12 air squadrons
(about 20,000 men)
Casualties and losses
514–583 killed, 1,214–1,642 wounded, 145–158 missing
1,605 killed, 983 captured
126 killed, 258 wounded, 218 missing
Total Axis casualties:
11,915–12,000 killed, 616 executed, 2,099–2,506 captured (German
10,000 killed, wounded and missing and 2,000 captured (Yugoslav
3,370 civilians killed and 1,722 deported to concentration camps
World War II
World War II in Yugoslavia
June 1941 uprising in eastern Herzegovina
Uprising in Serbia
Uzice (1st Offensive)
Uprising in Montenegro
Southeast Croatia (2nd Offensive)
Trio (3rd Offensive)
1942 Montenegro offensive (3rd Offensive)
Case White (4th Offensive)
Case Black (5th Offensive)
Kugelblitz (6th Offensive)
Rösselsprung (7th Offensive)
Allied bombing campaign
Case White (German: Fall Weiss), also known as the Fourth Enemy
Offensive (Serbo-Croatian: Četvrta neprijateljska ofenziva/ofanziva)
was a combined Axis strategic offensive launched against the Yugoslav
Partisans throughout occupied
Yugoslavia during World War II. It was
one of the most significant confrontations of
World War II
World War II in
Yugoslavia. The offensive took place in early 1943, between 20
January and mid-to-late March. The Axis operation prompted
the Partisan Supreme Command to enact its plans to drive toward
Sandžak and Montenegro. In order to do this,
Tito formed the so-called Main Operational Group, which eventually
succeeded in forcing its way across the
Neretva in mid-March 1943,
after a series of battles with various hostile formations. Other
Partisan formations, the 1st Croatian and 1st Bosnian Corps, managed
to evade Axis blows and, despite significant losses, reclaim most of
the territory they had held before the beginning of the operation.
Since its final stage took place on the
Neretva River, the operation
was known in
Yugoslavia as the Battle of the
Neretva (Bitka na
Neretvi). This stage is also known as the Battle for the Wounded
(Bitka za ranjenike).
2.1 Weiss 1
2.1.1 Partisan Defense
2.1.2 Attack on Grmeč
2.2 Partisan Offensive
2.3 Weiss Mostar
2.4 Attack on Konjic
2.5 Weiss 2
2.6 Battle of the Neretva
2.6.1 Counterattack at Gornji Vakuf
2.6.2 Forcing the way over Neretva
4 Order of battle
5 In popular culture
6 See also
9 External links
In late 1942, with the Axis situation in North Africa deteriorating,
the German high command became concerned about the possibility of an
Allied landing in the Balkans. In such an event, resistance forces in
Yugoslavia would be likely to interfere with German defensive
operations as well as their economic exploitation of natural
resources, including timber, copper and bauxite. As a result, on 16
Adolf Hitler ordered the Armed Forces Commander in
Generaloberst Alexander Löhr, to crush the
resistance in Yugoslavia. In a meeting of 18–19 December, the
General Staff of the Wehrmacht decided on the destruction of the
Bihać Republic. On 8 January Löhr and Mario Roatta, commander of the
2nd Italian Army, met in
Zagreb and devised a detailed plan.
The operation was planned to be carried out in three stages:
Weiss 1 aimed at destroying Partisan-held areas Lika, Kordun, Banija,
Cazinska Krajina and Grmeč. It started on 20 January 1943 and lasted
until 25 February.
Weiss 2 focused on Partisans in the southeast of the Bihać Republic:
Drvar, Glamoč, Livno,
Jajce and Ključ.
Weiss 3 was meant to be executed in eastern
Montenegro, targeting mostly the Royalist Chetniks. This phase was
cancelled in early February 1943.
The Germans aimed to destroy the central command of the Partisan
movement, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia
as well as the bulk of the Partisan units around the Supreme HQ. The
Axis mustered ten divisions equaling 90,000 troops and 12 air
Chetnik auxiliaries and units consisting of between 12,000-15,000 men
also took part and worked closely with the Italians. The
operation coincided with the so-called "March on Bosnia", a plan that
called for the use of
Chetniks from Lika, northern Bosnia, northern
Montenegro in order to destroy the
Partisan-held territory there. The "March on Bosnia" also called for
the ethnic cleansing of the Muslim population in Bosnia and
Herzegovina and in Sandžak. According to the Germans, the Chetniks
forces comprised 150,000 men in February 1943 (up from 100,000 in
August 1942). The Partisans, on the other hand, numbered less than a
third of that figure. On 2 January
Draža Mihailović reported his
plan to the
Chetniks for the destruction of the Partisans' Bihać
Republic in order to "liberate this Serb territory from Communist
terror". On the 21st he wrote: "Indeed, the question of Bosnia is most
important. In western Bosnia and
Lika we are currently making the
final preparations for the definitive destruction of the Communists,
who are preventing us from destroying Pavelić's Croatia"."
The orders for the operation called for extreme severity towards
captured Partisans and the civilian population. The former were to be
shot after capture, and civilian populations deemed hostile were to be
deported to transit camps. Villages in the combat area were to be
razed to the ground. The commanders on the ground were prohibited from
punishing their subordinates for excessive harshness.
According to the plan, four German divisions (7th SS Volunteer
Mountain, 369th, 714th and 717th) were to attack from the arc
stretching from Karlovac across Glina, Kostajnica,
Bosanski Novi and
Sanski Most towards the line Bihać--Petrovac. Three Italian divisions
("Lombardia", "Re" and "Sassari") were to advance on their right wing,
Lika and northern Dalmatia. According to the plan, the 7th SS
and 717th Divisions, deployed on the extreme ends of the arc, were to
race into the enemy rear with motorized battle groups and meet at
Vrtoče on the second day of the operation. The reinforced 369th
and 714th Division were to meet them and close the circle around the
bulk of the Partisan forces in the area of the
Grmeč mountain. In the
final stage, three divisions were supposed to destroy the encircled
Partisans, and to deport the population to prevent the possibility of
the revival of guerrilla activity in the area.
