Operation Rauhnacht

twelfth night

This was a German and Croat operation against the forces of Marshal Josip Broz Tito in the Korenica area of occupied Yugoslavia (14/27 December 1944).

The task of the undertaking was the capture of Korenica, which was held by the 35th ‘Lika’ Division, and thereby restore communications between Generalmajor Hans Gravenstein’s 373rd Division (kroatisch) in Bihać and Generalleutnant Johann Mickl’s 392nd Division (kroatisch) in the Lika region, and also to cut the Yugoslav supply route to the IV Corps in the Kordun and Banija areas.

Just before this time, the Yugoslav 'Kninska Operacija' had left General Gustav Fehn’s XV Gebirgskorps of General Maximilian de Angelis’s 2nd Panzerarmee in a precarious situation, its strength divided into two groups, one based on the 373rd Division in Bihać and the other on the 392nd Division in Gospić with the Yugoslav supply line to the IV Corps passing between them along the road linking Obrovac, Gračac, Lovinac, Udbina, Korenica, Plitvice, Rakovica and Slunj. With much of the supplies they needed now arriving by sea directly from Italy, the Yugoslavs in Lika were no longer limited to air supply or weapons captured from the Axis forces, and this made it possible for them to engage Axis units in open battle with adequate supplies of weapons and ammunition.

The thing which saved the XV Gebirgskorps from destruction in December 1944 and January 1945 was Tito’s order for the 9th, 19th and 26th Divisions to be redeployed from southern Lika to Dalmatia to guard the Dalmatian coast, for events in Greece had led to the belief among the more senior Yugoslav communists that the British might exploit their presence in Greece to launch an amphibious intervention in Yugoslavia. This major movement left only the 20th ‘Dalmatia’ Division to resume attacks against Donji Lapac. ‘Bora’ later caused further delay as most of the Yugoslav VIII Corps was engaged in this operation round Mostar.

With the partisan offensive over, the XV Gebirgskorps quickly regrouped to regain at least some of the initiative. The main effort of ‘Rauhnacht’ began on 14 December from the line linking the Babin river, Homoljac, Korenica, Ličko Petrovo Selo, Prijeboj and Korenica against the 1st Brigade of the 13th Division. The primary attack by the 2/846th Grenadierregiment, 392nd Aufklärungsabteilung and B/1st Reserve-Jägerregiment pushed the partisan unit aside and led to the capture of Korenica by the evening of the same day. A secondary attack by the 2/383rd Grenadierregiment and 373rd Panzerjägerbataillon advanced from the line linking Ličko Petrovo Selo, Prijeboj, Plitvički Ljeskovac, Iačić, Vaganac and Drežnik, and pushed the 1st and 3rd Brigades of the 8th ‘Kordun’ Division away to the north. However, the attempt by Ustaše Dopukovnik Delko Bogdanić’s 4th Ustaše Brigade to advance from Široka Kula to Ljubovo was halted by the 13th Division’s 2nd Brigade.

On 15 December, the Yugoslav XI Corps transferred the whole of its 35th Division to Frkašić, Bjelopolje and Grabušić for an operation to recapture Korenica. This began on 17 December, and was checked by a German pre-emptive attack in direction of Bjelopolje. Another attack on Korenica was scheduled for 26 December but the Germans, perceiving the Yugoslav preparations on 25 December, this time opted not to launch another pre-emptive attack but instead to pull back during the night to Vrelo, Pogledalo and Homoljac. The Yugoslav forces did not discover this, and began their attack in the morning only to fall on deserted positions and have therefore to redirect their attack against the new German positions. The Yugoslavs took Pogledalo in the afternoon, and the battle for Homoljac lasted an entire night before the Germans withdrew to the Homoljac pass.

The Axis forces admitted to the loss of five men killed, 26 wounded and four deserted, while claiming as many as 237 Yugoslavs killed (107 known dead and 130 more estimated dead) and 16 captured.

Despite Tito’s error, the fact that several partisan divisions were operating meant that the XV Gebirgskorps lacked the reserves to improve its position. Several more attempts were subsequently made by each side either to complete or close the partisan supply line.