The campaign to establish Austro-Hungarian rule in Bosnia and Herzegovina lasted from 29 July to 20 October 1878 against the local resistance fighters supported by the Ottoman Empire. The Austro-Hungarians entered the country in two large movements: one from the north into Bosnia, and another from the south into Herzegovina. After a series of battles in August, culminating in the fall of Sarajevo on the 19th, after a day of street-to-street fighting. In the hilly countryside a guerrilla campaign continued until the last rebel stronghold fell after their leader was captured.
Article 25 of the Treaty of Berlin of 13 July 1878 granted the Austro-Hungarian Empire authority to occupy the vilayet of Bosnia and Herzegovina indefinitely, taking on its military defence and civil administration. The Austro-Hungarians also received the right to indefinitely occupy strategic posts in the sanjak of Novi Pazar. Although the Ottomans protested the occuption of Novi Pazar, the Imperial and Royal (K.u.K.) Foreign Minister Gyula Andrássy secretly assured the former that the occupation in Novi Pazar was "to be regarded as provisional". This Austro-Hungarian expansion southward at the expense of the Ottoman Empire was designed to prevent the extension of Russian influence and the union of Serbia and Montenegro.
The Austro-Hungarians expected no trouble in carrying out their occupation. It would be, in Andrassy's words, "a walk with a brass band" (Spaziergang mit einer Blasmusikkapelle). This opinion did not take into account that the Serbs had just fought a war for independence from Turkey, while Herzegovina had revolted. Resistance to the Austro-Hungarian takeover came mainly from the Serbian Orthodox element (43% of the population) and the Muslim Bosniak element (39%), barely at all from the Croatian Catholics (18%). The Muslim population stood to lose the most under the new Christian government. The resistors were characterised by the Austro-Hungarian government as "uncivilised" (unzivilisiert) and "treacherous" (verräterisch).
The original occupying force, the 13th Corps under General Josip Filipović, crossed the river Sava near Kostajnica and Gradiška. The various Abteilungen assembled at Banja Luka and advanced down the road on the left side of the Vrbas river. They encountered resistance by local Muslims under the dervish Hadži Loja, supported (almost openly) the evacuating Ottoman troops. On 3 August a troop of hussars was ambushed near Maglaj on the Bosna river, prompting Filipović to institute martial law. On 7 August a pitched battle was fought near Jajce and the Austro-Hungarian infantry lost 600 men.
A second occupying force, the 18th Division of 9,000 men under General Stjepan Jovanović, advanced out of Austrian Dalmatia along the Neretva. On 5 August the division captured Mostar, the chief city of Herzegovina. On 13 August at Ravnice in Herzegovina more than 70 Hungarian officers and soldiers were killed in action. In response, the Empire mobilised the 3rd, 4th and 5th Corps.
On 19 August the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, a town of 50,000 inhabitants at the time, was captured only after the deployment of 52 guns and violent street fighting. A day earlier Filipović had arrested the former Ottoman governor, Hafiz Pasha. A formal report of the Austro-Hungarian General Staff remarked "small windows and numerous roof gaps allowed the discharge of fire in different directions and the most sustainable defense" and "the accused insurgents, in the nearest houses, barricaded all entrances and kept up a destructive fire against the infantry."[lower-alpha 1] According to Filipović's own account:
"There ensued one of the most terrible battles conceivable. The troops were fired upon from every house, from every window, from each split door; and even women took part. Located at the western entrance to the city, the military hospital was full of sick and wounded insurgents. . ."[lower-alpha 2]
The occupiers lost 57 killed and 314 wounded of the 13,000 soldiers employed in the operation. They estimated the insurgent fatalities at 300, but made no effort to estimate civilian casualties. In the days following there were many executions of accused rebels following summary trials.
After the fall of Sarajevo the main insurgents retreated into the mountainous country beyond the city and there maintained their resistance for several weeks. Hadži Loja surrendered to the K.u.K. Hungarian Infantry Regiment No. 37 Erzherzog Joseph on 3 October in the ravine by Rakitnica. He was sentenced to death, but his sentence was later commuted to five years' imprisonment. The castle of Velika Kladuša surrendered on 20 October.
The Austro-Hungarian Empire was forced to use five corps with a collective strength of 153,300 soldiers and 112 guns to subdue Bosnia and Herzegovina. The General Staff estimated there were 79,000 armed insurgents assisted (illegally) by 13,800 regular Ottoman soldiers with about 77 guns. Total Austro-Hungarian losses were about 5,000: 946 dead and 3,980 wounded. There is no reliable estimate of Bosnian or Ottoman losses. During the campaign, an article in the German-language Hungarian newspaper Pester Lloyd criticising the army's preparedness for the occupation was censored on the orders of Emperor Franz Joseph.
There is an exhibition in the Museum of Military History in Vienna about the 1878 campaign. It contains several items from the personal property of General Filipović, an insurgent banner and captured Ottoman weapons.
- Der ganze äußere Umkreis Sarajevos war stark besetzt. Aber auch im Inneren der Stadt gestatteten die engen Gassen mit ihren vielen Häusergruppen und einzelnen in den Erdgeschossen leicht zu verrammelnden Gebäuden, deren kleine Fenster der Stockwerke und zahlreiche Dachlücken die Abgabe des Feuers nach verschiedenen Richtungen zuließen, die nachhaltigste Verteidigung. Von der Umfassung der Stadt vertrieben, warfen sich die Insurgenten meist in die nächsten Häuser, verbarrikadierten alle Eingänge und unterhielten ein vernichtendes Feuer gegen die nachstürmende Infanterie.
- Es entspann sich einer der denkbar gräßlichsten Kämpfe. Aus jedem Hause, aus jedem Fenster, aus jeder Tür spalte wurden die Truppen beschossen; ja selbst Weiber beteiligten sich daran. Das fast ganz am westlichen Stadteingange gelegene Militärspital, voll von kranken und verwundeten Insurgenten. . .
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