German divisions were reinforced with the 202nd Tank Battalion and 2nd
and 3rd Home Guard Mountain Brigade. Italian divisions used the Lika,
Herzegovina Chetnik auxiliaries, three Ustasha (31st,
32nd and 34th) and one (2nd Jäger) Home Guard battalions. On 8
January the 2nd and 5th Krajina Brigades moved to
Kozara and launched
a series of attacks on the NDH garrisons and posts in Lijevče polje.
Since these activities coincided with the attacks of the 1st
Proletarian Division in central Bosnia, Gen. Lüters decided to
exclude the 714th division from the operation Weiss and to use it for
the defense of the
Banja Luka area. As the 718th Division was
already engaged in fighting the Partisans in central and eastern
Bosnia, Lüters reinforced the 369th Division with one regimental
combat group of the 187th Reserve Division.
The attacks from all directions began on 20 January, but none of the
divisions succeeded in keeping the original schedule. The Axis forces
attacked the territory controlled by the Partisan 1st Croatian and 1st
Bosnian Corps—the areas of Banija, Kordun,
Lika and western
Bosnia. On the Karlovac-Bihać axis, four Partisan brigades were
defending against the attack of the 7th SS Division: 4th and 15th
Brigades of the 8th
Kordun Division and 6th and 14th Littoral-Gorski
Kotar Brigades. The 7th
Banija Division was successful in containing
the advance of the 369th Division from Glina and Kostajnica towards
Cazin and Bosanska Krupa. The 6th
Lika Division successfully held the
line Plitvička Jezera-
Gračac against Italian attacks.
The 717th Division encountered difficulties while trying to reach
Bosanski Petrovac from Sanski Most. The Division launched its attack
on 20 January with the 749th Regiment and elements of the 202nd Tank
Battalion. Despite air support, it was halted by the 1st Krajina and
one battalion of the 7th Krajina Brigade some 10 km south of
Sanski Most. The division’s 737th Regiment was in reserve, standing
ready to exploit a breakthrough, but the 749th Regiment failed to make
one. Over the following days both sides stepped up their efforts,
building up strength at the key point; the Partisans remained
successful in blocking German attacks, while launching fierce night
counterattacks. The 717th Division tried a diversionary attack from
Sanski Most westwards with the 2nd Mountain Home Guard Brigade. On 25
January this battle group of two Home Guard battalions and one German
company were attacked by the 1st Battalion of the 6th and the 3rd
Battalion of the 1st Krajina Brigade, and were routed with heavy
losses. The Partisans seized weaponry including 40 light and 10 heavy
machine guns and four mountain and one anti-tank cannons. Gen.
Dippold, commander of the 717th Division, reported to Gen. Lüters
that on 26 January the 2nd Home Guard Brigade was completely
shattered, and that the remnants of the 2nd and 4th battalions were
absorbed into 749th Grenadier Regiment. The more ambitious attack
heading west was launched on 27 January with the reinforced 737th
Regiment. It reached
Benakovac before being halted by the 6th Krajina
Brigade. In the meantime, the 2nd and 5th Krajina Brigades arrived
Kozara as reinforcements, and the 737th Regiment suddenly found
itself in a difficult situation. Seeing no alternative, the regiment
set up an all-around defense; it remained cut off and under attack
until 3 February.
Simultaneously, the 717th Division resumed the attack on the main
enemy forces towards Ključ and Bosanski Petrovac. The attack was
scheduled to begin in the early hours of 28 January, but battalions of
the 1st Krajina Brigade succeeded in surprising the Germans during the
night with a preventive attack at their starting-off positions and
scattering their units. The next day the Germans launched an attack
led by tanks with the intention of collecting weapons and stragglers,
but Partisan anti-tank fire destroyed the first tank, killing the
commander of the 202nd Tank Battalion, Lt. Col. von Geyso.
Attack on Grmeč
The Partisan defense line, which had withstood most of the German
attacks to that point, was finally compromised by the advance of the
7th SS Division. This unit, with the help of two Italian divisions on
the right flank, steadily pushed back the four Partisan brigades,
Slunj on 24 January and Rakovica on the 27th. As a result,
Bihać came under threat and had to be evacuated, and Germans entered
it on 29 January without a fight. This turn of events also compromised
the position of the 7th Partisan Division in the
Banija region. It was
ordered to withdraw and occupy a new line in front of the 7th SS
Division, covering the Bihać-Petrovac axis. Thousands of refugees
Banija together with the Partisan units, suffering from air
attacks, hunger, frost and disease along the way.
The 7th SS Division continued to push towards Petrovac, against
Partisan defenses consisting mainly of the 7th
Banija Division. It
took another ten days to cover those 50 km. The 7th SS Division
reached Petrovac on 7 February, and on 9 February finally managed to
link up with the 717th Division, thereby fulfilling the task
originally scheduled for the second day of the operation. The
369th Division and the 3rd Home Guard Mountain Brigade, facing only
Partisan rearguards, reached Bosanska Krupa on 30 January and relieved
the encircled 737th Regiment at
Benakovac on 3 February. One day
later the 369th joined with the 7th SS near Bihać. With this, the
broader area of
Grmeč was encircled by three German divisions. On 6
February, after they had received reinforcements, the 369th, 187th and
717th Division started their attack on Grmeč. The 2nd and 5th Krajina
Brigades were caught in the encirclement, along with some 15,000
inhabitants. On 10 February the brigades made the decision to break
out of the encirclement, and succeeded in opening the way over the
Sanski Most road toward Potkalinje. The inhabitants followed the
brigades, but a large number (up to 2,000) succumbed to the freezing
weather. Some 400 remaining civilians were killed by the Germans.
According to a German report from 18 February for Weiss 1, the 7th SS
Division suffered losses of 149 dead, 222 wounded and 68 missing, and
the 717th Division's castualtes were 118 dead, 290 wounded and 20
missing. The same report puts the Partisan losses at 6,561 dead, but
adds that only 286 rifles were captured. This drastic imbalance
between the figures suggests that those killed were mainly
During the first half of 1942 the Partisans were expelled from the
eastern parts of Yugoslavia, and the Axis powers largely succeeded in
pacifying these areas. The Partisans established a stronghold in the
western parts of the country, but returning to the east remained one
of their main objectives. Localization of guerrilla activity enabled
the Germans to leave the control of pacified areas to second-tier
forces, and to concentrate their best units in the endangered areas.
