(CONTINUED)

In the 1940 Komiza municipal election, 18 councilmen were elected to direct the affairs of the community under the leadership of the Communist Party of Croatia. District committees, regional committees of the Peoples Liberation and many other local Communist organizations were organized at various towns and hamlets on the island. Dr. Ante Fiamengo a Communist theorist and Vinko Sonjara were arrested in Komiza and was eventually killed in 1942 by the occupation forces. During the period before World War Two there was extreme political unrest even on the island itself. There are many records of police raids, shootings, beatings, arrests and incarcerations of the citizens of Komiza, for their political beliefs, by the Royalist government.

There are many plaques, memorial tablets, and monuments throughout the island indicating points where meetings, elections and decisions were made under the authority of the Communist Party.

 

WORLD WAR II

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A brief recap of the important dates of World War II:

October 3, 1935 Italy invades Ethiopia

March 12, 1937 Germany invades and annexes Austria

October 1, 1938 Germany invades and annexes Czechoslovakia
April 7, 1939 Italy invades Albania
August 23, 1939 Germany and Soviet Union sign a non-aggression pack
September, 1, 1939 (8 days later) Germany invades Poland from the west and on September 17, the Soviet Union invades Poland from the east
April 9, 1940 Germany invades Denmark and Norway
May 10, 1940 Germany invades France
June 10, 1940 Italy enters the war and invades France.
October 28, 1940 Italy invades Greece
November 20, 1940 Hungary, Romania and Slovakia join the Axis alliance
April 6, 1941 Germany, Italy and Bulgaria invade Yugoslavia, conquering the country in one week
April 9, 1941 Germany invades Greece, conquering the country in eleven days.
June 22, 1941 Germany invades the Soviet Union.
May 12, 1943 German and Italian troops in North Africa surrender
August 27, 1943 German troops fight Italian troops in Slovenia , with the help of Croatian (Ustashe) troops.
September 3, 1943 Italy surrenders
June 6, 1944 Allies invade Normandy
August 26, 1944 Bulgaria gives up
October 15, 1944 Hungary gives up
May 2, 1945 German forces in Italy surrender
May 7,1945 All German forces surrender.

When World War II broke out in 1939, Yugoslavia �s Prince Paul, serving as regent, declared its neutrality, but in March 1941, succumbing to German pressure, the government agreed to adhere to the Tripartite Pact with Germany, Italy, and Japan. Records indicate that Prince Paul had German Fascist leanings. The citizens would not stand for the joining of this pack, and on the night of March 26, 1941 a bloodless Serbian coup d�etat was successful. The Communists had no real say in this coup but were much in favor of it. The new young King Peter II replaced Prince Paul. King Peter II, who was only 17 years of age at the time, was favored by the Serbian military faction to resist the German pressure. With King Peter�s backing the insurgents formed a government dedicated to neutrality. Even the Yugoslavian Royalty could not agree on which was best for Yugoslavia�s future.

Retribution by the Germans, Italians, and Bulgarians was swift and merciless. Germany, Italy and Bulgaria invaded Yugoslavia on April 6, 1941 with 33 division and 1200 warplanes. King Peter and the government fled. At the time of the invasion, the Yugoslavian Army consisted of approximately 108,00 men, 20 tanks, 800 pieces of artillery, 4000 machine guns, formed within 17 Infantry Divisions and 2 Cavalry Divisions. The high command of the Army surrendered; but retaining their arms, tens of thousands of Yugoslav troops went into hiding, to begin a long guerrilla war against the invaders. Interestingly enough the Serbs, upon the invasion, released all of their political prisoners, while the Croatians retained theirs.

The Yugoslavian Navy lost one light cruiser, four destroyers and two submarines to the axis forces. The Yugoslavian merchant marine, consisting of 71 merchant vessels with crews totaling 2,500 seamen were located at various points around the world. These ships and crews joined the Allied cause and assisted the allied merchant marine services in convoying war goods to places as needed. During the war period 47 Yugoslavian merchant vessels were lost along with the lives of 400 merchant seamen.

Remember now that Yugoslavia consisted of many different groups-- political, religious, ethnic, racial, economic, and also many others-- who had old wrongs to be righted. In the northern reaches of Yugoslavia many people of German extraction welcomed the German army and had grand parades to celebrate their "liberation" from the Serbian Royalty. Many of the young men from this area went on to join the German Army. The people of Italian extraction living in Dalmatia also looked upon the Italian Army as liberators.

Italy assisted the Germans in the invasion of Yugoslavia and secured most of Dalmatia for its own, including the island of Vis. The Italians still had a very paternalistic attitude towards Dalmatia and basically came in with a velvet glove approach. The balance of the country was divided up between Germany, Hungary, and Bulgaria. A pro-fascist puppet state headed by native Nationalists and under Italian protection, was formed in Croatia. This Ustashe Government thought that they would now have an independent Croatia that had been prayed for for centuries. The occupying German and Italian armies had a second opinion of how things were to be run and the Ustashe was to be no more that a puppet state under Nazi control. The Ustashe were in negotiations with the Italian occupiers and tried to cede Dalmatia to Italy, in return for a certain level of independence. It never happened. In Komiza there were many different opinions of the Italian invaders: the old people accepted it, the young people knew better and the Italian minority welcomed it.

The local Communist Party Committee of Komiza in 1941 made a decision to attack the invading forces, and this event is recorded on a memorial tablet, located in the Kucic family house in Komiza. An enlistment program was started in Komiza and Vis, with 100-200 rifles and 2 machine guns. A police station was taken over to secure more arms. None of this would be a match for the Italian Army.

Four men from the Island of Vis had served in the Yugoslavian military and were no longer in the service: Jakov Radisic from Vis town, Sime Petric from Komiza, Mario Zuanic from Komiza, and Ivan Repanic from Podhumlje. These four veterans formed an underground military committee to resist the Italians and try to free their homeland from the invaders. They would be the nucleus of the local Partisan organization on Vis. In their first efforts, they recovered a sea-mine that had floated ashore and disassembled it to extract the explosives. Radisic was mechanically inclined and made-up some small hand size bombs in an attempt to create havoc for the Italian occupiers. Their efforts included setting fire to the fish factories to preclude the Italians from using this food source for their troops. This was not successful and only resulted in Italian reprisals.

