Sutjeska (The Battle of Sutjeska; The Fifth Offensive) (1973)





Director:     Stipe Delic. 

Starring:     Richard Burton (Josip Broz Tito),  Ljuba Tadic (Sava Kovacevic),  Velimir 'Bata' Zivojinovic (Nikola),  Irene Papas (Borina majka),  Milena Dravic (Vera),  Bert Sotlar (Barba),  Boris Dvornik (Dalmatinac),  Rade Markovic (Rados),  Ljubisa Samardzic(Stanojlo ... topdzija s konjem),  Milan Puzic (Clan glavnog staba),  Nikola-Kole Angelovski (Stanojlov pomagac),  Stole Arandjelovic (Pop),  Relja Basic (Captain Stewart),  Branko Spoljar (Clan glavnog staba),  Petar Banicevic (Captain Deakin\b Sinkronizira Tita),  Ilija Ivezic (Komesar),  Janez Vrhovec (Radosav ... komandant juzne grupe),  GŁnter Meisner (German General),  Anton Diffring (Generaloberst Alexander Lohr),  Michael Cramer (Oberst Wagner),  Neda Arneric (Jagoda),  Toni Laurencic (Zoran),  Dusan Tadic (Sveto ... komandant proletera),  Dina Rutic (Bolnicarka),  Marinko Sebez (Dusko),  Miroljub Leso (Boro),  Slobodan Dimitrijevic (Kurir),  Sava Damjanovic (Komandir 4. Crnogorske brigade),  Mirko Boman (Iscrpljeni partizan naslonjen na drvo),  Bozidar Dapcevic,   Demeter Bitenc (Clan engleske vojne misije),  Zvonko Jovcic (Nemacki Major),  Boro Begovic (Djuroc),  Dusan Bulajic (Clan vrhovnog staba),  Mite Grozdanov,  Ljuba Kovacevic (Ranjenik sa Banije),  Milan Gutovic (Kurir sa Krekova),  Tana Mascarelli (Starica koja docekuje Tita),  Vesna Malohodzic (Dalmatinka s pletenicama),  Vladimir Popovic,  Laci Cigoj,   Slobodan Velimirovic (Nemac sa nemackim ovcarom),  Husein Cokic (Seljak kojeg Nijemci ubijaju ispred kuce),  Svetislav Pavlovic,  Milos Kandic (Huso ... Partisan).

this film deals with the climactic battle between the Yugoslavians and the Germans along the Sutjeska River



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


The 1943( January-April) Battle of Neretva began with a combined Axis attack against the Yugoslav partisans throughout occupied Yugoslavia during the Second World War. The operation was known as the Fourth Anti-Partisan Offensive or the Battle for the Wounded.

"In 1943, the most dramatic year of World War II, big battles are constantly unrolling on all the fronts. The Red Army is quickly advancing towards the west. General Rommel is swiftly retreating on the African front before the allied forces. The doors are opening wide open for the invasion into Hitlerís European stronghold. On the Balkan battlefield, after the fiasco of the fourth Fascist offensive, the initiative is passing over to Titoís partisans. The National Liberation Army of Yugoslavia headed by the supreme command and Tito is creating a new, liberated territory. Convinced that the Allies would land right on the Balkans, Hitler orders his two Generals von Lohr and Luters to form a new offensive against the partisan forces. Because of the critical conditions on the fronts in the Balkans and in Europe, it is necessary at any cost to deal a lethal blow to the Yugoslav partisans and once and for all eliminate the dangerous Balkans battlefield. Therefore they must immediately surround and destroy the partisan combat units and their leader Tito. ĎThe Party is Hitler and Hitler is Germany.í And based on the number of people and military equipment involved, the biggest operation, called Schwarz had begun. This movie is about it."

Tito rides on his horse in front of his army on the move.

At night in the encampment Tito goes over to a wounded partisan known as Rado and asks how is he doing? He says heís doing good. At the Battle of Neretva he had two legs and here he is with one. He adds that nurse Vera took good care of him. Vera says Rado lost a lot of blood.

A partisan named Barba talks to his three young sons involved in the battle. He says their brother Nino fell in battle. His advise to them is donít try to be the hero, but donít be last either.

Tito gets the latest news from Croatia and Bosnia that a large German force is coming toward Tito and his partisans. Tito suggests that the Germans are preparing a minor offensive against the Yugoslav army.

The other news is that Moscow wants them to get rid of the Comintern. Tito sends back a message that he will dissolve the Comintern in Yugoslavia. Tito gets more confirmation that the Italian and German forces are getting bigger and bigger. Bulgaria has also send troops against Yugoslavia.

Tito says because of their many wounded they will have to abandon their plan of achieving a breakthrough into Serbia and Macedonia. But for now they have to stay put because a British military expedition team is arriving to speak with them.

An adviser warns that the Germans are coming closer and closer. Tito says that will be all to the good. Speaking of the British officers, he says: "Let them all see that blood has been shed in the last two years."

