Unternehmen «Weiß» aka IV Enemy Offensive

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Unternehmen «Weiß» aka IV Enemy Offensive

Post by Lt.-Colonel » 12 Dec 2005 11:28

INTRODUCTION

In the second half of 1942, during the failed Axis offensive code-named «Trio» (because there was troops from 3 Axis states involved in it: German, Italian and NDH ones), Tito led his Main Operative Group (GOG; Glavna Operativna Grupa) from the eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) and the northern and NW Montenegro to the western B&H and bordering areas of Croatia. Tito and his Vrhovni štab (Vrhovni Shtab; Supreme HQ) decided that the Partisan combat cannot be successful in Serbia, and they concluded that in the mountains of Montenegro their efforts would be insignificant. The only reasonable course of the action was to penetrate the areas of high strategical importance to the enemy.

On their way to Croatia the GOG gravely sabotaged the Sarajevo-Mostar railroad and that caused a major setback of the Axis bauxite exploatation in that area. Above that, 2 bridges were blown up and some 20 smaller enemy units destroyed.

By the end of July 1942 complete southwestern and western B&H was liberated as well as the parts bordering Croatian regions: Banovina, Kordun and Lika. Only one garrison remained in that area, town named Kupres in western Herzegovina. Kupres was defended by the battalion of Crna Legija (Black Legion, independedt regiment of Ustaše) - skilled and determined fighters. Partisans launched several attacks on Kupres, but only thing achieved was the butcher's bill! They had to satisfy themselves with the isolation of Kupres’ garrison.

Then the GOG turned north to the little Bosnian town named Jajce. NDH had 1.200 troops in defence of that town, but in 2-3 days the defenders lost 440 soldiers, and were forced to pull out. Clensing of the northwestern B&H and the borderning parts of Croatia lasted until the end of September 1942. The huge new liberated territory was founded, and the strength of Partisan troops grew in numbers, despite grave losses, because of mass-joinment of the people from the liberated areas. In the northwestern B&H 4 new brigades were formed, and in Croatia 9 new brigades and embrio of the Partisan fleet.

The next step was to liberate Bihać (Bihach) in NW Bosnia. Tito sent complete GOG in the attack, while the VŠ NOVH (Vrhovni štab Narodnooslobodilačke vojske Hrvatske; Supreme HQ of the People Liberating Army of Croatia) asigned 3 Croatian Partisan brigades in the aid of GOG.

Attack on Bihać commenced 10/1/1942. Ustaše and Domobrani had 9 battalions in defence. The attacking Partisans managed to infiltrate two battalions in the town, while the other troops attacked from three sides. Defence was confused, but it resisted for the next three days. Bitter urban combat finished 4th October 1942, when survived ustaše and domobrani ran north and west from Bihać. In that operation the Partisans lost some 300 KIA/WIA, while the NDH troops suffered losses of some 650KIA/WIA and 835 captured soldiers.

The last quarter of 1942 was the zenith of the nazi Germany. In USSR the Germans have reached Grozny, and they almost took the rich petrolium-fields, but the Red Army put them ablaze. Swastika was flying over the top of Mt.Elbrus, the highest peak of Caucasus. Rich Ukraine was completely in the German hands, and ferocious battle was fought for the control over Stalingrad. In Africa, Rommel tried to maintain his gains, but he was repulsed and routed from Alamein. The Battle for Atlantic raged all over it, from the eastern USA coast, through ruogh high seas of the northern Atlantic, up to Murmansk, and down to “Horn” and “Hope” - and it was still a deadly stalmate.


By the end of 1942 one more critical spot emerged on the maps in OKH – B&H and Crotia. Several German operatios versus Partisans already failed, and that worried Hitler. His southeastern complex (fear of Allied landings in Greece and Yugoslavia; Churchill’s idea) was beginning to show.

Hitler wrote to “Army Group E” C-i-C, Generaloberst Alexandar Loehr, and advised him about his plans for Balkans. Hitler agreed with the Bulgarian King Boris about widening of the Bulgarian Occupation Zone in Serbia. That will make one German division available for the anti-Partisan operations. It was the notorious 7th SS Geb.Div. “Prinz Eugen”. That unit was constituted of the volksdeutsche population only (the German minority in the Serbian region Vojvodina (Voivodina; Duchy), and in the eastern Croatian regions of Slavonia and Baranja; Barania). They knew the language, the terraine, and the mentality of their opponents - that made them very dangerous to Partisans.

Furthermore Hitler pressured the Italians for some extra units for the new major offensive. He concluded his letter with thought that Germany must help NDH to root out the Partisans who mainly operated on her soil. After the destruction of Tito and his troops, Hitler wanted to destroy Chetniks, because he didn't trust them at all. He thought they will become turncoats in the case of the Allied invasion of Balkans. After the destruction of Tito and disarming of chetniks, there won’t be need for the German troops to stay in NDH anymore, and they will be put to use in USSR.

One important measure was increasing combat ability of NDH forces. Domobran troops were demoralised, and they thought only about staying alive. However, there was several thousands of high-spirited Domobran soldiers. These crack troops were pulled out of the field and sent on mountain inf. training. They formed three Mt.Inf. brigades.

By the end of 1942 a new legionare (the NCOs and the crew were Croats, but the COs were Germans) division was trained and sent to NDH. It was 369th Inf.Div. aka «Teufels Division» (The Devil’s Division). SS recruiting officers were sent to NDH in order to form the muslim-catholic SS division (but it was formed only in mid-1943 under the name 13th SS Geb.Div. «Handschar»).

Hitler thought that these reinforcements will put an end to the Partisan movement, but he wanted the new offensive «right now, in the middle of the Winter». He also said that « the peace must be established in NDH, even if it is a peace of the graveyard».

