Battle of Batina
Name of event: The Battle of Batina (Bitka kod Batine)
Location: Bezdan, Serbia & Batina, Croatia
Date of event: November 11th - 29th, 1944
Memorial Sites: "Monument to the Battle of Batina" - Antun Augustinčić, 1947; "Battle of Batina Memorial House" - Srećko Lončarević, 1979; "Battle of Batina Museum" - Milorad Berbakov, 1981
Condition: fair to good, varies by site
In this article we explore the history of the Battle of Batina, which was a pivotal confrontation in November of 1944, with the Yugoslav Partisan Army and the Soviet Red Army on one side and the Wehrmacht German Army and their allies on the other side, which all culminated at a crossing of the Danube River between the present-day towns of Batina, Croatia and Bezdan, Serbia.
The Battle of Batina
By November of 1944, the Soviet Red Army and the Yugoslav Partisans (along with elements of the Bulgarian Army) had successfully liberated the city of Belgrade from German Army control during the Belgrade Offensive, while also liberating the Vojvodina regions of Banat and Bačka during the same operation. As a result, surviving German Army troops evacuated Belgrade westwards towards the safety of a series of Axis defensive lines known as the "Sremski Front" (a section of the Eastern Front), which stretched from around the Danube-Drava Rivers confluence south down to Sarajevo. After the victory at Belgrade, the Yugoslav Partisans and Red Army troops were keen to continue their offensive momentum by pushing further west over the Danube and penetrating into the Axis territory of Croatia (NDH) and Hungary. In evaluating their next move, Red Army strategists saw weakness at the point where the defensive lines of the German Army's Sremski Front and Southeastern Front met near the town of Batina on the Danube River. It was decided that it was at this location that the combined Red Army & Yugoslav Partisan offensive push west would strike next (Photo 1).
Photo 1: Partisan fighters being briefed by a Red Army officer before the start of the Battle of Batina [source]
The German Army knew that the Danube River section around the town of Batina (on the west side of the river) was a weak point in their defensive line and could be a strategic access avenue deep into Axis territory if it was breached by Red Army and Yugoslav Partisan forces. As a result, after the defeat at Belgrade, efforts were made to reinforce this area. Significant amounts of German artillery were installed on a rocky prominence overlooking the town of Batina and the entire surrounding river valley called "Hill 169", a spot which would come to be known as "Bloody Hill". Axis forces securing the west side of the Danube at Batina consisted of not only German Army troops, but also Hungarian troops and Ustaše forces as well. During the first week of November, Allied Red Army and Yugoslav Partisan troops began arriving at the east side of the Danube River near the present-day town of Bezdan, Serbia, just across the river from Batina. On the night of the 8th, small groups of Partisan and Soviet troops attempted to cross the Danube on wooden rowboats (Photo 2). However, during this first attempt, all were killed by Axis positions in Batina. A second crossing attempt was made the following night of the 9th, which ended up being a success for several groups. Upon arriving at Batina, these first troops took cover and waited until the 11th when more Allied fighters began crossing the river, at which point they began their engagement with Axis forces in Batina, with this moment serving as the official start to the Battle of Batina.
Photo 2: A view during the battle of Partisans and Red Army fighters using boats to cross the Danube [source]
Photo 3: A view of the devestation and destruction of the town of Batina after the battle is over [source]
The ensuing 18-day battle at Batina was a violent and bloody conflict. Over the subsequent days after the first Danube crossing, more and more Partisan and Red Army troops successfully crossed the river and began offensives against the German Army and their collaborators. Tanks rolled through the roads of Batina and street-fighting clashed between its houses and buildings, which resulted in the loss of many lives and the destruction of much of the town (Photo 3). However, some of the most gruesome deaths occurred during the drive by Partisan and Red Army soldiers to take out the artillery positions atop Hill 169. During a four-day offensive aimed at taking the hill, hundreds of Allied fighters were killed in their efforts to scale its flanks. However, on the 16th, Hill 169 was taken by units of the Red Army 73rd Division and 7th Vojvodina Partisan Brigade. With this strategic Axis defensive position neutralized, the entire town of Batina was subsequently taken by Partisan and Red Army forces just three days on November 19th. Over the next ten days, all of the Axis forces in the Batina region were subdued and defeated, allowing for a full-scale crossing of the Danube (via an impromptu pontoon bridge) and penetration of Allied forces deep into enemy territory.