Tito tells Vera that the wounded must be immediately prepared for departure. He wants her and her staff to pull off the old bandages, wash them clean and then put them back on the wounded.. The female staff do the washing by the river. After that, they hang up the bandages to dry on clothes lines. After drying, the bandages are put back on the men.

A young nurse stops partisan Zoran and speaks kindly to him, but he just appears to be annoyed by her. He moves on and the young woman looks a bit discouraged.

A peasant woman named Borina majka, after a long search, finally finds her son Boro. They hug and kiss.

A partisan named Nikola tells a leader for the locals that the civilians better take off for the hills rather than wait for the Germans to arrive. The man objects: "We spend more time in caves then at home." How can they keep their livestock alive? Nikola tells Mile that this will go on like this until the war is ended.

A German personnel carrier advances ahead of the main army. Nikola and his men set out to destroy the men and vehicle. When the personnel carrier comes up to a farm the Germans get down and start searching the area. They kill a defenseless civilian, but then the partisans kill the three Germans. On the personnel carrier, the machine gunner opens up on the partisans, but another partisan gets him from behind.

From a spotter plane, Gen. Luters assures his commanding officer that the circle around the partisans is now complete. In all they have 120,000 troops against the partisan force of around 20,000.

Nikola tells Cveto that he will give him some military arms, but right now they have to go to a meeting with Tito. Tito asks if Nikola remembers last year when they were in Vucevo? Then it was filled with wild berries and now it will be filled with Germans. He then tells him to take two battalions and hold back the Axis forces at any cost. "As long as Vucevo is in our hands, we have the advantage." [Vucevo is located in the mountains of Montenegro, a short distance from the border with southwest Serbia.]

Vera is taking care of a patient known as Dino. Nikola, her husband, comes over to say goodbye to her for heís headed for Vucevo. She asks him to bring her back lots of wild berries.

The German spotter plane sets down back at the ad hoc airfield. General Luters tells his officers they must destroy the partisans and part of that goal will be to burn down the local villages. They are to kill even the women and children.

German planes start bombing the Yugoslavian encampment. General Luters tells Colonel Wagner to conquer Vucevo at once.

The partisans under Nikola start heading for the hills with the Germans following after them. At the top of the mountain the fighting is intense. Thereís a lot of hand to hand combat.

The British expedition team, led by Captain Stewart, prepares to parachute into the area. When they land on the ground, they are taken to see Tito. Captain Stewart tells Tito that he will be happy to know that the Allies have opened the second front. Tito tells him: "We have opened the second front already, captain." And now te tells the British that they have to leave in order to prevent being completely overwhelmed by the Germans. Tito assures the team that they will be able to break out as they have already done once.

Nikola and his men fought off the Germans. Now they sit on the battlefield resting. Nikola tells Ivan and another partisan, named Sime, that they are heading for headquarters. As the men start walking the Germans begin another attack on Nikolaís forces. Nikola and the two others have to fight with the Germas. Nikola sends Sime running off to get to headquarters, but a large German soldier catches him.

At the German canine unit, Nikola and Ivan hear the screams of poor Sime who is being torn apart by the dogs. The two men shoot Sime to end for him any more suffering. The dogs now go after the two men, but the men have automatic weapons and kill quite a few of the dogs.

German planes start bombing a gorge with a bridge over it. Tito sends a message to Moscow that even a bigger attack has been launched against headquarters. The Germans pick up the message too.

Nikola and Ivan reach whatís left of headquarters. Tito decides to divide his forces into two groups. The first and second proletarian divisions, ten brigades, will form the northern group plus headquarters. They will cross Sutjeska at Bar and Kosurje. Then they cross at Zelengor.

The third shock division and the seventh Banij division, six brigades, plus the central hospital, will form the southern group. Their orders are to break through across Tara in Sandzak. Radoslav will be the commander. Sava Kovacevic will command the third division.

Led by Sava, the southern group is carrying 4,000 wounded on stretchers or walking the walking wounded to help them stay erect.

General Luters now learns that in Sutjeska there is an opening in the circle. He immediately sends Colonel Wagner and his troops to Sutjeska. [Sutjeska is near the Sutjeska River in south-eastern Bosnia.]

Partisan Zoran has been blinded in battle. He asks the young nurse if the Germans are in front of them? His answer is that they are going to break though the encirclement.

A unit from Savaís troops tries to take a small fortress. They start losing a lot of men. Sava tells his men they will have to find another direction from which to attack the fortress.

Tito says the southern group canít cross the Tara River, one of the longest rivers of the Balkans, and the wounded are with them. [The Tara River forms part of the border of Bosnia and Montenegro. Itís canyon has a depth of 1000 and 1300 meters in some places and ranks just behind the Grand Canyon of Colorado River in the United States.] The southern group will have to return while the northern group will wait at Sutjeska.

The northern group has been hit hard too. The units in Kosura and Baranje have been cut in two and there are delays at Zelengor. Tito reiterates that they will wait mainly for the thousands of wounded me with the southern group.

