Operation Oktoberfest

October festival

This was a German and Croat operation against the partisan forces of Marshal Josip Broz Tito in the Bilo mountain area of the puppet state of Croatia in German-occupied Yugoslavia (probably 17/30 October 1944).

Between 13 and 16 October many of the partisan units in this area made an unsuccessful attack on Koprivnica, selected as target instead of Bjelovar to bring to an end a series of successes during the Podravina operation. After sustaining heavy losses, the partisan units were withdrawn to rest and recover. The Germans had already started to commit elements of General Helge Auleb’s LXIX Corps of General Maximilian de Angelis’s 2nd Panzerarmee in Generalfeldmarschall Maximilian Reichsfreiherr von Weichs’s Heeresgruppe ‘F’ in a counter-offensive.

Known Axis elements in ‘Oktoberfest’ were Generalleutnant Helmuth von Pannwitz’s 1st Kosaken-Kavalleriedivision and a Croat contribution by Ustaše Pukovnik Ante Moškov’s Ustaše Poglavnik Bodyguard Division, and a number of local gendarmerie units.

There is almost no information about the object of this operation in German or Yugoslav literature, but one of the possible targets was the 7th ‘Banija’ Division (3rd and 4th Brigades), which had been ordered to fall back back to Banija. The division was caught by the 1st Kosaken-Kavalleriedivision while crossing the line of the road and railway linking Križevci and Bjelovar. The 1st Battalion of the 3rd Brigade, which was holding the crossing in the direction of Bjelovar, was first attacked on 17 October at about 14.00. The same brigade’s 3rd Battalion served as vanguard while 2nd and 4th Battalions were the rear guard for the 7th Division’s support units and parts of the X Corps.

At this time the whole of the 4th Brigade was protecting the partisan movement from possible attacks toward Križevci near the village of Sveti Ivan Žabno. Both the 3rd and 4th Battalions were sent to reinforce the hard-pressed 1st Battalion, and the 3rd Battalion launched a flanking attack against the Cossacks, securing the heights on both sides of the road and opening for the passage of the partisans. The Axis forces quickly moved to attack Sveti Ivan Žabno as the partisan 1st and 3rd Battalions on the heights north of the road were attacked by ground forces supported by artillery and Junkers Ju 87 dive-bombers. This effort pushed back 3rd Battalion and also threatened the 1st Battalion, but then the arrival of 4th Battalion made it possible for the partisans to regain some of the area they had lost and to secure the crossing point during the night. Seeking to cross the road as quickly as possible, the column led by Ljuban Trbojević, commander of the 2nd Battalion, and Milan Knežević, the 3rd Brigade’s political commissar, moved over an unsecured area and ran into ambush in which Trbojević was killed and Knežević had his horse shot under him.

However, the main weight of ‘Oktoberfest’ struck not the 7th Division but the 33rd ‘Croat’ Division, which was moving forward to take over the positions held by 7th Division. An attack by three or four Ustaše battalions and gendarmerie units was beaten off, but on 20 October the 33rd Division withdrew to the east to avoid being attacked on three sides. The 1st ‘Moslavina’ Brigade took up position in Poljačane and Gornje Sredice, the 2nd Brigade in Kapela and the 3rd Brigade in Kloštar. The 3rd Brigade soon came under attack as it took up its new positions, but managed drive back these efforts of the Cossacks and gendarmerie. The 1st ‘Moslavina’ Brigade then attacked the Axis units in Gornji Križ late during the evening of 21 October, but was checked by strong resistance.

During 22 October neither side took action, but during the morning of 23 October the Axis forces attacked all the partisan brigades, which managed to hold their defensive line. With the arrival of reinforcements from Bjelovar, the Axis forces made a fresh attack on Kapela on 24 October and attempted to bypass the 33rd Division’s left flank, but this failed once the Axis forces found the partisans in possession of Nova Diklenica and Čurkovac. A flanking manoeuvre by the 1st ‘Moslavina’ Brigade toward Gornji Križ, which the Ustaše had abandoned, and also toward Starčevljani was slow and therefore afforded the Axis forces the time to withdraw with the 3rd Brigade in pursuit. On 25 October the 1st ‘Moslavina’ Brigade received orders from the X Corps to move to Moslavina, so the 2nd Brigade moved to the villages of Gornje Zdjelice and Babotok, and the 3rd Brigade to Novigrad and Plavšinac. Now abandoned, Kapela was shelled by the Axis artillery before Ustaše units entered and remained in it until the evening of the same day, when they withdrew toward Bjelovar and Podgorci.

On the following day the 2nd Brigade and 3rd Brigades moved to Topolovac and to Široko Selo, Sveti Križ and Hudovljane respectively. No further attacks were made on the 33rd Division, which spotted a column of 70 trucks moving to Križevci on 30 October but reacted too slowly to ambush it.

It is possible that part of the operation, which cost the Axis forces 61 dead, 48 wounded and six missing, was also carried out in area of Križevci.