Abstract: This article attempts to reconstruct the key segments of the events that took place at Lake Plav on December 25th, 1915, when 21 Serbian soldiers were executed by order of Colonel Aleksandar K. Stojšić. The source base for this research had to rely on the memoirs and recollections of contemporaries due to the limited mention of this topic in official military correspondence. This unprecedented event signaled the appearance of a new type of war related violence in the Serbian army. Besides the issues of desertion, violence and punishment in the armed forces, this article also discusses the notions of sovereignty and citizenship in times of extreme hardships of war during the Great Serbian Retreat. Many Serbian soldiers who left their units in late 1915 tried to defend themselves by saying that the “military oath” was invalid because Serbia was “abandoned” or “lost”. Such a situation forced the military authorities to try to regain their shaken authority by “negotiating discipline” under completely new circumstances.

Keywords: deserters, Serbia, Great War, Colonel Aleksandar K. Stojšić, court martial


The article deals with the incident of the mass execution of Serbian soldiers from the Plav Detachment in December 1915. Based on the four sources that mention this event, an eff ort was made to reconstruct the context and the shootings that eventually took place. By analyzing this event, the article also focuses on the possibility of deepening the understanding of the Serbian army during the Great Retreat. The incident reveals that the most important military concepts were put under intense control at the end of 1915.This includes the concepts and meaning of the military oath, unit flag, and soldier’s and officer’s honor. In addition, the loss of national territory, one of the key elements of state sovereignty, further pushed ordinary Serbian soldiers to question the capacity of the state and its right to executive power. After all, the silence about this event was broken only aft er the Second World War, in emigration. In this respect, the Plav shootings are very significant for understanding the culture of memory that was built and maintained around the dramatic events of 1915–1916.