Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Serbia's Costly War

The Serbian contribution to the Allies' joint efforts was considerable. The price the nation paid, however, seems, by today's standards, utterly unbearable for a small nation.  

Serbian Army's Evacuation to Corfu

Serbia lost one-quarter of its population in the Great War. It also suffered more civilian deaths, (650,000) than military (450,000) in the First World War. The reasons are to be found in Serbia’s landlocked location, which isolated it from friendly Allied states and left it at the mercy of the surrounding Central Powers. Serbia was blockaded from the start of the war, and the civilian population suffered badly from famine and disease. The repeated Austrian invasions destroyed much of the north of the country’s infrastructure and farmland. An outbreak of cholera in early 1915 killed 100,000 Serb civilians. Thousands more died alongside the remnants of the Serbian Army during its epic retreat across the Albanian mountains in November–December 1915.

1918 Poster to raise funds for the Franco-Serbian Field Hospital of America

The situation worsened after the conquest of the country by the Central Powers in late 1915. Still more civilians died as Austrian and Bulgarian occupation forces implemented a harsh regime of martial law. Thousands were executed or sent to internment camps, and what was left of the country’s industrial and agricultural resources was stripped bare to supply the war economies of the Central Powers. Serbs struck back through guerrilla warfare, which led to brutal reprisals from the Austrian and Bulgarian military authorities. This culminated in a mass uprising centered on the Toplica region in February 1917 that at its height drew in 25,000 Austrian, Bulgarian, and German troops. An estimated 20,000 Serb civilians were killed or executed in two months by the occupation forces. This cycle of oppression, guerrilla warfare, and death through hunger and disease continued to take its toll on the civilian Serb population until the end of the war.

Source: NZHistory


  1. An underappreciated part of the war. Thank you for drawing our attention to it, especially the civilian casualties.

    1914-1918, then again in the 1990s: Serbia has bookended the 20th century in so many dark ways.

  2. This certainly makes the Serbian wars of the 1990's understandable, although not justifiable for 'ethnic cleansing.' Those figures are horrendous!!!

  3. Really disappointed to know how Serbia suffered from this costly war. Almost 20,000 Serb civilians were killed within two months, that is really sad:(. These figures are unbelievable. May God rest their souls in peace!