AXIS (AND COLLABORATIONIST FORCES):
Independent State of Croatia
Independent State of Croatia
Balkan Air Force
Balkan Air Force
COMMANDERS AND LEADERS
Ernst von Leyser
Ernst von Leyser
* Eduard Aldrian
* Kurt Rybka
Josip Broz Tito
Josip Broz Tito
* Slavko Rodić
* Vlado Ćetković
c. 20,000 German and NDH troops
CASUALTIES AND LOSSES
* 789 killed
* 929 wounded
* 51 missing
See Aftermath section
World War II in Yugoslavia
World War II in Yugoslavia
June 1941 uprising in eastern Herzegovina Uprising
in Serbia Loznica Banja Koviljača Uzice (1st Offensive) Novi
Pazar Mihailovic Sjenica
Uprising in Montenegro Pljevlja
Southeast Croatia (2nd Offensive) Prijedor Nanos Trio (3rd
1942 Montenegro offensive (3rd Offensive) Kozara
Case White (4th Offensive) Delphin
Case Black (5th Offensive) Zvornik Turjak Castle
Ožbalt Kugelblitz (6th Offensive) Maibaum Rösselsprung (7th
Belgrade Offensive Kosovo
Lijevče Field Odžak Nagykanizsa–Körmend Poljana Niš
Hungarian occupation Allied bombing campaign
OPERATION RöSSELSPRUNG (Knight\'s move ) was a combined airborne and
ground assault by the German XV Mountain Corps and their allies on the
Supreme Headquarters of the
Yugoslav Partisans located in the Bosnian
Drvar in the
Independent State of Croatia
Independent State of Croatia during World War II
. The operation was launched on 25 May 1944, and was aimed at
capturing or killing Marshal
Josip Broz Tito
Josip Broz Tito and destroying the
headquarters, support facilities and co-located Allied military
missions. It is associated with the SEVENTH ENEMY OFFENSIVE
(Serbo-Croatian : Sedma neprijateljska ofenziva) in Yugoslav history.
The airborne assault itself is also known as the RAID ON DRVAR
(Serbo-Croatian: Desant na Drvar).
Operation Rösselsprung was a coup de main operation, involving
direct action by a combined parachute and glider-borne assault by the
500th SS Parachute Battalion and a planned subsequent link-up with
ground forces of the XV Mountain Corps converging on Drvar. The
airborne assault was preceded by heavy bombing of the town by the
Luftwaffe . The ground forces included Home Guard forces of the
Independent State of Croatia. Tito, his principal headquarters staff
and the Allied military personnel escaped, despite their presence in
Drvar at the time of the airborne assault. The operation failed due to
a number of factors, including Partisan resistance in the town itself
and along the approaches to Drvar. The failure of the various German
intelligence agencies to share the limited intelligence available on
Tito's exact location and the lack of contingency planning by the
commander of the German airborne force also contributed to the
unsuccessful outcome for the
* 1 Background
* 2 Partisan dispositions around
* 3 German intelligence
* 4 Partisan intelligence
* 5 Planning
500th SS Parachute Battalion
* 5.2 Ground forces
* 6 Operation
* 6.1 Airborne assault and initial response
* 6.2 Assault on Tito\'s cave and the Partisan counterattack
* 6.3 Tito makes his escape
* 6.4 Second German attack and withdrawal
* 6.5 Ground force assault and Partisan withdrawal
* 6.5.1 25 May
* 6.5.2 26–27 May
* 7 Aftermath
* 8 In film
* 9 Notes
* 10 Footnotes
* 11 References
* 11.1 Books
* 11.2 Journals
Drvar Map of the
Independent State of Croatia
Independent State of Croatia showing the
Case White and
Case Black offensives of the first six months
of 1943 caused significant setbacks for the Partisans; however, in
September Tito took advantage of the capitulation of Italy and managed
to increase the territory under his control and double his forces in
size to around 200,000 men, arming them with captured Italian weapons.
In late November, he held a National Congress at
Jajce in the
liberated area of northwestern Yugoslavia and designated himself
Marshal and Prime Minister. He established his headquarters nearby at
Drvar in the
Dinaric Alps and temporarily suspended his successful
tactic of being constantly on the move. Generalfeldmarschall
Maximilian von Weichs , the
Europe, admitted a few weeks later that "Tito is our most dangerous
Drvar was located within the territory of the German puppet state,
Independent State of Croatia
Independent State of Croatia (which included Bosnia and
Herzegovina ). Tito's personal headquarters was initially located in a
cave about 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) north of the centre of Drvar. The
Unac River ran along the base of the ridge line above the cave,
creating an obstacle to movement between the town and the cave, and a
rail line ran along the ridge line behind the cave. In addition to
Partisan headquarters, various Partisan and Communist Party of
Yugoslavia support, training and youth organisations were also based
in and around
Drvar at the time, along with the Tito Escort Battalion
which was responsible for his personal safety. The British and Soviet
military missions to the Partisans were also stationed in villages
close to Drvar, as were some United States military officers on
various missions. The British mission was headed by
Maclean , who was in London at the time of the raid, and included
Randolph Churchill , son of
Winston Churchill . At the time of
Operation Rösselsprung (German : Unternehmen Rösselsprung), the
British mission was led by its second-in-command , Lieutenant Colonel
Vivian Street .
