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

Friday, January 22, 2021

Serbia's Greatest General: Živojin Mišić

Field Marshal Živojin Mišić (1855–1921) was Serbia's greatest military commander of the First World War. Called from forced retirement, he led the Serbian forces in defeating the two initial Austrian invasions of his homeland. An opponent of the great retreat across the Albanian mountains to Corfu, he nonetheless accompanied the troops. He later resumed command of the Serbian forces on the Salonika Front that helped decisively defeat Bulgaria and opened back doors into both Austria-Hungary and Turkey, forcing their capitulation.

His pre-Great War service was long and highly eventful. At the very beginning of his 40 years of service, Živojin Mišić served in the Serbian-Turkish wars (1876–1878), as a sergeant, later a lieutenant. Afterward, in addition to the four-year Artillery School, he completed the Austro-Hungarian infantry school in Bruk on Lajta and the two-year general staff course.  

In between, Mišić participated in the short Serbian-Bulgarian War of 1885. For six years, in addition to his regular duties, he taught strategy at the Military Academy. After the May 1903 coup d'etat he was forced to retire with the rank of general staff colonel,  since he was considered too close to the assassinated King and Queen [King Alexander Obrenović and Queen Draga; the rival dynasty of Karađorđević was then installed].

He was reactivated in 1909, during the annexation crisis on the personal request of the Chief of the Supreme Command, General Radomir Putnik, who made him his assistant. Mišić helped General Putnik draw up a Serbian war plan in a possible war with Austro-Hungarian Empire.

In the Balkan Wars, Mišić was also assistant to the chief of staff of the Supreme Command, General Travelers. He was directly involved in planning and managing operations against the Turkish Vardar Army and was subsequently promoted to the rank of general after the Kumanovo battle [First Balkan War, 1912]. He distinguished himself with the correct assessment of the situation on the first day of the Battle of Bregalnica [Second Balkan War, 1913],when the Serbian Supreme Command in Skopje was considering the question of where to fight the crucial battle. His advice had a decisive influence on the final outcome of what turned out to be the decisive battle of the Second Balkan War. 

After the end of this war, Mišić was forced to retire for the second time by the officers of the Black Hand clique. When the First World War started, however, he was known to be too valuable to be kept on the sidelines and was called to the colors. He would outlive his enemies in the Black Hand [secret Serbian nationalist society, involved in assassinations of Serbian king and queen and the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Sophie Chotek], which was disbanded during the war with its leaders executed, but would die of lung cancer in Belgrade in 1921.

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