Shortly after this, Jakov Radisic was up in the mountains and the Italians captured him. He tried to escape and was shot and killed. He should be considered the first Partisan from Vis to die in what was to become a very terrible war. Apparently someone in Vis town betrayed him to the Italians. There is a memorial, in Vis, to this hero and all the Partisans from Vis town who died during the war. It is between the High School and the Fortress Madonna.

On August 15, 1941, the first 28 Partisan volunteers from Komiza and Bisevo were transported from the island of Vis to Split on the mainland. The purpose was for the volunteers to join up with the Partisan forces and help wage the guerilla war against the Fascists. When the boat arrived in Split they used a guise of going to Solin for a religious pilgrimage to cover their true purpose. When they arrived at the appointed place near Split to meet up with the Partisans, they were not to be found. Later it was determined that the Partisan group had been intercepted by the Fascists and annihilated. The 28 volunteers returned to Komiza.

On December 10, 1941 a demonstration was organized by the Communists encouraging 300 women of Komiza to protest the harsh treatment by the Italians. They proclaimed they wanted more bread, "down with Fascism," "leave Vis," and "We are not Italians, we are Croats." Other people started singing the National Anthem and long live the "Red Star". Sixteen people were beaten and arrested by the Italians and tried in Sebenico and sent to prison in Venice, Italy.

On May 4, 1942 Andria DeMaria skippered his small fishing boat with 9 volunteers to the mainland to join up with the Partisans. This is the same DeMaria who had ferried the first group to Split in August of 1941, and he was to remain the skipper of this underground ferry system for the entire period. This time they were successful. A third trip was made on May 26, 1942 with 34 volunteers. The process was that the men and women and boys and girls who wanted to go off to fight the invaders would be secreted off to the island of Svetac in the middle of the night to avoid the Italian sentries. When the time was right, moonlight and coordination with the greeting party on the mainland, etc., DeMaria would transport them to the mainland. Thirteen trips were made using this system, taking hundreds of volunteers from the island to join up with Tito�s Partisan forces.

For more than two years after this upheaval, great military and political turmoil prevailed throughout the country. Under Royalist General Draza Mihajlovic, the Chetnicks waged warfare against the Croatian (Fascist, Nazi, or Ustashe) puppet state. The Germans recruited 2 SS Divisions of Muslim Yugoslavs and turned them loose on the Christian civilians and Partisans. Nationalist Croats under the auspices of the Ustashe regime retaliated with a campaign of extermination against the Serbs. Other guerrilla detachments led by Josip Broz (Tito), a Croatian Communist, campaigned against both the invaders and the Croatian Fascists. Tito had served in the Austrian army in World War I and was sent to the Russian front. He was captured by the Russians and was a witness to the Russian Revolution, and took an active part in the revolution and joined the Communist Party.

Tito was successful in recruiting new members from both the Serb and Croatian peoples due to the fact that both the Chetnicks and the Ustashe were persecuting their age-old enemies within their sphere of influence, and these victims had no place else to go. Tito was eventually successful in raising about 24 divisions for his army. The minority groups of Jews, Gypsies, and Moslems had even fewer choices and suffered greatly from all sides.

Initially, General Mihajlovic was the favorite of the allies to oust the Germans, and was recognized as such by the Royalist government in exile. The Royalist government had strong ties to the old Czarist Russia and had a terrible dread of the Communists. The Serbian people had strong ethnic ties to the Russian people. Initially Germany had been allied with Russian but they turned on the Russians in June of 1941. The questions of who was your ally or enemy would depend on what time frame you are talking about. Your friend of today could very well be your enemy of tomorrow. This would be a major ongoing problem within Yugoslavia throughout the entire war period.

Various sources claim that between one million and two million Yugoslavian civilians died during the War, this in a country with a population of 15 to 18 million. In fact Yugoslavia was the fourth largest loser of civilian populations in the European war, only exceeded by the Soviet Union, Poland, and Germany.

During this period it was basically a civil war within Yugoslavia with a constant state of extermination of the innocent population by various factions. As one faction would gain control of an area they became the master of the day, a few days later another faction could take control of the area and exact revenge on the occupants for collaboration with the previous faction. The civilian population suffered greatly and a lot of old animosities were renewed. The history of World War II is fairly well documented, yet this is probably the same type of suffering that was undergone by the population for centuries going back to the dawn of civilization.

An inventory of the German Army of January 1943 includes one Serbian, eight Croatian, two Muslim, and four Slovakian divisions.

In March 1943 was the battle of the 4th Offense or the Battle of Neretva on the mainland. In this battle 16,000 of Tito�s Partisans (forty percent of his Army was Dalmatian at this time) did battle against 40,000 German, 6,000 Ustashe, 12,000 Chetnicks, and one Italian Division. The German troops were in the background with the other forces in front. Basically again this was a civil war pitting one segment of the population against the other segments. The Fascists lost 10,000 killed, while the Partisans suffered greatly, the town of Komiza lost over 30 of her citizens in this one battle. Remember now that Germany had invaded Russia in June 1941 and it was now the Fascists versus the Communists.

From the Diary of Don Dusan Nazor, the parish priest of Komiza, we learn of the horrors of war that visited Komiza in August of 1943. On August 16, 1943, rumors began to circulate in Komiza about a raid against the Italian occupation forces, in which some radios and guns were taken. On August 20, 1943, after several requests and warnings about the return of the material, twenty five Komiza citizens were rounded up as hostages by the Italian occupation troops and interrogated. Fifteen of the hostages were granted mercy, while the ten remaining hostages were marched off to the intersection of the main road and the road to the Muster. On August 20, 1943, at 6:15 P.M. they met their fate.

