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Stepan Stepa Stepanović
Stepan Stepa Stepanović
Born 11 March [O.S. 28 February] 1856
Died 29 April 1929(1929-04-29) (aged 73)
Place of birth Kumodraž, Principality of Serbia
Place of death Čačak, Kingdom of Yugoslavia
Allegiance Serbia Principality of Serbia
 Kingdom of Serbia
 Kingdom of Yugoslavia
Years of service 1874 – 1920
Rank SrpskiCinovi18.PNG Vojvoda (Field Marshal)
Commands held Serbian 2nd Army
Battles/wars Serbo-Bulgarian War, First Balkan War, Second Balkan War, World War I
Awards Marshal of France (1918)
Order of the Karađorđe's Star with Swords rib.png Order of the Star of Karageorge with Swords
Ord.St.Sava-ribbon.jpg Order of St. Sava
POL Krzyz Wielki Orderu Sw Stanislawa BAR.png Order of Saint Stanislaus
Cavaliere di Gran Croce OCI Kingdom BAR.svg Order of the Crown of Italy
GRE Order Redeemer 1Class.png Order of the Redeemer

Stepa Stepanović CMG (Serbian Cyrillic language: Степа Степановић , pronounced [stɛ̌ːpa stɛpǎːnoʋitɕ]; 11 March [O.S. 28 February] 1856[a] - 29 April 1929) was a vojvoda of the Serbian Army who distinguished himself in Serbia's wars from 1876 to 1918.

Early childhood (1856—1866)[edit | edit source]

Stepanovic was born on 28 February from father Ivan Stepanović and mother Radojka (née Nikolić) in the village of Kumodraž near Belgrade. He was the third son and fourth child in line. Stepanović was named after his grandfather Stepan, afterwhom his whole family bears surname. There are two theories of his family origins.[1]

Birth house of Stepanović in Kumodraž.

First theory is that Stepanovic’s ancestors, who were known as Živanović, came from Bosnia and Lika. Second theory tells that his ancestors came from around Leskovac and Pirot during Great migration of Serbs.[2]

His mother Radojka had little time for him, because of the housework and would often leave him with her mother in law to take care of him. Before he attended primary school, he looked after cattle and was once hurt badly by the bull. His aunt saved him by sewing his wound with needle and string and he recovered in 10 days.[2]

Schooling (1866—1876)[edit | edit source]

He finished triennial primary school in Kumodraž and attended gymnasium in Captain Miša's Mansion. To finish his schooling, Stepanović often served wealthier Belgrade families.[3] He finished his first year with good grade and rest of the years with very good grade.[4] In September 1874, when he was supposed to enlist in sixth year of gymnasium, Stepanovic enlisted in XI class of Artillery school, without entrance exam. The reason was that every student who finished 5 years of gymnasium was released from exam. His class had 29 cadets.[5]

In those times Artillery school had more of technical character, so great amount of attention was initiated in mathematical subjects in which Stepanović was never good. He was not very good in foreign languages, although he used Russian and French literature. After Herzegovina Uprising broke out, Principality of Serbia started to prepare for war. Artillery school has adapted her program to practical martial training.[6]

In Septembar 1875, Stepa Stepanovic alongside his classmates received rank of corporal, and in May 1876 after passing exam he became Junior Sergeant. In June 1876, after Serbo-Turkish war broke out, whole XI class received rank of Sergeant and was sent on the frontline.[6]

First Serbo-Turkish war (1876—1877)[edit | edit source]

Stepanović arrived in Kragujevac on 14. May 1876. He was assigned on orderly officer duty in headquarters of Šumadija division. His commander was colonel Ljubomir Uzun-Mirković. Stepanović's job was to urgently carry commander's orders. Šumadija division was the main part of the Moravian army, but after the change of battle plans, it was divided in several squadrons.[7] Stepanović was in Uzun-Mirković’s squadron, who had orders to help Knjaževac army to conquer Babina glava and Bela Palanka in order to stop arrival of Ottoman reinforcements to Niš.[8] They managed to take over Babina glava and Stepa Stepanović was noted by commandant ″for being very agile and for good riding.″[9]

