Operation Kninska Operacija

Knin operation

This was a Yugoslav operation by the VIII ‘Dalmatia’ Corps to destroy the German and Četnik forces in the area of Knin in Axis-occupied Yugoslavia (26 November/4 December 1944).

After the German loss of Dalmatia, the headquarters of General Gustav Fehn’s XV Gebirgskorps, based in Knin but later moved to Ostrožac near Bihać, decided to hold Knin at all costs in order to halt the advance of the VIII Corps toward Lika and Bosna. Knin was thus seen as a strategic object in the defence plans of the German high command to protect Syrmia from any advance by the forces of Marshal Josip Broz Tito from the south via Sarajevo and Mostar.

The Yugoslav order of battle for this operation, in which some 26,000 men were committed, was based on General-lajtnant Petar Drapšin’s VIII Corps, whose primary formations were Potpukovnik Ljubo Truta’s 9th Division (Major Bruno Vuletić’s 2nd ‘Dalmatia’ Proletarian Brigade, Major Josip Babin’s 3rd ‘Dalmatia’ Brigade, Major Ivan Gaće’s 4th ‘Dalmatia’ Brigade and Major Mate Meštrović’s 13th ‘Dalmatia’ Brigade), Potpukovnik Stanko Parmač’s 19th Division (Major Rade-Radica Repac’s 6th ‘Dalmatia’ Brigade and Major Repac Ilija’s 14th ‘Dalmatia’ Brigade), 20th Division, Pukovnik Božo Božović’s 26th ‘Dalmatia’ Division (Major Vaso Đapić’s 1st ‘Dalmatia’ Proletarian Brigade, Major Ivan Guvo’s 11th ‘Dalmatia’ Brigade, Major Josip-Bepo Marinković’s 12th ‘Dalmatia’ Brigade and Major Bogdan Viskić’s 3rd Overseas Brigade), Major Misjak Franc’s Artillery Brigade of the VIII Corps (five battalions with 80 pieces of artillery), and Potpukovnik Periša Grujić’s Northern Group of the 1st Tank Brigade (25 tanks and 11 other armoured vehicles).

The Axis forces involved, totalling some 8,000 German troops and about 4,500 Četnik soldiers, together with 75 pieces of field artillery and 30 pieces of anti-aircraft artillery, under the command of Generalmajor Alois Windisch, were Windisch’s own 264th Division less one infantry regiment, major elements of Generalleutnant Emil Zellner’s 373rd Division (kroatisch), the 847th Regiment of Generalleutnant Johann Mickl’s 392nd Division (kroatisch) which arrived on 29 November, the 944th Küstenartillerieregiment, the 29th Festungspionierbataillon, the 581st Marineinfanteriebataillon, several other auxiliary units, and Momcilo Đujić’s Četnik forces with the remnants of some Ustaše units whose 1,500 men or so were evacuated to Bihać on 14 November 1944.

During the ‘Kninska Operacija’ the field formations of the VIII Corps achieved major success: the 264th Division was effectively destroyed, the 373rd Division suffered heavy losses and had to be reorganised, and the 847th Regiment of the 392nd Division was wholly destroyed. Most of the Četnik fighters escaped to the north and, with the help of German units, were moved to the area of Karlovac.

The Axis losses during the operation were 6,555 men killed or wounded and 4,258 captured, while the VIII Corps suffered 629 men killed, 2,275 wounded and 125 missing. During the ‘Kninska Operacija’, units of the VIII Corps captured large quantities of matériel, including 82 pieces of heavy and light artillery (many of them serviceable), 25 heavy mortars, 500 machine guns, 5,000 rifles, 200 vehicles and around 150 ammunition wagons. Moreover, many Croat army soldiers taken prisoner took advantage of Tito’s amnesty to join the partisan movement. Together with the delivery of equipment by the Allies from Italy, this made possible the rapid transformation of the VIII Corps from a simple guerrilla force into a more conventional formation.

The results of the operation for the XV Gebirgskorps were nearly disastrous, for it left the corps divided into two parts, each of which defended a narrow corridor extending deep into partisan-held territory, and the corps was saved only by events on other fronts and political developments events.

While the VIII Corps carried out its reorganisation in order to resume the offensive, the British ‘Manna’ intervention against the communist partisans in Greece worried Tito so much that he ordered the redeployment of several divisions for coastal defence against any possible British movement into Yugoslavia, while ‘Bora’ showed that the Mostar garrison still posed a serious threat to the rear of the VIII Corps, which therefore had to commit its main formations to the ‘Mostar Operacija’.

The great gap left in the line of the XV Gebirgskorps by the ‘Kninska Operacija’, together with the battle for Gračac, also offered the Yugoslav forces their first opportunity to move supplies by the road from Gračac to Slunj, via Udbina, Korenica, Plitvice and Rakovica, to aid the IV Corps. Located in Banija and Kordun, this corps had hitherto been reliant on supply by air drop. From Slunj supplies were delivered to other formations located behind the German lines, namely the XI and VII Corps in Gorski Kotar and Slovenia respectively, and this forced the Germans to launch several operations in order to close the gap and flow of supplies through it.