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chronicle of this mighty struggle through which we
have passed, we shall turn with some feelings of pride
to those pages which record the successes of the
Cameroons campaign, and possibly we shall wonder
how it was that such achievements were received so


unconcernedly at the time of their occurrence. Such
has always been the fate of all side-shows when the
drama of a European war is before the world's public,
but the side-showmen may fmd consolation in the
knowledge that the historian always accords them
their due place of honour among the makers of





When our naval mission, under the command of
Rear-Admiral (now Vice-Admiral) Troubridge, went
to Serbia early in 1915, no public announcement of
its departure there, nor of its doings when it got
there, was made. It was sent to co-operate with
the French and Russian naval missions in preventing
the Austrian monitors and other enemy vessels from
having a free run of the Danube. In this it succeeded
completely, for the Austrian monitors and munition
boats were forced to lie behind a boom defence, and
never ventured down the river until the great attack
on Belgrade drove the defenders from the city. The
story of how this result was accomplished has never
been published in detail, but a despatch from the
" Times " correspondent at Belgrade, which appeared
in that paper on 7th July, 1915, gave the public a
glimpse behind the scenes. Here is an extract from it :
" You can ascend to the roof of a favourably situ-
ated house, or walk to the higher ground outside the
town, and look through glasses up the Danube to
where, beyond the Austrian town of Semlin and the
island of Grosser Krieg, the Austrian river monitors
are lying, black and ugly, in the stream. At one
time there were seven monitors, but there are only
six now. . . . What you cannot see is that they are
lying inside a boom; for, since their number was
reduced from seven to six by a pretty piece of
torpedo work on the part of the solitary little picket-



boat, commonly known as the ' Terror of the Danube,'
the enemy's monitors have been singularly unenter-
prising. . . .The young gentlemen who have charge
of the ' Terror of the Danube ' have great larks
with it. They poke their way on dark nights into
creeks and passages, where they are not in the least
expected, and annoy the Austrians dreadfully. Ihe
Austrians have three picket gunboats, which look
like toy Dreadnoughts, with machine-guns mounted
in their turrets. Any one of these could eat up the
' Terror ' in a few minutes, if it could get at it.
But the ' Terror ' comes up when it is nice and dark
and makes rude remarks with its single machine-gun
to one of the Dreadnoughts, and then runs like a
hare.' '

The "Times" correspondent goes on to describe
how the " Terror " enticed one of the Austrian
"Dreadnoughts" over a mine -field, with the result
that the "Dreadnought's" remains were floating
about in midstream and drifting ashore on Kojara
Island. But this happened towards the end of
June 1915. The incident I am going to describe —
the pretty piece of torpedo work which reduced the
Austrian monitors from seven to six — happened in
April 1915. These monitors had been in the habit
of plying up and down the river at their own sweet
will, bombarding with their small guns the Serbian
trenches by the riverside, and with their big guns
throwing shells upon the positions farther inland.
But the " Terror of the Danube" changed all that,
reducing the enemy's monitors to a state of impotence
and compelling them to lie snugly secure behind a
boom defence. Only a very brief account of this
pretty piece of torpedo work was published at the
time when the decorations were awarded to those
concerned in it, but the story has enough dramatic
interest to be worth relating in some detail.

I'he picket-boat was brought from JVlalta to


Salonika and thence forwarded overland by rail to
Belgrade some time in March 1915. There it was
launched in the Danube, and, as it was the only
craft the Navy had at Belgrade, they naturally
regarded it with tender affection. The Austrians had
six monitors and seven patrol-boats lying somewhere
above the fortifications of Semlin, higher up the
river, and it may possibly have occurred to the
more superstitious among them that a fleet of thirteen
vessels is bound to meet with a disaster sooner or
later. Anyhow, they seemed quite annoyed with
our little picket-boat the moment it arrived, and
they greeted it by pitching shells upon the dockyard
where it was lying. Consequently the Admiral
decided that it would be wiser to give the Austrians
time to forget about it, before sending it out upon
any kind of escapade.