PARTISAN DISPOSITIONS AROUND DRVAR
The deployment of Partisan forces around
Drvar is shown in red,
with German movements shown in blue
Apart from Partisan headquarters and related organisations close in
and around Drvar, there were between 12,000 and 16,000 Partisans in
the area of operations that would be subject to the ground assault by
XV Mountain Corps. In the immediate vicinity of
Drvar was the 1st
Proletarian Corps commanded by
Koča Popović , which consisted of the
elite 1st Proletarian and 6th Lika Proletarian Divisions , with the
Corps headquarters located in the village of Mokronoge , 6 kilometres
(3.7 mi) east of Drvar. The 6th Lika Proletarian Division was west of
Drvar, and the 1st Proletarian Division was deployed in the area
Mrkonjić Grad , some 50 km east of Drvar. The
nearest large Partisan formation to
Drvar was the 3rd Lika Proletarian
Brigade of the 6th Lika Proletarian Division based in the Resanovci
and Trubar villages some 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) south and southwest of
In the wider area of operations were the Partisan 5th Corps commanded
by Slavko Rodić and 8th Corps commanded by Vlado Ćetković . The 5th
Corps was deployed to the northeast and northwest of
Drvar with its
headquarters south of the Mrkonjić Grad–Ključ road, and the 8th
Corps was positioned to the southeast with its headquarters in the
mountains between the
Livno valleys. Importantly for the
coming battle, the 4th Krajina Division of the 5th Corps was deployed
Bosanski Petrovac . Two brigades of the 4th
Krajina Division and one brigade from the 39th Krajina Division formed
a defensive arc north of Drvar, running from
Bihać through Krupa to
Sanski Most. The 9th Dalmatian Division of the 8th Corps was deployed
to the south between
Bosansko Grahovo .
Otto Skorzeny apparently did not pass on
crucial information about the location of Tito's cave in
Three organisations attempted to determine the location of Tito's
headquarters and the disposition of Partisan forces in Drvar. The
first of these was the Benesch
Special Unit of Section II of the
Wehrmacht intelligence service), some members of which had
been involved in identifying Tito's presence in the town of Jajce
prior to the German offensive to retake the town. The Benesch Special
Unit was part of the Brandenburg Division , and was staffed by ethnic
Germans who spoke local languages. The unit had many contacts with
Ustaše Militia , and had been tracking Tito
since October 1943.
Leutnant Kirchner of that unit had been
responsible for locating Tito prior to the re-capture of Jajce, and he
established a patrol base near Bosansko Grahovo. He got very close to
Drvar cave, and located the Allied military missions, but despite
German radio intercepts confirming that
Drvar was the site of Tito's
headquarters, Kirchner was unable to pinpoint the cave as the location
of the headquarters. Kirchner was attached to the 500th SS Parachute
Battalion for the operation.
The second intelligence organisation was FAT (Front Reconnaissance
Troop) 216 of Section I of the Abwehr. FAT216, commanded by Leutnant
Zavadil, was also attached to the 500th SS Parachute Battalion, but
did not contribute much to the intelligence used to plan the raid.
On Hitler\'s orders, SS-
Otto Skorzeny of the
Sicherheitsdienst (SD) (the intelligence branch of the SS ), who had
commanded the operation to rescue Mussolini in September 1943, was
independently involved in intelligence gathering in the lead-up to the
raid. Skorzeny acted on behalf of the SD, and after obtaining
information from a Partisan deserter that pinpointed Tito's
headquarters at the cave, he proposed a plan to infiltrate
a small group of soldiers to assassinate Tito. Skorzeny soon
discovered that the plan to eliminate Tito had been compromised, and
had nothing further to do with the operation. It appears that he did
not pass on the useful intelligence he had gathered to
Hauptsturmführer Kurt Rybka, the commander of the 500th SS
Parachute Battalion, who was responsible for planning the critical
airborne aspects of the operation. Largely due to interservice
rivalry and competition, the three organisations did not share the
intelligence they gathered, which had a significant effect on the
tactical planning and execution of the operation.
United Newsreel footage of Tito and his headquarters
The Partisans had their own highly effective intelligence network.
They had been aware of the presence of the 500th SS Parachute
Battalion in Yugoslavia for some time, and had been aware of the
general threat of an airborne assault for over six months. They may
have become aware of the isolation of the 500th SS Parachute Battalion
or the concentration of transport aircraft and gliders at
Banja Luka over a month before the operation. The Partisans also
managed to recapture the deserter Skorzeny had interrogated. As a
result of these early indicators of an attack, Tito's main
headquarters was relocated to another cave near the village of Bastasi
, 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) west of Drvar. Tito then used the
during the day, but returned to the Bastasi cave at night. In addition
to this precaution, elements of the 6th Lika Proletarian Division were
moved closer to Drvar.
