Part of the Anti-Partisan Operations in Croatia series by H.L. deZeng IV

Dates: 15 May – 15 June 1943. (1)

Objective: To engage and destroy Tito’s remaining Partisan formations that had escaped into northern Montenegro with their wounded after the conclusion of Operation “Weiss” during the second half of March. It was critical for the Germans at this moment in time to wipe out the Partisan menace and secure their lines of communication in the Balkans due to a rapidly building fear of an Allied invasion in Greece or along the Adriatic coast following the surrender of Axis forces in Tunisia.

Enemy Forces: 1st, 2d, 3d and 7th Divisions NOVJ, 3d Dalmatian Brigade, III Bn./4th Proletarian Brigade, II and IV Bn./5th Montenegrin Brigade, Drina Operations Group. A total of approximately 19,700 combatants.

Axis Forces:
A total of 127,000 troops: 67,000 Germans, 43,000 Italians, 2,000 Bulgarians, 11,000 Croatians and 4,000 Chetniks. Significant and sustained air support was provided by the Luftwaffe, Italian Air Force and the Croatian Air Force.

German
1. Gebirgs-Division
7. SS-Freiwillige-Gebirgs-Division “Prinz Eugen”
118. Jäger-Division
369. Infanterie-Division (kroat.)
724. Inf.Rgt./104. Jäger-Division
Regiment 4 Brandenburg

Italian
1st Alpine Division “Taurinense”
19th Infantry Division “Venezia”
23d Infantry Division “Ferrara”
32d Infantry Division “Marche”
151st Infantry Division “Perugia”
154th Infantry Division “Murge”

Bulgarian
61st Infantry Rgt./24th Infantry Div.
63d Infantry Rgt./22d Infantry Div.

Croatian
4th Jäger Brigade
9th, 14th and 15th Infantry Rgt. (elements)
I Ustasha Brigade (two battalions)

Conduct of Operations and Results: Known in Yugoslav literature as the Fifth Enemy Offensive and/or the Battle of Sutjeska, “Schwarz” was the second largest anti-Partisan operation carried out in Yugoslavia in regard to the total number of troops employed, but the largest in terms of force density or the ratio of troops per square kilometer. Additionally, it was one of the few anti-Partisan operations carried out in Yugoslavia that achieved near total surprise and caught the Partisans unaware and off-balance. It was fought south of Foča between the Piva and Tara Rivers in extremely challenging mountainous terrain. The plan of attack followed the usual pattern. Under the overall command of the Befehlshaber der Deutschen Truppen in Kroatien (Commander of German Troops in Croatia - Gen.d.Inf. Rudolf Lüters), the attacking force surrounded and sealed off the Partisans and then slowly tightened the noose between 15 and 20 May. Caught and desperate, Tito and his main force made repeated attempts to break through the cordon from 21 May to 9 June. In the early morning hours of 10 June, a breakthrough was achieved and between then and 14 June Tito’s depleted main force divisions were able to cross the Sutjeska River on an extremely narrow front and advance into East Bosnia to the west of Foča. Although Tito managed to escape with better than half his men after a month of intense, savage fighting, his losses were nevertheless catastrophic.

Losses
German: 583 killed, 425 wounded and an unknown number of missing.
Italian: unknown (but relatively few compared to the Germans).
Bulgarian: unknown (but very few).
Croatian: unknown (but about one-quarter of those lost by the Germans)
Partisans: 6,391 combatants plus approximately 2,537 civilian sympathizers caught up in the Axis cordon and shot on the spot. Total: 8,928.

Footnotes
1. [Vojnoistorijski institute] - Hronologija oslobodilačke borbe naroda jugoslavije 1941-1945 (Belgrade, 1964), p.471; NARA WashDC: RG 242 (T-315 roll 1294/537-45.

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