It was only a picket-boat, but the Navy at Belgrade
was quite proud of it, for, when the Navy is condemned
by circumstances to play at soldiering, it always has
a secret yearning for something that floats, and, just
as a doll is supposed to satisfy the maternal instinct
of incipient womanhood, so a picket-boat had to
satisfy the cravings of our naval men ashore in
Serbia. They petted it, and fondled it, and put a
maxim-gun in its bows, and rigged up two torpedoes
in it, and loaded it up with hand-grenades. And
then they waited eagerly for a chance to take it
out on a little voyage of exploration, for that
Austrian fleet of thirteen vessels was such an obvious
challenge against the laws of chance and probability.
The River Sava meets the Danube at Belgrade,
flowing into it from the west. The Danube itself
flows from the north down to Belgrade, and then
turns eastward, so that there is quite a broad
expanse of water opposite the town, with rivers
running into it from north and east, and running
out to the west, By comparing this expanse of


water with Parliament Square, we find that the
River Sava takes the place of Victoria Street, and
that the Danube, having come down Whitehall, turns
to the left over Westminster Bridge. Belgrade
occupies the position of the Houses of Parliament,
Semlin occupies the position of the Local Govern-
ment Board, and the Austrian monitors were lying
up Whitehall somewhere near the Horse Guards.
The small islands opposite Belgrade may be marked
by the statues in Parliament Square in order to com-
plete the map.

The first attempt was made on 21st April soon
after ten o'clock at night, when the picket-boat,
commanded by Lieutenant Commander Kerr, glided
quietly up the river. His orders were to reconnoitre
the position of the monitors, and, if a favourable
opportunity occurred, to attack them with torpedoes.
If, however, he found that the enemy's defences at
Semlin were too formidable, or that the monitors
themselves were prepared for an attack, so that the
chances of success became hopeless, he was to
return at once to Belgrade. " For Heaven's sake
don't lose the boat," said the Admiral, " for it is
all we have." There was another danger to be
taken into accovmt. Although the Serbian patrols
on the bank of the river had all been warned that
the attempt was to be made, it was quite possible
that some of them, in a fit of enthusiasm, might open
fire on our picket-boat with their rifles, and so awake
the Austrian batteries and monitors to the fact that
something was going on down below them. Some
of the Serbian river patrols were remarkably enthusi-
astic upon occasions^sometimcs inconvenient occa-
sions. Fortunately, however, they managed to
restrain themselves during the two nights of the
picket-boat's adventures.

On the first night, it was found that a strong
easterly wind had caused the monitors to shift berth


from the right (or western) bank to the left bank
of the river, "where they were better sheltered from
the wind. The picket-boat slipped past the Semlin
defences without being seen, and continued for about
two miles up the river, keeping in to the right bank,
but was unable to locate precisely the position of
the monitors. The river here is full of shoals and
small low-lying islands, which are difficult to avoid
by night, and, after running aground once and ex-
periencing some difficulty in getting off, Lieutenant-
Commander Kerr decided to return to Belgi-ade.

As his movements had apparently escaped the
notice of the enemy completely, it was decided that
he should make another attempt on the following
night. The wdnd had abated, and during the day
four monitors and a steamer had been seen to cross
the river, and return to their usual anchorage near
the right bank. So, just before midnight, the
picket-boat again started off for another adventure.
As before, the defences of Semlin were passed w^ithout
attracting attention, and the boat steamed steadily
up the river against the fast current.

About half-past one in the morning a monitor was
sighted about 300 yards aw^ay on the starboard bow
(the picket-boat was therefore between the monitor
and the right bank of the river). Just ahead of her
was another monitor ; then came a w^hite-painted
steamer ; then a third monitor ; while the fourth
monitor lay about 100 yards to eastward of the
first two, approximately on their starboard beam.
Lieutenant Commander Kerr's plan was to attack
the first monitor with a torpedo, pass under her stern
across the river, and attack the fourth monitor with
his other torpedo.