The Germans and their allies devised the plan code-named «Weiss» (White). It was an operation that should've been carried out in 3 phases. Therefore the phases of the offensive were Weiss I, II and III.

Weiss I:
• The destructions of the Partisans in NW parts of the «Bihać Republic», in the area of towns Karlovac, Ogulin, Gospić, Knin, Bosanski Petrovac, Prijedor and Glina;
• disarming of the Chetniks in the western NDH (that should've been the Italian job).

Weiss II:
• In the continuation of the «Weiss I» the Axis troops should've destroyed the Partisans in the eastern parts of «Bihać Republic», in the areas of towns Drvar, Glamoč (Glamoch), Livno, Jajce (Yaytse) and Ključ (Kliuch).

Weiss III:
• Disarming the Chetniks in the eastern Hercegovina and in Dalmatia;
• Disarming the Chetniks in Montenegro.

Since the Partisans weren't destroyed in the beginning of the operation and since the Italians had no real wish to disarm the Chetniks, that part of the plan was scratched. Since the German plan went wrong the whole offensive turned into 3 major battles:
1. Battle on River Una;
2. Battle on River Neretva;
3. Battle on River Drina.

WEISS I
Battle on River Una 1/20/1943 – 2/20/1943

The Axis

The details on Weiss I were completely cleared out during the meeting of the German General Loehr and the Italian General Roatta in Zagreb. The plan was to cut the Partisan controlled territory in the northern and the southern half along the road (west-east axis) Karlovac-Slunj-Bihać-Bosanski Petrovac-Ključ. That task fell to the motorised elements of the 7th SS Geb.Div. «Prinz Eugen» (attacking from Karlovac/west) and 717th Div. (attacking from Sanski Most/east). These elements had to meet in Vrtoče (Vrtoche) area on the 2nd day of the offensive. After that vital road was in the Axis hands, areas north and south of it should have been methodically sweeped and cleaned by the other divisions.

Disposition of the Axis units

Units assigned on breakthrough mission:
• 717th Division was supposed to attack south from Sanski Most to Ključ, and then to proceed the attack along the Ključ-Bosanski Petrovac-Vrtoče road;
• 7th SS Geb.Div. «Prinz Eugen» was supposed to attack from Karlovac south to Veljun, and from there to proceed the attack down the Veljun-Slunj-Bihać-Vrtoče road, while one of the divisional regiments placed in the area east of Karlovac was ordered to attack south to Velika Kladuša, and from there to Bihać, giving the left flank protection to the main body of the division.
It was planned that the forward units of those divisions will connect in Vrtoče area, on the second day of the offensive.

Units assigned on the sweep-clean mission were:
• 369th (kroatische) Division (7th SS Geb.D. left flank) reinforced with one regiment from 187th Reserve Div. and 3rd Domobranski Gorski Zdrug, was supposed to jump off from the Glina-Kostajnica line;
• 714th Div. was supposed to jump off from the Bosanski Novi – Sanski Most line;
• 2nd Domobranski Gorski Zdrug (under the tactical control of 717th ID's HQ) was supposed to attack following the Sanski Most-Bosanska Krupa road, moving along the southern line of the road;
• Lombardia Div. (7th SS Geb.D. right flank) was assigned to move from the area of town Ogulin towards Slunj, and then to attack Bihać;
• Re Div., reinforced with 1 battalion of Ustaše and 2 Domobran battalions, and one battalion from Sassari Div., was supposed to jump off the Lovinac-Lički Osik-Vrhovine line and to advance in a concentric moves towards Bihać;
• Sassari Div. jumped off from the Lovinac-Gračac line and it had to attack north, following Bruvno-Donji Lapac-Bihać road;
• one regiment of Chetniks from «Dinarska Divizija», and one «flying brigade» of Chetniks from Hercegovina were supposed to jump off from the positions around Knin, and to move through the Valley of River Una towards Kulen Vakuf, in tight tactical cooperation with Sassari Div.;
• 12 squadrons of the Luftwaffe, Ratno Zrakoplovstvo NDH and Reggia Aeronautica were assigned for the tactical air support.
The German grand total for the Battle on River Una was 44.000 WH&SS soldiers, 4.000 Domobran soldiers and 800 Ustaše. The Italian grand total for the Battle on River Una was 21.500 Italian soldiers, 2.500 Chetniks, 2.000 Domobrans and 1.000 Ustaše.
The Axis grand total for the Weiss I was 75.000 soldiers.

The NOVJ

Josip Broz «Tito», the C-i-C of the NOVJ, and his Vrhovni štab heared the rumors about the upcoming offensive, but the informations were too sketchy and blurry. It wasn't possible to learn the enemy's intentions from those informations. In those circumstances Vrhovni štab decided that there is no reason to completely stop with the harrasing the enemy communications near the northern border of «Tito's state». That was a mistake, because that decision led to the fact that some of the NOVJ units were caught in bad defensive positions when the Axis attacked. However, the Partisan units enveloped the borders of their «Republic» in a hedge-hog manner, so it was impossible for the enemy to breakthrough anywhere unchecked.

