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Country Austria-Hungary
BranchAustro-Hungarian Army
TypeAuxiliary volunteer militia
RoleAnti-guerilla warfare
Size20,000 (peak strength)

The Schutzkorps (Serbo-Croatian: ?uckor;[1] lit. "Protection Corps") was an auxiliary volunteer militia established by Austro-Hungarian authorities in the newly annexed province of Bosnia and Herzegovina to track down Bosnian Serb opposition (members of the Chetniks and the Komiti), while its main victims were civilians.[2] Officially, they were some kind of auxiliary gendarmerie, while in reality they conducted illegal repressive activities.[3] It predominantly recruited among the Bosniak population and was known for its part in the persecution of Serbs.[4] They particularly targeted Serb populated areas of eastern Bosnia.[5]

The role of the Schutzkorps is a point of debate. Persecution of Serbs conducted by the Austro-Hungarian authorities was the first incidence of active "ethnic cleansing" in Bosnia and Herzegovina.[6] Some Muslim leaders emphasized that it would be wrong to blame the whole Muslim population of Bosnia and Herzegovina for the misdeeds of the Schutzkorps, because some Muslims provided help to their Serb neighbors, while some Serbs hid from persecution by applying to the Schutzkorps.


The Annexation crisis of 1908-09 erupted on 6 October 1908, when Austria-Hungary announced the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Many people of Bosnia and Herzegovina were dissatisfied with the events, particularly Serbs who remained in feudal obligations to their Muslim landlords. To prevent their uprising, Austria-Hungary undertook repressive measures against Serb population, conducted by Schutzkorps. Schutzkorps were organized in eleven battalions of volunteers.[7] In Herzegovina, the Schutzkorps avoided taking overly harsh measures against Serb populations near the border of Montenegro to avoid provoking its reaction. Since Gacko and Nevesinje are not near the border, its Serb population was subjected to terror from the Schutzkorps.[8] At the end of October 1908, Serbs of Gacko reported to the government in Sarajevo about the Schutzkorps' terror, but no action was taken to investigate their reports.[9]

After the outbreak of the First Balkan War in 1912, anti-Serb sentiment increased in the Austro-Hungarian administration in Bosnia and Herzegovina.[10]Oskar Potiorek, governor of Bosnia and Herzegovina, closed many Serb societies and significantly contributed to the anti-Serb mood before the outbreak of World War I.[11][12] The Government's plans to mobilize Croats and Muslims into Schutzkorps units in case of the war against Serbia were revealed in December 1912 in Banja Luka and caused protests among its Serb population.[13] The idea to revive volunteer units was not implemented.[14]

The Schutzkorps was re-established on Potiorek's orders following the assassination.[15] The leaders of the Pure Party of Rights in Zagreb played an important role in its establishment.[16] The Austro-Hungarians granted the Schutzkorps "full powers to deal with the Serbian population."[17] Its members were primarily Bosnian Muslims.[18][19] Bosnia and Herzegovina's Muslim inhabitants, with the exception of those who identified as Serbs, were generally pro-Habsburg.[18] The Austro-Hungarians rarely questioned their loyalty. Croats also served within the ranks of the Schutzkorps, as did some Serbs.[20] The militia's Serb members were motivated to join it because it precluded them from being sent to the frontlines.[21] The decision to recruit primarily amongst Bosnian Muslims and Croats was part of deliberate divide-and-rule strategy employed by the Austro-Hungarians, the historian Aviel Roshwald writes.[22] Initially, the militia consisted of around 11,000 men and 1,600 veterans.[23] It increased in size over the course of the war, eventually numbering 20,000 members.[24] The Austro-Hungarian authorities believed that the Serbs of Herzegovina were the most likely to launch an anti-Habsburg rebellion. Thus, about 5,000 members of the Schutzkorps, or about 45 percent of its initial manpower, were stationed in the region. Three-thousand of these were stationed in eastern Herzegovina.[25]

Hangings of Serbs in Trebinje, Herzegovina, by Austro-Hungarian authorities.

Following Austria-Hungary's declaration of war against Serbia on 28 July 1914, the Schutzkorps began conducting mass executions of Serb civilians in Herzegovina, notably hanging 79 of Trebinje's most prominent Serb citizens, among them intellectuals, landowners, and members of the clergy.[26] Killings continued throughout Herzegovina, accompanied by the taking of hostages, looting, and the destruction of property.[27] Executions were often arbitrary and the majority of victims were denied the right to legal recourse.[17] Along the Drina River, near the border with Serbia, the Schutzkorps were tasked with "anti-bandit operations", culminating in a massacre of Serb civilians near Fo?a.[24]

Imprisonment of around 5,500 (700 to 2,200 of them died in prison) and execution of 460 citizens of Serb ethnicity in Bosnia and Herzegovina at the beginning of the World War I heavily relied on Schutzkorps.[2][28] Around 5,200 Serb families were forcibly expelled from Bosnia and Herzegovina.[2] The Schutzkorps shouted anti-Serb slogans and songs, such as "There is no three-fingered cross", while committing their crimes.[29]

Members of the Schutzkorps were not issued Austro-Hungarian military uniforms. Instead, they wore black-yellow armbands to distinguish themselves from Serbian irregulars, who also did not wear uniforms. The Schutzkorps members' dressing in civilian garb and use of Serbo-Croatian to shout orders resulted in several friendly-fire incidents between them and the Austro-Hungarian Army. It was subsequently ordered that basic commands had to be shouted in German.[30]


This was the first persecution of substantial number of citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina because of their ethnicity.[31] Suljaga Salihagi?, a Bosnian Muslim, emphasized that not all Muslims were responsible for the activities of Schutzkorps because many provided help to their Serb fellow citizens.[32] Some Muslim leaders denied that Schutzkorps were strictly Muslim and Croat units because many Serbs hid in these units, some even commanded by men of Serb ethnicity.[33] One of the commanders of the Schutzkorps in the Te?anj region was Ademaga Me?i?, who went on to fight alongside the Usta?e during World War II.[34][35]

