The Rifles of Yugoslavia and Serbia
Yugoslavia means "land of the southern Slavs". Before World War II it was spelled Jugoslavia in English publications. The "J" in Serbo-Croat is pronounced as "Y" in English. Yugoslavia from its founding in 1918 until 1929 was officially called "Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats & Slovenes".
The Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, along with the Macedonians, Montenegrins and the Bosnian Moslems, are the main peoples of Yugoslavia with the Serbs being the largest in number. The Montenegrins are in fact ethnic Serbs, often called "mountain Serbs". The Bosnian Moslems are Serbs or Croats who were forcibly converted to Islam by the Ottoman Turks centuries ago. Ethnic Hungarians; Germans, many from the German region of Swabia; Albanians; Vlachs, (ethnic Rumanians) as well as Gypsies and Jews formed significant minority ethnic groups within the country.
The native Yugoslav languages are all Slavic in their derivation, the chief dialect being Serbo-Croat. The only significant difference between the two is that the Serbs traditionally use the Russian style Cyrillic alphabet, while the Croats employ the standard Latin script. The other two main Yugoslav dialects are Slovene and Macedon, both differing significantly from Serbo-Croat. As recent historical events show, there are many long running, deep seated conflicts among the peoples of the former Yugoslavia. Ones that were in many cases, deliberately fueled by foreigners and that go back many centuries. A brief overview of the history of this area of the Balkans will place in context the subject of this article.
Human habitation of the Balkans can be traced back nearly 10,000 years. The Danube River Valley and those of its many tributaries provided the basis for a rudimentary regional agricultural civilization leading to the formation of a number of small cities. The archaeological remains of one of these ancient communities, Lepenski Vir, were discovered on the southern bank of the Danube southeast of Belgrade in 1965.
Over time, larger scale agriculture, animal husbandry, regional trade, rudimentary industry, iron and copper mining and, smelting developed causing various tribal groups from the north and east to migrate into the area. One of these tribes was the Illyrian, who settled mainly in the northwestern part of the Balkan Peninsula. The Illyrian farmed as well as mined and smelted metals and traded with distant areas such as Greece in the period about 3000 BC.
The Romans began expanding into the area toward the latter part of the 3rd Century BC, but more than 200 years of bitter struggle were required to completely subjugate the restive native peoples. In 9 AD, the area formally became the Roman province of Illyricum, although because of the intense civil war and constant tribal infighting, it was never completely garrisoned by Roman troops as was customary with other conquered lands. In 395 AD, Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor, and who made Christianity the new official religion of the realm, divided the large increasingly troubled and difficult to rule Empire into Eastern and Western portions.
Both the Western Empire and the Eastern Empire (Byzantium) had its own ruler, located in Rome and Constantinople (called Istanbul since 1930) respectively. Constantine's splitting of the Christian Roman Empire into East and West set in motion a long series of important events which have had a profound influence on European history.
By the late 5th Century AD the Western Empire had collapsed and Byzantium had been weakened to the point thateffective control of the Balkans was abdicated. Warlike tribes of Slavs moving from the northeast into the region drove out many of the remaining descendants of the Illyrian. The Slavic newcomers were, in turn, briefly ruled by a tribe of nomadic raiders, the Avars, believed by some to be descendants of the Scythians, a barbaric tribe from the far eastern Russian steppes, who participated in numerous attacks on Constantinople. In 625 AD, a resurgent Byzantium allied itself with two largest Slavic tribes already in the Balkans, the Serbs and Croats, and gradually pushed the Avars eastward and completely out of the old Roman Illyria.
Around 850 AD, the first Serbian nation under Tsar Vlastimir was formed as a Byzantine province ruled by Emperor Michael III. Two brothers, Sts. Cyril and Methodius, were sent by the Emperor in Constantinople to Christianize the Serbs and other Slavs. To preach and to teach in the native Slavonic tongue, Cyril developed a script, derived from the ancient Greek, which eventually became what is now known as Cyrillic. He based his modified Greek script on the phonics of an ancient dialect spoken by the Slavic tribes in Macedonia, a dialect known today by Slavic Orthodox Christians as "Old Church Slavonic."
Present day Slovenia and Croatia in the western Balkans eventually gravitated to Rome, adopted the Latin alphabet and became Western Christians. Later many Slovenes became Protestants during the Reformation, but were forced back into Catholicism by the Croats. The Serbs and Macedons in the eastern Balkans, as well as the more distant Bulgarians and Russians, used the Cyrillic script and became Eastern Christians, along with the Ukrainians, Romanians and Greeks, under the tutelage of Constantinople. This action has had a permanent effect on the culture and history of the peoples in these areas. Further accentuating this division, in 1054, ongoing bitter doctrinal differences caused a wide and still unrepaired schism between the eastern and western Christian churches. As a result of this schism, the Western church is the Roman Catholic (meaning "universal") Church and the Eastern Church is the Eastern Orthodox (meaning "original") Church.
Orthodox Christian Serbia was a strong independent state by the 11th century, as was its Slav neighbor, Croatia. In 1102, Hungary absorbed Catholic Croatia, which it would rule for more than 800 years in conjunction with Austria. Serbia, often called "Servia" in many older publications, was unified and ruled by the Serb Nemanjich dynasty of emperors begun by Tsar Stefan Nemanja in 1159 and reached its peak size, cultural influence and power during the 24-year reign of Tsar Stefan Dushan (1331-55), when it ruled an area from northern Greece northward to the Danube and into modern day Hungary. During this time a highly developed Serbian literary, political, musical and artistic culture, which helped preserve and enrich traditional Greek learning, was defined and unified by the Serb Orthodox Church. The church was founded by Stefan Nemanja's younger brother, St. Sava the patron saint of Serbia) in 1219.
