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Military operations in eastern Bosnia during the winter of 1941- 1942

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Obhođaš, Amir. (2017). Military operations in eastern Bosnia during the winter of 1941- 1942. PhD Thesis. Filozofski fakultet u Zagrebu, Department of History. [mentor Šute, Ivica and Marijan, Davor].

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Abstract

The uprising that broke out in the region of eastern Herzegovina at the beginning of June 1941 spread rapidly and in the next three months has included most of the regions where the Serbian population had majority. Armed Forces of the Independent State of Croatia (Nezavisna Država Hrvatska-NDH) were not capable to suppress this uprising independently and they needed help from their allies. However, for Germany this theater was of low importance and they were reluctant to allocate any substantial force to combat insurgents, while Italy decided to take advantage of this uprising and weaken their nominal Croatian allies, thus expanding her influence on the Adriatic's east coast further still. The insurgents successfully exploited these flaws and in a relatively short period of time they managed to organize respectable forces. They were particularly successful in eastern Bosnia, where they controlled wide and compact territory, including several local centers. This also meant that Independent State of Croatia has lost control over the border with Serbia, from where the insurgents in Bosnia were receiving significant help in arms and expertise. Control over eastern Bosnia became priority for the government of the Independent State of Croatia, because preventing the flow of aid from Serbia was perceived by them as precondition for suppression of the uprising. The German command in Belgrade shared a similar view and after the uprising in Serbia had died down, they assessed that eastern Bosnia had become the most important insurgent-held area. Thus the main operations against insurgents in the upcoming winter have taken place in this region and at the beginning they included armed forces of Independent State of Croatia, Germany and subsequently also from Italy. The first operation was carried out at the beginning of December 1941 by forces of Independent State of Croatia against the Partisan Ozren Detachment in the massif of Mount Ozren. The goal of operation was to secure roads along the rivers Bosna and Spreča from partisans’ diversion. Until then, the Ozren operation was the largest independent offensive taken by the NDH's forces, but despite their numerical superiority they failed to fulfill its goals and only managed to push Partisan Ozren Detachment several kilometers deep into the Mount Ozren. From these positions the Partisans were still able to threaten these important communications. In early January 1942 minor operation codenamed "Ozren I" was taken by the joint German-Croatian forces with the goal to secure communications along the river Bosna in the upcoming operation "Romanija", but because of the strong Partisan resistance the attack was aborted on the same day when it started. In the mid-January 1942 joint German and Croatian forces conducted the operation code named "Romanija". The basic idea of the operation was to attack suddenly and simultaneously from the directions of Sarajevo, Tuzla, Zvornik and Višegrad, break through insurgents’ positions and rapidly advance toward Sokolac, Rogatica and Vlasenica, thus encircling insurgent forces in the area of Han Pijesak and Olovo. Participation of Italian forces was limited and they only had to prevent insurgent forces from crossing the GermanItalian demarcation line. Time frame for the operation "Romanija" had been strictly respected, because some German units had been designated for transfer to the Eastern Front and they were deployed in the region of Eastern Bosnia for only short period of time. The operation was carried out according to the plan and the resistance of insurgents’ forces was negligible. Prior to the operation chetnik's commanders in eastern Bosnia tried unsuccessfully to negotiate some form of cooperation with the German command in Belgrade. Even though the agreement was not reached, Chetniks’ forces avoided combat with German units and many of them either surrendered or retreated into less accessible areas. Partisan forces put up stronger resistance but this caused considerable losses in their ranks. However, due to the imposed time limitations, operation was limited to major roads and the wider area was not properly secured. The German units were moving out of the occupied areas fast and Croatian forces were unable to replace them in time, so soon again many cities came under control of the insurgents. Operation code named "Ozren II" was closely connected with the operation "Romanija" and can be considered less successful. The basic idea was to advance quickly through the river valleys of Bosnia and Spreča, then suppress partisan Ozren Detachment toward the town of Doboj where it could be encircled and destroyed. As in the previous operation timing had to be strictly respected. However, combat groups were positioned too far apart of each other and between their internal wings there was a large uncovered area, through which units of Partisan Ozren Detachment slipped from the encirclement. The German forces did not encounter significant resistance and soon after the operation "Ozren II" had ended they were redeployed, leaving the situation in the Mount Ozren almost unchanged. Although these operations did not lead to destruction of the insurgent forces they contributed to the rising of frictions that existed between two insurgent