In 1929, a priest from Trebinje published a book, documenting the acts of persecution, murders, and destruction of houses committed by the Schutzkorps in Trebinje and several other villages of the region.[36] The formation of a local Schutzkorps unit in Visegrad, by Muslims, is described in Ivo Andri?'s 1945 novel The Bridge on the Drina.[37]


  1. ^ Nielsen 2014, p. 101.
  2. ^ a b c Velikonja 2003, p. 141
  3. ^ (Mitrovi? 1984, p. 104): "? ? ? ?, ? ? ? ?, ... »?« ? ? ? , ? ? ? ?."
  4. ^ Tomasevich 2001, p. 485

    The Bosnian wartime militia (Schutzkorps), which became known for its persecution of Serbs, was overwhelmingly Bosniak.

  5. ^ Schindler 2007, p. 29

    Schutzkorps units were particularly active in Serb areas of eastern Bosnia,

  6. ^ Lampe 2000, p. 109

    This was first incidence of active "ethnic cleansing" in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

  7. ^ Ekme?i? 1987, p. 269

    Volunteer formations (Schutzkorps) were created during the Bosnian crisis of 1909. Eleven flying battalions were then organized in the province.

  8. ^ Vuk?evi? 1985, p. 192
  9. ^ Vuk?evi? 1985, p. 192

    ,,?" ? , ? ? .

  10. ^ Frucht 2005, p. 644

    The Balkan Wars left Serbia as the region's strongest power. Serbia's relationship with Austria-Hungary remained antagonistic, and the Habsburg administration in Bosnia-Hercegovina became anti-Serb....

  11. ^ Frucht 2005, p. 644

    ...the governor of Bosnia declared state of emergency, dissolved the parliament,.... and closed down many Serb associations....

  12. ^ Velikonja 2003, p. 141

    The anti-Serb policy and mood that emerged in the months leading up to the First World War were the result of the machinations of Gen. Oskar von Potiorek (1853-1933), Bosnia- Herzegovina's heavy-handed military governor.

  13. ^ Drustvo Istoricara Bosne i Hercegovine, Sarajevo (1962). Godisnjak. p. 12.
  14. ^ Ekme?i? 1987, p. 269

    Although it had never took firm ground, the idea of volunteer units was revived in the crisis following the outbreak of the Balkan Wars

  15. ^ Dedijer 1974, p. 494

    On instructions from Vienna, General Potiorek established an auxiliary militia in Bosnia and Hercegovina-- the so-called Schutzkorps, in which he mobilized the scum of town and country. These were given freedom to deal with the Serbian...

  16. ^ Dedijer 1987, p. 143

    Frankova?ke vo?e iz Zagreba u stvaranju ?uckora 1914. u Bosni i Hercegovini imale su glavnu ulogu.

  17. ^ a b Judah 2000, p. 98.
  18. ^ a b Tomasevich 2001, p. 485.
  19. ^ Newman 2015, pp. 121-122.
  20. ^ Malcolm 1996, p. 163.
  21. ^ Bergholz 2016, p. 36.
  22. ^ Roshwald 2002, p. 85.
  23. ^ Hugo Schäfer (1934). Österreichs Volksbuch vom Weltkrieg (in German). Verlag Franz Schubert. p. 198. Retrieved 2013. Der Schutz im Innern Bosniens und der Herzegowina war der Gendarmerie anvertraut, die von dem ,,Schutzkorps", bestehend aus 11.000 verläßlichen Männern und dem Veteranenkorps, 1600 Mann, unterstützt wurde.
  24. ^ a b Lampe 2000, p. 109.
  25. ^ ? (2009). ? ?, ? : 1918-1929. . p. 42. ISBN 978-86-7363-604-7. Retrieved 2013. ? 11.000 ? ? ? ? ? 5.000, ? ? ? 3.000. 45% ? ? ? ? ? -
  26. ^ Lyon 2015, p. 72.
  27. ^ Lyon 2015, p. 118.
  28. ^ Schindler 2007, p. 29
  29. ^ Dedijer 1974, p. 494

    While committing their crimes, the Schutzkorps sang: an anti-Serbian song: "There is no three-fingered cross."

  30. ^ Schindler 2015, p. 129.
  31. ^ Velikonja 2003, p. 141

    For the first time in their history, a significant number of Bosnia Herzegovina's inhabitants were persecuted and liquidated for their national affiliation. It was an ominous harbinger of things to come.

  32. ^ Tomasevich 2001, p. 485

    Salihagi?, a Bosnian Muslim who considered himself a Serb, protested the blanket accusations that all Bosniaks were responsible for the activities of Schutzkorps...

  33. ^ Banac 1988, p. 367
  34. ^ skup?tina, Yugoslavia. Narodna (1936). Stenografske bele?ke Narodne skup?tine Kraljevine Jugoslavije. p. 234. Retrieved 2013. ? ? ? ? ? ? , ? ? ? ? ? ? ? .
  35. ^ Ribar, Ivan (1951). Politi?ki zapisi. Prosveta. p. 104. Retrieved 2013. ... Adem-aga Me?i?, poznat jo? iz Prvog svjetskog rata kao organizator takozvanog »?uckora«,...
  36. ^ Popovi?, Vladimir J. (28 June 1929). Patnje i ?rtve Srba sreza Trebinjskoga 1914. - 1918 (in Serbo-Croatian). Trebinje. Archived from the original (Transcript) on 3 May 2006. Retrieved 2014.
  37. ^ Midlarsky 2011, p. 221.


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