After Tsar Dushan's death in 1355, the Serbian empire gradually declined with land and power being divided, King Lear-like, between two inept successors, Urosh and Vukasin. The Serb Empire, led by the one of the last rulers of the Nemanja dynasty, Tsar Lazar and Crown Prince Milos Obilich, was badly defeated by the much larger and more mobile forces of the Ottoman Sultan Murad I at the bloody and hard-fought Battle of Kosovo. Translated roughly as "Plain of Blackbirds" in Vidovdan (St. Vitus' Day) June 28, 1389. This battle, which claimed the lives of Lazar, Milos Obilich and Murad, was the Waterloo of the old Serb empire. Since that time, the Kosovo region known as "Old Serbia", that fateful battle and the many events surrounding it have a deep cultural and spiritual meaning to all Serbs, even today.
In 1453, the Ottomans captured Constantinople and destroyed the remnants of Byzantium.Six years later, they swallowed the remnants of Serbia and the rest of the Balkans, occupying the region for the next 400 years. As part of the Ottoman occupation, the Serbs, who the Turks called "giaours" (subhuman dogs), were disarmed and the Serb Orthodox Church outlawed. They bitterly refused to submit to Turkish rule and convert to Islam.Conversion was required for employment and school attendance. They resisted the heavy property and poll taxes imposed upon them and most importantly, fought bitterly against the notorious annual Ottoman "blood tax" ("devshirme" in Turkish) in which young Serb children each spring were forcibly taken from their parents. The children were converted to Islam and sent to Turkey, never to be seen again. Little more than slaves, Serb boys were sent into lifelong service in the Ottoman military (Janissaries) while the girls were forced into various sultans' harems.
In response to these and other cruelties and abominations, tens of thousands of Serbs fled Serbia proper over the next 300 years. Large numbers of them soon settled in the Lika, Slavonija and Krajina areas of Austrian and Hungarian ruled south-central Croatia, where most of the men over the years served in the Austro-Hungarian army as border guards on the Austrian/Ottoman frontier. They were rewarded with plots of farmland in the region upon their discharges.
The Ottoman Turks had reached the outskirts of Vienna in 1683, and their imperial high water mark, before beingdefeated by Austrian troops (many of whom were ethnic Serb conscripts) led by a Polish field marshal, JanSobieski. After a long siege and being gradually driven back, Karadjordje ( Black George), a Serb who had served with the Austrian army battling the Turks in 1788 and who had been deeply inspired by the success of the French aided American Revolution against the British, led a large and violent Russian supported 1804 insurrection against the Sultan in the area around Belgrade. However, Black George's Serb insurgents were forced to flee to the northern (Hungarian) side of the Danube in 1813 when Russian support was withdrawn.
Turkish troops then carried out bloody reprisals. This led to renewed bitter revolt over the next two years. Ottoman Turkey, under increasing economic and military pressure from a rapidly industrializing Western Europe, was soon forced to restore important rights to the Serbs beginning in 1815. The Serbs' rights to keep and bear arms, freedom of assembly, and local home rule, abolished in the mid-1400s, were gradually reinstated. By 1830, the Ottomans granted full political autonomy to Serbia within the Empire and the ban on the Serbian Orthodox Church was lifted. In 1850, neighboring Montenegro, a small mountainous nation largely populated by Orthodox ethnic Serbs, became independent of the Ottoman Empire and came under the rule of a series of Orthodox Christian bishoprics.
Milosh Obrenovich, a wealthy, self-made Serb merchant who had managed to retain his Orthodox Christian faith while gaining a great deal of influence with Ottoman authorities, had been given the title of prince and granted limited powers by the Turks in 1817 to rule and defend the newly autonomous Serb nation. The country relied on an armed peasant militia that was transformed into a standing army, the Polje Vojska (Field Army), in the 1830s and led by Russian trained officers. In 1839, the increasingly anti-Russian Prince Milosh was dethroned and his son, Michael II, acceded to power. At that time a larger Field Army of 4000 men and 63 officers, outfitted by the Serb government, was authorized. It was tasked with guarding the borders and maintaining internal order. The only uniform was a government issued cap and percussion muzzle loading rifles were the chief long arm. The Serb National Assembly voted Michael II out of power in 1843 and crowned Alexander I Karadjordjevich (son of Black George) prince.
In 1853, the Vojna Tehnicka Zavod (Military Technical Institute) was established at Kragujevac in central Serbia. Initially established to cast and test cannons, it would soon become Serbia''s version of the USA''s Springfield Armory. In 1858 Prince Alexander was removed from the throne by a vote of the Serb National Assembly who also returned Milosh I to power, but two years later Milosh died and was succeeded by his son, Michael III. Michael''s long-term goal was to unite all the Balkan South Slavic peoples in an effort to drive the Ottomans back to Constantinople, independent of any assistance of the Great Powers of Europe. Each of these powers had their own political agendas that were not necessarily favorable to the peoples of the region.
