Battle of the Sutjeska

Battle of the Sutjeska
Battle of the Sutjeska
Part of the Yugoslav Front of World War II
Sutjeska povlacenje 1943.jpg
Partisan column during the Battle of the Sutjeska
Date May 15 – June 16, 1943
Location Vicinity of the Sutjeska river, southeastern Bosnia, occupied Yugoslavia
Result Axis tactical victory, but failure in achieving mission goals, heavy Partisan casualties


Democratic Federal Yugoslavia Partisans
Commanders and leaders
Nazi Germany Alexander Löhr
Nazi Germany Rudolf Lüters
Democratic Federal Yugoslavia Josip Broz Tito
127,000 men
300+ aircraft
22,148 men
Casualties and losses
comparably low 7,543

The Battle of the Sutjeska (Serbo-Croatian: Bitka na Sutjesci, Битка на Сутјесци, pronounced [bîtka na sûtjɛst͡si]), codenamed Fall Schwarz, was a joint attack by the Axis taking place from 15 May to 16 June 1943, which aimed to destroy the main Yugoslav Partisan force, near the Sutjeska river in south-eastern Bosnia. The failure of the offensive marked a turning point for Yugoslavia during World War II.

The operation is generally known as the Fifth anti-Partisan Offensive, while it is also known as the Fifth Enemy Offensive (Peta neprijateljska ofenziva/ofanziva) in ex-Yugoslav terminology. Codenamed Fall Schwarz, it immediately followed Fall Weiss which had failed in accomplishing the same objectives: to eliminate the central Partisan formations and capture their commander, Josip Broz Tito, also known by his Comintern codename as "Walter".



The Axis rallied 127,000 land troops for the offensive, including German, Italian, NDH, Bulgarian, Greek forces under Georgios Poulos (officially SS) and Cossack (in ex-Yugoslav sources also called "Čerkezi", Cherkes) units, and over 300 airplanes. The Yugoslav National Liberation Army had 22,148 soldiers in 16 brigades.[4] After a period of troop concentration, the offensive started on 15 May 1943. The Axis troops used the advantage of better starting positions to encircle and isolate the partisans on the Durmitor mountain area, located between the Tara and Piva rivers in the mountainous areas of northern Montenegro and forced them to engage in a fierce month-long battle on waste territory.

On June 9, Tito was nearly killed, as a bomb fell near the leading group and wounded him in the arm. The popular post-war report of the event credited Tito's German shepherd dog Luks, for sacrificing his life to save Tito's.[5] Captain William F. Stuart, a Special Operations Executive operative who was parachuted into Tito's headquarters alongside Captain William Deakin during May,[6] was killed by the explosion, as well.[7]

Facing almost exclusively German troops, the Yugoslav National Liberation Army (YNLA) finally succeeded in breaking out across the Sutjeska river through the lines of the German 118th and 104th Jäger and 369th SS (Croatian) Infantry divisions in the northwestern direction, towards Eastern Bosnia. Three brigades and the central hospital with over 2000 wounded were surrounded. Following Hitler's instructions, German commander in chief General Alexander Löhr ordered and carried out their annihilation, including the wounded and the unarmed medical personnel. In addition, YNLA troops suffered from severe lack of food and medical supplies, and many were struck down by typhoid.

In total there were 7,543 partisan casualties, more than a third of the initial force.[4] The German commander in field, general Rudolf Lüters in his final report described the so-called "communist rebels" as "well organized, skillfully led and with combat morale unbelievably high".

The successful Partisan breakout helped their reputation as a viable fighting force with the local populace. Consequently they were able to replenish their losses with new recruits, regroup, and mount a series of counterattacks in Eastern Bosnia, clearing Axis garrisons of Vlasenica, Srebrenica, Olovo, Kladanj and Zvornik in the following 20 days.

The battle marked a turning point toward Allied control of Yugoslavia, and became an integral part of the Yugoslav post-war mythology, celebrating the self-sacrifice, extreme suffering and moral firmness of the partisans.

