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

Yugoslavia

Solta

British, Partisan, Yugoslavian/USOG and Greek/USOG periodically raided Nazi garrisons and strongholds on the Dalmatian Coast and the various islands. There were many reconnaissance missions by small groups of USOG. With the exception of Vis, the Nazis occupied all the Dalmatian Islands . Vis was within such close bombing range of the Luftwaffe the natives and soldiers were not afforded many peaceful nights. We participated in raids on the Dalmatian islands of Brac, Solta (twice), Kortula, Miljet, and Hvar. In addition, there were reconnaissance missions on the islands and on the Yugoslavian mainland in the Split and Dubrovnik areas.

Following is my description of the first raid on the island of Solta.

First Raid on the Island of Solta

We were on Vis for a month and had not seen any action; everything was tranquil. Once in awhile a German plane would fly over the island, but we did not pay attention to them. We continued training and were very antsy to get into combat. Finally the three Greek-American Operational groups, the Yugoslavian-American Group, and the #2 Commando raided a German garrison on the island of Solta, one of the strongholds in the Dalmatian island chain.

#2 Commando was a veteran combat unit with an outstanding battle record. They wore green berets. (Years later when the American Green Berets were founded in the Vietnam War the British would always tell the Americans that they were the original Green Berets.) In fact all the British Special Forces wore berets. The LRDG had tan berets and the paratroopers, magenta. They were very sharp and we loved to watch them in their close order drills. There was also a unit of Scottish highlanders on the island of Vis. All excellent British troops, we were fortunate to initially go into combat with these battle-hardened soldiers.

On the night of March 17, 1944, we boarded a Yugoslavian gunboat with our combat gear. We were advised that we would land just before dawn on the 18th on a beach on the island of Solta and that we might meet resistance on the beach. I do not recall how long the trip was from Vis to Solta, but we were very crowded and we could not wait to land. When we landed, fortunately there was no Nazi resistance on the beach. We proceeded to climb a small hill onto a plateau and slowly edged our way to the German garrison. As we deployed, the Nazis opened with their superb Spando machine gun that fired at least three times as fast as our machine gun. We were not familiar with this weapon, and we immediately hit the ground; as rookies the rapid fire of the machine gun scared the hell out of us and it sounded like it was very close to our position. As I looked up from the ground and to my right, the British #2 Commando Group was standing. Their commanding officer, Lt. Col. Churchill, a look-alike of the actor George Sanders, shouted out to us: Don't worry Yanks, it's a long ways off! We sheepishly stood up and continued on toward our target while the Spandos continued firing.

We were advised American P 40s would attack the garrison and that we should be alert because the planes would fly low overhead and sometimes they would miss their target and accidentally might hit us. (Friendly fire was always a problem.) The P 40s manned by the British RAF did an excellent job; they were so low we could practically shake hands with the pilots. We waited until the planes finished their sorties and then immediately we rushed the garrison. The 4th group separated: two squads including Nick and Perry went on one side of the garrison and the other two squads including Alex, Tom, and I veered to the right. I discovered a dead German (my first experience) on the ground and examined him to see if he was dead (to this day I am not certain whether I killed this soldier). I turned him around and searched for souvenirs (the German luger was always a prime prize). I found only his pocketbook with a photo of the dead German with a woman, probably his wife, and two young children. I had absolutely no empathy for this soldier. I did not find any other item on him. Years later the photo would haunt me and I often wondered what happened to the widow and the two children. At the time we were at war and he was our enemy. The more you are in combat the less you care about the dead enemy. It was them against us.


Following is a report of one of the many raids by the Allied forces on the Dalmatian Islands.