As part of his strategy, Prince Michael established the Narodna Vojska (People's Army) in 1861 and the War Ministry a year later. The People's Army, a sort of active reserve that supported the Field Army, established in the mid-1830s was composed of 17 regiments (pukove) each commanded by a colonel (pukovnik.). A regiment was stationed in each of then-17 Serb ""okruge"" (provinces). Provinces were subdivided into ""srez"" (counties) that provided a battalion to each regiment. The smallest administrative area was called an ""opstina"" (township). Each township, depending on population size, was required to muster one or more companies (rote). Each fighting man was responsible for providing his own food, shoes and clothing as well as a rifle, 60 rounds of ammo and a bayonet. Many Serb soldiers used sporting pattern rifles with no available bayonet, so a short sword with curving blade could be substituted.
All able-bodied males from 20 to 50 years of age were liable for service in the People''s Army. The People''s Army was divided into two groups, the First Levy (Prvi Ban) consisting of 50,000 troops at the time and included those men ages 20-35. The Second Levy (Dvaje Ban) of men 36-50 were the reserves used to staff forts and garrisons, guard roads and bridges, act as transport personnel and support the First Levy. Only the regulars were paid.
Prince Michael had realized as early as 1863 that Serbia's motley collection of small arms types, numbers, quality, serviceability and ammunition compatibility were chaotic and woefully inadequate. He knew that the average peasant could not afford to buy an adequate rifle despite the legal requirement that he do so. In 1863 the War Ministry had in stock only 7,000 percussion muzzle loading rifles. The Russians promised delivery of 70,000 obsolete percussion muskets and only 31,000 were delivered after 1865. At that time, the Military Technical Institute began converting these rifles to breech loaders. These "new" rifles, based on an English design, were called the M1867 and nicknamed "Grnovace". Maximum monthly M1867 production was 5000 weapons.
By 1870 it became clear that expelling the Turks via a mass armed uprising of the Balkan peoples was no longer feasible. In response, Prince Milan IV, who had succeeded to the Serb throne after his father Michael III''s death in 1868, began to secure foreign political and economic support of some of the European Powers to help gain Balkan independence from the Turks. Up to this point in its 19th century history, the newly autonomous, but not yet independent, Serbs had used mainly rifles of the type issued in the Ottoman armed forces and second hand purchases smuggled in from ports on the Adriatic Sea. Types, calibers and serviceability varied widely. Many Serbs could not afford to buy rifles of any kind while others still had venerable flintlock muskets (duplonke) and pistols (kubare).
The M1867 conversion was of poor quality, unreliable, and detested by those forced to use it in combat. About 1870 some 55,000 Peabody dropping or pivoting block breech loading rifles were imported from a European source, possibly France, and production machinery was acquired. Foreign engineers and technicians, totaling 1500, arrived at the Military Technical Institute to oversee production of this design. A monthly production rate of 500 rifles was achieved and the final production run is unknown. These new Peabody rifles were used to arm the People''sArmy First Levy and were similar to the model built by the Providence Tool Company, Providence R.I., for Rumania a few years earlier. It was known as the M1870 "Srpski Pushke" (Serb Rifle) caliber 11.43 mm. It is unknown if this cartridge was the same as the Rumanian cartridge. By 1875, the People''s Army First Levy numbered between 75,000 and 90,000 men, the Second Levy about 50,000 men.
In July 1876, Serbia and Montenegro declared war on Turkey in reaction to the widespread mistreatment of Orthodox Christian Serbs in neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina by the local Turkish nobility. Only 60,000 troops organized into six divisions were able to take to the field. Most were armed with the M1870 Peabody, but many had been issued the unpopular M1867, whose unreliability was now legendary and was believed to be a major factor in Serb battlefield defeats. Worse, an Ottoman vassal, the Khedive of Egypt, had provided troops and 40,000 British made .450 (11.43mm) Martini-Henry Mark 1 breech loading rifles to the Sultan for the war in the Balkans.
This Peabody derivative proved superior to the existing Serb M1867 conversion rifles, although most of the Sultan's troops were outfitted with the .577 caliber (14.66mm) Snider-Enfield breechloader conversion rifle, also of British origin. The Turks were so impressed with this rifle that they sought to purchase a large quantity from the British who, as it turned out, were unable to supply them in the quantity and time frame required. The Sultan then turned to Providence Tool Co. in the USA and ordered 600,000 of these rifles. Financial problems plagued the Ottomans and delayed delivery of the rifles, the shipment not completed until 1882. The Turks received sufficient numbers for their 1877 war with Russia.
Aided by the Bulgarians and Serbs, the Russians, despite losing the Battle of Plevna to a large Turkish force,armed with US Martini-Henry breech loading single shot and Winchester Model 1866 and 1873 .44-40 repeating rifles, finally defeated the Turks and forced them to accept the Treaty of San Stefano. The despondent Sultan did not live to see this as he had killed himself with a pair of scissors.
The major powers of Europe decided that the San Stefano settlement was unacceptable for geopolitical reasons, and a revised agreement, the Treaty of Berlin, was devised a year later. As a result of this revised agreement, Serbia assumed complete independence as a kingdom, Turkey lost a large portion of its Balkan territory and an autonomous Bulgaria was formed within the Ottoman Empire. Austria got control of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Serbia and Montenegro received additional territory. The Sanjak, a mostly Moslem area between Montenegro and Serbia was put under Austrian protection. This event caused a great Serb resentment of Austria, one that would help cause World War I.