The Legacy of the Battle
As a result of this victory, Red Army forces were able to march freely over the Danube River and continue their push towards taking Vienna and Budapest, while the Yugoslav Partisans march westwards liberating the Slavonian plains from Ustaše and Germany Army control. In a 2017 article, Novi Sad historian Predrag Bajić compares the importance of the Battle of Batina on the Eastern Front to what the famous 1944 Landing at Normandy was to the Western Front. However, the victory at Batina came at a great cost, with over 1,200 Red Army troops perishing, while over 640 Yugoslav Partisan troops are reported to have perished alongside them. As a result, the Battle of Batina is often pointed to as not only among the most strategically significant, technically difficult and sizable battles of the Yugoslav region during WWII, but it was also among the most bloody as well. With such a huge loss of life for the achievement of such a crucial victory, the Battle of Batina became among the most venerated and mythologized military moments of the war in which Tito's Partisan Army participated. As a result of all of these factors, upon the war's end in 1945, the first major WWII monument project initiated in Yugoslavia was the construction of a memorial complex intended to commemorate the Battle of Batina.
Commemorating the Battle of Batina:
In the following sections, we will examine the three primary efforts made during the Yugoslav-era to commemorate the Battle of Batina. Firstly, we will look at the Battle of Batina Monument in Batina, Croatia, created in 1947 by Antun Augustičić & Drago Galić, then we will look at the Battle of Batina Memorial House built in 1976 by Srećko Lončarević (located next to the monument), then, we will look at the last major work, the Battle of Batina Museum, created in 1981 by Milorad Berbakov in Bezdan, Serbia across the Danube from Batina.
Battle of Batina Monument:
Even before WWII officially ended, the Yugoslav government began to coordinate efforts towards erecting a monument to commemorate the Battle of Batina. The concept first began when the USSSR communicated to Yugoslavia that it should erect a monument of gratefulness in light of the sacrifice Red Army fighters put forward in pushing the German Army out of Yugoslavia and, furthermore, that it should be built quickly so that Red Army fighters marching back to the USSR could see it and feel appreciated, seeing that they had a true ally in Yugoslavia. As such, the prominent hill at Batina was chosen as a site for this monument, not only for the fierceness and significance of the battle, but also because it would be along the marching route of Red Army fighters back to the USSR. In June of 1945, four months before the official end of WWII, Marshal Tito made guarantees to Stalin that such a monument would be built within one month. It is interesting that Tito made such a promise, since that even in the best of conditions, such a large project being completed in such a short time frame would have been wildly unrealistic.
Photo 4: A vintage Yugoslav-era photo of the Monument to the Battle of Batin by Antun Augustičić & Drago Galić
Construction of the Monument
Originally, the Batina Monument project was tasked to a Red Army captain named Feldman, yet, as work on his concept progressed, the work was quickly stopped by Antun Augustičić, who was a renowned Croatian sculptor and close confidante of Josip Broz Tito. Augustičić, who was a student of the famed Ivan Meštrović, defected from the NDH in 1943 during WWII and joined up Tito and his Partisan Army. It was during this time that Augustičić made some of the first sculptures of Tito and the two men developed a close relationship. As such, Augustičić being dissatisfied with this first major monument project of Yugoslavia meant a great deal to Tito. Impassioned to create a seminal work, Tito gave Augustičić permission to take over the project himself. With this change in effect, the promise of a Batina monument in one month evaporated, as Augustičić reworked and altered much of Feldman's initial concept. In November of 1945, Augustičić officially took charge of the worksite at Batina and began undoing much of what had already been done.