Disposition of the NOVJ units
1st Croatian Corps:
• 7th Division (7th, 8th, 16th Brigade) and Battlegroup Banovina were holding the Kostajnica-Sunja-Petrinja-Glina line;
• 8th Div. held the fronts against Karlovac (5th BDE), Slunj (15th BDE), and 4th BDE was deployed on the Mt. Žumberak (Zhumberak), alongside 13th Proleterian BDE;
• Battlegroup Kordun controlled the southern part of the front against Karlovac and the northern part of the front against Ogulin;
• Primorsko-goranska grupa brigada (Primorsko-goranska group of BDEs), 6th and 14th BDE occupied the front in the area of Plaško:
• 6th Div. occupied the front Čudin klanac-Gračac, and the Battlegroup Lika fought as a part of the 6th Div.
1st Bosnian Corps:
• 4th Div. with 2nd and 5th BDE was on Mt. Kozara, while 6th BDE was closing the direction Sanski Most-Bosanska Krupa;
• 5th Div. (1st, 4th and 7th BDE) was placed in the wider area of Sanski Most, with the main divisional body on the northern bank of River Sana;
• 8th BDE was closing the Bosanski Novi-Otoka direction;
• Combined BDE was closing the Bosansko Grahovo-Knin road.
Glavna Operativna Grupa (GOG) Vrhovnog štaba NOVJ:
• 1st Proleterian Div. (3rd Proleterian, 3rd Krajiška , 3rd Sandžak BDE) held the Prnjavor-Teslić-Banja Luka area;
• 2nd Proleterian Div. was holding the Bosansko grahovo area with 2nd and 4th (Montenegrin) Proleterian BDEs, and the 2nd (Dalmatian) BDE was closing the Duvno-Imotski area;
• 3rd Div. (1st Dalmatian, 10th Herzegovian and 5th Montenegrin BDE) was just a few kilometers eastern of Jajce;
• 9th Dalmatian Div. (3rd, 4th, 5th Dalmatian BDE) was placed a few kilometers SE of Imotski.
All of the GOGs divisions fell out of the encirclement planned by the Axis.
Grand total of NOVJ troops engaged directly in Weiss I was between 22.000-23.000.

The battle

The offensive commenced I/20/1943. The splendid breakthrough of 7th SS and 717th Div. never materialised. The Partisans fought Axis troops to a standstill all over the field of operations. On the fifth day of the offensive 7th SS and 717th Div., who had to link up in Vrtoče on the 2nd day, were still 150 km apart! During those five days 7th SS Geb.Div. managed only to advance as far as Slunj-Velika Kladuša line. NOVJ troops fighting that division were 8th Division and some elements of 6th Primorsko-goranska BDE. Very bitter combat, with high losses on both sides, was fought in the area of Veljun.

In the eastern part of the area of operations, 717th Div. barely managed to cross River Sana at Vrhopolje. The division met stiff resistance of 5th NOVJ Div.

Domobrans suffered heavy losses when 2nd Gorski Zdrug attacked. Sixth NOVJ BDE repulsed Domobrans several times from the gained positions on Djedovača (Diedovacha) and Brajića Tavan (Braicha Tavan) back to Sanski Most, and fought them to a standstill. One of the 2nd GZ battalions was nearly destroyed in the attacking and counter-attacking actions in the closer area of Kamengrad, but the Partisans suffered grave losses too.

Between 717th and 7th SS Div. advanced 369th Div., and that unit had the inital success on it's left flank where the Kostajnica-Bosanski Novi road was put under the German control and one of the 7th NOVJ Div. battalions was pushed back suffering considerable losses. From that position 369th tried to outflank the 7th NOVJ Div. from the east, but that venture brought no success. Battlegroup Banovina and 7th NOVJ Div. were holding the 369th advance. Bloody battles were fought on Baltića Brdo (Balticha Hill) and near Balinci.

714th Div. took some ground, but then lost it the very next day because of the Partisan pressure from Mt. Kozara.

During the first 5 days Lombardia Div. managed to reach the Tounjski Tržić-Tobolić-Plaški line.

During the first 5 days Re Division advanced up to the Čudin klanac-Čardak-Klanac Ploče line, where it was stopped by the 6th NOVJ Div.

During the first 5 days Sassari Div. advanced only 2 km!

The battle turned into a frontal clash with the NOVJ units. The German outfits made the huge pincer movement, but the doors to the SE were wide open, since the 7th SS and 717th Div. were nowhere near the linking!

During the 26th 7th SS managed to achieve progress. SS troops ran over the weak NOVJ positions in Rakovica and defeated defending elements of the 8th NOVJ Div. near Vaganac. From there 7th SS crossed River Korana, fought it's way to Drežnik Grad and directly threatened Bihać. Opposing forces to the 7th SS were still composed of the 8th NOVJ Div. and Battlegroup Kordun.

On it's towards Bihać, I/26/43, 369th Div. advanced up to the heavily defended position in Brezovo Polje and spent two days in the bitter combat for that town.

Near Eminovci 6th BDE counterattacked and severly damadged 2nd GZ which tried to breakthrough to the west of Sanski Most. German 717th Div. slowly made it's way SSE of Sanski Most, towards Ključ.

Divisions Re and Sassari slowly made their way against the stubborn defence of 6th NOVJ Div.


Hard pressed and unwilling to accept large scale frontal combat, Tito decided to take GOG, 7th and 9th NOVJ Div., and to breakthrough over River Neretva, into eastern Herzegovina and NW Montenegro. Those forces were later joined by the 6th Krajiška BDE. To cross River Neretva Partisans first had to destroy strongholds in the Mostar-Prozor-Ivan Sedlo triangle.

Task of clensing all of the strongholds between Konjic and Ivan Sedlo fell on 1st Proleterian Div. After the enemy was cleared from the area, the division had to organize strong defensive position in Ivan Sedlo, against Sarajevo, and to protect the left (northern) flank of GOG.

The task of securing the right (southern) flank against Mostar garrison fell on 2nd Proleterian Div. The division had to organize the front half the way from Jablanica to Mostar.

The task of securing the Neretva crossings fell on 3rd Proleterian Div. That outfit had to conquer strongholds Prozor, Rama, Ostrožac and Konjic, and after that to set up the bridgehead on the eastern side of the river.

