The Iron Regiment

Serbian soldier in WWI illustration
Serbian soldier in WWI illustration

During the liberation wars 1912-1918 (First and Second Balkan war and WW1), Serbia has mobilized around 100 infantry, cavalry and artillery regiments. All these military units boldly and courageously, at great cost, fulfilled their patriotic duty to the fatherland.

However only one regiment received the honorary title of “The Iron Regiment”, awarded to them in regard of the legendary courage they have shown in the battles. It was the second Infantry Regiment “Knjaz Mihajlo”. It was formed from the conscripts 21 to 31 years old (drafted from the regions of Toplica, Jablanica and Zaplanje), who participated in all the wars that Serbian army fought since September in 1912 until the middle of December in 1918.

What should be pointed out, especially when it comes to the Iron Regiment during the First Balkan, Second Balkan War and World War I, is that 16 000 fighters participated in the battle actions of this regiment. Iron Regiment participated in all big battles during that period. In the First Balkan War in Kumanovo, Prilep and Bitola battle. In the Second Balkan War in 1913 during the fights with the Bulgarian army, this regiment suffered losses of 50% of all soldiers. The commander of the regiment, all battalion commanders and all company commanders also died in this war. Since the war, the regiment began to carry the name “The Iron Regiment”.

In this war they gain immortal fame during battle of Bregalnica, when in the most critical moment on 18 June 1913, they stormed elevation 650, breaking through Bulgarian front, and resolving this battle in Serbian favor.

In the First World War in 1914 The Iron Regiment participated in the Battle of Cer, in its very center in the village of Tekeriš.

In the battle of Kolubara they were given the task by the Supreme Command to take important strategic high ground Kremenica. During this battle colonel Stojanovic commander of the regiment was sick, so the command of the battlefield was entrusted to the lower-ranking officers. In several bloody assaults regiment tried to take Kremenica, but failed, suffering heavy losses. Stojanovic could not lay in a bed, listening the news of the death of his soldiers. He got up and came to the position even though he could hardly stand on his feet. With the command ” Charge ” he boldly led his soldier in attack. Kremenica fell, and Milivoje Stojanovic died in battle.

Milivoje Stojanovic Brka
Milivoje Stojanovic Brka

After the Battle of Kolubara Commander of The Iron Regiment became colonel Dimitrije Milić. Early in 1915 the unit was transferred to Macedonia to strengthen the front with Bulgaria. In the end of 1915 The Iron Regiment soldiers were assigned to guard the retreat of the Serbian units and thousands of refugees. They are the last Serbian unit that left Serbian ground, and through Albanian gorges reached the sea.

In what later became known as Serbian Golgotha through the Albanian gorges, Serbian soldiers and civilians were trudging through the mountainous Albanian wastelands during the harshest wintertime (November 1915 – January 1916), plodding through the frost and snow poorly dressed, on the brink of starvation and exhausted. Their worst enemy was the Albanian population itself. Wherever they could, the Albanians were attacking from behind and stabbing the Serbs in the back, killing the nation in retreat whose state has been taken away. Some 100,000 Serb soldiers and refugees perished during this legendary march-maneuver of the Serbian Army, and only 125,000 of the Serbian soldiers have reached the Adriatic coast.

Soldiers of The Iron Regiment at Salonika front
Soldiers of The Iron Regiment at Salonika front

After a brief recovery they were deployed in Salonika front. The Iron Regiment was at the center of operations in the battle for the village of Gorničevo, and during the liberation of Bitola. Just on 25 September 1916, the regiment captured five Bulgarian officers and 804 soldiers, seized four guns, seven machine guns, 600 rifles, etc..

Immortal fame regiment gained capturing elevation 1212 on 4th November 1916, which allowed liberation of Bitola. Elevation 1212 was unofficially called (by the soldiers) the graveyard of The Iron Regiment.

