Considering that she's the single most-decorated female soldier in world military history, a grizzled seven-year veteran of three wars fought across two continents, a two-time recipient of her country's highest award for military bravery, and a poor farm girl who single-handedly captured at least fifty enemy combatants and two enemy trenches during her career, there's not a whole lot of digital ink on the Internet dedicated to Sergeant Milunka Savic that isn't printed in a language with so many consonants and accent marks that it looks like someone fell asleep on the keyboard with their character map open.
There should be.
Milunka Savic was born in Koprivnica, Serbia, some time in either 1888 or 1889, depending on whether you're down with the Gregorian Calendar or if you're still hung up on that Julian Calendar bullshit. We don't know much about her early life in this tiny rural mountain village, except that in 1912, at the age of 24, she got bored of her regular life, chopped off all her hair, dressed in men's clothing, and volunteered for the Serbian Army to help fight the First Balkan War and drive the Ottoman Turkish Empire out of Europe forever on a tsunami of bullets and brain matter. Some sources claim she did some Mulan-style Freaky Friday shit and took her brother's spot after her bro was drafted in to the King's service, though I wasn't able to confirm this because shockingly I don't actually speak a hell of a lot of Serbo-Croatian (although I am trying to learn…seriously). Either way, she enlisted, and since nobody realized she wasn't a dude (or at least they didn't give a shit if she was or wasn't) they handed Milunka a rifle and a helmet and a couple of hand grenades and sent her on her merry way to blast the entrails out of the enemies of the Serbian people with a chuckable sphere of explosives the size of a softball.
Savic face-shanked her way through the First Balkan War with a razor-sharp bayonet and a handful of 7.62xmmR ammunition, participating on the front lines of several key battles as the combined armies of Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, and a couple other countries smashed the armies of the crumbling Ottoman Empire and drove their shattered remnants back across the Bosporus and out of the Balkans forever. Unfortunately, however, this was just the beginning of some pretty fucking dark days in Southeastern Europe. You see, apparently some expansionist assholes in Bulgaria got their panties in a wad about wanting to add Macedonia to their Empire, but since Serbia is the one that captured it from the Turks they of course said take a long hike up the slopes of Mount Doom and dump your balls in the lava when you get to the top. The Bulgarians took this out of context, got mad, and sent their entire army into Macedonia to wrench it from the cold dead hands of every Serbian they could find, two million soldiers mobilized on either side of the border, and mere months after the Balkans had miraculously united in a common cause (death-hate for the Turks) the Bulgarian and Serbs went right back to beating the shit out of each other with lead pipes and pitchforks.
Pvt. Savic barely had time to swap the dried blood from her rifle before the Second Balkan War was on like Donkey Kong, and once again this estrogenocidal kicker of other peoples' nutsacks was back out on the front lines lobbing grenades with reckless abandon like the Ikari Warriors or a tennis ball machine juryrigged by the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski. Positioned at the dead center of the Serbian lines during the Battle of Bregalnica, Milunka Savic and the now-famous Serbian "Iron Regiment" bore the brunt of the Bulgarian attack, withstanding the full might of their forces and then launching a desperate series of counter-attacks aimed at breaking their onslaught. On her tenth (!) combat charge leading a squad of men straight-on over barbed wire towards Bulgarian machine guns, artillery guns, and bayonets, Savic was hit by an enemy grenade and blown off her feet with shrapnel wounds throughout her body, and could only watch and bleed as her countrymen managed to carry this final attack, defeat the Bulgarians, and capture two divisions of enemy soldiers in the process. The badly-wounded Savic was carried to the field hospital, where the doc working on her was fairly surprised to learn that she had girl parts where her man-junk was supposed to be.
Serbian troops headed to battle in 1914.
Once she was healed of her wounds, Private Milunka Savic was brought before her commanding officer to try and explain what the hell was the deal with the whole not having a dong thing. She stood at attention and said, yeah, sure, I'm a girl, but I also just fucking charged face-first into artillery fire while spewing large-caliber rifle fire in every direction and dishing out hand grenades like parking tickets, so deal with it. Her commander offered her a transfer to the nursing corps, where she could hang back from the front lines and patch up wounded soldiers and let the real men handle all the messy bayonet-to-the-crotch work.
She told him she would not accept any position that did not allow her to carry a gun, charge into combat wherever it presented herself, and fight the enemies of her people.
He told her he'd think about it, and that she should come back tomorrow for his decision.
She stayed at full attention and told him, "I will wait".
He made her stand there for about an hour before he agreed to let her stay in the infantry. He also promoted her to Junior Sergeant, because, fuck it, she probably had bigger balls than any man in her unit anyways.
Serbian Army soldiers waiting to the order to cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war.
The Second Balkan War ended in 1913, but even more nasty shit went down in Sarajevo Town on June 28, 1914, when the Austro-Hungarian Empire's Archduke Franz Ferdinand – a man famous solely for his ability to be shot to death – was assassinated by a Serbian Anarchist named Gavrilo Princep. Certainly you've heard this story before, particularly if you're a big fan of hipster music, but basically the Austro-Hungarians were good buddies with the Bulgarians, and Princep was like "fuck that" because his people had just been to war with Bulgaria, etc. Long story short, Austria-Hungary was pissed, and they invaded Serbia. Serbia was allies with the United States, England, France, and Russia, and Austria-Hungary was friends with the Turks and the German Empire, and the next thing you know you've got World War I on your hands and the Austro-Hungarian Empire is marching half a million jackbooted Teutonic goons with stupid hats and large rifles across the Serbian border to turn their entire country into a flaming inferno.