However, Ottoman army started counter offensive against Uzun-Mirković’s squadron, which retreated in Pandrilo. Ottomans attacked Pandrilo on 19. July and they were very successful. In fear that they might lose the battle, Stepanović alongside other officers actively participated in battle with regular soldiers. This action raised the moral of the troops and helped in turning over tide of the battle.[10] This experience affected Stepanović greatly and he often used this action to raise the moral of his troops.[11]

After the fall of Knjaževac, Stepanović with his squadron arriveed from Deligrad to Sokobanja, in order to avert Ottomans from reaching valley of Morava. In Sokobanja, Serbs regrouped and formed 4 army corps. Stepanović was transferred in Fourth corps under the command of Colonel Đura Horvatić.[12]

Fourth corps marched across Kurilovo and reached Vinik where it attacked enemy’s position. However, Corps moved on to Deligrad and arrived on 7. September. They clashed with Turks on 11. September near Krevet. Fourth corps had important role, but it could not make Ottomans to flee, because the front line was too wide. Battle was finished indecisively.[13]

Armistice begun on 1. November 1876. On 1. December, Stepa Stepanović received Gold medal for bravery and became Second Lieutenant. On 13. February 1877, Stepanović was appointed as commander in 3. company of Third battalion in the standing army.[14]

Second Serbo-Turkish war (1877—1878)[edit | edit source]

In Second Serbo-Turkish war, Stepa Stepanović had distinguishable role in taking of Pirot. General Jovan Belimarković didn’t capture city in charge, because Ottomans had fortified two points Nišor and Budin del. To pass trough those two points, Belimarković formed special unit that had around 300 chosen soldiers. Their mission was to attack left flank of Nišor and their commander was Second Lieutenant Stepa Stepanović.[15]

Between 26. and 27. September, Stepanović’s unit passed unnoticed around Nišor and took Mali vrh. In the morning of 27. September, when main attack began, his squad opened rifle and artillery fire on Nišor. This action confused Ottomans who found themselves surrounded.[15] One soldier of Stepanović’s unit said: ″I find that, if I’m not wrong, our action has struck main blow to the Turkish position on Nišor and had resolved fate of the Pirot.″[16]

For this success Stepanović was awarded with Orded of St. Stvetislav III class with swords and ribbon. This award was his favorite of all that he received in career, because ″he was first who entered Turkish trech.″[16]

On 3 December, Šumadija Corps started march from Pirot to Niš in two echelons. During this march, Stepanović was commander of forces that moved across Suva planina. Under his command he had half battalion of infantry and some cavalry. This march was difficult, because terrain was bad from the weather. Stepanović later said that this was his toughest assignment in the war. He managed to bring all soldiers safely and ready for battle.[17]

On 23 January 1878, High command issued orders telling Šumadija division to take over Vranje. Then Šumadija division drove away Ottomans from Poljanica and beat them at Grdelička klisura. On 25 January, Stepanović has became commander of volunteer squad which job was to arm local Serbs in Poljanica. Few days later at the battle of Vranje, he attacked Ottomans from the north of the town at Devotin.[18]

Period of peace (1878—1885)[edit | edit source]

After the war ended, Stepanović partook in additional classes on Military academy, to finish his schooling. He finished those classes in 1880. In September 1880, on his personal wish, he was appointed to service in Kragujevac. There, he was command officer of Second company in Third battalion of standing army. In October 1880, he became commander of First company in the same battalion.[19]

In Kragujevac, Stepanović met his future wife Jelena (1861-1843), daughter of Velislav Milanović who was chief of Kragujevac srez. They married on 25. July 1881.[20] Next year, on 21. April 1882, his first daughter Milica was born, and year after that his second daughter Danica.[21] Both daughters married an officer, his daughter Milica married Second Lieutenant dr. Krsta Dragomirović, and Danica married 1st class captain Jovica Jovičić,[22] who later became Division General.[23] In his first official evaluation (last quarter 1880), special commission wrote report about him:

