Novi Bečej and Vranjevo through History

Explore the extraordinary past of Novi Bečej and Vranjevo through the pages of the book 'Novi Bečej and Vranjevo through History.' Uncover political events, economic development, and cultural heritage of these Banat towns through richly documented stories. Follow the evolution from the earliest days to the present, delving into the intricate threads of political intrigues, economic transformations, and cultural ascensions. Experience the past through the eyes of the author as the pages of the book unfold before you, providing a unique perspective on the life and legacy of these significant locales.

Aleksandar Berić, Lieutenant of the First Class Battleship

Aleksandar Berić, Lieutenant of the First Class Battleship

Aleksandar Berić was born on June 13, 1906, in Novi Bečej. His father, Ivan Berić, was an accountant at the Vranjevačka Serbian Savings Bank in Novi Bečej, born in Stari Bečej, while his mother, Draga Dimitrijević, was a housewife from Subotica.
It is interesting to note that at the time of registration in the birth registry (June 13, 1906), the newborn was not given a name, but it was done later on July 1, when the father declared that the child would be named Šandor (Aleksandar).
Aleksandar Berić is among the few commanders in the April War (1941) of old Yugoslavia who did everything in their power to resist the enemy and not surrender anything to them, insisting that everything they conquered must be paid for with great sacrifices in manpower and material.

He graduated from the Naval Military Academy in 1928, and in the April War of 1941, as a Lieutenant of the First Class Battleship, he commanded the monitor Drava, securing the border sector of the Danube near Bezdan.
The monitor Drava had a displacement of 536 tons and a speed of 13 knots. It had two cannons and three howitzers in its turrets, caliber 120 mm, as well as two 66 mm anti-aircraft guns and seven machine guns. The thickness of the ship's armor was 25 to 30 mm. The former Yugoslavia had four monitors obtained after the collapse of Austria-Hungary as reparations. These were: Vardar, Sava, Drava, and Morava. The command of the river fleet was in Novi Sad, which was also the base. The monitor division was deployed according to the war plan:

a) Group I consisted of Monitor Vardar, commanded by Lieutenant of the First Class Battleship Milivoj Kockar (killed in 1941 under the Zemun Bridge).
— Sava — commanded by Lieutenant of the First Class Battleship Srećko Rajs (was in the Yugoslav Navy after World War II).
b) Composition of the river fleet Bezdan—Batina:
— Drava — commanded by Lieutenant of the First Class Battleship Aleksandar Berić (killed on April 12, 1941).
c) Composition of the river fleet in Stara Kanjiža:
— Morava — commanded by Lieutenant of the First Class Battleship Boško Aranđelović (no information available about him).

The division's task was to cooperate with regional units of the ground forces and aviation to block the river and prevent enemy ships from supporting their ground force actions.
Berić took command of the monitor Drava in the autumn of 1940, and on March 27, 1941, after the overthrow of the Cvetković—Maček government, he was ordered to sail to Bezdan. He arrived in Bezdan during the night between March 27 and 28. In order to better control the Danube towards the Hungarian border, the monitor sailed to the right bank in the night between April 4 and 5 and anchored in a willow grove two to three hundred meters upstream from the port of Batina.
On the first day of the war, April 6, around nine o'clock, Hungarian planes began to attack, firing machine guns at the ship, to which the ship's crew effectively responded. This repeated on April 6 and 7. Already on April 8, the ship lost all communication with the Command of the River Fleet and its other units. Drava remained in Bezdan until April 10 and, under constant attacks by Hungarian aviation, protected the transfer of troops from one of our ground units from Baranja to Bačka. The next day, April 11, at 2 p.m., the ship was attacked by four Hungarian large patrol boats of 130 GRT armed with four 70 mm cannons each, which sought to prevent the transfer of Yugoslav ground units across the Danube. Drava, with its artillery fire, after a thirty-minute battle, forced the Hungarian boats to retreat.

Commander of the Osijek Division, whose troops were transferred from Baranja across the Danube to Bačka, acquainted Commander Berić of Drava with the state and chaos in the Yugoslav army on the evening of April 11. After this knowledge, Berić ordered the entire crew of the ship to assemble at 9 p.m. and informed them of the situation they were in. On this occasion, according to the memory of surviving members of the Drava crew, who respectfully and proudly recounted the words of their brave commander, he said among other things:

"According to the news I have received, it seems that we are losing on all fronts. Croatia has declared itself a republic, and I know that among you there are Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Hungarians, and Germans, who find it difficult to fight against their own brothers. I don't know what lies ahead for us tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, and whether we will survive. I have taken command of the ship and will not allow it to fall into the hands of the enemy. Whoever wants to leave the ship can go; I relieve them of their oath."

