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The Battle of Poljana (Monday May 14 - Tuesday May 15, 1945) was the last battle of World War II in Europe. It started at Poljanamarker, near the village of Prevaljemarker in Yugoslaviamarker, and was the culmination of a series of engagements between the Yugoslav Partisans and a large retreating Axis column, numbering in excess of 30,000 men. The column consisted of German (Wehrmacht), Ustaše, Montenegrin Chetniks, and Slovene Home Guard forces, as well as other fascist collaborationist factions and even civilians who were attempting to escape into Britishmarker-controlled Austriamarker.

Background

In the spring of 1945, the German Army and their allies were in full retreat from the Yugoslav Partisans. In early April, the Partisan 3rd Army, under the command of Kosta Nađ, fanned out through the Drava Valley region (Podravina), reaching a point north of Zagreb, and crossed the old Austrian border with Yugoslavia in the Dravogradmarker sector. The 3rd Army closed the ring around Axis forces when its advanced motorized detachments linked up with detachments of the 4th Army in Carinthiamarker. As a result, the German Army Group E was prevented from escaping north-west across the Drava river. Completely surrounded, General Alexander Löhr, Commander-in-Chief of Army Group E was forced to sign the unconditional surrender of the forces under his command at Topolšica, near Velenjemarker, Slovenia, on Wednesday May 9. Nevertheless, some of his troops, along with collaborationist units, namely the Ustaše, Slovene Home Guard, Montenegrin Chetniks, and elements of other factions, continued to resist and tried to fight their way west to what they hoped would be the protection of the British at Klagenfurtmarker

The Battle

Just before 9am on May 14, a significant force of mostly Ustaše with some Chetniks and Slovenian Home Guard troops approached Partisan positions at the Šurnik farm near Poljana demanding free passage west. This was refused, and firing commenced on both sides. Ustaše attacks intensified in the afternoon, evening and overnight, finally ceasing on the morning of May 15 with the arrival of around 20 British tanks. Tense negotiations followed, during which British officers made it abundantly clear that they would not offer protection to the collaborators and that unconditional surrender to the Partisans was the only option. White flags were finally raised around 4pm on May 15 .

Casualty estimates were at least 310 Ustaše dead in the two main locations of fighting, and 250 wounded. On the Partisan side, losses were considerably lower, numbering fewer than 100 dead and wounded. The surrender of this last area of Axis resistance is considered to be the end of World War II in Europe, 8 days after the official surrender of the Germans on Monday May 7, 1945.

However, numerous isolated incidents carried on in the next few days, including one on the evening of May 20 when a group of Ustaše appeared near Ferlachmarker ( ), and attempted to set terms for their passage west. "As the Ustaše did not want to surrender" reads the operational diary of the 2nd Battalion of the Partisan 11th Dalmatian Assault Brigade, "we attacked them at 21:00hrs. On this occasion we took 24 Ustaše soldiers and one officer" .

References

  1. Channel 4 - History - World War II: A chronology
  2. General Löhr signing the surrender document at Topolšica: http://www.250kb.de/u/060216/j/12453304.jpg
  3. Franci Strle: Veliki Finale na Koroškem (2nd edition, 1977) p322-354
  4. Franci Strle: Veliki Finale na Koroškem (2nd edition, 1977) p398


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