Seventh NOVJ Div. was assigned to the rear-guard action. The division's fall-back route was the Bihać-Bosanski Petrovac-Drvar-Glamoč-Prozor road.

Additional column, ready to act as the south-flank/rear protection, was made of 9th Dalmatian Division. The division had to move out from Imotski and to follow GOG.

Despite the claims of the offical Yugoslav historyography, that movement was rather an escape than an offensive, but then again – it was the offensive movement too. How to explain that? Tito knew that NOVJ forces cannot accept the decisive battle which the Axis hoped for. He knew that it would mean the end of the NOB (Narodnooslobodilačka borba) People Liberation Combat. That is why he decided to abandon Bihać and the liberated soil. However, Tito wanted to move the operations into Serbia in order to connect with the Red Army troops once they arrive to Balkans, and in order to destroy the Chetnik movement which was his greatest political danger. So, the escape in front of the face of Axis forces was also the first step in his long-term plan. The idea was to cross River neretva in bold and swift move, and to dislocate NOVJ units into eastern Herzegovina and northern Montenegro, where from they would have the access to Serbia. When the movement was already underway Vrhovni štab learned that the Italians and Chetniks are endangering the Main Hospital with 4.000 wounded and/or sick Partisans. He conferenced with the 4th Operative Zone C-i-C, Vicko Krstulović (Vitsko Krstulovich), about the possibility of hiding the Hospital on Mt. Velebit. Krstulović explained that there's no time left, and that the recce planes keep their eyes on a slow medical transport all the time. In light of those facts Tito decided that the wounded must be saved at any cost. It was one of the most humanious decisions ever made by a military commander. It was decided that the Main Hospital will follow the path of GOG, and that the way over Neretva must be opened and held open until the wounded are on the eastern bank of the river. Needless to say that the decision caused the Partisan units to loose their well known mobility...

Tito also gave his orders to the 1st croatian Corps and to the 1st Bosnian Corps that they must hold their ground and continue the combat in the enemy's rear while closing the ways to the Mt. Grmač and the Bihać-Bosanski Petrovac-Drvar road.

Seventh SS Geb.Div. entered the deserted Bihać on I/29/1943. Still, the Germans were unable to cut the liberated territory along the planned east-west axis. The Germans could not penetrate the free operative space, and their advance was marked with the frontal clashes against NOVJ troops, roughlly marked with the half-circle Ključ-Sanski Most-Bosanska Krupa-Bihać-Korenica-Bunić-Ploča-Mazin. Between the 7th SS Geb.Div. units, confronted with the 7th NOVJ Banovina Div. outfits, and the 717th Div. units, confronted with the 5th NOVJ Div. outfits – there was still 70 km of the road! One regiment of 7th SS Geb.Div. (reinforced with 4 Hotchkiss tanks) tried to push from Bihać south to Donji Lapac, in order to link up with the Italians, but the 5th NOVJ BDE of 8th NOVJ Div. ambushed and then counterattacked the Germans near high ground of Drenovača, and prevented the planned linkage.

Since Gerneral Luetters believed that the NOVJ units will defend the Mt. Grmeč decisivelly he sends 7th SS, 369th and 717th Div. units in the concentric attack on that mountain on II/1/43. Seventh SS and 717th Div. units finally met up near Bosanski Petrovac II/8/43, 18 days behind the schedule. 7th NOVJ and 5th NOVJ divisions pulled south in order to close the Bosanski-Petrovac-Drvar road, after they lost lots of men in bloody engagements near Benkovac, Ripački Tesnac and Ramić.
Thanks to the German/NDH hard won success in the northern part of the field, NOVJ units facing Italians and Chetniks had to pull out too.Italians got as far as Ličko Petrovo Selo, Krbavsko Polje and Korenička Kotlina. Sassari Div. reached Gornji Lapac but it was thrown back under the fierce attacks of the 1st Croatian Corps (1st, 5th, 9th and 15th BDEs) after taking heavy beating near Zuleševica (Zuleshevitsa). Suffering heavy losses the division pulled back to Gračac, and from there to Knin. Chetnik BDEs on the Sassari's right flank advanced to Gornji Lapac through the River Una Valley, but since the Italians have fallen back, they had no bussines fighting the 1st Croatian Corps unsupported, so the fell back too. Italians haven't penetrated the vast areas of Partisan controlled soil, so Mt. Plješivica (Pleshivitsa) and the ring of villages from Drenovača to Gornji Lapac, remained free and served as a rallying area for the units of NOVH. Weiss I was mostly over.

WEISS II
Battle on River Neretva 2/9 – 3/31/1943

NOVJ attacks

On 2/6/43, while the battle on River Una was still being fought, GOG, 7th and 9th NOVJ divisions moved towards Neretva. The 2nd Proleterian Div., backed up by the 4th Dalmatian BDE took Posušje on that day, and the next day the same forces conquered Imotski. The same group continued on to Neretva, mostly unopposed, and on 2/16 those forces came to the western shores of Neretva, between Drežnica and Grabovica. The 2nd Proleterian and the 2nd Dalmatian BDEs' units took the defensive positions against the Mostar direction there, while the 4th Proleterian BDE moved north along the western shore of Neretva and conquered Jablanica 2/22/43.

Units of the 3rd Proleterian Div. conquered Prozor after 2 days of bloody combat against the Italian units of Murge Div. The day after the Division captured Ostrožac, and Rama fell to the Partisans on 2/20/43.

The 1st Proleterian Div's 1st Proleterian BDE captured Ivan Sedlo on 2/18/43, and the rest of the Division cleared all of the enemy's strongholds between Ivan Sedlo and Konjic. The only solid motorway in the area led through Konjic, and it was planned to move the medical transport that way. In Konjic the Partisans encountered determined defenses of the Germans, and they were able to capture only the western part of the town, while their trials to capture the bridge and to cross Neretva remained repulsed.