The Austo-Hungarian Empire sent out 450,000 men from a hardcore, battle-tested, professional army that was equipped with top-of-the-line German and Austrian artillery and machine guns and drilled to lock-step precision in every aspect of military combat. The Serbian Army consisted of 250,000 citizen-soldiers, mostly volunteers, carrying cast-off weaponry handed down to them from the Imperial Russian Army (you know, the guys who had just lost a humiliating war to Japan and who were about to get massacred by the Germans). So, as you can expect, some crazy shit was about to go down.
That crazy shit was that the entire Serbian Armed Forces formed up in one place and full-on balls-out charged a force that was nearly twice the size of their own.
WWI troops going over the top.
Sergeant Milunka Savic, commander of the Iron Regiment's Assault Bomber Squad, charged into the Battle of the Kolubara River armed with her Mosin-Nagant rifle and three bandoliers of hand grenades – one across each shoulder and one worn across her waist like a belt. She single-handedly assaulted an Austrian trench, rushing across No Man's Land (I feel like there's an Eowyn / Return of the King joke to be made here) hurling grenades out like Mardi Gras beads and blasting the fuck out of everything around her, then diving feet-first into an Austrian bunker with her bayonet at the ready. Inside, she found 20 men, all of whom threw their weapons down and surrendered to her. Once those POWs were secured, she continued on, dropping bombs like a Predator Drone and smoking enemy machine gun nests from distances so impressive that from this day forth her nickname was "The Bomber of Kolubara", stopping only when an enemy artillery shell landed next to her and planted a couple pieces of shrapnel in her head. For her exploits on the battlefield, Savic received the Karadjordje Star with Swords, the highest award for bravery offered by the Kingdom of Serbia, and the battle was such a success that the Serbs pushed the Austrians out of Serbia completely. They didn't return for 10 months.
Well, shrapnel in the head or not, there was still a war to fight, and Sergeant Savic went right back into action just a few months later. At this point, Serbia was in deep shit – they were alone, without any support, badly outnumbered, and being attacked from all sides by armies from Bulgaria, Austria, Germany, and the Ottoman Empire. Savic fought like a demon as the Serbian Army scrapped for their lives, earning a second Karadjordje Star at the Battle of Crna Reka in 1916 when she attacked a Bulgarian trench, cleared it out with grenades, rifle fire, and a bayonet, and single-handedly took 23 Bulgarian soldiers prisoner.
But the war was going badly for Serbia, and with the vengeful Bulgarians and Austrians burning Serb cities the Serbian Army evacuated as many civilians as they could and began a long, brutal fighting withdrawal through the knee-deep snow drifts and snow-covered mountains of Montenegro, Albania, and Kosovo as they withdrew to the coast. Milunka Savic was wounded seven more times during this fighting retreat (bringing her total wounds to nine!) as she and her people desperately attempted to evacuate tens of thousands of civilians and save the core of her army.
When she reached the coast and was evacuated by French and British warships, she was one of just 125,000 soldiers left in the Serbian Army.
Serbian withdrawal through Montenegro.
The Serbian Army withdrew to Corfu, then Greece, where they joined up with the French Army and continued the war against the Turks and Krauts and other assorted villainy. Serving in the Serbian Brigade of the French Army, Sergeant Savic continued commanding the Assault Bomber Squad, fought through the rest of the war, ended up on the front page of some European Newspapers, and ended up winning enough awards from her service that her ribbon board weighed roughly the same as a suit of medieval plate armor. She received the French Legion d'Honneur twice, the Russian Cross of St. George (awarded for "undaunted courage by a non-commissioned officer), the British Medal of the Order of St. Michael, the Serbian Milos Obilic Medal, and was the only woman from World War I to receive the French Croix de Guerre (the highest bravery award they have).
The best story from this time period, however, is this. While stationed on a base in Thessalonica, some French officer got word that she was fucking brutal with hand grenades. He laughed at the idea that a woman could be that badass, so he took a bottle out of a case of ultra-expensive 1880 Cognac, set it on a post 40 meters (131 feet) away, and dared her the rest of the case that she couldn't hit it.
She drilled it on her first try. That night her unit blew through 19 bottles of the finest Cognac on Earth.
After the war ended and Serbia was liberated, Milunka Savic declined an offer from the French government to move her to Paris and put her up with a nice pension, instead opting to return to her homeland. She got married, had a kid, got a job at a bank, and adopted three children who had been orphaned by the war. When the Germans came through Belgrade during the Second World War in 1940, Savic refused an invitation to attend a banquet held in honor of the city's New German Overlords – a feat that got her a ten-month stint in Banjica Concentration Camp. She survived that as well, however, and after the war she was offered a state pension for being such a ridiculousy-hardcore war hero.
Milunka Savic, the world's most decorated female war hero, died in Belgrade on October 5, 1973, at the age of 84. She was buried in a famous cemetery there with full military honors.
Heroes of Serbia
Serbian History Site
Collection of Serbian News Articles
Bucur, Maria. Staging the Past. Purdue Univ. Press, 2001.
Batinic, Jelena. Gender, Revolution, and War. Stanford Univ. Press, 2009.
Deroc, Milan. British Special Operations Explored. East European Monographs, 1988.