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Battle of Pljevlja

Battle of Pljevlja
Part of the Uprising in Montenegro, World War II in Yugoslavia
Date1–2 December 1941

Italian victory

  • Defeat of Partisan forces
Pljevlja, Italian governorate of Montenegro, Axis-occupied Yugoslavia
Montenegrin Partisans  Italy
Commanders and leaders
Arso Jovanović Kingdom of Italy Giovanni Esposito
Units involved
  • Kom detachment
  • Zeta detachment
  • Lovćen detachment
  • Bijeli Pavle detachment
  • Piva battalion
  • Prijepolje company
Kingdom of Italy 5th Alpine Division Pusteria
4,000 2,000
Casualties and losses
203 killed
269 wounded
73 killed
171 wounded
8 missing/captured
more than 23 citizens of Pljevlja[1]

The Battle of Pljevlja (1-2 December 1941), was a World War II attack in the state of Montenegro by partisans on Italian military forces occupying the city of Pljevlja under the command of General Arso Jovanović and Colonel Bajo Sekulić, who led 4,000 Montenegrin Partisans.[2]


In 1941 the area had been occupied by Italian forces trying to attack Greece. On 1 November 1941, the Supreme Command of insurgent forces began planning to attack Pljevlja.[3] On 15 November, the Regional Committee of the Yugoslav Communist Party for Montenegro, Boka and Sandžak ordered all insurgent forces in the region to begin preparing for the assault.[citation needed] According to Arso Jovanović, the Italians had prepared for an entire month before the battle, with forces from Brodarevo and Bijelo Polje being redeployed to Pljevlja. [4]

Involved forces

General Arso Jovanović[4] commanded the 4,000 partisan troops which were split into several groups: the Kom, Zeta, Lovćen and Bijeli Pavle detachments, the Piva battalion and the Prijepolje company.[5]

The Italian garrison in Pljevlja belonged to the 5th Alpine Division Pusteria; it was led by General Giovanni Esposito and had a strength of 2,000 men.[6]


In the evening of 30 November the partisans cut the phone lines linking Pljelvja to Prijepolje and Čajniče, thus isolating the Italian garrison. At 2:15 on 1 December the first partisan attacks on Italian outposts around Pljevlja began, and at 2:50 the general assault was launched. After suffering heavy losses, at 5:00 the partisans managed to capture an old Ottoman fort located on a hill known to the Italians as the "Fortino" (“small fort”) and to penetrate the town; the officers' mess and the depots of the 11th Alpini Regiment were then captured, whereas an attack on the headquarters of the 11th Alpini Regiment was repelled. Another group of partisans stormed the jail, freeing three prisoners, and another one attacked the power station, capturing the ground floor and the first floor after firce fighting; the Italian detachment guarding the power station, however, barricaded itself on the second floor, and managed to hold on until the arrival of a relief group of fifty engineers forced the partisans to withdraw.[7]

After securing the "Fortino" and the jail, the partisan attacked the Italian artillery positions, which were nearly overrun; the artillerymen, however, repelled the attack with small arms fire and hand grenades. In the southern sector, an attack on the Italian outpost guarding the road to Nikšić was likewise repelled; in the eastern sector, the partisans pressed their attacks against the Italian outposts guarding the roads to Prijepolje and Golubinje, capturing the latter. Between 3:35 and 3:40 the partisans occupied the high school, the Orthodox church, the movie theater and the houses surrounding the divisional headquarters, which was thus isolated. At 4:30 the partisans attacked the divisional headquarters, but were repelled; half an hour later they occupied the divisional hospital, capturing 34 soldiers from the medical corps, and surrounding the headquarters of the 5th Alpine Artillery Regiment. An attack on the latter, however, was repulsed.[8]

As the defenders of the divisional headquarters were short on ammunition, a relief group of thirty men carrying ammunition was sent to their help, but they were almost completely killed or wounded by partisan fire. At 5:15 the partisans launched another attack on the divisional headquarters, but were repelled again; at 7:00 another partisan group attacked the headquarters of the 5th Alpine Artillery Regiment, using captured Italians as human shields, but were likewise forced to retreat, abandoning the prisoners they had captured. At 7:20 two Italian squads stormed the Orthodox church, whose bell tower had become a partisan sniper's nest, and set it on fire.[9]