The 714th, 717th and 7th SS Divisions (all in west Bosnia in January
1943) were all originally deployed in Serbia. Tito started with the
plans for a march to the east in early autumn 1942. The original idea
was to start the large movement in the spring, but signs of an
imminent Axis offensive in January 1943 made Tito order the
commencement of the operation without delay.
The operation was to be carried out in three stages: the first was an
advance to Neretva, the second was from
Neretva to Drina, and the
Drina to the river Lim, and further to the south-east. The
main intention was to revive Partisan presence and activities in these
areas. On 8 February in Tomislavgrad, Tito presented the plan for the
first stage in a conference with the staffs of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd
Division, and issued the necessary orders and directives.
The execution of the offensive was facilitated by the fact that the
main forces Tito was counting on for the operation (the 1st and 2nd
Proletarian and 3rd Shock Division) were deployed outside the area
affected by the operation Weiss 1. The most distant unit, the 1st
Proletarian Division, was ordered to begin preparing for a start-off
march in late January. The main Partisan force was divided into three
Right Column—the (2nd Proletarian Division) was to advance over
Posušje and Drežnica with the aim of cutting off
communications in the
Neretva valley, and protecting the right flank
of the Partisan main force against the enemy garrison at Mostar.
Central Column—the (3rd Shock Division) had the most difficult task:
to capture Gornji Vakuf, Prozor, Ostrožac on
Neretva and Konjic, and
to open the way across the
Neretva at Konjic.
Left Column—the (1st Proletarian Division) was ordered to advance
over Gornji Vakuf, Solakova Kula, Bradina and Ivan sedlo, protecting
the right flank of the Partisan main force against the enemy garrison
at Mostar, destroy all traffic installations between
Sarajevo and provide protection for the Partisan northern flank
against possible enemy intervention from Sarajevo by securing the main
mountain pass of Ivan Sedlo.
Destroyed Italian column near Drežnica, February 1943.
Banija Division was tasked with acting as the group’s rearguard
and protecting the recently formed "Central Hospital" with some 4,000
sick and wounded. The hospital was created in order to provide
protection to the wounded, since they were routinely targeted for
execution by the Axis. The existence of the "Central Hospital" had a
profound impact on the course and outcome of future operations.
The Right Column (2nd Proletarian Division) started its advance with
easy victories over NDH garrisons in
Imotski on 9 and 10
February. On 15 February it reached
Neretva and attacked a small
Italian garrison in Drežinca. The 1st Battalion of the 260th Regiment
of the Division Division Murge intervened from Mostar, but was almost
completely annihilated (120 dead and 286 captured, including the
Commander, Lt. Col. Francesco Metella), on 16 February with the loss
of all its equipment. The Partisans sent a messenger to
propose a prisoner exchange, but the exchange did not happen.
Chetniks with Italians, waiting to be transported by train.
With this success, the 2nd Division wrested control over the Neretva
valley north of
Mostar from enemy forces, and severed all contact
between the city and Italian garrisons to the north. The Italian
Command concluded that the
Mostar garrison was endangered, and decided
to mobilize immediately all available Chetnik units. Originally, the
Italians had agreed not to use the
Montenegro on the
territory of the NDH, but now had to reverse their decision in the
face of the looming threat to their interests in Herzegovina. The 2nd
Proletarian Division, for its part, felt confident in its new
position. As it had fulfilled its main task, the Division sent its 4th
Proletarian Brigade to the north in order to assist the Central
In the opening phase the Central Column (3rd Division) captured Gornji
Vakuf on 30 January, and by 8 February was making preparations for an
attack on the Prozor garrison. Prozor was defended by the 3rd
Battalion of the Italian 259th Regiment, reinforced with some infantry
and artillery units, along with a company of L3 light tanks. The
town was heavily fortified with a large number of stone and concrete
bunkers surrounded by wire obstacles and covered by a well-organized
fire system. The Partisan attack began on the evening of 15 February,
but failed due to the fierce resistance of the garrison.
After receiving reinforcements, the 3rd Division made another attempt
and the second attack ultimately succeeded. The Italian garrison was
destroyed, with 120 killed and 220 captured. Partisans also captured
four 100 mm howitzers, two 47 mm anti-tank guns, nine
81 mm mortars and 12 heavy and 25 light machine-guns. All of
the tanks were captured or destroyed: nine of them were captured in
the Prozor area, and two were captured later in Ostrožac, and all
eleven were used for the formation of the Tank Company of the Supreme
Command. The Italian reinforcements sent earlier that day were
also destroyed: the 1st Battalion of the 260th Regiment near
Drežnica, and a company of 1st Battalion of the 259th Regiment, sent
from Konjic, was destroyed near Prozor.
According to the popular myth, on the eve of the attack, a conference
in the 3rd Division HQ was interrupted by the arrival of a courier
with a note from Tito (who was in nearby Šćit). The note simply
read: "Prozor must fall tonight" (Prozor noćas mora pasti).
Historical records and participants' memories are divided on the
subject, but the phrase became popular, and entered into everyday
speech and pop culture.
The offensive continued with the 10th
Herzegovina Brigade of the 3rd
Partisan Division attacking and routing a company from the 1st
Battalion of the 259th Regiment in Rama on 20 February, inflicting
losses of 183 killed and 7 captured Italian soldiers. On 22 February,
the 5th Proletarian Brigade of the same division captured Ostrožac on
Partisans of the Main Operational Group on the tank captured from the
Italians in late February 1943.