On 23 May 1944, a single German
Fieseler Fi 156
Fieseler Fi 156 reconnaissance
aircraft flew a number of parallel runs up and down the Una valley
Drvar at around 600 metres (2,000 ft); activity consistent with
conducting aerial photography. The aircraft paid particular attention
to the villages of Prinavor and
Trninić Brijeg where the British
military mission and American military personnel were located. This
was observed by Street, the acting commander of the British military
mission, who assumed it was spotting for a bombing raid and advised
both Tito and the Americans. Both Allied missions moved their
locations as a result.
Despite the intelligence received and observations made by the
British, the Partisans appear to have been quite complacent about the
threat, with Tito's chief of staff,
Arso Jovanović swearing that "a
German attack was impossible". The most obvious indicator that Tito
was unaware of the imminent attack is that he remained at the Drvar
cave overnight on the evening of 24 May 1944, following his birthday
celebrations, instead of returning to Bastasi.
Ultra intercepts of German signal traffic, the British had
become aware that the
Germans were planning an operation codenamed
"Rösselsprung" but the information available did not include where
the operation would occur or what its objectives might be.
Following intelligence collection, higher level planning for the
operation began on 6 May 1944, after von Weichs had issued his orders.
Hitler gave his approval to von Weichs' final plans on 21 May. The
order to XV Mountain Corps was issued by
Rendulic , the commander of
2nd Panzer Army
2nd Panzer Army , on the same day, leaving
only three days for preparation. General der Infanterie Ernst von
Leyser , commander of XV Mountain Corps headquartered at
Knin , was
responsible for the conduct of the operation. The ground forces of
von Leyser's XV Mountain Corps were significantly reinforced from Army
Group F , the
2nd Panzer Army
2nd Panzer Army and
V SS Mountain Corps reserves. These
reinforcements included two panzer companies, the reconnaissance
battalions of the 1st Mountain Division (the 54th Mountain
Reconnaissance Battalion) and the 369th (Croatian) Infantry Division ,
and most of
7th SS Volunteer Mountain Division Prinz Eugen .
In outline, the XV Mountain Corps plan was for a heavy aerial
bombardment of Partisan positions in and around
Drvar by Luftwaffe
aircraft, followed by a parachute and glider assault by the 500th SS
Parachute Battalion who had the task of capturing or killing Tito and
destroying his headquarters. The assault also included tasks to
capture or destroy the Allied military missions to the Partisans. On
the same day, ground elements of XV Mountain Corps were to converge on
Drvar to link up with the 500th SS Parachute Battalion. A small
reconnaissance aircraft was tasked to fly into
Drvar after its capture
to retrieve Tito or his body.
500TH SS PARACHUTE BATTALION
Rybka received an outline of the operation on 20 May, and more
details the following day. He realised that the gliders and transport
aircraft would be insufficient for the whole of the 500th SS Parachute
Battalion to be delivered to
Drvar in one lift, so he came up with a
plan involving two waves. The first wave of 654 troops would conduct
the assault at 07:00 and a second wave of 220 troops would follow
about five hours later. Critically, the intelligence he was given
regarding the suspected location of Tito's headquarters (codenamed
"Citadel") was that it was in or near a cemetery on high ground
southwest of the centre of Drvar, nearly 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) from
Tito's actual headquarters cave. This would have far-reaching effects
on the planning and execution of the assault.
Rybka's plan for the first wave called for the insertion of 314
parachute troops in three groups (Red, Green and Blue) to secure the
town, and another 354 troops in six glider-borne assault groups to
carry out specific tasks. The glider-borne group tasks were:
DFS230 glider as used for troop insertion during Operation
* Panther Group (110 soldiers) – capture "Citadel" and destroy
Tito's headquarters – to land at the cemetery
* Greifer (Attacker) Group (40 soldiers) – destroy the British
military mission in the village of Prnjavor 2 kilometres (1.2 mi)
Drvar on the road to Bosansko Grahovo
* Stürmer (Stormer) Group (50 soldiers) – destroy the Soviet
military mission between the centre of
Drvar and the Unac river
* Brecher (Breaker) Group (50 soldiers) – destroy the American
military mission in the village of
Trninić Brijeg 2 kilometres (1.2
mi) south of the centre of Drvar
* Draufgänger (Daredevil) Group (70 soldiers including members of
the Brandenburg Division, the
Abwehr officer Lieutenant Zavadil and
some Chetniks) – capture the crossroads (codenamed "Western Cross")
immediately to the west of
Drvar including a nearby suspected
* Beißer (Biter) Group (20 soldiers) – seize an outpost radio
station to the south of Prnjavor then assist the Greifer Group
The second wave of 220 troops based on the training company of the
500th SS Parachute Battalion were to insert by parachute at midday.
Rybka does not appear to have planned for any significant
contingencies such as errors in the intelligence on the location of
Tito's headquarters. His only contingency plan was that he would fire
a red signal flare to order all available forces to converge on his
position for subsequent tasks.
On 22 May 1944, the
500th SS Parachute Battalion were transported to
airfields at Nagy-Betskerek ,
Zagreb and Banja Luka, dressed in
Wehrmacht uniforms for security reasons. However, the troops were not
briefed on the operation until a few hours before it was launched.
