Battle of Odžak
|Battle of Odžak|
|Part of the Yugoslav Front of World War II|
|Commanders and leaders|
Spaso Mičić †
|Petar Rajkovačić †
|25th Serb Division
|20,000 soldiers||1,800 soldiers|
|Casualties and losses|
Battle of Odžak was the last World War II battle on the European continent. The battle began on 19 April 1945 and lasted until 25 May 1945, 17 days after the end of the war in Europe. The combatants were the Croatian Armed Forces commanded by Petar Rajkovačić and the Yugoslav Partisans commanded by Miloš Zekić. The battle took place in the Bosnian town of Odžak. The battle was a Pyrrhic victory for the Partisans.
In May 1945, the Croatian Armed Forces (HOS) started to retreat towards Austria after Ante Pavelić's decision that they wouldn't defend Zagreb; however, some 10,000 soldiers led by brothers Ivan and Petar Rajkovačić decided to defend Zagreb afterall. On 19 April 1945, they possessed town of Odžak and 24 nearby villages and made a stronghold at the mouth of Bosnia river entering Sava river. The stronghold was successfully defended for more than a month, despite the attacks of the elite Partisan units coordinated with the artillery, tanks and even air force. The Odžak stronghold fell on 25 May, 15 days after the end of war in Europe.
The Serbian newspaper NIN, reported that between 19 and 28 April, there was a fierce combat with constant Partisan charges at the Ustaše strongholds. Between those two dates, Croatian defenders killed around 630 Partisans and destroyed an entire battalion of the 27th Division and killed a commander of the 16th Brigade of the same division, Spaso Mičić. From the equipments, the Partisans lost three batteries of artillery, three mortars and one anti-tank gun. The NIN also reports that "the enemy was much more dangerous and insidious then a German soldier... the Ustaše fought to death."
The remaining members of HOS were defending what it left of the Independent State of Croatia, an narrow area between Bosna and Sava that included Novigrad, Donji Brezik, Vlaška Mala, Odžak and Mrka Ada. Moreover, in that area, there was a lot of Bosnian Muslim refugees from Kladanj, Plehana, Žepče, Sivše, Gračanica and nearby populated places. The Supreme Command of the 3rd Partisan Corps, composed of 27th, 28th and 53rd Division, ordered immediate attack on the HOS' stronghold or the divisional headquarters would be considered responsible.
Vlaška Mala combats
Eventually, the Partisans pushed away the Croatian defenders to Vlaška Mala, a village without any natural defence line, it was a clear field. Some HOS commanders that found themselves in a hopeless situation started to negotiate with the partisans, but negotiations ended in partisan attack. Smaller number of HOS soldiers surrendered to them as POWs, but they were later found mutilated by the Croatian soldiers. Such actions of partisans probably made the Croatian defenders to fight so fanatically. The Croatian defenders built the trenches, every trench was enough for a squad. As the terrain was plane, the defenders had a review of all access roads. As their munition supply was low, they tried to achieve as much as possible hits. The defenders made a tactic very odd to the Partisan commanders, they would let Partisan units to approach 10 metres and then would open fire at them. The Partisan losses were massive. Many Partisans were left wounded at the battlefield without any possible help. Another contributor to the massive Partisan losses was their effort to save the flags of units. Many Partisans would be killed just because they tried to save their flag.
The defenders' stronghold was attacked from direction of Duge Njive and Lipik. The Partisans would launch an attack after attack, but they failed to push away the defenders. In order to enable his units a wider movement space, Rajkovačić ordered expansion of the defence line. He commanded the left wing, while he let Ivan Calušić to command the western one. Rajkovačić divided his units into four platoons and a company commanded by Nikola Šanjić also joined him. The local volunteers that were under Rajkovačić's command, joined the Calušić's unit, as Rajkovačić expected full discipline and readiness, which they didn't have as they weren't professional soldiers. Rajkovačić also formed the storm units which would execute counterattacks, while a smaller unit, which he commanded would be in the center of a counter-attack. Those in the last line of defence, positioned in the very village, were assigned to brake the Partisan defence lines. When at the beginning of May 1945, the Partisan attacks started to falter, Rajkovačić ordered an counter-attack. The Partisans didn't expected a massive counterattack and their defence was broken very fast, while the defenders captured the Municipality Building, which were also the Partisan headquarters. The battle was so brutal that every home in Odžak was destroyed, while every field was a scaffold. After the Croatian defenders recaptured Odžak and built the new defence lines which will last until 25 May. The Partisans were decimated. The 20th Serb Storm Brigade entered an area controlled by the Croatian soldiers, and within a few hours, the who brigade was killed.The Serb Partisan units, exhausted from fighting, proclaimed the unarmed civilians the "Ustaše criminals" so they massacred helpless elderly, women and children.