In the meantime, the 4th Proletarian Brigade from the Right Column
captured a further 270 Italians, 140 of which were in the town of
Jablanica, which was taken on 22 February. Among the captured were
Lieutenant Colonel Pelleroni, commander of the Jablanica garrison, and
Colonel Malantonio, Commander of the 259th Regiment. Colonel
Malantonio was shot after the Partisans had determined that he was a
prominent member of the Fascist Party, and that he had taken part in
Spanish Civil War
Spanish Civil War as an officer in the Italian Corpo Truppe
Volontarie. With the fall of Jablanica, Partisans were in
control of the entire
Neretva valley between
Mostar and Ivan Sedlo;
only the strategically important town of
Konjic was still in Italian
The Left Column (1st Proletarian Division) was only partially
concentrated, but decided to go ahead with the plan using only two of
its brigades. The main objectives on the Sarajevo-
Konjic railway line,
Ivan sedlo and Raštelica, were defended by the Ustaša Railroad
Battalion, and important railroad objects Bradina, Lukač and Brđani
were defended by up to a company strong Italian units in strong
1st Proletarian Brigade
1st Proletarian Brigade captured the important
mountain pass Ivan Sedlo and Raštelica station on 17 February by a
coup de main. The Italian fortifications were overcome on 18 February,
after some artillery and mortar fire exchanges, and after an
intervention attempt by an armored train from
Konjic had been
repulsed. In that situation, with no enemy activity from Sarajevo,
1st Proletarian Brigade
1st Proletarian Brigade headquarters made a critical error in
judgment by sending two battalions to attack the railway station
Tarčin near Sarajevo, and the remaining two battalions on a surprise
attack attempt on Konjic, thus leaving the most important objective in
its area, the Ivan sedlo mountain pass, virtually unoccupied.
The surprise raid on
Konjic was conceived with the intention of
exploiting the demoralization among the Italians, and with the hope of
establishing contact with the 5th Brigade of the 3rd Division for a
joint attack. But, the contact was not established, and in the night
on 19/20 February, two battalions of the 1st Proletarian Brigade
attacked the main target of the whole Partisan operation, the Konjic
garrison, unsupported. The attack had some initial success, and the
defenders were thrown back from the right bank of the river. However,
since only two partisan companies managed to cross the river and enter
the town center, they were easily halted by heavy mortar and artillery
fire. Seeing that no progress was being made by dawn, the Brigade
Headquarters cancelled the attack.
The other two battalions of the brigade attacked
Tarčin on the night
20/21 February. The attack coincided with the arrival of the German
reinforcements from Sarajevo. As the Partisans were outnumbered, the
Germans succeeded in throwing them back, and resuming their movement
towards Ivan sedlo. The appearance of German units in
the beginning of the Weiss
By the third week of February the Partisans had managed to breach the
Italian blockade along the
Neretva River, thus compromising one of the
main aspects of the operational plan for Weiss 2. Worst of all, the
Posušje and endangered the wider
which provided the German war industry with 10 percent of its bauxite
ore needs. Since Italian troops were seemingly incapable of containing
the situation, the German Command was compelled to adjust the
operational plans accordingly. It was decided to deploy 718th Division
immediately to the endangered areas, even before Weiss 2 was
The 718th Division started its attack on 19 February, with one column
Gornji Vakuf and Prozor, and the other
from Sarajevo towards Konjic. Jablanica was the ultimate objective of
both pincer arms. The column from Bugojno, named "Battle Group Vogel",
consisted of the 738th Regiment (minus one battalion), the 5th Ustaša
Brigade (the so-called Black Legion) and artillery. It captured Gornji
Vakuf on 22 February, and then found itself stuck in a ten-day-long
battle against the reinforced 7th
Banija Division in front of Prozor.
The column from Sarajevo (named "Battle Group Annacker"), consisted of
the 750th Regiment (minus one battalion), two battalions of the 7th
Home Guard Regiment, one Ustaša battalion, artillery, and one platoon
of tanks. It was this battle group which attacked two battalions of
1st Proletarian Brigade
1st Proletarian Brigade in
Tarčin on 21 February. The group
repulsed the Partisan attack on Tarčin, threw back Partisan
battalions, and on the same day reached Ivan sedlo and Raštelica.
After regrouping, the Partisans reclaimed their positions on the Ivan
sedlo on the next day, but a substantial part of the battle group,
including one German and one Home Guard battalion, an Ustaša company,
and a number of tanks, succeeded in breaking through to
Konjic on 22
February. They arrived just in time to decisively strengthen the
garrison before a major Partisan attack. The commander of the 1st
Proletarian Brigade Danilo Lekić had to answer in person to Tito for
the failure of his brigade to seal off the approaches to the lower
Attack on Konjic
The fact that
Konjic controlled the only road leading to Eastern
Herzegovina (the rest of the eastern bank of
Neretva to the south of
the town being dominated by the virtually unpassable
made it the prime objective of the Partisan army. The
originally consisted of the 1st Batttalion of the 259th Regiment with
artillery elements and other units. During the fighting at Prozor,
Rama and Jablanica, parts of the
Konjic garrison were sent as
reinforcements, and were destroyed. Division Murge, as a whole, in one
week suffered losses of some 2,300 men, and was affected by panic
and demoralization, and this caused a lot of optimism among Partisans.
But, immediately before the main Partisan attack, a two and a half
battalion strong vanguard of the Battle Group Annacker entered the
town. At the same time, some 3,000 strong Chetnik formation under
Lukačević reached the town, and, in agreement with the garrison,
assumed positions around the town. This way, it unexpectedly became a
very difficult obstacle for the whole Partisan Main Operational Group.
The 3rd Division decided to storm the town by using two of its
brigades (the third remained in Prozor), with one (the 5th Montenegro
Brigade) attacking along the right bank of the river, and the second
Herzegovina Brigade) along the left. The hastily organized
attack began in the evening of 22 February. Due to insufficient
intelligence, the 10th Brigade ran into strong Chetnik resistance on
the eastern bank and could barely reach the town before dawn. On the
opposite bank, the 5th Brigade faced stiff resistance by German and
Italian forces, achieving little success. As a result, the 3rd
Division saw no alternative but to cancel the attack by the morning of
For the next attempt, on 24 February in the evening, the attacking
forces were reinforced with the 4th
Montenegro Brigade from the 2nd
Proletarian Division, and the Tank Company of the Supreme
Headquarters. The attack went on through the night, and resumed the
next night, but to no avail. In a report, Germans praised the "help of
the brave Chetniks".
As the blockade of the Ivan Sedlo Pass by the 1st Proletarian Division
seemed to be holding, and no further parts of the battle group Annaker
reached Konjic, Tito decided to send another brigade. Early on 26
February, the 3rd Krajina Brigade left its positions around Prozor,
and started the march to the embattled town. However, after only a few
hours, it was summoned back. The appearance of the 717th Infantry
Division (now attacking Prozor instead of Livno, as originally
envisaged by the plan for Weiss 2) on the flank of battle group Vogel
endangered the whole western front of the NOVJ; the Central Hospital
at Šćit was now directly exposed to the German onslaught.
