Operation Edelweiss (iii)

This was a German and Croat operation against the partisan forces of Marshal Josip Broz Tito in occupied Yugoslavia to reopen road the road linking Gračac and Gospić but currently held by the 35th ‘Lika’ Division (23 November/3 December 1944).

To support the VIII ‘Dalmatia’ Corps during its ‘Kninska Operacija’, the XI ‘Lika’ Corps had been ordered to move its 13th and 35th Divisions to southern Lika and blockade the Axis garrison of Gračac, leaving Generalmajor Alois Windisch’s 264th Division of General Gustav Fehn’s XV Gebirgskorps in Knin with only one supply and escape route through Lapac toward Bihać. The partisans immediately established their own supply line from Vis island to the XI and IV Corps by the road linking Obrovac, Lovinac, Udbina, Korenica, Plitvice, Rakovica and Slunj.

The 35th Division lacked the strength to make a direct attack on the 1,400-man Axis garrison of Gračac and thus limited itself to blockading the town, while 13th Division secured the area of Lovinac, Ričice and Sveti Rok held by the 35th Ustaše Battalion.

‘Edelweiss’ (iii) began on 23 November with an advance in the south by part of the 264th Division from Gračac toward Lovinac against the 3rd Brigade of the 35th Division and toward Bruvno against the same division’s 2nd Brigade, while from Donji Lapac one battalion attempted an advance toward Mazin against the division’s 1st Brigade.

In the north two Ustaše battalions attempted to advance from Gospić toward Medak against the 13th Division’s 2nd and 3rd Brigades. The only success of this stage of the operation came near Bruvno, where one battalion supported by one tank platoon managed to secure the area, but by 29 November this force had been forced to retreat back to Gračac. On 30 November the 1/846th Grenadierregiment and 3/847th Grenadierregiment arrived in Gospić from Gacko, and with part of the divisional artillery regiment, one tank company and one Ustaše battalion became a Kampfgruppe tasked with a new attack toward Gospić on 1 December. In Medak the Kampfgruppe encountered the 3rd Brigade of the 13th Division, which after few hours was pushed to Drenovac before the Axis attack halted.

The partisans now regrouped, bringing in the 3rd Brigades of both the 13th and 35th Divisions and launching a counterattack during the evening of 3 December. This pushed the Kampfgruppe back to Gospić.

After the successful conclusion of the partisan ‘Kninska Operacija’, the position of the Gračac garrison became impossible, and its parent formation, Fehn’s XV Gebirgskorps of General Maximilian de Angelis’s 2nd Panzerarmee, ordered it to break out. The attempt was a total failure, and the Germans lost 285 men killed, 130 wounded and 787 captured.