They then linked up with their transport aircraft, including the
ten-man gliders that would deliver the glider-borne troops onto their
objectives. By 24 May, all preparations for the airborne assault were
The plan for the ground forces of von Leyser's XV Mountain Corps was
for nine separate but coordinated thrusts toward the Drvar–Bosanski
Petrovac area from all directions. The groupings and tasks were:
* The 384th Infantry Regiment of the 373rd (Croatian) Infantry
Division (Croatian legionnaires), with elements of the 2nd Company of
Panzer Battalion, referred to as Kampfgruppe Willam after
its commander, Oberst Willam, was to advance east at 05:00 from the
Srb toward Drvar. Kampfgruppe Willam had the primary
responsibility for relieving then taking command of the 500th SS
Parachute Battalion in
Drvar on 25 May, and was then to attack in the
direction of Bosanski Petrovac.
* A battalion group of the 373rd (Croatian) Infantry Division was to
set out at 05:00 from Lapac and drive east through
Kulen Vakuf to
capture the crossroads at Vrtoče. If necessary, they were then to
advance northwest toward
Bihać to open the road.
* The 92nd Motorised Regiment, with the 54th Reconnaissance
Battalion (from the 1st Mountain Division ), the 55th Pioneer
Battalion (from the
1st Cossack Division ), the 468th Armoured Car
Company, and a regimental group of the 2nd Croatian Light Infantry
Brigade was to advance southeast from
Bihać and Bosanska Krupa at
05:00 through the village of
Vrtoče to capture
Bosanski Petrovac as
quickly as possible, destroy the Partisans in that location, and
occupy the Partisan airfield and supply installations. After capturing
Bosanski Petrovac, elements were to be sent toward
Drvar to prevent
the withdrawal of Partisans along that road and to link up with the
500th SS Parachute Battalion in Drvar.
* A regimental group of the 7th SS Division was to advance west from
the area of Mrkonjić Grad, break through Partisan resistance east of
the Sana and then advance on a wide front to block escape routes east
out of Drvar. Part of this group was to advance from
Jajce along the
rail line and roads through Savici to reach their objective, the area
around Mliniste power station.
* An ad-hoc Kampfgruppe Panzergrenadier Sturmbattalion manned by
officer cadets, with 1st Company of the 202nd
under the command of the 7th SS Division, was to advance from Banja
Luka toward Ključ to seize the crossing point across the Sana
utilised by the Partisans.
* The 105th SS Reconnaissance Battalion with an additional panzer
company was to advance from
Livno and occupy any Partisan supply
installations in the
Livno Valley, and prevent any Partisan withdrawal
to the south of
Drvar by attacking through Bosanski Grahovo toward
* The 369th Reconnaissance Battalion of the 369th (Croatian)
Infantry Division (Croatian legionnaires), under the command of the
105th SS Reconnaissance Battalion, were to advance from
Livno up the
Glamoč Valley against Partisan forces withdrawing from
Drvar to the
* The 1st Regiment of the Brandenburg Division, along with the
Dinara Division , were to advance from
Knin toward Bosanski
Grahovo and conduct special operations against Partisans in the
Drvar in 2007
The offensive began at 05:00 with the advance of ground forces from
their assembly areas surrounding their assigned operational areas.
About 06:35, five squadrons of
Luftwaffe bombers, including Junkers Ju
87 dive bombers , began bombing targets within
Drvar and Bosanski
Petrovac. A total of 440 sorties were flown on 25 May 1944.
AIRBORNE ASSAULT AND INITIAL RESPONSE
500th SS Parachute Battalion began to parachute and glide onto
their objectives at 07:00, with most parachutists and glider pilots
able to land relatively close to their targets despite the smoke and
dust from the bombing. Some gliders landed significantly off course,
including one that landed in front of the Bastasi cave 7 kilometres
(4.3 mi) to the west of Drvar, and several that landed in a locality
Drvar (not to be confused with
Bihać and Petrovac, which was on the axis of advance of the 92nd
Motorised Regiment). The occupants of the glider that landed in
Bastasi were immediately killed by members of the Tito Escort
Battalion guarding the cave, and the occupants of the gliders at
Vrtoče had to fight their way toward Drvar. After landing, the first
wave of the
500th SS Parachute Battalion quickly gained control of
Panther Group supported by Red Group overcame minimal resistance at
the cemetery and Rybka established his headquarters behind the
cemetery walls. However, there was no sign of Tito or his
headquarters. Greifer Group and Brecher Group were also unsuccessful
as the British and American groups had moved following the aerial
reconnaissance on 23 May. Parts of Stürmer Group landed their gliders
in a field immediately south of the
Drvar cave and came under fire
from members of the
Tito Escort Battalion on the high ground in the
area of the cave. The Draufgänger Group landed their gliders at the
"Western Cross", then assaulted a building they believed was the
Partisan communications centre. However, the building was actually the
office of the
Communist Party of Yugoslavia
Communist Party of Yugoslavia Central Committee, who
resisted fanatically until the building was levelled using satchel
charges . Both Blue Group and Green Group, consisting of parachute
troops that landed in the eastern part of
Drvar where most of the
population lived, were also engaged in heavy fighting. The Young
Communist League of Yugoslavia had just finished a conference in
Drvar, and many of the delegates were still staying in the town. Many
youths took up whatever arms they could obtain and commenced fighting
the parachutists who were attempting to establish a cordon on the
eastern side of the town.