Consequently, the attack on Konjic, using additional forces from the
Prozor area, had to be cancelled.
At this stage, Tito and his HQ had suddenly found themselves facing an
entirely different situation from the one they faced only days
earlier. By 20 February, the prospects looked good for the "Main
Operational Group": all but one Italian garrison in the
were destroyed and the road to Eastern
Herzegovina looked open. Now,
the road was blocked by unexpectedly strong resistance in Konjic, and
the Partisan army was hemmed in the narrow
Neretva valley surrounded
on all sides by strong enemy forces: On 25 February the Germans
launched Weiss 2, attacking Drvar,
Livno with two
divisions; the Italians in
Mostar regrouped, and fielded two battle
groups with Chetnik support up the river; further strong Chetnik
concentrations were detected on the eastern bank of the Neretva.
Consequently, the plans had to be revised, and tough decisions had to
Second stage, German operations Weiss
Mostar and Weiss 2, and Partisan
drive over Neretva.
Based on the gathered intelligence, German command concluded that
Livno was the center of the southeastern half of the Partisan
territory. For that reason, Weiss 2 had been conceived as a concentric
attack on Livno, with the assumption that the Partisans would be
pushed back, encircled and destroyed there. In the meantime, the
situation had changed. The Partisans broke into the
and their main concentration was now between Prozor and Konjic. In
spite of this, German command largely proceeded with the original
plan. In light of the recent developments, however, first one (718th),
and after a week another (717th) division were directed towards the
Two divisions, the 7th SS and the 369th, were used for the Weiss 2
operation. Their advance commenced on 25 February. The route assigned
to the 7th SS Division was from Bosanski Petrovac, over
Bosansko Grahovo to Livno, while the 369th Division had to cover the
route from Mrkonjić-Grad over Mliništa and
Glamoč to Livno. In
front of them stood six (out of ten) brigades of the Partisan 1st
Bosnian Corps. The plan of the Corps Headquarters did not call for
decisive defense. The units would put up just enough resistance to
allow the units and the population to be evacuated, and would
thereafter merely evade the German advancing columns. The 7th SS
Drvar on 28 February, and continued towards Grahovo,
pushing back the 8th, 9th and 10th Krajina Brigades. On the road to
Glamoč, the 4th and 7th Krajina Brigades were slowing down the 369th
Division. As the 7th SS Division reached Grahovo, and the 369th,
Glamoč, on 2 March, the Corps Headquarters decided to perform the
evasion maneuver, and the brigades, together with a mass of the
refugees, commenced their march over Šator Mountain towards Rore, and
back to the Krajina. The freezing weather and deep snow meant this
march over the high mountain area cost many civilian lives. The
Germans invested large efforts in pursuing the Partisans through the
mountain, but the Partisans remained elusive, and the only result was
the capture of a number of exhausted refugees.
After this maneuver, all the units of the 1st Bosnia Corps found
themselves out of reach of the advancing Germans, except the 7th and
9th Krajina Brigades. They were temporarily subordinated directly to
the Supreme HQ which had ordered them to slow down the German advance
towards Neretva. On 5 March, the two German divisions had finally
Livno and taken it without a fight. After several days of
rest, the 7th SS Division resumed its movements to the
area without Partisan interference and the 369th Division headed
Further to the south, the group of
Herzegovina Chetnik units under
Baćović was marching from Split towards Neretva. This group had been
transported by the Italians by sea and land to
Knin in December 1942
in order to fight the Partisans in Lika. In early February 1943, the
group was first returned to Split and were then ordered to make an
overland march to Neretva. While passing through the Biokovo
hinterland, the group committed numerous crimes against the civilian
population. Around Vrgorac, the group encountered the elements of the
9th Partisan (Dalmatian) Division. The division, deployed in the
broader area of Imotski, was already under pressure from the east
(Italian regimental battle group "Scotti" from Mostar) and the
Chetniks under Vesković from Ljubuški). Facing
such odds, the division had to retreat towards Jablanica, where it
became a part of the Main Operational Group.
Battle of the Neretva
The bridge on the
Neretva river, twice-built and twice-destroyed
during the shooting of the film Battle of Neretva. Today a part of the
In the last days of February, Tito's Main Operational Group found
itself in a critical position with no open road remaining. On the one
side it was stuck in front of the stubborn defense of the Konjic
garrison, and on the other, it was exposed to the mounting pressure on
Prozor. There was also constant pressure from the reinforced parts of
the 718th division from Sarajevo, increasing pressure of the
Italian-Chetnik battlegroups from Mostar, build-up of further Chetnik
forces on the eastern bank of Neretva, and a further two German
divisions (7th SS and 369th) were approaching from the west. Alarming
news about the imminent threat to the Central Hospital was arriving in
Tito's HQ on a daily basis.
Neretva river and destroyed bridge
In that situation, Tito took the tactical command firmly in his hands.
On 28 February he decided to reverse the direction of the attack, and,
instead of pushing over Neretva, decided to strike hard at the Germans
pressuring Prozor. According to this new direction, he ordered the
Pioneer Company to destroy all the bridges across the Neretva, which
was done between 1 and 4 March. He also ordered all the forces to
concentrate attacks against Gornji Vakuf, with only necessary
rearguards left on the Neretva.
Counterattack at Gornji Vakuf
The counterattack began not a minute too soon. The 717th Division and
the battlegroup Vogel were attacking along the
Gornji Vakuf – Prozor
road with the main column, while trying to circumvent the partisan
defense with flanking columns over Pidriš and Vilića gumno,
intending to capture the important pass at Makljen. On 2 March at
dawn, the 4th Proletarian Brigade, led by its 2nd Battalion, bypassing
the columns of the wounded from the Central Hospital, reached Vilića
gumno, and assumed positions in the deep snow, 30 to 50 meters from
German lines, to be attacked almost immediately by the German 749th
Regiment. After several hours of defense, the Brigade charged the
enemy positions and pushed the Germans back down the slopes of the
Raduša mountain. The fighting was intense and dramatic, under
difficult circumstances, and the losses were serious. The report for
that day counted 51 killed, 83 wounded, 21 missing and 31 cases of
frostbite. On the other side, 3rd Company of the 2nd Battalion fell
down to only 8 men. For this success, the 2nd Battalion and its
commander Niko Strugar were officially commended by Tito.
