Operation Mihailović


Operation Mihailović
Operation Mihailović
Part of the Serbian uprising 1941 of World War II
Ravnagora spomenik1.jpg
Date 4 to 9 December 1941
Location Serbia
Result German victory
Belligerents
Chetniks Flag.svg Chetniks Nazi Germany Germany
Commanders and leaders
Draža Mihailović Nazi Germany

Operation Mihailović was the codename for the final German anti-guerrilla offensive to suppress the Serbian Chetnik detachments of the Yugoslav Army, headed by Colonel Dragoljub Mihailović in the area of Šumadija, in the German occupation zone of Serbia. The offensive took place from 4 to 9 December 1941 during World War II.

Contents

Background

On 31 August 1941 the Jadar Chetnik detachment freed Loznica from German occupation in the Battle of Loznica, which was the starting point of the Serbian uprising against the German occupation. During September 1941 the uprising had taken on large proportions and the Chetniks freed the entire Podrinje and Mačva areas (except the city of Šabac).[1] In late September and early October 1941, the uprising spread to most of Šumadija and the river valley of Western Morava (Čačak, Kraljevo, Kruševac). However, in early October 1941 the Germans started an offensive against the Chetniks (Operation Drina), where strong forces from the north (the 342nd Infantry Division) and Croatian forces from Srem to the south attacked. By the end of October the whole of the Mačva and the middle of Podrinje was taken from the Chetniks, breaking the siege of Valjevo and by an outbreak by the same division east of this city, the Germans reached Ravna Gora, the main headquarters of the rebels. During October 1941 German forces carried out mass executions in several places of Serbian civilians in retaliation for their dead and wounded soldiers in order to intimidate and pacify the rebellion. About 10,000 Serbian civilians were killed.[1]

Due to new circumstances in late October 1941 between the two rebel groups, the Partisans and the Chetniks, a fratricidal war broke out. The Germans temporarily suspended their pending offensive, waiting for the rebel forces to destroy themselves. However, the Chetniks and Partisans signed an armistice on 20 November 1941 in Čačak, thereby suspending hostilities. That was the signal to the Germans to launch a new offensive codenamed Operation Valley Western Morava between 25 to 30 November 1941 against both the Chetniks and Partisans.[2] Having successfully conducted two offensives in the direction of the river Drina and Western Morava, the Germans closed the ring around Šumadija. The Germans decided to focus their main forces on Ravna Gora, where the leader of the Chetniks, colonel Dragoljub Mihailović, had his headquarters.

The German plan

The German military command in Serbia created a plan on 3 December 1941 and issued orders to their troops in which it stated that the main aim was to destroy Mihailović's detachment and his headquarters south of the town of Valjevo, which should achieve a total siege of the Ravna Gora and fire accurately set forth the plan made cleansing the ground area of 120 square kilometers.[2] The Germans were planning to attack Ravna Gora from four directions. The final offensive in breaking the Serbian uprising received its code name after the leader of the rebels, operation Mihailović.[2] The German military command in Serbia allocated for this military operation the 342nd Infantry Division, a unit which had made the greatest contribution to the struggle against the Chetniks and the crushing of the uprising in the two preceding months. In addition to the planned offensive, the German forces had a psychological advantage in the fact that their higher command two months earlier had issued an order that for every dead German soldiers 100 Serbian civilians would be shot.

The Chetnik plan

The command of the Chetniks detachments of the Yugoslav Army, headed by colonel Dragoljub Mihailović, knew of the concentration of German forces which were to attack Ravna Gora and therefore made a plan that reduced most of the Chetnik units to groups of dozens, fives and threes of soldiers for ease of maneuvering and penetration.[3] Colonel Mihailović thought that the German units would not stay for long in inaccessible areas so after the passage of the German forces the Chetniks units could regroup again in the same area.[3] For the same reason the plan of colonel Mihailović did not involve a frontal clash with the German force which was supposed to pass through the area of the offensive without making contact with the Chetniks.[3] The Chetniks were on the eve of the German offensive successful in launching a disinformation campaign, led by the commander of the gendarme station in Valjevo major Ljuba Jovanović, that told the Germans they were going to confront them head on.[4] With this strategy they wanted to increase the Germans caution and slow their progress towards Ravna Gora. In addition colonel Mihailović envisaged a special mission for Captain Dragoslav Račić and his forces, which were supposed to divert the attention of the Germans.

