Operations and War Crimes of the 8th Dalmatian Corps

Picard

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Introduction

World War 2 in Yugoslavia was a case of constant war crimes of everyone against everyone else. Germans, Italians, Ustashi, Chetniks, Partisans were all busy murdering civilians, and even Allies got on into the act on occasion.

Reason for this were multiple, but can be roughly divided into several categories: ideological, political, military and emotional. Ideologically, murder was carried out to get rid of the undesireables. For Nazis, Ustashi and Chetniks, undesireables were ethnic and political groups that were seen as hostile. For Partisans, undesireables were primarily ideological and class groups seen as hostile, but that definition could expand to encompass ethnic qualification as well. Politically, murders could be used as a fundamentally election campaign. Ustashi, Partisans and Chetniks killed people who were opposed to them politically. Partisans and possibly German special forces would also sometimes carry out war crimes as a part of propaganda and recruitment campaign, donning other side’s uniforms in order to later recruit victims to their own side.

This article will limit itself to war crimes of the 8th Dalmatian Partisan Corps.

Context

Final operations of Yugoslav forces in the western Herzegovina began in October 1944. Following the capture of Dubrovnik, the command Staff of the 29th Division decided that subordinate brigades should as soon as possible reach the Neretva Valley, capture Stolac, Metković and Čapljina, and thus create conditions for the capture of Nevesinje, western Herzegovina and Mostar. On 26th October 1944., 14th Brigade captured Stolac, while 13th Brigade captured Donje Hrasno, Dračevo, Višiće and Prebilovci. 12th Brigade captured Metković and Gabela, as well as Čapljina the next day. On 29th October the 14th Brigade cut off the Ljubuški – Mostar road, while Western Herzegovina Detachment captured Ljubuški.

Communists soon formed the Provincial Board of the People’s Liberation Movement (PO NOP) for Western Herzegovina. The Board created a list of all suspect and/or dangerous individuals that were to be eliminated. This list contained 160 Catholic laymen from Čapljina and Ljubuško, a number of priests and 44 Franciscan monks. Soon, 60 laymen were killed in Čapljina and 58 in Ljubuško, while some had managed to escape. Execution of priests was delayed until after the capture of Mostar, as it would have caused unfavorable public opinion.

In 1944., a conference was held by Partisans on which decision was made to kill all monks from Franciscan monastery in Široki Brijeg, and the village itself was to be destroyed. Partisan OZN (Odjeljenje za Zaštitu Naroda – Detachment for Protection of People) had singled out the Catholic Church as an irredeemable enemy that was to be destroyed with prejudice. At the same time, Partisan IX Division was active in Herzegovina, where it “requisitioned” supplies from peasants by force. XXIX Division replaced it, and immediately complaints of partisans raping people began.

Following the end of “liberation” of Dalmatia in December 1944., VIII Dalmatian Corps did not participate in larger operations. Its 9th Dalmatian Division was sent to relieve the forces holding the frontline south of Mostar. 4th Brigade was also sent to Neretva – Jara line., with majority of forces concentrated on defending the Mostar – Čitluk road. Political comissars were busy promoting “brotherhood and friendship” of Serbs and Croats. But the attention was still primarily on the battlefield.

During the night of 2nd to 3rd January 1945. the units of the 2nd Dalmatian Brigade crossed Neretva near the destroyed bridge in Čapljina and continued towards Ljubuško where they spent several days resting. On the 5th January the entire brigade was in the Cerov Dolac – Gruda area. Report of the 9th Division HQ from 12 January 1945 notes that the “enemy forces with significant Ustashi elements, local Ustashi police, as well as the Black Legion, recruited in this area, with support of the clergy and the local community, are attempting to maintain themselves there, and fill their numbers with forced mobilization while robbing and carrying out crimes against the population”.

By order of the Headquarters of the 9th Division from 5th January 1945., the 2nd Dalmatian Brigade was ordered to relieve the elements of 3rd Brigade and cleanse the area of hostile elements. Task of the 3rd and 4th Brigade was to prevent Croatian Armed Forces from acting towards Čapljina and Ljubuško. 2nd Brigade suffered heavy casualties and on 23rd January had to withdraw towards Imotski and Posušje, where it remained until 4th February.

Meanwhile several war crimes had been recorded in Herzegovina. Six men were shot near graveyard in Mamići by the 2nd Dalmatian Brigade commanded by Bruno Vuletić. Exact count of the dead was difficult as Partisans had burnt the parish registers as well as the Franciscan library. Overall, 388 victims or 12,94% of the population of the area had been recorded, of which 139 soldiers and 45 civilians died during the war and 444 soldiers and 130 civilians after the war’s end.

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