Operation Kopaonik

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Operation Kopaonik
Part of World War II in Yugoslavia
Date11—14 October 1942[1]
Location
region around Kriva Reka on Kopaonik, Central Serbia
Result
  • failure of Axis forces to destroy Chetniks
  • mass murder of Serb civilians
Belligerents
Axis: Allies:
Chetniks
Commanders and leaders
  • Kingdom of Bulgaria Petar Panev
Dragutin Keserović
Units involved
Chetniks, Rasina Corps
Casualties and losses
690 murdered civilians

The Operation Kopaonik[2] was a large-scale[3] Axis offensive launched against the Mihailović's Chetniks in Axis occupied Yugoslavia during World War II.[4] The operation was inspired by Heinrich Himmler who believed that the annihilation of Draža Mihailović and his forces was a basis for a success in Serbia and South East Europe. Since Dragutin Keserović and his Rasina Corps was probably the most active commander of Mihailovićs Chetniks in Serbia, the newly established 7th SS Volunteer Mountain Division Prinz Eugen was engaged to participate in Operation Kopaonik to destroy Keserović and Chetnik unit under his command.

Besides the 7th SS Volunteer Mountain Division Prinz Eugen the Axis forces consisted of several battalions of Bulgarian 9th Infantry Division also. All of them commanded by Artur Phleps. The Yugoslav forces targeted in the Operation Kopaonik consisted of Rasina Corps of Chetniks of Draža Mihailović under command of Dragutin Keserović. The operation failed because Keserović was informed about the movement of the Axis forces and successfully retreated his forces before the Axis forces surrounded the targeted region. Still, Himller was pleased with participation of the Prinz Eugen Division and immediately after the operation ended he visited it for three days.

During this operation Axis forces committed mass murder of hundreds of Serb civilians in the targeted region. After the operation Prinz Eugen division attacked Mihailovićs Chetniks in region of Gornji Milanovac and Čačak.

Background[edit]

Heinrich Himmler, the highest ranked German officer who visited occupied Serbia during WWII

According to Heinrich Himmler, the annihilation of Mihailovic and his forces was a basis for a success in Serbia and South East Europe.[5] This operation was part of larger plan of Axis forces to disarm Chetnik units.[6] The Military Commander in Serbia prepared a list of 24 Chetnik officers to be arrested by SS Prinz Eugen Division, one of them being Keserović.[7] Keserović was probably the most active commander of Mihailović's Chetniks in Serbia.[8]

The Operation Kopaonik was aimed against the insurgent Chetnik units in Central Serbia under command of Major Dragutin Keserović in the region around Kriva Reka on Kopaonik mountain.[9][10] The operation was aimed against this forces because they were considered as center of organized guerilla rebel forces in Central Serbia.[11] The operation was in fact punitive expedition aimed against Mihailovićs Chetniks who were the chief target of the German commands who wanted to secure its control of Serbia before important battles in North Africa.[12]

The outline of the operation was prepared on 30 September and the order for its execution was issued on 5 October 1942.[13]

Forces[edit]

The Axis forces in the Operation Kopaonik consisted of 7th SS Volunteer Mountain Division Prinz Eugen and several battalions of Bulgarian 9th Infantry Division.[14] According to some sources the Bulgarian forces included 36th Infantry Regiment.[15] This operation was the first large-scale engagement of the 7th SS Volunteer Mountain Division Prinz Eugen under command of Artur Phleps who personally commanded the Axis forces during Operation Kopaonik. The SS division had three regiments, two infantry and one artillery regiment.[16] One of those two regiments that participated in the Operation Kopaonik was 14th SS Infangry Regiment with total number of soldiers, together with supporting artillery regiment, of up to 6,000 men (according to Schmidhuber).[17] The German forces were also supported by Russian Protective Corps.[18] The commander of the 14th SS Infantry Regiment was August Schmidhuber while its three battalions were commanded by Richard Kaaserer, Wagner and Landverer.[19] Several Bulgarian battalions of 1,000 men and Russian Protective Corps with 300 men also participated in this operation.[20] The commander of Bulgarian forces that participated in the operation was Petar Panev.[21]

The attacked Yugoslav rebel forces of Draža Mihailović were organized into Rasina Corps under command of Major Dragutin Keserović. In May 1942 Mihailović ordered to Keserović to prepare for receiving military supplies from Allies through air transport.[22] Starting in the half of 1942, Allied airplanes supplied with arms and other military equipment to Chetnik detachment on Kopaonik.[23] The Axis forces were informed that the headquarters of this Chetnik unit was in village Kriva Reka and that a British military mission was with them.[24] In August 1942 joint Axis forces of German and Bulgarian troops attacked Chetniks of Major Keserović on Kopaonik and captured 9 members of his headquarter, three of them being members of British mission, executed when they were leaving village Kriva Reka.[25]

