Operation "Weiss" (1943-01-20)
- Published: 22 January 2011 22 January 2011
- Last Updated: 07 April 2012 07 April 2012
Dates: 20 January – 17 February 1943 (“Weiss I”)
25 February – 17 March 1943 (“Weiss II” and “Weiss III” (renamed “Weiss Mostar”)) (1)
Objective: To retake a large area liberated (or “occupied”, depending on the reader’s perspective) by Tito’s Partisans centered on Bihać and engage and destroy as many of their units as possible.
An estimated total of 42,500 combatants.
1st Croatian Corps with 6th Lika, 7th Banika and 8th Kordun Divisions.
1st Bosnian Corps with 4th Krajiški (border or frontier) and 5th Krajiški Divisions, 10th Krajiški Brigade, and 3d Krajiški Detachment.
1st and 2d Proletarian Divisions.
9th Dalmatian Division.
An estimated total of 90,000+ troops employed more or less full time from January through March, plus another 60,000 playing an occasional and lesser role.
Divisions: 7. SS-Freiwillige-Gebirgs-Div. “Prinz Eugen”, 187. Res.Div. (elements), 369. Inf.Div. (kroat.), 714. Inf.Div., 717. Inf.Div., 718. Inf.Div.
Panzer-Kp. z.b.V. 12
Luftwaffe air support
Divisions: 12th Infantry Div. “Sassari”, 13th Infantry Div. “Re”, 15th Infantry Div. “Bergamo”, 32d Infantry Div. “Marche”, 57th Infantry Div. “Lombardia”, 154th Infantry Div. “Murge”
Italian air support
2d, 3d and 5th Mountain Brigades
7th Infantry Rgt.
VII, IX and XI Artillery Groups (elements)
V Ustasha Brigade
Croatian Air Force air support
Chetnik auxiliaries (12,000 – 15,000)
Conduct of Operations and Results: Operation “Weiss” was an offensive rather than an anti-Partisan operation and is referred to in the Yugoslav literature as The Fourth Enemy Offensive. It was the largest such offensive or operation carried out in Yugoslavia during the war in terms of troops employed and territory covered. It was conceived at a Führer Conference at Rastenburg in East Prussia 18-20 December 1942 that was attended by general staff and foreign ministry representatives from both Germany and Italy. The specific plans were set down in Rome on 3 and 4 January 1943, fine-tuned in Zagreb on 9 January and the first operations orders issued that same day. It was to unfold in three phases: “Weiss I” was to open the offensive by sending German motorized columns from Karlovac and Sanski Most toward Bihać and Bos. Petrovac and thereby encircle and destroy Partisan forces in West Bosnia, Lika, Kordun and Banija; “Weiss II” had the objective of mopping up and defeating those Partisan forces that had escaped the encirclement; and, “Weiss III”, later renamed “Weiss Mostar”, was to continue the offensive south to the western border of Montenegro and crush all remaining enemy forces in Hercegovina and parts of Dalmatia.
Fought in severe winter weather and with great brutality, “Weiss” was a resounded success as the casualty figures noted below show. It also was brilliantly fought by the Partisans and despite horrendous losses, Tito managed to extricate much of his cadre along with thousands of sick and wounded from the enemy net and escape southeast through Hercegovina, across the Neretva River north of Mostar, and into the mountains of Montenegro.
German: 514 killed, 1,214 wounded and 158 missing.
Croatian: 126 killed, 258 wounded and 218 missing.
Partisan: 11,915 killed, 616 captured and executed, and 2,506 captured and held.
It is unlikely that these figures tell the whole story since Italian losses and claims attributed to “Weiss” do not seem to have been found. Further, “Weiss” was conducted as a “scorched earth” operation and many pro-Partisan villages and homes were burned down. All males over 15 years of age were ordered arrested, put in detention camps and then sent to Germany for forced labor. To what extent this was actually carried out is not known. Wartime and postwar investigations state that in just 15 communities in the Podgrmeč region in western Bosnia 3,370 civilians were killed, 1,229 were arrested and taken away, 1,256 froze to death due to lack of shelter, 1,142 homes and 1,134 barns were burned down, 10,720 head of livestock stolen and taken away as well as tons of other foodstuffs.
1. [Vojnoistorijski institute] - Oslobodilački rat naroda Juooslavije 1941-1945, 2 Vols (Belgrade: 1965), pp.362-413; [Vojnoistorijski institute] - Hronologija oslobodilačke borbe naroda jugoslavije 1941-1945 (Belgrade, 1964), pp.407-09, 420-21; Colić, Mladenko - Pregled Operacija na Jugoslovenskom Ratištu 1941-1945 (Belgrade: Vojnoistorijski Institut, 1988), pp.90-108; Tomasevich, Jozo - The Chetniks (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1975), pp.236ff; Brajović-Djuro, Petar V. - Yugoslavia in the Second World War (Belgrade: Borba, 1977), pp.109-14; Schraml, Franz - Kriegsschauplatz Kroatien (Neckargemünd: Kurt Vowinckel Verlag , 1962), pp.37ff; NARA WashDC: RG 242 (T-315 roll 2271/417, 830-60, 1104-18).