Operation Alfa

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Not to be confused with Operation Alpha or Project Alpha.
Operation Alfa
Part of World War II in Yugoslavia
Panorama Prozora.JPG
View of Prozor
Date early October 1942
Location Prozor, Independent State of Croatia (present-day Bosnia and Herzegovina)
Result Partisan retreat
Belligerents
 Italy
Chetniks
 Independent State of Croatia
Yugoslav Partisans
Commanders and leaders
Kingdom of Italy Mario Roatta
Kingdom of Italy Renzo Dalmazzo
Draža Mihailović
Ilija Trifunović-Birčanin
Dobroslav Jevđević
Petar Baćović
Vlado Šegrt
Units involved
Kingdom of Italy 2nd and 29th Bersaglieri Battalions of the 94th Regiment from 18 Infantry Division Messina
Trebinje, Nevesinje, and Romanija Corps
Independent State of Croatia Croatian Home Guard's 7th and 15th Infantry Regiments
3 Battalions of the 10th Herzegovinian Brigade
Strength
Kingdom of Italy 4,000 soldiers
3,000–5,500 soldiers
300 soldiers
Casualties and losses
543–2,500 Catholic and Muslim civilians
Prozor is located in NDH
Prozor
Prozor
Magnify-clip.png
Location within the Independent State of Croatia (modern-day Bosnia and Herzegovina)

Operation Alfa (Italian: Operazione Alfa; Serbo-Croatian: Operacija Alfa, Операција Алфа) was an offensive carried out in early October 1942 by Italian, Croatian and Chetnik forces against the Yugoslav Partisans in the Prozor region, then a part of the Croatian puppet state (today in Bosnia and Herzegovina).

The operation was arranged between Mario Roatta, commander of the Italian Second Army, and Chetnik commander Ilija Trifunović-Birčanin with approval from Draža Mihailović. It was carried out in coordination with the Germans and involved a number of the Croatian Home Guard and the Croatian Air Force. Faced with heavy weaponry and vastly outnumbered, the Partisans retreated and left Prozor. Chetniks under the command of Dobroslav Jevđević and Petar Baćović, proceeded to massacre between 543 and 2,500 Catholics and Muslims and destroy numerous villages in the area. With protests from both the Italians and the Croatian NDH authorities, the Chetniks were discharged or relocated. Operation Beta, focused on capturing Livno and surrounding localities, was pursued by the Italians and NDH forces afterwards. Jevđević and Baćović avoided prosecution by the new Yugoslav government while Mihailović was found guilty, amongst other things, for the actions at Prozor and was sentenced to death and executed.

Background[edit]

On 6 April 1941, the Axis powers invaded the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, resulting in the capitulation of the Royal Yugoslav Army on 17 April.[1] Yugoslavia was occupied with some parts annexed and with puppet states being established in others. Amongst the puppet states was the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) which consisted of modern-day Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The NDH was divided by a German–Italian demarcation line, known as the "Vienna Line" with the Germans occupying the north and northeastern parts of the NDH, and the Italians the south and southwestern sections. The NDH immediately implemented genocidal policies against the Serb, Jewish and Romani population.[2] Initial armed resistance consisted of two loosely-cooperating factions, the Partisans who were led by communists, and the Chetniks who were mostly led by Serb–chauvinist officers of the defeated Yugoslav Army.[3] However, the Chetniks, in their pursuit of an ethnically pure Greater Serbia, adopted a policy of collaboration and cooperated "extensively and systematically" with Italian forces.[4] In July and August 1942, under the auspices of the Italians, the Chetniks thoroughly ethnically cleansed eastern Herzegovina of its Croats and Muslims.[5]

In September 1942, the Chetniks, knowing that they could not defeat the Partisans alone, attempted to persuade the Italians into carrying out a "large operation" within their occupation zone. On 10 and 21 September, Chetnik commander Ilija Trifunović-Birčanin met with General Mario Roatta, commander of the Italian Second Army. He informed Roatta that he was not under the command of Draža Mihailović, but that he had seen him in Avtovac on 21 July and that he had his approval in collaborating with the Italians. Trifunović-Birčanin urged him to take action "as soon as possible" in a large operation against the Yugoslav Partisans in the Prozor-Livno area. In return Trifunović-Birčanin offered support in the form of 7,500 Chetniks on the condition that they be provided the necessary arms and supplies. Roatta provided "some arms and promises of actions" for his demands. Mihailović later congratulated Trifunović-Birčanin on his conduct and "high comprehension of the national line" in these arrangements.[6]