Group of the Croatian defenders, led by Ibrahim Pjanić and Avdaga Hasić decided to make a breakthorugh against the 14th Partisan Brigade. The 14th Brigade was known as a "brigade that accustomed to victory"; however, they run away in front of the attack and let the group to breakthrough without any fight. During the Battle of Odžak, a struggle for every ditch and house was fierce, while objects would be taken only with help of artillery and air force. As reported by NIN, "in order to capture an object, every Ustaše needs to be killed". The Croatian defenders continued to fight even after the Partisan aviation dropped bombs and used machine guns. Commander of the defence, Petar Rajkovačić was wounded two times by the air force strike, but refused to surrender. He committed suicide on 25 May 1945, on the day when Battle of Odžak was over.
Partisan decisive attack
The broken partisan units were reinforced with the elements of the 27th Division from Tuzla, composed out of 19th Birćanska Brigade, 20th Romanija Brigade and 16th Brigade. Meanwhile, the famous Partisan commander, Mato Belić, who known the town of Odžak very well, supposed to brake the defence and capture the town. In order to recapture Odžak, the Partisans were equipped with the most modern weapons of the time. The casualties weren't important, the Odžak had to be captured, as ordered by Josip Broz Tito, the Marshall of Yugoslavia. The Partisans equipped artillery, mortars and the Soviet Katyusha rocket launchers. They were also connected by the radio so the Partisans launched attack by attack, however, they were always thrown away by the defenders. Tito's birthday was very near, so the Supreme Command insisted that the defence must be broken before the birthday. Members of the General Staff decided to send the air force. They composed two squadrons which travelled from Belgrade to Odžak. Those aircraft operated on 23 and 24 May. They bombed Odžak, Ada, Balegovac, Dubica, Prud, Vojskova and Osječak, while the most bombs have been dropped on Vlaška Mala. The Vlaška Mala bunker and elementary school were completely destroyed; the elementary school sreved as Rajkovačić's headquarters. Partisans also used the long-range artillery together with bombings. Majority of victims were, however, the civilians. The Croatian defenders divided into two groups and planned the breakthrough. The one group was order to breakthrough the Odžak hospital and save the wounded. The Croatian defence lines were broken and the strongest town's stronghold, the Nuića Štala, had also fallen. The combat in the town itself lasted to night of 24 and 25 May. On that night, both groups started the breakthrough. One group moved towards the mountainous part of the municipality, while other moved to Prud. In Vlaška Mala, tens of soldiers left around the Nuića Štala. More than 700 defenders that were in Vlaška Mala succeeded to brake the partisan encirclement and moved to Potočani and Lipa. The group that was moving towards Prud succeeded to avoid one encirclement, but entered the other. Those who defended the Nuića Štala fought to last man. After they were killed, the Partisans captured the hospital and within it found a lot of wounded and civilians. They were brutally massacred. Partisans also killed every civilian that they had found. They were thrown in a mass grave in the nearby garden. The place is known as the Nuić Cemetery.
The first group that failed to brake another encirclement was taken away to captivity. The other group succeeded to enter Lipa and Plandišće. The Partisans in Odžak started to arrest all males from 15 years and older, often killing boys around ten years of age. Those defenders captured were taken in front of a firing squad & executed. Those who surrendered to Partisans were also immediately executed. The Partisans would kill anyone without making any report. The last remaining group of defenders fled in to the surrounding forest and continued to fight as guerrilla's. The last man of this group was killed in the spring of 1947 in Lipa.
Supression of the battle
In Communist Yugoslavia, mentioning of the Battle of Odžak was prohibited . Any mention of the battle was considered "a plot against the Yugoslav Brotherly Union". The Serbian newspaper NIN was the only paper to write about it. It published two feuilletons and published some documents connected to the battle. In order to avoid mentioning the battle, the official "liberation day" of Odžak wasn't listed as 25 May but 14 April.
- Marčinko 2004, p. 30.
- Marčinko 2004, p. 14.
- Đorić 1996, p. 90.
- Marčinko 2004, p. 29.
- Marčinko 2004, p. 13.
- Marčinko 2004, p. 33.
- Bušić & Lasić 1983, p. 277.
- Đorić 1996, p. 169.
- Marčinko 2004, p. 13-14.
- Marčinko 2004, p. 27.
- Marčinko 2004, p. 28.
- Marčinko, p. 29.
- Marčinko 2004, p. 14-15.
- Marčinko 2004, p. 31.
- Marčinko 2004, p. 32.
- Marčinko 2004, p. 23.
- Bušić, Bruno; Lasić, Vinko (1983). Jedino Hrvatska!: Sabrani spisi (in Croatian). ZIRAL.
- Đorić, Marjan (1996). Bosanska Posavina: povijesno-zemljopisni pregled (in Croatian). Polion.
- Marčinko, Mato (2004). U Odžaku se branila Hrvatska Država (in Croatian). HOR.