The ten martyrs of Komiza were: Petar Zanki, Mate Gospodinovic, Andrija Vitaljic, Frano Mardesic, Petar Bozanic, Juraj Marinkovic, Matt Bogdanovic, Jerko Lucic, Nikola Bozanic, and Nikola Jurinovic. A monument stands at that spot, for all to see and remember.

Although I can not locate any documents about it, the same scene was carried out in Vis town. There the following citizens of Vis were executed by the occupation forces: Grgu Svicarevicu, Frani Mandakovicu, Mate Puhalovicu, Jakovu Ruljancicu, Josipu Restovicu, Ivanu Pecarevico, Ilic Mihu, Nikoli Radisicu, Dusanu Tomicu and Ivanu Radica. There is a monument to these poor souls in the cemetery in Vis.

As Tito�s forces won greater parts of the country from the puppet state, they would come in conflict with the Chetnicks. Tito established the Council for National Liberation to extend his operations into other parts of Yugoslavia. By 1943 he had 100,000 soldiers under his command and controlled 40,000 square miles of his homeland. As Tito became more successful in his military victories, General Mihajlovic became less favored by the allies and the government in exile. In late 1943 the American and British forces threw their support to Tito and his forces, which only added to Tito�s strength and ability to wage a more effective war and drive out the foreign invaders.

 

ITALIAN SURRENDER

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The surrender of the Italian Army to the Allies on September 3, 1943 resulted in the capture, by Tito�s forces, of much of the Italian armament, supplies, and even the surrender of Italian troops within his sphere of influence. Some of these Italian troops joined Tito�s Partisan army and eventually helped chase the German army from Yugoslavia. The Italian defectors numbered enough to actually raise one full division of Italians under Tito�s authority. The surrender of the Italians to Tito�s forces may have been the turning point in the guerilla war. Until that time war material was very slow in reaching the fighters; the Partisans were fighting with old family hunting guns plus whatever they could obtain from the troops they defeated, or could steal from enemy depots.

Upon Italy�s capitulation, Germany rushed as many troops as they possibly could into the Dalmatian vacuum. The Partisan fought off the Germans to try to save Brac, Korcula and Hvar, but after fierce battles these islands were lost to the Germans. The Partisans were very quick to try to assert their authority over the area, but the only real success they had was the islands of Vis, Bisevo, and Sveti Andrija.

Brigadier Fitzroy Maclean was Winston Churchill�s personal representative to Tito and wrote of his many exploits in Yugoslavia and of his many visits to Vis on Churchill�s behalf. Fitzroy may be more familiar to you as "James Bond, Agent 007," as Fitzroy was Ian Flemming�s inspiration for his spy novel series.

 

MARITIME ACTIVITIES

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Through Maclean�s diplomatic efforts, the Allies were made aware of Tito�s ability to wage war against the Fascists, and the fact that he had a military base from which to operate. A huge military buildup and supply system would be set up with British aid and supplies. The southern part of Italy was now in Allied hands and it included several major Italian ports. Fifty British Commandos were sent to the island of Vis to cooperate, encourage, and supply what they could for the Partisan war effort. A British contingent called Force 133 was given the assignment to aid the Partisans and to hold the island of Vis to the last man. A British Naval detachment (actually Canadian boys) of Motor Gun Boats (MGB�s)and Motor Torpedo Boats (MTB�s) was sent to Komiza under the command of Lieutenant Commander Tommy Fuller of Ottawa, Canada.

Fuller would later be given the name of "Pirate of the Adriatic" for his many naval exploits in this battle zone. The waters surrounding Vis were under constant German air and naval patrol and the island was subject to German bombing raids from Brac and Hvar. The Germans also used the surrounding waters as a merchant shipping lane to re-supply their troops on the mainland as well as other islands. This scene would almost be a re-incarnation of the naval activity of the early 1800�s with British Captain Sir William Host and his fleet against the French Navy and Maritime commerce.

Lieutenant Commander Tommy Fuller was a true hero. He had no fear and had previously been decorated by the King of England for his wartime exploits. These British Motor Torpedo (MTB�s) and Motor Gun Boats(MGB�s) were a constant thorn in the side of the Germany naval operations. On one occasion Fuller captured a small German schooner with a traditional piratical boarding raid, and towed it into Komiza. The booty from the schooner consisted of the German payroll and Christmas mail, plus a cargo of good Bavarian Ale. Another adventure was his capture of the "Libecchio", a German 400 ton Brigantine re-supply ship under full sail, and then the towing of the ship to Komiza. There he was greeted by a brass band and was feted to a dinner with Tito himself. The captured ship was a very rich prize, it included sauerkraut, goulash and ten tons of Danish butter. The citizens of Komiza shared in the division of these spoils of war, and were extremely grateful as they had seen no butter for over two years. During the first week of April, 1944 the British had captured eight German ships and sunk three more.

It was a very romantic series of episodes, but a price was paid by these brave British Navy men. Forty-one British seaman died in the surrounding waters, trying to stave off the German invasion of Vis, and harassing the German maritime naval re-supply efforts. A monument has been erected on the mole in Komiza harbor in remembrance of them. Not all wartime losses were at the hand of the enemy. Friendly fire would also be a problem for the Partisans as well as the British. Several British as well as Partisan vessels were mistakenly sunk with loss of life, by their own naval forces.

The fishermen of Komiza were also of assistance to the naval effort. They continued their fishing activities in the offshore waters at night with lights to attract their prey, and they also reported back to the British, any German naval activity they spotted. Partisan guerrillas also used local fishing vessels for their forays to Brac and Hvar for reconnaissance and harassment raids. The Partisan were such a fearless lot that the German garrisons on Brac and Hvar would not leave the towns at night, but would let the Partisan take control of the countryside when the sun went down One story tells of several Partisans hiding in the uphill brush as the Germans were planting a minefield on Brac. The Partisans very carefully surveyed the laying of the mines, and that night when the Germans went back to the safety of their town, they dug up the mines and sent them off to Vis to be used by the Partisan forces. Another situation of interest, is that the Postmaster of Hvar maintained an ongoing telephone connection with the Partisans on Vis. He would pickup the phone anytime he had information for the Partisans and would relay the word directly to the man in charge on Vis. Why the Germans never caught on is a mystery.