At dawn the Italians started their counterattack; the 145th Alpini Company and a platoon from the 144th attacked the "Fortino" and recaptured it by 9:00, and at 10:30 Italian artillery began shelling the partisan-occupied depots and officers' mess. In the meantime, two machine gun squads were sent in another relief attempt of the besieged divisional headquarters; despite heavy casualties caused by heavy gunfire from partisans occupying the movie theater, the attempt was successful, after which an Italian 75/13 mountain gun was brought into position and destroyed the movie theater. At 15:30 the siege of the divisional headquarters was lifted, and Italian squads set out to eliminate snipers still holding out in the surrounding buildings. Several partisans were captured and executed on the following day, along with seventeen civilians who had been hiding them. The headquarters of the 5th Alpine Artillery Regiment was still under siege; an Italian relief attempt was repelled by partisans barricaded in a group of nearby buildings, and nightfall brought the battle to a stop.[10]

Operations resumed at 8:00 on 2 December, and at 9:00 the siege of the 5th Alpine Artillery headquarters was lifted. The last partisan holdouts were eliminated during the morning. In the early afternoon of 2 December, the battle was over; the partisans had failed to capture Pljevlja and retreated with heavy casualties, some 203 were killed and 269 were wounded.[11][12]


Following the battle, many partisans deserted their units and joined the pro-axis Chetniks.[13][14]

Partisan forces began plundering nearby villages and executing captured Italians, party "sectarians" and "perverts".[15] The communists killed Orthodox priest Serafim Džarić who was Archimandrite of Monastery of the Holy Trinity of Pljevlja and director of the town's gymnasium Dobrosav Minić.[16] As a reprisal for the attack, Italian forces, along with Muslim militia in the area, burned and plundered the houses of insurgents.[17]

The defeat of the partisans at Pljevlja and the terror campaign conducted by left-wing elements of the partisan movement, led to further conflict between the two groups.[13] The various ideologies of the partisan factions in Montenegro eventually led to civil war.[18] The leader of the resistance movement in occupied Yugoslavia, Josip Broz Tito, disapproved of the attack.[19] When he received word of the planned assault, Tito issued two orders not to attack Pljevlja.[20] On 7 December 1941, Moša Pijade wrote a letter to Tito and requested an investigation into the defeat at Pljevlja.[21]

The Battle of Pljevlja was the last major action of the Uprising in Montenegro and resulted in the expulsion of partisan forces from the region.[22] On 21 December 1941, the Kom, Lovćen, Bijeli Pavle and Zeta detachments were incorporated into the 1st Proletarian Brigade.[23][24]

After the battle, the command of Montenegrin Partisans called for the recruitment of women, issuing an announcement which invited the sisters of deceased insurgents to join partisan forces.[25]


The Serbian novelist, Mihailo Lalić, wrote about the battle in one of his works, in which he emphasized that local Muslims committed war crimes during this action.[26] On 1 December 2011, the 70th anniversary of the battle, a ceremony was held at the monument to the fallen Partisans on Stražica Hill overlooking Pljevlja, which was attended by Montenegrin President Filip Vujanović. He stated that 236 Montenegrin Partisans were killed during the battle, along with another 159 people from Pljevlja and the surrounding area. The monument commemorates the deaths of 412 Partisans and other victims of World War II.[27]


