Bitka na Neretvi (Battle of Neretva) (1969)



a large international cast

Director: Veljko Bulajic

Starring:  Sergei Bondarchuk (Ivan Martik), Yul Brynner (Yvan Vlado), Anthony Dawson (Italian Gen. Morelli), Milena Dravic (Nada), Boris Dvornik (Stipe), Curd Jrgens (Gen. Lohring), Sylva Koscina (Danitza), Hardy Krger (Col. Kranzer), Franco Nero (Capt. Michael Riva), Howard Ross (Sgt. Mario), Lojze Rozman (Ivan), Ljubisa Samardzic (Novak), Oleg Vidov (Nikola), Orson Welles (Chetnik senator), Velimir 'Bata' Zivojinovic (Stole).

Country:  Yugoslavian film.

1943 victory of Tito's Partisans over the German Army re-creates the horror of the battle. Should have had more character involvement because the film evokes only mild sympathy and audience identification.



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

German planes bomb a village.  January, 1943.  The Allied threat to German dominance is increasing.  In Yugoslavia there has been a unpublicized guerrilla war going on for two years.  The Partisans under Tito prevented a total occupation of the Balkans.  Hitler has decided to stamp out the Partisans once and for all. 

There are 200,000 soldiers available, including Panzers units, Italians, and pro-Nazis Chetniks and Eustachans (spelling?).  The Partisans are outnumbered by a ratio of 10 to 1.  The only weapons they have are those they captured from the enemy.  Typhus breaks out in the ranks of the Partisans. 

Partisans Danitza and her two brothers Bukov and Novak have their picture taken together. 

The German General Lohring tells his commanders that the goal of Plan Weiss is to eliminate the Partisans once and for all.  The Partisans are at Bihac.  From the east the Rostopov division, the Anneker ground and the 714th will attack.  From the south the Italians under General Morrelli will attack.  The Chetniks will be across the River Neretva.  From the north German Panzers under Col. Kranzer will attack.  Others will attack from the west.  This will force Tito to have to fight on all fronts.  The purpose of the German plan is to prevent a threatened Allied invasion in southern Europe by holding the coast.  General Lohring adds to take no prisoners and offer no mercy. 

The Panzers start to move forward, but they run into a lot of unexpected resistance.  Yugoslavian artillery is able to knock out quite a few of the tanks.  The artillery officer Martik is given the command to pull-back by headquarters.  The Germans have cracked the line somewhere and he is to withdraw to Bihac.  But Martik says he will not pull-out  So Ivan has to go to the front-line to get Martik to obey.  He agrees to pull back.  Danitza's brother Bukov is killed in battle. 

 Yvan Vlado is given the order to mine the roads in the area.  While Yougoslavian villagers are retreating steadily, Vlado explodes a rocky cliff area onto the advancing German tanks.  Capt. Michael Riva of the Italian forces is told to get his men moving.  German planes attack the Partisans walking on the ground.  They are heading for Proslau (spelling?)  Along the way Ivan and Novak meet up with Danitza.  Ivan and Danitza find a hidden corner to do some quick kissing, but they can't stay long because the Partisans have to move out.  The idea is to break through the Italian lines and then to head over the Neretva River. 

General Lohring tells his commanders that they have to hold Proslau.  And hold it they do.  Martik says that the Partisans should have waited for his artillery.  General Morrelli congratulastes his Italian troops.  Captain Riva, an anti-Fascist, is having his own personal struggles with the conflict. 

Tito sends a note to his Partisans saying that Proslau has to fall tonight.  The Partisans make the attack and succeed this time.  The Italians now have to leave the area.  Captain Riva decides that he and a friend will surrender themselves to the Partisans. 

The road is now open to the Neretva River.  Fleeing villagers and Partisans keep moving south.  He tells the Partisan officers that he wants to fight against the Fascists.  The overall commander is skeptical, but Martik agrees to use him.  A soldier named Nikola had developed typhus and has to go to the hospital. 

General Lohring tells his staff that typhus has broken out in the Partisan ranks.  Now he is willing to let the Partisans go across the River Neretva.  He says:  "Let them destroy themselves."  He adds later that there is only one road left to the Partisans.  Tito wants to get to the mountains.  General Lohring says they will get the Partisans at the river bridge. 

The Chetniks move up to make sure not a single Partisan will cross the bridge over the River Neretva.  A Chetnik senator (played by Orson Wells) tells his men that they will get Tito:  "His head will roll at our feet."