Operation and massacre[edit]

In early October, the operation was launched by the Italians targeting Partisans located northwest of the middle part of the Neretva River.[6] The Italian 29th Battalion of the 4th Bersaglieri Regiment, and the 2nd Battalion of the 94th Regiment from the 18 Infantry Division Messina took part.[7] Between 3,000–5,500 Chetniks took part in the operation and were under the command of Dobroslav Jevđević and Petar Baćović.[6][8] Partisan sources reported 4,000 soldiers of the Italian 6th Army Corps, 5,000 Chetniks of the Trebinje, Nevesinje, and Romanija Corps, the Croatian Home Guard's 7th and 15th Infantry Regiments, and the Croatian Air Force as being involved.[9]

The operation was coordinated with Germans and NDH armed forces located near northern Partisan territory in the direction of Banja Luka. The Chetniks arrived by trains from Dubrovnik and Metković and by Italian trucks from Nevesinje. On 2–3 October they arrived in Mostar and left on 3 October. The same day, they killed one villager and committed mass looting in the village of Raška Gora, 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) north of Mostar. In the village of Gorani, 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) southwest of Mostar, three villagers were killed and, as elsewhere, they carried out looting and burning. The next day they were in Drežnica where Jevđević gave a speech that "the chief enemy of Serbs are the Partisans, then the Ustaše. They need to be ruthlessly destroyed and the other left alone". Subsequently the Chetniks killed between 62–142 people, looted, and carried out burnings in the town.[10][11]

On 4–5 October the Chetniks crossed the Neretva River in Konjic and headed, as did the Italians, towards Prozor, Šćit, Gornji Vakuf, Donji Vakuf, and on to Bugojno, Komar, and Travnik where the headquarters of the 5th Montenegrin and the 10th Herzegovinian Partisan brigades were situated. The offensive took place from three directions with light and heavy artillery and a large number of tanks and trucks converging. Three battalions of the 10th Herzegovinian Brigade intended to group up near Prozor, but had withdrawn and escaped on October 6, before the arrival of the Italian-Chetnik forces.[12] The Partisan battalions estimated that 1,200–1,500 soldiers of the Italian army and about 3,000–3,500 Chetniks were approaching, while they had a little over 300 men, a ratio of approximately 1:15.[13]

On 7–8 October the Italians heavily bombed Prozor with artillery and airplanes and entered the town on 8 October.[12] On the same day, Mihailović informed his commanders in Herzegovina that "now is the definite time to wipe out the communists" and to be as tactical as possible with the Muslims and Croats. The nature of these tactics required the Muslims to "only be organized under the command of our [Chetnik] military leaders and in our struggle against the Ustaše and the communists with complete loyalty to the Serb population to repair the shameful role they've played since the capitulation of Yugoslavia up to today". He also called for the Muslims to "take part in the liquidation of those Muslims who still today work against the Serb people". As for the Croats: "what will become of the borders of the Croatian unit and what rights the Croats will have in the new state of the future will depend solely on them". He explained that "if they continue to be inactive, there will be no force that will be able to protect them from the retribution of the Serb people, so let them guide themselves in accordance with that" and announced that after the "liquidation of communists, they will be able to liquidate the Ustaša".[14]

On 14–15 October, the Chetniks, acting on their own, massacred over five hundred Catholics and Muslims and burnt numerous villages in the process of the operation on the suspicion that they "harbored and aided the Partisans".[15][16] According to historian Jozo Tomasevich, incomplete data shows 543 civilians were massacred.[16] At least 656 victims are known by name while another source says about 848 people, mainly "children, women, and the elderly", were killed. Historian Ivo Goldstein estimates 1,500 were massacred in total and attributes the discrepancy "due to the fact that the estimates refer to different territories".[17] Historian Antun Miletić and Vladimir Dedijer place the figure killed at 2,500.[18]