It was now time for the newly independent Kingdom of Serbia to standardize on a modern military rifle. Wilhelm Mauser from Oberndorf, Germany, arrived in Belgrade, capital of Serbia, in July 1879. He brought samples of his Model 1871 11mm single-shot bolt-action breech loading black powder rifle adopted by many of the states of the newly unified German Empire. He was a good salesman with a first rate, reasonably priced product. To close the deal he accepted a string of design changes proposed by a Serb army ordnance officer, Major Koka Milovanovic (pronounced mee-lo-VAHN-ovitch.)
A torch light parade was held in Belgrade celebrating closure of the deal. Mauser received an order on 14 February 1881 for 120,000 Model 1878/80 Mauser Milovanovich rifles. The delay between Mauser's initial sales pitch and the Serb government order was due to testing of sample rifles, developing and testing modifications, and designing and testing the new cartridge. This latest ""Serb Rifle"" was also known as the "Mauser Koka" or "Mauser Milovanovic," the ""M1878/80C" and the"M80C"". The "C" is Cyrillic for "S" which stands for Serbian. This use of the Cyrillic "S" in model designations, along with its use on all markings on later and now extremely rare Serb Mauser models manufactured in Germany and Austria, would become standard for most Serb Mausers.
Among the modifications the Serbs made to the basic Model 1871 was the slightly smaller caliber, 10.15mm as opposed to the German 11mm a tapered barrel breech to muzzle, grooves in rifling, a better manual safety, improved extractor and ejector. The most noticeable feature is the raised receiver tang, to guide the cocking piece stud as the bolt is drawn rearward, to prevent the bolt head from rotating excessively. The next major purchase was for 4,000 10.15mm Mauser Milovanovic Model1884 repeating carbine, known popularly as the "M84C". This M84C used the existing 78/80 type turn bolt action and was a short barreled carbine, stocked to the muzzle Mannlicher style, with shorter distance rear sight, a pointed pistol grip tip, a tubular magazine and turned down bolt handle.
Despite these notable technical advances, Serbia remained chronically short of weapons and funds and was always surrounded by potential enemies. It looked to the fellow Orthodox Christian and Slavic Russians for assistance, but was wary of becoming dependent on them. Between 1878-1914, the Serb government tried to foster good diplomatic and trade relations with Tsarist Russia as well as with Imperial Germany and the detested Austria- Hungary, but this policy was difficult to maintain and was unpopular with many Serbs.
With the advent of Frenchman Paul Vielle's revolutionary smokeless powder in 1886 and his country's adoption of the Lebel M1886 8mm bolt-action magazine rifle shortly afterward, Serbia was even further degraded in relative military potential. In response, the Serbs field tested the German Model 1888 "Commission" Rifle in 7.92x57mm and the Model 1890 Steyr Mannlicher in 8x50R with its straight pull bolt action, but could not get adequate financing to purchase these new rifles.
The Serbs were forced to settle for surplus or outdated weapons wherever they could find them. In 1895 Russia supplied an estimated 60,000 obsolete 10.67mm Berdan Model 1870 and Berdan II single shot bolt action black powder rifles to both Serbia and Montenegro. The independent Kingdom of Montenegro, which had adopted a similar rifle, the 10.66mm Austrian Steyr Werndl Model 1873, received half of the Berdans, but included were some of the revised M70/78g rifles with longer range sights. It appears further deliveries of these surplus Berdans were made after the initial 1895 shipment.
Smokeless powder and small bore repeating rifles were the cutting edge in small arms technology at the time, and by the late 1890s, given Serbia's size, geographic position and political stance, a pressing necessity. Several manufacturers and designs were considered. When financing became available, the German Mauser Model 1895, already in production for Chile, was selected along with the 7x57mm rimless cartridge. The Serbs adopted this type, labeling it the Model 1899 or "M99C".
The M99C was made in Berlin by Deutsche Waffen und Munitions Fabriken. DWM was formed by the banking firm of Ludwig Loewe which owned Waffenfabrik Mauser, an ammunition company and the Ludwig Loewe rifle and machine tool works.This reorganization allowed Waffenfabrik Mauser to continue operating as an autonomous corporate subsidiary, but merged the other assests into a single firm. After late 1896 all rifles made at the Loewe plant in Berlin were marked on the left receiver wall with Deutsche Waffen und Munitions Fabriken, and the Loewe name was no longer used. Only long rifles were purchased, but deliveries were insufficent to satisfy Serb ordnance department requirements as insufficient funds kept Serbia from buying modern rifles fast enough, so M99C series production and deliveries were phased in over a period of years, ending in 1906.
In the wake of the Spanish-American War of 1898, Francis Bannerman a prominent New York City war surplus dealer, had purchased all the 7x57mm Spanish Model 1893 Mauser rifles and Model 1895 carbines captured by U.S.forces from Spanish troops in Cuba and the Philippines. During the summer of 1902, as work was progressing to produce the new .30 caliber U.S. Rifle Model 1903, commonly called the "Springfield" after its place of development, Springfield Armory in Springfield, Mass. Bannerman contracted with that armory to recondition the captured Spanish weapons he had purchased at an auction.
In the late spring of 1903, Bannerman took a sample rifle and carbine with him to Europe. He planned to go to Belgrade to sell the whole lot of them to Serbia. These Spanish rifles were quite similar to the M99C, the chief difference being the bolt face design which would not allow the bolts to interchange with existing Serb Mauser bolts. Despite this shortcoming, it would have still seemed to be an excellent deal for both parties, but, as Balkan history has repeatedly demonstrated, other events intervened.