Order of battle

Allied order of battle

Partisan commander Josip Broz Tito and Ivan Ribar during the Battle of the Sutjeska.

Democratic Federal Yugoslavia Yugoslav Partisans (Partisans Main Operational Group)[8]

  • 1st Proletarian Division
  • 2nd Proletarian Division
  • 3rd Assault Division
  • 7th Banija Division
  • 3rd Dalmatian Brigade
  • 3rd Battalion, 4th Proletarian Brigade
  • 2nd and 4th Battalions, 5th Montenegrin Brigade

Axis order of battle




  • 4th Home Guard Jäger Brigade


  • 63rd Infantry Regiment
  • 61st Infantry Regiment also in the area
    (both units under the command of the German 369th Division)

In Film

Battle of Sutjeska was made into a movie in 1973, Sutjeska, with Richard Burton playing the lead as Josip Broz Tito, leader of the partisan forces.

In Song

There are several songs about the Battle of Sutjeska. One of the more popular is called Sivi Sokole which translates to Peregrine Falcon. It mentions the death of Commander Sava Kovacevic.

Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian English

Sivi sokole, prijatelju stari, Daj mi krila, sokole da preletim planine.

Visoka je planina, nebo iznad nje, A na nebu sivi soko, gleda na mene.

Duboka je Sutjeska, kanjon iznad nje Na kanjonu Tito stoji, gleda ranjene

Na kanjonu Tito stoji i poručuje Sutjeska se mora proći, da spasimo ranjene Sivi sokole...

Sutjeska je probijena, ranjeni su spašeni A naš stari heroj Sava osta mrtav da leži Sivi sokole...

Radili smo, radimo, radit ćemo još Druže Tito, kunemo se, pobijedit ćemo

Peregrine Falcon, old friend of mine, Give me wings falcon so that I can fly over the mountains.

The mountain is high, and the sky above it And in the sky the peregrine falcon looks upon me.

The Sutjeska river is deep, the canyon is above it On the canyon Tito stands, watches over the wounded

On the canyon Tito stands and commands The Sutjeska must be crossed to save the wounded Peregrine falcon...

The sutjeska is passed, the wounded are saved But our old hero Sava lies dead Peregrine falcon...

We worked, we work, we will work still Comrad Tito, we pledge, we will triumph.

Memorial complex

Monument commemorating the Battle of the Sutjeska in Tjentište, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Sculptor Miodrag Živković designed the memorial complex, dedicating to the Battle of the Sutjeska in the 1970s. [10] The complex contains frescos by the Croatian artist Krsto Hegedušić.[11]

See also


  1. ^ J. B. Tito, The Yugoslav Road, 99
  2. ^ Slobodan Nešović, Yugoslav-Bulgarian Relations, 1941-1945, 95
  3. ^ Jozo Tomašević, The Chetniks, 199
  4. ^ a b Hoare, Marko Attila (2006). Genocide and Resistance in Hitler's Bosnia: The Partisans and the Chetniks. Oxford University Press. p. 341. ISBN 0197263801. 
  5. ^ Doder, Duško (1979). The Yugoslavs. Vintage Books. p. 130. ISBN 978-0394741581. 
  6. ^ Gilbert, Martin (1971). Winston S. Churchill: Challenge of War 1914-1916. Houghton Mifflin. p. 319. ISBN 978-0395131534. 
  7. ^ Ritchie, Sebastian (2004). Our Man In Yugoslavia: The Story of A Secret Service Operative. Routledge. p. 46. ISBN 978-0714655598. 
  8. ^ Operation SCHWARZ – NOVJ Main Operation Group – Order of Battle
  9. ^ Operation SCHWARZ – Axis Order of Battle
  10. ^ Miodrag Živković. [1]
  11. ^ Renata Jambrešić Kirin. The Politics of Memory in Croatian Socialist Culture: Some Remarks

External links

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