During 2 and 3 March, brigades were arriving in Prozor and assuming
their positions along the line of fire. On 4 March, a full-scale
Partisan counterattack was launched with all nine brigades. Five
brigades were attacking German positions frontally, and the remaining
four were trying to circumvent the flanks. The Germans were pushed
back all the way to near Bugojno, and they remained there waiting and
preparing for defense until 8 March. In the fight on 4 March the 2nd
Proletarian Brigade captured Major Strecker, Commander of the 3rd
Battalion of the 738th Regiment, and in the following days used him to
propose a prisoner exchange and talks on some other subjects to the
Germans. This led to the famous March negotiations.
Forcing the way over Neretva
Final Partisan push over Neretva.
The German Command was confused and worried by the successful Partisan
attack at Gornji Vakuf. On the assumption that the Partisans would
continue their advance towards Bugojno, General Lüters ordered the
369th Division to the area on 6 March, noting in the War diary that
"the key error (was) G.Vakuf". However, Tito was not pleased with
the prospects of the advance/retreat to the Vrbas valley, fearing the
Partisans would thus merely exchange one cauldron for another. In
light of these considerations, and much to the surprise of his closest
associates, Tito ordered a 180-degree turn and re-directed the bulk of
his army back to the Neretva.
The key role in forcing the way over
Neretva was assigned to the 2nd
Dalmatian Brigade. During the
Gornji Vakuf counterattack preparations,
the brigade was left on the
Neretva as a rearguard. After the
counter-attack had been launched, the brigade commander Ljubo
Vučković did not consider the possibility of return to the river,
and consequently ordered the evacuation of Jablanica, deploying his
unit on the hills outside the town. However, on March 4, Tito summoned
him to a meeting, criticized him for leaving Jablanica, and ordered
him to reoccupy the town immediately. Furthermore, Vučković was
instructed to cross the
Neretva with his unit the following night,
Chetniks from the eastern bank, and secure a bridgehead.
Partisans crossing the
Neretva river over the construction of the
broken bridge at Jablanica.
The reoccupation of Jablanica turned out to be easier than previously
thought. As the Tank Company of the Supreme HQ was available, it was
ordered to spearhead the attack. The town was held by two battalions
of the Durmitor Chetnik Brigade. After seeing tanks, the Chetniks
assumed that it was the Italian relief column, and moved out to meet
them. The Partisans took advantage of the Chetnik confusion and opened
fire, causing them to panic and run away. The 2nd Dalmatian Brigade
spent the whole day considering various options for crossing the
river. Since the pioneer detachment did not come until late in the
evening, Vučković informed the Supreme Command that it would be
impossible to cross the
Neretva during the same night. On the
following day, 6 March, the brigade was reinforced by the 2nd
Proletarian Brigade. Under the cover of darkness, one group of 12 men
from the 2nd Company of the 3rd Battalion of the 2nd Dalmatian crossed
the skeleton of the railway bridge and began climbing up the steep
eastern bank. The
Chetniks occupying the bunker above the bridge
sensed something was afoot and began firing blindly, killing two
soldiers. The remaining ten men succeeded in reaching the top of the
cliff and destroying the bunker with hand grenades. Once this obstacle
was out of the way, the rest of the battalion followed, and after it
two battalions from the 2nd Proletarian Brigade. On the following day,
these three battalions scattered the Chetnik Durmitor Brigade, causing
its soldiers to flee deep to the rear where they spread panic among
other Chetnik units. With this success, the bridgehead was
secured, and the pioneers started their work on the construction of
the new improvised bridge, resting on the skeleton of the old one.
Tito's new plan was to push the Germans back from Prozor to gain some
space and breathing room, and then to cross the
Neretva at Jablanica
as fast as possible. The renewal of attacks on
Konjic was not
envisaged. Instead of using the road running through Konjic, the bulk
of the Main Operational Group, with the Central Hospital and other
non-combat units, was to cross the
Prenj Mountain range right across
the river at Konjic. As it was impossible to take along the tanks,
trucks and heavy artillery, these were simply dumped into the river.
One of the necessary preconditions for this maneuver was the tight
blockade of the town. After the
1st Proletarian Brigade
1st Proletarian Brigade had left the
Ivan sedlo Pass to participate in the
Gornji Vakuf counterattack, the
bulk of the 718th Division, together with its headquarters, reinforced
the garrison at Konjic. These forces were exerting pressure on the
Partisan rearguards throughout the first days of March, and ultimately
succeeded in pushing them back across Neretvica, some 10 km to
the west of the town. On 5 March, the commander of the 3rd Partisan
Division, Pero Ćetković, received an order to push the Germans back
to the town, and seal-off the garrison for good. In fighting from 5 to
9 March, the Partisans reclaimed Ostrožac and other positions on
Neretva, throwing the Germans back to their original positions.
The final push over
Neretva was to be carried out in the following
3rd Division on the left flank, with the task of blockading Konjic.
2nd Division reinforced with the 1st Proletarian Brigade, as the
central column, had the task of crossing the northern slopes of Prenj
and reaching the upper
Ulog and Obalj.
7th Division with its two brigades was deployed on the right flank,
with the task of making the river crossing at Jablanica, circumventing
Prenj from the south, and blocking the road from
Mostar at Zijemlje.
1st Division with the 7th Krajina Brigade (which replaced the 1st
Proletarian), was to act as the rearguard, slowing down the German
Bugojno towards Jablanica, and securing the main crossing
9th Division had the task of denying the enemy access to
the south and south-west.
In order to counter this strategic "checkmate" Tito prepared an
elaborate deception. He ordered his sappers to actually blow up all
the bridges on the river. When air reconnaissance brought this
information to the German command, they concluded that the Partisans
must be preparing a final dash north of their current position (along
the western shore of the Neretva), and had blown up the bridge to
prevent desertion as well as attack by Chetnik forces from the other
side of the river. They thus began a redeployment of troops in the
area to block the anticipated movement.