Apprehensive. He shows talent in general, and especial history of the Serbian people. He has determined and bold character, and has temper. He easily understands and he is fast on action with good results. Healthy, strong, agile and for practical service able. He is very good marksman, rider and swimmer. If there is a need, he can command a company, he has knowledge and he can transfer it to the subordinates. In the rest of the official rules he is also good; useful for administration and monetary service. He works ardently. To the younger he is strict and righteous, to the equals he is gregarious, and to the elders very kind and thoughtful.[24]

On 1 September 1882, he received the rank of infantry Lieutenant and he became command officer in Užice. He stayed in Užice until 13. February 1883, when he came back to the Kragujevac. When he arrived in Kragujevac he was appointed as military adjutant in Šumadija infantry regiment.[24]

The same year Serbia listed military exercises in gymnasium programs, so Stepanović became teacher of military exercises in First Kragujevac gymnasium. He stayed on this position until 1886.[25]

Serbo-Bulgarian War (1885)[edit | edit source]

During the battle of Slivnitsa, Stepanović was commander of the 1. company in the 2. battalion which was part of the Šumadija division. His Division attacked village Vrapče and enforced Bulgarians to fallback. In report that he sent to the commander of 12. regiment it is noticeable lack of coordination between division, regiments and battalions.[26]

Few days later, Stepanović became commander of the 1. battalion in the 12. regiment and together with colonel Binički’s troops attacked weakened Bulgarian center on Slivnitsa. Bulgarians started to retreat and Serbs took over region around village Aldomirovtsi. In his report he wrote about his soldiers: ″Behavior of soldiers in this battles was excellent, because they showed great curability despite moving over the open field while there was cross fire. Behavior of the officers was satisfactorily, in regard of courage and good command of the troops.″[27]

On 19 November, king Milan ordered general retreat towards Pirot. Three days later Bulgarian army marched toward Pirot and started main attack on Neškov vis. Stepanović’s 12. regiment defended position and was forced to retreat. He wrote in his report: ″...I moved along to the hospital towards where bulks of our troops retreated. No effort of the elders could bring them back. More soldiers followed them and then that ridiculous mob pushed away officers who tried to stop them.″[28]

Rise (1886—1903)[edit | edit source]

After the war ended, Stepa Stepanović returned to Kragujevac, where he stayed until November 1886. In Kragujevac, Stepanović was commander of a company in 10. regiment. At the end of 1886, he passed exam and became II class infantry captain. He was aspirant in the General Staff from 22. November 1886 to 22. October 1888. At the meeting which was held at the end of 1888, General Staff’s commission stated ″that II class captain Mr. Stepanović showed enough qualification and proof for headquarters’ service.″ In addition: ″So he should be approved to start an exam this winter for the rank of I class captain.″[29]

In March 1889, he reported for exam, and commission gave him permission on 2 April to start. From 2–6 April, he was doing theoretic part of exam in 12 subjects. He was released of doing practical part of exam, because he received very good grade on headquarters’ journeys and missions. Shortly before exam, he became executive of Drina divisional area, so after the exams he moved to Valjevo. On 17 April 1889. he became I class captain.[29] In the spring 1892, Stepanović did exam for Major in the same time like Milutin Milanović and Živojin Mišić, and the president of the commission was Radomir Putnik. He was doing exam from 29. March to 15. April and he was successful in passing it. Stepanović became commander of the 5th battalion in Požega on 13. September 1892. In Požega, he became Major on 8. May 1892. Later, on 14. August he was moved to Valjevo to be once again executive of Drina divisional area. He did that service until 20. October 1895, when he was moved to Belgrade.[30]

He stayed in Belgrade for five months where he was commander of seventh battalion, and then he became chief of General Staff’s department in Ministry of military. He also became part professor of war history on high class in Military academy. Then on 30. March 1897, he became acting commander of 6. infantry regiment in Belgrade. The same year on 11. May he was promoted to Colonel and two days later he became commander of the 6. Infantry regiment. Stepanović became chief of General Staff’s department in the Command of active army on 27. October 1898.[31]

