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Chapter Sixteen:
January 1944
To put it all in perspective, the Island of Vis has a rich naval history
going back to Queen Teuta in 230 B.C., the pirates of Senj (also known
as Uskoks), the British/French naval battle of March 13, 1811, and the
Austro-Hungarian/Italian naval battle of July 20, 1866. Both of these
last two battles were known as the “Battle of Lissa.” These last two
naval battles are usually written up in all annals of world-famous naval
battles as being in the top 100. Vis’ new place in the history books
cannot be denied. I believe that the political situation was the main
reason that the battles around Vis did not gain the popularity given
other less important naval battles. The military and naval actions of this
period are worthy of world-wide notice and would make a very
interesting movie.
The last of the Dalmatian Islands to fall to the Germans would be Hvar
on January 19, 1944. The Germans would never gain a foothold on Vis,
Bisevo, or San Andre (Svetac). The only way they would see these
islands would be as prisoners of war. All of the citizens of Komiza are
very proud of this. To this day they lay claim to the fact that the
Germans never occupied the Island of Vis. All the forces listed
previously would come to Komiza in dribs and drabs, a few hundred
now and few hundred later, etc., and this would continue for all of
1944. Interestingly enough, in the Fascist invasion of April, 1941, it
took them two weeks to conquer the country, while the occupation of
Dalmatia and the islands, by the Germans, took over four months.
Apparently the Partizans were a little tougher than the Yugoslavian
army of that time. It is estimated that in 1944 Tito’s army would have
about 390,000 members.
In early January, British Lieutenant Commander Morgan Giles would
arrive in Komiza with his staff as the commander of the British naval
forces on the island. At this time, Jack Churchill, along with Brigadier
H.G.P. Miles and Captain R.W. Keep and one hundred of his men,
made their way to Vis via British vessels to meet with the Partizan
leaders and evaluate the possibilities of operating from the Island.
Giles and Churchill were heartily greeted by the Partizan commanders
Cerni (naval commander) and Milic (army commander). Jack would
spend five days on the island and then return to Italy to meet with his
brother Tom. Jack explained to his brother, the total lack of armament
the Partizans had, but their high level of morale and that an operation
from the island would be very feasible.
The British navy had a small operation going on around the island. The
Navy was operating from various caves (the Green cave with the hole
in the ceiling was used to raise radio antennas to send messages back to
HQ in Bari.)
Komiza and Vis town were not immune from German maritime raids.
German records for the night of January 8, 1944, indicate two German
“S” boats, numbers S-36 and S-55, sank two motor-sailing vessels
carrying ammunition and fuel and shelled the harbor of Vis.
As weather permitted the MGB/MTB vessels would now start their
raiding activities against the Germans. On January 13, 1944, two boats
left from Komiza to support the Partizans in their efforts to prevent the
Germans from finalizing the occupation of Brac. They also attacked
any merchant traffic that they could and sank one ship and damaged
another. On January 20, at 1750 hours a two-boat squadron left
Komiza to hunt in the Drevnik Channel. After a long wait they
discovered and attacked two small merchant ships, one an oil tanker.
As they closed to machine gun range and opened fire the crew members
were shouting “Italiani, Italiani”. The British captured eight Italians and
found several Germans from the defensive gun crew dead on the deck.
The ship was then sunk and the second vessel met the same fate. At this
point in time, machine guns would be used, if practical, rather than
torpedoes as there were no replenishment torpedoes available in
Komiza. The two ships returned to Komiza at 0145 hours on January
14. On January 31, MTB/MGBs repeated the same type of action near
Silba Island, sinking two schooners. Interestingly enough, these rather
small boats would also on occasion attack enemy surface ships with
depth charges and were somewhat successful.
The outfitting operation of the British Motor Gun Boats (MGB) and
Motor Torpedo Boats (MTB) during this period bears some
explanation. The boats would be headquartered in Bari where all major
repairs and outfitting would take place at their tender ship. New
engines and engine repairs would be taken care of there. The crews
would be based there and all ammunition re-supply, food, supplies,
major engine and boat repairs, and rest & relaxation would take place in
Bari aboard their tender the HMS Vienna. Once the boats were fully
prepared they would motor over to Komiza. They would be loaded to
the gunwales with all their armament supplies, food, and any
emergency supplies that had been requested by the Komiza
commander. Fuel and water supplies would be brought over by barges
or landing craft. Once in Komiza they would strip the boats down to
fighting trim and prepare for their missions. These boats were designed
and built for action in the English Channel with home porting done
every night. They did not have large crewing and dining
accommodations. Here, the situation was much different. The boats
would remain in Komiza as a forward operating base for anywhere
from 7-14 days. One veteran told me that a common practice was to
give a local woman two 50lb bags of flour. She would use one bag for
her own use and use the other bag to bake fresh bread for the crew. The
missions from Komiza would almost always be a night action. The
crew would work on their boats in the daytime, refueling, rearming, and
minor maintenance, while also trying to evade German aircraft recon
patrols. When the weather was good they could go on missions almost
every night, and with lack of regular sleeping schedules, it would be a
heavy burden to bear. Once they were ordered back to Bari for reoutfitting and restocking, they would strip everything they possible
could from the boats and leave it in Komiza for the other boats to use.
About the only things they returned to Bari with would be wounded
British and Partizan personnel, and refugees.
Word was brought back to Tom Churchill near Anzio, from Vis Island
about the precarious situation on Vis and that a German invasion was
imminent and that the island would probably not be able to hold out
against a German invasion without some serious reinforcements. The
lack of suitable roads and vehicles would make it very difficult to
operate a military force on the island. The Partizans had no artillery or
any heavy weapons to fend off a German invasion. The island could be
reinforced with static defenses, barbed wire, mines, etc, but the
equipment was not available on Vis nor was there a competent staff to
supervise the installation. The Germans were making daily air recon
missions of the Island. Things were really looking bad for Komiza.
Tom Churchill and his commando units were based near the Anzio
beachhead during this time frame, and Tom would proceed through the
chain of command to reinforce the No.2 Commando and send
additional troops and equipment to the island to fend off the impending
German invasion. The British high command now decided that the
Island of Vis was very important to their overall strategy in Italy and
that they could not allow the German forces free access to their eastern
flank, as they had learned from the disastrous German air raid on Bari
the month before. A base on Vis would also allow the British navy to
disrupt the German military maritime re-supply efforts for their troops
in the Balkans and Italy. A base on Vis would also allow the British a
safe landing point for re-supplying the Partizan forces on the mainland.
It was also important to the British that their Italian eastern flank should
be protected from any German Naval activity. It would also allow for
an airfield to be built for disabled bombers to make emergency landings
and for fighter planes and recon planes to be based on Vis for missions
over mainland Yugoslavia.
The powers to be made a decision to send the No. 43 Commando, No. 9
Command, and No. 40 Commando to Vis as they could be freed from
the Anzio beachhead. After disengaging from Anzio on March 1,
1944, Tom Churchill and his staff would be transported to Vis with
British MGB/MTBs where he would remain for five and one-half
months. Tom would set up his personal quarters in the Mardesic family
house. In Tom’s book, he would refer to the Mardesic family as the
richest family on the island and the owner of the local fish cannery.
Jack Churchill himself would move right into things. He was not the
type of guy to sit and wait for something to happen. He was a real
“charger.” Records indicate that on January 26, 1944, he led a raid with
75 Partizans, 33 members of the U.S. OSS OG, and 150 British
Commandos to the Island of Hvar. The troops were transported via
Partizan schooners with a British MGB/MTB escort. It was a surprise
raid and resulted in several Germans killed and several more captured.
The raiders suffered one death (Captain Jack Bare of No. 2 Commando)
and several wounded.
Jack Churchill led another raid on the island of Brac in which a British
officer named Barton was the major player. Barton received
information about the Island commander and his domicile in Nerejisce,
and with the assistance of two Partizans was able to infiltrate the town.
He was able to enter the Commander’s house, kill him and effect his
escape. This raid was the ignition point for an outbreak of Partizan
sabotage and ambushes on Brac and put the German garrison on a high
level of alert. This raid also indicated to the Germans that small
outposts were not in their best interests and they would now tend to
concentrate their troops in larger units in the bigger towns. After this
raid you can be sure that the Germans did inflict reprisals on the local
population and this in turn would send more civilians into the arms of
the Partizan Army.
Chapter Seventeen:
German Invasion Plans
The British had been able to break the Germans enigma code and could
read most German coded broadcasts. They had to be careful so as not to
let the Germans know of this or they could come up with a new code
and the British would have to start from scratch in decoding their
transmissions. After the war was over, the British would investigate the
German war archives and discover the plans for the invasion of Vis.
The increased British naval and commando activity in the Adriatic,
which was once considered a German lake, put the Germans on notice
that things could start to go bad for them. Although the Germans had
recaptured Split from the Partizans, the Partizans had surrounded the
city of Split and would continue harassing actions against them. The
German offense against the Dalmatian Islands was successful, but the
plans for Vis had not been made. On January 1, 1944, the German plan
called “Freischutz” (free shooter) was formulated by the naval
command. The German Army considered the taking of the inner
islands sufficient to deter the British and Partizan plans of attacking the
German shipping. The only way the Army would consider the taking of
Vis would be if the German Navy would supply additional troops and
three coastal artillery batteries.
Now the squabbling between the two services would start. Admiral
Doenitz argued the point that Vis must be taken, while Army General
Jodl said it was a naval problem and not the Army’s. The German staff
command at the highest level discussed this matter several times.
The first date fixed for the invasion had been between February 20, and
March 1, 1944. The naval portion of the invasion would consist of
several torpedo boats, and six E-boats, plus 50 various landing craft and
support vessels. The Army would contribute parts of the 118th Rifle
Division, Sapper Landing Battalion, Brandenburg coastal riflemen and
a SS Rifle Battalion, plus one dive-bomber squadron. The plan was to
start between midnight and 0200 hours on March 1, 1944, with the
invasion landing fleet sailing from ports east of Peljesac, north of
Korcula and landing on the southeast coast of Vis. There would be a
paratroop drop of 360 Ustasha troops disguised as Partizans, plus a
glider drop of 200 troops. The plan was postponed many times, as the
German high command felt they could not supply the troops nor could
they agree upon its benefit to the German needs on the coast.
A naval staff memo of April 12, 1944, outlined the Army and Navy
positions on the invasion: Admiral Doenitz, General Goering, and
General Jodl argued their points to Hitler as to proceed or not with the
invasion. Hitler was inclined to agree with Doenitz, but in the end he
went with the Generals opinions and called off the invasion.
A sub chapter on Prisoners of War
The prisoner of war situation was a constant point of difference
between the British and the Partizans. The Partizans had seen their
parents, wives, and children murdered and their villages destroyed by
the occupation forces. Hundreds of thousands of civilians had been
massacred by the Germans and their allies based on German High
Command policies. The exact number of civilian deaths will never be
The British had witnessed summary executions of German prisoners by
the Partizans on the island of Vis, and it disturbed them. The British
home population, although suffering through German air attacks, had
not seen the personal murdering of their families and friends. They
might have had a different attitude if they had been exposed to the same
situation. The British admired the Partizans’ bravery and skills as
guerrilla fighters and their support and protection when they were in
dire straights, and therefore held them in high esteem.
There were probably over 200,000 British men in German POW camps
and their welfare could be jeopardized if the Germans got word of what
was going on. The British officers also wanted to protect their troops’
high opinion of the Partizans, but the executions could jeopardize that
feeling. After much discussion over a period of time, prisoners would
remain with the side (Partizan or British) that had captured them.
Some of the more notable occasions of the executions were: 400
German troops were surrounded by a band of Partizans somewhere in
the hinterlands early in the morning. As the day wore on, the Germans
were running out of ammunition, and by afternoon they saw the
handwriting on the wall and their commander decided they would have
to surrender. A British officer observed the surrender and then the
massacre of the German troops by the Partizans. When the officer
inquired of the Partizan commander why the execution, he said, “They
should have surrendered earlier and not fought so long.”
On another occasion, the Partizans and British had been under attack by
German troops, with some very poor shooting by the Germans. The
Germans finally surrendered and the British officer was chiding a
German soldier for his poor shooting. The soldier was very nervous, but
the officer then offered him a cigarette and everyone relaxed a little bit.
The POWs went with the Partizans and the British officer went his way.
The British officer who spoke some German was on a business trip to
Germany twenty years later, when a man came up to him and inquired
if he was the officer who offered him a cigarette twenty years ago in a
particular town. The British ex-officer said yes and asked the fellow
how things went for him. The German explained that the Partizans
marched the whole bunch of them off and after a period of time they
executed all of the officers. The enlisted men were put on trial and
sentenced to a labor camp. The German went on to explain that in the
early 1950s he was released and went home to Germany to resume his
life. The mal-treatment of POWs was not exclusive to any one army.
There are so many other stories of prisoner mis-treatment that I will not
recite them.
On Bisevo (this probably happened in many other locations also) the
POWs had another type of situation. The Germany Army consisted of
many nationalities. The Germans would conscript men from conquered
countries: Poles, Czechs, Russians, French, Danish, and Croatians, etc.,
and integrate them into their armed forces. These men would have a
very limited loyalty to their German masters. Once these men were
captured by the Partizans they would turn on their previous masters. On
Bisevo these foreign nationals would be encouraged to join the Partizan
cause. In turn, for joining the Partizans they received special treatment:
better food, clothing, and with the status of now being Partizans they
were armed and would now be the guards of the German POWs on
Chapter Eighteen:
February 1944
January and February are generally bad months (weather) for any type
of military operation. Things were falling into place with the military
commitment from the British and supplies starting to come forth for the
Partizans in greater numbers. In spite of the weather problems, there
would be straight naval activity, and harassing raiding parties to the
neighboring island by Partizans, British commando, and OSS OG.
There would be the inserting of coastal watching teams to neighboring
islands to spy on German naval movements as well as military strength
and positions. Many of these activities would be a combination of the
above different groups, with each having their own area of expertise
and they would eventually learn to work together for a successful
On the night of February 2, two MGB/MTBs: 662 and 649 went on a
hunting mission between Rogoznica and the Zlarin channel. They came
across three fishermen who supplied them with some information about
local German activity. At 2130 hours they sited a large schooner, and
attacked her with machine guns. After some hot action, the schooners
crew abandoned ship. The British rescued the sailors they could and
then stood off at a distance. The ship was aflame with rockets and deck
ammo going off like a fireworks display, and then all at once the ship
blew up with flames and debris going up over 1,000 feet into the air.
Later it was found out that the ship was the Francesca di Rimini of 350
tons, with a cargo of over 320 tons of artillery shells. It is believed that
25 German soldier passengers and five German deck crewmen died.
On the next night Boat 643 and Boat 667 sunk the schooner Amelia B,
taking ten German and four Italians prisoner. On the same night Boat
298 (built at Terminal Island, California) and Boat 242 saw some hot
action off of Silba Island against two schooners and a large motor boat,
capturing 85 prisoners. On the night of February 8, MGB/MTBs: 643
and 662 sank a small tug and a small escort vessel near Rogoznica.