Course of the operation[edit]

The Operation Kopaonik began on 11 October 1942 when the 1st battalion advanced toward Chetnik forces in Kriva Reka from Kosovska Mitrovica, the 2nd battalion advanced from Raška and parts of the 3rd battalion advanced from Novi Pazar.[26] The Bulgarian battalions advanced from Brus and Aleksandrovac.[27]

On 12 October 1942 the Axis troops completely encircled Kriva Reka village.[28] They stormed into this village because they were informed that headquarter of Rasina Corps of Keserović and Chetniks under his command were in the village.[29]

Keserović was informed about the attack of Axis forces and successfully retreated units of his detachment.[30]

Himmler was pleased with the Prince Eugen Division and visited it for three days as soon as the Operation Kopaonik was ended.[31] After the operation was finished, on 18 October Himmler arrived to Kraljevo[32] and celebrated birthday of Prince Eugene of Savoy together with members of SS Division that bore his name.

In his order issued for this operation on 5 October 1942, the commander of Axis forces in this operation, Arthur Phleps, ordered to his units to consider entire population of the region as rebel sympathizers.[33] When Axis forces failed to capture and destroy Chetniks in Kriva Reka, they punished the village[34] and burned all houses in the village.[35][36] The Axis troops captured civilians who lived in the village and took them to the village church and blow it up.[37][38] There were 46 men, women and children who were killed in the destroyed church.[39] This massacre was committed against the order of the Captain Kaaser.[40] The number of murdered civilians in Kriva Reka was more than 300.[41] The total number of civilians murdered during this operation is 690.[42]

During the second half of October 1942 Prinz Eugen Division attacked Mihailovićs Chetniks in Gornji Milanovac and Čačak.[43] At that time, General Mihailovic was with his Supreme Command in Montenegro, which was under Italian occupation. From the beginning of 1943, General Mihailovic prepared his units for the supports of Allied landing on the Adriatic coast. General Mihailovic hoped that the Western Alliance would open the Second Front in the Balkans.

Aftermath and legacy[edit]

Church in Kriva Reka after the explosion

After being informed about massacre of civilian population, the German military commander of Serbia Paul Bader[44] requested from the commander of SS division to refrain from killing civilians and burning villages without particular reason in future.[45] Because of the conduct during the Operation Kopaonik which included the mass murder of civilians in Kriva Reka, the commander of the 1st battalion Richard Kaaserer was dismissed from the SS, though he was quickly assigned to another German unit and swiftly promoted.[46] After the World War II Kaaserer was captured after the war in Norway, with false documents with false name and put on trial in Yugoslavia for war crimes, including those in Kriva Reka, and sentenced to death.[47]

The tragedy of Kriva Reka village inspired Dobrica Ćosić to describe terrible death of imprisoned villagers in their church in his book Deobe.[48] In 2017 editor Goran Erčević recorded a documentary "Cry of Empty Cradle" (Serbian: Плач празне колевке) inspired with massacre of civilians in Kriva Reka, while poet and writer Goran Minić wrote a book about it.[49]

References[edit]