He stayed on this function until 15 March 1899 when he was transferred to work in Ministry of defense and he became executive of General military department. Although he didn't like to work in office, he made great impression in ministry and was remembered like someone who is very strict and punctual. He was transferred again to Valjevo on 17. October 1900, where he became commander of Infantry brigade in Drina division. Because of misunderstanding on 11. November, he was transferred in Zaječar and assigned as commander of Infantry brigade in Timok division. He liked this position and said: ″Troop for officer is the same as water to fish, and especially headquarter officer. There he can show what he knows and he can show results. Office kills the spirit, drains the strength and change man into mechanism.″[32]

On 18 August 1901, Stepanović was promoted in headquarter colonel, and on 11 November he became deputy executive of the Active military command. He was on that position until 15. December 1902, when he became executive of the General Staff. King Alexander I of Serbia has decorated him with Order of the Cross of Takovo II class. In this period he was honorary professor of mar craft in High school, where he lectured Napoleonic of 1796 and 1805. He was also editor of military magazine Ratnik (Warrior).[32]

Change on the Serbian throne (1903—1907)[edit | edit source]

May Overthrow happened on 28/29. May 1904. This did not affect Stepanović’s career, but he did not like conflict between officers. After overthrow, he became section head of common department in Ministry of defense, and then he became commander of Šumadija division. Because of these positions, many historians think that Stepanović was on the side of conspirators, even tough he said on numerous occasions that he was neutral.[33]

Newly appointed king, Petar I Karađorđević decorated him with Order of the Star of Karađorđe III degree on 29. June 1904. Stepanović, took an example from general Đura Horvatić and instituted Prussian drill in his division. He punished every irregularity, inaccuracy, legal offence and confiscation of state property.[33]

In the Spring of 1906 in Kragujevac, where Stepanović was garrisoned as commander of Šumadija division, there was so called Corporal counter conspiracy. Some historians believe that conspiracy has been triggered by Stepanović’s strict regime. About 30 officers of Kragujevac garrison had planned to take several important public buildings in Kragujevac and then to arrest Stepanović. However, conspiracy has been discovered on 30. April 1906 and Stepanović arrested 31 persons. He wanted to arrest more, but he was stopped by the minister of defense general Radomir Putnik.[33]

Stepanović was deeply shook by the conspiracy and later declared:

″It is a sore point of my whole career. I had many tough things in my life, I swallowed injustice and derecognition, they offended me and neglected me, but nothing touched me more like that thing. I feel sorrow for those young people who were misled by faithless and elevated speculators, because their army career, where they could be of great benefit to the people and fatherland. But, I could not do anything to help.″[33]

Ministry and preparations for war (1907—1912)[edit | edit source]

Stepa Sptepanović was elevated to the rank of general on 29. June 1907, but he stayed as commander of Šumadija divisional area. After Corporal scandal and Artillery question, Nikola Pašić formed new government on 12. April 1908 and Stepanović became Minister of military. During his mandate, Stepanović tried to modernize armament and to remodel old rifles of Mauzer-koka system.[34] One of his decision was to buy new Artillery from the France.[23] When Serbia was trying to buy machine guns, Stepanović was very conservative as Colonel Vlajić, who worked in Stepanović’s cabinet, wrote:

″I've had hassle acquiring machine guns. This new weapon, which all armies were armed with, needed to be introduced in the army and I was trying to get certain amount for each regiment, but the minister Stepa said to me one day: I, myself, love more one platoon of shooters rather than your machine guns. Please do not patronize me that one machine gun can replace one platoon of infantry.″[34]

In October 1908, after annexation of Bosnia, massive protest erupted in Serbia and Montenegro. Great amount of citizens wanted to wage war against Austria-Hungary, but the Stepanović as minister assured government and the parliament that country and the army were not ready for war, and that there is to undertake great amount diplomatic, financial and military training.[34]

His attitude on this matter, caused him a barrage of criticism from many sides, even in the press. Therefore, at the beginning of 1909, he was dismissed as minister of military and became minister without portfolio. During 1909, he actively collaborated with the Putnik on the preparation of the army for war. At the beginning of 1910, he became commander of Morava divisional area, and achieved much with his experience and work enthusiasm so that Morava division was prepared for war.[34]