This would be the last action for the month as now the Navy’s prime
objective was anti-invasion patrol.
On February 20, 1944, a small party of seven Partizans and eight men
of the OSS OG made a recon mission to Hvar via a Partizan boat. This
was a mission to gather information and lasted until March 1, 1944.
They ambushed a German patrol and several Germans were killed. One
American, Sgt. Zevitas, was wounded. Bad weather delayed their return
to Vis.
The refugees had been arriving on Vis for months. The problems were
many. There was not enough drinking water to support this new surging
population. Food was scarce. Housing was even scarcer as troops had to
be billeted. The civilian population was really in the way of the
military operations. There was also the possibility of spies or saboteurs
infiltrating the swollen ranks of refugees. Over crowding of the
refugees resulted in the spread of diseases. These refugees had to be
removed from the war zone. The regular population of Komiza was
also a burden on the war effort. The women and children could really
not add much to the war effort. The British decided that the civil
population had to be relocated to Italy. The exception would be those
too old to make the trip or those caring for these older people. Many
people refused to go. Some families were split with the women and
children to go and the men to remain and assist with the mobilization.
Andre Zanki (born 1932), and Jerry Bogdanovich (born 1923) related to
me their adventures in this relocation. I take liberties with their words.
The LSTs would disgorge cargo from Bari on the beach in Komiza. The
population was then shepherded to the vessel and boarded for the
overnight trip to Bari. These were open-deck vessels with no sanitary
facilities. Upon arrival they were given meals of bread and Spam. This
diet was more than their system could stand and most became sick. The
men and women were soon separated and then stripped, sprayed with
DDT and given new clothing, and would remain there for a period of
time (days or weeks). They were then transported to Lecce for a period
of time (days or weeks). Some were moved by railroad to Otranto for a
period of time (again days or weeks). Many people would travel with
different groups and would not experience the same schedule. At these
stopping points they would be housed in tents or ex-military barracks.
Finally they would arrive in Taranto to board troop transport ships for
their journey. They saw Sudanese troops disembark from the ships that
they would soon board for their journey. The people of Komiza had
never seen people of color before. The convoy would consist of 4-5
troopships, a hospital ship, several destroyers, and a cruiser or two. The
hospital ship would be transporting wounded soldiers for treatment in
Egypt. The convoy would land at Port Said and discharge their
passengers into railroad cars for the journey to El Shat.
El Shat was an inactive British military base which consisted of 15 man
tents laid out in rows. The area covered by the camps was about 100
square kilometers or fifty square miles. There were a total of five
camps within this area, each with its own infrastructure. There were
communal toilet and water faucets. Soon the refugees would organize
the camp, select leaders and try to make the best of a poor situation.
The population of the camp would be anywhere from 25,000 to 31,000
people. El Shat was supposedly all Croatian people. People were given
ID cards and tent assignments. Families were kept together and
sometime it would be aunts, uncles and cousins in one tent. Each tent
would hold about 15 people. The people would settle in this new
arrangement and make the best they could of a bad situation. In the
camp from the period of February 1944, to March 1946, 650 babies
would be born, 300 weddings took place, and over 800 died and were
buried there.
The refugees organized the camps with a newspaper, schools, clinics,
post office, theatres and sporting organizations. The people would use
the inner lining of the tents, a unique blue color, to make clothing. The
schools would teach English, apprentice trades, plus reading, writing,
and arithmetic. We will go into the disbursement of the people from
the camps at the end of the book.
Drazen Ivcevic relates his family story of how his mother (Vinca
Kulijas) and father (Petar Ivcevic) joined the trip with his sister Ina (age
8) and their infant son Goran. The girl died from an errant military
training mission that went awry and the infant died of diphtheria. When
the war was over his mother and father returned to Komiza and started a
new family and had two sons Drazen and Zoran. I don’t believe that the
mother ever fully recovered from this tragedy.
Nick and Tonka Pitesa related the story of their mother, Ursulina
(Ivcevic) Pitesa, born February 20, 1921, in the Podspilje area. She had
two sons, ages two and four. She and her husband elected to stay in
Komiza rather than join the exodus to Italy (and then the DP camps).
She worked in the family kitchen which was setup as a feeding facility
for the Partizan troops. She died of pneumonia on October 20, 1944.
So it seems if you went or if you stayed in Komiza, you still had the
cards stacked against you.
William Coate (U.S. Army retired) of Alamogordo, NM, tells of his
outfit’s trip from New York City to Naples, Italy, on a Victory ship and
then by WWI era boxcars to Foggia. Then they moved by Army trucks
to the Toritto Air Base, arriving there more that 30 days after leaving
NYC. The outfit proceeded to set up the logistic system to maintain,
arm, and refuel their planes which had not yet arrived. Bill goes on to
say that their base/outfit was responsible for two bomber groups which
totaled about 200 bombers. The men lived in tents and at night would
listen to “Axis Sally” on the radio. Sally would advise the airmen in
southern Italy of what would be their mission for the next day, before
they actually got the word through official channels. The Germans had
a very extensive spy network operating behind Allied lines in Italy.
This base supported the American B-24 Liberator type bomber. The
planes had a bomb capacity of about 8,000 pounds, and a crew of ten
men. They had a mission range of over 1,000 miles and could sustain
mission times of over 10 hours. The planes would fly in four-plane
diamond-shaped groups, being part of a larger group or squadron of
planes, with the lead plane being also the lead bombardier. Once the
lead plane dropped his bombs, the other three planes would drop their
bombs in unison, hoping they would cluster on to the desired target.
This could be from an altitude of 20,000 feet. It was not a real
precision method of destroying a target, but if you sent out enough
planes sooner or later you might be able to destroy some of your target.
At some point during the war these B-24s would have missions that led
them to Yugoslavia. The prime targets in Yugoslavia would be
Belgrade, the German HQ in Yugoslavia, Zara (also known as Zadar),
and Nis. Zara, of course, was part of the sovereign Kingdom of Italy,
and had been so since the end of WW I, and as such was a legitimate
target. The population of Zara at that time was about 70% ethnic
Italians. Many people I have spoken to feel that the Allies over did it
when it came to that particular target. Although Belgrade was a
legitimate military target, you can be sure that many innocent civilians
died as a result of being in either city. Nis was a major rail junction
point within Yugoslavia and a very attractive target. A single rail line
itself would be a difficult target from an altitude of 20,000 feet whereas
a collection of rail lines with junctions, switches, parked trains, shops
and accessory equipment would be a very attractive target. All three
targets would be bombed many times during the war, before as well as
after the Italian capitulation.
Major James Rickett of the Royal Army Medical Corps, a husband and
father of three back in England, had volunteered for hazardous duty. He
was assigned the responsibility of setting up a field hospital on the
Island of Vis, in anticipation of the German invasion and occupation of
the island. While in Italy he had to beg, borrow and steal almost all the
equipment he could for the new venture. They got all their equipment
loaded on a Landing Craft Infantry (LCI), and joining them came a
group of Raiding Support Regiment troops (RSR) for the voyage to
Komiza. As they set out from Monopoli Harbor it got rougher and
rougher and all soon became sea sick. The Captain said it was too rough
and they would have to put in to Bari and try the next night. Before
sunrise the second day they pulled into Komiza. With much ballyhoo
their supplies were unloaded, with introductions all around. The Port
Captain was “Le Bosquet,” and he introduced Rickett to Captain Heron
and his orderly who ran the field ambulances. Heron got them some
accommodations in Komiza for a brief rest period and left the truck
parked outside. Rickett was worried that his supplies might be stolen
and Herron said “You are not in Italy, and Partizan justice is swift and
sure on Vis.” The next morning Rickett was introduced to Lt. Col. Jack
Churchill and Jack explained to him that he should select a place up in
the countryside rather than down in the harbor area for his hospital.
Rickett commandeered a small place near Prodhumlje. The place had
been a priest’s home and had a nice large supply of alter wine and
prosec in the konoba. There was another British doctor down at Vis
town by the name of Captain George Lloyd Roberts, plus two
Yugoslavian doctors tending to the Partizan wounded who were being
brought to the island every night from the other islands and battlefields.
Rickett went on down to Vis town to introduce himself to his colleague.
The medical conditions were beyond belief; wounded Partizans were all
over, standing in line, lying on the ground etc. The hospital was setup
up in an old school house at the end of the bay. Doctor Roberts was
newly graduated and evidently this was his first assignment. The
condition of the patients was unbelievable. They got the best care that
could be given under the circumstances. Most of the stories of these
poor victims and their condition and treatment cannot be explained
here. Not much is written about Dr. Roberts except that he was so new
to the business that he had his school books with him to guide him in
some of the more complex operations that he tried to perform. Dr
Roberts even set up a rudimentary blood bank.
Meanwhile up at Podhumlje, Dawson was getting things sorted out. He
commandeered another building for a hospital and had to run out some
Partizan troops who wanted to argue with him. He just said “I will get
the Commissar in here to chase you out if you don’t leave.” Three
British seamen had been wounded and treated by Partizan Dr. Petak in
Komiza. Rickett went on down to see what he could do and as soon as
he could, he made his apologies to Dr. Petak and took the three patients
up to Podhumlje so he could treat them.
After the first few days Rickett was introduced to “Chicago Mary,” a
nice grey-haired grandmotherly type who also happened to be a
“Commissar.” Chicago Mary was a lifesaver. She recruited two young
girls, Anka and Filica, to be Rickett’s all around girls; household duties,
nursing, washing, mending, cleaning the operating rooms etc. She also
recruited “Marie” as their cook and chaperone for the two girls and
Marie’s husband Miki as their woodcutter and general handyman.
Next, Rickett rounded up some Royal Engineers who happened to be
camped down the road and had them set up a hot water/steam boiler for
him. Things were getting better.
Next, Rickett needed some shelter for his patients as there were not
enough roofs to go around. Chicago Mary directed Rickett to
Commander Cerni, the Partizan naval forces commander. He was so
sorry, but he did not have enough tents for his own troops yet enough
for this upstart British doctor. Rickett was disappointed and returned to
his hospital. Once there he told Frank Heron about his problem and
Frank said “the M/V Prodigal is due in tonight from Bari, let’s see what
we can find.” So the four of them: Rickett, Heron, Dawson, and
Clynick, went off to Komiza. Heron was in the habit of drinking with
the Port Captain and they all went down to have some drinks with him.
This being wartime, of course, there would be a “black out” with no
major lighting in the port area. Late that night the four men returned
with three cases of British boots, which was one of the Partizans’ most
desired items. The next morning Rickett went over to meet with Cerni
again. He mentioned he might be able to get him a case of boots, and
Cerni was ecstatic. Rickett mentioned he still needed some tents and
Cerni responded that perhaps he could send him down some tents and
that his men might then be able to pick up the case of boots.
Everybody’s problem is solved. The British doctors were on Vis to
service their own troops, but the Partizans wounded were treated with
the same care. Civilians were also treated by the doctors, and yes, even
prisoners of war were treated. The trials and tribulations of Major
Rickett and his people filled a book. It is very difficult to read as the
pain and suffering of the people, men, women, and children is
unbelievable. He would remain on Vis until about the end of June,
1944, and then return to Italy, completely worn out.
In February 1944, British General Alexander, the Commandeer in Chief
of the Italian campaign, sent over his Major General, G.W.R. Templer,
who was also Tom Churchill’s commander, to investigate and confirm
the information he had been receiving via communiqués about the
situation on Vis. His report coincided with the previous information
and General Alexander was able to put his thought onto other items and
let the Vis project work itself out.
Chapter Nineteen:
March 1944
March would see better weather and more opportunities for military
action. On the mainland the small Partizan bands would continue to
harass the occupation forces. These Partizans did not keep records, so
their actions are not well recorded; however, there are hundreds of
photographs showing the destruction that the small bands would inflict
upon the occupation forces. These raids would result in reprisals on the
populous by the occupation forces and result in even more and more
people flocking to the Partizan cause.
On the island the naval action would continue hot and heavy. On the
night of March 8, two MGB/MTBs attacked an 80 ton schooner. Two
nights later, two other boats stopped a 120 ton schooner, took 27
German prisoners and set it on fire. On the night of March 13, two
MGB/MTBs destroyed a 200 ton schooner.
On the island the build up would gain momentum. The original garrison
would consist of one Commando unit, one battery of light anti-aircraft
guns, a sub unit of the Raiding Support Regiment, a RAMC Surgical
team, two units of OSS OGs, and many support personnel. Tom
Churchill now arrived in Komiza with the promise of much more
support. The local Partizan commanders were leery of any new forces
coming onto their island. The British had to go through Brigadier
Maclean, who was at Titos HQ on the mainland, to let the locals know
that a lot more support was coming and local commanders would not be
allowed to stop or dissuade them, and, in fact, they were too assist these
new troops.
At this time the Partizan forces (26th division) consisted of three
brigades (approximately 3,000 people), two batteries of captured Italian
howitzers and four 105 mm guns. The Partizans also had organized an
extensive Coastal Watch program using local mobilized people on an
around-the-clock basis. At this time the British Naval forces consisted
of a small staff and six or so MTB/MGBs rotating back and forth to
Bari on a regular basis. This naval force, plus some Partizan schooners
and fishing boats, also provided an off shore Coastal Watch looking for
any possible German invasion forces or activity.
We have some information on some of the above foreign entities
helping on the island. The Surgical team included Major James Rickett.
His activities are very well chronicled in Bill Strutton’s “Island of
Terrible Friends.” His stories are incredible and only small parts will
be included, but anyone with a medical background would appreciate
all his efforts under very difficult circumstances. Another British
doctor was based at Vis town, Captain Lloyd Roberts. Although
charged with treating the British wounded, they would treat any
Partizans that were brought to them. These doctors would also treat any
local people who needed care, and a Partizan hospital was set up in the
school in Komiza. Lastly, these doctors would also treat wounded
German POWs (which is another story in itself).
The two OSS OG units were the Greek-Americans and the YugoslavAmerican teams, totaling perhaps 150 men. They were under the
control of the OSS with local control by the British Commander.
Andrew Mousalimas, a young Greek boy from Oakland, California,
enlisted in the U.S. Army, subsequently volunteered for the OSS Unit,
researched his unit’s records, and developed a web site chronicling his
adventure on Vis ( It is very interesting and many
times it will be played out in this book. The Yugoslav-American group
arrived on Vis several weeks before the Greek group. A little later some
members of the Yugoslavian group were sent back to Brindisi and then
parachuted into Greece, landing in the Peloponnesian area. They were
the first American troops into Greece. After a few weeks in Greece the
Yugoslav Americans were brought back to Vis.