Gen. Luters balls out Col. Wagner for allowing the southern group to divert towards Sutjeska . He warns the colonel if he doesnít stop the partisans in their resistance, he will fire Wagner.

At Bar, Nikola and Ivan with their men are holding onto a hill and being blasted by bombs, artillery and shots from automatic weapons and rifles. A messenger tells Nikola that they are calling for him to go over to the second Dalmatian staff. Nikola goes. When he comes back he tells Ivan to take the message he has for Tito. Ivan gets up and takes off running.

Ivan gets to Tito and delivers the message. The Dalmatians say that the Germans are starting to penetrate their lines. They have already lose 2/3 of their men.

Ivan returns to the fighting. The Germans start retreating. German planes arrive and start bombing the defensive line. The bombardment is so heavy that many of the men start running away.

The father with three sons still living, now loses son Ivo to battle. He will bury Ivo with help from son Jure.

Col. Wagner is badly wounded. He is bothered by the relative silence on the battlefield. So he gives orders for his artillery men to start firing again. The artillery shells start causing lost of casualties in Savaís southern group.

Tito orders the following: bury the heavy weaponry and documents and kill the horses for food. Tito crosses the river with his men.

Gen. Luters tells the other area generals that they must stop the partisans from breaking through the encirclement. They will concentrate their forces to prevent the partisans from reaching the town of Sutjeska.

Tito tells the commander of the fourth Montenegro brigade to conquer Ljubin grob and defend it for 24 hours. They will be taking the wounded across Ljubin grob in Kosuta.

The northern group takes another heavy shelling. Captain Steward is killed during the raid. Tito is wounded in his left arm. Vera is also wounded.

The Germans start retreating under heavy defensive fire at Ljubin grob.

In the break in the fighting, Ivan goes to pick some wild flowers to give to Vera when he and her husband see her again. As he gathers the flowers he is badly wounded by the enemy. Nikola picks him up and carries him on his back.

Rado is all worn out from walking with his one leg and a crutch. He complains to Sava, who tells him to take his crutch and letís get going for they are walking out of trouble. They reach the Sutjeska River and here come the German planes bombing the area.

Borina majkaís son Boro has been badly wounded. She finds him, but he quickly dies.

Tito knows they have to get going soon, but he will not abandon the wounded partisans. A commander of a unit reports in to Tito saying that he has the slightly wounded partisans with him from the large Sava group. Sava himself is still out there with the seriously wounded.

Tito sees Nikola and tells him to go to his wife who is badly wounded. He also tells Nikola to wash his face before seeing his wife.

Nikola comes to see his wife. He gives her the flowers Ivan picked for her. Ivan himself is dead now. A doctor calls Nikola over to him and tells him that they have to amputate one of his wifeís hands without anesthesia.  They remove the hand from Vera while her husband walks back and forth outside the building. When the operation is over Nikola speaks with the doctor who says that Vera was very brave. He tells him to go in and see his wife. Nikola does so but his wife soon dies on the table.

At night Sava can hear the German troops singing. Also listening to the singing is Gen. Luters.

Barba tells the remaining sons to get out of here and head to the village. They are to wait for their father to come for them. A woman named Ljubica will accompany the boys.

Sava looks around at his troops. He sees Barba and tells him to take the commanderís horse and take himself and his boy Jure out of here. The two run into some Germans. Barba begs them to kill him and leave the boy alone. So the Germans do the opposite. They kill the boy and let the father live. Barba picks his boy up and starts walking with him.

Sava tells his troops that they will start the breakthrough. Sava starts walking up a hill. His soldiers follow him. They push the Germans from their first defensive position. In the fighting Sava is killed. Tito says to his men and women: "This is the battle for our fallen comrades."

More German planes go to the attack. Gen. Luters shouts: "May Sutjeska become a mass graveyard for the communists. No one shall stay alive."

Tito takes a look over a ridge and sees what looks like an entire army coming toward him. With the army are the planes, tanks, artillery and soldiers. Tito goes to the attack.

A tank comes around a corner and is destroyed by a Yugoslavian artillery piece. Two more come around the corner and are also destroyed.  Now morale really picks up and the Yugoslavs increase the pace of their attack. 

Tito learns that the third division has managed to break through despite their heavy casualties. Of the 800 fighters, 195 are ready for battle.

The partisans now walk freely over the huge green fields.


Good film.  My wife didn't like it because she said all the Yugoslav army is doing is retreating.  She, however, quit watching before the end of the film.  After all, the Yugoslavs win the the last battle, the Battle of Sutjeska.   But it is true that the Yugoslavs were on the run from the Germans for most of the film.  (I got tired of seeing those German planes bombing and strafing the Yugoslav troops.)  Nevertheless, this just makes the Yugoslav victory that much greater.  Despite all the hardships they faced before the Battle of Sutjeska, the Yugoslavs came through for Tito and defeated the Germans.  There is no real love story in the film.  There are several small ones, but they're not much.  Richard Burton was good as Tito.  Most of the other acting was from the ensemble cast. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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