On the evening of May 29, 1903, the king of Serbia, Alexander Obrenovich, whose family had ruled Serbia for nearly 70 years and was considered by many Serbs at the time to be a pretender to the Serb throne as well as being too pro-German, was brutally killed in Belgrade by a cadre of 28 junior army officers along with his wife, Queen Draga, a widow and a commoner. These officers were incensed with the king's erratic foreign policy that had diplomatically isolated Serbia, and were angry about his recent suspension of Parliament and the reformist 1901 Constitution. The officers had bombed the palace with dynamite, trapped the royal couple behind some drapes, shot them 48 times, hacked the corpses to pieces with their swords and flung the bloody remains from a balcony and into the street. King Peter I of the Karadjordjevich line, the grandson of Black George, was restored to power.
When Bannerman arrived in the Serb capital by train from Germany, the political situation was so unstable that no deal could be made and he left for home to sell off the rifles elsewhere. The next group of Serb Mauser rifles, the Model 99/07C, also known as "M99/07C" and "M07C", was purchased from the Steyr firm in Austria. These were based upon the small ring M99C, but the chambered cartridge's base was fully supported by a ring of steel formed by a section of shallow flange machined on the barrel breech face mating with a complimentary flange on the recessed bolt face as the bolt was turned down and locked. This feature may not be present on the earliest delivered rifles. The design was modified for some reason, or perhaps the improved breeching was thought to rate a new designation and a new Model 99/08C was adopted. The 07C and the 99/08C both were long rifles.
A new carbine, the M08C, was also purchased from Steyr. It had a pointed Mannlicher-style pistol grip stock, a 17.7" (45cm) barrel and a Mauser 1895-type adjustable rear tangent sight calibrated from 300 to 1500 meters. It was issued to police in the central Serb city of Nis (pronounced Neesh). Markings on all these Mausers are in Serb Cyrillic and they bear the Serbian royal crest and the words "Model 1908" in Cyrillic on the receiver ring.
During this period, a cost reduction measure was adopted to convert old M1878/80C black powder rifles to five shot single column box magazine feed using the standard smokeless powder 7x57mm cartridge, a scheme which turned out to be impractical and dangerous. The first model, the M80/06C, was proven unsuitable and a strengthened model was developed and called the M80/7C or M80/07C. The M80/7C featured an adapter fitted to the receiver to provide a bearing point for an additional locking lug on the bolt guide rib and charger clip guides for the standard Mauser M99C stripper clip are fitted to the receiver bridge. To begin production of this conversion, 50,000 new 7x57mm barrels were ordered from Steyr in 1907.
Meanwhile, early in 1908, Serbia learned the British and Russian governments were conspiring to establish an independent Macedonia. Macedona is a mountainous area of the Balkans south of Serbia and bordering on Greece, which was still under Ottoman control. Ethnic Serbs, Bulgarians, Turks, Albanians, Greeks, Jews, Vlachs and other minorities also called Macedonia their home. The Serb, Bulgarian and Greek governments all had laid claim to some or all of the area.
A progressively weakening Turkey became popularly known as the "Sick Man of Europe." The once powerful Ottoman Empire was dying fast and many expected a fight over the corpse. When it became known in Constantinople that Macedonia was about to be lost, a group of dissident junior army officers deposed the Sultan, Abdul Hamid II, and adopted a new constitution. Calling themselves the "Young Turks," these young officers implemented reforms in an attempt to modernized and strengthen the empire and army. German advisers were brought in to reorganize and upgrade the Turkish military along Prussian lines.
In the wake of events in Turkey, Austria Hungary, with the tacit consent of Russia, quickly annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina, formally incorporating what they had received via the Treaty of Berlin 30 years before. Belgrade threatened to declare war on Vienna, but relented when it learned the Russians had already agreed not to contest Austria's action.
Serb fears of an invasion were escalated in September when Bulgaria declared its formal independence from the Ottoman Empire. Belgrade believed this act might inspire Sofia to invade and occupy Macedonia, an action that would fully surround Serbia with potentially hostile enemies. In response to Belgrade''s bitter opposition to Vienna''s Bosnian annexation, Austria suspended delivery to Serbia of the final batch of 15,000 of the original 50,000 7x57mm Steyr rifle barrels ordered the year before.
In reaction to this series of distressing events, on October 8, 1908, a group of Serb generals, diplomats, businessmen and legislators met in Belgrade and formed a clandestine nationalist group called "People's Defense," its goal being to bring as many Balkan regions populated by ethnic Serbs into a "Greater Serbia." The Serbs determined to take over what they considered "Serb Macedonia." By 1909, in part due to the success of People's Defense propaganda and espionage efforts, the Turks were gradually losing what little remained of their once huge Balkan Empire.
The former subject peoples of the mostly Orthodox Christian areas of Greece, Serbia, Montenegro and Bulgaria had by then formed independent or autonomous nations. Each nation contained minorities of neighboring peoples, and all claimed other lands housing people of their own ethnicity and these claims often conflicted. One thing they all agreed upon was that the rotting Ottoman Empire had to be pushed out of Europe once and for all so that each Balkan nation''s territorial claims could be settled and their respective security increased.