The Yugoslavian unit does not have anyone outlining their activity but
there are some rosters and other limited information available which
will be brought out.
The fortifying of Vis would now begin in earnest. The old British fort,
Saint George, built by the British in Napoleon’s time, would be fortified
with three Bofors, an Italian 105 mm howitzer, three six pounder antitank guns, some Vickers machine guns, and some small Italian antitank guns. Across the neck of the harbor entrance the Partizans would
set up a heavy gun battery so that the harbor entrance would be caught
in a cross fire. The American OSS OG and a Commando troop would
also be stationed in Vis town for harbor defense and reinforcement.
The island of Ravnick was also fortified with RSR troops with three
Bofors guns, some six pounder anti-tank guns, and some Brownings. A
garrison was installed and made up many bunker sites for shelter from a
possible invasion bombardment.
Sveti Vid hill was also fortified with heavy mortars and machine guns
in defense of the Dracevo Pollje and Velo Polje valleys.
A communication link was established between Komiza and the
Partizan HQ at Borovik. Three Partizan batteries of 105 mm guns were
established on the island with the capability to bombard any coastal
point that might be used for a German invasion. These would come to
be known as The Balkan School of Artillery. The town of Komiza
would now have anti-aircraft batteries placed all around the town to
fend off German air raids.
The Island of Solta lies about twenty miles northeast of Vis. Early in
February, Jack Churchill was looking for a suitable target to attack.
Solta was to receive a small British/Partizan recon mission to look over
its defenses. On February 6, 1944, Lt. Ruthowski, (OSS OG), Capt
Bliden (OSS OG) and two other unnamed men met up with four Solta
Partizan people. They were Yurko Garbin, age 30, Yadran Ursic, age
23, Pero (last name unknown) age 30, and Miro(last name unknown)
age 25. With the assistance of this Partizan contingent they proceeded
to explore the German defense and habits. The village of Grohote was
the location of the German HQ. They would retire there every night and
commence morning patrols around the island. The local people had
been fairly abused by the Germans and offered the recon party all the
information they had. Information was gathered, reports written, and
the group returned to Vis.
On the night of March 2, another group of four British men, with
Captain Ianto Jenkins in the lead, accompanied by Lt McMenamine,
L.C. Wright and Trooper Scholem (being of German extraction he
could act as a German interpreter), made a recon trip to Solta. When
the party went on patrol to the northern side of the island, they were
discovered by a German patrol and came under fire. Jenkins was
captured by the Germans and was severely wounded and was evacuated
to Split. The British were not to give up easily, and two days later went
back to Solta to get a final look see at the defenses.
Back at Komiza a plan was made to invade Solta and capture or destroy
the German forces there. It would include No. 2 Commando, a heavy
weapons troop from No. 43 Commando (about 450 British total), a
small group of Partizans to act as guides and translators, and two units
of the OSS OG forces (about 150 men). A heavy Bofors cannon was
planned, but HQ in Bari stifled that part of the plan. Air support was
arranged to attack the village before dawn with two squadrons of dive
bombers. An advance signal party was dispatched to the island with a
planned invasion date of March 17.
The naval fleet of MTBs, MGBs, and three Landing Craft Infantry,
each towing a Landing Craft Assault (LCA), left Vis on March 17,
1944, with British Admiral Sir Walter Cowan (he was 72 years of age
and stood 5 foot 1 inch high), in charge of naval operations. After a
successful night landing, they made their way up and over the rocky
outcroppings of the island to surround the town of Grohote. At dawn
the British Kittyhawk dive bombers softened up the town. The
inexperienced American forces wanted to charge the town as soon as
the bomber left, but Jack explained to them that they would be back in a
few minutes. Evidently, this tactic of returning soon after a bomber
raid was a typical British trick in that an enemy would think things were
all clear and then they would get bombarded when the bombers came
around again and the enemy was in the open. Next, the troops were
advancing on the German position, then the American troops hit the
ground as bullets were flying all around them. Jack Churchill wearing
his famous kilt came walking up and said to the Americans, “Hey lads,
they are still a long way off. Let’s get up and charge them.” The
village was soon surrounded and the American unit was advancing next
to a high wall. All of a sudden six German officers came over the wall
and startled the Americans. The Germans, however, were not interested
in fighting but wanted to surrender. American Corporal Andrew
Mousalimas was at the tail end of the patrol and captured the officers.
They then met with Churchill and had the German officers use a loud
hailer to order their troops to surrender. The raid was a success, eight
Germans killed and 103 German troops captured. The British lost two
killed and 20 wounded; the Americans lost one killed (Corporal George
Kallitsis) and five wounded. The military evacuation of Solta also
allowed the removal, at this time, of all the civilian population. In a
conversation with Andy, he related that on the day of the action he had
been in service for one year and that this was a testament to the great
training they had received. This relates to the history of young
Partizans from Komiza who joined the Partizans one month, and less
than thirty days later they would die in battle.
That night they boarded the British boats and returned to Komiza with
their prisoners. In all respects this was a very successful raid that went
as planned with less than expected casualties. These Landing Craft
Assault vessels would be now permanently based on Vis. They were
flat bottomed boats with a fold down bow ramp for driving vehicles or
unloading troops. They could hold about thirty troops, were operated by
Royal Marines and were not very seaworthy. However, they would
prove their worth in the months to come.
About this time, forces on Vis heard a rumor from Partizan agents that
the Germans were evacuating the island of Hvar via the port of Jelsa.
The Partizan spy/agent network was unbelievable. Old men, women,
and small children would pass on any information they could glean
from the Germans. The bars in Split were a particular good listening
spot. The information was not always correct, but the British would
start to train the Partizans in how to obtain intelligence on the
oppressors. The latest word about an evacuation of Hvar was good
news, but a recon team would have to be sent over to find out what was
going on. The powers that be thought this might just be a ruse to get the
forces from Vis to land on Hvar and then launch a surprise attack on the
landing forces.
On March 12, 1944, British officer Neil Munro took with him five
officers, two enlisted men, two Partizan interpreters and two Partizan
guides (twelve men total). The recon mission was very successful with
all the information needed to make a successful raid. One important
lesson learned on this particular mission was that this was too large a
group to use for this particular type of mission.
The British had ordered a bombing raid from Italy to bomb the harbor
of Jelsa and the evacuating German troops. The Allied raiding party set
sail in daylight from Vis harbor on a ragtag fleet of Partizan schooners
escorted by the British Naval ships. Once under way they saw the
bombers heading towards Jelsa.
The invasion party consisted of about 3,000 troops landing on the south
coast of the island. A march had to be made up over the mountains to
Jelsa which was under aerial bombardment. Upon arrival on the north
coast, the British saw that the Germans had evacuated the town and had
fled to the surrounding hills. The British went down into the town while
the Partizans were to hold their positions in the hills. When the
Germans tried to reenter the town, they had to march through these
hidden Partizan forces. Needless to say, quite a battle ensued, and the
Partizans captured about 100 Germans and killed about 50 more. One
woman Partizan died on this mission. The invasion party was not large
enough to occupy the island without seriously weakening the Vis
garrison. In the early evening, the Germans made a retaliatory bombing
raid on Komiza with six planes dropping bombs everywhere. The antiaircraft batteries were caught unaware. The raid lasted 15 minutes and
resulted in the death of one British soldier and two civilians, plus the
wounding of five soldiers and two civilians.
This Hvar raid was the first combined raid with the Partizans and gave
the British an idea of their fortitude. They were brave beyond reason
but lacked certain training in communications, coordination, and tactics.
One thing the British learned was the Partizan method of critiquing the
battle after the fact. Rank was not involved, all were allowed to speak
and any commander who made bad decisions was eventually demoted
and returned to low level status. The British thought this was a great
method of developing leadership and morale among the troops.
This bombing raid disrupted phone communications between the
Partizans HQ up on the hill and the British in Komiza. The British
moved their HQ up to Borovik so they would not have to rely on radio
communications which could be intercepted by the Germans. Speaking
of communications, there had always been an undersea telephone cable
between Hvar town and Vis town that the Germans never discovered
and was to be put to good use in future operations.
The civilian population that remained in Komiza now saw how ugly
things could get at home. To save themselves from the bombing raids
they would now evacuate their homes in Komiza town and spend nights
in their little farm houses out in the fields. Even these places would not
be safe at all times and the civilians would go farther up into the hills to
caves and defiles to hide from the bombing. In the daytime they would
return to town to continue their mobilization tasks and some of their
normal life.
Chapter Twenty:
April 1944
It is April and the weather is getting much better for naval as well as
military action. The naval method of operation was always a
clandestine affair. The British had found out that you could hide a boat
in the shadow of small coves on the islands as well as camouflage them
so that they would be become invisible to all but the closest passing
boats. In some cases the Partizans on the surrounding islands could
advise their people of ship movements and pass the information on to
the British. The British, lying in wait, using their silent running engines
(flat head Ford V-8 on the 70 ft Vosper class boats and a muffler
system on the 120 ft Fairmile “D” boats) could charge out and waylay
the enemy. Once the decision to attack was made, they would fire up
their engines, which made a horrendous noise, and charge at the enemy
vessels. The British boats had many weapons used to attack: torpedoes,
Bofors cannons, machine guns, as well as depth charges (they could use
depth charges on surface vessels and disable them,) mines, rockets,
plus many methods of subterfuge.
The boats all had shortwave marine radios, but if they stayed on the air
over 20 minutes the German direction finders would locate them and
send off fighter planes from Mostar to attack them. The boats also had
hydrophones, but they were a very old design and by the time the
operator would advise the captain of the signals, the enemy ship would
be in sight. In the operations off the west coast of Italy the British
Navy would work in conjunction with the American PT boats. The
Americans had a rudimentary radar system for their boats and an
enterprising British officer could take a case of good Scotch Whiskey to
the friendly American Quartermaster and work out a trade for one of
these new radar sets. As the war progressed, new electronic as well as
gunnery equipment would find their way to the war zones. This
equipment was supplied to American units as well as their British allies.
Many times the MGB/MTBs would also carry Commando or Partizan
troops to be used as boarding parties. They would almost always have
at least one Partizan on board to act as a coastal pilot and/or translator.
April would also signal a change in the tactics used. Originally the
sinking or destroying of an enemy ship was considered a great feat. The
tactics would now change. With the arrival of the Partizan naval people
in Vis harbor, the capturing of enemy vessels became a top priority.
The enemy ships would be boarded much like the pirates of old, with a
lot of light gunfire (just enough to subdue the crew without too much
damage to the ship itself). Captured ships and their cargo would be
transferred to Komiza and cargo distributed there and then the vessel
would be turned over to the Partizans for outfitting per their needs and
put into Partizan naval service.
During the first week in April the new plan worked very well, Canadian
Lt. Commander Tom Fuller with MTB/MGBs: 651 and 647, intercepted
a small 30 ton schooner, boarded her, captured the crew, and took her
back to Vis. She carried a cargo of explosives and mail. The Partizans
always welcomed more explosives. The next night Fuller captured two
schooners off Prisnjak Island and towed them back to Vis. The booty
included a deck cargo of 20 mm cannons, four machine guns and cases
of stick grenades. The night after that Lt. K.M. Horlock with
MGB/MTBs: 651 and 661, took the schooner St. Nicola off of Murter
Island, with a cargo of wheat, and took her to join the prize fleet at Vis.
On April 6, Tom Fuller and his boys on Boat 661 with Boat 647
attacked and captured the 400 ton schooner Libecchio off Murter
Island; the prize of all prizes. She carried about 120 tons of foodstuffs
including 10 tons of Danish butter bound for the German garrisons.
The butter and other food stocks were distributed to the citizens of
Komiza who had not seen butter for years. They got so much butter
that the local people used it to make soap. This action by Fuller was to
gain him international recognition as the “Pirate of the Adriatic”. The
Canadians, who were part of the British Empire/Commonwealth and
who became members of the British Royal Navy, were a force to be
reckoned with. Lt. Whimpey Maitland, Lt. Commander Tommy
Ladner, and Lt. Commander Cornelius Burke all hailed from
Vancouver, Canada, and were to be known as the “Three Musketeers.”
They all saw heavy action in sailing from Komiza harbor to attack the
German commerce in the Adriatic.
A new goal was set to achieve the minimum time required to board,
capture, take in tow and have under way at 10 knots a prize vessel.
Tommy Fuller held the record of 12 minutes. Fuller was not only a
hero to the British but also to his countrymen. His father was one of the
signers of the Canadian document that separated Canada from the
United Kingdom.
The night after the Libecchio raid, Fuller took MTB/MGBs: 661 and
647 out and destroyed a schooner, and an “F” lighter with gunfire, sank
a motor boat by ramming and captured two other schooners and a motor
boat. A German “F” lighter was a German Tank Landing Craft which
was outfitted as a gun ship. Two nights later on the April 14, with
MGB/MTBs: 661 and 646, Fuller’s group destroyed a 100 ton tug and a
400 ton tanker, and captured a 250 ton lighter. They also took 35
German prisoners, who spoke excellent English and also a supply of
British uniforms, which were apparently to be used on some type of spy
mission. For this action Fuller was awarded a second Bar to his D.S.C.
The captured vessels given to the Partizan would be enlisted into the
Partizan Navy as part of their “Tiger Fleet”. Some of these vessels
would be protected with armor which consisted of sand bags and loose
rocks sandwiched between chicken wire strung on the gunnels. The
Partizans would continue to use captured German and Italian guns, but
as ammunition would eventually run out they would convert to British
and/or American guns as soon as they would be available. It is said that
the Partizan troops on the Island of Vis were the best equipped troops
Tito had.
The recon missions to the islands were a great method of obtaining
information on German troop concentrations, strengths and habits.
These raids also allowed for a certain amount of coastal watching to
ascertain convoy movements through the islands. Generally speaking, a
party of two-to-three Partizans, one British officer, one radioman, an
engineer or two, plus several foot soldiers (British Commando or OSS
OG personnel) was what you would call a “spy/intelligence” mission.
The troops would be inserted by British MGB/MTBs in the dead of
night. The plan was to leave the troops on a specific island for
anywhere from one week to ten days and then relieve them with a new
team. Each team had to carry their own supplies to sustain themselves
for the duration of the mission. The local people were of great help in
obtaining information, and generally there was not a problem with
German sympathizers. Information could be radioed back to HQ in
Komiza and strategy could be planned for further missions. These types
of missions would continue throughout the entire war period and
sometimes they would be expanded to include small fighting forces
used to capture a few German soldiers for interrogation in Komiza.
Earlier in the year the Partizans took it upon themselves to build a small
airfield up on the central plain of Vis. This airfield was to be located on
the North side of the main road. They pulled out the vines and using
an old farm tractor, leveled the field as best they could. They then
proceeded to march a battalion of Partizan troops back and forth over
the field stomping the earth down to compact it. This field was
primarily to be used by fighter planes.