Photo 5: A view of the "Victory" sculpture atop the monument [source]
Photo 7a: Mem. to Fallen Šumadija Soldiers, Kragujevac. Credit: Andjela Jovanovic
Photo 6: A view of some of the stone sculptures on the pillar [source]
Photo 7: Two bronze figures charging forward on the monument [source]
The proposal which Feldman put forward was a tall pillar carrying a bronze sculpture of a weary soldier at its top, with the pillar flanked on either side with two stone sculpted tanks. Firstly, Augustičić, in cooperation with architect Drago Galić, retained the central element of the pillar (which was to be 19m tall), but made it star-shaped instead of squared, as Feldman had it. Then, Augustičić replaced the figure adorning the pillar with a 7m tall sword-wielding female form thrusting a star-torch into the air who was to operate as an embodiment of "victory", akin to the goddess Nike (Photo 5). In addition, positioned halfway up the star-pillar were placed stone carved sculptures of five armed fighters poised for battle (Photo 6). Crafted by Augustičić 's assistants on this project, Grga Antunac, Rudolf Ivanković and Frano Kršinić, these five figures depict fighters of the five divisions of the Red Army: tanker, infantryman, artilleryman, sailor, aviator. Meanwhile, Augustičić excised Feldman's idea of sculpted tanks at the base of the pillar and instead created a stone platform extending out in front of the base of the pillar-like a pier, at the tip of which stood bronze sculptures of two fighters gesturing dramatically towards the Danube and charging bravely into battle (Photo 7). It is worth mentioning that this composition of a torch-beating woman atop a pillar flanked at its base with charging fighters is highly reminiscent of Augustičić's WWI commemorative work "Memorial to the Fallen Šumadija Soldiers" in Kragujevac, Serbia that he made in 1932 (Photo 7a). If anything, Augustičić's work here at Batina can be seen as an evolution of that same monumental idea, with the monument at Kragujevac almost operating as an "anticipation" of this later work.
Meanwhile, installed along the north and south edges of the monument were two long bronze sculptural relief panels depicting scenes from the battle (Photo 7b). Interestingly, these bronze panels were not present at the monument's initial unveiling in 1947, as they were not yet complete. As such, plaster models of the reliefs painted to look like bronze were installed for the monument's opening in order to meet the strict anniversary date of the unveiling ceremony. The final permanent bronze relief panels were installed several months after the monument's opening, created by Augustičić and his assistants Ivan Sabolić, Ante Despot and Želimir Janeš. The final element included within this memorial complex was a crypt located beneath the monument which would house the remains of many of the +1,200 Red Army & Yugoslav Partisan fighters who perished during this battle.
Photo 7b: A photo of the north sculptural relief panel at the Battle of Batina Monument. Credit: CIPS 332@GoogleMaps
It also bears mentioning that much work was put into framing the monument as well within the landscape. It goes without saying that the monument's location provides excellent vistas of the surrounding region (which is why it was chosen as an artillery position by the German Army in the first place). These views are greatly emphasized in the site's architecture. Meanwhile, the approach to the monument from the west is facilitated by a large flat plateau called "Gradac", which dramatically frames the work (Photo 8). A short 18-minute documentary was released in 1948 that details the creation, construction and completion of the monument project, which can be watched in full at THIS YouTube link.
Photo 8: A photo of the Gradac plateau leading to the Battle of Batina Monument. Credit: Kristijan Marjanovic
Photo 9: An image of the 1947 unveiling ceremony of the Battle of Batina Monument
Completion of the Monument
The Battle of Batina Monument was completed after roughly two years of work and unveiled during a huge ceremony on November 9th, 1947 (Photo 9), a date which marked the three-year anniversary of the battle (as well as the 13th anniversary of the Bolshevik's October Revolution). During the ceremony, many distinguished politicians and military officials gave speeches, among the Soviet Major General Georgij Stepanovič Sidorovič, who said "Let this monument be a symbol of sincere friendship between the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, which is sealed with the blood of fallen Red Army soldiers." However, these words proved fateful, because the very next year in 1948, President Tito and Joseph Stalin split and parted ways, ushering in the Informbiro Period and extreme tensions between the USSR and Yugoslavia. As a result of this political strain, the Battle of Batin Monument went quickly from being the most significant monument in the country to being sidelined in favor of more exclusively Partisan-centered memorial sites. However, as the Informbio Period was resolved in the mid-1950s and relations between Yugoslavia and the USSR normalized, the Battle of Batina monument regained its prominence.
