Case Black (German: Fall Schwarz), also known as the Fifth Enemy Offensive (Serbo-Croatian: Peta neprijateljska ofanziva) in Yugoslav historiography and often identified with its final phase, the Battle of the Sutjeska (Serbo-Croatian: Bitka na Sutjesci pronounced [bîtka na sûtjɛst͡si]) was a joint attack by the Axis taking place from 15 May to 16 June 1943, which aimed to destroy the main Yugoslav Partisan force, near the Sutjeska river in south-eastern Bosnia. The failure of the offensive marked a turning point for Yugoslavia during World War II.
The Axis rallied 127,000 land troops for the offensive, including German, Italian, NDH, Bulgarian, and over 300 airplanes. The Yugoslav National Liberation Army had 22,148 soldiers in 16 brigades. After a period of troop concentration, the offensive started on 15 May 1943. The Axis troops used the advantage of better starting positions to encircle and isolate the partisans on the Durmitor mountain area, located between the Tara and Piva rivers in the mountainous areas of northern Montenegro and forced them to engage in a fierce month-long battle on waste territory.
On 9 June Tito was nearly killed when a bomb fell near the leading group, wounding him in the arm. The popular post-war report of the event credited Tito's German shepherd dog Luks, for sacrificing his life to save Tito's. Captain William F. Stuart, a Special Operations Executive operative who was parachuted into Tito's headquarters alongside Captain William Deakin during May, was killed by the explosion, as well.
Facing almost exclusively German troops, the Yugoslav National Liberation Army (YNLA) finally succeeded in breaking out across the Sutjeska river through the lines of the German 118th and 104th Jäger and 369th (Croatian) Infantry divisions in the northwestern direction, towards eastern Bosnia. Three brigades and the central hospital with over 2000 wounded were surrounded. Following Hitler's instructions, German commander in chief Generaloberst Alexander Löhr ordered their annihilation, including the wounded and the unarmed medical personnel. In addition, YNLA troops suffered from severe lack of food and medical supplies, and many were struck down by typhoid.
In total there were 7,543 partisan casualties, more than a third of the initial force. The German field commander, General Rudolf Lüters in his final report described the so-called "communist rebels" as "well organized, skillfully led and with combat morale unbelievably high".
The successful Partisan breakout helped their reputation as a viable fighting force with the local populace. Consequently, they were able to replenish their losses with new recruits, regroup, and mount a series of counterattacks in eastern Bosnia, clearing Axis garrisons of Vlasenica, Srebrenica, Olovo, Kladanj and Zvornik in the following 20 days.
The battle marked a turning point toward Partisan control of Yugoslavia, and became an integral part of the Yugoslav post-war mythology, celebrating the self-sacrifice, extreme suffering and moral firmness of the partisans.
Order of battle
Allied order of battle
- 1st Proletarian Division
- 2nd Proletarian Division
- 3rd Assault Division
- 7th Banija Division
- 6th Proletarian Brigade
- 15th Majevica Brigade
Axis order of battle
- 7th SS Volunteer Mountain Division Prinz Eugen
- 1st Mountain Division
- 118th Jäger Division
- 369th (Croatian) Infantry Division
- Regiment 4 Brandenburg
- reinforced 724th Infantry Regiment (104th Jäger Division)
- 1 Alpine Division Taurinense
- 19 Infantry (Mountain) Division Venezia
- 23 Infantry Division Ferrara
- 32 Infantry Division Marche
- 151 Infantry Division Perugia
- 154 Infantry Division Murge
- forces of Sector Podgorica
- 4th Home Guard Jäger Brigade
- 63rd Infantry Regiment
- 61st Infantry Regiment also in the area
(both units under the command of the 369th (Croatian) Infantry Division)
Sivi sokole, prijatelju stari,
Visoka je planina, nebo iznad nje,
Duboka je Sutjeska, kanjon iznad nje
Na kanjonu Tito stoji i poručuje
Sutjeska je probijena, ranjeni su spašeni
Radili smo, radimo, radit ćemo još
Peregrine falcon, old friend of mine,
The mountain is high, the sky above it,
Sutjeska is deep, the canyon above it
Above the canyon stands Tito and commands,
Sutjeska is breached, the wounded are saved
We have toiled, we toil, we will toil still
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- Report of the commander of German troops in Croatien (Befehlshaber der Deutschen Truppen in Kroatien), June 20th 43, National Archive Washington T314, roll 560, frames 750-751
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