This redeployment gave the Partisan engineers precious time needed to
sufficiently repair the bridge and to eliminate the Chetnik troops
defending its far side. The Germans, characteristically, quickly
caught on, but were unable to correct their mistake and prepare a
serious attack in time, because of their previous redeployment orders.
With their rearguard fighting off an increasingly powerful German
advance, the Partisans crossed the river under intense aerial
bombardment (the Axis deployed large
Luftwaffe formations), but the
mountainous landscape prevented accurate destruction of the makeshift
bridge. After the escape was complete, the weak bridge was finally
rendered useless to prevent pursuit. The humiliating strategic defeat
was amplified by Tito being able to keep his well-known pledge not to
leave the wounded behind, as they faced certain execution at the hands
of the Axis (which later actually happened in the aftermath of the
Battle of the Sutjeska).
The operation marked the "high point of Chetnik collaboration with the
Axis powers". In order to ensure the operation's success, Draža
Mihailović relocated from
Kalinovik where Zaharije
Ostojić, commander of operations in Herzegovina, was situated. On 9
March, Mihailović informed Colonel Bajo Stanišić:
"I manage the whole operation through Branko [Zaharije Ostojić]. No
action is ordered without my approval. Branko is keeping me informed
of even the smallest details. All his proposals are reviewed, studied,
approved or corrected. In this we follow these principles: we work for
ourselves alone and for no one else; we are concerned only with the
interests of the Serbs and of future Yugoslavia; for the achievement
of our objectives we use one enemy against another, precisely as do
all our enemies with exception, and achieve our objectives with the
least sacrifice, but are prepared even for the greatest sacrifices if
this is necessary in the general interest, and to safeguard the people
from all unnecessary exposure to danger in their homes."
By the end of March, the Germans claimed to have killed about 11,915
Partisans, executed 616, and captured 2,506. Despite these heavy
losses and a tactical victory for the Axis powers, the partisan
formations secured their command and the hospital, and were able to
continue operations. In fact, once they reached the eastern parts of
Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Partisans had to face only the Chetniks,
and in turn almost entirely incapacitated them in the area west of the
The next major operation in
Yugoslavia was Operation Schwarz.
Order of battle
Main Operational Group
1st Proletarian Division
1st Proletarian Brigade
3rd Krajina Brigade
2nd Proletarian Division
2nd Proletarian Brigade
2nd Dalmatian Brigade
3rd Assault Division
1st Dalmatian Brigade
Banija Division (from 27 January)
9th Dalmatian Division (from 5 March)
3rd Dalmatian Brigade
4th Dalmatian Brigade
5th Dalmatian Brigade
7th Krajina Brigade (from 5 March)
1st Croatian Corps
Banija Division (until 27 January)
6th Littoral-Gorski Kotar Brigade
14th Littoral-Gorski Kotar Brigade
1st Bosnian Corps
4th Krajina Division
2nd Krajina Brigade
5th Krajina Brigade
6th Krajina Brigade
8th Krajina Brigade
12th Krajina Brigade (from 20 February)
5th Krajina Division
1st Krajina Brigade
4th Krajina Brigade
7th Krajina Brigade (until 4 March)
10th Krajina Division (from 13 February)
9th Krajina Brigade
10th Krajina Brigade
In popular culture
The 1969 Oscar-nominated motion picture The Battle of
Alistair MacLean's 1968 thriller novel Force 10 From Navarone,
subsequently filmed, also brings forth the fight of outnumbered
Partisans against Germans and Chetniks, and the blowing up of the
Neretva bridge. But the actual historical events are not in play, and
the story is entirely fictional.
Seven enemy offensives
Resistance during World War II
Anti-partisan operations in World War II
^ a b "Report of the operations department of the Southeast Command 22
March 1943, National Archives Washington, NAW, T311, Roll 175, frame
000563". Znaci.net. Archived from the original on 11 May 2013.
Retrieved 3 March 2014.
^ a b c d e IV. neprijateljska ofenziva – Unternehmen Weiss II:
Bitka na Neretvi Archived 2014-02-17 at the Wayback Machine.
^ a b Hoare 2006, p. 333.
^ Božović 2011, pp. 121-123.
^ Milazzo 1975, p. 116.
^ a b Roberts 1973, p. 100.
^ Roberts 1973, p. 132.
^ a b Terzić & Savković 1965, p. 23.
^ Tomasevich 1975, pp. 231–235.
^ Hoare 2006, p. 329.
^ Hoare 2006, pp. 329–330.
^ Schmider 2001, p. 220.
^ a b c Hoare 2006, p. 330.
^ Tomasevich 1975, p. 236.
^ Shepherd 2009, p. 85.
^ Terzić & Savković 1965, p. 26.
^ Karasijević 1986, pp. 65-66.
^ Hoare 2006, p. 332.
^ Tomasevich 1975, p. 295.
^ Terzić & Savković 1965, p. 28.
^ Karasijević 1986, p. 73.
^ Karasijević 1986, p. 75.
^ Dimitrijević & Savić 2011, p. 119.
^ a b c Trifkovic 2011, p. 318.
^ Karasijević 1986, p. 83.
^ Karasijević 1986, pp. 87-88.
^ Vojnoistoriski Institut Jugoslovenske Narodne Armije 1954,
^ Shepherd 2009, p. 87.
^ Terzić & Savković 1965, p. 24.
^ Terzić & Savković 1965, p. 25.
^ Urošević 1988, p. 208.
^ Terzić & Savković 1965, p. 147.
^ Dimitrijević & Savić 2011, p. 124.
^ Novović et al. 1985, p. 154.
^ Dimitrijević & Savić 2011, p. 126.
^ Terzić & Savković 1965, p. 31.
^ Janković 1975, p. 173.
^ Djilas 1977, p. 223.
^ Vuksanović 1981, pp. 175-176.
^ a b Bojić et al. 1984, p. 96.
^ a b Trifkovic 2011, p. 326.
^ Terzić & Savković 1965, pp. 279-280.
^ Terzić & Savković 1965, p. 37.
