Knight's Move - The Hunt for Marshal Tito 1944

By Paul Robinson 01 Feb 2013 0


I have to say that Osprey Publishing?s Raid series is seriously beginning to grow on me.  Having previously reviewed the ?Red Christmas? volume it was great to have the opportunity to look at another one of these books.  And this one has wargames scenario written all over it!

The Raid series sets out to provide ?Detailed, authoritative analysis of the greatest raids in military history?.  This volume covers an episode from one of the most vicious of World War Two?s campaigns-the Partisan War in Yugoslavia.  The raid covered in this volume s was the German attempt to kill or capture Marshal Tito, the leader of the Communist Partisans.  What makes this a fascinating action to study is the fact that whilst it might not have changed the course or outcome of the war, a different outcome could have significantly altered the map of post-war Europe.

The author is David Greentree, a commissioned officer in the Royal Air Force (who has served in Afghanistan and Oman) and a Master of Arts in War Studies from Kings College London.  The artwork that forms a part of most of Osprey?s output is mainly by Johnny Shumate, a newish but burgeoning Osprey contributor.   However the cover artwork is by Mark Stacey.  But as I have noted before the Raid books tend to have a little less colour artwork than Osprey?s other series (such as the Elite, Men at Arms or Warrior books). 

The book is eighty pages and is in a similar format to others in the series with chapters on the origins of the raid, initial strategy, the plan, the raid, analysis, conclusion and bibliography-although I note from the others I have in my collection that the format seems more flexible than other series.  In this case, for example, there is an additional chapter on the aftermath of Operation Knight?s Move.   The book is supported by forty-three black and white photographs; two detailed operational maps and one bird?s eye 3D view of the attack on Tito?s field headquarters at Drvar plus four colour plates of original artwork (including the cover).  It is worth noting that the German assault force, the 500th SS Parachute Battalion, was accompanied by photographers to try and make the most propaganda possible if Tito was captured.   Therefore for what was effectively a Special Forces raid behind enemy lines it was extremely well-documented.  And so with many photographs taken during the raid we have an invaluable insight into what the German paratroopers were wearing and the terrain they fought across. The text is also interspersed with some detailed info-boxes on the partisan units involved in the defending against the raid, the order of battle of the SS Paras and a short but fascinating biography of Tito.

The book is exceptionally well-written with the author apparently giving a very modern spin to the partisan operations in Yugoslavia and the raid itself.  However it soon becomes obvious that it is not the author?s spin that gives the story a modern, edgy feel.  It is the fact that sixty-eight years on, following the low intensity and high-intensity conflicts of the late twentieth century and twenty-first century we appear to have come full circle.  The Germans were fighting the equivalent of the current Afghan conflict in Yugoslavia using local allies, up-to-date (for the time) intelligence gathering techniques, elite main force units as well as Special Forces.  And despite some obvious and fundamental differences in ideology of those involved you could remove the unit names and local place names and not realise that the operations being described are in the Balkans of the late 1940s!

The book does not just focus tightly on the attack by the SS Paras on Tito but provides a history of the German involvement in Yugoslavia and the various other Axis forces involved (Chetniks, Croats, Italians, Brandenburgers etc) plus the development of the Partisan opposition. He also covers the counter insurgency campaign in the Balkans up to the raid including the intelligence gathering side and the involvement of Allied intelligence forces with the partisans.  The author spends a little time on the main protagonists, the SS paratroopers and how their battalion was formed.  He explodes the myth that it was solely a penal unit.  Whilst a great many of its members were part of the Waffen SS disciplinary system a large number were volunteers from mainstream SS formations.  So the scene for the raid is well and truly set and described in gripping detail, with the SS Paras landing with just air support in the middle of Tito?s headquarters in what looked like a suicide mission.  Alongside this side of the action the author also covers the wider operation that was to support and relieve the paratroopers (a great many of whom arrived in gliders).  These troops forming the outer cordon could also have caught Tito if things had gone slightly differently.

The maps are up to the usual high standard you would get in any Osprey volume as is the birds-eye 3D view of the actual assault on Drvar so no complaints there.  The three pieces of original artwork within the book by Mr Shumate are good; one shows Marshal Tito making good his escape from the cave he used as his offices with one of his bodyguards being shot down (that?s how close the Germans got!); the next shows two German paratroopers storming into the headquarters of the Communist Party Central Committee; and the third shows the 500th SS in action defending against a night time assault on the cemetery that became their strongpoint.  The cover art shows the Germans assaulting one of the buildings in Drvar and is really dynamic.  It is probably my favourite of the four pieces of colour artwork

I thought I would enjoy this book from the outset and it did not disappoint.  However I was pleasantly surprised by how much background to the war in Yugoslavia was covered beyond the raid itself. Also I wasn?t quite prepared for the similarities between this conflict and more modern ones.  This book therefore has a very wide appeal.  Those interested in parachute operations, the actions of Waffen SS formations, Special Forces and counter insurgency operations will all find something to please them here.  Also as I said at the beginning of the review operation Knight?s Move cries out to be wargamed; either as a skirmish game to replicate the raid itself or a map-based game to take into account the large scale operation supporting the assault by the SS Paras.  Highly recommended!

Available now in paperback from Osprey Publishing, normal price £11.99/$18.95 (ISBN 9781849086011)

Review written by: Paul Robinson



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