  1. ^ (Schmider 2002, p. 444):". Südserbien verlegten »Prinz Eugen«, gemeinsam mit einigen bulgarischen Bataillonen die Gruppe um Dragutin Keserovic im Kaponik-Gebirge zu stellen (11. bis 14. Oktober 1942), "
  2. ^ (Karchmar 1973, p. 287): " ... "Operation Kopaonik" with several Bulgarian battalions and large forces from the SS- " 45 ✓ Division "Prinz Eugen" to wipe out this ..."
  3. ^ (Ailsby 2004, p. 161): "In October 1942, the division took part in its first large-scale military operation, against Serbian forces under one of Mihailovic's commanders, Major Dragutin Keserovic, in the Kopaonik Mountains in the region of Kriva Reka.
  4. ^ (Karchmar 1973, p. 287): "Probably the most active Mihailovic commander in Serbia was Keserovic, who, with relatively small forces, ... "Operation Kopaonik" with several Bulgarian battalions and large forces from the SS- " 45 ✓ Division "Prinz Eugen" to wipe out this ..."
  5. ^ Labour History Review. Society for the Study of Labour History. 1993. p. 6. Heinrich Himmler signalled 'The basis of every success in Serbia and in the S.E. of Europe lies in the annihilation of Mihailovic'.
  6. ^ (Glišić 1970, p. 128): "Ова акција SS дивизије "Принц Еуген" је била повезана са разоружањем четничких одреда. Војни заповедник Србије предао јој је и списак од 24 четничка официра .....Међу њима се налазио и Кесеровић."
  7. ^ (Glišić 1970, p. 128): "Војни заповедник Србије предао јој је и списак од 24 четничка официра .....Међу њима се налазио и Кесеровић."
  8. ^ (Karchmar 1973, p. 287): "Probably the most active Mihailovic commander in Serbia was Keserovic, who, with relatively small forces, ... "Operation Kopaonik" with several Bulgarian battalions and large forces from the SS- " 45 ✓ Division "Prinz Eugen" to wipe out this ..."
  9. ^ (Oktorino 2015, p. 53): "Sasaran mereka adalah menghancurkan sebuah kelompok Cetnik yang dipimpin oleh Mayor Dragutin KeseroviE di pegunungan Kopaonik di wilayah Kriva Reka. "
  10. ^ (Kumm 1978, p. 45): "Bereits in der 1. Oktoberhälfte wird das erste großangelegte Unternehmen der Div. angesetzt, von Phleps mehr als eine Übung der verbundenen Waffen unter kriegsmäßigen Bedingungen gedacht. Als Feind gilt das Organisationszentrum des höheren aufständischen Führers Mittelserbien, Major Keserovic, im Kopaonik-Gebirge um Kriva Reka. ".
  11. ^ (Kaltenegger 2008, p. 119): "Operationsziel war das Organisationzentrum des höheren Partisanenführers in Mittelserbien, Major Keserovic, im Kopaonik-Gebirge um Kriva Reka. "
  12. ^ (Djordjević 1997, p. 47):"For this reason, Mihailovich's detachments became the chief target of the occupying forces. The bloody punitive expedition of October, 1942 in the vicinity of Kriva Reka, where Keserovich's headquarters were located, was an expression of the German commands intention to strengthen its control over Serbia on the eve of the decisive confrontation in North Africa, ...."
  13. ^ (Glišić 1970, p. 128): "Скица плана напада израђена је 30. септембра, а заповест за напад издата је 5. октобра 1942. године"
  14. ^ (Karchmar 1973, p. 287): "Probably the most active Mihailovic commander in Serbia was Keserovic, who, with relatively small forces, ... "Operation Kopaonik" with several Bulgarian battalions and large forces from the SS- " 45 ✓ Division "Prinz Eugen" to wipe out this ..."
  15. ^ Mitrovski, Boro; Glišić, Venceslav; Ristovski, Tomo (1971). The Bulgarian Army in Yugoslavia 1941-1945: Orig. tit. Bugarska vojska u Jugoslaviji 1941-1945. "Medunarodna politika,". p. 122. The first important action by Bulgarian troops in the autumn of 1942 was that prosecuted by the 36th Infantry Regiment together with sections of the German »Prinz Eugen« SS Division in the village of Kriva Reka at Kopao- nik Mountain.
  16. ^ (Popović 1986, p. 160)
  17. ^ (Popović 1986, p. 160)
  18. ^ (Popović 1986, p. 160)
  19. ^ (Popović 1986, p. 160)
  20. ^ (Kovbasko 1971, p. 73)
  21. ^ (Kovbasko 1971, p. 92):"...коман- дант бугарских трупа које су учествовале у зверствима у Кривој Реци био пуковник Петар Панев"
  22. ^ (Jovanović 2001, p. 132)
  23. ^ (Milosavljević 1969, p. 65): "1942. godine saveznički avioni su počeli da noću bacaju oružje i drugu vojnu pomoć ovom četničkom odredu na Kopaoniku."
  24. ^ (Milosavljević 1969, p. 65): "Nemci su to doznali. Doznali su i to da se u četničkom štabu Keserovića nalazi i jedna engleska vojna misija koju je saveznička komanda uputila radi veze."
