Operation Werwolf (ii)

werewolf

This was a German and Croat operation against the bridgehead of Marshal Josip Broz Tito’s Yugoslav forces at Virovitica in the Papuk mountain region of the puppet state of Croatia within German-occupied Yugoslavia (6/21 February 1945).

The undertaking’s objective was to surround and destroy strong Yugoslav forces (49,000 men of the 12th, 16th, 36th and 51st Assault Divisions) and their supply bases in the Papuk mountain region, where they posed a direct threat to Zagreb, and also destroy the partisan divisions holding the ‘Virovitica bridgehead’ between Virovitica and Podravska Slatina.

The Axis forces committed to ‘Werwolf’ (ii) totalled some 60,000 men. The German contribution comprised Generalleutnant Hellmuth von Pannwitz’s 1st Kosaken-Kavalleriedivision, Oberst Hans-Joachim von Schultz’s 2nd Kosaken-Kavalleriedivision, SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS August Schmidhuber’s 7th SS Gebirgsdivision ‘Prinz Eugen’, Generalleutnant Hartwig von Ludwiger’s 104th Jägerdivision, Generalleutnant Albrecht Baier’s 297th Division, the Kampfgruppe ‘Fischer’ based on elements of Generalleutnant Wilhelm Kohler’s 11th Felddivision (L), 10 to 12 police battalions controlled by the Divisionsstab zbV ‘Stephan’ and the 202nd Panzerabteilung. The Croat contribution took the form of Ustaše General Ante Moškov’s 1st Assault Division, and elements of General Rafael Boban’s 5th Assault Division and General Stjepan vitez Peričić’s 7th Mountain Division.

This major operation was based on two major Axis groupings, in the form of a western group under General Helge Auleb’s LXIX Corps zbV with the Cossacks and 1st Assault Division, and an eastern group under General Werner von Erdmannsdorrf’s XCI Corps zbV with the remaining forces. As they closed on the centre of the operational area from all sides, the Axis forces took Podravska Slatina on 8 February, and Virovitica and Slavonska Požega on 9 February. The main assault was now over and the remainder of the operation took the form of a thorough mopping up of the partisan redoubt in the Papuk mountain region.

The German after-action reports detail fighting that was at times very heavy as the partisans defended their positions to the last man. The operation was nonetheless considered a success inasmuch as the Yugoslav forces were dispersed and temporarily expelled from the surrounded area, most of their supply camps were captured and a great deal of booty was seized. The German record does not indicate German or Croat losses, but details the partisan losses as including 1,988 counted dead.