At the beginning of March 1911, Stepanović became minister of defense again. Soon after, an event occurred which caused suspicion among Prince Aleksandar Karađorđević that Stepanović is sympathizer of Dragutin Dimitrijević Apis. As Prince once heard that Apis wasn’t really friend of the House of Karađorđević and that he wanted foreign monarch on the Serbian throne. Then, outraged Prince called Apis to come to the General Headquarters where he shouted on him. Apis calmly listened to Prince’s angry words and then told him: ″Yes! And what did you think? Did we put our head in the bag so you two could fight and scramble for the throne like with some kind of throne? You are wrong! We can again put our head in the bag.″[35]

Hearing this, Prince rushed right to the minister Stepa Stepanović in the Military headquarters and requested that Apis and General staff major Milovan Milovanović Pilac get transferred from the Belgrade. Stepanović told him that ″the request isn't within competence of the Prince, but he will tell the king and if king decides.″ Unhappy with this Stepanović’s attitude, Prince went back to his office and wrote his resignation as Supreme army inspector and sent it to the king. King tomorrow called him and tore his resignation down.[35]

When Stepa Stepanović became minister of defense for the second time, the government of the Kingdom of Serbia realized that Great powers wanted to divide Balkan and that Christian population of Ottoman Empire was struggling. During his term, Serbia signed a several defense agreements other Balkan countries thus was creating Balkan League. Stepanović alongside general Radomir Putnik and colonel Živojin Mišić, developed plans for mobilization, concentration and strategic development of the Serbian army in the war against Turkey.[35]

In the fall of 1912, the government of Milovan Milovanović resigned after his death and when Marko Trifković formed new, Radomir Putnik became new minister of defense.[35]

First Balkan War (1912—1913)[edit | edit source]

First operations[edit | edit source]

With the start of the First Balkan War, Stepa Stepanović has became commander of the Second army, which had 60 000 soldiers and 84 cannons. The army was concentrated in the Kyustendil–Dupnitsa area. It contained I Timok infantry Division and Bulgarian Seventh Rila infantry Division. The army had mission to attack rear and back Turkish positions before the First Serbian army. Informing the Serbian troops that the Seventh Rila Division became part of the Army, Stepanović said this: ″I look with confidence our future work and strongly believe in success, because for centuries separated and now fraternized and embraced, closest brothers, Serbs and Bulgarians represent an irresistible force that will crush all hurdles and liberate downtrodden brothers.″[36]

On 17. October 1912, General Putnik told general Stepanović that war was declared against Ottoman empire and ordered his army to move closer to Ottoman border, but not to cross it until further notice. However Bulgarian High command told commander of Rila Division, General Todorov, to cross border and attack Carevo selo and Gornja Džumaja, which he managed to capture. Stepanović congratulated them with the words: ″Hurray heroes of the Seventh division.″[37]

During the 18. October, Timok Division started to attack Ottoman positions in direction Rujen-Crni vrh, and next day they captured Crni vrh on the orders of Stepanović. On 21. October, Serbian High command ordered Timok Division to start offensive towards Kumanovo. Uninformed that battalion, commanded by Mayor Dobrosav Milenković, already captured Kriva Palanka without fight, Stepanović ordered all the necessary maneuvers for capturing the town. This wasted a lot of time, but majority of the Division managed to pass through Krivorečka gorge without any resistance.[37]

In the early noon, Calvary Regiment started a fight 5–6 km away from the Stratsin and managed to capture it until the nightfall. Yet again, Stepanović hasn’t been informed about this event, and next day he ordered his troops to capture Stratsin, which wasted a lot of time. After this event, communication was established between the First and the Second Serbian army and road to Kumanovo was open.[37]

First world war[edit | edit source]

Monument in Kumodraž.

At the beginning of World War I he acted as the representative of the absent chief of staff Radomir Putnik. He was responsible for mobilization and some war preparations. After Putnik's return he took command of the Second Army. In World War I, he led the Serbian army in a great victory in the Battle of Cer, where his Second Army completely defeated the Austrian Fifth Army, arriving to the scene after a forced march. This was the first allied victory of the war, and he was promoted to Vojvoda (Field-Marshal). His army achieved successes in the Battle of the Drina and Battle of Kolubara, in addition to the defence of Serbia in 1915.

