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Greek / American Operational Group Office of Strategic Services (OSS)
Memoirs of World War 2

Yugoslavia

The Island of Vis (Lissa)

When we received orders to move out of Torre Mare, we were very disappointed; instead of going to Greece, we were assigned to the island of Vis in Yugoslavia.

During the briefing we were told Vis was an island in the Adriatic Sea, the furthest west of the Dalmation Islands and the headquarters of Marshall Tito, leader of the Yugoslavian Partisans. There were also British Special Forces including paratroopers, commandos, Scottish Highlanders, and the LRDG, the group we had met on the HMS Stratfordshire. We assumed because there were so many different British elite troops on the island the main invasion of the European mainland would probably be at the soft underbelly of Europe, which Winston Churchill had vigorously championed. Vis was the only island in the Dalmation chain that was not occupied by the Nazis.

On the evening of February 16, 1944 Groups 3, 4, and 6 and a few men of Headquarters boarded a Yugoslavian gunboat for the trip to Vis. The boat was armed to combat German E-Boats (similar to the American PT boats). Leaving Bari at dusk, Yugoslavian boats would land at Vis at two or three o'clock in the morning. The E-boats rarely located Allied boats at night. The trip from Bari to Vis was the vital supply lifeline for Tito's Partisans. Supplies from Italy would be transported to Vis and then onto the Dalmatian Coast. The supplies were for the Partisans on the mainland of Yugoslavia, an extraordinary guerrilla force that forced Hitler to keep numerous divisions in Yugoslavia that were desperately needed on the Eastern and Western fronts. Vis was very strategic; without this base the Partisan boats would have been forced to supply the Yugoslavian mainland during daylight hours when the boats would have been an easy target not only for the Nazis E-boats but the Luftwaffe as well.

Not unlike many future boat trips, the trip from Bari to Vis was surreal; even as a young man I did not recall the trip. In fact, of the many raids that we made on the Dalmatian Islands, I only recall the Partisan gunboat the first time we raided the island of Solta, and the very crowded and narrow American LCI (Landing Craft Infantry) when we raided the island of Miljet. The latter was a fragile piece of crap; we were crowded like sardines, we could not sit or lie down, and we were anxious to get off even if there was Nazi resistance.

The Town of Comitza


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February 17, 1944, approximately 2 a.m. we landed on Vis in the town of Comitza. We debarked and walked a few hundred yards to a billet near the harbor that would house our group. The billet, like most of the buildings near the harbor, butted up against a hill. Each squad was assigned to one room; the Group 4 room was about 12' x 12'. We had brought duffel bag A with us that held our equipment, extra shoes, shirts, pants, underwear. Duffle bag B remained at OSS headquarters in Bari. We also had our rifle, pistol, and ammunition. We slept on the floor in our sleeping bags until the Luftwaffe began the bombing of Vis. To get to the first floor we walked up 10 to 15 steps. The backyard of the first floor had a small level area and behind our building was another billet above ours. The billets were built on a hill and the hill was fairly steep.

After we dropped off our equipment, the 4th squad was assigned to guard the harbor from 4 a.m. to 6 a.m. We were told that the Germans planned to invade the island because of its strategic importance to the Allies. Initially, I could not identify the terrain. At 6 a.m. when I was relieved from guard duty, a faint light of dawn was breaking and I could distinguish small hills surrounding the harbor. By this time I was tired and sleepy but anxious to see the island in the daylight. 7:15 a.m. dawn broke, and on the opposite side of the bay was an entrance from the Adriatic Sea into the Bay of Vis, reminiscent of the Golden Gate; the bay had the shape of a miniature San Francisco Bay without the bridges.

The town of Comitza was on the east side of the island, facing the Yugoslavian mainland. On the west side was the town of Vis; northwest of Comitza was another small harbor where boats would land from Bari. Tito's headquarters was in the town of Vis. A couple of miles inland was an airstrip where only fighter planes and small-size troop and freight carriers could land and take off.

For the first month after landing we trained and kept in shape; it was very quiet. When we had an opportunity we would comb the island; of course always on foot. Vis was rocky with many hills. The properties of the respective families' land had been laid out for generations and were separated by stone walls not unlike the cairn of Ireland. The walls were about 3 feet high and wide enough to walk on.



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