The Partisan navy was also a formidable force. In January 1943 it consisted of 2 small warships, but by October 1943 it was reorganized and consisted on 9 armed vessels, 30 patrol boats, 200 support vessels and 6 coastal batteries. This navy was manned by 400 people, growing to 1,500 people by October. By March 1, 1945, it had been reorganized again with 11 warships, 8 armed ships, 51+ patrol vessel, 24 steamers, 19 rescue boats, over 159 motor and sail support vessels. There were also 9 naval infantry battalions, with a total roster of over 14,000 people. When we talk about military forces, remember that almost 30% of the Partisan forces consisted of women.

These naval vessels are not what you would normally think them to be. They were commandeered fishing vessels, yachts, merchant ships and anything that would float that could be of some use in the war effort. The armor plating on some of the ships would be steel sheets hanging over the side of the vessel. There are pictures of some smaller ships with parallel chickenwire fences, where the gap between the fences is filled with loose rocks to act as protection from enemy shells, while some others would use sandbags as armor.

Pictures of Vis harbor from this era show a major naval base with all types of activities, including ship repair and arming, radio school, signal school, and other troop training and supply activities.

The main purpose of this naval force was to harass the Germans, take what supplies or vessels they could capture, and transport commando and invasion troops to various islands. Many of these vessels were captured from the Italians (32) and the Germans. While the British were allied with the Partisans, they would not give the Partisans any Italian warships they had obtained after the Italian capitulation. Many thought that the British and Americans could have given more material support to the Partisans, but politics played a part in this decision in that perhaps after this terrible war was over Yugoslavia would come under Communist Russian control.

 

BRITISH SUPPORT

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The land-based commander of the British units as none other than Lieutenant-Colonel Jack Churchill.  He was quite the man, going off to battle with his bagpipes, Claymore sword, or sometimes his bow and arrows, and was lovingly known as "Mad Jack". On March 5, 1944, Winston Churchill�s second son Brigadier Tom Churchill, arrived on Vis with the 2nd Special Service Brigade to take over command of the island.

With all of the warring factions laying waste to other armed groups, armies, towns, bridges, roads, facilities and battlements, the civilians of Yugoslavia were in constant danger. In order to try to protect the civilians, the British set up an evacuation plan. The only civilians to remain on Vis were supposed to be the elderly and those responsible for their welfare. Men of the ages between 15-50 were part of the Partisan mandatory conscription program. The evacuation plan was explained to the people as a relocation to southern Italy. In reality the refugee were transported by small boats to Bari, then to Lecce, near Brindisii, then a month or two later to Taranto, Italy. After a gathering period, the refugees were loaded on troop transports for convoying to Alexandria, Egypt. The convoys would consist of 3-4 troop transports, a hospital ship with wounded British soldiers, and half a dozen warships. Some of these refugees recall landing at Alexandria at night and being transferred to cattle cars and arriving at the camps 10-15 miles north of the city of Suez the next morning.

Many people from the surrounding islands and the mainland would make their way to Vis, in the dark of night to avoid German patrols, hoping to get away from the battles and carnage. Over 35,000 Yugoslavian refugees were evacuated under this system.

The camps were laid out with military precision. Apparently they had been some type of camp for military personal. They had communal water facilities and toilets and a school for the children. Near the camp was a British airfield. One day, during some British military exercise, an errant bomb was dropped near the school, killing at least one young girl from Komiza, Ina Ivcevic, age 8. This child and others who died in the camps were buried in unmarked graves near the camp. The refugees would remain here until well after the war. In September of 1945 they would start to be transported back to Yugoslavia in small groups to try to reclaim their lives.

Sterling Hayden, the movie actor, was an officer during the War, attached to the U.S. OSS group. He was very involved in running supplies through the German blockades in the Adriatic and successfully assisted in moving refugees from Vis to Bari. His home port of Monopoli thirty miles south of Bari was staffed with over 400 Yugoslavian Partisans, of which 50 were girls. Interestingly enough, he used a cover name of John Hamilton.

The British continued to reinforce their garrison on Vis, the Americans sent 30 American Ranger troops to Vis to help and assist with raids on the neighboring islands. The plan was to make the Germans think that Vis had a very large contingent of troops on the island, and that this would deter the German plans for an invasion. There were almost constant air raids during the daylight hours by both sides. Several German bombs landed on Komiza and killed several people. One bomb landed on the fish factory and the whole town stunk for several weeks.

The Germans did not recognize the Partisans as an army subject to the Geneva Convention, and as such treated the captured Partisans as criminals and would shoot them on the spot. They would also retaliate against civilian villagers whom they suspected of aiding the Partisan guerillas. On occasions they would machine gun down entire villages of civilians, including women and children. Many Partisans had seen these atrocities in their own mainland home villages. German prisoners were subject to swift and sometimes delayed retribution by the Partisans. At some later point in time Winston Churchill sent word off to Tito that the handling of German prisoners of war should be more in line with the Geneva Convention, so as to prevent the German high command from hearing about this and then exacting revenge on the prisoners of war in the German camps. The Partisans setup Prisoner of War camps on Bisevo and well as Sveti Andrea.

On February 20, 1944 the British landed the Number 43 Royal Marine Commandos in Komiza. This brought the British forces up to 1,000 men, hardly enough to stand off a German invasion. The Partisans also were landing reinforcements from the mainland. This build up of troops on Vis was to eventually increase the population of the Island up to an estimated 14,000 people.