The picket-boat crept up to within 100 yards of
the first monitor, and was then challenged by the
look-out. The reply was the firing of the torpedo,
and at the same moment rifle and machine-gun fire


was opened on the picket-boat from all directions.
The torpedo ran true ; there followed a heavy
muffled explosion and much shouting, and the
picket- boat swung round across stream towards her
second objective. But by this time all the monitors
and the whole riverside were alive with rifles and
machine-guns, and Lieutenant-Commander Kerr re-
membered the wise saying of Macbeth : " If it were
done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done
quickly." A bullet striking the releasing gear of his
remaining torpedo might jamb it fatally, so he stood
not upon the order of his firing, but fired at once.
Unfortunately he was too close, so that the initial
dive of the torpedo carried it right under the monitor
and it exploded on the river bank 400 yards away.

The only thing to do now was to get out of it as
quickly as possible, and in this the rapid current was
of material assistance. Searchlights blazed forth
from everywhere, and the bullets kept up a merry
patter on the boat. Fortunately, however, nothing
larger than bullets assailed her, for the simple reason
that the enemy knew that shell-fire across a river in
the dark is apt to do more damage to friend than foe.

So the ofiicers and men kept well under cover, and
listened contentedly to the music of the bullets on
the boat's side. In a few minutes they were clear
of danger from that part of the river, but they had
still to pass the Semlin defences. Suddenly, just
ten minutes after the attack, they heard a tremen-
dous explosion from the direction of the monitors,
and for a moment the whole sky was lit up by the
glare. Evidently a fire had been started by the
first torpedo, and it had just reached the magazine.
Next minute the boat was passing Semlin, and all
the searchlights there were making frantic efforts to
pick her up. But, by good luck, they failed, and
she got back safely to her creek in Belgrade after an
exciting run of two hours and a half.


Next morning at daylight only three monitors lay
at anchor where yesterday there had been four.
Three days later the Austrian Press reported that the
monitor Keresh on 22nd April struck an Austrian
mine above Semlin and sank. Apparently they pre-
ferred to express it in this way, though it must have
made some of the Austrian folk wonder why there
should be Austrian mines above Semlin, at the precise
spot where their monitors were always anchored.

Anyhow, Lieutenant-Commander Kerr was awarded
the D.S.O. in consequence of this untoward accident
to an Austrian monitor, and the picket- boat's crew
were all awarded the D.S.M.



There were many tragedies — national tragedies —
during the Great War, but none came with such
dramatic suddenness as that which overwhelmed
Serbia. Right up to the eve of the disaster Belgrade
maintained its reputation as a gay city ; the fashion-
able restaurants were crowded with military officers,
and ladies in the shortest of short skirts — a cosmo-
politan miscellany of Serbians, British, French, and
Russians, with a few Danish and American doctors
and nurses thrown in. There they were, going
hither and thither in motor-cars, lounging outside
cafes, arranging social functions of every kind re-
gardless of the enemy just across the river — until the
crash came. Possibly the facts that the Austrians
had once crossed the Sava, that Belgrade in Decem-
ber 1914 had been evacuated, and that the enemy
had soon been driven back again from Serbian
territory inspired them with a false sense of security.
However that may be, it is certain that the dis-
aster, when it came, fell upon them like a thunder-

With the politics of that time it is not my purpose
to deal, save in so far as they explain the military
situation. For the Serbians it was a time of bitter
anguish, and it is not altogether surprising that they
cherished a belief that they had been betrayed by
their allies. The tortuous course of diplomatic
devices, by which Germany induced Bulgaria to



join hands with her, is altogether beyond my scope.
It is sufficient to know that Bulgaria demanded, as
the price of maintaining her neutrality, such con-
cessions in Macedonia as Serbia could not contem-
plate without wounding her national honour, and
the result was that Serbia concentrated the bulk of
her forces on the Bulgarian frontier, in order to
resist the threatened invasion.

During September 1915 guns, ammunition, aero-
planes, and general equipment were withdrawn from
Belgrade, while the Serbian Army there of some
37,000 men was reduced to 3,000 men. That the
Serbian General Staff expected such a small force
to be adequate for the defence of the town is of
course an impossible supposition. The probable
intention of the Staff was to evacuate Belgrade at
once if the Austrians crossed the river, just as it was
evacuated in December 1914- as soon as the Austrians
had crossed the Sava. It must be explained that
the Serbians are very proud of Belgrade, for it is
the only city in the whole country, and consequently
means a great deal to them. Rather than have it
destroyed by bombardment, they were prepared to
hand it over to the enemy without hesitation.

