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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave
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Thursday 6 June 2019

Dalmatian Bridgehead - Cruel Seas scenario

I have finally got round to painting some more ships for Cruel Seas. The new additions include Warlord's armed trawler, a tanker, two Fairmile MGB/MTBs and some landing craft from the Scotia range.

When researching in the National Archives, I came across a WW2 file (WO201/1582) describing a planned attack on the Dalmatian coast, which would make a good ‘Cruel Seas’ scenario.

The plan, codenamed ‘Knockholt’, is dated December 1943 and refers to a joint British and Partisan operation to not just raid the coast, but to establish a bridgehead on the Dalmatian coast between Split and the River Neretva. Options included the small harbours at Omis, Baska Voda, Makarska and Podgora. These are places that modern tourists to Croatia may be familiar with. Omis has a fine castle, and the Makarska Riviera is packed full of hotels.

Anyone who has visited this coast might wonder why establish a bridgehead there. The coast is dominated by mountains with limited access to the hinterland. In another file, I came across a memo from Middle East Command that refers to a Partisan plan to establish a bridgehead at Dubrovnik. They opposed this because this would primarily access Montenegro, rather than Bosnia. The concern was that the Partisans would focus more on the Chetniks there than the Germans.

The main attack would be carried out by Tito's Partisans, not earlier than 15 February 1944, over 15 days. There would be a diversionary attack by British Commandos against Split, Sibenik or Dubrovnik. Air superiority was regarded as essential, both to neutralise enemy airfields and to provide fighter cover.

All the shipping and equipment would come from the allied base on the island of Vis, via Bari in Italy, possibly with some dumping of supplies on nearby islands. Hvar and Brac would be the obvious choices. Equipment included 12 armoured cars, 96 lorries, US 75mm mountain guns, mortars and other support weapons. Needless to say, this would require a large number of landing craft as well as covering naval forces. The plan assumed one of these small harbours would be captured.

It is not clear to me if Operation Knockholt was actually carried out. Michael McConville, who was on Vis at the time, doesn’t mention it in his memoirs (A Small War in the Balkans). The type of initial raid he describes as happening during this period appeared to be very limited reconnaissance operations. Certainly nothing on the scale described in the planning documents. Fitzroy MacLean in his early liaison trips to the mainland describes Baska Voda as being in Partisan hands, but again no mention of this operation.  Sadly, MacLean's memoirs rarely have any dates. Another liaison officer, Deakin, also doesn't mention it. Neither is there any reference in naval history. 

Christopher Chant’s ‘Codenames’ website describes it as ‘Implemented’. So, it may be that as a mostly Partisan operation, one of many, it just wasn't covered by British writers. Either way, it makes a decent scenario.  

On to the tabletop. I gave the Partisan convoy two Fairmiles and two Vospers as an escort to supplement the Partisan armed trawler. Four E-Boats are lying in ambush.

I haven't quite got the hang of sailing. Most of the game was spent trying to avoid collisions! As you can see it got a bit crowded in the narrows.

The Germans nearly got through to shoot up the landing craft, but the last E-Boat was sunk before he could activate that move.

I really like these rules. Even as an obvious landlubber!

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