Thursday, February 2, 2012

Uniforms & Equipment of the Serbian Infantry in WWI - By Peter Kempf


By Peter Kempf


"At the outset of WW1 the Serbian Army was on the one side both tough and able, and on the other seriously underequipped. The cause for both these conditions was paradoxically the same: the two recent Balkan Wars 1912-13, from which Serbia had emerged as the biggest winner, at the same time the hard fighting had led to losses in weapons, ammo and other equipment, deficencies that there had been no time to make good, when the conflict with Austria-Hungary started in 1914. So the Army that met the invading Austro-Hungarian Armies, was battlehardened. The recent fighting meant that both officers and men had real and recent experience of modern warfare, and had adapted their tactics to this, at the same time that their Austro-Hungarian opponents - in their lack of such experience - had a much more theoretical and formalistic approach to war, something that the Austro-Hungarian soldiers soon had to pay dearly for. Three times the invading Austro-Hungarian armies were repelled, until in late 1915 the Serbs were finally overwhelmed, Serbia was occupied, and the remnants of the Serbian Army started its long trek to the south, finally ending on the island of Corfu, where it was re-organized and re-equipped, and eventually it re-entered the war, being instrumental in driving the Austro-Hungarian and Bulgarian Armies out of much of the Balkans."

On the Uniforms

"Like many European Armies, the Serbian Army had its troops divided into 1st, 2nd and 3rd Line, with 1st Line (or "Ban") units consisting of younger men, and being allotted the best and modern equipment. So in 1914 no infantry regiment had its full complement of weapons. (Many units lacked 10% of their prescribed number of rifles, some 15% or even more.) Only 1st and 2nd Ban units had modern rifles, usually the excellent M1899 7mm Mauser, carried with the standard M1895 big leather German ammunition pouches, while 3rd Ban were given older large calibre russian rifles. (Many units even lacked these pouches, and the soldiers had to carry their ammo in their pockets. The leather equipment was for the most part brown.) Only 1st and 2nd Ban units were given machine guns: Maxim type, but not more than 4 guns per regiment.

"The standard uniform of the Serbian Army was the M1908, made from thin, airy grey-green cloth. (The colour could vary, though. Sometimes it was more grey than green.) The branch-colour was shown on the standing collar, red for the infantry. When the M1908 greatcoat was not used, it was often carried in a rolled up form (see the picture on the left). The trousers were loose, tight from the knee, worn either with black or brown marching boots, or with the traditional woolen socks with the also traditional serb opanci moccassin-style shoes (see photos below). This uniform was introduced from 1912, but by the outbreak of the war only 1st Ban units had got it. The 2nd Ban wore a mixture of pre-1912 coloured uniform and often a 1912 cap and greatcoat: the old coloured uniform included a single-breasted, dark blue tunic, double-breasted for officers. Units of the 3rd Ban often got no uniforms at all, but fought in their civilian clothing. On the head the traditional serb sajkaca cap was worn, and often this was the only uniform item that the men in the 3rd Ban got. The back pack was of a rucksack variety and pretty light, giving the Infantry men a standard load of only some 12-15kg, copmpared with, say the Austro-Hungarian 25kg per man, which of course increased the mobility of the Serb fighters. Water Bottles were either in the form of standard army issue items, but private items was also usual. A slung bread bag in lightbrown cloth completed the outfit.

"After the evacuation to Corfu the Army was completely re-equipped from Allied stocks, using both French horizon blue and British khaki uniforms, French weapons and the Adrian helmet bearing an embossed Serbian double-headed eagle."

(Thanks to Joseph Fullerton for his help with this article!)


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