groups, Partisans and Chetniks. First disagreements among these two groups had taken place in mid-November 1941, when the joint command of Partisan and Chetnik forces in eastern Bosnia was disbanded, but these tensions had not escalated in open conflict because ideological differences between two leaderships had still been alien to the most of the insurgents. With the arrival of Partisan High Command in the eastern Bosnia tensions had become more evident and in early January 1942 the Central Committee of Communist Party of Yugoslavia made a decision to disarm Chetniks i.e. all units that are not under Partisan control. Disarmament was interrupted by the operation "Romanija", and the failure that the insurgent forces suffered during this operation caused new frictions and series of mutual accusations. Clashes had escalated again in March 1942, when Partisan Task Force, consisting of units from elite 1st and 2nd Proletarian Brigades, suddenly attacked Chetnik forces in eastern Bosnia and completely defeated them. After this attack most of the Chetnik units came under the command of the Partisan Supreme Command. This conflict had serious consequences on the morale of the insurgents and this at a time when the Independent State of Croatia, Germany and Italy planned a major operation against insurgent forces in eastern Bosnia. In early March three allies held a conference in Opatija where they agreed that for the purpose of the upcoming operation Italian forces were allowed to cross the German-Italian demarcation line. This caused serious concern in the government of Independent State of Croatia which suspected that Italians would take advantage of this circumstance and permanently occupy the city of Sarajevo. The operation was code-named "Trio", which symbolized a joint endeavor of the three war allies. Given the size of the operational area and limited forces on disposal, it was decided that the operation is executed in phases. In each phase enemy forces had to be encircled in the specified area and then destroyed by a concentric attack. After the annihilation the area had to be firmly secured and cleansed of the insurgents. The first phase of the operation codenamed "Trio I " included wider area around the city of Rogatica, the second part codenamed "Trio II" included area in the river Drina bend around the towns of Vlasenica and Srebrenica, and "Trio III", included the area of Ozren mountain. Beginning of operation was planned for mid-April. Contrary to the assurances from the German side the Croatian government has estimated that once the Italian forces cross the German-Italian demarcation line it would be hard if not impossible to bring them back and that such case can be prevented only if the insurgent forces in eastern Bosnia would be defeated by their own means. Therefore, the Croatian government decided that the units under the command of Ustasha Lieutenant Colonel Jure Francetić carry out the second phase of the operation "Trio" independently and before the planned schedule. Thus Francetić already on April 1st made a successful breakthrough from Han Pijesak towards Vlasenica and in the next twelve days defeated the insurgents in the area of Vlasenica - Drinjača - Srebrenica, which were the objectives envisaged for the "Trio II". Francetić's success accelerated the entire operation, but the Italians were unable to fully participate because their troop movements were slow and lagged far behind the schedule. Based on their experience from the operation "Romanija" Partisans decided not to resist and taking advantage of the slowly moving Italians retreated without difficulties to the town of Foča. The Partisan siege of Rogatica was lifted on April 27th and the next day the joint German-Croatian forces broke out on the line that ran along the rivers Prača and Drina up to the town of Višegrad. With that operation "Trio" came to the conclusion. In the meantime, the third phase became redundant because already on April 18th the Chetniks made the coup in the Ozren Detachment. They overthrew the Partisan command and entered into negotiations with the government of the NDH, which were concluded in late May 1942. Whit this agreement the new Chetnik command of the Ozren Detachment recognized the authority of the Independent State of Croatia, while in return getting a certain degree of autonomy in the area of Mount Ozren. Operation "Foča" was the last in a series of operations against insurgent forces in eastern Bosnia. It was carried out by the joint German-Italian forces and was focused on the destruction of Partisan forces in the area between Jahorina, Trnovo, Kalinovik, Foča, Goražde and Prača. The goal was not fully achieved and the Partisan High Command retreated with the main force to Montenegro, but the uprising in the eastern Bosnia was almost reduced to nil. Soon the Partisan High Command with its best units pushed into the western Bosnia and with that the focus of combat operations was moved to this theater. The insurgents from eastern Bosnia mostly came under the Chetnik command and this region will remain one of its strongholds until the end of the war.

Item Type: PhD Thesis
Uncontrolled Keywords: Drugi svjetski rat, Ozrenska operacija, operacija "Romanija", operacija "Ozren I.", operacija "Ozren II.", operacija "Trio", operacija "Foča", Domobranstvo, Ustaška vojnica, Narodnooslobodilački pokret, Dobrovoljačka vojska, Jugoslovenska vojska u otadžbini, Wehrmacht, Regio Esercito
Subjects: History
Departments: Department of History
Supervisor: Šute, Ivica and Marijan, Davor
Date Deposited: 24 Oct 2017 10:32
Last Modified: 24 Oct 2017 10:32
URI: http://darhiv.ffzg.unizg.hr/id/eprint/9223

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