The most readily recognizable symbolic component of Augustičić's Battle of Batina Monument is the 7m tall "victory" sculpture perched atop the 26m tall pillar. The surface meaning of this statute is unambiguous, as it clearly operates as a classical embodiment of the military victory of Red Army and Partisan forces against the German Army and other Axis forces at this strategic location. In the dissertation by art historian Vladimir Kulić, he makes the following observations about this sculpture: "Like New York’s Statue of Liberty, she “lights the world” with a torch that she holds in her raised left hand; a five-pointed star embedded in the flame gives this traditional symbol proper ideological connotation. In her right hand, she carries a sword pointing downward but which seems ready to be used in the very next moment, perhaps a hint at the never-ending job of revolutionary activity." An additional comparison that Kulić makes in his dissertation is relating Augustičić's Batina victory statue to Ivan Meštrović's victory statue in Belgrade. Erected in 1928, Meštrović's WWI commemorative statue, known as "Pobednik/The Victor", similarly sits on a hill perched atop a tall pillar holding a sword and overlooking the Danube River (Photo 10). Meštrović was unquestionably the greatest and most influential sculptor of the era of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (1918-1941), during which point Augustičić was his student. Noting on this, Kulić writes: "I would suggest that Augustinčić was trying to establish himself as a Meštrović of the new postwar Yugoslavia... Thus, the position of the ‘official’ artist of new Yugoslavia remained vacant and Augustinčićclearly aspired to assume the mantel. Allusions to Meštrović thus may have helped Augustinčić prove that he was just as good as the older sculptor..."
Photo 10: Meštrović's "Pobednik" statue in Belgrade [source]
Photo 10a: A vintage image of Vera Mukhina's "Worker & Kolkhoz Woman" [source]
As far as the symbolism of this site, it is hugely important to mention the artistic style in which Augustičić crafted this work: Socialist Realism. Held up as the official artistic style of the Soviet Union, nearly all other communist countries of this era aligned with the USSR emulated this style in their memorial art and architecture. In the case of the Battle of Batina Monument, this was no exception. Augustičić had even spent time studying art in the Soviet Union, so it is not surprising at all that he would be so adept at mastering the style. For instance, looking at Augustičić's "Victory" sculpture topping the pillar, clear similarities are seen when it is compared to one of the most famous Soviet works of Socialist Realism, that of the "Worker and Kolkhoz Woman" monument in Moscow created in 1937 by Vera Mukhina (Photo 10a). In creating this seminal monumental work dedicated to the Red Army in the style of Socialist Realism, Yugoslavia would not only be honoring those Soviet fighters who perished at this place, but they would also be signaling their conformity to the Soviet ideological artistic paradigm.
In the years after the Yugoslav-era, the Battle of Batina Monument began to fall into considerable disrepair. Due to years of neglect and a lack of regular maintenance, many of the elements had begun to experience degradation, as well as significant staining, weathering and vandalism. As a result, major restoration work was undertaken at the monument in 2012 and 2013, photos of which can be seen at THIS Facebook image gallery. Today, the monument exists in excellent condition and is regularly visited by thousands of tourists a year from around the world, with it being a particularly popular destination for cyclists. The memorial site is also a favorite relaxation and leisure spot for Baranja region locals, who affectionately refer to the famous monument as "Julka". In addition, commemorative events and remembrance ceremonies dedicated to those fighters who fell during the Battle of Batina continue to be held at this site (Photo 11), particularly by Russian delegations. Ceremonies are typically held around mid-November in order to commemorate the anniversary of the battle.
Photo 11: A photo of a 2019 ceremony at the Battle of Batina Monument [source]
Battle of Batina Memorial House:
The second major memorial object to be constructed here at Batina in memory of the November 1944 conflict which occurred here is the Battle of Batina Memorial House. The proposal to construct a dedicated memorial house and exhibition space at Batina had been in debate for years after the end of the Informbiro Period, as Yugoslav officials wished to display the huge amount of artifacts and relics associated with the battle. In the late 1970s, ambition finally manifested into action as a design concept proposed by architect Srećko Lončarević was authorized for construction. The idea which Lončarević put forward was for the creation of a modest yet modernist-style complex consisting of two wings, each of which would contain various exhibits and presentations pertinent to the Battle of Batina.