German forces

In the German occupation zone of Serbia just before the start of the uprising the Germans had held three full divisions whose commands were located in Belgrade while the battalions of these divisions had been deployed in many places in the interior. These were the 704th, 714th, and 717th infantry divisions. At the start of the Serbian uprising the Germans transferred the 125th Infantry Regiment from Thessaloniki on 5 September 1941 but since the rebellion by the end of September on a mass scale, the German command transferred from Germany the 342nd Infantry Division on 23 September 1941. In mid-November 1941 the Germans transferred another unit from the Eastern Front to Serbia, the 113th Infantry Division[5], which had suffered heavy losses on the Eastern Front where its strength had fallen from 20,000 to 14,000 soldiers. The main German force for breaking the Serbian uprising was the 342nd Infantry Division (20,000 soldiers) of which 10,000 troops would be striking force in operation Mihailović.

Chetnik forces

The command of the guerrilla detachments of the Yugoslav army in early December 1941 was located in the villages at the foot of Ravna Gora.[2] Among the Chetnik guerrillas in the command area were the supporting unit, the Ravna Gora Royal Guard, commanded by Lt. Nikola Kalabić at the time numbering about 500 Chetnik guerrillas. Other units were divided into smaller sections for easier penetration such as the Ribnička Brigade under the command of major Aleksandar Mišić, and the Takovo Brigade under the command of lieutenant Zvonimar Vučković, the strength of both brigades was about 300 Chetnik guerrillas. The largest Chetnik unit at the time was the Cer Brigade under the command of Captain First Class Dragoslav Račić which at that time was located to the south of Valjevo and whose numerical strength was around 1,200 Chetnik guerrillas.[6] In the headquarters of colonel Mihailović there was also the head of the British SOE military mission, captain Duane "Bill" Hudson.[7]

The offensive

By order of the German military command in Serbia, the 342nd Infantry Division went into action on 4 December 1941, advancing in four columns towards Ravna Gora.[2] The first column set off from Valjevo and penetrated the village of Divci and then on 6 December 1941 broke out towards the village of Struganik forcing a group of Serbian civilians to march in front of them as human shields.

Before the start of the German offensive colonel Mihailoivić ordered his units to withdraw from the field of Ravna Gora.[3] However, colonel Mihailović, whilst in the command post in the village of Beršić, received a courier around noon on 5 December that brought him the news that major Aleksandar Mišić with part of the Chetnik units in the village of Struganik intended to confront the Germans frontally. Colonel Mihailović entrusted command to lieutenant colonel Dragoslav Pavlović, who along with the supporting unit the Ravna Gora Royal Guard, commanded by Lt. Nikola Kalabić, was to make a breakthrough towards Ovcar Kablar Gorge according to the previously established plan. Colonel Mihailović along with major Zaharije Ostojić and five guerrillas rode on horseback to major Aleksandar Mišić in Struganik to personally order him to suspend his action.[3]

The second German combat column was on 4 December 1941 also the first to set off from Valjevo, but went the other way around through the village of Klinci, penetrated the village of Paune and on 6 December arrived at the village of Rajković. The third of the German combat columns started on 4 December from Čačak, went over Gornja Gorijevice during the night between 5 and 6 December and arrived at the village of Družetić. Near this village was the command of the Chetnik detachments, which Colonel Mihailović had entrusted to lieutenant colonel Dragoslav Pavlović, (in this village was also the head of the British military mission Captain Duane "Bill" Hudson). Together with an accompanying unit lieutenant Nikola Kalabić maneuvered under cover of darkness and managed to escape from the German encirclement. Afterwards, on December 6, the third German combat column followed toward the village of Teočin and then towards Brajići. The fourth German combat column went from Kragujevac on 4 December, through Gornji Milanovac and appeared at Takovo and Gornji Banjani. Colonel Mihailović arrived at the village of Struganik on evening of 5 December, where he found major Aleksandar Mišić.

Early on the morning of 6 December, the first German combat columns went over the Razboj hill under the protection of tanks and suddenly penetrated into the village of Struganik, ahead of which were combat columns with a large group of civilians used as human shields.[8] The Germans opened fire on the Chetniks, who had sought shelter in a nearby forest. To protect colonel Mihailović and save the lives of the hostages, majors Aleksandar Misić and Ivan Fregl, along with a few Chetniks appeared before the German soldiers, who immediately captured them.[9] Major Aleksandar Mišić falsely presented himself to the Germans as Draža Mihailović.[10] The Germans were surprised and did not suspect this was a ruse and temporarily suspended the attack, allowing colonel Draža Mihailović and major Zaharije Ostojić along with the rest of the Chetniks to safely pull out from the besieged forest. The Germans later carried major Aleksandar Mišić and mајоr Ivan Fregl to Valjevo where they were tortured and then killed on 17 December 1941.[10]

