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The Battle on Lijevča field was a battle fought between March 30 and April 8 1945 between the Croatian Armed Forces (the amalgamated Ustaša and Home Guard forces) and the runoff Chetnik forces of Pavle Đurišić, the Montenegrin People's Army, near Banja Lukamarker in what was then the Independent State of Croatiamarker (NDH).

The Croatian Armed Forces were led by general Vladimir Metikoš, while the Chetniks were led by voivoda Pavle Đurišić.

Build-up to the battle

In the fall of 1944, the Chetniks were scattered across the territory of the former Yugoslaviamarker. Divisions of the Red Army had entered Serbia and were assisting Yugoslav forces in capturing and destroying the Chetniks.

Chetnik plan

When the German forces began to abandon Montenegro, the Chetniks decided to head out with them as there was little escape from Partisan attacks in the region. Before they left, a command was issued by the Chetnik leader Draža Mihailović (who was at that time in Serbia), to head towards Bosnia where they would join up with an alleged number of 100,000 troops from Serbia.

It was decided that the Chetniks would consolidate in the area between the rivers Bosnamarker, Vrbas and Sava. On December 5 1944, Đurišić's Chetniks headed north along the Drinamarker river, and met up with Mihailović in the village of Kožuhe. With him were 10,000 soldiers, far short of what had been promised. Much of Mihailović's troops in these final months were forcefully mobilized peasants from Serbia who frequently defected.

There are varying versions of what the Chetniks further plans were:
  • Later, Ustaša emigrants claimed that the Chetniks had sought to attack the Croatian capital Zagrebmarker after the Germans had left. This would have destroyed the Independent State of Croatia, and this would allegedly have shown the Allies that the Chetniks were a "powerful anti-fascist army upon whom they could count on".
  • Partisan sources say that Mihailović sought to utilize Đurišić's forces to return to Serbia to raise an "anti-communist rebellion". Đurišić did not accept this, refusing Mihailović's commands. He then began to retreat towards Slovenia.
  • Chetnik sources claim that Mihailović commanded Đurišić to head toward Slovenia to join with those Chetnik forces which would surrender to the Americans. Đurišić's Chetniks eventually headed towards Lijevča field near Banja Luka.


Battle

Beginning of the battle

The Croatian Armed Forces which were located in the region numbered 27,940 soldiers. On March 30, Chetnik forces passed the river Vrbas and took the village of Razboj. From there the Sanjak Chetniks headed towards the Sava river and the village of Dolinama on the road toward Bosanska Gradiškamarker.

At the same time, three Ustaša companies from the 10. Ustaša Brigade by command of general Metikoš headed out from Banja Luka towards Gradiška and took position near the village of Gornje Doline. There they battled with Chetniks. With Chetniks in greater numbers, the Ustaša companies were forced to retreat. Concurrently, the local Croatian population began to flee the area towards Gradiška in fear of the Chetniks. At this time the Chetniks destroyed the villages of Junuzovce and Gornje Doline: it is claimed that they killed 2500 civilians during this period.

April 2, general Metikoš along with the 6. Croatian Infantry Division attacked the Chetniks not far from Gornja Doline. After half a day of battle, the Croatian forces forced the Chetniks to withdraw. They had also captured a Chetnik officer, captain Mijuković. He was a Montenegrin by background, a supporter of a Montenegrin independence as well as a follower of Sekula Drljević. Mijuković did not agree with the Chetnik ideology and he gave the Ustaša officers information about the intentions of the head Chetnik command.

Attack on Bosanska Gradiška is foiled

From records, general Metikoš and the commander of the 17. Croatian Infantry Division Marko Pavlović made a decision towards a quick attack against the Chetniks. General Pavlović moved an Armored Group that same day from Novskamarker as well as an Artillery Guard from Nova Gradiškamarker and two infantry battalions. Metikoš and Pavlović met in Bosanska Gradiška and discussed a plan of attack. The fifth battalion of the 10. Ustaša Brigade was sent to the town of Vrbačko to assure against any possible Partisan attacks. That same day at noon Ustaša gunners began artillery fire on the Sanjak Chetnik corps. At the same time, the Ustaša Armored Group with 24 turrets and 4 Tiger tanks entered Doline and began to fire their machine guns at the fleeing Chetniks. After an hour the battle was over. The Armored Group captured 400 Chetniks, among them some officers, while on the field of battle lay 2000 dead or injured Chetniks.

During questioning of the captured officers, the Ustaše found that the Chetniks were planning to attack Bosanska Gradiška that very day. They also found out the makeup of the Chetnik force: the Sanjak corps led by captain Kalajitović, the Drina corps led by voivoda Drašković, as well as 5000 Montenegrin Chetniks led by voivoda Boško Agram were all participating. They also found that the Chetniks had received help from the Germans to get there.

Disruption of Chetnik command

Because of the unexpected loss of their forward troops, the heads of the Chetnik forces came to a spat and even some armed conflict erupted between officers. Voivoda Đurišić had some of the Montenegrin Chetnik officers shot to placate the rest and to stop any argument. However, this only intensified the dissatisfaction of the Montenegrins who were forcefully mobilized and who did not want to fight for a Greater Serbia. Just as captain Mijuković had foreseen, 5000 Montenegrins deserted the Chetniks in the following days and defected to the Ustaša.

This forced Đurišić to change plans. April 3 he made the decision not to attack Bosanska Gradiška nor Banja Luka, but to take the remaining Chetnik forces across the Vrbas, to take Lijevča field and the villages of Topola, Dubrava and Maglajan. There they would care for their provisions and horses, and begin to head across mount Kozaramarker towards Kordunmarker where they would meet with voivoda Đujić's troops from Slovenia.