About 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) further east on the road to Mokronoge was
a Partisan officer training school with about 130 students. On hearing
the fighting from the direction of Drvar, the students marched west
initially armed with only pistols and a few rifles. They split into
two groups, a smaller group which crossed the Unac and advanced west
along the railway line on the ridge leading toward Tito's cave, and a
larger group which collected arms and ammunition from several stray
canisters of German equipment dropped by parachute. The larger group
of students attacked Green and Blue Groups from the east around 08:00,
suffering severe casualties, but maintained continuous pressure on the
German flank. About 09:00, the
Germans had largely secured Drvar, and
the available troops went from house to house, armed with photographs
of Tito, brutally questioning the civilians they could find. Soon
after this commenced, Rybka realised that Partisan resistance was
concentrated to the north in the vicinity of the cave. He therefore
fired the red signal flare to rally his troops for an assault in that
ASSAULT ON TITO\'S CAVE AND THE PARTISAN COUNTERATTACK
Tito's cave headquarters in 1990
At about 10:30, Rybka launched a frontal attack across the Unac
supported by at least one MG42 machine gun firing into the mouth of
the cave. The
Germans reached the base of the hill, fifty metres from
the cave, but suffered severe casualties in the assault. They were
also running low on water. Prior to this attack, Tito and around 20
staff had taken refuge in the cave.
While Rybka was assembling his troops for this attack, surrounding
Partisan forces were rushed toward Drvar. Three battalions of the 3rd
Brigade of the 6th Lika Proletarian Division
approached from the southeast. One battalion attacked the German
position at the cemetery while the other two swung around to strike
Germans from the west.
TITO MAKES HIS ESCAPE
At about 11:15, after Rybka's first attack had been defeated, Tito
and the small group gathered with him escaped from the cave. There
was a platform at the mouth of the cave, and they climbed down a rope
through a trapdoor in the platform, although the hysteria displayed by
Tito's mistress Davorjanka Paunović (codenamed "Zdenka") and his dog
Tigar caused some delays. The party split up and following a creek
leading to the Unac, the small groups climbed the heights to the east
and withdrew toward the village of Potoci .
SECOND GERMAN ATTACK AND WITHDRAWAL
The second wave of parachute troops were dropped in two groups to the
west of the cemetery at about midday. The drop zone was within fields
of fire of the Partisans to the west of Drvar, and they suffered many
casualties during the drop. Collecting the remainder, Rybka mounted a
second attack, but the pressure on his flanks was too heavy, and the
assault again failed. Fighting continued throughout the afternoon with
both sides taking heavy casualties.
In the late afternoon, Rybka ordered his forces to withdraw to the
area of the cemetery where he formed a defensive perimeter. During the
withdrawal, at least one group of troops was cut off and killed. At
about 18:00, Rybka was wounded by a grenade blast and was later
evacuated with other casualties in the light aircraft intended to
carry away Tito after his capture. Roughly at the same time, his
Partisan counterpart in Drvar, Milan Šijan, the commander of the 3rd
Lika Proletarian Brigade, was also wounded by German machine gun fire.
By 21:30, the
Germans had consolidated their position in the
cemetery, although they were completely surrounded by the Partisans.
During the night, the 3rd Lika Proletarian
Brigade attacked the
cemetery, with the 1st Battalion of the 3rd
Brigade of the 9th
Dalmatian Division reinforcing the assault. At 03:30 on 26 May, the
final Partisan attack was launched against the cemetery, breaching the
walls in several places, but the paratroopers held on. The
assault by Kampfgruppe Willam on 25 May 1944
GROUND FORCE ASSAULT AND PARTISAN WITHDRAWAL
Although its total strength was estimated at 185,500 men in late May
2nd Panzer Army
2nd Panzer Army was not able to rally more than 16,000
troops for Operation Rösselsprung due to ever-increasing Partisan
activity throughout the country. The
Germans had to rely on special
forces and improved tactics. The Partisans defended the territory
they controlled with significant demolition and mining of roads.
Roadblocks were manned by patrols and smaller detachments, whose task
was to hold off the enemy until reinforcements arrived. During
Operation Rösselsprung, the
Germans rendered these tactics
ineffective by combining strong and fast motorised columns with
adequate pioneer support. This combination was especially successful
for the column led by the 92nd Motorised Regiment. The second German
tactical innovation was the employment of five reconnaissance
battalions for independent operations deep inside Partisan-controlled
Throughout 25 May, the ground forces of XV Mountain Corps were not
able to advance as quickly as planned. There was unexpected resistance
from the Partisan 1st, 5th and 8th Corps along their axes of advance,
and there was very poor communication and coordination between the
various columns. The ground forces were also subjected to Allied air
attacks throughout the day. The assault by the 92nd Motorised
Regiment kampfgruppe on 25 May 1944
At 05:00 on 25 May, Kampfgruppe Willam commenced its attack from Srb
in an easterly direction, aiming to cover the 20 kilometres (12 mi) to
Drvar as quickly as possible. It encountered organised resistance from
the 2nd Lika Proletarian
Brigade of the 6th Lika Proletarian Division.