^ Drljević 1969, pp. 405-410.
^ Urošević 1988, p. 216.
^ Savković 1965, pp. 265-268.
^ Savković 1965, pp. 268-270.
^ Terzić & Savković 1965, pp. 44-47.
^ Tomasevich 1975, p. 232.
^ Tomasevich 1975, p. 241.
Bojić, Milosav; Vujošević, Jovan-Lola; Dozet, Dušan; Leković,
Mišo (1984). Prva proleterska brigada - ilustrovana monografija [1st
Proletarian Brigade - An Illustrated Monograph]. Zagreb: Globus.
Božović, Srđan (2011). Divizija "Princ Eugen" [Prinz Eugen
Division]. Pančevo: Narodni muzej Pančevo.
Dimitrijević, Bojan; Savić, Dragan (2011). Oklopne jedinice na
jugoslovenskom ratištu 1941-1945 [Armored Units on Yugoslav
Battleground 1941-1945]. Beograd: Institut za savremenu istoriju.
ISBN 978-86-74-03154-4. Archived from the original on
Djilas, Milovan (1977). Wartime. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Drljević, Savo (1969). Četvrta proleterska crnogorska brigada.
Zbornik sjećanja. Knjiga 1 [4th Proletarian Brigade, A Collection of
Memories]. Beograd: Vojnoizdavački zavod. OCLC 15609514.
Hoare, Marko Attila (2006). Genocide and Resistance in Hitler's
Bosnia: The Partisans and the Chetniks, 1941–1943. New York: Oxford
University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-726380-8.
Janković, Blažo S. (1975). Četvrta proleterska crnogorska brigada
Montenegro Brigade]. Beograd: Vojnoizdavački zavod.
Karasijević, Drago (1986). Četvrta krajiška NOU divizija [Fourth
Krajina NOU Division]. Beograd: Vojnoizdavački i novinski centar.
Milazzo, Matteo J. (1975). The Chetnik Movement & the Yugoslav
Resistance. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Novović, Mirko; Kronja, Ante Čenčo; Stupar, Bogdan; Đapić, Vaso
(1985). Prva dalmatinska proleterska brigada [1st Dalmatian
Proletarian Brigade]. Beograd: Vojnoizdavački Zavod.
Popović, Koča; Nenadović, Aleksandar (1989). Razgovori s Kočom
[Interviews with Koča]. Zagreb: Globus.
Roberts, Walter R. (1987). Tito, Mihailović and the allies:
1941–1945. New Brunswick, NJ: Duke University Press.
Savković, Svetislav (1965).
Neretva - zbornik, knjiga 2: Proleterske
i udarne divizije u bici na Neretvi, zbornik radova [Neretva;
Proletarian and Shock Divisions in the Battle on Neretva; A Collection
of Works]. Beograd: Vojnoizdavački zavod. OCLC 455642508.
Shepherd, Ben (2012). Terror in the Balkans: German Armies and
Partisan Warfare. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Terzić, Velimir; Savković, Svetislav (1965).
Neretva - zbornik,
knjiga 1: Proleterske i udarne divizije u bici na Neretvi, zbornik
radova [Neretva; Proletarian and Shock Divisions in the Battle on
Neretva; A Collection of Works]. Beograd: Vojnoizdavački zavod.
Broz, Josip Tito; Damjanović, Pero (1982). Autobiographical
Narratives, Book 1. Beograd: Narodna knjiga. OCLC 9080887.
Tomasevich, Jozo (1975). War and Revolution in Yugoslavia,
1941–1945: The Chetniks. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Urošević, Sredoje (1988). Druga proleterska brigada - ratovanje i
ratnici (2. izmenjeno i dopunjeno izdanje) [2nd Proletarian Brigade -
warfare and warriors (second amended and revised edition)]. Beograd:
Poslovna politika. OCLC 450991448.
Vojnoistoriski Institut Jugoslovenske Narodne Armije (1954). Zbornik
dokumenata i podataka o narodno-oslobodilačkom ratu jugoslovenskih
naroda. T. 4, kn. 10, Borbe u Bosni i Hercegovini 1943 god. Beograd:
Vojnoistoriski Institut Jugoslovenske Narodne Armije.
Vuksanović, Miloš (1981). Prva proleterska brigada [1st Proletarian
Brigade]. Beograd: Narodna knjiga. OCLC 442929562.
Shepherd, Ben (2009). "With the Devil in Titoland: A Wehrmacht
Anti-Partisan Division in Bosnia-Herzegovina, 1943". War in History.
SAGE Publications. 16 (1): 77–97. doi:10.1177/0968344508097618.
Trifkovic, Gaj (2011). "A Case of Failed Counter-Insurgency:
Anti-Partisan Operations in
Yugoslavia 1943". The Journal of Slavic
Military Studies. Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. 24 (4): 314–336.
doi:10.1080/13518046.2011.572733. ISSN 1556-3006. Retrieved 16
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Fall Weiß (1943).
Seven Enemy Offensives
First Enemy Offensive
Second Enemy Offensive
Third Enemy Offensive
Fourth Enemy Offensive
Fifth Enemy Offensive
Sixth Enemy Offensive
Seventh Enemy Offensive
World War II
World War II in Yugoslavia
Invasion of Yugoslavia
Uprising in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Sanski Most revolt
June uprising in eastern Herzegovina
Siege of Rogatica
Uprising in Serbia
Battle of Loznica
Battle of Banja Koviljača
Operation Uzice (First Enemy Offensive)
Uprising in Montenegro
Battle of Pljevlja
Operations Southeast Croatia and Ozren (Second Enemy Offensive)
Operation Trio (Third Enemy Offensive)
Case White (Fourth Enemy Offensive)
Case Black (Fifth Enemy Offensive)
Operations Kugelblitz and Schneesturm (Sixth Enemy Offensive)
Operation Rösselsprung (Seventh Enemy Offensive)
Battle of Lijevče Field
Battle of Poljana
Battle of Odžak
World War II
World War II in Yugoslav Macedonia
Slovene Lands in World War II
Factions in the Yugoslav Front
People of the Yugoslav Front
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Battle of Neretva
Coordinates: 43°39′15″N 17°45′45″E / 43.6542°N