The Allied forces now looked upon Vis as a safe haven for damaged
bomber planes to land if they could not make it back to Italy from
missions over occupied territory. First a group of three American
officers and one British officer arrived to survey the area to be used. A
consensus was reached that an airfield was a very doable thing with
some adjustments to the road leading up from the harbor. A U.S. Army
Corp of Engineers group with bulldozers, graders, sheepsfoot rollers,
and other heavy earthmoving equipment, plus landing mats, was sent
over from Italy. Remember that the Allies had built over a dozen
airfields in the Foggia area earlier in the year. The first thing they did
was to improve the road from Komiza to Podspilja, which was not
much more than a wagon trail. The local people pulled their own vines
out of the ground so that an airfield could be built. This airfield was to
be built on the South side of the main road. The field was about 2,500
feet long, not long enough for bombers to take off easily, but long
enough for emergency landings. This field took seven days to build.
The first use of the field would take place on April 6, 1944, when a
plane from the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) No. 460
Bomber Squadron crash landed on the island. Two USAAF men, Sgt.
Walter S. Skrzynaki and Sgt. Anthony Larecheidt, would die on Vis
and be buried in the British Cemetery near St. George Church. Another
tragedy would be a young Chinese-American pilot, Lieutenant John J.
K .C. Kim, flying a recon mission over the Balkans. He ran into some
trouble with his plane and had to land on the new airfield. He told the
airfield crew that he had very important recon films on his plane that
had to absolutely get back to his base in Italy. The crew jumped to it
and fixed up his plane as the best they could. The pilot took off and
crash landed at the end of the runway. He was horribly burned and was
treated by British Major Dr. Rickett. After several days in the hospital
he succumbed to his injuries and was buried in the British cemetery.
All told about 215 bombers crashed landed on the air strip during the
campaign. Over 1,900 USAAF bomber crew members safely landed on
this air strip and were returned to their Italian airbases to rejoin the
To go back a bit: in early April, Commanders Cerni and Millic
introduced a Sreten Zujovic, a Lieutenant-General from Partizan HQ,
to Tom Churchill and Morgan-Giles. Zujovic was from a well
connected Belgrade family and was one of Tito’s most forceful and
vigorous commanders. He offered a plan of attacking one nearby island
and then spring boarding to the next island in the chain to really move
things along. Most records seem to claim the raid would be on Miljet
then Korcula. The British thought this was a great idea, but one
problem presented itself: he wanted to do it the next night. The British
tried to explain to him that it would take a lot of coordination with the
air arm in Italy and the marshalling of vessels and a little preplanning.
Never-the-less the British proceeded as best they could with the plans,
with the thought in the back of their mind that this was a completely
ridiculous short sighted plan.
Everyone, including Cerni and Milic, agreed that much more planning
was necessary. The powers to be pointed out to Zujovic that current
weather conditions would not allow the landing of the troops from
vessels (it was a pretty rough day.) The General, a landsman and not a
seafarer at all, would hear none of this and insisted on going out that
morning for a test run. Needless to say, when they went out to sea he
got sicker than a dog, and then he decided to postpone the raid.
On April 12, 1944, one officer and seven enlisted men from the OSS
OG outfit, plus a few Partizans, arrived on Korcula by fishing boat.
Apparently, this was to be an ambush mission to capture some German
soldiers. Things went awry and the officer was wounded, and after
three days of avoiding German soldiers the group was able to be
evacuated back to Komiza
After the follow-up planning Zujovic’s raid was set up.
The Partizan transport ships commanded by Captain Davor Orebic, 14
ships total, sailed from Vis and Rukavac harbors on the evening of
April 19 to land troops on Miljet. The flotilla consisted of six ships and
eight Leutas, carrying two brigades.
On the night of April 21 at 2100 hours, Captain Josip Vrtacnik with five
ships and eight Leutas carrying two brigades headed to the north shore
of Korcula.
On the night of April 21, three flotillas from Milna, Stoncica and
Rukavac, consisting of seven ships, two landing craft, and ten Leutas
carrying two brigades and one artillery brigade, headed for the landings
at Brna, Prizba and Karbuni on the south shore of Korcula.
On the night of April 22, 1944, Colonel Zuljevic led his Partizan forces
to the Island of Lagosta, where they spent the night. The Partizans were
supported by 50 men from the OSS OG, both Greek-American and
Yugoslav-American groups, plus hundreds of British Commando
personnel with a mountain gun detachment. The next day they
leapfrogged to Miljet and attacked the Germans on two fronts. The first
action was at the harbor. The Germans had occupied and entrenched
themselves on the higher points of the island. They had built
formidable defensive works and the battle was hot and heavy for three
days. The offensive destroyed the German garrison, taking 46
The Partizans now withdrew to Lagosta to regroup with fresh Partizan
reinforcements, and with air support they then attacked Korcula’s north
and south shores. They worked their way inland until they came to the
town of Blato. There the German battalion had dug in, to fight to the
last man. This was the bloodiest fighting on the island, as the Germans
refused to surrender to the Partisans, knowing how they would be
treated as their prisoners of war. On the third day, after taking one half
of the island, the Partizans withdrew from Korcula, leaving 300 dead
Germans and taking nearly 500 prisoners back to Vis (one British
author claims 148 prisoners, while another source claims 505
prisoners.) Captured war material included a battery of German
howitzers, military trucks and other vehicles, and an immense amount
of arms, ammunition, equipment, clothing and boots.
The ferocity and bravery of the Partizans stunned the British. The
Partizans did not follow the normal military techniques, but were
extremely successful. Many non-Slav military historians claim that
Yugoslavia was the only Axis-occupied country which was able to free
itself without major allied forces marching side by side with them.
These raids on the neighboring islands kept three full German divisions
tied up to preclude their use anywhere else. In the Balkans, totally, there
were 24 full German divisions trying to keep things under control.
The German prisoners from Korcula were taken first to Vis town and
then marched over the mountain to Komiza. There they were put on
small boats and taken to Bisevo. All the civilians of Bisevo had been
evacuated to Komiza or sent off to Italy with the refugees. The German
Army not only consisted of native Germans but also conscripted men
from many conquered countries. These conscripted men had a very low
level of loyalty to the German cause. The interrogations would now
begin. The non-native German men would rat out any and all Germans
to save their own neck. Rumors leave one to believe that military war
crime trials would take place with execution of the guilty ones to take
place at once.
The Partizans could well be proud of their success on this operation and
therefore a large celebration was held. A parade was held for all of the
troops with a display of the captured German equipment.
Congratulations all around even to the Balkan School of Artillery which
proved its worth in battle. Colonel Bogdan of the Partizan 1st Infantry
Brigade chided the Artillery unit, telling them they should not shell
their own troops (ie. friendly fire was a bane to all armed forces.)
Chapter Twenty One:
May 1944
May brought even better weather to the islands, but targets were getting
a little harder to find. On the night of May 1, MGB/MTBs: 645 and
667, headed off to Makarska to hunt. They approached the shore and
observed some strange light signals by the Germans. They retreated
back out to sea and waited for something to come up. Three hours later
they sighted two ships and maneuvered to attack from a range of 125
yards. The actions was hot and heavy, then the vessels disengaged and
turned 180 degrees to resume the gun fight, and shortly, the enemy ship
was observed with gunwales awash. Next they looked for the second
boat, drew near and hailed the crew (unfortunately in Croatian by the
pilot). The enemy ship was an “I” boat and opened fire at a range of
about 10 yards. The gunfire was horrendous and finally the “I” boat
rolled over and sank. Boat 645 was heavily damaged but was able to
return to Komiza. For the naval vessels things were fairly quiet until
May13, 1944, when two Special Service HDMLs (Harbor Defense
Motor Launches similar to the Vosper class boats): 361 and 841
waylaid an “I” boat and were able to sink it. On the night of May 18,
Fuller as a squadron leader took out MGB/MTBs: 661 and 667 to hunt
near the Peljesac Peninsula. It was a very dark night and Fuller and his
group laid in close ashore to hide from their quarry. Soon they spotted
a convoy of boats, possibly a large coaster of about 700 tons escorted
by three smaller boats. The plan was to take out the three small escorts
before attacking the large coaster. The enemy was able to spot the
British boats much too early and opened fire at about 600 yards. Boat
661 was hit and a severe fire ensued onboard. This in turn offered the
other enemy ships a clear bright target at which they directed their fire.
The engineer of Boat 661 advised the captain that there was now also
an engine room fire. Things could not get much worse. The captain,
however, continued to close on the enemy boat, pouring gunfire into it
with all available guns. They closed to fifty yards, firing continuously,
and eventually they were successful. In the meantime the fire onboard
raged out of control, the steering system failed, and the captain ordered
all the injured men to be taken to the foredeck. Finally, Boat 667 came
alongside, transferred the injured and put her fire fighting equipment on
the other boat and they were able to save her. The 700 ton coaster was
last seen on fire and probably was not sunk, just badly damaged. The
last naval action was on the night of May 20, when MGB/MTBs: 646,
674, and 656 attacked a 250 ton oil barge off Korcula Island and drove
it ashore in flames.
The Partizan commanders, emboldened by their success on Miljet and
Korcula, now decided to attack Solta again. On May 9, 1944, the
Partizans started their own raid on Solta. The Germans had reestablished themselves on the island since the last raid and constructed
bunkers, pill boxes and mine fields throughout the island and had set up
targeting points for their artillery batteries from the mainland and
surrounding islands. The Partizans could not be deterred from starting
the raid without planning, but wanted to proceed at once.
At 2100 hours they loaded an LCI (Landing Craft Infantry), plus five
other boats and one Leuta with about 100 British and American troops,
five of their own brigades and an LCA (Landing Craft Artillery) with 4
X 75 mm artillery pieces. They proceeded to Zapana on the south west
coast and Istocna on the south coast for an assault. According to the
British, the Partizans took a real licking.
The strong defensive positions and artillery fire broke up the invasion,
but the Partizans would not retreat. The allied artillery pieces fired over
800 rounds into Grohote, but success was not to be. The Partizans kept
assaulting the Germans in a piecemeal fashion to no avail. The
Partizans could not and did not know how to disengage, reform and
attack again. The Partizan training was in guerrilla warfare and this
attack by an unorganized group against an organized group was a hard
lesson to learn (but had to be learned if they wished to be successful in
driving the Germans from Yugoslavia).
Now another tragedy: The British MGB/MTBs would escort the
Partizans back to Komiza/Vis after raids. The Partizans in their rush to
get the wounded back for medical care did not want to wait until
nightfall to avoid German air or surface reprisals. They sent off one
schooner with all the wounded from Solta to Vis town. The Germans
had arranged a reprisal raid on anything and everything that moved. As
the German air raid was attacking Vis town, a flotilla of German “E”
boats was also in the area attacking any targets they could. The
schooner returning from Solta with the wounded did not want to get
involved in this raid on Vis town so the captain diverted his boat around
the northern shore of Vis. As he did this, one of the “E” boats caught
him and attacked. The schooner was sunk with a loss of all except three
badly mangled Partizan survivors.
At one point in time the Germans and the Partizans agreed on a Prisoner
of War exchange. The Partizans had Poles, Austrians, Germans, Greeks
and even some Chetnik prisoners. The Partizans loaded their prisoners
in a sailing schooner and proceeded to the agreed meeting place. There
the Germans sorted through the Partizan prisoners and selected only
German officers for exchange, and then to cap matters off they refused
to release their own prisoners. The Germans took their un-exchanged
Partizan prisoners back to Hvar and hanged them on the spot. So much
for the Geneva Convention!
May 1944, would begin a concentration of the air raids on the Ploesti
oil complex in Romania, from the bomber bases in southern Italy.
There would be seven major raids on these oil installations,
commencing May 5, 1944, and continuing until August 17, 1944. These
raids would involve hundreds of planes, and the loss of planes and
airmen by the allies was horrific. Finally, on August, 30, 1944, the
Russian Army would invade, capture and control the oil fields and the
refineries, and immediately start to reconstruct the facilities so they
could be used by the Russian army.
Churchill had given Mihailovic one last chance to redeem himself by
having his men blow up one specific bridge by a specific date if any aid
would continue. Mihailovic failed and Churchill withdrew all British
support to him. Churchill then advised King Peter of the Yugoslavian
government (in exile) of this, and that the future of Yugoslavia would
be determined by the people after the war was over.
The King appointed Dr. Ivan Subasic, the ex governor of Croatia, as his
representative to Tito’s people to set up a provisional agreement. The
King duly broadcast to his subjects this fact and asked the people to
support Tito and his Partizan forces to the detriment of Mihailovic. No
more about Mihailovic until after the war is over.
May, 1944, would find the British forces on the island consisting of:
two batteries of 3.7 inch AA Guns, two batteries of Bofors guns, a Field
company of Royal Engineers, a Searchlight Battery, a Works Company
RE, a Bomb Disposal Section RE, and a Boring Section. They were
also to receive The Queens Royal regiment which was replaced by the
2nd Battalion of the Highland Light Infantry. British officers and
enlisted men would rise from the original 100 to over 5,000 well
trained, experienced and equipped men by the end of May. As summer
was nearing, the water shortage became critical and the engineers
drilled many supplemental wells to obtain more water. This would not
be enough and water would have to be barged to Vis from Italy. There
were well over 14,000 souls on the island to defend it to the death.
During the month of May, Tom Churchill had considered a raid on
Pasman Island, but the Germans had gotten wind of it and had
reinforced their garrison. Luckily for the British, their intelligence
advised them of the reinforcement and they were able to cancel the raid.
Now Tom Churchill wanted to mount a raid to Miljet to do a repeat of
their earlier success. On May 21, 1944, the raiders for Miljet were
loaded aboard six LCIs. This was the largest raid to date to be
attempted. It included Tom Churchill’s Brigade HQ, No. 2 Commando,
No. 43 Commando, No. 40 Royal Marine Commando, Highland Light
Infantry, all available OSS OG troops, and No. 11 troop of the Raiding
Support Regiment. Upon locating the landing beach and setting the
LCI bows on the beach, the ramps would not lower. This caused much
delay. The terrain of Miljet is the most difficult of the Dalmatian
Islands. A march to a control point that was anticipated to take one
hour ended up taking four hours. A path to another point was not even
a path and had to be hacked out by hand. The enemy was not in the
position that they were told and when they were located they were very
heavily dug in.
This raid was considered a failure for a variety of reasons, one of which
was the quality of the Partizan guides who continuously got lost. They
also had major radio problems. The recon mission to the island was not
anything close to what it was compared to the raid on Solta, and all the
troops suffered greatly. The units were soon called to retreat to the
beach for the return trip to Vis.
Andy Mousalimas from the Greek-American Operations Group relates
a conversation he had with a 26 year old British soldier during this raid.
Andy thought the guy was an old man, at 26! This old man told Andy
that he had been in India when the war broke out in 1939. He had been
in the Army for five years and had never been home in that period.