War was coming fast. In the wake of these increasing political tensions, Serbia realized it needed even more modern rifles and Steyr completed deliveries for the 7x57mm Mauser M99/08C in 1910. A year before, 10,000 M80/7C conversions had been completed with the Steyr 7x57mm caliber barrels first ordered in 1907. Once financing could be arranged, the Serb government ordered an improved Model 98 with the Mauser Co. factory in Oberndorf, Germany, the Model 1910 (M10C) in 7x57mm. Deliveries of this new "Serb Rifle" began in 1911.
The M10C looked at first glance like the M99C long rifle, but with a tangent rear sight and large ring Mauser 98 action. It featured "the ring of steel" full cartridge base support of the M99/08C, a standard Mauser 98 five round staggered magazine assembly, and no recoil cross bolt in the stock. Guatemala, Costa Rica, Colombia and other Latin American nations purchased this same model. Serb Cyrillic markings and the Serb royal crest identify the new "Serb Rifle."
In 1912, Serbia, Bulgaria, Montenegro signed a series of clandestine agreements forming what was called ""The Balkan League."" The League's aim was to drive the weakened Ottoman Turks out of Europe once and for all. Montenegro declared war on Turkey on October 8, 1912, followed by Serbia and Bulgaria, and the First Balkan War was underway. A tottering Turkey was soon decisively beaten by the combined powers of the League. After much wrangling, in May 1913 the Treaty of London was signed and the Ottomans lost their few remaining European lands except for a small region on the western shore of the Dardanelles bordering on Bulgaria and Greece, which it retains to this day.
The land taken from the Ottomans was divided up among the victors. Bulgaria thought itself cheated with its small portion of Macedonia and subsequently, with Austrian logistical and financial support, attacked Serbia and Greece in June 1913. This set off the brief but bloody Second Balkan War. Bulgaria lost, and the resulting Treaty of Bucharest in August 1913 gave Montenegro the entire Austrian controlled Sanjak. Serbia got the lion's share of Macedonia, Greece got the coast of Salonika and Kavala and southern Macedonia. Smarting from its loss of the Sanjak, Austria-Hungary insisted on the establishment of an Austrian ruled Albanian state on the territory Serbia and Montenegro had seized during that war.
As a result of the last action, tensions between Serbia and Austria-Hungary reached new heights. By midsummer 1913, the Serbian High Command had to face harsh political and logistical realities. There was grave internal dissension within the military and between the two major Serbian political parties, the ruling hardline Radicals and the more conciliatory Progressives. Basic foodstuffs, especially grain, were in short supply because the mobilization of tens of thousands of young men for both Balkan Wars had left an acute farm labor shortage. Many rifles had been lost or rendered unusable. Artillery and small arms ammunition stocks were gravely low. Ammunition for captured nonstandard Bulgarian and Turkish rifles was even scarcer.
Once again Serbia needed modern infantry rifles, and fast. The country had to face the unpleasant fact that obtaining the desired new Mauser pattern rifles in the required quantity was no longer a viable option. The Mauser Company, via its holding company, DWM, which controlled production licensing and sale of Mauser riflesworldwide, was German owned and Germany was a formal ally of Austria-Hungary. In the event of war with Vienna, the supply of rifles and spare parts from Steyr would be cut off. Moreover, there was insufficient hard currency to pay for these new rifles, and, to make matters worse, the Serb government under Radical Party Prime Minister Nikola Pasich had terminated the Serbs' trade agreement with Austria-Hungary that would have made a cost-effective deal possible.
Given these numerous unfavorable conditions, the Serb High Command decided that, as a stopgap measure, it would temporarily rearm with the "Ruski Pushka" (Russian Rifle) the Model 1891 Mosin Nagant bolt action rifle. It would become Serbia's new "substitute standard" as soon as adequate quantities could be obtained. It is not known how these rifles were paid for, but Russia began supplying or had promised to supply them. However, once again, political events suddenly intervened to disrupt these plans.
In Sarajevo, on Vidovdan, June 28, 1914, a Serb, Gavrilo Princip, shot and killed Crown Prince Ferdinand, heir to the Habsburg (Austro-Hungarian) throne, along with his wife Sophie. He used the popular Belgian made Browning Model 1910 pistol in 9mm Browning Short (.380 ACP.) Several of these handguns had been supplied by Serbian military intelligence, on orders of its commander, one Col. Dragutin "Apis" Dimitrijevich, to a three year old Serb nationalist movement named "Unity or Death," commonly called "The Black Hand." The Black Hand was a clandestine group of ethnic Serb nationalist conspirators scattered throughout Austria-Hungary's Balkan provinces of which Princip, who died of tuberculosis in an Austrian prison a few months before W.W. I ended, was a member. Four of the pistols recovered by Sarajevo police were serial numbered 19074, 19075, 19120, and 19126. The pistols were "liberated" from an Austrian museum in 1945 and are presently believed to be somewhere in the U.S.A.
In reaction to the assassination, Vienna issued an ultimatum to Belgrade. Serbia approached Russia for material support while rejecting Vienna's demands. Serbia was still in poor shape economically and the military forces were gravely short of vital supplies of all types. The Tsar's government promised 120,000 M1891 Mosin Nagant rifles to be delivered in August, despite the fact that Russia itself was also chronically short of adequate numbers of small arms. It is likely most of these came from Russian Army arsenals and were not new production. It is unknown whether any rifles were delivered before August 1914 when the promised 120,000 rifles showed up in Serbia. Further deliveries followed, but no information is available on quantities. A British Army document from early 1915 had reported that 150,000 Russian Mosin Nagants were in Serb service at that time.