In 1918 he was again in command of the Second Army which was a part of the large Allied offensive in Macedonia, they achieved a breakthrough on 15 September. The Second Army advanced to the Bulgarian border and from there, after Bulgarian capitulation on 29 September 1918 turned West towards Bosnia and the Adriatic Sea. He was an active officer until the end of 1919, when he retired from service as the commander in chief of the Serbian army. During his career he was also serving as the minister of the army on two occasions. enuis He was decorated with the "Takovski krst sa ukrštenim mačevima" medal for bravery during the 1876-1878 wars against the Turks. He was also awarded the Knight Grand Cross (GCMG) of The Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George. He died in the town of Čačak on 29 April 1929.

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. ^ Birth date: Stepanović's birthdate is often misinterpreted as 12 March 1856. Yet, since he was born 28 February 1856 (Old Style), and the difference between the calendars was twelve days at the time, 1856 being a leap year, it can be calculated that Stepanović was actually born 11 March 1856 (New Style).

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Skoko & Opačić 1990, p. 11.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Skoko & Opačić 1990, p. 12.
  3. Skoko & Opačić 1990, p. 13.
  4. Skoko & Opačić 1990, p. 14.
  5. Skoko & Opačić 1990, p. 25.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Skoko & Opačić 1990, p. 25-26.
  7. Skoko & Opačić 1990, p. 37.
  8. Skoko & Opačić 1990, p. 38.
  9. Skoko & Opačić 1990, p. 40.
  10. Skoko & Opačić 1990, p. 41.
  11. Skoko & Opačić 1990, p. 42.
  12. Skoko & Opačić 1990, p. 47.
  13. Skoko & Opačić 1990, p. 53-56.
  14. Skoko & Opačić 1990, p. 58-59.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Skoko & Opačić 1990, p. 72-73.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Skoko & Opačić 1990, p. 74.
  17. Skoko & Opačić 1990, p. 75.
  18. Skoko & Opačić 1990, p. 81.
  19. Skoko & Opačić 1990, p. 93.
  20. Skoko & Opačić 1990, p. 94.
  21. Skoko & Opačić 1990, p. 95.
  22. Popović Ljubodrag, Milićević Milić (2003) (in Serbian). Generali vojske Kneževine i Kraljevine Srbije.. Beograd: Vojnoizdavački zavod. pp. 222–229. ISBN 86-335-0142-2. 
  23. 23.0 23.1 Bjelajac, Mile S. (2004). Generali i admirali Kraljevine Jugoslavije 1918-1941. : studija o vojnoj eliti i biografski leksikon. Beograd: Inst. za Noviju Istoriju Srbije. p. 281. ISBN 86-7005-039-0. 
  24. 24.0 24.1 Skoko & Opačić 1990, p. 97.
  25. Skoko & Opačić 1990, p. 99.
  26. Skoko & Opačić 1990, p. 121-122.
  27. Skoko & Opačić 1990, p. 128-130.
  28. Skoko & Opačić 1990, p. 132-133.
  29. 29.0 29.1 Skoko & Opačić 1990, p. 143-144.
  30. Skoko & Opačić 1990, p. 149-151.
  31. Skoko & Opačić 1990, p. 156-160.
  32. 32.0 32.1 Skoko & Opačić 1990, p. 165-166.
  33. 33.0 33.1 33.2 33.3 Skoko & Opačić 1990, p. 182-190.
  34. 34.0 34.1 34.2 34.3 Skoko & Opačić 1990, p. 190-197.
  35. 35.0 35.1 35.2 35.3 Skoko & Opačić 1990, p. 197-205.
  36. Skoko & Opačić 1990, p. 212.
  37. 37.0 37.1 37.2 Skoko & Opačić 1990, p. 216-221.

Sources[edit | edit source]

  • Skoko, Savo; Opačić, Petar (1990). Vojvoda Stepa Stepanović u Ratovima Srbije 1876-1918 (6. ed.). Belgrade: BIGZ. ISBN 86-13-00453-9. 

External links[edit | edit source]

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