In that coordinated strike the Italian division Murge was completely destroyed, and the Partisans captured 12 tanks, 3 dozens of cannons, hundreds of SMGs and thousands of rifles. Practically, the way over Neretva was open, but the slow Main Hospital's transport left Duvanjsko Polje (Duvansko Polie; The Field of Duvno) for Prozorska Kotlina (Valley of Prozor) only on evening of the 19th.

Meanwhile, the combat in the northern part of the operational area continued. The 1st Croatian Corps was separated from the 1st Bosnian Corps by the Geman/NDH onslaught, and it pulled out to Mt. Plješivica in order to regroup and continue the combat from there. The BDEs of the 1st Bosnian Corps closed all directions due south from the Bosansko Grahovo-Ključ-Jajce line. The 7th NOVJ Div. was closing the Bosanski Petrovac-Drvar road until the mid February, and then it pulled out to the upper flow of River Vrbas where it connected with the 1st Proleterian Division's units (3rd Krajiška BDE) on 2/21/43. Those units blocked the Bugojno-Gornji Vakuf road.

Ninth Dalmatian Division protected the Livno-Duvno-Prozor communication from the south. It occupied the defensive positions around Ljubuški (Liubushky) and Široki Brijeg (Shiroky Brieg).

Axis counter-measures

General Lueters issued his orders for Weiss II operation on 2/12/43. It was planned that the 7th SS, 369th, 717th and 718th divisions will sweep the area marked by the Bosanski Petrovac-Bosansko Grahovo-Livno-Jajce-Ključ line. Lueters over-estimated the importance of the liberated territory to the Partisans, and he really believed that they will put up the decisive defence to keep «Tito's State».

In addition to those forces Lueters planned the attack by the Italian Bergamo Division reinforced with the strenghtened battalion of Crna Legija RGT. Those troops should have attacked from Sinj (Sin) towards Livno, and from Drniš (Drnish) towards Vrlika.

Two BDEs of Chetniks, from the Weiss I operation, were assigned on a sweeping mission north of town Knin.

The operation was to last since 2/25 until 3/20/43.

The Partisan swift attack towards River Neretva caused the Italians to panic. Troops of the Italian 6th Corps, with their main base in Mostar, pulled outta all of the smaller strongpoints around Široki Brijeg, causing the German exploatation of bauxite in the area to stop. In order to prevent further defeats the Italians demanded Draža Mihailović to bring his Chetniks from Herzegovina and Montenegro into play. Chetnik force of some 7.000 was being assembled east of Neretva, while the forward units hurried towards the river.

In order to re-establish bauxite exploatation Lueters decided to send 718th Division, reinforced with some 1.000 Ustaše from Battlegroup «Bugojno», towards Mostar. A part of the Division and Ustaše followed the Bugojno-Prozor-Rama route, while the other part of the Division reinforced by some elements of the 2nd Domobran Gorski Zdrug (Kampfgruppe «Anacker») followed the Sarajevo-Konjic route.

The Italians sent their mixed Italian-Chetnik columns along the western bank of Neretva and one Chetnik battlegroup along the eastern bank. These forces were to link up with the Germans in the area of Jablanica.

So, factually, Weiss II contained 2 separated operations:

1. attack towards Livno - carried out by:
• 7th SS Geb. Div.;
• 369th Inf. Div.;
• 717th Inf. Div.;
• 2nd Domobranski Gorski Zdrug;
• Ustaše Battlegroup «Bugojno».

2. concentric encicrleing operation towards Konjic-Jablanica-Prozor triangle, carried out by:
• 718th Inf. Div.;
• Montenegro/Herzegovina Chetniks' «Strike Corps»;
• Italian 6th Corps.

Operations on River Neretva bend

The western group of 718th Div. and 2nd DGZ commenced the attack towards Gornji Vakuf on 2/21/43. By the evening of the 23rd the Axis forces captured Gornji Vakuf, and pushed south to Prozor, but they were stalled by the units of 7th NOVJ Div., 3rd Krajiška and 2nd Dalmatian BDEs. In order to crush the opposing forces, the Germans brought the bulk of 717th Div. to the Gornji Vakuf area. These reinforcements arrived on 2/27, and 4 day cease-fire was canceled. The Axis renewed the attack.

Since 717th Div. was sent to Gornji Vakuf, the attack towards Livno was 1/3 weaker than planned, and it fell on 7th SS Geb. Div. and 369th Inf. Div. That attack commenced 2/25/43.

Thanks to the successful defence in G.Vakuf area the Partisans gained a lull in combat over there, lasting from 2/23 to 2/27. They used that time to renew the attack on Konjic. During the night 2/19-20/43 1st Proleterian BDE attacked the town and captured most of the western part of it. The Partisans even managed to get 2 companies on the eastern side of the river, but 5th Montenegro BDE was late in it's attack on the eastern part of the town, so those 2 companies suffered considerable losses and pulled back over the bridge. Right after that failed attack 1st Proleterian BDE was ordered north to Ivan Sedlo, where it had to link up with 3rd Sandžak BDE. It was in the nick of time, because Battlegroup «Anacker» attacked 2/21/43 and captured Ivan Sedlo after a day's combat. During the evening of the same day KG «Anacker» reached Konjic, cleared the Partisans out, and set up the defensive perimeter.

That German success put the NOVJ forces in the serious situation. The enemy was attacking from the north, west and south, and now the way over Neretva was threatened to be closed! NOVJ troops counter attacked Konjic, by-passed and isolated it's western side, and then hurried towards Ivan Sedlo. They managed to hold KG «Anacker» just south of Ivan Sedlo until 27th, when they were forced to start a slow fall back.

