The Battle of Odžak was the last battle of World War II in Europe. The battle began on 19 April 1945 and lasted until 25 May 1945, 17 days after the end of the war in Europe. Battle lasted long because the Yugoslav authorities wanted to avoid more civilian casualties. The combatants were nazi Ustasha ,who have miss chance to escape to Bleiburg where escaped principal Ustasha Army, commanded by Petar Rajkovačić and the Yugoslav Partisans commanded by Miloš Zekić. The battle took place in the Bosnian town of Odžak. The battle was a victory for the Partisans. The reason the Ustashas fought fiercely is the fear of being tried for war crimes and genocide against Serbs, Jews and Gypsy people.
In May 1945, the Ustasha started to retreat towards Austria after Ante Pavelić's decision that they wouldn't defend Zagreb; however, some 1,000 soldiers led by brothers Ivan and Petar Rajkovačić lack to escape, due to the rapid advance of the partisan troops. On 19 April 1945, they possessed town of Odžak and 24 nearby villages and made a stronghold at the mouth of Bosnia river entering Sava river. The stronghold was successfully defended for more than a month, despite the attacks of Partisan units coordinated with the artillery, tanks, and even air support. The Odžak stronghold fell on 25 May, 15 days after the end of war in Europe.[better source needed]
The Serbian newspaper NIN, reported that between 19 and 28 April, there was fierce combat with constant Partisan charges at the Ustasha strongholds. Between those two dates, Ustasha killed around 630 Partisans and destroyed an entire battalion of the 27th Division and killed a commander of the 16th Brigade of the same division, Spaso Mičić. From the equipments, the Partisans lost three batteries of artillery, three mortars and one anti-tank gun. The NIN also reports that "the enemy was much more dangerous and insidious then a German soldier... the 'Ustasha fought to the death."[better source needed]
The remaining members of Ustasha were defending what it left of the Independent State of Croatia, a narrow area between Bosna and Sava that included Novigrad, Donji Brezik, Vlaška Mala, Odžak and Mrka Ada. Moreover, in that area, there was a lot of Bosnian Muslim refugees from Kladanj, Plehana, Žepče, Sivše, Gračanica and nearby populated places.[better source needed] The Supreme Command of the 3rd Partisan Corps, composed of 27th, 28th and 53rd Division, ordered immediate attack on the Ustasha stronghold or the divisional headquarters would be considered responsible.[better source needed]
Eventually, the Partisans pushed away Ustasha to Vlaška Mala, a village without any natural defence line, it was a clear field.[better source needed] Some Ustasha commanders that found themselves in a hopeless situation started to negotiate with the partisans, but negotiations ended in partisan attack. Smaller number of Ustasha soldiers surrendered to them as POWs, but they were later found mutilated by the partisans.[better source needed] Such actions by the partisans probably made the Ustasha fight so fanatically. The Ustasha built trenches and every trench was large enough for a squad. As the terrain was a plain, the Ustasha had a view of all access roads. As their munition supply was low, they tried to make as many hits as possible. The Ustasha used a tactic which seemed very odd to the Partisan commanders: they would let Partisan units approach to 10 metres and then open fire. The Partisan losses were massive. Many Partisans were left wounded on the battlefield without any possible help. Another contribution to the massive Partisan losses was their efforts to save the flags of units. Many Partisans would be killed just because they tried to save their flag.[better source needed]
The Ustasha' stronghold was attacked from Duge Njive and Lipik. The Partisans would launch attack after attack, but they failed to push away the Ustasha. In order to give his units a wider movement space, Rajkovačić ordered an expansion of the defence line. He commanded the left wing, while he left Ivan Calušić to command the western one. Rajkovačić divided his units into four platoons and a company commanded by Nikola Šanjić, who also joined him. The local volunteers that were under Rajkovačić's command, joined the Calušić's unit, as Rajkovačić expected full discipline and readiness, which they didn't have as they weren't professional soldiers. Rajkovačić also formed the storm units which would execute counterattacks, while a smaller unit, which he commanded would be in the center of a counter-attack. Those in the last line of defence, positioned in the very village, were assigned to break the Partisan defence lines. When at the beginning of May 1945, the Partisan attacks started to falter, Rajkovačić ordered a counter-attack. The Partisans didn't expected a massive counterattack and their defence was broken very fast, while the Ustasha captured the Municipality Building, which were also the Partisan headquarters.[better source needed] The battle was so brutal that every house in Odžak was destroyed, while every field was a scaffold.[better source needed] After the Ustasha recaptured Odžak and built the new defence lines which lasted until 25 May.[better source needed] The Partisans were decimated. The 20th Serb Storm Brigade entered an area controlled by Ustasha, and within a few hours, the whole brigade was killed.The Serb Partisan units, exhausted from fighting, proclaimed the unarmed civilians the "Ustasha criminals" so they massacred helpless elderly, women and children.[better source needed]
