Soldiers of Serbia

My latest painting venture will take me into the First World War. Indeed, for 2018, it may be that I visit a number of topics for the Great War which ended 100 years ago in November. The war truly was a world war, taking place across Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and across the world’s oceans. It drew in many countries and the obvious protagonists (Germany, Great Britain, etc.) have often been depicted in 1/72 scale model figures. Other nations have been more neglected and, where possible, it is these that I’d like to concentrate on.

So, the first WWI kit of 2018 will be Strelets’ new release; Serbian WWI Infantry in Winter Dress.

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The latest set of figures (…thank you, kind assistant).

First, a little history…

Serbia and the Great War

The Great War which ended nearly a century ago, began in the Balkans. This enormous conflict, which sent shock waves throughout Europe and the World, was inaugurated when on 28 July 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia.

Serbian Infantry Postcard WWI

The Serbian Army at the beginning of WWI was a tough and experienced force which had emerged victorious from fighting two Balkan Wars in 1913; firstly against the Ottoman Empire and latterly against former allies Bulgaria. The Serbian army immediately scored a great success at the Battle of Cer; the first major battle of the First World War. In November 1914, Belgrade was briefly occupied by the invaders but then subsequently liberated in another remarkable and costly victory against Austria-Hungary which occurred at the Battle of Kolubara.

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“Men who are making a heroic defence against Bulgaria and Germany: Serbian Infantry manning a hill-top trench… The troops are, as a rule sturdy, strong-limbed fellows, recruited almost entirely from the peasantry, hardy and stubborn fighters, and particularly notable for their marching capabilities…”

All this was in vain, however, as Bulgaria joined with Austria and Germany in an offensive which saw the Serbian army retreat all the way to the Albanian coast where allied ships evacuated them to Corfu. Here it was reorganised and re-equipped using Entente uniforms. The army then rejoined the fight to liberate its homeland fighting alongside French (mostly), but also British and Greek allies, finally achieving its liberation in 1918 after Bulgaria capitulated.

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“Heroic Serbia” fights off both Germany and Austria-Hungary, whilst Bulgaria lurks behind ready to stab it’s neighbour in the back… (Punch cartoon, 1915)

Casualties:

The cost to Serbia for securing its liberation was truly appalling. A staggering 58% of the 420,000 strong Serbian Army died (nearly 8% of total Entente deaths), leaving 100,000 still serving at the point of liberation. The nation suffered approx 450,000 civilian deaths due to disease, privations and in uprisings against the invaders. Much of this treatment of the Serbian population was captured in photography and appeared to be war crimes.

One of my fellow hobbyists from Bennos Figures Forum, a Serb, shared with me some time ago the following story from his own family history during this time.

My great great grandmother died during battle of Cer, she was in hiding with her son Gvozden, while her husband was fighting with an army…She realized something she forgot, devil knows what at home, she went back and the K und K army captured her and put her in the house and [set the] house on fire…

The “K und K army” refers to the Kaiserlich und Königlich or “Imperial and Royal” army, a colloquial term for the Austrian-Hungarian forces. The harrowing effects of the conflict were certainly not solely suffered by Serbian soldiers alone.

Uniform:

The Serbian army wore the same uniform going to war in 1914 as it had recently worn in the Balkan Wars the previous year. My two Osprey guides to the Serbian army at this time suggest that they wore the M1908 “khaki” woollen uniform with a double-breasted (winter) coat which was in the same colour as the uniform. As the Strelets troops come wearing their winter coats, this information is helpful. Their uniform colour is also described in the Balkans Wars 1912-1913 book as being green-grey, not khaki, yet this is the same uniform as worn in 1914. Choosing the right colour, as so often with painting soldiers, is a matter of making some choices.

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Types of the Serbian army throughout the Great War. The 3rd figure (right) will be of the type I’m painting.

It goes on to detail the red branch colour collar patches on the coats which denoted the soldiers to be of the infantry (blue = cavalry, black = artillery, dark brown = ambulance and maroon = engineers). Trousers were tucked into thick woollen peasant socks and the distinctively curved opanci peasant shoes were worn if black marching boots were unavailable.

The Serbia.com website has a very informative page on the WWI Serbian army uniform. It describes the colour of the uniform a little differently. It says:

“The Kingdom of Serbia was one of the first European countries that introduced olive-grey uniforms in 1908. In this uniform, Serbian soldiers went through the Balkan wars (1912-1913), not knowing that they would not have time to put it off, as a new conflict was waiting around the corner, a war in which Serbia would take a heavy toll.

Tired and overwrought, the Serbian soldiers were mostly distinguished in this grand theatre of world war by a cap called šajkača, which was worn, without exception, by anyone who fought under the Serbian flag. However, not all šajkača caps were the same. Officer’s cap was firm with a sun visor and a cockade (enameled tricolor cap insignia with the king’s monogram)…

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Serbian officer’s cap.

…The trousers were wide at the hips and narrow at lower legs. The majority of the Serbian army wore the so-called opanci (rustic footwear made of leather), although some soldiers wore boots combined with curlers that offered protection during cold days. An integral part of the uniform was the pouch usually made of cloth in which the soldiers carried their supplies.”

Униформа_Српског_војника_из_1914_године The figures:

The Strelets figures are quite a departure from the old figures. They are slender and all to scale and in proportion. Great news for wargamers who felt that Strelets were a poor fit with other manufacturers figures on the war game table. On the downside, the figures lack a little of the character and crisp details which made painting them fun. Ah well, there’s seldom such thing as the perfect figure.

So, I’ve been busy working on creating a decent olive-grey / green-grey / khaki / insert-colour-here uniform. I’m already very well advanced so I will share more on how I’ve got on soon!

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Some figures from Strelets new set “Serbian Infantry in Winter Dress”.
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