Outbreak of the war
End of the war

‘The Allies’ Successes’

What the Habsburg Army failed to achieve alone, it managed with help of the Allies from autumn 1915: the Central Powers gained substantial territory, forcing the Serbian army to retreat.

Under the command of General August von Mackensen, the Austro-Hungarian and German military units began an offensive against Serbia on October 6, 1915. A few days later, after an alliance treaty with Berlin, Bulgaria declared war on their beleaguered neighbours.

Meanwhile, the French and the British attempted in vain to relieve their Serbian allies. The latter, plagued moreover by epidemics and insufficient supplies, had been unable to withstand the foes’ superior numbers and more advanced weapons. The enemy invaders marched into Belgrade on October 9 and Niš on November 5.

Bad weather conditions slowed down the German and Austrian advance, saving, however, the Serbian Army from encirclement. They retreated to Durazzo and San Giovanna di Medusa on the Adriatic Sea. From there, supported by the Entente allies, they reached the island of Corfu where they could regenerate and reform.

Meanwhile, the Central Powers were able to record further successes. The capitulation of Montenegro on January 23, 1916 and the retreat of the Italians, now fighting on the side of the Entente, opened up favourable conditions for the Germans and Austrians to conduct further military operations, especially since the war fronts only stabilised in North Albania and along the Bulgarian-Greek border. This afforded Berlin and Vienna direct access to Istanbul, useful in particular as a supply line for troops stationed in the Dardanelles.


Angelow, Jürgen/Gahlen, Gundula (Hrsg.): Der Erste Weltkrieg auf dem Balkan. Perspektiven der Forschung, Berlin 2011

Fryer, Charles E.J.: The Destruction of Serbia in 1915, New York 1997

Gumz, Jonathan E.: The Resurrection and Collapse of Empire in Habsburg Serbia, 1914–1918, Cambridge 2009

Reichl-Ham, Claudia (Red.): Der unbekannte Verbündete – Bulgarien im Ersten Weltkrieg, Wien 2009

Contents related to this chapter


  • Aspect

    Power blocks

    At the start of the war France, Britain and Russia formed the Triple Entente, extending the existing Entente Cordiale between Britain and France. The aim was to curb the ambitions of the German Empire under Wilhelm II to become a major power. Italy joined the war in 1915 on the side of the Entente. On the other side were the Central Powers consisting of the German Empire, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire. In 1917 the USA entered the war on the side of the Entente, marking a decisive turning point that was to lead to the military collapse of the Central Powers.


  • Development

    Austria-Hungary and Germany: complicated relations

    Vienna and Berlin became closely associated following the Dual Alliance of 1879, although the Habsburg Monarchy was the junior partner. Its dependence in terms of foreign policy became all the more clear after the political unification of Germany in 1871 made it the dominant power in Central Europe. In domestic policy as well, dependence on the Hohenzollern empire made the German element predominant in the multi-ethnic state. The German-speaking populations were split in their identification with Austria and Germany.