Photo 12: A vintage Yugoslav-era photo of the Memorial House to the Battle of Batina by architect Srećko Lončarević
Construction and Completion
The concept which Lončarević formulated was completed and unveiled to the public as the Battle of Batina Memorial House on July 4th, 1979 (Photo 12), a date which was celebrated as "Fighter's Day" during the Yugoslav-era, as it was the day it which Tito called for mass uprisings against fascist occupation during WWII. Upon its completion, the complex consisted of two buildings spanning over a floorspace of roughly 500 sq m, with each of the two buildings dedicated to a separate element of the battle. The structure itself was composed of a a series of square buildings with a facade of yellow clay bricks, upon which sat pent roofs of alternating slopes, which created a unique and expressive zig-zag profile over the roofline. In the space between the two buildings was a covered breezeway whose roof further accentuated the building's charismatic profile. As part of the 1979 dedication of the Memorial House, a polished stone plaque was installed on the east-facing side of the building, which still remains in place to this day. When translated into English, the plaque read as:
"This Memorial House was built on land stained with blood from the Battle of Batina, in memory of the exceptional prowess of fighters of the 12th Vojvodina Shock Brigade who were heroes of the People's Liberation Army of Yugoslavia, which was lead in the fight against fascist criminals by the famous 3rd Ukrainian Front of the Red Army from the 11th to the 29th of November, 1944. Let this Memorial House serve in the permanent cultivation of revolutionary memories and the achievements of the People's Liberation Struggle, of Brotherhood & Unity, of equal peoples and ethnicities, and of our self-governing socialist communities."
-Erected by the Municipal Assembly and the Baranja Socio-Political Organizations of Beli Manastir. Batina, July 4th, 1979
Upon the opening of the Memorial House, it soon began displaying an exhibit dedicated to the events of the Battle of Batina. However, it was soon realized by the cultural heritage managers of the Battle of Batina site that this Memorial House would be insufficient as a dedicated museum site. As such, an almost immediate effort began to construct a much more substantial and expansive space to host a full museum exhibition for the artifacts and information related to the Battle of Batina.
Photo 13: A recent image of the Memorial House to the Battle of Batina by architect Srećko Lončarević
Yugoslav-era to Present-day
While the Battle of Batina Memorial House was well-used and visited during the Yugoslav-era, it fell into a state of disrepair and neglect in the years after the dismantling of Yugoslavia. The complex was left devastated after the war, but local efforts stepped in immediately to renovate and rehabilitate the building. Over the last decade or so, the former spaces that were used for exhibitions related to the Battle of Batina have now changed uses (Photo 13). The south building of the complex has currently been repurposed as a cafe and wine bar called "Barrique", while the north-building of the complex is used as a tourist office for the local Draž municipality. One memorial room dedicated to the Battle of Batina is still located within the complex, however, it is largely kept locked and exists primarily as a conference room only utilized for official purposes during commemorative and remembrance events. The recent decade has also brought increased tourist visitation to this site, with many coming not only to visit the wine bar (as winemaking in the Draž region is becoming quite popular), but also to take in the view of the Danube River and to see the monument.
The Battle of Batina Museum:
The third and last major memorial project to be constructed at the grounds upon which the 1944 battle was fought was the Battle of Batina Museum complex, established just across the Danube River from Batina in the area of Bezdan, Serbia. A design competition was organized in 1974 in order to settle upon an architectural form for the museum. Dozens of submissions were made in this contest, with notable figures such as Aleksandar Đokić and Miodrag Živković submitting proposals. However, in the end, the concept which was awarded first prize was the submission by Serbian husband and wife architect team Milorad & Mirijana Berbakov. The location chosen to build the museum was a peninsula on the Serbian-side of the Danube called "Duck's Beak/Patkov kljun", it being the place from which Partisan and Red Army fighters crossed the river during battle in order to launch their attack on the German Army forces at Batina.
Photo 14: A vintage Yugoslav-era photo of the Battle of Batina Museum by architects Milorad and Mirijana Berbakov
Construction & Completion
Work began on erecting the museum in 1976 and it was completed and unveiled to the public during a large ceremonial event on November 14th, 1981 (Photo 14), a date which marked the 37th anniversary of the Battle of Batina. The museum in which the Mirijana & Milorad Berbakov created was a sprawling complex that contained multiple architectural and sculptural elements. Firstly, the museum itself is composed of an octagon-shaped structure with a simple yellow-brick facade, however, the brown tiled roof is steeply pitched and upwardly converges at the center of the complex as a concrete observation deck. From this lookout point, pairs of long concrete beams angle down to the ground from the building's four main sides, elements that visually and physically anchor the structure to the earth in a highly dynamic and energetic way. The pair of concrete beams on the northeast side of the building contains an exterior stairway that allows access to the observation deck. Within the museum was a series of four exhibition spaces (laid out by artist Božidar Bošković) and contained an extensive collection of artifacts, artworks, educations presentations and much more that communicated the history of the Battle of Batina (Photos 16 & 17). The historical information and artifacts within the exhibit were laid out by historian Jovan Kirjaković, who at that time was the curator at the Museum of the Revolution in Novi Sad.
