Occupation and Resistance in Vrboska During World War II

Total Croatia News


The best times in Vrboska are out of season, sitting with a sundowner on the riva after a hard day on the beach, old geezers (like myself) playing cards and cursing one another while the women do all the work. Listening to their stories of the old days, and watching them doff their caps to the occasional Partisan General out for his evening stroll, thoughts often turn to the brutally hard times their families suffered during the Second World War…..

In September 1943, when Italy capitulated, and Hitler was being pushed back all across Eastern Europe, British SOE teams led by Fitzroy Maclean, were with Tito in Western Bosnia. They accompanied his Partisans as they raced towards Split and disarmed the Italian garrisons there. But they had to retreat into the mountains as the Germans launched a vicious counter-offensive, sealing off the coast and encircling the Partisans. Maclean then made his clandestine way back through the German lines to the coast and on to Bari with urgent messages from Tito.


On his way through Hvar and Vis (see photo), Maclean recognised the value of gaining a foothold in the islands, securing a base from which Tito could be resupplied and Allied troops could support the Partisans in driving the Germans back from the coast. By New Year of 1944, Churchill had approved his proposal that the British should set up a base on Vis and link up with the Island Partisans, excellent sailors all, and a perfect match for fighting with the British Commandos. 

Thus ensued a number of raids on the German positions on the islands, including one on Vrboska which has passed into legend. The following is a Partisan’s account supported by No2 Commando’s War Diary.


In the first half of February 1944, a sea link was established between Vis and Hvar. Boats from Vis arrived on the little island of Šćedro, only a sea mile or so from the southern coast of Hvar. A supply line, maintained by islanders going about their daily business, brought mail, ammunition, food and other supplies from Šćedro to the beach at Gromin Dolac and on to the resistance groups already on the island (See photo). Later it also brought Partisan reinforcements.

In the second half of February, a team of six of British commandos came ashore at Gromin Dolac and joined up with a Croatian Partisan Detachment to carry out a limited raid on one of the German nightly patrols on the north side of the island, intending to take some capture enemy soldiers and interrogate them on Vis.


The Commandos proposed a joint attack on the nightly German patrol in Vrboska. A plan was agreed for the patrol to be attacked at the waterfront beside the local fish market. Two Partisans, one to the right and the other to the left corner of the fish market, would illuminate the patrol with lamps (the same as those used for sardine fishing at night) as it approached. Then the commandos would emerge and force the Germans to surrender. It was anticipated that the patrol might resist, raising the alarm with the garrison billeted in the Sardine Factory on the opposite shore (see photo). It was for this reason that two young partisan women with a machine gun took up position on the other side of the channel with a line of fire on the factory from which the Germans might emerge and open fire. A couple of Partisans were also posted near the Sardine factory ready to throw hand grenades if the Germans emerged.

On 25 February, about seven o’clock in the evening, a seven-man Partisan Detachment and six Commandos stealthily approached Vrboska. The two young women with the machine gun took had taken up position on the north side of Vrboska, as had the Partisans with the hand grenades

The main attack group re-grouped at the church of St Lawrence before descending the stairs leading to the fish market on the shore. Just as they emerged onto the riva, the German patrol came by. There was a moment of utter confusion. But according to the Croatian account, the Commandos reacted faster than the enemy. In the firefight, several Germans and one English soldier were felled.

The German garrison was aroused but was prevented from emerging from the Sardine Factory as the women Partisans laid down covering machine-gun fire and the supporting pair lobbed grenades at the Factory entrance. The skirmish did not last long. The Partisans carried the wounded Brit with others of their wounded to the house of Dominic Matković in Vrbanj. The Commandos retired and were in Gromin Dolac before dawn and away back to Vis. No prisoners had been taken but lessons had been learned and nobody died. The Brit casualty survived thanks to the Partisans. The experience would prove profitable for future raids.


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