Tito has now been in Drvar for almost six month. Maclean has been
there advising him and assisting in any way he could to help prosecute
the war. The Germans had not been chasing Tito, and he could
concentrate on leading his troops. The Russians had finally sent a
general to him as a military advisor, and perhaps they would now lend
him some support. Hitler, however had not forgotten about Tito and
had now placed a bounty of 100,000 German Gold Marks on him dead
or alive. Tito woke up on the morning of May 25, 1944, to find the air
outside his headquarters cave filled with German bombers and
parachutes. Gliders would soon follow and Tito had come under attack
with all the Germans could muster. The attackers would consist of five
Divisions, two regiments, four battalions, plus 100 airplanes. The
German ground troops would include Ustasha, Bosnians and Chetniks.
Through the typical military fiasco, the ground troops would not reach
Drvar until the next day. Tito and his HQ staff were able to escape and
outrun the Germans for eight days, only one step ahead of the enemy.
U. S. Bombers and fighter planes attacked the Germans, who were
chasing Tito to discourage them. The entire civilian population of
Drvar was executed by the Fascist troops.
More about this later
German records for the evening of May 31, 1944 claim four “E” boats
were attacking commerce off the northeast coast of Vis and sank six
coasters and a small tanker. The German records also claimed they,
“Took prisoner 159 men, in British and American uniforms, thirty
seven women and five children.” More than likely this was a Partizan
vessel returning to Vis from the mainland. The mix of children with so
many women and the uniform part of the statement (the Allies were
now supplying uniforms as well as arms to the Partizans) would
indicate a mixed party of refugees and Partizan fighters. Neither British
nor American authors mentioned any type of military action or loss like
this. These were very confusing times with records (both dates and
times) not totally in sync between the opposing forces. One insight into
this type of situation is that the British and Germans did not use the
same time zone in this theater of operations.
At the end of May 1944, an additional flotilla of MTB/MGBs arrived in
the Adriatic from Bastia, Italy, via Malta. By the middle of June they
were in full operation using Komiza as their forward operating base
with a home port of Bari. In British terms a flotilla could consist of
anywhere from eight to twelve boats, and could be a mixture of MTBs
and MGBs and sometimes even a few HDMLs.
On May 14, 1944, Major Frank Linsday, U. S. Army operating under
OSS control, Lt. Gordon Bush, and a Lt. Schraeder, all three of whom
were engineers in civilian life, plus Corporal James Fisher (radio man),
were parachuted into an area called Stajerska (also known as Styria).
Lt. Schraeder was also a weather expert and his mission was slightly
different from the rest of the party. He was to make weather
observations and radio the results back to HQ to assist the USAAF in
their weather forecasts.
This had been the northern most part of the Yugoslavian province of
Slovenia and had been annexed into the Sovereign Nation of Germany
upon the 1941 invasion. The town of Celje was a railroad main line
where a double track rail line from Germany ran south of Celje to the
town of Zidani Most, where it then split into an eastern double track
branch through Zagreb to Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece. The
other part of the split was a double track going westward through
Ljubljana to Trieste and then into Italy. This was the main German
supply line from Germany to its troops in Italy as well as the Balkans.
Upon landing they were immediately met by a waiting band of
Partizans. The C-47 Dakota (civilian DC-3) that dropped the men and
also dropped a small supply of explosives plus other necessary
equipment for the primary mission. Maclean and Tito’s people had
coordinated their requests for the supplies for this mission, which would
include ten tons of high explosives. The target would be the most
vulnerable part of this main rail line before it split off east and west.
The engineers were there to assess this rail line and where they could be
most effective in destroying this vital German link. The Allied offense
to take Rome was to kick off soon. The group traveled for days to
reach their destination, all the while avoiding German patrols and
suffering many hardships. Finally, when they reached their basing
point they radioed to their HQ in Bari, what they needed and where
they needed it. It would require four plane loads of explosives plus
rifles and machine guns.
The targets selected were all within range of their new base camp in an
area called Pohorje Mountains. The Partizans moved in two brigades to
protect the drop zone from any possible German intervention and the
equipment list, drop point and date of the drop was selected. The men
all waited at the proper place at the proper time but no planes showed
up. The next night the same thing happened: no planes. Finally on the
third night the planes showed up and dropped all the requested
equipment. Everything was quickly moved to secret spots, because
surely the Germans had heard the planes and would be looking around
to find out what was going on. Here, all these people were working
diligently inside the technical borders of the Third Reich and doing so
Plans were made to station various Partizan fighting groups north and
south of the target area to fend off any German troops that might be
rushed into the area after the explosions went off. It was estimated over
1,700 German troops were within six miles of the target, and one
garrison group was within a ten-minute walking distance. It took nearly
one hundred men to carry all of the explosives and digging equipment
that would be required to destroy the target.
The target, a massive stone viaduct with seven columns measuring 12
feet by 20 feet square to a height of over 40 feet, carrying a double
railroad track, looked very formidable. Much heavy work in digging
holes for the explosives was done in several hours of hard work. When
the explosives went off it was thunderous. The nearby German garrison
was then attacked by the assigned Partizan group, and the garrison
hunkered down as they thought they were the object of all the
commotion. The Partizans rushed down to the columns, to find out
their work was not complete. Not ones to give up easily, they dug some
more holes and planted the balance of their explosives. They pulled the
plunger, the explosives went off, and the viaduct came tumbling down.
Six months later, when Major Lindsay left Stajerska, the viaduct was
still closed to through traffic and would not be rebuilt until well after
the war was over.
Chapter Twenty Two:
June 1944
The raid on Tito’s HQ and the possibility of him being captured or
killed was a frightening experience for the British. Tito had proved his
mettle with no apparent second in command. The British had sent air
cover for Tito when he was escaping from the Germans, but more
would be required. A full scale invasion of Brac was decided upon to
gain the attention of the Germans and have them withdraw troops from
Drvar to protect Brac. A full scale invasion of Brac was sorely
planned; it was not the typical well planned British adventure.
The Partizan six invasion flotillas:
#1 sailed from Vis harbor at 2100 hours on May 31, 1944, with five
ships with a destination of Sjev, on the south coast of Brac, with one
battalion from the 1st brigade, one Battalion from the 3rd brigade and
one from the “Mountain unit.”
#2 sailed from Rukavac at 2100 hours on June 1, 1944, for Murvica just
to the east of the 1st flotilla, with four LCIs, five LCAs , and one RCL,
with No. 12 brigade combination, and one mountain cannon group.
#3 sailed from Komiza at 2100 hours on June 1, 1944, for Blaca just to
the east of #2 flotilla, with one LCI (Landing Craft Infantry), one RCL,
and two motor boats, with a commando battalion and two allied
artillery units.
#4 sailed from Rukavac at 2130 hours on June 1, 1944, for Bol just to
the east of the #3 flotilla, with three LCIs (Landing Craft Infantry), one
LCT (Landing Craft Tank) and one RCL, with one brigade, two allied
artillery units and two other brigades
#5 sailed from Rukavac at 2100 hours on June 1, 1944, for Farska just
to the east of #4 flotilla, with three motor boats pulling two barges, with
the 26th Division artillery brigade.
#6 sailed from Vis harbor at 2200 hours on June 1, 1944, for Bol, with
six motor boats with three battalions from the 11th brigade, and one
battalion from the 3rd brigade.
The British supplied covering action with two destroyers and several
Coastal Forces MGB/MTBs to discourage any German naval support.
The two Bol bound flotillas had an objective of Selca on the far eastern
end of the island. Flotilla #1 had an objective of Supetar on the far
north shore of the island, while the other three flotillas had an objective
of Nerejisce, the central point of the island and where the German HQ
was located.
The landing went well, with air support at dawn. They landed a
combined force of 4,500 men, plus 16 cannons, 20 vehicles and large
supplies of stores and ammunition. This was another long, bloody
battle, with heavy losses. The British 43rd and 40th Commandos were
led by “mad” Jack Churchill, playing his bagpipes. The Partizans
charged their objectives singing their own fight songs. There was one
full company of female Partizans that charged their German objective
and were mowed down like bowling pins. The Allied forces were able
to occupy the town of Selca, but only for a short time. After three days
of fighting, the Germans were able to re-group and eventually drive the
Allied forces from the Island of Brac. The Allies had killed or captured
570 Germans before retiring, on June 4, 1944. A real blow to the British
was that their beloved “Mad Jack” Churchill was captured by the
Germans and rushed off the island to a German Prisoner of War camp.
This raid might be considered the worst defeat of the combined forces.
The planning was done in great haste. The co-ordination and
communication of the various elements, Commando’s, OSS OGs,
Partizans, RAF, and the reinforcements left much to be desired. This
was a very serious lesson to be learned by all concerned. Casualties
amounted to 60 British killed and 73 wounded, while the Americans
had one wounded, and the Partizans had about 60 killed and 200
Although the troops had to withdraw, a contingent of Partizans
remained on Brac, hiding in the scrub and crevices. When the Germans
withdrew, these Partizans would scour the battlefield for wounded
American, Partizan, and British troops. When they found and rescued
them they would hide them among the native population and arrange
for their return to Vis. This action by the Partizans and the civil
population to risk all they had to aid these fallen “foreign” comrades
astounded the British.
Tito, now on the run from Drvar for eight days, had Col. Vivian Street,
radio the British HQ for an air evacuation to Italy. On the night of June
3, 1944, a U.S. C-47 Dakota with a Russian crew was dispatched to
pick up Tito, and he and his staff were flown to Bari, Italy. Tito and his
command staff were ensconced in a villa near Bari. All agreed that the
best plan was for Tito and his HQ staff to set up their operation on Vis.
They did not want Tito to look like he had fled the war zone, nor to let
him be put in danger. Vis was very secure and so near the action that
Tito would surely be seen as being in charge.
All of this action on Brac would just happen to coincide with Allied
actions in other areas: the Normandy invasion of June 6 and the capture
of Rome on June 4, 1944. The other point is the Allies wanted to keep
the Germans guessing. Before the actual Normandy invasion there was
a fleet of “ghost” merchant marine vessels cruising up and down the
Adriatic. The ships were not loaded but were sent there to scare the
Germans into thinking that the European invasion would happen in the
The Naval action would continue. On the night of June 6, 1944
MGB/MTBs: 674 and 656 sank a 80 ton “flak” lighter and damaged an
“I” boat. The German “I” boat was a German Tank Landing Craft with
a very low silhouette and outfitted as a gun ship. On the night of June
24, 1944, MGB/MTBs: 662, 659, and 670 were on patrol near Murter
Island, hugging the coast line, and sighted a two-funneled steamship
which was believed to be a German T-7 (a heavy German torpedo ship,
185 feet long with a 250 ton displacement). With some maneuvering
they came up for a torpedo run and fired off their two torpedoes. They
both missed (they hit the island). This was a terrible waste of good
torpedoes as none were in stock in Komiza and now this particular boat
was going to have to fight with one hand tied behind its back. Now the
British were determined to get this ship and proceeded to set up for a
machine gun attack. The “T’ boat tried to run away, blowing smoke
and sparks out of its stack and firing at the British. The British attacked
with a vengeance and had the boat on the run. All of a sudden, the T-7
hit the Island of Murter going at twelve knots and grounded itself on
the shore. Prisoners were taken back to Vis and turned over to the
Partizans. Eight Germans were wounded with only one British seaman
wounded. Interestingly enough, the “T-7” was an ex-Yugoslavian
torpedo-boat destroyer.
On June 7, 1944, Tito and his HQ staff plus the British advisors
including Maclean would be transported by the British destroyer HMS
Blackmore from Bari to Komiza. It would of course be a night voyage
with much celebrating in the HMS Blackmore’s ward room and the
arrival in Komiza early the next morning. Tito’s HQ was set up near
Mount Hum at the top of the island in a cave, with a communication set
up, plus several anti-aircraft guns placed around the cave site. After
about one month of cave living Tito was induced to move to a more
proper villa near Milna on the southeast shore of Vis Island. Tito and
his HQ staff would remain on Vis until the early fall of 1944.
On June 23, 1944, Tito held a grand parade to fete the Allied forces on
the island that had made such a great turn around in the Partizan war
efforts. Tito gave a speech lauding the actions of his Allies and after
that a lavish luncheon was held with all the commanding officers in
On the night of June 29, 1944, HDMLs: 449 and 468 caught a convoy
east of Korcula, sank one lighter with a second “possible,” and
damaged two other ships.
The population of Partizan captured POWS on Bisevo was growing.
Tom Churchill the British ground forces commander on Vis suggested
to the Partizan commander that perhaps the Germans POWs could be
sent to POW camps in Italy, under Partizan control of course. The
Partizan said, yes, that would be possible but when the POWs were in
Italy the Allied forces would feed, cloth, house and provide medical
treatment to them. He then went on to say that when he would request
more aid the British would say little was available, because the POWs
in Italy were getting a certain share.
Along the lines of aid, the British and Americans were not only
providing war material to the Partizans but also humanitarian aid for
civilians. The British became very upset when they found out that the
Partizans were hijacking this civilian aid for their troops rather than
forwarding to the civilian populous.
The summer of 1944 was similar to the summer of 1943, wherein the
American Military/Industrial armament complex was able to build
merchant vessels faster than the enemy could sink them. Now the
complex was building bomber aircraft faster than the enemy could
shoot them down. American aircrews were on a 25 mission turn
around, in that after they had flown 25 missions they would be rotated
home. Because of the multitude of planes and a shortage of pilots this
turnaround time was extended to 35 missions before being rotated
home. This would be quite a blow to morale. Secondly, the normal
training period was reduced to get more pilots into the planes faster.
In mid June, British Col. David Owen made a trip to Vis to see if his
group would be able to operate in this war theater. He was in command
of the British “Long Range Desert Group,” commonly known as the
LRDG. They were a very specialized outfit that originated and was
developed in the North Africa campaign. Their sole mission was
reconnaissance and they were very adaptable to their surroundings
almost like chameleons. Some were landed on Dugi Otok with another
group being landed near Mostar to spy on the Luftwaffe base. Another
group was landed on the island of Is. These groups had some very
special radios and were able to transmit Luftwaffe movements as well
as merchant shipping information to their HQ. They would remain at
these locations for several months, one group for five months, all the
time evading German patrols.
The movie actor Sterling Hayden had joined the U.S. Marines early
during the war. He was sent to Officer Candidate School, and gained a
second lieutenant commission and joined the war effort. He had an
extensive maritime background starting at the age of 16. At the age of
22 he was the skipper of a square rigger sailing from Gloucester,
Massachusetts to Tahiti in 1938. He was eventually assigned to the
relief fleet based at Monopoli, Italy, to re-supply the Partizans on Vis.
