburgs, keeping Prince Mirko of Montenegro as a possible candidate for its throne and employing agents in Switzerland to sow dissension among the exiles.

      "Serbia, Europe, Historical Profile (1922), #030-The Conquest of Serbia," The Encyclopedia Britannica. (New York: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1922); digital edition, (http://mygenshare.com : posted 15 Jan 2013)

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