From the point of view of the foreign naval missions
this withdrawal of the Serbian forces from Belgrade
could not be contemplated without some alarm.
The naval batteries were either in the town, or in its
vicinity, and, in addition to these batteries, there were
mine-fields, with observation mines, in the Danube and
the Sava, as well as some floating torpedo batteries.
All the equipment of these undertakings was likely
to be lost in the event of a sudden evacuation, just
as the French guns had been lost in December 1914
when the city was abandoned.

The intention to evacuate the town was never
declared by the General Staff, but there can be little
doubt that it existed, and would have been acted


upon, if events had not taken such a dramatically
sudden turn. Admiral Troubridge was frequently
assured that he would have three clear days' notice
of any contemplated advance on the part of the
enemy, and that he would have ample time in which
to remove his guns, mines, torpedoes, and all equip-
ment ; and this opinion was expressed by the
Serbian Staff officers with so much confidence that
it became useless to mention the possibility of other

It must be clearly understood that the naval forces
of the allies were never intended to form any part
of the defences of Belgrade. They were concerned
solely with the Austrian monitors and munition
ships on the Danube, and when they first arrived on
the scene they found the enemy in full possession
of the river, going up and down it at will, and bom-
barding the Serbian riverside trenches with absolute
impunity. But they soon put a stop to that state
of affairs. The naval batteries and mine-fields made
the Danube and the Sava undesirable rivers for these
pleasure cruises, and the feat of our picket-boat,
known as the " Terror of the Danube," in torpedoing
an Austrian monitor, caused all the rest of those
craft to take refuge behind a boom defence, and to
remain there.

It may be said that the naval missions had fulfilled
their purpose when they had put an end to the
enemy's activities on the river, but they were bound
to remain at, and near, Belgrade, in order to prevent
the possibility of those activities being resumed.
Moreover, Admiral Troubridge saw further possible
spheres of usefulness. It was clear that, before the
enemy could advance into Serbia, he must cross
either the Danube or the Sava, and to do so he must
either build a pontoon bridge, or effect a crossing in
boats. With batteries commanding the river, and
mine-fields in the river, there seemed every prospect


that the naval forces might do some useful work, if
the enemy attempted an advance.

Such was the situation throughout the summer of
1915, but when, in September, the Serbians removed
their guns and nearly all their infantry from Belgrade
to the Bulgarian frontier it became clear that, what-
ever might be the usefulness of the naval forces,
they could not by themselves save Belgrade in the
event of an attack. The Admiral saw, with some
dismay, that the Austrians were quietly occupying
some of the islands in the river below Belgrade, more
especially the island of Semendria, that they were
emplacing guns on this island, and that they had
accumulated a flotilla of small boats behind it. He
drew the attention of General Jivkovitch to these
preparations, but the General assured him that the
island was so much under the fire of the Serbian
artillery (which had not all been withdrawn at that
time) that no enemy gun could exist on it for a
moment. It was quite unnecessary, in the General's
view, for the Serbians to occupy the island, but if it
was found that the enemy there proved himself
troublesome to the Serbian operations, then of course
he would be driven out at once. As to the boats
lying behind the island, the General said, " I venture
to think that you will agree that there is no urgent
necessity to destroy these boats with artillery fire,
especially as the Commandant of this section probably
intends to make use of them for bridge-building
purposes over the Danube, in case of an advance
from our side, for we have a lack of such material."
Here was supreme confidence in the might of Serbia.
The enemy's boats were not to be destroyed, because,
should the Serbian Staff decide upon an advance
into Austrian territory, they could be used by the
Serbians for a pontoon bridge. What actually
happened was that twenty Austrian guns on the
island of Semendria swept the Serbian shore with



their fire, while Austrian infantry crossed the river
in the boats, which had been hidden behind the
island, and landed in Serbia almost without oppo-

