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Radomir Putnik

Radomir Putnik was the first Serbian Field Marshal and Chief of the General Staff of the Serbian army in the Balkan Wars and in the First World War. He took part in all of the wars that Serbia waged from 1876 to 1917.

Background

  • Radomir Putnik was born in 1847 in the Serbian town of Kragujevac, southeast of Belgrade.

  • Education

    • Putnik's father, Dimitrije, was a teacher in Kragujevac, and Radomir completed his basic schooling there. He attended the Artillery School (the precursor to what would eventually become the Military Academy) in Belgrade, where he graduated in 1863, placing eighth in his class.

    Career

    • Trained as an artillery officer, he fought with distinction in his country's campaigns against Turkey in 1876-1878. A period of study in Russia followed, and in 1884 Putnik joined the Serbian General Staff. After serving in the 1885 war between Serbia and Bulgaria, Putnik was promoted colonel in 1889; the following year he began a term as the army's deputy chief of staff. Meanwhile, he taught tactics at the Belgrade military academy. Putnik's rapid ascent came to a sudden halt in 1895, when his political ties to the Radical party led to his dismissal from active duty. He remained pensioned and without a command for eight years.

      The military revolt of 1903 and the ascent of Peter Karadjordjevic to the Serbian throne marked a turning point in Putnik's fortunes. He was recalled to service, promoted general, and made chief of staff. Between 1904 and the outbreak of the Great War, Putnik also served three terms as minister of war, leading the way to an improved army by introducing modem rifles and heavy artillery, reorganizing military training, and drawing up careful plans for a future conflict with Turkey. Politics at times intruded: in 1908, Prime Minister Pasic removed Putnik from the post of war minister, a sop to Austrophile circles hostile to I^utnik's policy of relying on French suppliers for up-to-date artillery pieces.

      As army chief of staff, Putnik displayed the results of his reforms in the Balkan Wars of 1912/1913. His forces defeated the Turks at Kumanovo and Monastir in the First Balkan War, and the victorious general received the signal honor of promotion to field marshal (voivode). In June 1913, Putnik wisely held his army in readiness for an attack by Serbia's erstwhile ally, Bulgaria; when the assault came and set off the brief Second Balkan War, Putnik quickly turned the tide in Serbia's favor.

      In July 1914 Putnik, in failing health, was at the Austrian health resort of Bad Gleichenberg. Emperor Francis Joseph intervened personally to allow the Serbian hero to return home. Austrian armies paid dearly for this act of generosity. As chief of staff Crown Prince Alexander was the nominal head of the army Putnik smashed two Austrian attempts to invade Serbia in 1914, the first coming in mid-August from the north and northwest. As the enemy crossed the Drina and Save rivers, Putnik wheeled his reserves westward to counterattack. Critics have questioned the voivode's initial strategy of screening the length of the Austrian frontier; but once the attack came, Putnik's mobile infantry easily outdistanced the enemy in covering rough mountain terrain and massing for a successful counterblow. In September Putnik sent his own forces northward into Bosnia to threaten Sarajevo and keep the Austrians nervous.

      When General Potiorek launched a second advance in early November over the same ground, Putnik retreated for a full month. Only on December 3, after the Austrians had diverted part of their army in a rash attempt to occupy Belgrade, did Putnik strike: four Serbian field armies broke the Austrian line, throwing Potiorek into headlong retreat.

      Putnik and his army were put to the ultimate test in 1915. Bulgaria joined the Central Powers, and on September 22 the government in Sofia began to mobilize against Serbia. Meanwhile, an Austro-German force under Field Marshal von Mackensen prepared to strike directly at Belgrade. Allied objections barred Serbia's military leaders from a preemptive attack on the Bulgarians, and Putnik was forced to stretch his small army to the limit to cover his eastern flank.

      Mackensen struck on October 6, joined by the Bulgarians five days later. Putnik met the danger with a series of skilled retreats, frustrating the German leader's efforts to force a battle of annihilation; the voivode hoped Allied aid might arrive through Salonika before the Bulgarians and Mackensen linked up. Meanwhile, Putnik found himself restraining offensive-minded subordinates like General Misic, the commander of the First Army.

      By mid-November the situation was nearly beyond repair. Serbian counterblows had failed, and the Bulgarians clung to Skopje and the road to Salonika. On November 25 the aged field marshal, too ill to walk, ordered a final retreat over the Albanian mountains to the Adriatic. Putnik had to be carried in a sedan chair; together with his escort, he reached Scutari on December 7. The Serbian High Command had proved unable to coordinate all of the retreating units, but the initiative of local commanders brought most of the army's columns to safety in accordance with Putnik's plan.

      Putnik's health was shattered. He was evacuated immediately and died in Nice on May 17, 1917. Under his fiery subordinate, Misic, the army went on to play a crucial role in the victorious offensive northward from Macedonia in the autumn of 1918. In a generally lackluster field of Balkan military talent, Putnik was a shining star. In the words of Cyril Falls, Putnik, though ill and often confined in a carefully heated headquarters chamber, was "more formidable than many a mediocrity in the pink of condition dutifully visiting his troops in all weathers."

    Personality

    Quotes from others about the person

    Contemporaries describe Putnik as an ascetic, introverted man, and a heavy smoker; however, he also had decided views on professional issues. He proved himself on the battlefield during Serbia's wars against the Ottomans fought between 1876 and 1877.

    Connections

    • In 1879, he married Ljubica Bojović, the sister of Radivoje Bojović (sr), who later became Minister of Military Affairs and daughter of Colonel Todor Bojević and Jelena Tadić, with whom he had seven children (three daughters and four sons).
    • spouse: Ljubica Bojović
    Radomir Putnik
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    Born January 24, 1847
    Died May 17, 1917
    (aged 70)
    Nationality
    Ethnicity:
    • 1863
      Artillery School
      Belgrade, Serbia
    • January 26, 1904 - May 16, 1905
      Minister of War
      Serbia
    • April 17, 1906 - March 30, 1908
      Minister of War
      Serbia
    • September 19, 1912 - October 8, 1912
      Chief of the Serbian General Staff
      Serbia
    • October 8, 1912 - December 8, 1915
      Chief of Staff of the Supreme Command of the Serbian Army
      Serbia

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