Things began to get more involved on Vis. The British sent some doctors to Vis to set up field hospitals to treat the British wounded. These doctors would also treat Partisan wounded who could not be treated by their own doctors. Not only were there war wounded, but civilian casualties also had to be treated. The Partisans were glad to see these medical people arriving and setting up their hospitals. Eventually the Partisan lost their distrust of them and would go to great lengths to assist them. The major grammar school in Komiza was set up as a hospital to handle Partisan and well as civilian casualties. One story relates of the need for an x-ray machine. Of course none was to be had on Vis, and there was a great need for one. The British asked around and finally the Partisans said "Don�t worry." Within a week or so the Partisans delivered an X-ray machine and necessary supplies to the British doctors. When the doctors inquired, they found out that the Partisans had made a commando type raid to Split and captured the x-ray machine and x-ray film from the Germans.

Many of the land mines that the Partisans captured from the neighboring islands came to rest in Vis and were setup as mine fields. A major problem was that the Partisans did not make maps of these minefields and this would result in many Partisan and civilian casualties. After the war was over, it was great sport for the young boys of Komiza and Vis to find these old landmines, disarm them and make their own fireworks !!!!

The British had great plans for Vis. The Islands location would make it a great place to build an emergency airfield for planes returning from bombing raids in Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Hungary to southern Italy. Once this had been accomplished and the Partisans became more trusting, it would be easier for the British to enlarge the airfield and use it as a base for further air activity over Yugoslavia. Eventually the field would be used for reconnaissance flights and as a fighter plane base. Over 1200 brave allied airmen were able to land on this field, in emergencies, some wounded, some not, rather than land in the middle of the Adriatic Sea. One brave pilot was a Chinese American reconnaissance flyer, who even though slightly injured had his plane repaired on Vis. When he went to take off in the repaired aircraft with important reconnaissance films he crashed and eventually died in the British hospital on Vis.

 

The life of a Partisan soldier was not easy. About five percent of the forces were staunch Communists, the balance would use whatever means or political flag they could to rid the country of the Fascists. Almost 30 percent of the Partisan were female, some as young as 15 years of age. There were strict chastity laws and violators (of either sex) were subject to summary execution. Young female partisans suffering from malnutrition and the harsh living conditions, suffered also from amenorrhea, with the result that many of them believed that after the war was over they would not be able to have children.

Initially the Partisans main method of securing arms was to take them away from the enemy after, of course, killing him. Uniforms were a ragtag of British, American, Italian or even parts of German clothing. Boots were a high priority item and were in short supply. One Partisan of note would be an un-named 14 year old boy who was elected a Three Star Captain by the members of his unit, based solely on his military abilities. e had been wounded 11 times in battles on the mainland H He had been wounded eleven times in battles on the mainland, and his twelfth wound, on Brac, earned him a trip to a real hospital in Italy. Weapons of any kind were near and dear to a Partisan soldier. As an example, one young man was brought into the British operating room on Vis, and they tried to prepare him for surgery. They could get his clothes off of him but they could not convince him to part with his rifle. They proceeded to operate on him with his rifle clutched firmly in his arms.

Once the population of the island reached the magic 14,000 level, an old problem came up: drinking water. Vis had enough water, centered mostly in and around Komiza, for its own normal peacetime population. There is a major spring by Saint Mary�s church at the north end of town. South of town there are several springs at the beach beyond the fish canneries, but not a great volume. Further south about one mile, at the "Pizdica," is a major water source, it is not accessible except by boat. The British engineers drilled several wells to secure more water for the island, but they had to use small boats to bring fresh water from Italy to Vis until they could get things sorted out. Once they had drilled a successful well they could use this water for drinking purposes, but is was somewhat brackish. Even with these new limited supplies, water would still be rationed. After the war this "Pizdica" spring would be capped and fresh water would be piped into a municipal water system for the entire island.

In early March 1944 Tito sent one of his crack officers, Colonel Zuljevic to Vis. The Colonel�s orders were to begin a series of offensive operations against the Germans. This Colonel Zuljevic had risen through the ranks based on sheer courage and military skills, and was Tito�s most aggressive military officer.

 

The battle for the island of Solta

On March 17, 1944, the British planned their first really big scale battle, using the invasion of Solta to test their abilities. It would include air support from Italy and a night naval landing. Due to the continuous British and Partisan reconnaissance raids, the Germans had concentrated their forces within the town of Grohote. The attacking troops would be British, with only a few Partisans along to act as guides. The naval detachment of MTB�s and MGB�s left Vis in the dark of night with British Admiral Sir Walter Cowan (he was 72 years of age and stood 5 foot 1 inch high) in charge of naval operations, the British No.2 Commandos, and a small contingent of U.S. Operations Rangers. They made their way up and over the rocky outcroppings of the island to surround the town of Grohote. At dawn the British Kittyhawk dive bombers softened up the town and after a short battle the Germans surrendered. This raid resulted in the capture of 107 Germans, with the rest of the German garrison killed. The British lost two killed and less than 20 wounded. The British forces now withdrew to Vis. Surprisingly, the German garrison from nearby Brac did not come to the aid of their troops on Solta.

The irony of the date of this raid was only discovered after the war was over. The German army had planned an attack on the island of Vis for the 21st of February and delayed it until March due to the lack of available troops. The invasion of Vis was rescheduled to take place on the 17th of March with the main German naval assault to be focused on Komiza. Four Battalions from the 750th Regiment, Brandenburg commandos were to infiltrate the island disguised as Partisans; 360 paratroopers would jump onto the island, and 200 more would be landed in gliders. It is not known what exactly prevented this raid from happening, but if it would have been carried out Komiza, no doubt, would have been destroyed with a great loss of life.

 

The battle for the town of Jelsa on Hvar

This was to be a combined operation to include the Partisan fighting forces and the British Commandos and took place on March 22nd. The night before, the Partisans marched off from their campsites to the harbor in Vis town to board the amphibious fleet (for what it was worth). As they marched down to the harbor, they were singing their patriotic and battle songs. It is said that later in the war on the mainland, that the German troops would hear this singing and be absolutely terrified before the battle, because they were so frightened of the Partisans and their habit of not taking prisoners. This fleet was again a ragtag mixture of whatever would float: fishing boats, scows, yachts, sailboats, etc. After the night landing and the dawn airforce bombing raid, the British had to restrain the Partisans from rushing into the town. The Germans had abandoned the town temporarily and once the air raid was over they returned. If not for the British decision to hold back, they all would have been trapped and annihilated by the Germans. This raid did not dislodge the Germans from the island of Hvar but was only a harassing action. The battle of Solta and Jelsa resulted in quick and drastic retribution by the Germans, with bombing raids on Vis island. This was the German bombing raid that hit the fish cannery in Komiza.

