I ordered James Lyon's 2015 book on the heretofore little covered 1914 Serbian campaign to help provide historical context to the boardgame. Did Lyon's book provide the historical context I sought towards enhancing my understanding of the situation and campaign? Did reading Lyon increase my anticipation of cracking open the game? Yes, on both counts ! James weaves a well-told story providing background leading up to the campaign, its prosecution, and eventual outcome.
From the back page of the book, a summary of the work is provided hinting to the importance of the campaign in the grand scheme of WWI.
Winner of the 2015 Norman B. Tomlinson, Jr. Book Prize
Serbia and the Balkan Front, 1914 is the first history of the Great War to address in-depth the crucial events of 1914 as they played out on the Balkan Front. James Lyon demonstrates how blame for the war's outbreak can be placed squarely on Austria-Hungary's expansionist plans and internal political tensions, Serbian nationalism, South Slav aspirations, the unresolved Eastern Question, and a political assassination sponsored by renegade elements within Serbia's security services. In doing so, he portrays the background and events of the Sarajevo Assassination and the subsequent military campaigns and diplomacy on the Balkan Front during 1914.
The book details the first battle of the First World War, the first Allied victory and the massive military humiliations Austria-Hungary suffered at the hands of tiny Serbia, while discussing the oversized strategic role Serbia played for the Allies during 1914. Lyon challenges existing historiography that contends the Habsburg Army was ill-prepared for war and shows that the Dual Monarchy was in fact superior in manpower and technology to the Serbian Army, thus laying blame on Austria-Hungary's military leadership rather than on its state of readiness.
Based on archival sources from Belgrade, Sarajevo and Vienna and using never-before-seen material to discuss secret negotiations between Turkey and Belgrade to carve up Albania, Serbia's desertion epidemic, its near-surrender to Austria-Hungary in November 1914, and how Serbia became the first belligerent to openly proclaim its war aims, Serbia and the Balkan Front, 1914 enriches our understanding of the outbreak of the war and Serbia's role in modern Europe. It is of great importance to students and scholars of the history of the First World War as well as military, diplomatic and modern European history.What I did not realize before reading Lyon was just how important this campaign was for providing the Triple Entente its first victories of the war and for drawing needed Austrian resources away from the Eastern Front.
Lyon begins by laying the historical foundation for the cause of the conflict's eruption in the Balkans in 1914. In many respects, 1914 was a continuation of previous Balkan Wars as prior conflicts had not released existing pressures in the region. From the assassinations of Franz Ferdinand and Sophie in Sarajevo in 1914 through the conclusion of the Balkan 1914 campaign, Lyon recounts important events during the early stages of WWI.
Lyon smoothly moves from the strategic to the operational to the tactical level of the Serbian conflict providing details on the thinking and decision making at all levels of command. Fascinating study of the motivating factors from both sides of the conflict.
This is really a story of David (Serbia) vs Goliath (the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary) and how Serbia overcame seemingly insurmountable odds to defeat the powerful Dual Monarchy. Time and time again, the under supplied Serbian Army came back from near defeat against unfavorable odds to stop the aggressions of the mighty A-H Empire. Without proper food, clothing, weapons, and ammunition, the Serbian Armies struck back to thwart Austrian attacks time after time.
How could this result happen? Lyon presents a number of arguments for Austria-Hungary's defeat. Poor strategic planning coupled with poor A-H generalship allowed the Serbs to hang on and then turn the tables on the Dual Monarchy. On a tactical level, the Dual Monarchy failed as well. Its artillery advantage was rarely fully employed and infantry attacks repeatedly went in without proper artillery support. Artillery was seldom concerted and A-H infantry often used massed formations on the attack. In an age of machine guns, this tactic was a recipe for mass casualties for little gain. Finally, when the Dual Monarchy was successful on the battlefield and had wrong-footed the Serbian forces, the Dual Monarchy was slow to pursue.
To counter these Dual Monarchy shortcomings, the Serbs relied on battle tested commanders and troops motivated by the cause to defend their homelands. Throughout the campaign the Serbs exhibited terrific initiative and staying power that the Dual Monarchy troops could not match. While the Serbian Army might suffer demoralization due to losses or lack of supplies, as soon as supplies began to flow to the front line troops, over to the offensive they went. Hardy souls, no doubt.
Not being that familiar with Balkan geography, I found myself flipping back to find the few maps included to pinpoint the villages, towns, and geographic features described in the text. More maps would have aided my understanding and enjoyment of the well-written battle accounts. Overall, I highly recommend Lyon's work on this often overlooked start to the First World War conflict.