Battle of Cer

1767

The battle was the first Allied victory over the Central Powers in the First World War. Serbia’s triumph on the battlefield drew worldwide attention to the country and won the Serbs sympathy from both neutral and Allied countries.

  • Date: 15-24 August 1914
  • Allies:
    • Belligerents: Kingdom of Serbia
    • Commanders: Crown Prince Alexander, Radomir Putnik, Petar Bojović, Stepa Stepanović, Pavle Jurišić Šturm
    • Strength:
      • 1st Army, 2nd Army, 3rd Army
        Total: 180,000
  • Central Powers:
    • Belligerents: Austro-Hungarian Empire
    • Commanders: Oskar Potiorek
    • Strength:
      • 2nd Army, 5th Army
        Total: 200,000
  • Result:
    • Decisive Serbian victory
  • Casualties and losses
    • Allies: 3,000–5,000 killed, 15,000 wounded
    • Central Powers: 6,000–10,000 killed, 30,000 wounded, 4,500 captured

Firing cannon shots on Belgrade,on the night of July 28, 1914, the Austro-Hungarians started their first offensive against Serbia. That night, Belgrade inadvertently became the first European city that was bombed in the twentieth century. For the next eight days Belgrade was sleepless, for the bullets, screams and fear were tearing the air. It turns out that this was only the beginning.

Battle-of-Cer-1Picture 1: Battle operations in Serbia, August 1914

The first offensive of the Austro-Hungarian army in a wide area of western Serbia lasted until August 24. Austria has concentrated the bulk of their forces at the Drina river, where the landing and strike operations started on August 12. From that moment on, the Battle of Cer was preceded by four days of fierce fighting in the Podrinje region.

Knowing that the Austro-Hungarians were numerous and better armed, the Serbian army was mostly positioned in the interior of the country, waiting for the enemy to make move, so that units could be easily dispatched to the required fighting ground. Supreme Command of the Serbian army wanted to “buy” more time to shift stronger Serbian forces to the battleground.

The 3rd Army had a task of distracting the enemy. Even though it was the army with the least number of soldiers, the enemy managed to cross Drina only after four days of fierce and bloody fighting. And while the Austro-Hungarian army was nearing, General Stepa Stepanović began regrouping the Serbian army.

Recognizing the importance of Cer for performing the entire action, General Stepanović ordered the Combined Division to seize the peak of Kosanin grad in the night between the 15th and 16th of August. But there was another surprise for the Serbian army. Parts of the 21st Austro-Hungarian division were already there. In a dark and stormy night, face to face with the Austro-Hungarian soldiers, the battle of Cer was about to begin.

Battle-of-Cer-2Picture 2: Serbian artillery rushing toward fire positions

Many of those taken aback soldiers were at rest and quite surprised by this visit of the Serbian army, and it was not difficult for the Serbs to takeover the territory. However, with successive arrival of the armies on both sides, this encounter quickly evolved into an angry and bitter struggle. In the heat of the night-battle at Tekeriš, one of the most celebrated victories of the Serbian army took place, and by morning the Austro-Hungarian Army was forced to retreat.

Peace did not last long. The following day, on the 16th of August, the battle to win Cer flared fiercely. In a clash between the left column of the Serbian Cavalry Division and the left column of the Austro-Hungarian 21st Division on the northern slopes of Cer, this spearhead enemy unit was completely broken and incapacitated for further combat.

Meanwhile, the Cavalry Division and the First Call Division of Šumadija, managed to successfully prevent the merging of the 2nd and 5th Austro-Hungarian Armies (at the moment when this connection was of utmost importance for rescuing the 21st Division on Cer) by using very hard maneuvers in the region of Šabac and Mačva. In the valley of Jadar, the Serbian 3rd Army was resisting attacks of the enemy with varying success, preventing its penetration to Valjevo.

Battle-of-Cer-3Picture 3: Serbian infantry at slopes of Cer

During the 17th and 18th of August, a day-and-night battle between the Serbian Cer Spearhead Unit and Austro-Hungarian 9th Division continued. On August 19, the Serbian army has finally broken the resistance of the 5th Army’s left wing and mastered the ridge of Cer, while the enemy division was compelled to retreat. What only the Austro-Hungarian army could do that day, and the following day, is to retreat across the Drina river.

In the final battles from 21st to 24th of August, the city of Šabac was liberated and the remaining Austro-Hungarian soldiers were expelled from Serbia; the Cer operation thus ended as a complete failure of the Austro-Hungarian army.

Being victorious in the Battle of Cer, the Serbian army demonstrated not only skill and experience, but immense courage and sacrifice for the homeland as well. The first Allied victory against the Central Powers in the Great War strengthened the morale of our military and allies, raised the reputation of the country and gave it strength for the upcoming ordeals.