At one point in time the Germans and the Partisans agreed on a prisoner of war exchange. The Partisan had Poles, Austrians, Germans, Greeks and even some Chetnik prisoners. The Partisan loaded their prisoners in a sailing schooner and proceeded to the agreed meeting place. There the Germans sorted through the Partisan prisoners and selected only German officers for exchange, and then to cap matters off they refused to release their own prisoners. The Germans took their un-exchanged Partisan prisoners back to Hvar and hanged them on the spot. So much for the Geneva Convention!

 

The battle for Miljet and Korcula

On the night of May 22, 1944, Colonel Zuljevic led his Partisan forces to the Island of Lagosta, where they over-nighted. The next day they leapfrogged to Miljet and started to fight the Germans in a battle that was to last for two full days. They destroyed the German garrison, taking 46 prisoners. Two days later a fresh Partisan force with air support attacked Korcula�s west side. They worked their way east until they came to the town of Blato. There the German battalion dug in, to fight to the last man. This was the bloodiest fighting on the island, as the Germans refused to surrender to the Partisans, knowing how they would be treated as their prisoners of war. On the third day, after taking one half of the island, the Partisans withdrew from Korcula leaving 300 dead Germans and taking nearly 500 prisoners back to Vis, along with a large supply of military arms.

The ferocity and bravery of the Partisans stunned the British. The Partisans did not follow the normal military techniques, but were extremely successful. Many non-Slav military historians claim that Yugoslavia was the only Axis occupied country which was able to free itself without major allied forces marching side by side with them. These raids on the neighboring islands kept 3 full German Divisions tied up to preclude their use anywhere else. In the Balkans totally, there were 24 full German divisions trying to keep things under control.

By May of 1944 Vis had truly become a fortress. Its code name was changed from "Ham Hill" to "Number One Forward Base". The island�s British contingent now boasted 2 anti-aircraft regiments, 1 regiment of field artillery, a bomb disposal squad, a field company of engineers and a beach group. The airfield was now refueling and repairing Spitifire fighters as well as Dakota bombers, while the harbor at Komiza sheltered the large flotilla of British attack boats.

The German high command and Hitler himself posted a wanted dead or alive bounty on Tito, promising 100,000 German gold marks for him. On May 25 at 5:00 AM the German drive to capture Tito in the Drava valley began. The troops attacked from 5 different directions and consisted of tanks, parachutists, and many other resources. It is claimed that this German effort used 5 Divisions, 2 regiments, 4 battalions plus 100 war planes. The attacking troops consisted of Germans, Ustashe, Bosnians and Chetnicks. As the battle developed, urgent word went out to the Partisan forces on Vis to immediately launch an attack on the island of Brac, the largest most heavily occupied spot in Dalmatia. This was to divert the Germans attention away from Drava and hopefully the Germans would send excess troops to Brac and ease the pressure on Tito�s headquarters. Tito barely escaped this Nazi raid on his mainland command headquarters. Tito then left the mainland via a British destroyer, and set up his command center on the Island of Vis, as the People�s Liberation Army arriving on Vis on June 7, 1944. Vis then reacquired the name "Malta of the Adriatic".

 

The battle for Brac

The British had landed their No. 40 Royal Marine Commando unit on Vis, giving the British 2,000 personal on Vis. The Partisans now numbered more than 6,000, so that over 8,000 troops were now camped on Vis.

On June 1, 1944, the Partisan Army from Vis along with British forces now attempted to liberate the Island of Brac from the Germans. They did a night landing with the ragtag fleet, with air support at dawn. They landed a combined force of 4,500 men, plus 16 cannons, 20 vehicles and large supplies of stores and ammunition. This was another long bloody battle, with heavy losses. The British 43rd and 40th Commandos were led by "mad" Jack Churchill, playing his bagpipes.!! The Partisan charged their objectives singing their own fight songs. There was one full company of female Partisans that charged their German objective and were mowed down like bowling pins. The Allied forces were able to occupy the town of Selca, but only for a short time. After three days of fighting, the Germans were able to re-group and eventually drive the Allied forces from the island of Brac. The Allies had killed or captured 570 Germans before retiring, on June 4, 1944. A real blow to the British was that their beloved "Mad Jack" Churchill was captured by the Germans and rushed off the island to a German Prisoner of War camp.

All this action in Yugoslavia would not distract from the fact that the Allied Armies entered Rome on June 4, 1944, nor the fact that the Allies D-Day invasion of Normandy started on June 6, 1944.

It is rather surprising how the Partisans and British got along. While the British had a long history of Military sophistication and order, plus state-of -the-art military equipment, the Partisans were simple country people. They had no knowledge of precise military activity or the need to follow orders. There was of course a large language difference. Their equipment was poor at best and military order had to be enforced with some cruelty. The Partisan did not seem to mind how many of their own had to die to rid the country of Fascists. The Partisans had an unfailing loyalty to the British, almost as if they were honored guests in their homes. The Partisans would do espionage work, supply guides, and do whatever else they could to help the British. In some battles, when the British would have to withdraw, the Partisans would cover their rear and then melt into the darkness. The Partisans would then scour the countryside looking for British wounded and rescue them from the Germans.

Tito, at one point in time, set an edict that the Yugoslavians themselves would drive out the Fascists, and that the British would have to take a secondary position to Tito�s command decisions. More than one historian claims that Yugoslavia was the only occupied country to drive the Fascists out using their own people to accomplish the task. At about this time the Partisan forces went from a strictly volunteer operation to one of mandatory conscription . All males from the age of fifteen to fifty were required to join the Partisan Army.