Report of a Raid on Solta
Operational Groups
Groups 2, 4, and 6

[Skip the long quotation]

Subject Report No. 16
1 April, 1944

To: Lt. Colonel Paul, West, Chief Operational Officer
Thru: Commanding Officer, Hq. SBS

1. OPERATION

A. Capture of the town of Grohote, Island of Solta, 19, March 1944.

  1. This was an unusually successful combined operation, which resulted in the capture or destruction of the entire German garrison on Solta. The plan of battles drawn up by Major Flynn of 2 Commando was based on elaborate reconnaissance over the preceding six weeks. As mentioned in a previous report, OG officers and enlisted men played an important part in this reconnaissance work. Strength of enemy garrison concentrated in the town of Grohote was estimated at 150. Strength of combined raiding force under Lt. Col. Churchill, OC 2 Commando, approximately 500, made up of 2 Commando and 155 OGs with heavy weapons elements from British Artillery Company stationed on Vis in support. Invasion fleet consisted of 3 LCIs with a heavy escort of MTB and two destroyers. The RAF furnished 16 Kittyhawk dive bombers for the air phase of the action. Following details of American participation are based largely on such limited personal observation as was possible from the CP.
  2. Composition and strength of American force:
    Unit A 7 officers49 EM- under Capt. Bliden
    Unit B 7 officers89 EM under Capt. Houlihan
    Area Hq. 3
    Total officers: 17Total EM : 138

    Post was made up of Major Lovell and Captain Quay, present in a staff capacity. Captain Kerr is tactical command of both units, and Captain Markoutsos, medical officer, Lieutenant McCrary, communications officer, and detail of EM and medical technicians drawn from the strength of both units (as given above).

  3. Mission:
    To capture or destroy enemy garrison concentrated in town of Grohote, Island of Solta.
  4. Troops embarked town of Vis aboard one LCI with No. 2 Troop, 2 Commando, Capt. McCallum OC approximately 1900 hours, 18 March, rendezvoused at sea with 2 LCIs which sailed from Comitza, and landed in cove on Island of Solta approximately 0030 hrs. 19 March. Order of march in single file from cove to positions on island eastern side of Grohote was as follows: No. 2 Troop, 2 Commando, Unit B, HQ detail, Unit A. Column split when contact between Unit B's rear and HQ detail was lost at approximately 0200 hours. HQ detail and Unit A arrived northeastern outskirts Grohote 0530 hours to find No. 2 Troop, 2 Commando and Unit B already well forward on right flank and heavily engaged with enemy machine gun positions. Lt. Col. Churchill and Command post of 2 Commando on left flank with radio loudspeaker. Balance of 2 Commando and supporting heavy weapons elements to be engaged on southwestern edge of town. By orders of Lt. Col. Churchill, Unit A advanced through fields and over stone walls along right-hand side of road leading into town from northeast, moving toward the right in process in order to make contact with Unit B's left flank. Following a period of brisk firing from rifles, machine guns, mortars, and light automatic weapons on the part of both sides and after two unsuccessful appeals for surrender had been made over the loudspeaker, the first dive bombing run was made at 0635 hours by six planes. This was followed immediately by a second run by six more planes, and the advance, temporarily interrupted by the bombing, was resumed. About five minutes later a third bombing and strafing attack was delivered by six additional planes, each of which dropped one 1000-lb. and two 250-lb. bombs; after this third attack the enemy's will to resist appeared to collapse precipitously, and small groups commenced surrendering. Troops rushed into town, which was obscured by a heavy pall of smoke and dust from the bombing and round up the remainder of enemy garrison in various buildings. Action terminated by 0730 hours, except for isolated mopping-up operations and evacuation to beaches with wounded and prisoners completed by 1230 hrs. Fighter cover over island maintained by RAF throughout the day. Troops re-embarked for Vis, aboard LCI at 1730 hrs. and disembarked town of Vis 0130 hrs. 20 March.
  5. Casualties:
    OG's - One EM killed in action. One officer and five EM wounded.
    2 Commando - 6 EM wounded, one fatally. One officer slightly wounded.
    Enemy estimated 8 killed, 12 wounded. 89, including one officer and one warrant officer, captured.
  6. Following message received by Major Lovell 22 March from Brigadier Miles OG force: 133, Bari, Italy, who personally observed action from Lt. Col. Churchill's CP:

    Sorry to have been called away without seeing you. Wish to congratulate you personally, and the officers and men under your command for their excellent enthusiasm and dash. With such leadership, spirit, and cooperation, we shall continue to give the Hun merry hell. Please convey my congratulations and best wishes to all ranks.


Note
  • National Archives, Solta Raid, History of Operations in Yugoslavia, p. 14 (report filed at Headquarters, Co. C, 2671st Special Reconnaisance Battalion, APO 512, U.S. Army, 20 November1944).


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