On April 4 Durišić decided to break through the Croatian Army's ranks. In the meantime the Armed Forces built and strengthened bunkers on the road from Bosanska Gradiška to Banja Luka. The building of the bunkers was overseen by the engineering lieutenant colonel Josić. In the bunkers were placed Home Guard troops from 4. Jager Brigade. Every bunker was armed with a mortar and a machine-gun, while each crew numbered thirty soldiers. The bunkers were situated at the intersections of roads: Nova Topoli, Gornja Topola, Maglajan and Laktaš were all fortified. On 40 km of road 22 bunkers were built. In Laktaš, one Armored Group and two Infantry Battalions stealthily moved towards the road near Razboj. General Pavlović placed one Armored Group towards Donji Doljani, behind them a battalion with a truck, and a Tank Company in the village of Bukovac. A battalion under major Ante Vrban was sent towards Vilus to protect against a Partisan attack from Kozara.

Main battle

In the morning of April 5 at 2:00am, the Chetniks began a frontal assault on the bunkers, showering them with hand grenades and infantry gunfire. The Home Guard troops in the bunkers waited until the Chetniks came closer then opened fire with their machine guns and mortars which resulted in high losses to the Chetniks, as well as confusion among their ranks. This lasted for the remainder of the day and into the night.

Chetnik Mihajlo Minić later recalled the battle with these words: "The valley of Lijevča field echoes with the thunder of exploding grenades and hand-bombs. Ustaša tanks snorted and sowed fire on all sides. Night turned to day."

However, on April 6 at 6:00am, Chetnik forces under captain Perišić succeeded in penetrating between bunkers and attacked the 3rd battalion from behind. General Sučić with part of his own division blocked the Chetnik penetration point, and sent two tank companies to the road from Bukovac to Turjak to help the 3rd battalion. With his remaining troops Sučić set off to hunt down the Chetnik group, which numbered about 1000 troops. Soon the tanks companies reached and set down the attack on the third battalion, killing around 500 Chetniks, while the survivors retreated towards Kozara.

The 3rd battalion, strengthened by the arrival of the armoured tank units, set out to find the remaining 500 Chetniks. Two days later a battalion from the 4. Croatian Infantry Division under the command of general Zdenko Begić came across these fleeing groups and completely destroyed the unit.

During the night of April 7, due to the work of the Ustaša, panic struck the Chetnik ranks all the way up to the top command and their forces began to flee across the Vrbas with the intention to spread out into the forests. In the morning the Ustaša gunners began to shoot down boats attempting the cross and in this way halted the retreat.

At this time, Partisan forces began to build up near Bosanski Petrovacmarker and Sanski Mostmarker. As the Croatian Armed Forces did not wish to fight a battle on two sides, the commander of the 4. Division Josip Metzger decided to launch a final attack on the remaining Chetniks who numbered 27,000.

At 11:00am the 6. and 7. Croatian Infantry Divisions began to attack those Chetniks who had gathered around Razboj. Over Dolina and Glamočani towards Razboj turned the first Armoured Group led by 4 Tigers, along with a mobile artillery company and trucks with infantry. Another Armoured Group headed down the Brezovljani-Glamočani road. From the south the Armoured Group from the 6. Division chased the Chetniks from Kukolk towards Razboj. Behind them came a mobilized artillery company and two infantry battalions which began a frontal battle with the Chetniks. The Home Guard troops left their bunkers and returned sharp machine-gun fire.

Under the onrush of Ustaša tanks and turrets, the Chetnik right flank was crushed and Ustaša forces circled to the their rear and began to attack with machine-gun fire. The Chetnik Drina Corps began to crumble while Chetnik forces tried to close the Ustaša penetration. Under ceaseless fire from the Ustaša force accompanied by hand bombs, panic spread across the Chetniks. The Chetniks began to abandon their posts and attempted to flee, but they did so in vain as they were surrounded on all sides. The Croatian Infantry destroyed the resistance of the Chetniks, who soon surrendered. At 1:00pm the battle was over.

The Montenegrins who had earlier deserted the Chetnik ranks buried the dead. The spoils of war were great. Five thousand Chetniks were captured, among them voivoda Đurišić who had hid beneath a carriage hoping to escape by nightfall. He had to be closely guarded to ensure the Montenegrins did not kill him.

Aftermath

After the battle Đurišić, together with 1500 of his officers and elite Chetniks, were taken to the Ustaša camp at Stara Gradiška where they were killed a few days later. It is unknown what happened to the remaining 3500 Chetniks. It is likely that they were killed at another location.

Five thousand Montenegrins were moved to Sisakmarker, where they were left armed and placed under Ustaša command as the Montenegrin People's Army. In May these troops were among the Ustaša and Home Guard forces, as well as Croatian civilians, who retreated at war's end towards Austria. At Bleiburgmarker they surrendered, along with the Croatian Armed Forces, to the British Army which later returned them to the Partisans. Many were killed during the return trip to the new Yugoslav state, with those survivors being interned at various POW camps.

See also



Sources

  • Process against Draža Mihailović, Vijesnik 1948
  • "Američki Srbobran" October 2, 1950
  • "Iskra" München, May 24, 1951 article "Kad je krvca iz zemlje provrela".
  • From the records of the crosspoint of Perišić, May 1, 1945 records of Drina
  • Alvin E. Conski, account of Draža Mihailović, read out at the meeting of the American congress May 24, 1945
  • Boško N. Kostić, "Za istoriju naših dana", Munich


References

  1. [1]



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