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

Yugoslavia

Americans, British and Partisans: One Big Happy Family


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In addition to the Partisans and civilian population on Vis, there were elite British troops including the commandos, the Scottish highlanders, paratroopers, and the famous LRDG, the group that almost captured the famous German General Rommel in the African campaign. A few weeks before we landed on Vis the Yugoslavian-American Operational Group was assigned to Vis; the Yugoslavian Group included 27 Greek Americans. Prior to our landing on Vis, the Yugoslavian Group had been sent to Brindisi, Italy, and were the first Americans to enter Greece, parachuting into the Peloponnese area. After a couple of weeks in Greece successfully fulfilling their mission, the Yugoslavian-American group returned to Vis. The Greek OG had cordial relations with all the Allied troops albeit we socialized with our respective group. The OGs were especially pleased to meet up with the British troops whose battle experience benefited us when we initially went into combat.

The Allied units took turns guarding against an invasion of Vis by the Germans. When our group guarded the harbor, we slept in the basement of an old abandoned home with king-sized rats as our companions. One night after some American airmen had parachuted onto Vis these men joined us on the harbor. We did not advise them of the bombing raids by the Luftwaffe, when suddenly we heard the familiar noise of planes nearing the island. Our group with the exception of the men who had to stay on guard duty took off for the trenches on the hill. We realized the airmen could not locate the trenches and we returned to lead them in the darkness to our sanctuary. This was the first time that these airmen were on the receiving end of a bombing raid. Needless to say they were frightened and disconcerted, and it was an eye opener to men who dished out bombs from 15,000 feet.

One- and two-story buildings skirted the harbor. The harbor was crowded with Partisans and British and American soldiers. There were many Partisan women in military dress. Tito had given the Partisan women a direct order if any of them even talked to an American or British soldier they would immediately be sent to the mainland for combat duty. Our officers relayed Tito's edict and we were very careful not to fraternize with the women. The Yugoslav women were young, healthy, and most of them very buxom. They were not flirtatious. Realizing the consequences the women would face, the Americans and British strictly obeyed Tito's order. Rumor has it that a few of our men had sex on the island during those long months. Of course a better rumor was running rampant that two or three older Greeks were servicing the gay, A. Neither rumor was ever corroborated. We could not wait to return to Italy for a little R&R.

The Partisan men were very cordial and very happy to have American soldiers join them on Vis. Many of them were large men with great smiles. Once in awhile we would socialize with them and drink their excellent wine not unlike the homemade Greek wine my father made in Oakland. The Partisans were older than the Greek Americans and they had a great capacity for their wine. We would honor our four Allied leaders: Roosevelt, Tito, Churchill, and Stalin; Roosevelt was always first on the Partisans' list out of respect for their American friends. We would shout out Zivio Roosevelt and then drink a glass of wine. Most of us would not get further than two zivios and the Partisans, in good fun, would joke about our lack of drinking capacity. Once in a while we would join them with the four zivios, but it would take a toll on the young Americans. Vis was wine country and it was important to the Partisans to harvest the grapes and make wine. We discovered that Vis was not as mountainous as some of the other Dalmatian islands that we raided.

The Partisans were pro Soviets; before D Day they were aware that the Soviets were carrying the brunt of the ground battle against the Germans in Europe. We would counter that the United States was sending bombing forays every day, not only in southern Europe where the Partisans were cognizant of the US bombers but also in northern Europe. The discussions never got out of hand; these Partisans, who fought bravely against the Nazis for many years, were courteous to the Americans.

The Ugly Americans Go Fishing

Fishing was very important to the natives. Almost every morning two boats would row into the bay; at least 100 yards apart, with a long net tied between the two boats. Men on shore had ropes tied to the nets and when the men on the boat signaled, the men on the beach would drag the nets, pulling the ropes, not unlike tug of war, toward shore. It was hard physical work and it took hours to bring in the net. Most of the time they were successful in bringing in a good catch (we would cheer when the hard-working Yugoslavs had a good catch). Small fish were thrown back into the bay.

But the ugly American reared its ugly head and ruined their fishing. One day we (including yours truly) decided to go on a boat in the bay with hand grenades. Yes!! We threw the grenades in the water and of course we had a terrific catch. All hell broke loose. The Partisan rank and file was very upset but did not threaten or curse us. Tito called our officers, reprimanded them for allowing us to use hand grenades to fish, and threatened to throw us off the island if we dared repeat this caper. Our officers were livid and we received extensive training and additional guard duty. We never found out what happened to the fish. To this day I am embarrassed; we had our heads up our ass.



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