  25. ^ Небојша Озимић; Александар Динчић (2014). ПРИПАДНИЦИ ЈУГОСЛОВЕНСКЕ ВОЈСКЕ У ОТАЏБИНИ У НАЦИСТИЧКОМ КОНЦЕНТРАЦИОНОМ ЛОГОРУ НА ЦРВЕНОМ КРСТУ У НИШУ (1941-1944). Народни музеј, Ниш. p. 14. У исто време Бугари и Немци су са другом групом изводили акцију и против четника мајора Драгутина Кесеровића на Копаонику и успели су да заробе девет припадника штаба, од тога три Енглеза, које су на крају стрељали на излазу из села Крива Река
  26. ^ (Popović 1986, p. 160)
  27. ^ Mitrovski, Boro; Glišić, Venceslav; Ristovski, Tomo (1971). Das bulgarische Heer in Jugoslawien 1941-1945. Medjunarodna Politika. p. 130.
  28. ^ Hronike iz narodnooslobodilačke borbe. 1969. p. 66. 12. oktobra 1942. godine nemačke trupe koje su došle preko Kopaonika od Raške blokirale su Krivu Reku sa svih strana
  29. ^ Leskovački zbornik. Narodni muzej. 1973. p. 104. Наиме, припадници СС дивизије „Принц Еуген", заједно са бугарским 36. пешадијским пуком, обавештени да се у селу Крива Река налазе четници Драгутина Кесеровића, опколили су село 1 1 . октобра.
  30. ^ (Glišić 1970, p. 128): "Keserović je, izgleda, bio obavešten o ovom napadu pa se sa svojim odredima povukao"
  31. ^ (Ailsby 2004, p. 161): "Himmler visited the Prim Eugen Division between 15 and 18 October, and according to Kumm "was pleased by the"
  32. ^ (Černý 2004, p. 255):"V průběhu operace přijel 18. října do Kraljeva i Heinrich Himmler."
  33. ^ (Ailsby 2004, p. 161): "In October 1942, the division took part in its first large-scale military operation, against Serbian forces under one of Mihailovic's commanders, Major Dragutin Keserovic, in the Kopaonik Mountains in the region of Kriva Reka. Phleps' orders to his subordinates indicated the type of war Prim Eugen was going to fight: "The entire population of this area must be considered rebel sympathizers. Every man in ..."
  34. ^ (Milosavljević 1969, p. 65): "Pošto nisu našli četnički odred, kaznili su selo."
  35. ^ (Milosavljević 1969, p. 65): "Sve su kuće popalili."
  36. ^ (Jovanović 2001, p. 132):"Село Крива Река, где се налазио штаб Расинског корпуса, потпуно ]е уништено, док су сел>аци затворени у цркву и "
  37. ^ (Milosavljević 1969, p. 65): "Seljake su prvo zatvorili u seosku crkvu, zatim..."
  38. ^ Prvo zasjedanje Antifašistićkog Vijeća Narodnog Oslobod́enja Jugoslavije: zbornik radova naučnog skupa, Bihać, 4-6.X.1966. [Odgovorni urednik: Slavko Odić]. Muzej AVNOJ-a i Pounja. 1967. p. 187. Keserovic je pobegao ispred potere i divizija nije imala nikakvih gubitaka, ali je bez razloga pokupila sve stanovnistvo sela Kriva Reka i zatvorili ga u crkvu, koju su zatim nemacki vojnici minirali, tako da su svi stanovnici ovog sela izgubili ...
  39. ^ (Popović 1986, p. 160)
  40. ^ (Basta 1986, p. 516):"Kapetan Kasarel, komandant bataljona iz 7. SS divizije »Princ Eugen« u selu Kriva Reka na Kopaoniku strpao je 1 942. godine u crkvu 46 žena i djece, pa onda podmetnuo eksploziv i .."
  41. ^ (Borković 1976, p. 184):".. војници и официри „Принц Еуген“ дивизије су спалили село Крива Река на Копаонику и стрељали преко 300 његових житеља. "
  42. ^ (Avramov 1995, p. 207):" ... 690 men, women, and children were slaughtered in Kriva Reka and Mackovo."
  43. ^ (Oktorino 2015, p. 54): "Selama paruh kcdua bulan Oktober, 'Prinz Eugen' mcnyerang ge-rilyawan pimpinan Mihailovie di Gorni Milanovac dan Cacak, di mana mereka berhasil melucuti beberapa gerombolan Cetnik. "
  44. ^ (Schmider 2002, p. 444):"Die hierbei ohne erkenntlichen Grund durchgeführte Zerstörung der Ortschaft Kriva Reka offenbarte zugleich eine Vorgehensweise der Division, die Bader bereits zwei Wochen zuvor Anlaß zur Kritik gegeben hatte"
  45. ^ (Borković 1976, p. 184):".. војници и официри „Принц Еуген“ дивизије су спалили село Крива Река на Копаонику и стрељали преко 300 његових житеља. "
  46. ^ (Popović 1986, p. 160)
  47. ^ Report on the crimes of Austria and the Austrians against Yugoslavia and her peoples. The Yugoslav war crimes commission. 1947. p. 110. ...horror and indignation because of their ferocity and their mass character; these include: the massacres at Kriva Reka, Mackovac, ...
  48. ^ (Glišić 1970, p. 130): "Трагедија села Крива Река инспирисала је познатог срп- ског књижевника Добрицу Ћосића да у свом роману Деобе опише стравичан призор неизвесности и смрти затворених сељака у цркви."
  49. ^ Babović, S (30 November 2018). "OPERACIJA "KOPAONIK" STRAVIČNA SVEDOČANSTVA O STRADANjU: Nemci palili žive ljude i klali bebe". Večernje Novosti. Retrieved 24 August 2019.

Sources[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Небојша Озимић; Александар Динчић; Бојана Симовић (2014). Жртве Лагер Ниша (1941-1944). Нишки културни центар, Народни музеј Ниш, Медивест КТ.

External links[edit]