As Tito�s successes grew, it became more important to the Allied forces to have a single united Yugoslav Government. The British negotiated peace between Tito and the Royal government-in-exile in the summer of 1944. Tito replaced Mihajlovic as the official head of the Yugoslav Army with the rank of Marshal.

On September 11, 1944, the Partisans from Vis , with their British allies, invaded Brac for the final assault. Two Partisan brigades and four British units completed a night landing with a dawn air raid on the Germans.

There were many changes in the war around this time that helped make this landing successful. The Russian southern front was progressing down through Bulgaria and Hungary. The American and British had completed their landing at Normandy Beach, along with an invasion of southern France near Nice. The Germans had their hands full in Italy. While Germany had enough troops to occupy and garrison their conquered territories, they did not have the manpower nor the material to stand off full scale invasions on so many fronts. The German troops in Yugoslavia and Greece were bogged down with Partisan attacks from all sides and about to be cutoff from the German homeland. The Germans were trying to get out of these problems, and the Allies were hoping that German troops, in the Balkans, could be "neutralized" there, by the Partisans, rather than be allowed to get back to Germany and defend their homeland.

Upon landing on Brac, the invasion force found that the German troops had been concentrated at Sumartin and Supetar. They attacked the Germans with a vengeance and after a hard fought seven days, Brac was completely liberated on September 18,1944. On Sunday September 17,1944 Solta was to be attacked for the last time. The Germans held off the British and the Partisan for four days, and then evacuated the island.

Split had always been the main German base in Dalmatia. They had large coastal gun batteries in Split, Drvenik and Ciovo. With these large guns they could bombard Solta and Brac. I do not know the exact date of the invasion of Split, but on October 26, 1944, the Partisans forces completed the liberation of the city of Split.

Once the Partisan forces had gained a stronghold on the mainland, the Island of Vis would have no major use as a military logistic site. Supplies could now be landed directly at the ports on the mainland as the war moved north.

The headquarters cave of Tito and many other buildings from this era are now used as museums. Located northwest of Borovik near Vis, these museums are open to the public.

 

IMPACT ON KOMIZA

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The people of Komiza sent hundreds of their own citizens off to join Tito�s partisans to help rid the country of the invaders. One hundred and seven known citizens of Komiza, died as heroes for the Partisan cause: Listed by first name, fathers name, family name, (females noted with *), and age :

 

Fabijan Marina Ajdukovic, age 20, Pavao Mate Barbaric age 30, Jerko Jakov Bjazevic age 29, Josip Ivan Bogdanovic age 30, Luka Luke Bogdanovic age 19, Franjo Pavao Bogdanovic age 22, Vicko Mate Bogdanovic age 19, Petar Pavao Borcic age 39, Petar Petra Borcic age 24, Petar Ante Bozanic age 23, Jakica Ante Bozanic F age 20, Miho Ante Bozanic age 22, Ivan Tome Bogdanic age 20, Andrija Pavao Bogdanovic age 24, Ljubomir Luke Bogdanovic age 30, Mate Luke Bogdanovic age 41, Miho Pavao Bogdanovic age 21, Peter Mate Bogdanovic age 40, Ante Ivan Bozanic age 21, Ante Mate Bozanic age 20, Kata Ante Bozanic * age 21, Lukrija Franje Bozanic * age 19, Doma Ante Bozanic * age 19, Mate Ivan Bozanic age 29, Nikola Franje Bozanic age 25, Peter Dinko Bozanic age 43, Pavao Luke Bozanic age 22, Ivan Katarin Felanda age 21, Silvestar Mate Felanda age 18, Josip Mate Felanda age 21, Andrija Petra Greget age 20, Luka Miha Greget age 20, Ivan Blaz Joncic age 23, Jerko Ivan Kucic age 46, Silvestar Franje Kucic age 24, Ante Ivan Mardesic age 19, Petar Luke Bozanic age 21, Nikola Petar Bnozanic age 32, Petar Pavao Bozanic age 19, Ante Ante Fiamengo age 37, Jakov Josip Fiamengo age 20, Jerka Ivan Fiamengo * age 19, Juraj Petar Joncic age 18, Lukrija Nikole Joncic * age 17, Goislav Nikole Marinovic age 17, Ante Pavao Mardesic age 20, Bartul Luke Mardesic age 21, Frane Ivan Mardesic age 21, Vicko Ivan Bosanic age 23, Zlata Vido Bozanic * age 25, Vinka Miho DeMaria * age 19, Josip Ante Fiamengo age 18, Vicko Luke Gizdavcic age 16, Mate Mate Gospodinovic age 53, Nikola Jurinovic Grge age 47, Josip Josip Jurjevic age 23, Ivan Marjan Kucic age 19, Josip Ante Mardesic age 26, Josip Josip Mardesic age 22, Josip Mate Mardesic age 22, Josip Vicko Mardesic age 18, Petar Vicko Mardesic age 26, Jaroslav Jakov Mardesic age 24, Ivan Josip Mihovilovic age 23, Josip Vick Mihovilovic age 17, Nikola Ante Mihovilovic age 32, Ante Nikole Stanojevic age 20, Blaz Silvestar Stanojevic age 37, Katica Juraj Stanojevic * age 16, Miljenko Andrije Vitaljic age 27, Drago Andrije Vitaljic age 23, Lucuo Andrije Vitaljic age 20, Miljenko Kuzme Mardesic age 31, Nikola Jakov Mardesic age 36, Toma Ante Mardesic age 28, Nikola Vicko Mihovilovic age 31, Miho Ivan Mladineo age 24, Josip Bozo Muric age 22, Marjan Silvestar Stanojevic, age 35, Dinko Ante Suic age 21, Petar Dobre Simic age 31, Marko Pavao Zambarlin age 22, Petar Petar Zanki age 27, Petar Ivan Zorotovic age 23, Andrija Pavao Marijani age 19, Andrija Andrija Marinkovic age 19, Duje Stjepan Marinkovic age 27, Mate Andrija Pecaric age 22, Nikola Petar Pecaric age 20, Frane Josip Petrasic age 21, Zvonimir Simun Simic age 26, Tomislav Franjo Tomic age 22, Andrija Franjo Vitaljic age 26, Mario Josip Zuanic age 26, Anoslav Josip Zuanic age 20, Ivan Pavao Zuanic age 20, Juraj Ante Marinkovic age 36, Nikola Andrija Marinkovic age 23, Nikola Ante Marinkovic age 23, Vicko Josip Petrasic age 20,Dragomir Mate Petric age 22, Vinka Antica Repanic * age unknown, Ante Josip Vitaljic age 22, Juraj Josip Vitaljic age 24, Josip Josip Vitaljic age 23, Andrija Mate Bozanic age 22, and Frane Kusme Mardesic age 50.