It was 2/27/43 when the Axis troops renewed their attack on G.Vakuf-Prozor direction. The NOVJ units in that area were being pushed back, and there was a fair chance for the Germans to captur Prozor and to cut off the Main Hospital's transport. Tito sent 1st and 2nd (without 2nd Dalmatian BDE) Proleterian Div. to counterattack the Germans in Prozor area.
That order was followed by the one which said that all of the bridges across River Neretva must be brought dowm, in order to decieve the enemy about the true Tito's intentions. On 3/2/43 the western group of 718th Div. started it's attack towards Vilića Gumno, between G.Vakuf and Prozor. It was met by the newly arrived 4th Proleterian BDE, which pushed it back up the ridge of Raduša Planina (Mt. Radusha).

The Partisan counter attack on G.Vakuf commenced on 3/3, and it was carried out by 9 brigades of GOG. The Partisans launched pincer attack, but the Germans pulled back, rather than risking their flanks «in the air». Fierce battle lasted until 3/5, and the Axis troops were forced to retreat half the way G.Vakuf-Bugojno. Encirclement never materialised, but the main was achieved – the wounded were safe for the moment, and the German Command was completely misled by the Partisan actions. Lueters concluded that Tito is trying to break back to the NW, and to join 1st Bosnian and 1st Croatian Corps there.

The German attack towards Livno commenced 2/25/43. The 1st Bosnian Corps defence was broken swiftly, and the Germans reached Livno 3/5/43. That same day General Loehr came to the conclusion that the «Schwerpunkt» isn't in the W and NW Bosnia, but in the Valley of River Neretva. That conclusion was reached only after the Germans took severe beatings in the Partisan counter attack on G.Vakuf. Loehr ordered 7th SS Geb. Div. to advance towards Mostar and 369th Inf. Div. towards Prozor. Suddenly, the Italians started to complain about the divisions' movement, and denied them entering of the bauxite area which was placed solely in the Italian Occupation Zone. It took 5 days to reach the agreement with the Italians, and 4 more days for the divisions to pick up the advance, so both of the best Axis' divisions were too late for the Battle on River Neretva.

Breakout into the eastern Herzegovina

After the successful counter strike on G.Vakuf the time has come to finally cross River Neretva.
The order was issued on 3/5/43 and the operational tasks were:

1. 2nd Proleterian Division:
• cross the river over the improvised bridge near Jablanica;
• destroy the Chetnik «Strike Corps» at the river bend;
• advance down the Borci-Čičevo-Kalinovik road.

2. 3rd Proleterian Division:
• attack and throw 718th Div. towards Konjic;
• force the river near Ostrožac (Ostrozhats);
• secure the left flank towards Konjic.

3. 7th Banovina Division and 9th Dalmatian Division:
• secure the right flank towards south.

4. 1st Proleterian Division:
• form the rear-guard and fall back down the Gornji Vakuf-Prozor-Jablanica road.

First to cross the river was 2nd Dalmatian BDE, during the 3/6-7/43 night. Detachment of volunteers sneaked up to the Chetnik positions, and stormed them in the early morning, using hail of handgrenades. Chetnik security was destroyed or routed, and the 2nd Dalmatian BDE moved forward, destroying the «Strike Corps» units, as it came upon them.

On the western side of the river NOVJ unity collapsed their front according the plan, in order to cross Neretva, and to form flank protection to the Main Hospital's transport. The last unit crossed the river on 3/15/43 – it was 3rd Krajiška BDE. By then the units of 2nd Proleterian Div. already reached Čičevo area.

Between Čičevo and Kalinovik Chetniks held their elite troops, ready to «deal with those Communist Devils once and for all». GOG's front, 2nd Proleterian Div., was reinforced with 1st Proleterian BDE, and these forces fought the decisive battle against Chetniks in Kalinovik area. «Strike Corps» was completely destroyed, and the military significance of the Chetniks was burried there forever. After reaching River Neretva and finding only the deserted field of war, the German Command decided that the Unternehmen «Weiss» was over. Tito and his GOG had a lucky escape – again...
------------- -------------- -------------- -------------- -------------- -------------- ----------
I would be much obliged if you spot some mistakes and correct them. Thanks.

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Post by Lt.-Colonel » 12 Dec 2005 14:21

Image
"Bihaćka Republika", end of 1942
Image
Axis and NOVJ tactical movements in Weiss I
Image
Axis and NOVJ movements in Weiss II (in the lower left corner is a map that shows NOVJ movements during the counterattack on Vakuf)

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Post by Victor » 12 Dec 2005 14:35

Lt.-Colonel, you forgot to mention the book from which you scanned the maps.

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Post by Lt.-Colonel » 12 Dec 2005 14:48

ooops!

first and thirde map: C.Bauer, B.Alink et al: Drugi svjetski rat
second map: Enciklopedija Jugoslavije, 1964

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Post by Lt.-Colonel » 12 Dec 2005 15:03

Sources:
Enciklopedija Jugoslavije, 1964, svezak II: Četnici u II sv. ratu, Četvrta neprijateljska ofenziva
C.Bauer, B.Alink et al: Drugi svjetski rat
Branko Dubravica: Vojska antifašističke Hrvatske 1941-45
Nikola Anić: Narodnooslobodilačka vojska Hrvatske
Nikola Anić: Njemačka vojska na teritoriju Hrvatske: 1941-1945
Bogdan Krizman: Pavelić između Hitlera i Mussolinija
B. Krizman: Ustaše i III Reich
Mladen Paver: Bataljon Feniks
http://forum.axishistory.com/
http://www.wikipedia.org/

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Post by Lt.-Colonel » 12 Dec 2005 15:05

I have chosen not to include Weiss - Mostar into this account, because there was no German and NDH troops involved in it. Italians scored only a limited success, while the Chetniks west of Drina river suffered blows they never recovered from.