  1. ^ Živković 2011, p. 264.
  2. ^ Rellie 2008, p. 218.
  3. ^ U Vatri Revolucije. NIGP "Rilindja". 1973. p. 112.
  4. ^ a b Dedijer 1990, p. 61.
  5. ^ Stojanović, Mladen (1970). Socialist Republic of Serbia. Secretariat of information of the Assembly of the Socialist Republic of Serbia; Export-Press. p. 24. ...Lovćen, Kom, Zeta, and Bijeli Pavle who had taken part in the Battle of Pljevlja
  6. ^ Đuričković, Boško (1952). Vojni istoriski glasnik. Vojno-istoriski institut. p. 10.
  7. ^ Carlo Piacentino, Paolo Formiconi, Alpini in Montenegro, p. 5, Storia Militare n. 243 (December 2013).
  8. ^ Carlo Piacentino, Paolo Formiconi, Alpini in Montenegro, p. 7, Storia Militare n. 243 (December 2013).
  9. ^ Carlo Piacentino, Paolo Formiconi, Alpini in Montenegro, p. 8-9, Storia Militare n. 243 (December 2013).
  10. ^ Carlo Piacentino, Paolo Formiconi, Alpini in Montenegro, p. 10-11, Storia Militare n. 243 (December 2013).
  11. ^ Pajović 1987, p. 32.
  12. ^ Carlo Piacentino, Paolo Formiconi, Alpini in Montenegro, p. 13, Storia Militare n. 243 (December 2013).
  13. ^ a b Tomašević 1979, p. 192.
  14. ^ Tomasevich 2001, p. 143.
  15. ^ Pavlowitch, Stevan K. (March 2008). Hitler's new disorder: the Second World War in Yugoslavia. Columbia University Press. p. 105. ISBN 978-0-231-70050-4. The partisans' disastrous attempt to capture Plevlja from its Italian garrison on 1 December 1941 was followed by widespread desertion, terror, plunder of villages, the execution of captured Italian officers and party 'fractionalists' and even of "perverts".
  16. ^ Serbia), Vojnoistorijski institut (Belgrade (1950). Zbornik Dokumenta. p. 346.
  17. ^ Lakić 2009, p. 371
  18. ^ Burgwyn, H. James (2005). Empire on the Adriatic: Mussolini's Conquest Of Yugoslavia 1941–1943. Enigma Books. p. 92. ISBN 978-1-929631-35-3. The people's uprising was degenerating into civil war.
  19. ^ Trgo, Fabijan (1980). Tito's historical decisions 1941–1945. Narodna armija. p. 43. Tito's disapproval of the attack by Montenegrin partisans on Pljevlja in December 1941, when they suffered heavy losses, is also well known.
  20. ^ Lagator & Batrićević 1990, p. 27.
  21. ^ Djilas, Milovan (1977). Wartime. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. p. 123. ISBN 978-0-15-194609-9. The letter referred to Mosa Pijade's letter to Tito of December 7, 1941, which called for an investigation into the defeat at Plevlja.
  22. ^ Fleming, Thomas (2002). Montenegro: the divided land. Rockford Institute. p. 138. ISBN 978-0-9619364-9-5. Following the failed communist attempt to revive operations by attacking Pljevlja (December 1941), which was the last major engagement of the uprising, they were expelled from Montenegro, and relative peace reigned in most parts until the spring of 1943.
  23. ^ Stojanović, Mladen (1970). Socialist Republic of Serbia. Secretariat of information of the Assembly of the Socialist Republic of Serbia; Export-Press. p. 24. Lovden, Kom, Zeta, and Bijeli Pavle who had taken part in the Battle of Pljevlja also were incorporated in the 1st Proletarian Brigade.
  24. ^ Yugoslav Information Bulletin of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia & the Socialist Alliance of Working People of Yugoslavia. Komunist, Socialist Thought and Practice. 1975. p. 71. ... two Montenegrin Battalions which had been ordered to join us after their unsuccessful attack on Pljevlja...
  25. ^ Batinić, Jelena; History, Stanford University. Dept. of (2009). Gender, revolution, and war: the mobilization of women in the Yugoslav Partisan resistance during world war II. Stanford University.
  26. ^ The South Slav Journal. Dositey Obradovich Circle. 1983. p. 93. Mihailo Lallc's recent book on the battle of Pljevlje fought between Italians and Partisans is commented upon, with ...
  27. ^ "Sedam decenija Pljevaljske bitke" [Seven decades since the Battle of Pljevlja]. Novosti online (in Serbian). Belgrade: Novosti a.d. 1 December 2011. Retrieved 22 June 2014.


External links