BELGRADE – The Battle of Kolubara, the biggest battle for Serbia in World War I, was fought on a front stretching over 200 kilometers from November 16 to December 15, 1914.
Following defeat in the region along the River Drina, the Serbian army found itself in a difficult position and was forced to retreat under fire, facing a lack of artillery ammunition, food, shoes and clothing, and ordinary people, fleeing atrocities by the enemy, were leaving their homes and joining the soldiers’ retreat.
Austro-Hungarian troops occupied Belgrade, Sabac, Valjevo, Uzice and the entire northwestern Serbia, committing mass crimes against civilians. When the whole world expected Serbia’s capitulation, a miracle happened. After a month of heavy fighting, the Serbian army launched a successful counteroffensive under the command of General Zivojin Misic and beat the Austro-Hungarian Balkan Army group (5th and 6th Army) commanded by Field Marshal Oskar Potiorek. After the Battle of Drina, the Serbian army retreated to the right bank of the Kolubara River. Greatly outnumbered and under attacks by the Austro-Hungarians, the Serbs retreated further to a new position in front of the town of Gornji Milanovac to delay combat, rest their troops, and then launched a counteroffensive which resulted in a decisive Serbian victory. Serbia’s 1st Army, which played a central role in General Zivojin Misic’s plan, captured Mount Suvobor on December 5, forcing the Austro-Hungarian 6th Army to retreat north.
In the days that followed, the Serbian 2nd and 3rd Army managed to hold their positions and stop most of the Austro-Hungarian attacks, pushing north, eventually forcing the 5th Army to leave Belgrade and cross the Sava River on December 15. Over 260,000 Austro-Hungarian soldiers were out of commission after the Battle of Kolubara. Of the number, 27,216 were killed, 118,000 wounded, nearly 74,000 went missing, and 1,800 were captured. With around 22,000 killed, 91,000 wounded and 19,000 missing and captured, Serbia’s losses were massive as well. The Serbs found large quantities of military equipment abandoned by the invading army, including two aircraft, more than 140 guns, and 3,500 vehicles with ammunition and 60,000 rifles. Following his defeat, Potiorek was retired and replaced by Archduke Eugen of Austria, and 1st Serbian Army Commander Misic was promoted to Vojvoda (Field Marshal).
The battle is an example of clever tactics and strategy employed by the Serbian army, which although smaller in number and poorer in equipment, managed to turn from being on the defensive to launching a tide-turning counteroffensive which led to a World War I major victory for Serbia and the Allies. The Battle of Kolubara showed that Austria-Hungary was not able to defeat, or, as it planned, destroy the Kingdom of Serbia, and it forced the Central Powers to fight on all three fronts and to have Germany directly involved in battles against Serbia in 1915.
The victory helped Italy decide to join the war on the Entente side and hold off Bulgaria’s joining the Central Powers for a while.
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