Photo 16: A recent photo of the interior of the Battle of Batina Museum
Photo 17: A recent photo of one of the educational exhibits on display within the Battle of Batina Museum
The museum itself was oriented in a very distinct fashion so that its central axis was pointed exactly towards Augustičić's Battle of Batina Monument on the other side of the river. In fact, the northwest corner of the museum from which the axial line projects outward across the river marks a distance precisely 1km away from the monument. In addition, along this axial line just in front of the museum are two circular courtyards within which are various compositions of geometric star patterns (Photo 18). Meanwhile, on the edge of the sunken trenches between these two courtyards are a series of large elongated concrete sculptures pointed out across the river. In examining these sculptures, they would appear to the representative of Partisan and Red Army rifles in the midst of battle trained carefully on Bloody Hill just across the river.
Photo 18: A recent photo showing the view from the Battle of Batina Museum looking across the Danube River
Yugoslav-era to Present-day
The Battle of Batina Museum near Bezdan was a popular and vibrant attraction during the Yugoslav-era for tourists, historical enthusiasts, patriotic pilgrims, Tito's Pioneer youth groups for roughly ten years. Furthermore, it was a great architectural success as well for its creator's Mirijana and Milorad Berbakov, who received the Borba Award in 1981 for their work on this project (which was the highest professional recognition in Yugoslavia). However, in 1991, the museum was closed due to the violent conflicts of war that occurred in this region during the 1990s as a result of the dismantling of Yugoslavia. As war began in 1991, sources recount that the JNA informed the museum that the site was of military importance, at which point the complex was handed over for the army's use. Yet, before this was done, curators were able to remove all exhibits and artifacts from the museum and relocate them to the Sombor City Museum for preservation and protection. After the war ended, the Battle of Batina Museum was left in a state of devastation and disrepair, sitting this way for more than 20 years (Photo 19). It was only in the mid-2010s that efforts began in earnest to start renovating and rehabilitating the museum.
Photo 19: A photo from 2000 showing the damaged state of the Battle of Batina Museum [source]
Photo 20: A view of the 2017 restoration unveiling at the Battle of Batina Museum in Bezdan [source]
In early 2017, the Government of Vojvodina and the City of Sombor contributed roughly 100,000 euros towards this restoration project, which subsequently began in the summer of that same year. This restoration work was completed just a few months later and the museum was re-opened to the public during a grand ceremony on November 11th, 2017, a date which celebrated the 73rd anniversary of the start of the Battle of Batina on that same date in 1944 (Photo 20). This ceremony was attended by the Mayor of Sombor and both the Serbian and Vojvodina prime ministers, as well as the Russian ambassador to Serbia, all of whom gave speeches about the historical importance and contemporary signifigance of the Battle of Batina. Now fully repaired and refurbished, the museum offers a significant display of its original materials, as well as newly developed exhibits as well. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm (with tickets costing 150 dinars each), while official Facebook page can be found at THIS link.
All three of the sites in question in this article (the Battle of Batina Monument, Memorial House and Museum) are all very easy to find, are well marked with directional signage and markers, and are also easy to navigate to using Google Maps. In addition, all three sites have dedicated parking that is free and easily accessible. For reference, the coordinates for each of these sites are as follows: Battle of Batina Monument: 45°51'16.8"N, 18°50'57.4"E; Battle of Batina Memorial House: 45°51'14.4"N 18°50'51.7"E; and the Battle of Batina Museum: 45°51'02.4"N 18°51'40.2"E. If you plan on travelling over the bridge between Batina, Croatia and Bezdan, Serbia to transit between the museum and monument site, be aware that this is an international border and that you will need to have your passport or travel card on hand.
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