Radomir Putnik

Radomir Putnik GOLH, KCMG (Serbian: Радомир Путник; pronounced [rǎdɔmiːr pûːtniːk]; 24 January 1847 – 17 May 1917) was the first Serbian Field Marshal and Chief of the General Staff of the Serbian army in the Balkan Wars and in the First World War. He served in every war in which Serbia fought from 1876 to 1917.

Radomir Putnik
Radomir Putnik.jpg
Chief of Staff of the Supreme Command of the Serbian Army
In office
8 October 1912 – 8 December 1915
MonarchPeter I
Preceded byHimself
Succeeded byPetar Bojović
Chief of the Serbian General Staff
In office
19 September 1912 – 8 October 1912
MonarchPeter I
Preceded byHimself
Succeeded byHimself
In office
1908 – 19 September 1912
MonarchPeter I
Preceded byPetar Bojović
Succeeded byHimself
In office
MonarchPeter I
Preceded bySvetozar Nešić
Succeeded byAleksandar Mašin
In office
MonarchAlexander I
Preceded byJovan Mišković
Succeeded byJovan Mišković
Minister of War
In office
17 April 1906 – 30 March 1908
Prime MinisterSava Grujić
Nikola Pašić
Preceded bySava Grujić
Succeeded byStepa Stepanović
In office
26 January 1904 – 16 May 1905
Prime MinisterSava Grujić
Nikola Pašić
Preceded byMilan Andrejević
Succeeded byVasilije Antonić
Personal details
Born(1847-01-24)24 January 1847
Kragujevac, Principality of Serbia
Died17 May 1917(1917-05-17) (aged 70)
Nice, France
Resting placeNew Cemetery Belgrade
SpouseLjubica Putnik (1879–1917; his death)
ChildrenLjubiša Putnik
Borivoje Putnik
Mila Putnik
Milica Putnik
Radojka Putnik
Dimitrije Putnik
Vladimir Putnik
Alma materMilitary Academy Serbia
ProfessionArmy officer
AwardsOrder of the Karađorđe's Star rib.png Order of the Star of Karageorge
Ord.St.Sava-ribbon.jpg Order of St. Sava
POL Krzyz Wielki Orderu Sw Stanislawa BAR.png Order of Saint Stanislaus
Пластина на „Орден за Военна Заслуга“.jpg Order of Military Merit
UK Order St-Michael St-George ribbon.svg Order of Saint Michael and Saint George
(full list in the article)
Military service
AllegianceSerbia Principality of Serbia
 Kingdom of Serbia
Branch/serviceSerbian Army
Years of service1861–1896
RankSerbian Voivode rank insignia tilted.PNG Field Marshal


Family background and early careerEdit

Putnik with his family

The Putnik family was originally from Kosovo, but fled the region to the Habsburg monarchy during the Great Serb Migration of 1690. The family decided to return from exile to the Principality of Serbia, the first modern Serbian polity independent of Ottoman rule in the mid-19th century. Putnik's father, Dimitrije, was a teacher in Kragujevac, and Radomir completed his basic schooling there. He attended the Artillery School (the precursor to what would eventually become the Military Academy) in Belgrade, where he graduated in 1863, placing eighth in his class. In 1879, he married Ljubica Bojović, the sister of Radivoje Bojović [sr], who later became Minister of Military Affairs and[1] daughter of Colonel Todor Bojević and Jelena Tadić, with whom he had seven children (three daughters and four sons). Contemporaries describe Putnik as an ascetic, introverted man, and a heavy smoker; however, he also had decided views on professional issues. He proved himself on the battlefield during Serbia's wars against the Ottomans fought between 1876 and 1877. It was a military force under his command that took Gnjilane and Gračanica from the Ottomans in Kosovo, during the closing stages of the second Serbo-Ottoman War (1877-1878. The Serbian troops, under Major Putnik, were obliged to pull back to Merdare in order to meet a stipulation in the general armistice between Russian and the Ottomans. Putnik was noted for being a self-righteous and demanding officer prone to strongly defending his point of view.

Putnik became a professor in the Military Academy, holding that position from 1886 to 1895. In 1889, he was appointed as the Deputy Chief of the General Staff. However, he soon came into conflict with King Milan I, partly for not allowing a protégé of the king to pass an examination. Political intrigue and latent conflict with King Milan Obrenović and his successor, King Alexander I, would hinder his advancement throughout this part of his career. In 1895 he was forced to retire by the king, under suspicion of sympathy for the Radical party of Nikola Pašić.

