If you are studying European history you most likely study in the most minute detail the events that transpired in Bosnia on June 28, 1914. And this year in particular there was a certain amount of fanfare – if we can say that about an event with such disastrous consequences – surrounding the assassination as it was the 100-year anniversary of the “shot heard ’round the world”. However, how many of you then go on to study what happened in Bosnia during the war? Well, in August 1914 most of the fighting was taking place in Serbia, so we’ll focus on that for the moment, although the Austrians used Bosnia as its point of entry into Serbia.
As you know, the Serbian campaign commenced on July 28, 1914 when Austria declared war and launched its invasion of Serbia. This precipitated Russian involvement and the war became a European war, not just a localized war. Beyond this, however, few students have detailed knowledge of the events. As it is the centennial, some of the lesser known events deserve a second look, and the place where it all began seems like a good place to start.
Like much of the Eastern Front, the battlefield fluctuated back and forth – unlike the Western Front, battles on the East were full of movement and shifting momentum. On August 12th the Austro-Hungarian army crossed the border. The Austrians were much better equipped and they outnumbered the Serbs, but with the Russian declaration of war they needed to shift a large number of their troops to its border with Russia. Beginning August 15 the Serbs and Austrians engaged in the Battle of Cer which took place in a mountainous region that gave the Serbs some advantage. Surprisingly, the Serbs overwhelmed and exhausted the Austrians, leading to the first Allied victory on August 24. However, both sides had a high number of casualties, making it something of a Pyrrhic victory.
It was also at Cer that the first aerial battle took place, although it was largely accidental, rather than intentional. A Serb pilot ran across an Austrian plane doing reconnaissance over Austrian territory. To defend Austrian land, the Austrian pilot pulled out his revolver and began to fire on the Serbian plane (Remember, the planes at that stage were open-air, unpressurized and flew at relatively low altitudes. It must have been a very chilly flight.). The Serb managed to escape, but within weeks all planes on both sides were equipped with artillery.
From this point, the Austrians and Serbs would progress on land to the Battle of Drina while the aerial warfare would extend to all fronts.