Monopoli was about thirty miles south of Bari and could be considered
the primary Partizan port in Italy. There was a longshore crew of about
400 Partizan who were in charge of the loading activities, it included
about 50 women. When in the port at Monopoli, Hayden noticed many
deactivated Italian war ships. The Partizan forces tried to get these
deactivated ships transferred to Vis for the Partizan “Tiger Fleet”, but
the Allies would not release these ships to them. Perhaps they had
doubts about how they might be used after the war was over, and a new
Italian navy might be in the Allies best long term strategy. Hayden and
his Hollywood movie star wife Madeleine Carroll, who was an Army
nurse, had somehow been able to meet and reconcile on Vis. The
American troops then on Vis did not think too much of this star
treatment for officers. Sterling had used the name John Hamilton for
his OSS service. It was not unusual for members of the OSS to use
false names during their service.
Chapter Twenty Three:
July 1944
During the first week in July, two British officers, Capt Jock Hudspith
and Lt. Odendaal and ten Commandos landed on Hvar for a recon
mission. Through the Partizan grapevine they had been advised about a
particular German patrol pattern near Bogomilje. Sure enough, on July
5, 1944, the patrol showed up with about 30 German troops. The
Captain made detailed notes and wired the information back to Vis.
Five days later a Col. Simonds came to Hvar to confirm the reports and
so advised HQ in Vis of the activity. That night 100 men from the
Commando brigade were transported from Vis and landed on Hvar to
setup an ambush of this habitual patrol. A lot of confusion
accompanied the action but in the end eight Germans were killed and
17 were taken prisoner and the British troops were able to exit Hvar
unharmed. All and all this was a typical type of action that was
executed throughout the surrounding islands, for many months during
the summer of 1944.
July weather and longer days would require a change in tactics for the
naval operations. Targets became more scarce and the Germans more
wary. The first action of the month was on the night of July 17, with
MGB/MTBs: 659, 649, and 670 in the Miljet Channel against a small
lighter, several “I” boats, and “E” boats. Two “I” /”E” boats were sunk
and a Siebel ferry was damaged. The British suffered 4 men wounded.
On the July 23, three MTB/MGBs: 81, 297, and 372 (Vosper class 70
footers) ran across a convoy of four or five “E’ boats and other vessels.
These short boats again were outnumbered, outgunned and undersized
to be attacking these larger faster, better armed war ships, just to get a
shot at some cargo vessels. The Germans got off some quick gun fire
and hit Boat 372 in the engine room disabling her completely. Boat 81
was just behind her and rammed Boat 372 and then pulled along side,
and rescued all her crew save one. The two functional ships now high
tailed it for Komiza, leaving Boat 372 ablaze. The next day a British
Spitfire went out and sank her. The man not saved on the night of the
battle, swam ashore and was later rescued by local Partizans and
brought back to Komiza.
On the night of July 25, 1944, Tom Fuller with MTB/MGBs: 651, 667,
and 670 had one of his most successful attacks. Pulling in close to shore
at 2300 hours a small craft was sighted a mile or so away and the three
boats went after it. Soon they sighted a large schooner of 400 tons plus
five “E” boats and two “I” boats. As the enemy opened fire, Fuller had
his crew fire off star shells (flares). One landed on the schooner’s deck
in a bucket of gasoline and needless to say she was immediately
engulfed in fire from stem to stern, and the crew jumped overboard.
The British were really out numbered and out gunned by this convoy.
But Fuller was not to be dissuaded. The blazing ship silhouetted the
two “I” boats and he dispatched Boat 651 to attack them. Soon the two
“I” boats were silenced. Boat 670 now lit into an “E” boat with blazing
guns and destroyed it. Now it really got strange. A small row boat was
seen heading to shore and Boat 651 stopped it and captured two
Germans. Boat 667, which had been reduced in speed, was now
silhouetted by the blazing enemy schooner. The four German “E” boats
now concentrated their attention on the silhouetted Boat 667, and Boat
651 and Boat 670 were able to rush from concealment and have the “E”
boats silhouetted by the schooner’s blaze. In the meantime the German
“E” boats fired a total of seven torpedoes all of which missed their
target (Boat 667). Boat 667 by now had acquired some 50 German
prisoners. The range of all this activity was less than 200 yards. One
“E” boat took a direct hit from Boat 670 and exploded. Now it was
0115 hours and Fullers Boat 651 was hit and disabled and without the
ability to fire its guns. Things were really tough and it appeared that the
two “E” boats would escape. Now, more intricacies and the confusion
of war, the two “E’ boats were as confused as anyone else and
proceeded to start firing at each other. Boat 670 took Boat 651 in tow
and passed the Peljesac Peninsula, and was now shelled by the German
105 mm gun batteries of the eastern tip of Hvar. Fuller was involved in
more than one hundred seagoing battles in his Adriatic missions and
captured over 30 enemy supply vessels, most of which were turned over
to the Partizan navy.
On the night of July 29, MGB/MTBs: 662, 660 and 634 went about 90
miles north of Komiza near Zadar to hunt. The wind was brisk and the
sea had a moderate swell. The boats heaved to about 50 yards off the
northwestern point of Vir Island. After about four hours the captain
sighted a two masted schooner of about 150-200 foot length. It had a
rather strange superstructure and it was suspected she was a “Q
schooner.” The three MTB/MGBs attacked with strong machine gun
fire with a very weak response from the enemy crew. The British guns
could not set the schooner afire, but it appeared she had run aground.
One torpedo was fired, and the schooner blew up showering the
attacking boats with debris. The British then closed on the wreck
looking for survivors. They picked up two men and the interrogation
revealed that she was the newly built 390 ton Tritone on her maiden
voyage. The two prisoners related that as soon as the British started
their attack the two men jumped overboard as they did not wish to fight
three British “cannon” boats.
During the month of July, Commando and Partizan landings and recon
missions to the surrounding islands would continue to assess the
enemy’s strength and weakness. The Brac raid showed all concerned
that they really did not have the manpower or resources to attack the
Germans heavily defended garrisons. A more of a guerilla approach
was needed. Permanent patrols were now set up for all the surrounding
islands. Generally these patrols would consist of two officers and 2030 men, including a radio operator, medical personnel, and several
Partizan guides/translators. They would bring with them all necessary
supplies, food, medicine, shelter etc. These patrols would break up into
small units and carefully patrol the island to locate German movements
and fixed positions. When a suitable target would be found a stronger
unit would be sent over to attack the enemy. Although they were called
permanent patrols they would be rotated on and off the islands as their
supplies would dwindle. One very successful patrol on Hvar involved
the Royal Marine No. 43 Commando members under Col. Bill
Simonds. They attacked a German patrol that was out to pilfer supplies
from the local populous of a certain village. As usual in wartime, there
was mis-communication and confusion. A British doctor on the mission
had set up an aid station which the Germans attacked and he was
immediately surrounded. The Partizans now turned the tables and
surrounded the Germans. Two Germans escaped and 15 were taken
prisoner and returned to Komiza.
The Partizans also had their own night naval operations. The Partizan
naval vessels would transport war material and fresh troops to various
locations on the coast. They would also obtain fresh intelligence
information, and evacuate wounded Partizan fighters and of course
many refugees. It took a great deal of planning between British
commander Giles and Partizan commander Cerni to make sure the two
naval activities did not come into unknown contact in the dead of night
and result in accidental “friendly fire.”
One undated account of Partizan activity took place on Olib Island
which is a little north of Dugi Otok. The Partizans found a German
schooner anchored in the lee of the island waiting out a storm. The ship
was named the “Stella Bianca”(White Star), probably some Italian
connection by the naming. The Partizans attacked the ship from the
shore with machine guns and rifle fire. They had killed most of the
crew and prepared to board the ship when an unnoticed survivor cut the
ship loose and she drifted off. The Partizans jumped into their row
boats and again attacked the ship with hand grenades and were able to
subdue her. The schooner was now renamed the “Stella Rosa”(Red
Star) and sailed off to Vis harbor. She served the Partizans with
distinction during the balance of the war.
There were two Partizan shipyards on Vis, one in a Vis harbor cove
called by the British “John Browns.” Two slipways were built here in
which to drag boats up out of the water to repair them with whatever
material was available. In Komiza the yard was located next to the
machine shop next to Lukica, and the fish cannery was used as a
rebuilding shop. Many British MGB/MTBs had emergency repairs
made to them here so as to be able to return to Bari for major repairs.
All of this military action, with this group going here and that group
going there, requires some reviewing. To get a picture of life on the
island itself, I will resort to a fable of a typical day on the Island during
the month of July, which might be considered one of the most active
military months of the war.
A Fable
Well before dawn the Partizan schooners and motor boats would return
to Vis harbor from their mission on the neighboring islands or the
mainland. They might have on board; fighters, wounded Partizans,
maybe a high value German prisoner, an American pilot who
parachuted from a damaged bomber, and/or refugees. The wounded
would be unloaded first and sent to the Partizan Hospital in Vis town,
or the British hospital up by the airfield and the least wounded could be
sent to the Partizan hospital in Komiza. Any prisoners would be sent off
for interrogation and if lucky then be sent to Bisevo or Svetac for the
duration of the war. The refugees would be interviewed and screened
for spy’s and possible saboteurs, given sustenance and be prepared for
the ongoing trip to Italy for forwarding to Egypt. Any American
airmen would be sent up to the airfield for air transport, or sent to
Komiza for ocean transport to Italy. The captain of the boat would
instruct his crew to make any repairs and/or maintenance service for the
boat, load ammunition and supplies for the next night and refuel the
boat. The captain would then report to his HQ. At the HQ all the
captains would discuss the last night’s mission, it successes and its
failures, plus any insight they could share with the fellow captains.
Then the plan for the following night would be presented. Certain
groups on the mainland had requested arms, ammunition, and the fact
that they had wounded prisoners, refugees and perhaps someone else to
be transported to Vis. The HQ would determine what size boat would
be required and which captain knew that particular landing point on the
mainland. Sometimes there would be a plan for a recon mission, raid
for even on occasion an invasion of some neighboring point.
In Komiza the British MGB/MTB boats would return before dawn.
They would first unload all injured people and send them off to the
British hospital up by the airfield, or to a Partizan hospital. Any
prisoners would be sent off to interrogation and then if lucky off to
Bisevo or Svetac for the duration of the war. Any refugees or rescued
American airmen would get the same treatment in Komiza that they got
in Vis Town. The British might also have a prize vessel in tow and the
non military cargo would be unloaded and disbursed to the civilians and
military personnel in Komiza. Any military cargo plus the vessel itself
would be turned over to the Partizans for their “Tiger Fleet”. The
captain would instruct the crew to cleanup the boat, make repairs as
necessary, load ammunition and other supplies for the next mission and
also refuel the boat, this from 40 gallon drums of high octane aviation
grade gasoline (a very dangerous operation.) The captain would then
head off to his HQ to report and confer on the night’s activity. All the
captains would discuss what went right and what went wrong. Then the
commander would brief the captains on the coming nights’ mission.
The mission could be one of many things, a sector patrol, a long range
patrol, the landing and/or retrieval of some OSS OG men or
Commandos for a recon mission on one of the surrounding islands.
There could also be a support mission for any possible raiding/invasion
efforts. Most of all, the men wanted to go hunting for enemy shipping.
At dawn the antiaircraft batteries would limber up their guns to prepare
for any possible Luftwaffe raid by the Germans based at Mostar. The
coastal watch crews would be rotated out and be replaced with fresh
sets of eyes on the lookout for any invasion type activity. The troops
would do their physical training, firing range work, weapon cleaning,
and schooling on new techniques or equipment. The local people
would return to town from their hiding places in the hills around the
town. They would then do their duty in supporting the war effort.
These duties would include caring for the convalescents, loading and
unloading war material, running mess halls for the Partizans, and
repairing any housing or other infrastructure that needed attention.
That afternoon the British, American, and Partizan re-supply ships in
Italy, Bari, Monopoli, and Brindisi would be loaded with war material
for transport to Vis that evening. The ships would leave their ports late
in the afternoon to coincide with their entering the Luftwaffe fighter
zone after nightfall. The Partizan and British fighting ships would
leave their respective harbors soon after nightfall to execute their
missions. The re-supply vessels would arrive in Komiza and Vis in the
dead of night and have to be unloaded. The new materials would have
to be transported to various supply depots scattered throughout the
island. The ships might have to layover one day until early the
following evening to return to Italy, again to avoid the Luftwaffe
fighters. So would end a very busy 24 hour period for the people of
Vis. The next morning the events would repeat themselves.
End of The Fable
Chapter Twenty Four:
August 1944
To the west of Italy the Allies kicked off Operation Dragoon which was
the invasion of southern France to secure the port of Marseille for the
landing of supplies for the Allied cause. The French Atlantic ports had
been heavily bombed and were not yet operational, so that supplies
were coming rather slowly to the D-Day armies. It was a full fledged
invasion with battle ships, aircraft and all the Allies could bring to bear.
The invasion started on August 1, 1944, and the invading troops came
across an old age military problem. Almost 100,000 troops were landed
in the first 24 hours of the campaign. The invasion was so successful
that the assaulting troops outran their supply line and were thus stalled,
which allowed a large portion of their German foes to escape. The
importance of supplying an Army cannot be understated and this fact
shows the same type of problems that the Partizan encountered in their
battles against the invaders of Yugoslavia.
Paris would be liberated on August, 25, 1944. The operation in France
which took less than three months contrasts sharply with the situation in
Italy which took over two years for completion.
Late in July, General Wilson, Supreme Allied Command of the
Mediterranean, had Maclean invite Tito to a meeting at his HQ in
Caserta, near Naples for some high level talks about prosecuting the
war in Italy and Yugoslavia. Tito accepted the invitation and the
General’s private airplane went to Vis to pickup Tito, Maclean, and
some members of Tito’s staff, brought them to Naples then they went
by motorcade to Caserta. A grand luncheon was held and the next day
serious talks began about the supply situation and the ongoing strategy
of the war effort. Tito at this time requested some tanks for his troops
as he had seen what the Germans were able to do with them and he
wanted a counter force to face them. After that meeting Maclean took
Tito to the British tank maintenance workshop in Naples. There he
pointed out to Tito the workforce of over 12,000 men who were
required to maintain the British tank forces in Italy and questioned Tito
about the ability of the Partizans to gather such a work force and the
impracticality of such an operation. Not to close the door on this issue,
Maclean pointed out the British Army was training a Partizan tank
battalion in North Africa.
After several more days of meetings Tito was anxious to get back to
Yugoslavia. Maclean was hard pressed to keep Tito busy and happy in
Italy, because unknown to Tito (supposedly), Churchill was soon to
arrive and join in on the meetings. This meeting, on August 12, 1944,
between Churchill and Tito was to become known as the Naples
Conference. Here was Tito, who only one year before was more or less
an outlaw in his own country, now was the leader of that country, being
treated with great dignity and in the confidence of one of the major
leaders of the war against the Fascists. There was much give and take
and the discussions and plans resulted in a greater understanding
between both men. Churchill showed Tito the war plans for the
finalization of the war and with the promise of much more aid to the
Partizan cause.