After a day's fighting, the
Germans had captured Trubar , but were
unable to overcome the defences of the hills east of the village.
Recognising the importance of Kampfgruppe Willam's task, the commander
of the 373th Division, Generalleutnant Eduard Aldrian , ordered the
battalion group of the 373th Division to abandon its advance from
Lapac to Martin Brod and reinforce Kampfgruppe Willam instead. The
remaining brigade of the 6th Lika Proletarian Division, the 1st Lika
Proletarian Shock Brigade, was deployed to the north along the Una
river. The 2nd Lika Proletarian
Brigade requested assistance from the
1st Lika Proletarian Shock Brigade, but divisional headquarters
ordered it to send reinforcements to
Drvar instead. At 21:00, the 3rd
Battalion of the 2nd Lika Proletarian
Brigade launched a successful
local counterattack on the vanguard of Kampfgruppe Willam, separating
it from the main body. Willam then decided to halt the advance and
place the remaining units into all-round defence. At 22:25, Aldrian
ordered him to resume the attack, but Willam reported that this was
impossible due to loss of contact with his own units.
The 92nd Motorised Regiment kampfgruppe consisted of two columns, a
western column based on the 92nd Motorised Regiment, and an eastern
column consisting of the 54th Reconnaissance Battalion and 1st Home
Guard Jäger Regiment of the 2nd Croatian Light Infantry Brigade. The
western column advanced southeast from Bihać, and encountered
resistance from the 6th Krajina
Brigade of the 4th Krajina Division.
By the end of the day, the western column had reached Vrtoče, halfway
Bihać and Petrovac. Being fully motorised, it used its
mobility to outmanoeuvre the Partisans, bypassing their main defensive
positions to the west, with the Cossack pioneers playing an important
role in keeping the column moving. The eastern column started its
advance from Bosanska Krupa, aiming to establish contact with the
western column at Vrtoče. It advanced 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) before
being held up by the defences of the 8th Krajina
Brigade of the 4th
Krajina Division. The assault by elements of the 7th SS
Division on 25 May 1944
The forces commanded by the 7th SS Division were organised into
northern, central and southern columns. The northern column consisted
of Kampfgruppe Panzergrenadier Sturmbattalion and included a company
of tanks. It moved swiftly southwest from its start point near Banja
Luka, and had reached Čađavica (at a crossroads halfway between
Mrkonjić Grad and Ključ) by the evening of 25 May, brushing off the
Brigade of the 39th Krajina Division deployed on the
right flank of its axis of advance. The rapid advance meant that the
Brigade of the 39th Krajina Division was unable to
organise an effective defence. The 39th Krajina Division then ordered
the 13th Krajina
Brigade to block the road from Čađavica to Ključ
in order to prevent the loss of Ključ, but only one battalion of the
brigade managed to reach that position by dawn on 26 May.
The central column consisted of the 7th SS Reconnaissance Battalion
reinforced with one battery of self-propelled guns, which had a
special task: it was to strike from Mrkonjić Grad, penetrate deeply
into Partisans’ rear and destroy the HQ of the 5th Partisan Corps in
Ribnik . Despite having only two battalions in the area (the third was
facing Kampfgruppe Panzergrenadier Sturmbattalion at Čađavica), the
Brigade managed to hold off this thrust. The
southern column was based on the 13th SS Mountain Regiment, reinforced
by I Battalion of the 7th SS Mountain Artillery Regiment and some
Chetniks. This column launched its assault from the
Jajce area, and
had the task of reaching Mliništa (20 kilometres (12 mi) south of
Ključ). By 17:20, II Battalion of the 13th SS Mountain Regiment had
Šipovo , but any further advance was halted by the defences of
the 1st Proletarian Brigade. The assault by the 369th and 105th
SS Reconnaissance Regiments from
Livno on 25 May 1944
Germans deployed two columns to attack north from Livno. The
369th Reconnaissance Battalion with some 200 men from the 6th Ustaša
Brigade advanced towards Glamoč, and the 105th SS Reconnaissance
Battalion with a panzer company thrust in the direction of Bosansko
Grahovo. By 16:00 on 25 May 1944, the 369th Reconnaissance Battalion
column had reached the village of Han-Vrbe, some 5 km from Bosansko
Grahovo. At that point, it was attacked by the 2nd Battalion of the
Brigade and was forced to retreat. During the retreat,
this column was attacked by two more battalions of the 3rd Krajina
Brigade and was pushed back all the way to its start line at Livno
with heavy losses. A preliminary German report estimated their losses
at 50, but the 3rd Krajina
Brigade estimated German losses at 191
dead and wounded. The 105th SS Reconnaissance Battalion column
overcame the resistance of local Partisan units and the 1st and 4th
Battalions of the 13th Dalmatian Brigade, and by the end of the day
had reached Crni Lug , some 20 kilometres (12 mi) from Bosansko
Grahovo. In the evening, the 13th Dalmatian
Brigade was ordered to
march towards Tičevo and
Drvar to reinforce the Partisan forces in
The 1st Regiment of the Brandenburg Division, reinforced by a pioneer
company from the 373rd (Croatian) Infantry Division and the Chetnik
Dinara Division, attacked along the Knin–
Bosansko Grahovo axis,
pushed back the local Grahovo–Peulje Partisan Detachment and by the
end of the day had reached positions some 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) beyond
Escorted by elements of the 3rd Krajina Brigade, Tito made his way to
Potoci, where he was met by a battalion of the 1st Proletarian Brigade
. At Potoci, they were met by the staff of the Allied military
missions. The British mission signals officer had brought the only
surviving radio. Initially, Tito had been in favour of continuing the
attack on the SS paratroopers, but after reassessing the situation, he
cancelled further attacks. As the German intention to encircle the
Supreme Command in a small area around
Drvar with approaching units,
and then destroy it with land forces had become apparent by now,
serious reorganisation of Partisan dispositions was now required.