Dead soldier of the Iron Regiment
Dead soldier of the Iron Regiment

After the breakthrough of the Salonika front in which they actively participated, the regiment participated in the battles for the liberation of Nis, Aleksinac, Paracin, Svilajnac…. In mid-December in 1918 regiment was withdrawn from Vojvodina to Belgrade. Where they served as a guard unit until the 5 May 1920, ensuring Palace, the National Assembly and the Ministry offices. Only when the guard was formed, the regiment was demobilized and the few surviving warriors, who in September in 1912 set off from Prokuplje in to the war, finally returned to their homes, burnt and devastated by the Bulgarian occupation.

Total losses of the regiment in the wars from 1912 until 1918. are approximately:
– Killed in battle 32 officers, 1 239 soldiers and non-commissioned officers.
– Wounded in battle 148 officers, 6 492 soldiers and non-commissioned officers.
These numbers do not include losses from diseases.

War Flag of the Second Infantry Regiment of the Morava Division (The Iron Regiment), is the most decorated flag of the Serbian army. She was awarded the following decorations:

– Order of the Karađorđe’s Star with Swords II class
– Order of the Karađorđe’s Star with Swords III class
– Order of the Karađorđe’s Star with Swords IV class
– Order of the White Eagle with swords III class
– Golden Medal for Bravery
– Croix de guerre with a palm

Twenty- seven officers and men were carriers of two Karađorđe’s stars. More than 250 officers and soldiers received one Karađorđe’s star. The greatest recognition regiment received in 1921 when the coffin of the late King Peter I was covered with the flag of the regiment.

Among the fighters of The Iron Regiment there were also the two famous women warriors:

Milunka Savić – Serbian war heroine who fought in the Balkan Wars and in the First World War. She is recognised as the most-decorated female combatant in the entire history of warfare. She was wounded no fewer than nine times during her term-of-service.

Milunka Savic
Milunka Savic

She was awarded the French Légion d’Honneur (Legion of Honour) twice, Russian Cross of St. George, British medal of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael, Serbian Miloš Obilić medal. She was the sole female recipient of the French Croix de Guerre 1914-1918 with the gold palm attribute for service in World War I.

Flora Sandes – was the only British woman officially to serve as a soldier in World War I. Initially a St. John Ambulance volunteer, she travelled to Serbia, where, in the confusion of war, she was formally enrolled in the Serbian army. She was subsequently promoted to the rank of Sergeant major, and, after the war, to Captain.

Flora Sandes by Aleksandar the King
Flora Sandes by Aleksandar the King

In 1916, during the Serbian advance on Bitola, Sandes was seriously wounded by a grenade in hand to hand combat. She subsequently received the highest decoration of the Serbian Military, the Order of the Karađorđe’s star Star. At the same time, she was promoted to the rank of Sergeant major.

To honour the bravery of the fallen, the Serbian composer Stanislav Binički composed the “March on the Drina”, a song which has become a symbol of the bravery of the Serbs during the First World War. Binički dedicated the march to Colonel Milivoje Stojanović, the third commander of the 2nd Infantry Regiment of the Serbian Army, which participated in the battle. Stojanovic was killed in the fighting.

To battle, go forth you heroes,
Go on and don’t regret your lives
Let the Cer see the front, let the Cer hear the guns
and the river Drina’s glory, courage!
And the heroic hand of the father and sons!
Sing, sing, cold water of the Drina,
Remember, and tell of the ones whom fell,
Remember the brave front, full of fire and mighty force
Whom expelled the invaders from our dear river!

Sing, sing, Drina, tell the generations,
How we bravely fought,
The front sang, the battle was fought
Near cold water
Blood was flowing,
Blood was streaming by the Drina.
By the Drina for the freedom.

These Serbs are tough in trouble, sober, modest, unbreakable. They are the free men, proud of their nation and the masters of their fields. For the freedom of their homeland these peasants instantly turned into the most courageous soldiers, the most persistent, the best of all soldiers. These are the glorious troops, made of endurance and zeal, the ones that make me proud of leading them, shoulder to shoulder with the French soldiers, to a victorious march for the freedom of their fatherland.


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