The question came up of what was to happen to the King after the war
was over. The consensus seemed to be that the people of Yugoslavia
would have an election to determine what type of government would be
in place after the war. In the not to distant past Tito had several
conversations with Dr. Ivan Subasic who was now the Prime Minister
of the new Royal Yugoslav Government. Dr. Subasic was also
involved with the meetings and would proceed back to Vis with Tito to
work out the details of this new “agreement.” Upon their arrival in Vis
the two men, without British attendance, would work out a solution for
this major change in the political situation for Yugoslavia.
Back to the battles in Yugoslavia, as the Commando and Partizan
activities continued, the naval operations also were moving along.
On the evening of August 7, 1944, MGB/MTBs: 662, 670 and 667 went
hunting north of Dugi Otok towards Zadar. It was a dark clear night
with calm seas as they neared Vir Island. They lay to and noticed
some ship activity to the south, hopefully the convoy they were looking
for. The British knew they had to stay on the inshore side between the
shore and their enemy for the best camouflage position. The convoy
appeared to be two “F” lighters and one smaller vessel. The British
fired up their “silenced engines” and positioned themselves for the
attack. At about three hundred yards the enemy opened fire and
immediately the MTB/MGBs opened fire concentrating on the near
boat. Boat 662 was hit heavily with one man killed and nine wounded
plus an engine room fire. The ammunition lockers were on fire and one
gun was out of action. The “F” lighter was ablaze and there were still
two unharmed enemy ships working the area. The “F” lighter that was
ablaze ceased firing and the second “F” lighter turned around to head
back to Zadar. Boat 670 attacked the second “F” lighter with a Mark IV
torpedo and sunk her. Boat 662 was in dire straights, she was on fire
and using all the fire fighting capability the crew had to no avail, and
now they started to receive shell fire from shore batteries. Luckily Boat
662 had an observer on board in Capt. B. Keefe, a British doctor who
immediately started to treat the many injured personnel. The two “F”
lighters were armed as follows: 1-88 mm cannon, 1 quad 20 mm gun
and some machine guns. It seemed that as long as the British were able
to get in close to the enemy and open up with all guns they had the best
chance of success.
The “Three Musketeers” had earlier arrived at Komiza and had been on
nine patrols without finding any action. This could very easily result in
a false sense of security. On the evening of August 17, 1944
MTB/MGBs: Boat 657 with Doug Maitland, Boat 658 with Cornelius
Burke, and Boat 653 with Tommy Ladner found their first action. The
British now had acquired and installed a few of the U.S. Naval radar
units on some of their craft. They were off the Peljesac Peninsula and
found three enemy boats at a distance of 500 yards. They fired up the
big engines and charged. Soon they found out this convoy was much
larger, two large schooners, one “F’ lighter followed by two columns of
smaller vessels, a landing craft, some “E” boats and more lighters. The
British would make a run at them in the opposite direction, from an
inshore position to shroud their size and shape. One small craft was
sunk, but the balance of this fleet was more then a match for the British.
Boat 658 had a fire damaged engine room with only one of her four
engines operating. The fire was under control and a second engine was
now running. Now the British pursued the fleeing enemy. They made
this run from the offshore side as the first run had started brush fires on
the island and the enemy boats would be well silhouetted. On this run
the first action was to disable the “E” boat and set two small landing
craft on fire. The British regrouped, brought more ammunition up on
the deck to set the stage for the next run. Now they would concentrate
on the schooners. The first schooner fired off at them but soon lost
interest and headed towards the shore. The second schooner would
now take all the British could hand out and be set on fire. As the British
pulled away they heard the loud explosion as the first schooner blew up.
Boat 658 was now back to only one engine working. Now the British
would attack again, this time concentrating on the one schooner with a
smaller vessel astern. Soon these two vessels were out of commission.
Next the British returned to the original battle ground and did a mop up
operation on the surviving schooner. Now they also found an
abandoned oil tanker and sank it. The score was two schooners sunk,
one “E” boat, one oil tanker and at least four vessels heavily damaged.
On the shore side, the Partizans were able to capture 14 German sailors
who swam ashore. They would in turn be able to confirm that the two
300 ton schooners were carrying food and ammunition and both had
been sunk on their first voyage after a refit. This was quite an
adventure for these “Three Musketeers” first battle in the Adriatic. A
typical night of raiding was now be followed by the typical day after.
Once in port the first thing to be done was to tend to the wounded and
then turn over the prisoners to the Partizans for interrogation. Then
there would be a survey and the start of repairs to any and all damage
from the night before. After repairs had been made, the refueling from
40 gallon drums to the boats fuel tanks (a very dangerous operation)
and then the restocking of ammunition, flares, and medical equipment
and other supplies, would be undertaken. All in all, a return to port was
really just more labor. After two weeks of this constant activity a return
to Bari for R & R was most appreciated.
Toward the end of August, Lt. Co. Elliot 111th Field regiment, Royal
Artillery, proposed a plan to Lt. Commander Giles for a raid/excursion
to the Peljesac Peninsula near Lovisec. A recon patrol was made by
one British Officer disguised as a woman vineyard worker and several
Partizan guides/translators. They made precise maps as to the location
of the German artillery positions and the best location to locate their
own artillery cannons. The plan was approved and the sea transport
was duly arranged. The landing group consisted of a battery of 25
pounder guns, and 4 x 0.75 inch howitzers with a covering party of
infantry. Capt “Dizzy” Ross, of their Raiding Support Regiment
borrowed a vintage Yugoslavian airplane from the aerodrome on Vis
and would act as a spotter for the artillery. The targets were points on
the Island of Korcula and when it was over, all the German batteries
had been silenced.
This plan was so successful that another raid was planned to land a
party on the south shore of Peljesac Peninsula consisting of the OSS
OG with bazookas and heavy machine guns. The OSS OGs would take
the headlands of the cove and the British artillery would setup in the
cove itself and attempt to waylay German convoys passing between
Peljesac and Korcula. The plan further went on to have a Squadron of
MTB/MGBs standing by at some distance to clean up any damaged
German convoy vessels and to embark the troops after the action was
completed. After waiting for the originally scheduled three nights with
no action, the leaders requested an extension of one more night to see if
anything would happen. Luckily that night two small landing craft
followed by a large schooner soon came into view. The Americans on
the headland waited for the landing crafts to pass and then opened up on
the schooner. The two landing craft were sunk by the British cannons
and the schooner was heavily damaged by the Americans. Some
German crewmen swimming ashore were soon captured and the
MGB/MTBs landed in the cove and evacuated the Allied troops and
their prisoners back to Komiza.
The month of August would now find that the Romanian Government
had had enough of this war thing (this was shortly after the Russian
troops had invaded their country.) On August 23, 1944, after secret
negotiations they came to terms with the Allies. Two days later,
Romania declared war on Germany. The Romanian soldiers were now
conscripted into the Russian Army.
The dominos would start to fall into place. Bulgaria was not technically
at war with Russia, but had started some secret negotiations with the
Allies. On September 5, 1944, the Russians declared war on Bulgaria.
The Bulgarian government asked for an armistice and the next day
Bulgaria declared war on Germany. The Bulgarian troops were now
conscripted into the Russian Army. On October 9, 1944, the last
German troops would leave Bulgaria.
The Hungarian situation was extremely difficult. First in the spring of
1944 the Hungarian Government tried to open negotiations with the
Allies and Hitler found out about it and invaded Hungary. Thoughout
the summer months it was a very unsettled situation, as there was much
intrigue and double dealing by all concerned before Russia finally
invaded Hungary. More about this later.
When Bulgaria and Romania had fallen and with Russian troops on
their soil, the German fate in the Balkans was sealed. But much blood
was still left to be spilled.
Earlier in the month of August 1944, the British Army had captured the
Italian port of Ancona. This would be a first class port near the northern
reaches of the Adriatic. While on the mainland the Armies were bogged
down in a nasty see-saw battle for the Italian peninsula. This port was
about 240 miles northwest of Bari and 130 miles northwest of Komiza
and would be used to dominate the northern reaches of the Adriatic.
On August 12, 1944, Brigadier General Thomas Churchill sailed from
Vis to Italy. His job on Vis was done and he would always remember
fondly the Island and what had been accomplished during his five and
one half months on the island. He would now go on to lead his men
from Italy to Albania and the battle of Sarande and the liberation of
The month of August would see the planning of a massive joint effort
between the Partizans, the Balkan Air Force, British naval forces, U.S.
Bomber command, and MacLean’s staff people. Communication links
were setup and tested, with all parties being privy to the plan. It would
be called “Operation Rat Week.” Interestingly enough “Rat” translates
into “war” in the Croatian language. This operation would be similar to
one of the German’s main offenses (ie. one through seven) earlier in the
war. A German retreat was expected and the plans were made for a
unified assault on all German troops attempting to move north from
Greece and Yugoslavia. Maclean was meeting with Koca Popovic, a
leading Partizan general during the planning as well as the execution of
the plan. Once the Germans started to move out, communications with
all the parties became very intense and action was hot and heavy.
Balkan Air Force planes as well as U. S. Bombers from the Foggia
bases were called in to hit targets as determined by the ground forces.
One particular city, Leskovac, a strong German garrison town, was
heavily bombed and almost totally destroyed by the bombers in one
mission. The Partizan forces were now embolded by the initial German
action of withdrawing from all the points in the Balkans. This
particular chain of events would be the start of the total withdrawal of
the Germans from the Yugoslavian mainland as well as the islands,
with the Partizan in hot pursuit until the actual end of the war.
Chapter Twenty Five:
September 1944
On September 3, the British MGB/MTBs: 662, 674, 637, and 634 left
Komiza and headed south for their longest patrol of their entire
Mediterranean campaign. The mission took forty seven hours and
covered 535 miles and resulted in the sinking of seven enemy boats and
the taking of 18 prisoners off the coast of Cephalonia.
On September 6, 1944, the Partizan and allied troops landed on the
Island of Hvar for what would be the last military action on this island.
Basically the Partizans and the British were driving the Germans from
the islands to the mainland. The British and Partizan naval forces
would follow and harass the retreating troops, killing and capturing as
many as they could. That night, three German “E” boats were recorded
bombarding the western approaches of Hvar.
On the night of September 7, MGB/MTBs: 667 and 674 sank an “E”
boat in the Hvar channel. On the night of September 13, three
MGB/MTBs: 637, 634, and 674 off of Sumartin (Hvar), sank four
German “Pill” boats.
Now on September 11, the Partizans and the British would land on the
island of Brac, also for the last military action on this island. Basically
the Partizans and the British were driving the Germans from the islands
to the mainland. The British and Partizan naval forces would follow
and harass the retreating troops, killing and capturing as many as they
By September 20, 1944, the only remaining enemy forces on the three
nearest surrounding islands were located on Solta. On the night
September 22, the Germans were attempting to evacuate their troops.
They were under heavy attack by the 43rd Royal Marine Commando
troops and Partizan forces, and were heading to Rogac Cove for
evacuation. MGB/MTBs: 655 and 633 were dispatched from Komiza to
attack the evacuation fleet. Upon arrival at Rogac the two boats saw and
attacked three German “I” boats and set them on fire. A return pass
was made on the three flaming boats and two of them blew up. The
boats contained the 200 German troops that had been garrisoned on
Solta. Many Germans died and a few survivors swam to shore and
would have to deal with the Commando and Partizan units that had
been chasing them.
In mid September, one of Tito’s commanders told the commander of
the airfield at Podhumlje that the Balkan Air Force wanted to practice
night landings and would they please set out some signal lights on the
runway. This went on for several nights and then on the night of
September 21, 1944, a C-47 Dakota (DC-3) with a Russian crew landed
at the airfield and Tito and some of his staff members boarded the plane
for a secret trip to Moscow via Romania.
Upon Tito’s arrival in Moscow he was treated with due respect as
compared to his trip years ago when he was treated like a very poor,
disreputable relative. He was given a palatial Dacha with the
appropriate staff to go with it. When he went to meet Stalin, he gave
Tito a big bear hug with much enthusiasm with a fine party to follow.
The meeting went down hill from there. Stalin assumed that his troops
would enter Yugoslavia and take over control of the entire war effort
within Yugoslavia. Tito explained to Stalin that this was not going to
happen. Stalin’s troops could only enter Yugoslavia under certain
conditions. The Partizan Army would remain under Tito’s control. The
Russians would exercise no civil or administrative powers in
Yugoslavia and their only purpose in entering Yugoslavia was to
provide Tito with one armored division and then help the Partizans
drive the Germans from Belgrade. Once the German troops left
Belgrade the Russian troops would be required to leave Yugoslavia and
proceed against Hungarian forces in Hungary, period. Stalin saw that
now was not the time to push this issue and promised that he would
send Tito a full Corps, rather than just the one division and agreed with
Tito’s ultimatum.
Sub Chapter on Politics
On September 2, an OSS OG team was parachuted near Zadar, while on
September 12, a second OSS OG team was parachuted near Biokov.
Evidently politics was raising its head and these two teams were
requested to leave by the local Partizan commanders.
On September 22, 1944, all of the U.S. Army’s OSS OG members left
Vis for the last time and went off to Italy. Whether this was political or
really just because things were starting to wind down in the area is
Tom Churchill had noted that the churches of the island seemed to be
unused. When the British had Catholic services in one place and
Anglican services in another place the local people would unobtrusively
join in the services. The Partizan fighters however, would not partake.
On another occasion in the far north, at a small liberated port, the
British wanted to have a party for the children. The local Partizan
committee said they would have to check with higher authority for
permission. The request dragged on for quite a period and the British
decided to have the party with or without permission from above. The
children had a wonderful time and nothing further was said.
September would seem to be the bell weather month for the noticed
change in the Partizan attitude. The new self reliant attitude would start
to show itself in the spring of 1944 and would increase as time went on.
This attitude would be noticed in all parts of Yugoslavia by almost all
the British and American authors of that time. This was the Partizans
country and they were successfully attacking the invaders and the Party
wanted to make sure that the credit for the liberation went to the Party.
All over Yugoslavia this same scenario was taking place. The Partizans
were a proud self confident group. Initially they were more than
gracious in the sharing of information. All questions were answered
forthrightly. The sacrifices the Partizans made to assist wounded,
captured, lost, and/or trapped Allied forces were beyond question.