Out of eighty-three crew members, nine left the ship, five of whom were sailors of Hungarian and German nationality from the vicinity of Batina and Bezdan. On the same evening, the remaining part of the crew, consisting of seventy-four sailors, non-commissioned officers, and officers, sank and destroyed all navigational objects in Bezdan so that they would not fall into the hands of the enemy. Commander Berić ordered another assembly at 10 p.m. On this occasion, he presented his further plan. He intended to sail the ship down to Novi Sad, if the city was not already in enemy hands, which he would ascertain during the journey. If Novi Sad was in enemy hands, then they would disembark in Fruška Gora and then cross into Serbia and further towards the Adriatic Sea. After disembarking the crew, the Drava monitor would be completely destroyed with explosives. He advised the crew that if this disembarkation occurred, each should take as few belongings as possible but be well-shod and armed. He noted that he had not received plans of mine obstacles nor knew where the mines were laid on the Danube, so the ship would be driven by luck. After that, weapons and ammunition were distributed, which the crew was supposed to take with them after the ship was destroyed.
The monitor sailed from Bezdan on April 11, 1941, around 11 p.m. The weather was cold, cloudy with occasional snow, and the water level of the Danube was high, which facilitated navigation. In the morning of April 12, around three o'clock, the monitor stopped in front of the destroyed bridge near Bogojevo, which blocked the passage. Several steel beams were removed with explosives, allowing the ship to pass. Meanwhile, while the monitor was stationary for clearance, the machine room manager, Ensign Aničić, with two non-commissioned officers and four sailors, "traitorously fled from the ship in a motorboat towards Erdut".
The last day of the Drava monitor and its crew, April 12, dawned clear and very favorable for aviation activity. The crew was fully prepared and expecting enemy attacks. At 7:15 a.m., one enemy reconnaissance plane was observed at a high altitude, which circled above the monitor and flew off in the direction from which it came. After fifteen minutes, or more precisely at 7:30 a.m., nine enemy dive bombers immediately began the attack.
The first attack was carried out in horizontal flight, and although the ship was showered with numerous bombs, none hit the target, but all fell around the monitor into the water. After the unsuccessful attack, a repeated attack was made with diving, accompanied by the terrifying howling of the dive bombers. During this attack, in addition to the large number of bombs dropped on the ship, the crew was fired upon from machine guns. The first plane to dive was shot down and crashed into the Danube. The same fate befell the second plane, which crashed immediately after the first one was shot down. The next, third, plane, which aimed at the monitor, did not even get to dive, as it was hit by anti-aircraft fire, caught fire, and flew towards Bačka, where it inevitably crashed. This was followed by a third attack by enemy aviation, which with its machine-gun fire managed to destroy a good part of the anti-aircraft gun crew of the monitor, so the remaining crew could no longer act effectively. Thus, even bombs began to hit the target. After the fifth bomb hit the ship, when water began to flood rapidly, defense almost completely ceased. The sixth bomb hit the ship's chimney, and from it, the personnel of the engine department were killed, except for Chief Petty Officer Karl Banauh, who flew off and fell into the water.
Throughout the bombing of the ship, although wounded, Commander Berić remained at his post, from where he calmly and coolly commanded. As composed and conscientious as he was, he even issued an order in such a situation to burn the codes in the ship's boiler room so that they would not fall into enemy hands. "The commander stayed on the ship until the water reached his doors, and, wounded and helpless, swam to the shore. Several days later, his body was found along the Danube shore, near Čelarevo, with two bullets in the back of the head. Since enemy troops had not yet arrived by then, it is assumed that he was finished off by one of the fifth columnists who had wounded him."
Ante Klarić, who was an officer on the ship commanded by Berić in 1939, wrote about Berić as a leader and a man. According to Klarić, the ship found itself in a very difficult situation, and when no one could come to their aid, Berić calmly and energetically issued orders that saved the ship and the entire crew. According to Klarić, Berić was above all a patriot, a very capable officer, and an exemplary man. He treated the subordinate personnel fairly and saw them as his comrades and friends. He felt a special satisfaction when he could help someone. He was considered an advanced officer in the army, which could hinder his further advancement. Because of his virtues, he was loved and respected and enjoyed great authority among the younger cadre.
Klarić concludes his article with the words: "Although a little late, I wanted to pay tribute to my former commander, Lieutenant of the First Class Battleship Aleksandar Berić, with the intention that this feat not be forgotten and that our people and generations get to know it."
The Drava monitor is the only ship of the former Yugoslav navy that was sunk in battle.
The heroic behavior of Commander Aleksandar Berić and the crew of the Drava monitor in April 1941 "represents a unique example of organized resistance in the former navy and is one of the rare examples of warfare on rivers. This feat is worthy of mention and deserves full recognition."
After such great words from our naval warfare experts, we cannot help but note with regret that recognition for Aleksandar Berić was lacking. He was not proclaimed a national hero.
Aleksandar Berić's feat deserves special recognition, not only because he heroically fought in the war, as there should have been many more like him, but also because when he learned that the war was lost and Yugoslavia had practically disappeared, he told the crew that the ship would not be surrendered to the enemy. Besides not allowing the ship he commanded to fall into enemy hands and destroying three enemy aircraft in battle, he prevented any other navigational object in Bezdan and its surroundings from being used by the enemy. In conditions of complete hopelessness, he devised a plan for further combat in case the ship approached Fruška Gora.
Although he relieved soldiers, non-commissioned officers, and officers of their oath, more than four-fifths of the entire crew remained with him to the end, which speaks to his reputation and great authority as a commander.

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