When war with the Central Powers, Germany, Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria to be followed by Turkey, began on 28 July 1914, Serbia was able to field an estimated 425,000 trained and equipped troops. The military intelligence department of the Imperial Army of Austro-Hungary estimated that a minimum shortfall of 150,000 serviceable military rifles, needed to arm called up reservists, existed in Serbia at the start of the war. The actual number in fact was well over 200,000. Roughly 25% of all Serb troops lacked rifles of any kind and other soldiers were armed with obsolete black powder rifles for which little ammo or spare parts were available.
The regular Serbian Army and the First Levy, male draftees between 21-30 years of age serving 18 months of active duty, were supplied the following rifles, Serb Mausers M10C, M99C, M99/07C, M99/08C, Carbine M08C and some Russian M1891 Mosin-Nagant rifles in 7.62x54R. They were also outfitted with Browning M1910 .380 ACP and Mauser M1896 7.63mm "Broom handle" autoloading pistols and 7x57mm Model 1909 Maxim water-cooled, belt fed medium machine guns as available.
The Second Levy, reservists between 31-40 years of age who had already completed their 18 months of active duty, was issued the following weapons, M80/7C rifle, M95 carbine, M90T, M99T, M03T, M10T rifles, the M05T carbine and Austrian Steyr Mannlicher M1895 rifles and carbines in 8x50R. The "T series" of Mauser rifles and carbines had been captured from the Turks during the First Balkan War and converted from 7.65mm to 7x57mm. The Steyr Mannlichers had been captured from the Bulgarians in the Second Balkan War. The Regular Army along with the First and Second Levies constituted the Field Army. Only regulars and First Levy would have uniforms, ammo pouches and belts.
The Third Levy (Trije Ban), composed of reservists aged 41-50, was issued any remaining Second Levy weapons plus surplus 10.67mm Russian Berdan M1870 rifles. An estimated 75,000 of these Berdans were accounted for in 1909, but after the two Balkan Wars, some 50,000 serviceable examples of these rifles would be a generous estimate. In addition, Mauser Milovanovic M1878/80C, Winchester 1866 & 1873 in .44-40, Sniders, Gras, Peabodys, Martini Henrys, M87T's, anything that could shoot, were put into service.
The Chetniks, irregular local village forces, usually not uniformed and sometimes barefoot, were armed chiefly with captured Austrian-made Bulgarian Steyr Mannlicher M95 rifles and carbines at the outbreak of war. Ammunition availability was a key factor in issuing rifles. Sometimes only one packet, 20 cartridges in four five-round clips, or one round per rifle, was issued.
The Military Technical Institute could turn out 120,000 rounds of the standard 7x57mm per day, but periodically had to switch production over to make various calibers of artillery shells, obsolete 10.15mm black powder rounds, 8x50R cartridges for captured Bulgarian Steyr-Mannlicher rifles as well as prepare to manufacture the 7.62x54R cartridges for the proposed new substitute standard Russian Mosin-Nagant rifle.
Ammunition availability also dictated which type rifle would be issued to each unit. Should a squad or platoon be transferred to another company or battalion for example, its members had to trade their rifles for the type in issue in the new parent unit to avoid logistical problems. The Military Technical Institute was, by that time not only Serbia''s chief arsenal, but was also the largest manufacturer in the country. It turned out machine tools and gauges, repaired artillery guns and small arms, produced horse drawn carts, wagons and saddlery, crafted small arms and artillery ammunition and also acted as the Serb military's ordnance school. It employed 300 full-time production workers in addition to the technical staff and army personnel assigned there.
Meanwhile, initial Serb battlefield successes against invading Austrians, whose commander, Gen. Oskar Potiorek, bragged at war''s outbreak he would have little trouble conquering ""that kingdom of pig breeders"", had secured them large quantities of Steyr-Mannlicher M1888/90 and M1895 8x50R rifles and carbines, Steyr Model 1907 and 1912 autoloading pistols, Schwarzlose M1905 and M1912 belt fed water-cooled medium machine guns in the same caliber as well as vast stocks of ammunition for all of them. However, as time passed, the Serbs, facing the ravages of typhus and cholera combined with persisting severe food, clothing and ammunition shortages, lost their capital city, Belgrade, to attacking Austrian troops on December 2, 1914. Ironically this was the birthday of Austrian emperor Franz Josef.
Despite their desperate straits, the battered and outnumbered but valiant Serbs the next day launched one last desperate offensive against the now, overconfident Austrian forces. Incredibly enough after 10 days of ferocious fighting, they drove a stunned Gen. Potiorek and all of his remaining troops back across the Danube. Belgrade was recaptured on December 15. Austria-Hungary had sustained more than 100,000 casualties and lost even more weapons valuable to the Serbs, but the badly weakened Serbs could not take full advantage of their surprising victory, a situation that caused a nearly year-long stalemate in the region. By February 1915, about 50,000 serviceable Austrian M88/90 and M95 rifles and carbines with adequate stores of captured 8x50R ammunition were in formal Serb issue.
Despite these slight improvements in the Serbs' logistical situation, in October 1915, their still rebuilding army was eventually smashed after being surprise attacked by an overwhelming combined force of invading German, Austrian and Bulgarian troops. Some 150,000 Serb fighting men successfully embarked on a long and difficult retreat southward across the mountains of south Serbia and Macedonia into Greece where the Allies reequipped them with significant amounts of French gear such as the Rifle M1907/15 in 8mm Lebel and some Chauchat and Hotchkiss machine guns in the same caliber. The French also supplied a large number of Winchester Model 1907 .351 caliber semiautomatic carbines that France had initially purchased from the USA as aircraft armament before its airplanes were fully fitted with machine guns. These Winchester carbines were used by Serb special operations troops.