Near the end of September the MGB/MTBs were patrolling farther
north to find enemy shipping. Mines were now becoming a problem for
the boats. The last week in September and the first two weeks of
October three MGB/MTBs were damaged or destroyed with loss of life
when they struck German mines. Up near Istria over ten patrols were
made without any action. The boats were now marauding throughout
the entire northern Adriatic, Venice, Rimini, Chioggia, Rijeka, and
Action was very light but on the night of October 8, MGB/MTBs: 642
and 655 ran into a convoy and sank two schooners, maybe sunk a third
and damaged a fourth before they were chased off by a German
Chapter Twenty Six:
October 1944
In late September a scouting patrol to Ist Island, offshore from Zadar,
had shown some promise. The LRDG recon group had noticed a large
number of ships coming into Zadar and the possibilities of a convoy
heading north in the near future was very possible. MGB/MTBs: 662,
637, 634, and 638 departed from Komiza at 1300 hours on October 10,
for the long trip north. It would seem the German Luftwaffe was not of
any great concern at this stage of the war. Upon arrival that night off
Ist Island a German light display with flares, cannon fire and much
artillery action was taking place with no discernable targets in sight.
Apparently the Germans were very nervous. There would be no action
this night and the boats would return to Komiza. The next day they
headed north again to see if this convoy was really going to move or
not. Again there was a huge light show with German firing from all
the surrounding islands. About 2245 hours the boats noticed some
wave action, the wake of some unseen vessels passing the area. The
convoy consisted of at least 15 ships. The action became very hot very
fast. The action would involve torpedo and heavy machine gun fire.
Over a period of several hours the British would sink six “F” lighters,
four “Pil” boats, and one “E” boat. They “possibly’ sank another “F”
lighter and one “E” boat and damaged two “E” boats. It was a very
productive night.
October 1944, could be considered the most important month of the Vis
campaign. Many strategic moves were made. In early October, LCH
282 (Landing Craft Headquarters) was transferred to Vis for Morgan
Giles HQ. The action in the Adriatic had moved and would continue to
move farther north. The small MTB/MGB boats would have a hard
time sustaining the long trips to the head of the Adriatic to molest the
Germans. On the October 20, Giles moved his HQ staff via LCH 282
to the Island of Ist. The next day five MGB/MTBs: 662, 659, 674, 637,
and 637 sailed to their new forward operating base of Ist. On the
voyage they encountered four German “I” boats. A battle ensued and
two of the “I” boats were sunk and two were captured with a collection
of 92 German prisoners. It turns out that these troops were withdrawing
from Dubrovnik and a fifth boat from the convoy was captured off Vis.
Now some Vosper boats from Ancona were transferred to Giles
command, but remain ported at Ancona. That night a five boat patrol
was sent out to recon the area around the island and nothing of interest
was found.
The two captured German “I” boats were turned over to the Partizans to
replace a Partizan “Tiger” boat accidentally sunk by a South African
Beau fighter two days earlier. Friendly fire was always a threat.
Peko Dapcevic, one of the Partizans top commanders moved two
divisions, of the Partizan First Army, into western Serbia. Koca
Popovic another top Partizan commander and his Corps, now in control
of southern and eastern Serbia were only twenty miles from Belgrade.
Tito flew from Moscow directly to Vrsac in the Banat area to oversee
the Partizan forces joining with the Russian forces now flooding over
the Romania border into Yugoslavia. By the first of October, there was
savage fighting going on for control of Belgrade, the Russians from the
northeast and southeast and the Partizan from the south and the west.
By October 14, the end was in sight. By October 20th, the capital
building itself was taken and the Germans were in full retreat. The
Germans would lose 16,000 dead and 8,000 captured in this major
defeat. Needless to stay this Partizan victory over the German
occupation forces and the liberation of Belgrade was cause for a great
celebration, with parades, speeches, and festivities. Winter was now
coming on and the Germans would be considered in full retreat with
only a delaying action to preserve what they could of their army. Much
blood was yet to be spilled.
Meanwhile to the north at Ist Island Giles received word from the
Partizans about two German destroyers that had been hiding out in the
shadows of Rab Island under camouflage netting. The boats under
Giles command were no match for two destroyers so he wired HQ in
Bari, Italy that he needed two destroyers to handle this problem. Upon
arrival of the destroyers HMS Wheatland and HMS Avon Dale, Giles
arranged a battle group of the two destroyers and MTB/MGBs: 295,
287, 274, 642, 638, 633, and HDML 494. These two German
destroyers, if not caught and destroyed, would wreak havoc on the
British naval activity in the north Adriatic. On October 28, 1944, the
two British destroyers found the two German destroyers and engaged
them. The first salvos from the British hit the two Germans and set
them ablaze. The British then closed for the coup de grace. As they
started to pickup survivors a third German destroyer came into view
and it too was attacked by the two Hunt class destroyers and met the
same fate as the first two. A total of 90 prisoners were taken.
The two destroyers retuned to Komiza as they were out of ammunition.
In celebration of this victory they were playing a Viennese Waltz and
displaying a “near” Partizan flag. The British had done everything
wrong. A “Germanic” waltz was not a Partizan fighting song and the
“near Partizan flag” was taken as an insult as it contained no “Red
Star.” Morgan-Giles was quick to apologize for this breech of etiquette
on the part of the navy crew and soon all was forgiven.
Another take on this story by another author was that a British destroyer
tried to get permission to enter Komiza harbor from the Harbor Master,
at about this same time. The Harbor Master, a little to full of himself,
denied permission to enter. The British commander said, “I am the
Captain of a British war ship in a time of war and I will go wherever I
want to go, whenever I want to go,” then he went on, “ And if you
deny me entry to the port I will shell every house on the bay.” Enough
said about the arrogance on each side.
In the southern Balkans things were coming to an ending point. There
were only three escape routes or choke points for the withdrawing
German troops to use through Yugoslavia: in the east Kolasin, in the
middle Danilovgrad and Niksic, and in the west Risan (near Kotor).
Tito asked the British for support to harass the retreating Germans. The
British committed the 111 Field Regiment, No. 43 Commando, and
Royal Engineers under the command of Brigadier J. P. O’BrienTwohig. The troops sailed from Bari on October 27, 1944, for
Dubrovnik using four LSTs and three LCIs. The group landed the next
day and marched off to the predetermined place near Risan and set up
their artillery and during the early morning hours of October 30, started
the barrage of the protective fortresses around Risen. The bombardment
and attacking of the forts by the Partizans and British lasted until
November 21, 1944. The British had fired over 12,000 rounds into this
choke point and with Partizan help denied it for any future German
army use.
Ah! the politics. When Tito had flown off to Moscow in September the
British were outraged. They thought they had Tito’s total allegiance
and they looked upon his action as something near betrayal. Tito was
now again in Moscow. A news report arrived in Moscow claiming that
a British invasion of Yugoslavia had taken place. Now the Russians
who had thought they had Tito’s total allegiance felt betrayed. Tito
explained that this British action had come at his request; to prevent
German troops from escaping from Yugoslavia. Furthermore he
explained to Stalin that if British troops actually tried to invade
Yugoslavia he would fight them.
On October 26, 1944, Split was considered liberated. On October 31,
1944, the Partizans would liberate Zadar. Now Zadar, since the end of
World War One, was part of the Sovereign Kingdom of Italy. It was
now occupied by Yugoslavian Partizan troops and Italy did not have the
ability to do anything about it. This occupation by the Partizans was
the same as the taking of Palagruza and Lastovo. In October Athens,
Greece, was considered liberated.
Chapter Twenty Seven:
November 1944
On November 13, the British troops from the Risan action were
transferred to the Niksic choke point. The German Army was marching
north into this well occupied point. After the British had established
their gun positions the Partizan commander told them they would not be
needed there and to return to their previous point (Risan). The German
Army of about seven divisions was now enroute to Podgorica (later to
be called Titograd.) They had started their retreat from Greece and
Albania in early October. They had been under constant attack by the
Balkan Air Force with a total of over 3,000 sorties attacking them.
Now we are near the first of December and the British were able to
relocate their artillery to command the approaches to Podgorica. The
retreating German Army was bombarded mercilessly and suffered very
heavy casualties. They continued to retreat towards Kolasin all the
while under constant bombardment. As far as the British were
concerned the battle was now over and the Partizans would continue the
attacks on the Germans until the end of the war. The British artillery
units had fired off over 14,481 rounds (from December 14, to
December 22, 1944) on the retreating Germans. Damage to the
Germans included 400 trucks, a few tanks, and several artillery pieces.
There was also the booty of an ammunition dump containing 700
automatic weapons and rifles, plus ammunition for them. This was all
taken by the Partizans for their use. This would be the last large active
British campaign in the Yugoslavian province of Montenegro. The
British would now board their LCIs and LCGs at Dubrovnik for the trip
to their home base in Bari.
Macedonia was considered liberated by the end of November, and
Albania was liberated on November 29, 1944.
Just before Yugoslavia was invaded in April 1941, it was completely
surrounded by Fascist forces. Now by the end of November, 1944 the
only Fascist neighbors Yugoslavia had were Austria and Hungary.
Things were really looking better for the Partizans, Tito, and
Yugoslavia, but much more blood was to be shed.
During October, November and December, 1944, Greece would be
liberated piece by piece. On December 4, 1944, now that the Fascists
had been removed, Greece would embark on its own civil war. The
Royalists and Communists of Greece had joined together to oust the
invaders but now it was to become a family civil war.
The British naval activity from boats based in Komiza had been
transferred north by this time but a major battle took place there which
would be of major importance. On November 18, 1944, six
MTB/MGBs made an attack on the German naval bases located in and
around Lussin Island, also known as Losinj. This would be a naval
base guarding the seaways leading to port of Rijeka, which was still in
German hands. The size of this raiding party (six boats) was too small
to be effective.
On December 2, a much more ambitious plan was put into effect.
With four Hunt Class destroyers: HMS Lamerton, HMS Wilton, HMS
Brocklesby and HMS Quantock, plus Gile’s LCH 282, three LCGs
(Landing Craft Gun), one LCF (Landing Craft Flak), four “dog” boats
(the 120 foot MTB/MGBs), plus five additional HDMLs. As far as I
can see this was the largest British armada to ever sail in the Adriatic.
This force was to be supported by a squadron of Hurricanes, plus 36
Beau fighters. There was also a contingent of Partizan fighters
transported and landed by a Partizan “I” boat. The target locations were
many: Port of Lussin, Cigale Cove, the bridge at Cherso and Ossera, a
German garrison force of 250 men, Punta Kriza, and Miklosam. It was
believed that there was a flotilla of “E” boats, some EMB (Explosive
Motor Boats), a one man torpedo boat Squadron, and perhaps even a
submarine located in one or more of these target areas.
There was heavy action all around, with over 1,000 rounds of heavy
shells fired on the targets plus torpedo action and much small arms fire.
This raid would be a major disruption of German naval activity but
would not destroy the base.
At this time the Partizan forces on the mainland were moving up the
coast to capture Rijeka, which would soon happen.
Chapter Twenty Eight:
December 1944
The political situation and the actions of the Partizans in restricting and
limiting the action of the British men and the closing down of a once
very open dialogue, and the changes that had taken place since the
spring of 1944, was becoming a concern to the British leaders.
Winston Churchill wrote a letter to Tito which I partially quote: “You
seem to be treating us in and increasingly invidious fashion. It may be
that you have fears that your ambitions about occupying Italian
territories of the north Adriatic lead you to view with suspicion and
dislike every military operation on your coast we make against the
Germans. I have already assured you that all territorial questions will be
reserved for the Peace Conference, and they will be judged irrespective
of wartime occupation. And certainly such issues ought not to hamper
military operations now.”
In retrospect this letter would not be what Tito wanted to hear. At the
end of World War One, some dissident Italian Army troops had
occupied several points on the coast of Dalmatia, contrary to the Corfu
accords. The American government of that time had promised Italy a
great portion of Dalmatia to be included into the sovereign Kingdom of
Italy. It did not happen. The Italian troops had to be dislodged by force.
What Italy did get in the Peace Conferences were the islands of
Lastovo, Palagruza, the city and surrounding areas of Zara (Zadar) plus
the Istrian Peninsula stretching from Rijeka to Trieste. The lessons of
past history were not lost on Tito and he firmly believed that the Army
that occupied an area and was willing to defend it, would take final
ultimate control.
Tito was not about to let some politicians in suits sitting around a Peace
Table determine the borders of Yugoslavia. The Italian Army had
abused the Yugoslavian citizens during the occupation and now they
were allied with the Americans and the British, as were the Partizans.
Who would the Americans and British favor, the Italians or the
Partizans, it would be anyone’s guess. The problems with the British
were not much different than the problems with Stalin. Tito was bound
and determined to protect his Yugoslavia from all foreigners, whether
they were British Imperialists or Russian Communists. This subject
will be covered in more detail later.
George McGovern: U. S. House of Representatives 1957-1961, U.S.
Senator 1963-1981, and Democratic Presidential candidate in 1972
spent a little time on Vis during the War. On December 20, 1944, his
741 Bomb Squadron, part of the 455 Bombardment Group, was
assigned a mission over the Skoda works at Pilsen, Czechoslovakia.
Shortly before their arrival over Pilsen his number two engine went out,
but he continued his mission and dropped his load of bombs. Their
plane was hit with flak over the target and the number three engine was
compromised. Now they were in real trouble, just as many other B-24
planes had experienced on their missions from Cerignola and the other
bomber bases in the Foggia area of Southern Italy. Working with his
navigator they determined that the nearest safe landing field would be
on the Island of Vis. Their records show that the airfield was only 2200
feet long, not really enough for a successful landing. The alternative
was to crash land into the ocean near the island and hope for rescue by
the local people. The main problem with this scenario was the B-24 was
a notoriously bad plane to survive an ocean landing, the bomb bay
doors would collapse as soon as they hit the water and the plane would
sink very fast, with a limited chance for the crew’s survival. They were
about one hour away from Vis and they made it on a wing and a prayer.
They jettisoned everything they could to lighten the load. When nearer
the landing field they could see a number of previously crashed planes
at the end of the runway. They touched down and the co-pilot and
McGovern both applied all the foot pressure they could on the brake
pedals and brought the plane to a halt.
They were greeted by the British foam truck, Ed Brendza, a factory
technical representative and Anton Sever. Sever was wearing British
overalls with an RAF insignia on it, plus a cap with the “Red Star” on
it. Sever went on to explain that he was a Partizan squadron aircraft
mechanic, Section “B”. Needless to say the crew was elated to be
safely on dry ground. As they were boarding a truck for a trip to the
HQ, another damaged B-24 bomber attempted to land. This plane was
not so lucky and crashed into the hill at the end of the runway and went
up in flames. The entire crew died. The next day a C-47 Dakota was
sent from Italy to pick up the crew for its return to Cerignola. Upon
Georges return to his home base he continued his pilot duties until the
end of the war. The day the war was over he and his fellow pilots began
making flights to Italy, Germany, and Austria bringing relief supplies
for the citizens. On June 18, 1945, McGovern would start the long hopscotch flight back to America, finally landing at Camp Miles Standish
outside Boston, Massachusetts. One other record shows that on one
particular day in late 1944, 37 planes crash landed on the airstrip at Vis.