Group of Ustasha, led by Ibrahim Hujdurović and Avdaga Hasić decided to make a breakthrough against the 14th Partisan Brigade. The 14th Brigade was known as a "brigade that was accustomed to victory"; however, they run away in front of the attack and let the group break through without any fight. They fought like guerrillas three months later. During the Battle of Odžak, a struggle for every ditch and house was fierce, while objectives would be taken only with help of artillery and air force.[better source needed] As reported by NIN, "in order to capture an objective, every Ustasha needs to be killed". the Ustasha continued to fight even after the Partisan aviation dropped bombs and used machine guns. Commander of the defence, Petar Rajkovačić was wounded twice by the air force strikes, but refused to surrender. He committed suicide on 25 May 1945, the day when the Battle of Odžak ended.[better source needed]
The broken partisan units were reinforced with elements of the 27th Division from Tuzla, composed of 19th Birćanska Brigade, 20th Romanija Brigade and 16th Brigade. Meanwhile, the famous Partisan commander, Mato Belić, who knew the town of Odžak very well, supposed to break the defence and capture the town. In order to recapture Odžak, the Partisans were equipped with the most modern weapons. The casualties were not important, the Odžak had to be captured, as ordered by Josip Broz Tito, the Marshall of Yugoslavia. The Partisans were equipped with artillery, mortars and the Soviet Katyusha rocket launchers. They were also connected by the radio. The Partisans launched attack by attack; however, they were always thrown back by the Ustasha. Tito's birthday was very near, so the Supreme Command insisted that the defence must be broken before the birthday. Members of the General Staff decided to send the air force. Two squadrons travelled from Belgrade to Odžak. Those aircraft operated on 23 and 24 May. They bombed Odžak, Ada, Balegovac, Dubica, Prud, Vojskova and Osječak, while the most bombs were dropped on Vlaška Mala. The Vlaška Mala bunker and elementary school were completely destroyed; the elementary school served as Rajkovačić's headquarters. Partisans also used the long-range artillery together with bombing. The majority of victims were, however, the civilians used by the Ustashas as a shield. Ustasha divided into two groups and planned the breakthrough. The one group was ordered to break through the Odžak hospital and save the wounded. Ustasha lines were broken and the strongest town's stronghold, the Nuića Štala, had also fallen. The combat in the town itself lasted to the night of 24 and 25 May. On that night, both groups started the breakthrough. One group moved towards the mountainous part of the municipality, while the other moved to Prud. In Vlaška Mala, tens of soldiers left around the Nuića Štala. More than 700 Ustasha that were in Vlaška Mala broke the partisan encirclement and moved to Potočani and Lipa. The group that was moving towards Prud avoided one encirclement, but entered the other. Those who defended the Nuića Štala fought to the last man. Dead Ustasha were thrown in a mass grave in the nearby garden. The place is known as the Nuić Cemetery.[better source needed]
In SFRY, mentioning of the Battle of Odžak was prohibited . Any mention of the battle was considered "a plot against the Yugoslav Brotherly Union". The Serbian newspaper NIN was the only paper to write about it. It published two feuilletons and published some documents connected to the battle.[better source needed] In order to avoid mentioning the battle, the official "liberation day" of Odžak wasn't listed as 25 May but 14 April.[better source needed]
The battle is thoroughly described in a number of books, for example, in a 1969 book on 53rd Division, 1981 book on 16th Muslim Brigade, 1983 book on 27th East Bosnian Division, and 1983 book on 14th Central Bosnian Brigade.
Referring to Ustasha post-war propaganda trying to glorify this battle, exalting Ustasha courage, and exaggerating the number of victims of Partisans, manipulating the death number on the side of the liberators.
According to the testimony of the participants, the partisans had about 300 casualties.