In September 1916, the refreshed, reorganized and refitted Serb armies resumed combat operations against the German, Austrian and Bulgarian occupiers, driving slowly northward into Macedonia and back through Serbia proper until the Central Powers surrendered 26 months later. The Allies supported formation of a unified multi ethnic South Slav state as was stated in Point 11 of Woodrow Wilson's "Fourteen Points," but Italy had been promised lands inhabited by many of these peoples as part of the deal for entering the war on the Allied side in 1915. Many Croats and Slovenes actively supported unification while other members of those two groups opposed it on grounds the new union would be dominated by Serbs.
The fiercely independent King of Montenegro, Nicholas I, fearful of Croat and Slovene influence in the new unified nation, abdicated his throne and left the country shortly after W.W. I ended. The Serb Army formed the nucleus upon which the new army of the unified kingdom would be built. The elderly King of Serbia, Peter I Karadjordjevich, who had been in power since 1903, assumed the throne of the new Kingdom, although his son, Alexander II, had ruled as regent since 1914. Alexander II formally assumed the throne upon Peter I's death in 1921.
Serviceable military small arms remained in short supply in the newly formed nation. All the previously discussed rifles were held in greatly diminished numbers and these were far the worse for wear. Additionally, war booty from the Central Powers included many of the following types of rifles, the Mannlicher M1886 11mm, M88, M88/90, M95, all in 8x50R, and Mauser M1912 7x57mm, German Gew. 98 and Kar. 98a in 7.92x57mm as well as various Turkish Mauser rifles in 7.65mm. Rifles of Allied Powers lost to Central Powers and recaptured by the Serbs consisted of Mosin Nagant M1891s 7.62x54R, 11mm M1874 Gras andKropatscheks , M1891 Mosin Nagants converted to 8x50R by Austria, various Italian M1891 series Mannlicher Carcano rifles and carbines in 6.5x52mm, Romanian Model 1893 Mannlichers in 6.5x53R. Rifles of acceded states included the Montenegrin Steyr Werndl M1873 10.66mm rifles, 10.67mm Berdan II and 7.62x54mmR Mosin Nagant M1891 rifles.
In the wake of the hard logistical lessons learned in 1914-18 and in the presence of scores of types of captured small arms, Yugoslavia (like Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece and Poland) decided to standardize on the Mauser 98 type rifle in the German rimless 7.92x57mm caliber. Existing Serb and Turkish Mausers in 7x57mm and 7.65mm respectively with badly worn or pitted bores could be rechambered and rebored to 7.92mm and restored to service using existing barrels, a major savings in money, effort and time.
In 1922, 50,000 "short action" 98 type short rifles were purchased from Fabrique National (FN) in Liege, Belgium along with machine tooling and a technical support package to manufacture these rifles at Kragujevac. FN engineers and technicians set up the Military Technical Institute production line for an upgraded pattern of this weapon, the well-known Serb M1924 model "short rifle", after the FN design was modified by Yugoslav ordnance engineers to incorporate the full cartridge base support feature on the M10C bolt head and also to allow the safety switch to be applied with the bolt uncocked. It was planned that serviceable existing surplus rifles would be reworked as closely as possible to the new Model 1924 pattern.
As always, funds were in short supply, so, to cut costs, existing Serb M10C and M99C Mauser rifles were shortened to the M24 short rifle dimensional specifications and rebored to 7.92x57mm. Remaining Turkish Mausers from the Model 90T upward as well as existing supplies of Austrian Steyr Mannlicher rifles from the Model 1888/90 onward were also reworked into short rifles generally resembling the M24 specifications and converted to 7.92x57mm. The Steyr-Mannlicher Model 1895 was shortened and renamed the M95M, the second ""M"" denoting Mauser, as it was converted to use standard Mauser stripper clips, given a tangent Mauser rear sight while its outward appearance was made to resemble that of the standard M24 Mauser short rifle.
In 1925, another 50,000 Mauser M24 short rifles were ordered from FN. Also around this time, Austria delivered a large number of surplus 7x57mmM1912 Steyr Mausers it had used to arm reserve troops in W.W.I. These were Mausers originally destined for Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela but W.W. I broke out in 1914 and halted deliveries to these nations. Austria Hungary had considered a transition to the 7x57mm cartridge shortly before 1914 and had even produced a prototype Mannlicher-Schoenauer short rifle for production but war's onset canceled the plan. A few hundred of these Mannlicher-Schoenauers were allegedly made but only two specimens are known to exist today.
Yugoslavia shortened and converted these Steyr Mauser M1912s to the accepted general 7.92x57mm M24 pattern,wiping the Austrian markings and replacing them with the Yugoslav royal crest. These were marked "Model 24B", the Cyrillic "B" corresponding to the Latin "V", on the receiver ring below the crest. The actual definition of the "V" designation is unknown; some claim it stands for Vojna (army) while others claim it stands for Vien, the Serbo-Croat pronunciation of Vienna, from where these particular Steyr Mausers were originally shipped. In 1929, Yugoslavia purchased an additional 40,000 standard Model 24 (Vz24) short rifles in 7.92mm from Ceskoslovenska Zbrojovka (CZ) in Brno, Czechoslovakia.