On the night between 6 and 7 December colonel Mihailović bypassed the German forces and came to the village of Kadina Luka. All four German combat columns met on 7 December at Ravna Gora, crashed into the empty area, thoroughly searched the grounds and after a few hours went into nearby villages and burned them to the ground as a retaliatory measure. They then went in a large column to Mionica where they continued their pursuit in other directions.[8] On the next day colonel Draža Mihailović arrived from Kadina Luke to the village of Teočin near Ravna Gora which the German forces had searched carefully the previous day.[8] Due to the increased activity of the German forces at this time, south and east of the town of Valjevo, captain Dragoslav Račić, going by previous orders from colonel Mihailović, transferred the Cer brigade from the mountains of Medvednik to the west of Valjevo near the river Drina, onto the mountain of Bobija. The Cer brigade crossed the river Drina in eastern Bosnia on 12 December 1941, where it joined Serbian rebels under the command of major Jezdimir Dangić, who from this part of the Independent State of Croatia had created a territory liberated from the Ustasha and Germans in the preceding months.[6]

German-produced poster offering 200,000 dinar for the capture of Mihailović, 9 December 1941.

The German force suspended their offensive on 9 December 1941. Their command wrote a report which stated that during the operation they had liquidated 12 Chetnik officers and soldiers, captured 482 men and two women, seized 317 guns, 21,000 bullets, three cars, 37 horses, two telegraph stations, one shortwave radio station, etc.[2] Having failed to eliminate the headquarters of colonel Mihailović, the German military command in Serbia on 9 December announced through radio, fliers and posters a bounty of 200,000 dinars for the head of Draža Mihailović, saying that he was the leader of a gang of outlaws and accused him of starting the uprising against the German occupation forces and because of all this carried on his conscience the blood of thousands of Serbs.[11] The daily bulletin of the supreme command of the Wehrmacht which was located in the capital of the Third Reich, Berlin, recorded on 10 December 1941 about operation Mihailović:

Finished the cleaning action of the western part of the Morava valley of the Mihailovich's group. Mihilović escaped with a small number of followers. Captured the chief of staff Major Aleksandar Mišić, with Headquarters. This has broken the largest group of insurgents in Serbia. Mihailovich's head, a publication of the Serbs, was blackmailed for 200,000 dinars. South-west of Valjevo has are the remains of the gang.[2]

The Germans thought that the "remnants of the gang" were located southwest of Valjevo, in fact that was the Cer brigade under Captain Dragoslav Račić, which had during the previous day transferred from the mountains of Medvednik to the mountain of Bobija in order to move into eastern Bosnia, the territory of major Jezdimir Dangić. The Germans therefore assumed that colonel Mihailović was with these forces, as was listed in the warrant "is now in hiding, presumably in the direction of Bosnia".[11] However, colonel Mihailović on 10 December was near Ravna Gora, in the village of Teočin, in the same territory where he was before the German offensive, demonstrating his guerrilla military skills and creating confusion among the Germans who after operation Mihailović still did not know in what part of Serbia "the leader of the outlaws" was.

The Germans in Serbia, at the end of operation Mihailović had successfully broken the revolt, restored all the settlements to their control, as well as their main transport corridors, but failed to destroy the resistance movement of colonel Mihailovic whose organization, represented by a small groups of operating officers' headquarters, was located in mountain villages across the country from which it could easily fill its ranks with young people ready to fight against the enemy. After the collapse of the uprising in Serbia, the Germans in the subsequent months focused all of their attention, resources and military forces towards the eastern part of the Independent State of Croatia, a territory which at this time was controlled by Serbian rebels under the command of major Jezdimir Dangić, whom German-Croatian forces already in January 1942 launched an offensive against. Up until 21 December 1941 colonel Mihailović was located in the village of Teočin, where he was joined by lt. col. Dragoslav Pavlović, major Mirko Lalatović, lt. Nikola Kalabić and lieutenant Zvonimir Vučković, radio operator Slobodan Likić, and British SOE Captain Duane "Bill" Hudson. At this time, colonel Mihailović received two pieces of news, the first was that after a proposal by the Yugoslavian government-in-exile of prime minister Dusan Simovic (which was located in London) by decree of King Peter II of Yugoslavia on 19 December 1941 he was promoted to the rank of brigadier general, and the second was much more important for his resistance movement and the Yugoslavian government: the United States had declared war on Japan, Germany and their allies.

