We took a ferry from Split to Hvar yesterday, which takes a route through the islands that have been a battleground for British forces in the Napoleonic Wars and WW2. I have written about the frigate actions in these waters in my forthcoming book, but my focus yesterday was on the raids undertaken by the British, Partisans and a small unit of US Rangers during WW2. I briefly cover these in my recently published Chasing the Soft Underbelly book.
The Allies were based on Vis, the furthest island from the coast. This was also a British base in the Napoleonic Wars when it was called Lissa. We stayed there in 2014, a holiday I highly recommend.
We left from Split, which was itself attacked in WW2. When the Italians surrendered, the Partisan 1st Division beat the Germans to the city. The SOE liaison officer Deakin describes how they were dive-bombed by Stukas in the suburb of Kastella. However, the Partisans stayed long enough to loot the Italian stores and retreated into the mountains. They returned with Allied help for raids after that.
|Split's attractive waterfront where Deakin and the Partisan commanders addressed the populace.|
The route to Hvar goes through a narrow channel between the islands of Solta and Brac. Both were garrisoned by some unenthusiastic German units, mostly made up of conscripts from occupied countries, including Poland and Czechoslovakia. You can see the remains of small fortifications that were watchtowers or gun positions on the Brac side.
The German garrison was ejected from Solta by a force led by Jack Churchill, including 2 Commando. 43 (RM) Commando and some US Rangers. Partisan guides were an essential resource on all the islands. They also had air support from Italy in the form of Kittyhawk fighter-bombers. However, the Germans returned with a much more professional unit, the 892 Grenadier Regiment, which was much harder to shift. Solta could also be supported by coastal batteries.
|Solta from the western side|
Similar attacks were on Brac, a larger island with pretty rugged terrain and a larger garrison.
|Brac from the western side.|
The next stop for us was Hvar. This is a stunning Venetian-built town, understandably popular with tourists. I had been before in 2000, and it has been tastefully improved.
|Hvar town with the Spanish fortress on the left and Fort Napoleon on the the right.|
Predictably I headed for the Spanish Fortress that dominates the town and the harbour. It was started in the 14thC but took its distinctive shape as a defence against the Ottomans in the 16thC. It's a bit of a climb but well worth it for the views alone.
You also get a decent view of Fort Napoleon, built during the French occupation. You can climb up there, but I passed that joy in the weather. I think I went up in 2000, but there wasn't much to see.
This is a view over the small islands that shelter the port. You can see the mountains of Vis in the distance.
The town is a typical Venetian port of the period, and the Arsenale can be seen on the harbour.
Hvar was also garrisoned by the Germans after the Italian surrender. The main garrison was at Jelsa and was attacked by 43 (RM) Commando with two Partisan 1st Dalmatia Brigade battalions. The troops on these raids were transported on landing craft escorted by MTBs. Heavy weapons also went on specially prepared landing craft. Air support was again available from Italy and sometimes from the airstrip on Vis. The attack was successful, with 50 of the garrison killed and 80 taken prisoner.
For us, it was dinner in the town square and one last look at the town and fortress on the ferry back to Split.