After German troops were observed in the area of Potoci, Tito and his
companions were escorted towards Kupres.
2nd Panzer Army
2nd Panzer Army was monitoring the operation closely. The report
of a special troop, which had been sent into the Partisans’ rear
with the help of disguised
Chetniks several days earlier, drew
particular attention from Rendulic. According to this report, received
late on 25 May, Tito was in the area of Potoci, halfway between Drvar
and Ribnik. Rendulic ordered the commander of the 7th SS Division to
immediately form a special company-strong detachment, with a mission
to infiltrate behind the Partisan lines in order to kill Tito and
destroy the Partisan Supreme Command. The detachment was formed on the
night of 25/26 May from the 11th Company of the 13th SS Regiment, a
number of pioneers, and a group of specially trained personnel from
the Brandenburg Division. As the detachment failed to penetrate into
the Partisan territory that night, it tried again the following night.
At about 05:00 on 26 May, a
Luftwaffe fighter-bomber formation
engaged the Partisan troops withdrawing from Drvar. The western
column of the 92nd Motorised Regiment kampfgruppe was ordered to help
assist the eastern column by detaching a reinforced
On the morning of 26 May, the German columns advancing from Bihać
towards Ključ, and from
Knin towards Bosansko Grahovo,
overcame the Partisan units in their paths, and continued their
advance facing little resistance. The 92nd Motorised Grenadier
Regiment, advancing from Vrtoče, took
Bosanski Petrovac without a
fight about 8:00. It continued its march to
Drvar and relieved the
500th SS Parachute Battalion at 12:45. Kampfgruppe Willam established
radio contact with the 500th SS Battalion around 07:00, and at 17:00
Drvar via Kamenica. The 105th SS Reconnaissance Battalion
Bosansko Grahovo at 10:30, where it was joined by the 1st
Regiment of the Brandenburg Division at 16:00. Kampfgruppe
Panzergrenadier Sturmbattalion entered Ključ at 14:15.
In the eastern sector, the Partisan line of defence was still
holding. During 26 and 27 May, the 7th SS Division continued exerting
strong pressure on the 1st Proletarian Division in the upper Sana
River Valley, but failed to achieve a decisive breakthrough. By the
end of 27 May, the front line had stabilised to the north and south of
Ribnik. After the defeat it had suffered the previous day, the 369th
Reconnaissance Battalion column did not resume its advance towards
Glamoč on the 26th.
On 26 May, due to the rapidly changing situation and communications
difficulties, a degree of confusion emerged on both sides. Out of
contact with their corps headquarters, the 4th Krajina Division
continued to retain two brigades along the Bihać-Petrovac road,
despite the fact that the 92nd Motorised Regiment had already passed
along this route and into their rear. The critically important
Petrovac-Ključ road to the south was left unguarded, endangering Tito
and Supreme Partisan Headquarters as they fled from Drvar.
XV Mountain Corps failed to recognise and exploit these flaws in
Partisan deployments. After the 500th Parachute Battalion had been
relieved, the XV Mountain Corps ordered the units in the
Drvar area to
disperse. The 92nd Motorised Regiment with all subordinated units was
ordered to return north and attack the brigades of the 4th Krajina
Division on the Grmeč Mountain, with the aim of securing the main
supply road from
Bihać to Petrovac; this action, codenamed "Grmeč",
was scheduled to start on the morning of 27 May. The 373rd Division
with the newly subordinated 1st Regiment of the Brandenburg Division
was ordered to conduct a sweep-and-destroy operation in the area south
and southeast of Drvar; this operation was codenamed "Vijenac", and
was to take place concurrently with "Operation Grmeč". The 9th
Dalmatian Division managed to repulse all attacks on 27 May, pushing
Chetniks back to Bosansko Grahovo. On 27 May,
the 369th Reconnaissance Battalion column again tried to advance on
Glamoč, but with no success.
Unhappy with the development of the operation to this point, Rendulic
cancelled Operations "Grmeč" and "Vijenac" on the afternoon of 27
May, and ordered von Leyser to move all units back to their start
positions for a concentric attack on the area where Tito and two
Partisan corps headquarters (1st Proletarian and 5th Bosnian) were
believed to be located. The attack was scheduled to begin on the
morning of 28 May. Rendulic also sent the 105th SS Reconnaissance
Battalion to the Livno-
Glamoč area which had been left wide open by
the defeat of the 369th Reconnaissance Battalion thrust.
