Operation Maigewitter (iii)

May weather

This was a German and Croat offensive against the forces of Marshal Josip Broz Tito near Tuzla in German-occupied Yugoslavia (27/31 March 1945).

The failure of their ‘Frühlingserwachen’ offensive in Hungary persuaded the Germans to withdraw from Sarajevo, but an essential precursor for this undertaking was the driving back of the Yugoslav 2nd Army to the east of Tuzla so that it was no longer in any position to interfere with the withdrawal. The success of ‘Maigewitter’ (iii) would also secure the southern flank of the German retention of Syrmia.

The operation was at first schemed for launch on 15 March, but the start had then to be postponed to 27 March to allow all the required forces to reach their start positions. On the line between Bijeljina and Brčko were Generalmajor Helmut Friebe’s 22nd Division and Pukovnik Slavko Cesarić’s Croat 12th Division, which were to advance on Gradačac, Srnice, Srebrnik and Ćelić. Generalmajor Hans Kreppel’s 117th Jägerdivision was moved by rail from Vinkovci to Brčko and Bosanki Šamac, and tasked with an advance to Gradačac and Gračanica. At Doboj was the Kampfgruppe ‘Geiger’, based on Pukovnik Zorko Čudina’s Croat 15th Division, with the task of advancing Doboj across Gračanica to Tuzla. Around Sarajevo was SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS August Schmidhuber’s 7th SS Gebirgsdivision ‘Prinz Eugen’, which on 6 March had started to concentrate in the area round Vareš, from which the 14th SS Gebirgsjägerregiment was to advance to Ribnica, Banovići to Tuzla, but was then recalled to aid parts of Generalleutnant Hermann Fischer’s 181st Division surrounded and cut off at Romanija.

The operation was entrusted largely to German and Croat formations, therefore, but was also to be supported by the Četnik Trebava, Majevica, Ozren, Zenica and Romania corps and Četnik corps from Montenegro, Herzegovina and Sandžak.

The combined Axis force totalled some 45,000 men in the form of 32,000 Germans, 9,000 Croats and between 5,000 and 6,000 Četniks with 14 assault guns, 120 pieces of artillery and 16 anti-aircraft guns. Against these the Yugoslavs committed about 41,115 men (2nd 'Krajina Brigade' in reserve, 17th 'East Bosnia' Division whose 7,580 men departed on 28 March, 28th 'Slavonia' Division with around 7,030 men, and XIV 'Serb' Corps with about 24,075 men in the form of the 23rd, 24th and 45th 'Serb' Divisions with some 9,925, 6,815 and 7,335 men respectively. The Yugoslav weapon inventory included 22,595 rifles, 622 sub-machine guns, 88 pieces of artillery, 554 mortars, 22 37-, 47- and 75-mm anti-tank guns, 252 anti-tank rifles, 174 motor vehicles and 5,779 horses and mules.

The German and Croat offensive began at 04.30 on 28 March, the day on which the Yugoslav forces launched their 'Sarajevska Operacija' on Sarajevo. The encirclement manoeuvre was carried out along the Tinje river and the Majevica mountain against 23rd 'Serbia' Division which was reinforced by the 2nd 'Krajina' Brigade and parts of the 16th Brigade. On the following day the German renewed their attack with the support of armour, but were checked some 9.2 miles (15 km) short of Tuzla and then driven back. All other attacks failed to achieve significant advance, and were halted by 30 March, and the failure of 'Osterglocke' then led to the end of operation 'Maigewitter' (iii) on 31 March.

The Yugoslav 2nd Army had thus halted the progress of ‘Maigewitter’ (iii) along the line from Gračanica to Ćelić via Srebrnik, and the Yugoslav 2nd Army estimated German casualties at around 1,200 dead and wounded and 22 captured, while the Yugoslav formation itself suffered the loss of 231 dead, 686 wounded and 76 missing or captured.

The operation succeed in its primary purpose of preventing 2nd Army interfering in retreat of XXI Corps from Sarajevo, but its failure to make significant gains resulted in need to abandon Bijeljina in order to strengthen the defence of Brčko.