The German attack on the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and the rapid capitulation of the country in the April War are usually viewed today with reserve and a slight sense of empathy because of the way and time in which it was lost.
However, even that short-lived war, whatever its consequences, had its heroes whose exploits were no less valuable and great than those from the time of the insurrection or the First World War.
Such is the story of the unjustly marginalized and relatively recently discovered heroism of the lieutenant of a first class battleship, Aleksandar Berić (1906-1941). Although he is known in historical and military circles, the general public knows him less well.
A sudden and quick attack by the Nazi aviation at dawn on April 6, led the country’s military leadership to put all branches in the service of air combat. The river flotilla of the then army had a double task. In a very unenviable position, it had to protect the withdrawal of the army towards the interior of the country, and on the other hand, it also had the task of preventing the attacks of bomber squadrons with its artillery weapons.
The border sector of the Danube in the region of Bezdan was defended by the Drava monitor at the time. This warship consisted of a crew of 77 crew members under the command of Aleksandar Berić.
The memories of several surviving sailors, whose story the public found out about only in 1998, tell us about the events on the ship.
Yugoslavia’s accession to the Triple Alliance was received with indignation and indignation among the sailors of the war flotilla. Officers and soldiers did not agree with the subjects’ policy and considered that act a betrayal of the country. However, only two days later, the soldiers welcomed the news of the military coup and the termination of support for the Triple Alliance with enthusiasm. However, the soldiers were aware that they could expect only one thing – a German attack.
Therefore, in those days, they switched to the position of war and were ready to wait for the development of events and the expected actions.
They received the news of the bombing of Belgrade on April 6 by telegram and immediately headed to the Bezdan region in order to protect the border.
During their six days of uninterrupted action, they shot down and severely damaged over 20 planes and two patrol ships of the Axis Powers. It was a day and night fight of defiant sailors who did not want to give up or surrender.
The common position was – to shoot down or load as many planes as possible and not to surrender alive to the enemy. They remained on board even when the commander relieved them of their oaths.
On that fateful April 12, 1941, 12 low-flying German planes crashed into the zone of action of their defense. The goal of the attack planes was to sink the “Drava”. One by one, they crashed into the monitor. The artillery managed to thin out their successive raids, but the deaths of its personnel and the lack of ammunition had a weaker effect on the resistance attempt.
The sixth bomb that hit the monitor completely disabled its movement and created cracks into which water began to penetrate.
The monitor began to sink, and the crew commander, Aleksandar Berić, ordered the surviving sailors to leave the ship.
The crew initially refused to leave the ship, and even managed to hit one plane in the moments of sinking. Time was running out and seconds were at stake.
The commander of the ship, Aleksandar Berić, remained collected and responsible until the end. He ordered the surviving and wounded sailors to jump into the water. Aware of the impossibility of any further resistance and struggle for a bare life, they jumped into the water, but when they turned their gaze for the last time to the monitor that was running, they were shocked by the sight.
Commander Berić was standing on a sinking monitor next to the flag, which was still flying. The honorable officer remained to jump along with his ship – with dignity. According to the memory of the survivors, the last moment in which he was seen was the moment in which Berić greeted the flag.
The ship sank, and the “silhouette” of the heroically and defiantly killed Aleksandar Berić survived the war and remained a reminder to new generations of how to love and defend their country.
REMOVED FROM FORGETTING
The feat of the sailors of the “Drava” was almost forgotten for a long time. Retired Rear Admiral Boško Antić made sure that he was not completely covered by the veil of oblivion. At his initiative, the family of Captain Berić was awarded recognition in 2000, and then the naval base in Novi Sad took the name of the hero Berić.
In 2017, in the presence of members of the state and military leadership in Novi Becej, a memorial bust was erected to the lieutenant of the battleship Aleksandar Berić. Also, one street in that place bears his name.
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