In the following days, around 2,000 Chetniks were in the district of Prozor. According to Partisan sources, they moved southeast to the Neretva River and Mostar at the request of Italian officers. The Partisan sources claim that was done by the Italians because "atrocities of the Chetniks and Italians caused great resentment in the local population, including in the Croatian Home Guard located at nearby stations, which wanted to intervene militarily against such oppression"—while Chetnik commanders argue that in fact it was done by the Germans to prevent the Chetnik movement from heading west towards the Dinara.[17]

After the killings, Muslim Chetnik leader Ismet Popovac arrived in the town to console the local population and to advise the Chetniks there against committing further atrocities.[17] He also attempted to convince local Muslims to join the Chetnik ranks but was unsuccessful due to the extent of Chetnik atrocities against the Muslim population.[19]

On 23 October, Baćović reported to Mihailović that "in the operation of Prozor we slaughtered more than 2,000 Croats and Muslims. Our soldiers returned enthusiastic." Borba, a Partisan newspaper, also reported that "about 2,000 souls" were "killed by the Chetniks in Croatian and Muslim villages of Prozor, Konjic, and Vakuf". The report also mentions that "the districts of Prozor and Konjic have hundreds of slaughtered and murdered women and children as well as burnt houses".[20]

Aftermath[edit]

Roatta objected to the mass slaughters and said Italian support would come to a halt if they did not cease.[8] He requested that "Commander Trifunović be apprised that if the Chetnik violence against the Croatian and Muslim population is not immediately stopped, we will stop supplying food and daily wages to those formations whose members are perpetrators of the violence. If this criminal situation continues, more severe measures will be undertaken".[21] The massacre upset the NDH government which compelled the Italians to force the Chetniks to withdraw. Some forces were discharged while some were relocated to join Momčilo Đujić's forces in northern Dalmatia. Operation Beta later followed in the same month in which the Italians and NDH forces captured Livno and surrounding localities.[6]

After the war an indictment was issued against Jevđević in Sarajevo. It charged that under his command in "the first half of October 1942 in and around Prozor they [Italians and Chetniks] butchered and killed 1,716 persons of both sexes, Croatian and Muslim nations, and plundered and burnt about 500 households". A month after the massacre, Jevđević and Baćović wrote a self-critical report on Prozor to Mihailović in order to distance their responsibility. Jevđević fled to Italy at the end of the war where Allied military authorities arrested and detained him at a camp. They ignored Yugoslavia's request for extradition and set him free. He avoided trial and died in Rome in 1962. Baćović was killed by the Ustaše in 1945 and also did not come to trial.[17]

Mihailović was indicted and in 1946 the Supreme Court of Yugoslavia judged him guilty of leading a movement "which committed numerous war crimes against people" that, among other things, in "October 1942, under the leadership of Petar Baćović together with the Italians, killed in the vicinity of Prozor about 2,500 Muslims and Croats, among whom were women, children, and the elderly, and burnt a large number of villages". He was sentenced to death and executed.[17]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Ramet 2006, p. 111.
  2. ^ Hoare 2006, pp. 20–24.
  3. ^ Hoare 2006, pp. 196–201.
  4. ^ Ramet 2006, p. 145.
  5. ^ Goldstein 19 October 2012.
  6. ^ a b c d Tomasevich 1975, p. 233.
  7. ^ Loi 1978, pp. 189, 190, 212.
  8. ^ a b Ramet 2006, p. 146.
  9. ^ Tito 1982, p. 322.
  10. ^ Dizdar & Sobolevski 1999, pp. 346–347, 351–352, 366–367, 371.
  11. ^ Dizdar 2002, p. 232.
  12. ^ a b Dizdar & Sobolevski 1999, p. 363.
  13. ^ Goldstein 29 October 2012.
  14. ^ Dizdar & Sobolevski 1999, pp. 336–337, 339.
  15. ^ Tomasevich 1975, p. 259.
  16. ^ a b Tomasevich 2001, p. 259.
  17. ^ a b c d e Goldstein 7 November 2012.
  18. ^ Dedijer & Miletić 1990, p. 581.
  19. ^ Dizdar & Sobolevski 1999, p. 365.
  20. ^ Dizdar & Sobolevski 1999, p. 198.
  21. ^ Cohen 1996, p. 99.

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