This expression of opinion by General Jivkovitch
is quoted, not in order to lay stress on the miscalcu-
lations of the Serbian Staff, but to explain the
position of the foreign naval missions when the great
crisis came. At the beginning of October 1915 the
only Serbian artillery left for the defence of Belgrade
were two 12-centimetre howitzers on a hill to the
south of the city, called Topchider Hill. On the same
hill the French had two 14-centimetre guns, while the
Russians had two old guns of the same calibre in the
fortress of Belgrade, and one Go-millimetre Q.F. gun.
Of the four British batteries only one, consisting of
two 4*7 guns, was in the immediate vicinity of
Belgrade, being on a hill to the south-east of the city,
called Velike Vrachar. This completes the list of
the artillery which could possibly be regarded as
belonging to Belgrade's defences when the great
crash came.

Of the oLher three British batteries, each consisting
of two 4'7 guns, one was at Ostrujnitza on the Sava,
twelve miles from Belgrade, one at Tcholin Grob on
the Danube ten miles from Belgrade, and one at
Grotska, also on the Danube, twenty miles from Bel-
grade. The last of these was, however, transferred
on 7th October — four days after the great bombard-
ment commenced — to a hill south-west of Belgrade,
called Banovo Hill, but was too late to play any
appreciable part in the defence of the city.

Of the mining and torpedo sections of the naval
forces not much can be said, beyond recording that
they were confronted with a hopeless task after the
enemy attack had begun, and that they showed won-
derful resource in extricating themselves from their
unenviable positions. During those three terrible


days of bombardment they stuck to their posts
on the banks of the Danube and the Sava, until the
connecting wires of their observation mines had all
been shot away, and only the torpedoes remained.
In the case of the torpedo battery opposite Semendria
Island the torpedoes had their internal mechanism
so badly damaged by the bombardment that it was
found at first impossible to lire them. But after
the enemy had actually crossed the river, Lieutenant
Bullock, R.M., fearing that his torpedoes might be
made use of by the Austrians, ran down to the river
bank by himself (having withdrawn his men to
safety), and succeeded in firing one of the torpedoes,
but, before he could make the other one work, the
Austrian infantry were within a few hundred yards
of him, and he had to run back amidst a torrent
of shrapnel and rifle-bullets. He then marched his
men away to the south.

The section at the railway bridge over the Sava
succeeded in firing their two torpedoes, as soon as
they realised that they could remain no longer at
their post. They had undergone a terrible bombard-
ment for three days and two nights, but had hung
on desperately until they saw the enemy cross the
river and land troops in all directions. To illustrate
the fearsomeness of that bombardment there is no
better testimony than that of Surgeon Merewether,
who went down to our post at the railway bridge on
receiving a report that one of our men had been
wounded. The man unfortunately was dead before
the Surgeon arrived, so he took the opportunity of
visiting the Serbian outposts in the neighbourhood,
knowing that his assistance would probably be needed.
Upon his return he reported to the Admiral that
the Serbian soldiers were so much dazed by the
bombardment that he had the greatest difficulty in
distinguishing the living from the dead. One can
well imagine what must have been the condition of


those men after three days and two nights of that
hellish fire.

A plan of Belgrade, found in the possession of an
Austrian officer who was taken prisoner, showed
clearly the positions of the batteries, and of the posts
of the mining and torpedo sections. It is not sur-
prising, therefore, that these came in for the lion's
share of the Austrian shells, which rained upon them
unceasingly. The bombardment commenced on 8rd
October, and with a steady crescendo of intensity
reached its height on the morning of 6th October.
There were long-range guns firing from beyond
Semlin ; there were 12-inch and 9-inch howitzers at
shorter range ; and there were smaller guns all along
the north bank of the Danube and on the islands in
the river. The Chief of Staff estimated that within the
first twenty-four hours of the bombardment 48,000
shells fell upon the area of the Belgrade defences.
Houses were swept down like corn before the scythe ;
telegraph and telephone poles were strewn across
the ruins ; electric-light standards came crashing
down, so that the city was plunged in darkness.
And all this while the enemy's aeroplanes, like
mighty birds of prey, hovered overhead, directing

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