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Post by G. Trifkovic » 12 Dec 2005 16:54

German & NDH losses in "Weiss" (courtesy of Mr.Larry D.):
German - 514 KIA, 1,214 WIA, 158 MIA;
NDH - 126 KIA, 258 WIA, 218 MIA.
During two days of the Gornji Vakuf (Vilica Gumno) counter-attack,Germans reported unusually high casaulties of approximately 70 killed and 140 wounded (Schmider's figures;figures from Vojna enciklopedija are almost the same with some additional info,like how many of wounded were frozen,etc.).
For it's performance in the action,Tito officialy praised the 2nd Montenegrin battalion of the 4th Proletar Bdrigade.
As for "Murge":I seriously doubt that the whole division was engaged,let alone destroyed in Prozor area.Djilas mentions that the whole 1st Battalion/259 Regiment was put to death after the fall of the town;second whipping the division took was a destruction of a relief column. It could easily be that after these defeats the division was merely rendered incapable of attacking rather than being totaly destroyed (my speculation).For a short disscusion on "Murge" check "Feldgrau":

http://www.feldgrau.net/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?p=98532&

Apparently Löhr wrote 180 pages of memoires while awaiting his trial in Belgrade.Copy of it was found in personal library of YPA general Sredoje Urosevic and it hasn't been published until 90s. Extracts can be found on this page:

http://www.srpsko-nasledje.co.yu/sr-l/1 ... le-14.html

As I first came across it,I aproached it suspiciously,having political/propaganda agenda of the site in mind.After reading the text,I believe it is,indeed Löhr's (no proof of that).Anyway,here are some lines on figting in "Weiss" and the problems Germans faced translated:

"...7th SS had great problems in advancing.Blown bridges and road demolition on eleven places made the infantry,moving at the sides of the road,trough thick snow and over precipitous slopes ,advanced quicker than the units on the road.The involvement of the Italians was hardly felt..."

"...The left-hand column of 718th Div. also made slow advance.Clashes of the encircling columns were not fierce,but they took a lot of time.While the advance of the 187th Div. and Croats was (like the above mentioned) hampered more by terrain than by fighting,369th Div. was fataly defeated.One of it's battalions was routed by Partisans,and the divisional front pushed back for two days..."

"...Partisans retreated taking their wounded with them; even the found corpses were few in number..."

"...Judging by strains and casaulties,especialy because of illness,the OKW realised that serious operations were taking place here,which cannot be made by second-rate troops..."

"...As opposed to this,group "Neidholdt" was encountering stiffer and stiffer resistance,finaly to be pushed back north of Porzor..."

Off course,I must remind (so does the publisher) that Löhr wrote these lines in prison,using only his memory.Therefore,factual mistakes are quite possible.
Cheers,

Gaius

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Post by Lt.-Colonel » 12 Dec 2005 18:42

tp://www.feldgrau.net/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?p=98532& :
Completly wiped out:259th Regiment of the Murge division,not counting the losses they have suffered in Jablanica.
IF this statement is true, and I guess that it could be regarding the other sources, then I would say that Murge Div. was destroyed. Maybe not completely in manner of dead, captured and wounded, but it ceased to function as a divisional body.

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Post by Lt.-Colonel » 13 Dec 2005 11:36

oh Gaius, I forgot nice manners 8O : Thanks for the input. :D

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Post by G. Trifkovic » 19 May 2007 14:18

Air support for "Weiss", according to the book by V. Mikic "Njemacko vazduhoplovstvo u Jugoslaviji 1941-1945" (Belgrade, 1998):

Some 40 German and 50 NDH planes (with additional 10 transport and liasson aircraft) under command of major von Buchholz were to support the ground troops.

Luftwaffe:

-sqn. of Stukas from Sarajevo area;
-15./53. KG. (NDH personell);
-sqn. of Ju-88 from Zemun;
-some He-111 from Blinflugschule Zemun;
-some He-126 reccon aircraft.

Zrakoplovstvo:

-6. "skupina" with 13.,16.,17.,18. "jato" from Zaluzani airfield;
-2. "skupina" with 6. "jato" from Rajlovac airfield;
-some planes from 1. "Zracna luka Zagreb".

Reggia Aeronautica:

-Air group Zadar and two sqn. from Mostar (69. bomber and 120 fighter sqn.)

In the first month of operation, 22.01.1943- 19.02.1943, some 921 combat sorties were made ( LW:826, NDH:95), during which some 317t of ordonance were dropped. Also, some 150 air-supply sorties were flown.

Number of sorties made In first three months of 1943:

Luftwaffe: 2500 sorties;
Zrakoplovstvo: 590 sorties;
Reggia Aeronautica: 1456 sorties.

German report, dated January 21st 1943 ( source: PRO London, probably HW1 and HW5) lists following units for Fliegerführer Weiss:

-Staffel of Ju-87, X Fliegerkorps (probably from StG.3);
-Staffel of Ju-88, X Fliegerkorps, 8 Ju-88 from II/LG 1 were seconded from Thessaloniki;
-23 Ju-88 (figure should be checked) for reccon purposes from Zemun;
-Attached aircraft from "Hrvatsko Zrakoplovstvo", notably 15./53. KG.

Additionaly, Störkampfstaffel Südost with He-45, He-46 and Hs-126 took part in the operation; 3./KG 100 (He-111) was also active, with one plane lost in north-western Bosnia, with additional 1-2 damaged during landing.

