A Centenary

Montenegrin Thermopylae
Everything was on the side of the attackers on that terrible and glorious January 1916. The Austro-Hungarian troops were 150,000, Montenegrin only 43,000. Equipped with machine guns and artillery 7:1. But, the Montenegrins, inspired by the Kosovo vow and heroic cult of Obilić, knew the value of the sanctuary they were defending. Sanctity of the Fatherland and Freedom, sanctity of sacrifice for one’s brother. Behind their backs, toward Albania and the sea, 90,000 soldiers and children were withdrawing from Serbia. Montenegrins were accomplishing miracles of heroism, completing their duty with tragic heroism

By: Mišo Vujović

Not much has been written about the Battle of Mojkovac, although most historians today agree with the famous definition of even more famous heroine of the Battle of Mojkovac, Vasilija Vukotić: ”If there had been no Christmas on Mojkovac, there would have been no Easter on Kajmakcalan.” Only a few studies and two serious books by writer Ćamil Sijarić and professors Aleksandar Drašković have been published about this decisive battle during withdrawal of Serbian army through Albania to Corfu. The founders of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, the tombs in which two Serbian states were buried, Serbia and Montenegro, in the interests of the new, unnatural creation, sought in all the ways possible to minimize the great feat of the Montenegrin army led by Serdar Janko Vukotić. Besides the fearlessness of Montenegrin highlanders, who were getting killed on their feet so as not to live on their knees, and their superhuman efforts to successfully resist even much more numerous (150,000 Austro-Hungarian soldiers, 43,000 Montenegrin) and technically much better equipped enemy (machine guns and artillery 7: 1), this battle will be remembered as a unique example of suffering for one's neighbor. For centuries inspired by the Kosovo myth and Miloš’s ”A victim to their own truth and worth,” the Montenegrins not only resisted the superior enemy, but also with individual assaults on German machine-gun nests raised the soldiers’ morale, and tribal and fraternal detachments and troops virtually competed in who would attain immortality through a greater feat and knightly death.
The ideal of ”saving your neighbor at the expense of your own life” gives this a halo of a sublime, ancient feat, in which all the philosophy of the Gospels and Christian suffering is summarized.
The morale of the defenders was not shaken even for a minute, despite the fact that the enemy had already conquered almost the entire territory of Montenegro, that the capital city of Cetinje was occupied, and raised the German flag on Lovćen, the altar of freedom. The country was on its knees, the government was preparing to sign capitulation, chaos and turmoil were created but the defenders did not heed that. The main focus of Serdar Janko Vukotić, commander of the Sandzak Army, was to disturb the enemy plans on cutting Serbian lines retreating towards Albania. The Supreme Command of Serbian Army directed 90,000 soldiers and several thousand refugees in this direction. ”From the bloody battlefield”, from the trenches consecrated in blood, which were changing hands several times, Serdar Janko was receiving reports on losses, as well as more important ones, about the movements of Serbian troop.
Antonije Đurić, one of the greatest chroniclers of Serbian suffering in World War I, recorded a confession of Vasilija Vukotić, daughter and orderly of Serdar Janko Vukotić, who was personally deciphering reports from the field and forwarding them to her father and other officers: ”My father receive daily reports on the movement of Serbian troops: he knew, day after day, that some of them made it to the coast of Skadar, others were at that moment in Tuzi, the third group in the march towards Podgorica, the fourth also in the march towards Andrijevica and Mateševo, the fifth between Andrijevica and Vinicka, and the last group in the area of Rugova...”


On the eve of the fateful clash in Mojkovac, Vasilija leaves testimony of the Christmas Eve celebration in Kolašin, which bears an uncanny resemblance to the one before the Duke's Dinner on the eve of the Battle of Kosovo:
”The soldiers and officers cut the oak tree log and lit a large fire outside the headquarters building. Serdar Janko was the first to light the oak tree log, and he was followed by officers and soldiers, throwing into the flame oak branches which sparked and crackled. I was the only woman among them. I greeted them with consecrated wheat. The guns fired marking the beginning of great celebration. (...) Guile fiddle echoed, song filled the space, and I was reminded of the scenes from The Mountain Wreath. Tonight, on the eve of the great holiday, I feel that everybody suspects that tomorrow will be stained with blood, that two armies will collide tomorrow, one small but courageous, defending their homes and their bare karst, their children and mothers, and the other one, strong and mighty, which has started to conquer what belongs to others and to make us slaves... Đuro Vukotić toasts with Nјegoš’s verses: ‘Let the struggle go on without respite.
Let it be what men thought could never be, Let the Cross and the Mace strike each other.’ At the end of the toast he adds: ‘It is important that the brotherly Serbian army has escaped, if we are killed, there will be someone to take revenge and destroy the German force...’”
Austrian Colonel Richter paid tribute to the enemy:
”The courage of the Montenegrin soldiers is unparalleled in the history of warfare... You could see the Montenegrin soldiers unarmed running into the enemy bayonets. This small, primitively armed Montenegrin army repelled for days on Mojkovac field the far more numerous, modernly armed Austro-Hungarian army, and stepped away only when it soaked every inch of the land with its and its enemy's blood.”
Of course, we cannot doubt Colonel Richter’s objectivity, or the historical importance of the battle, which some chroniclers rightly named the ”Montenegrin Thermopylae”.
Unfortunately, although it ended the battle undefeated and fully achieved its strategic goal – the protection of the retreat of the Serbian army, which equals great victory, Montenegrin army, due to overall developments on a broader political level, primarily due to a passive relationship of the Allies, indecision and uncertainty of the sovereign, government and Supreme Command – suffered inglorious end, and the main actor of the Battle of Mojkovac, Serdar Janko Vukotić, after the capitulation of Montenegro, declined the invitation of King Nikola to leave the country together with the entourage:
”Have a good journey, my lord, and let our eyes never see each other!”
And they never met each other again! The king went into exile, the general into slavery. The king-poet, author of the most Serbian national anthem There, over there, ended as an exile in France in 1921, and Serdar Janko Vukotić, the former army general, a member of the Military Council in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians, and adjutant of King Aleksandar Karađorđević, died in Belgrade in 1927.


Greetings by Serdar Janko Vukotić
To the entire brave Sandžak army, happy Christmas holidays, which in line with our beautiful Serbian customs celebrate to the honor of the Nativity of Christ the Savior.
Let the Almighty, his divine companions and Jesus Christ the Savior our oak tree logs, and through them our brave muscles will save Montenegro and all Serbs. In that regard, and with such strong conviction, I exclaim together with the entire Sandžak army:
Long live the King, Lord, Supreme Commander!
Long live his invincible army!
God save Montenegro and all Serbs!
Long live brothers Russians, our powerful protectors, who are again, although fighting against three powerful empires, inflicted a mortal blow to their opponent in Galicia!
Christmas Day, 1916
In Kolašin

Division Commander
Serdar J. Vukotić


It has remained unclear why, instead of dismissal and capitulation, the undefeated Montenegrin army was not directed to retreat toward Albania after the Serbian army? In any case, it will remain recorded in the annals of warfare that this army, on Mojkovac, fully performed its capital duties entrusted by the Supreme Command.


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