This was a German and Croat operation against the partisan forces of Marshal Josip Broz Tito in the puppet state of Croatia in German-occupied Yugoslavia (10/17 May 1944).
Undertaken in the area to the west and south-west of Bihac, the operation had the object of clearing the area round Krbava airfield and destroying partisan units (8th, 13th and 35th Divisions as well as the ‘Plaščanski’ Partisan Detachment), camps, supply dumps and airfields located on and around the Krbavsko plain 16 miles (26 km) to the north-east of Gospić.
The German units involved were the 1 and 3/383rd Grenadierregiment and the 373rd Aufklärungsabteilung of Generalleutnant Emil Zellner’s 373rd Division (kroatisch) attacking from Bihac over the Licko Petrovo Selo toward Prijeboj, elements of Generalleutnant Johann Mickl’s 392nd Division (kroatisch) attacking from Josipdol and Otocac toward Licka Jasenica, the 92nd Grenadierregiment, the 92nd Brigade (mot.), the 1st Regiment of Generalleutnant Friedrich Kühlwein’s Division ‘Brandenburg’, and the 202nd Panzerabteilung, supported by Croat units including the 19th, 31st, 32nd and 34th Ustaše Battalions of Ustaše Pukovnik Tomislav Rolf’s 4th Ustaše Active Service Brigade as well as the 1/3rd Garrison Brigade.
The Axis forces surrounded the plain from all sides and then advanced toward its centre. Although they lost much matériel, the partisans managed to avoid a major confrontation and were thus able to withdraw from the area with 200 of their wounded and some 12,000 civilian sympathisers. The German after-action report claimed 297 partisans killed, 384 estimated killed, 118 captured and 39 defectors, as well as the destruction or capture of 22 field guns, 16 mortars, 124 machine guns, 53 trucks, four Italian tanks, 225 wagons and large quantities of ammunition, livestock and other equipment and supplies. The German and Croat losses were eight killed and 65 wounded.
Although many partisans managed to escape the Axis cordon, ‘Morgenstern’ was one of the more successful anti-partisan operations in Yugoslavia.