Tito, his staff and his escort continued toward
Kupres , travelling
on foot and by horseback, as well as on the wagons of a narrow-gauge
logging railway. During this trek, one of the members of the Soviet
mission was wounded by shellfire.
Unable to capture Tito, the
Germans did find his marshal's
uniform in Drvar, and later placed it on display in
During their escape, the British mission were able to make contact
with their headquarters using the surviving radio. They were able to
maintain contact and called in an air offensive against the German
formations taking part in Operation Rösselsprung and the Luftwaffe
aircraft in the skies over Yugoslavia. This offensive included over
one thousand sorties by the newly formed
Balkan Air Force
Balkan Air Force . A costly
ground attack was also launched by a combined Partisan, British and US
force on the German-held Dalmatian island of
Brač . Code-named
"Operation Flounced", the assault was mounted from the British-held
island of Vis further out in the
Adriatic Sea on the night of 1/2
June. Fighting continued late into 3 June 1944 and resulted in the
reinforcement of the island by a further 1,900 German troops. The
assault force on
Brač consisted of 13 battalions from the 26th
Dalmatian Division , the British 43 (Royal Marines) Commando , one
troop from 40 (Royal Marines) Commando , and an American mountain
company, with one howitzer battery and two mountain batteries
providing artillery support. After three days of fighting, the
combined forces returned to Vis. The Partisans suffered losses of 67
dead, 308 wounded and 14 missing, and Allied units suffered 60 dead,
74 wounded and 20 missing, with the commanding officer, Lieutenant
Jack Churchill , being captured by the Germans.
After six days evading the Germans, the leader of the Soviet mission,
Lieutenant General Nikolai Vasilevich Korneev, who had lost a leg in
Battle of Stalingrad
Battle of Stalingrad , suggested an air evacuation of Tito and the
Soviet mission and this was expanded by Street to include the whole
party. After three days deliberation, Tito agreed on 3 June and Street
arranged the evacuation the same night from an RAF-operated airfield
near the town of
Kupres . Seven
Douglas C-47 Skytrain
Douglas C-47 Skytrain aircraft, one
with a Soviet crew and the remainder with US crew, carried Tito and
his party, the Allied missions and 118 wounded Partisans to
Italy. Late on 6 June, Tito was delivered by the
Royal Navy escort
destroyer HMS Blackmore to Vis, where he re-established his
headquarters and was joined by the Allied missions. The Soviet
Foreign Minister ,
Vyacheslav Molotov , believed that the British had
known more about the attack than they claimed, based on the absence of
both Maclean and Churchill from
Drvar at the time of the attack. On 28
May, he sent a message to Korneev detailing his suspicions.
Although Tito's headquarters, along with several other Partisan
organisations, was temporarily disrupted and key staff were lost
during the operation, all Partisan organisations were quickly
re-located and resumed operation.
Drvar reverted to Partisan control
within a few weeks of the operation. The operation was a failure, as
Tito, his principal headquarters staff and the allied military
personnel escaped, despite their presence in
Drvar at the time of the
airborne assault. The operation failed due to a number of factors,
including Partisan resistance in the town itself and along the
approaches to Drvar. The failure of the various German intelligence
agencies to share the limited intelligence available on Tito's exact
location also contributed to the unsuccessful outcome for the Germans,
and this failure to share intelligence was compounded by a lack of
contingency planning by the commander of the German airborne force.
500th SS Parachute Battalion was decimated during Operation
Rösselsprung, suffering 576 killed and 48 wounded. Only 200 soldiers
of the battalion were fit to fight on the morning of 26 May. It
continued throughout the rest of the war as the only SS parachute
unit, although its name was later changed to the 600th SS Parachute
Battalion . Operation Rösselsprung was its only combat parachute
According to a German report, the ground troops of XV Mountain Corps
suffered 213 killed, 881 wounded, and 51 missing during Operation
Rösselsprung. The same report claimed that 6,000 Partisans were
killed. According to the commander of the 7th SS Division,
Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Otto Kumm, Partisan
losses included 1,916 confirmed and another 1,400 estimated killed,
and 161 taken prisoner. Kumm also claimed that six Allied aircraft
were shot down during the operation. According to a Partisan source,
their total losses were 399 killed, 479 wounded, and at least 85
missing. Of this total, the casualties suffered in fighting with the
500th SS Parachute Battalion at
Drvar numbered 179 killed, 63 wounded,
and 19 missing. Ultimately, according to intelligence historian Ralph
Bennett, "The long-term significance of the
Drvar raid was simply that
Operation Rösselsprung was depicted in the 1963
Partisan film Desant
Drvar directed by
Fadil Hadžić .
* ^ Generalfeldmarschall was equivalent to a United States general
of the army .
Leutnant was equivalent to a United States Army second
* ^ SS-
Sturmbannführer was equivalent to a United States Army
* ^ SS-
Hauptsturmführer was equivalent to a United States Army
Generaloberst was equivalent to a United States Army general .
* ^ General der Infanterie was equivalent to a United States Army
lieutenant general .
* ^ SS-
Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS was equivalent
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* ^ Eyre 2006 , p. 348.
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* ^ Pribilović 1988 , p. 291.
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