Minister in the Forests

Because of the growing threat of German pursuit in the area of Ravna Gora, brigadier general Mihailović on 22 December 1941 transferred to the mountain of Vujan relocating to the village of Lunjevica, and then on 12 January 1942 found a permanent accommodation in a winter house above the village of Jablanica. At this time, the new president of the Yugoslavian government (member of the anti-Hitler coalition in London) academician Slobodan Jovanović, appointed general Mihailović to minister of the Army, Air Force and Navy in his cabinet on 11 January 1942 because of the merit he had achieved, from May to December 1941 with its guerrilla resistance movement in leading the first mass uprising against the Germans in occupied Europe. King Peter II of Yugoslavia therefore decreed on 19 January that he was promoted to the rank of division general. By this act the Chetniks had become the legitimate and internationally recognized armed forces of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia by the Allies, because all members of the anti-Hitler coalition (Great Britain, the Soviet Union, Poland, France, Greece, Czechoslovakia and the USA) had established diplomatic relations with and accredited ambassadors to the Yugoslavian government whose military minister was Draža Mihailović.

Interesting facts

  • After the capture of major Aleksandar Mišić and major Ivan Fregl, the Germans held them in separate cells in the Gestapo prison in Valjevo, were they after several days of cruel torture were executed on 17 December 1941. At the suggestion of brigadier general Draža Mihailović the Yugoslavian government in London posthumously awarded major Aleksandar Mišić with the Order of the Karađorđe's Star with Swords III. order and major Ivan Fregl with the Order of the Karađorđe's Star with Swords IV. order on 7 January 1942.
  • During the operation Mihilović the Germans burned several villages near Ravna Gora in Šumadija. The most destroyed villages were Struganik and Kostunići because they were very near Ravna Gora. In these villages, the headquarters of colonel Draža Mihailović had been since May 1941, from where he had led the uprising against the Germans in Serbia which began in the late summer of 1941. During the offensive, on 6 December 1941, the Germans looted and completely destroyed a house in the village of Struganik belonging to the deceased duke Živojin Mišić, a war hero during World War I. For most of the uprising the headquarters of colonel Mihailović had been located in the duke's house, who there together with the duke's son, major Aleksandar Mišić and other officers, had made battle plans against the enemy. Even today the ruins of this house are preserved.
  • The Germans in their wanted poster issued on 9 December 1941 offered a sum of 200,000 dinars to anyone who turned in Draža Mihailović. This offer was primarily aimed toward Serbian peasants because the Germans knew that colonel Mihailović was in their territory. In 1941 a pair of good oxen cost about 1000 dinars. The Germans offered the Serbian peasant a sum of money for which he would be able to buy 400 steers for revealing Draža Mihailović.
  • General Draža Mihailovic's started to wear a beard after the collapse of the Serbian uprising and after being informed that the invading troops during the German-Croatian offensive in eastern Bosnia in January 1942 were given photos with his image.
  • The headquarters of general Mihailović was during January 1942 located in a house above the village of Jablanica, on the slopes of the snow covered mountain Vujan. Here general Mihailović was informed through the BBC radio news, enabled by liaison officer Capt. Josip Grbec, that he had been appointed minister of the Army, Navy and Air Force. General Mihailović commented to his officers on the news in a joking fashion:
It would be great if we receve a limo from London, so we don´t strouggle ourselfs on foot any more.

And one soldier, in a cheerful mood, wrote with coal on the wall of the mountain house: Department of the Army, Navy and Air Force.

References

  1. ^ a b Živanović, Sergej M.: Third Serbian Uprising, Novi Pogledi, Kragujevac, 2001.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Avakumović, Jovan: Mihailović according to German documents, Naše Delo, London, 1968.
  3. ^ a b c d e Samardžić, М.:Draža and the general history of the Chetnik movement, Una Press, Belgrade, 2005.
  4. ^ Sotirović, Dragan М. and Jovanović, Branko N.:Serbia and Ravna Gora, Bosolej, France.
  5. ^ http://www.lexikon-der-wehrmacht.de/Gliederungen/Infanteriedivisionen/113ID-R.htm
  6. ^ a b Trbojević, Dušan: Cer-Majevica group Corps Colonel Dragoslav Račić, Novi Pogledi, Kragujevac, 2001.
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ a b c Kordić, Nikola:Through war with Draža, Kraguj, Belgrade, 1998.
  9. ^ Nikolić, Kosta:History of the Ravna Gora movement, Serbian word, Belgrade, 1998.
  10. ^ a b Savić, V:Sons of the duke Mišić, Valjevo, 2001.
  11. ^ a b File:Mihailovic poternica 1941.jpg German-produced poster offering 200,000 dinar for the capture of Mihailović, 9 December 1941.


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