Planes bomb the convoy of Partisans and villagers.  The convoy reaches the bridge and a shout goes up: "We are here!"  Ivan gives Danitza a ring.  She smiles but tells him to keep it until they have crossed the bridge over the Neretva. The new arrivals are shocked to see that Yvan Vlado and his men have already rigged the bridge with explosives and are ready to blow it up.  Some of the people try to stop Vlado, but he tells them that he is just following orders.  They, however, continue to insist that he not destroy the bridge.  The overall commander arrives and tells Vlado to blow the bridge. 

The people want to know why they walked south for 300 kilometers just to have the bridge blown up.  The high commander answers that they have been ordered to turn around and attack.  The order is to move north.  The bridge is blown. 

General Lohring learns that the bridge had been destroyed.  He does not understand why saying "It was their last chance."  He sends the Chetniks to be a part of Col. Kranzer's unit.  The General then comments that Tito is walking right into Kranzer's range.  Kranzer starts shelling a village.  The Germans start overrunning the Partisan positions.  Back in the village Partisan trucks arrive with reinforcements.  They are greeted with great excitement and relief.  Captain Riva directs artillery fire on the German tanks, but is killed.  A woman Partisan is able to take another tank out with a Molotov cocktail, but she burns her own eyes in the process.  Soon it is hand to hand fighting between the Germans and their allies and the Partisans.  Col. Kranzer is told to counter-attack, but he disobeys the order and tells his troops to dig in. 

Now Vlado is constructing an ad-hoc bridge next to the ruins of the old bridge.  General Lohring finds out and orders his planes to bomb it.  The planes bomb the area, but do not destroy the ad-hoc bridge.  Lohring orders the Chetniks to return to their old positions.  The Partisans start moving over the bridge.  Novak is ordered up the hill to defend against the coming of the Chetniks.  Ivan and Danitza go up the hill with Novak and some others.  The Chetniks approach the bridge area and when they get close to the hill Novak and his soldiers open up all they have on them.  They break and run.  The Chetnik senator tells the Chetnik commander that the soldiers have to retreat, otherwise the Chetnik army will be destroyed.  The commander tells him that they are not going to retreat.  When the senator starts to object, the commander shoots and kills him.  He then gives the command to attack. 

By this time the Partisans nearly have the Chetniks surrounded, but they just don't realize that.  An attack is made on the hill position and Novak, Danitza, Ivan and the others there are all killed.  Then the Partisan troops make their appearance and the Chetniks start fleeing once again.  But the Chetnik commander demands that they continue the attack and break through the Partisan lines.  The Chetnik cavalry followed by soldiers on foot attack the Partisans and get mowed down for their effort.  Many of the Chetniks surrender.  The Chetnik commander is furious at his men, but is deliberately killed by one of his own men. 

All the Partisan convoy crosses over the River Neretva.  After this, Vlado burns the temporary bridge. 

Every ninth Yugoslavian fell in the struggle to stop the Germans and their allies.  The film is dedicated to their bravery and sacrifice. 


Pretty good movie.  It was at times hard to tell who was who among the characters in the movie.   The love story within the larger story was not that great.  But it does tell a story that needed to be told.  Some have said the Battle of Neretva was equivalent to the Allied "D Day" in the fight against Hitler. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

Historical Background:


1943 (early)  --  the Germans planned a combined Axis attack against the Partisans throughout occupied Yugoslavia, in the fascist puppet Independent State of Croatia.  The Germans called it "Case White'" while the Yugoslavians knew it as the "Fourth enemy offensive." 

1943 (January-April)  --   the Axis offensive took place. Involved were six German, three Italian and two Croatian divisions, which totaled to 150,000 men. 

The Axis goal was to destroy the central command of the Partisan movement, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia.  In addition, they wanted to knock out the main Partisan hospital.

1943 (January 20)  --  Axis forces attack Partisan-held areas in western Bosnia and parts of central Croatia.  

1943 (February 25)  --  Axis attacks in western and southwestern Bosnia; the Partisans retreating as far southeast as the Neretva River.

1943 (March)  --  Axis attacks centered around northern Herzegovnia; the Partisans broke out from their encirclement to head into northern Montenegro. 

1943 (by the end of March)  --  the Partisans retain their command and hospital.  But they had lost eight thousand killed and two thousand captured.

The Partisans reached the eastern parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina and almost entirely incapacitated the Chetniks in the area west of the Drina River.

1943 (May 15 - June 16)  --  The Axis Sutjeska Offensive tried but failed to destroy the Partisan force near the Sutjeska River in southeastern Bosnia. 

The partisans lost 8,000 killed. 



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