Rehabilitation under Peter IEdit

Putnik was rehabilitated following the coup d'état against Alexander I Obrenović in 1903. Under the new king of Serbia, Peter I Karadjordjević, he was promoted to the rank of general and appointed as the Chief of the General Staff. He then proceeded to reorganize the Serbian army by retiring old and promoting new officers, and updating outdated war plans. Putnik was Serbian Minister of War three times: 1904, 1906–1908, 1912. Putnik appointed General Živojin Mišić as his deputy. Despite occasional personality clashes, the two men had deep respect for each other. Putnik was the first officer to be appointed to the highest rank of Field Marshal. In 1912, he led the Serbian Army into spectacular victories in the First Balkan War against the Ottomans (Battle of Kumanovo, October 1912, Battle of Monastir, November 1912) and the Second Balkan War against Bulgaria (Battle of Bregalnica 1913). Field-Marshal Putnik, expecting Bulgarian attack, had deployed his troops on the most important strategic points near the river Bregalnica (Bregalnitza), which was essential for a quick victory after the sudden, unannounced Bulgarian attack.

World War IEdit

Radomir Putnik in his office

Caught in Budapest when Austria-Hungary declared war upon his country, Field Marshal Putnik was allowed safe passage back to Serbia in a chivalrous and possibly self-defeating gesture by the Austro-Hungarian emperor Franz Josef.[2] After a troublesome trip, Putnik returned to Serbia and offered his resignation to King Peter I of Serbia on the grounds of age and ill health.[3] It was rejected, the king insisting that Field Marshal Putnik take command over the army, if only in a strategic sense, while younger generals, such as Stepa Stepanović, Živojin Mišić and Petar Bojović would take over operational duties. Putnik had to spend most of his time in a well-heated room. However, his impaired health did not prevent him from successfully organizing the campaign. Serbia defeated the Austro-Hungarian Army's offensives in August and September 1914 (battles of Cer and Kolubara), driving it out of Serbia by December 1914.

In early 1915, Prince Alexander insisted upon assuming direct command of the army from Putnik. Putnik refused to abide by request, arguing that it was unconstitutional and that a monarch could not assume such a responsibility.[4]

The Serbian front then remained relatively quiet until autumn 1915, when joint Austro-Hungarian, German and Bulgarian forces, led by German Field Marshal August von Mackensen, began a large offensive against Serbia with more than 300,000 soldiers. Before the joint attack, Putnik warned the Serbian government that Bulgaria was concentrating her troops at the eastern Serbian borders and that a preventive attack on Bulgaria was the only chance for Serbia to avoid fighting on two fronts. His demand was rejected due to the wishes of the Allies, who were still hoping to isolate Bulgaria from joining the Triple Alliance. Despite heroic resistance, the Serbian troops were obliged to retreat towards Kosovo. On 31 October, Putnik ordered a general retreat onto Kragujevac, attempting to keep his exhausted army together as it sought to escape into friendly territory. Many of Putnik's soldiers were farmers, who occasionally slipped away from the retiring army to resume their rural lives. Putnik's rapidly declining forces continued their withdrawal towards Albania during the first week of November 1915, a process aided by the fact that the Germans, Bulgarians and Austro-Hungarians were reluctant to pursue Serbian troops through the highlands of Albania. The Germans felt that the war against Serbia was won, with most of the nation under the control of the Central Powers. Regarding the Russian Empire as the main threat in the East, Mackensen was eager to move his forces back to the Russian front. The Bulgarians were satisfied with their territorial gains in Macedonia and southeast Serbia, while the Austro-Hungarians were equally content with the notion that the Bulgarians were not moving to establish a Greater Bulgaria.[5]

The final confrontation occurred in Kosovo, the Field of the Blackbirds, between 19 and 24 November 1915. The Serbs were afflicted by a new outbreak of typhus, while food and ammunition was in extremely short supply. Facing inevitable defeat Putnik made his last and most painful order on 25 November — full retreat, southwards and westwards through Montenegro and into Albania. His goal was to reach allied ships that would, he hoped, transport the core of the army to the safety of the Ionian islands. Many of the fleeing soldiers and civilians died during the retreat to the coast - lost to hunger, disease, attacks by enemy forces and Albanian tribal bands.[6] The circumstances of the retreat were disastrous, and all told, some 155,000 Serbs, out of 250,000 mostly soldiers, eventually reached the coast of the Adriatic Sea, and embarked on Allied transport ships that carried the army to various Greek islands (many to Corfu) before being deployed at the Salonika front in April 1916. In worsening health, Putnik had to be carried in a sedan chair during the retreat through snowy mountains of Albania,[7] exhausted by the effort and episodes of bronchitis, influenza and pneumonia. Putnik was met by allied forces in Scutari (Skadar) and transported first to Brindisi and then to Corfu, along with the core of the army.

Dismissal and deathEdit

In the atmosphere of recrimination that followed between the Serbian Government and the High Command, the entire General Staff was dismissed in January 1916, including Field Marshal Putnik. He felt embittered, having learned of his dismissal from a cashier who gave him his salary without a Chief of General Staff's supplement. He traveled to Nice, where the French authorities welcomed him with honors and gave him a villa. Putnik was overcome by lung emphysema and died on 17 May 1917 without seeing his homeland again.[8] His remains were transferred to Serbia in November 1926 and buried with honors in a chapel at Belgrade's New Cemetery. The grave carries the epitaph "Grateful Homeland to Radomir Putnik".


