Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Dragutin Gavrilović (1882-1945), Defender of Belgrade

Dragutin Gavrilović as a Major in Serbian Army

World War I monument erected by German general August von Meckenzen dedicated to the Serbian defenders of Belgrade

Dragutin Gavrilović was a notable Serbian and, later, Yugoslav military officer.

Gavrilović was born in Čačak, Serbia, in 1882. After his graduation from the military academy in Belgrade in 1901, he took part in every war the Serbian army fought until World War II.

He is remembered in Serbian history books for his dramatic order to his troops issued on October 7, 1915, the first day of the defense of Belgrade against the Austro-Hungarian and German attack during the First World War. Holding the rank of major, Gavrilović at the time commanded the 2nd battalion of the 10th Cadre Regiment, which, along with a detachment of Belgrade gendarmerie and a group of about 340 volunteers from Syrmia, was defending positions at the very confluence of Sava and Danube, beneath the Kalemegdan Fortress. In the early morning, Austro-Hungarian troops attacked across the rivers after a heavy two-day artillery barrage, but the Serbians in a series of counterattacks trapped the invaders against the Danube in this sector with heavy casualties on both sides. The Serbian position grew worse every minute because of an incessant flow of Austro-Hungarian reinforcements and a vast superiority in artillery, which the Serbs countered by employing close-quarter tactics. Preparing his already decimated troops for a decisive attack, Major Gavrilović addressed them with these words:

Soldiers, exactly at three o'clock, the enemy is to be crushed by your fierce charge, destroyed by your grenades and bayonets. The honor of Belgrade, our capital, must not be stained. Soldiers! Heroes! The supreme command has erased our regiment from its records. Our regiment has been sacrificed for the honor of Belgrade and the Fatherland. Therefore, you no longer need worry about your lives: they no longer exist. So, forward to glory! For King and Country! Long live the King, Long live Belgrade!

The desperate charge that followed, in which Gavrilović was badly wounded, failed to destroy the Austro-Hungarian bridgehead. But the charge and similar acts of bravery and self-sacrifice by Serbian troops and by the inhabitants of Belgrade during the battle earned deep respect from the invaders, who suffered around 10,000 casualties in the course of capturing the city.

Gavrilović was awarded the Serbian war medal, Karadjordje's star, the French Croix de guerre, and many other medals.

In the Second World War, then a colonel in the Yugoslav Royal Army, Gavrilović was captured by the Axis during their invasion of Yugoslavia. He survived the war in a prison camp, later returning to Yugoslavia. Dragutin Gavrilović died in 1945, in Belgrade.

A street stretching along the Danube riverbank in the Dorćol area of Belgrade (where Gavrilović and his men fought) bears the name Major Gavrilović's riverbank in his memory. There are also streets bearing his name in the cities of Niš, Čačak, Valjevo, and Užice.

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