Montenegro, reporting for duty
The small Balkan country of Montenegro just became the 29th NATO member, despite the howls from a traditional ally, Moscow.
Below is the flag raising ceremony, performed by the Honour Guard of Montenegro, at NATO headquarters on June 7.
The uniforms worn by the guard represent the old Kingdom’s uniforms from the WWI era.
The historic force
The tiny mountain kingdom of Montenegro was the smallest of all combatants in the Great War. The population of the very poor country was placed at some 500,000, many times less than any of the other 1914 powers. Other than an imperial guard unit, the army had no real peacetime strength, the only professional soldiers being a small volunteer training cadre. The country however lived on a war footing, with each man required to carry a Gasser heavy revolver at all times by order of the king. The army was set to be mobilized within a period of 48 hours through the use of flag and lamp signals being sent from hill to hill. Every reserve Montenegrin soldier was given his personal weapons and equipment to keep with him at home and be prepared to report at a moment’s notice with his own change of clothes and short-term supply of foodstuffs.
To be blunt, the force was arguably the worst equipped army on the continent at the start of the Great War. It was perhaps the only military in Europe at the time that had no cavalry due both to a shortage of horses and unsuitable terrain. The kingdom had the worst roads (almost impossible in many cases except in single file) in a region known for poor roads. There were only 26 miles of railway in the entire country.
The soldiers in many cases wore no uniform, with most reservists showing up on mobilization day wearing a blend of civilian clothes accented with the occasional bandoliers, cap or greatcoat. Officers wore a uniform patterned on the Tsarist Russian Army of the time.
Artillery, pulled by oxen, was limited to about 70 pieces of a dozen different Italian and English makes dating to the 1850’s. Montenegro was an ally of the Russia, who donated most of the army’s weapons. In 1902, 44,000 artillery short swords, 30,000 Berdan breechloading rifles, and 25,000 Smith & Wesson .44 caliber revolvers were given by the Russians to their Montenegrin allies. The fact that all of these weapons had been withdrawn as being obsolete was of little concern. A small shipment of more modern Mosin Nagant M.91 bolt action rifles was sent just before the war.
Mobilized strength of the army was some 50,000 men organized into 59 battalions of light infantry and 16 independent 40-man “scouting units”. The officer corps was made up of about 700 officers, with field grade members principally selected by local tribal lots and votes, etc. for service in the army. These men often had very little if any modern military training. The army was, in particular, lacking in the region of medicine with not a single full-time military doctor, dentist, or veterinarian of any kind held on the rolls before the war. The Commander-in-Chief was King Nikola and the Army Chief of Staff was Serdar/Gen. Janko Vukotić, while Serbian Maj. Gen. Bozidar Jankovic served as field commander (all shown in the second plate above).
This force took the field on 29 July 1914 and met the Austrians combat. It was a seasoned group of mountain fighters, with the rank and file having just fought against the Ottoman Turks in the 1912-1913 Balkan wars, and they acquitted themselves well in inital battles.
Albanian nationalists took advantage of the Austrian invasion and launched their own incursion into Montenegro in August 1914. This forced the Montenegrins to fight a war on both ends of their tiny kingdom at once. It is not reliably reported how many casualties the hardy fighters took, but what is known is that the army gave their last full measure, being virtually wiped out in battle against the Austrians in the closing months of 1915. On 25 January 1916 Montenegrin Gen. Janko Vukotić, ordered the remnants of his army to lay down their arms and disperse, and then surrendered his staff to the Austro-Hungarians while King Nikola fled the country.
Post-war, Montenegro became part of Yugoslavia and her army was only reconstituted upon full independence in 2006.
Today, they amount to about 2,000 active and 500 reservists.
In recent years, they have participated in a number of international operations abroad and last week an 8-man Montenegrin maritime protection team that is currently on board the World Food Programme (WFP) ship, MV Esbjerg, won accolade from EU NAVFOR’s Force Commander, Rear Admiral Rafael Fernández-Pintado Muñoz-Rojas, for their work protecting the Esbjerg from Somali pirate action groups.