Mount Putnik in Alberta, Canada was named after him in 1918 for his exceptional services to the allied cause.[9] He is included in The 100 most prominent Serbs.

Military careerEdit

Putnik as a mayor, 1879
Field Marshal Putnik and king Peter of Serbia entering Prilep
Royal Serbian Army HQ in modern-day Skopje
Chapel with Putnik's remains, Belgrade New Cemetery
  • Commander of 3rd Mountain Battery, January 1867
  • Commander of Čačak Battery of People's Army, October 1868
  • Commander of 4th Mountain Battery, April 1867
  • Commander of Merzetska Battery, February 1871
  • Duties at Artillery inspection, October 1872
  • Duties at Department of the Artillery, January 1874
  • Chief of Artillery Factory at Kragujevac, 1875
  • Adjutant I class of Rudnik Brigade, April 1876
  • Chief of staff of Rudnik Brigade, June 1876
  • Commander of Rudnik Brigade, 1876
  • Commander of Vranje Military District, 1878
  • Duties at Artillery Department of Ministry of the Military, 1879
  • Chief of staff of Division of standing army, 1880
  • Commander of Toplica Military District, April 1881
  • Duties at Artillery Department of Ministry of the Military, March 1883
  • Chief of staff of Danube Division, September 1883
  • Chief of Foreign Intelligence Department of Operational Department of Main General Staff, 1886
  • Chief of Operational Department of Main General Staff, April 1888
  • Deputy Chief of Main General Staff, 1890
  • President of examination committee for a rank of major, March 1893
  • Commander of Šumadija Division, June 1893
  • President of examination committee for a rank of major, April 1894
  • Deputy Chairman of the Military Court of Cassation, January 1895
  • Retired on 26 October 1896
  • Chief of General Staff, 1903

Awards and decorationsEdit

Serbian military decorations
  Order of the Karađorđe's Star, Knight Grand Cross
  Order of the Karađorđe's Star, Grand Officer
  Order of the Karađorđe's Star with Swords, Grand Officer
  Order of the Karađorđe's Star with Swords, Commander
  Order of the Karađorđe's Star with Swords, Officer
  Order of the White Eagle, Commander
  Order of the White Eagle, Officer
  Order of the White Eagle, Knight
  Order of St. Sava, Grand Cross
  Order of the Cross of Takovo, Commander
  Order of the Cross of Takovo, Officer
  Order of the Cross of Takovo with swords, Cavalier;
Serbian Service Medals
  Medal for Bravery, Gold
  Medal for Bravery, Silver
  Commemorative medal of the King Petar I
  Commemorative medal of the wars with Turkey 1876-1878
  Commemorative medal of the war with Bulgaria 1885
  Medal for Devoted Service
  Commemorative Medal of the First Balkan War
  Commemorative Medal of the Second Balkan War
International and Foreign Awards
  Order of the Iron Crown, 3rd class (Austria-Hungary)
  Order of Military Merit, Grand Cross (Bulgaria)
  Legion of Honour, Grand Officer (France)
  Order of the Crown, Grand Officer (Romania)
  Order of Saint Stanislaus, 1st class (Russian Empire)
  Order of Saint Stanislaus with Swords, 3rd class (Russian Empire)
  Order of St. George, 4th class (Russian Empire)
  Order of St Michael and St George, Knight Commander (United Kingdom)


'Troop concentration on paper is a quick and easy matter.'

Ironic remark in a letter to Andra Knićanin on the movements of the Serbian army across very difficult terrain at the beginning of the Serbo-Turkish war of 1878.

'Those were only skirmishes with Turkish rearguards.'

Upon first hearing of the Battle of Kumanovo - The Serbian High Command expected that a decisive battle with the Ottoman forces has yet to take place - most likely on Ovče Polje plateau just north of Skopje. Also, due to communication problems, it first heard of the battle when it had already been won.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "VASE - Visual Archive Southeastern Europe". gams.uni-graz.at.
  2. ^ Rothenburg, G. The Army of Francis Joseph. West Lafayette: Purdue University Press, 1976. p 182.
  3. ^ Buttar, Prit. Collusion of Empires. p. 284. ISBN 978-1-78200-648-0.
  4. ^ Bakić, Dragan (2017). "Regent Alexander Karadjordjević in the First World War". Balcanica. XLVIII: 193.
  5. ^ Jordan 2008, p. 57
  6. ^ Tucker & Roberts 2005, pp. 1075–6
  7. ^ Willmott 2008, p. 121
  8. ^ Jordan 2008, p. 25
  9. ^ Karamitsanis, Aphrodite (1991). Place Names of Alberta: Mountains, mountain parks, and foothills. University of Calgary Press. p. 201. ISBN 9780919813731.


External linksEdit

  Media related to Radomir Putnik at Wikimedia Commons

Military offices
Preceded by Chief of the General Staff

Succeeded by
Preceded by Chief of the General Staff
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Minister of War
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister of War
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister of War
Succeeded by
Military offices
Preceded by Chief of the General Staff
Succeeded by