All the information has been provided by my helpful colleagues from "Avijacija bez granica" forum-I merely did the translating.

Cheers,

Gaius

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Re: Unternehmen «Weiß» aka IV Enemy Offensive

Post by SloveneLiberal » 29 Jan 2019 12:06

Reading this detailed and good explanation of IV enemy offensive i think we should also try to answer some interesting questions:

Did the partisans won a decisive battle against chetnics after crossing Neretva?

Did the negotiations between partisans and Germans really helped partisan side to give a major blow to the chetnics as it is claimed by defenders of Mihajlović?

Why Italians did not want to stop their support for chetnics even if Hitler warned them about the issue? How reallistic was allied landing in the Balkans at that time?

How close were Germans in their goal to destroy the bulk of partisan troops?

Did the weaking of chetnic forces in the battle against partisans coused Italian to change their mind and allowed Germans to disarm remaining Mihajlović forces?

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Re: Unternehmen «Weiß» aka IV Enemy Offensive

Post by SloveneLiberal » 10 Feb 2019 14:02

I found a good explanation about the second question here - wriiten by G. Trifkovic.

viewtopic.php?f=46&t=188488&hilit=neret ... ions+march

This is an often repeated and- flawed- argument. The fact that the Germans stopped on the Neretva River in mid-March 1943 and didn't pursue the Partisans into Eastern Herzegovina had more to do with logistics and politics than with the talks they had with the Partisans.

For starters, Italians were wary of German encroachment of their rights in the Independent State of Croatia. They were forced to swallow the German incursion into Western Herzegovina in February-March and occupation of the all-important bauxite area around Mostar, but were not prepared to make further concessions.

Already on 2 March 1943, the Italian VI Corps contacted the German 718th Division and asked for a guarantee "that the German troops would not cross the line running from Konjic to Rama." The division responded that it already had the order "not to cross south of that line." (NAW, T-315, Roll 2271, 000283, 980).

The Commander of German Troops in Croatia reported in the summary report for the first two weeks of March, that the operation "Weiss" was concluded and that "the pursuit of the enemy south and east of Neretva is not possible because of political obligations made to the Italians" ( NAW, T-314, Roll 554,000368).

The Germans did , however, cross the Neretva on several places in order to ensure the Partisans stayed on the run. There was several sharp rear-guard actions, like the one around the village of Bijela (south of Konjic) on 20-21 March 1943, where the Germans lost one tank to Partisan fire (NAW, T315, Roll 2271,000840-2).

The Italians could not do much about it in the Konjic area, since they had no troops there. To the south, however, the situation was different. On 17 March 1943, at Grabovica, the Italians "would not allow us [the 369th Infantry Division] to cross the river and advance from there to Gornja Grabovica" (NAW, T315, Roll 2154,000431).

One often forgets that Wehrmacht troops were in action since 20 January 1943 and badly needed rest by mid-March. This is especially true for the 717th Infantry Division which had to fight non-stop for almost two months (other divisions got a ten-day rest in February between the first and the second phase of Operation "Weiss"). The division was totally exhausted by the time it reached Neretva. The 718th was in a little better shape, but it had only one regiment-sized battle group at hand for any incursions to the east of the river. These units also suffered casualties in the especially bitter battle for Konjic in February-March. The strongest division, the 7th SS was tasked with securing the bauxite area, a task by far on the top of German priorities at that time. 369th was a totally green formation, and could not be expected to pursuit the Partisans on its own. If we add that the major reorganization of German divisions of the 700-series was scheduled to begin in April, then there is really no need to look for conspiracy in the decision to make a halt on the Neretva.

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Re: Unternehmen «Weiß» aka IV Enemy Offensive

Post by SloveneLiberal » 17 Feb 2019 13:00

In the link bellow some interesting details are explained about the fight between partisans and chetniks at Neretva and in Bosnia. Despite the warnings from the British Mihajlovic decided to gather his chetniks at Neretva in an effort that they will help the axis to destroy the bulk of partisan force. That was very important for his and their goals. But things were not going according to Mihajlovic plan.

From the report from chetnik commander Lukacevic to Draza Mihajlovic we can see that partisans were already on the night of 6 of March 1943 able to cross Neretva causing quite some demoralization between chetniks which were also badly prepared for the attack. Specially chetnik brigades from Montenegro were retreating in big disorder. Chetnik commander Bacovic reported to Draza Mihajlovic on 16. March 1943 that he asked Italians for support, communists are in offensive and are fighting with big determination, however their troops are inferior concerning the moral, he wrote.

Mihajlovic personaly came to the battlefield ( without informing British officer Bailey which was in a military mission at chetniks in Serbia ) and was preparing chetnik defense on river Drina and in eastern Bosnia with Italian help. The fighting moral of Italian soldiers was also low but they were ready to help their allies. Also Germans offered help to his troops but because of political prestige their offer was not accepted. Chetnik troops committed also many war crimes during the fighting with partisans. For example Bacovic reported to Mihajlovic on 31. March 1943 that he captured and then shot 40 partisans together with their commander.

Partisan brigades were able to break chetnik defense line and Mihajlovic fled to Serbia. He tried to mobilize new soldiers in Serbia but their moral was low and many fled home. So contrary to the chetnik side partisans were organized better and had much better fighting moral which was probably crucial factor for them winning this very important battle. The remaining chetniks in south or near the coast concentrated in Kolašin together with Italian troops. Area near the coast was very important for them because of possible British landing. In the middle of May 1943 Germans decided to go in action against partisans and to disarm remaining chetniks, which were severely weakened by partisans and Italians were now ready to accept German demand that they should be disarmed.


http://www.e-novine.com/feljton/87471-e ... retvi.html

One can check also this forum discussion

viewtopic.php?t=199710

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