Operation Eisbär (vi)

polar bear

This was the German withdrawal of the 3/738th Jägerregiment of Generalmajor Hubert Lamey’s 118th Jägerdivision from Supetar on Brač island off the Dalmatian coast of German-occupied Yugoslavia (12/13 September 1944).

With announcement of Romania’s defection from the Axis to the Allied side on 23 August, the expected capitulation of Bulgaria, and the withdrawal of German forces from Greece and Albania already under way, the withdrawal of the German garrisons from the islands off the Dalmatian coast of occupied Yugoslavia was next step of General Maximilian de Angelis’s 2nd Panzerarmee as it sought to build its strength for the forthcoming battle in Serbia against the combination of the oncoming Soviet forces and the main strength of Marshal Josip Broz Tito’s partisan army.

The original plan envisaged the abandonment of Brač, Hvar and Korčula islands, but was then reduced to the withdrawal of troops only from Mljet and Korčula islands and the retention of a small garrison in just a part of Brač . The defence of the mainland’s coast was still a high priority for the Germans, and reinforcement included the arrival on 18 September of 12 pieces of field artillery for deployment at Dugi Rat, Split and Cavtat.

Meanwhile, during August the Yugoslav partisan headquarters had ordered the 26th ‘Dalmatia’ Division to take Brač as part of ‘Ratweek’ and as the first step toward the liberation of the whole of Dalmatia.

Before they withdrew, the Germans sent from Šibenik to Split a force of 450 men to clear Brač and Hvar in ‘Seydlitz’ (vii). The failure of this operation prompted the partisans to send large force which broke the Germans on Hvar.

The partisans had planned their assault for 18 September, but as the Germans began to withdraw on 11 September the 12th ‘Dalmatia’ Brigade was immediately sent from Vis island reinforced by one battery of mountain artillery and one platoon of tanks from the 1st Tank Brigade, which landed 02.00 on 12 September. Next day two more battalions of the 1st ‘Dalmatia’ Brigade, another battery of artillery and another tank platoon were sent, together with one artillery-supported British commando. The 12th ‘Dalmatia’ Brigade advanced on Supetar, which was defended by the 3/738th Jägerregiment reinforced by one battery of the 668th Artillerieregiment, and supported by three German coastal artillery batteries from the mainland. During the night of 12/13 September the Germans retreated toward Supetar, where they boarded landing crafts which took them to Makarska leaving Sumartin only German stronghold on the island. The 12th ‘Dalmatia’ Brigade suffered two killed and 12 wounded, and captured four pieces of artillery, two anti-tank guns and large quantities of ammunition.

The partisan attack on Sumartin started at 20.00 on 14 September, and Sumartin fell on 18 September, resulting in the destruction of the 2/738th Jägerregiment, which was to have been evacuated in ‘Kranich’.