Of the one hundred and seven, their ages ranged from 16 years to 53 years. Ten of these heroes were woman, ranging in age from 16 to 25 years of age. Ten of them were the martyrs of the Italian Occupation, two were political prisoners and the balance died in battle. Looking carefully through the list you will find more than one pair of brothers. The average age of the lost souls of Komiza was 23 years of age. Vis town lost 116 of its young people to the cause.

To compound the horrors of war, nine other citizens of Komiza also lost their lives: Ivo Luke Burmaz age 34; Martin Luke Grgic age 39; Pavao Ante Kordic age 45; Ante Miha Mardesic age 24; Ante Jakov Marinkovic age 26; Vinko Ivan Marinkovic age 39; Frane Antun Tipic age 23; Dinko Petra Vuzio age 30; and Ante Tome Zanki age 47. These nine were not Partisans, but opposed the Communist philosophy. Even in a small village like Komiza you could have very strong feeling for and against the political system in force. Many other unnamed civilian citizens of Komiza lost their lives as well, due to bombing, friendly fire, land mines, pestilence, and Partisan civil justice. Many died in camps of various types-- Concentration, Prisoner or War and Displaced Persons camps. One book claims that the war cost Yugoslavia a total of 1,355,000 civilian deaths plus 305,000 direct military deaths.

With the oversight of the Soviet, British, and the two Yugoslav governments, a deal was struck in Moscow to join the Royal Government and the Council for National Liberation. In March of 1945, each side made various political concessions, with Marshal Tito named as premier and with Communists in other key positions. Much to the surprise of King Peter, the monarchy was dissolved in August 1945, and the King remained in exile. Remember that the King had a very Russian czarist background, while Tito had roots to the Russian revolution.

The war would continue on the mainland of Yugoslavia until May, 1945. The Partisans drove the Fascist elements-- German, Ustashe, Slovenian and Croatian-- north until the retreating army and its civilian contingent arrived at the Austrian border. There the Fascists tried to surrender to the British forces but were denied. The British and Americans required that the Fascists must surrender to Tito�s Partisan forces. Now all the hatred of the Partisans for the Fascists would result in extensive retribution against both the military and civilians who had surrendered. It was truly awful and not worth repeating here. It is referred to in most historical documents as the "Bleiburg Tragedy", involving about 300,000 souls.

 

POST WAR

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Many anti-Communists would flee the country rather than live under that system. Italians were given the option of declaring their choice for Italian citizenship and leaving the country within one year or remaining in Yugoslavia. Apparently those who left would lose all of their property to the system. People who had been of other political leanings also left rather than remain. Not only did the country lose those who died, but also those who had fled, and those who had opted to leave. A great loss to a country trying to recover from a great war.

The Communists were now in total control of the country and I will not go into the pros and cons of that political system.

After the cleaning up of the carnage of the war, the island of Vis was turned into a Yugoslavian military stronghold. With the construction of military bunkers, tunnels, submarine pens, communication facilities, shore batteries and a permanent garrison, Vis became a virtual citadel. Foreigners would not be allowed to visit the island unless they had personal ties to its inhabitants. From a civilian point of view the new government did not do much for Komiza. Until the mid 1960�s there were only seven municipal fountains as drinking water sources, the streets were not entirely paved and there was no sewer system.

Life would go on in Komiza as it had for the past 1,000 years. Over one hundred of her sons and daughters had died during the war and at least one hundred more would die from the aftermath due to sickness and deprivation of one kind or another. Over the years young people would tire of the Communist government and lack of opportunity, and steal away from the island. They would get small boats from Komiza and row to Italy with a friend or two, to seek a better life. This could be very dangerous as the Government had no desire to lose any of its dwindling population. There is more than one story of escapees from Komiza being caught and killed by government forces when trying to flee.

 

INTERESTING SIDE NOTES

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Three different alphabets are used in the area: The Glagolitic, Cyrillic, and Roman.

Until 1847 Italian was still the official language of the Croatian Parliament.

The greatest monument of classical antiquity in Dalmatia is undoubtedly the retirement palace of Diocletian, the Roman Emperor. This palace is located in the city of Split, the jumping off place to Vis. He was buried there in 315 A.D.

The natives of the Dalmatian coast are among the most renown seamen in the Mediterranean. Many of their ship building designs were used by both the Greeks and the Romans in the design and development of their own navies.

The clock in the Castle of Komiza is very interesting and unique. The bell strikes every quarter hour, once at 15 minutes past, twice at 30 minutes past, 3 times at 45 minutes past and 4 times on the hour. Shortly after the hour is struck (4 times), the clock then strikes the past hour, i.e. at 7 PM it will strike 6 times, then about 5 minutes later it will strike the new hour i.e. 7 times. The clock is hand wound by the young boys of Komiza on a regular basis.

 

TOURISM TODAY - 2001

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The island of Vis has been a very sensitive military base since the end of World War II. The government did not allow any civilians on the island, unless they were born there or could trace their ancestry to the island. Several people that I have spoken to confirm they had made a trip to Komiza several years ago, and their spouses were not allowed on the island. The best part of this is that there is no plastic, artificial or modernistic facilities on the island. It is truly a place without all the modern distractions.

From America there are several ways to get to Komiza. Croatia Air has 60 flights per week between Zagreb and the major European cities, and 34 flights per week between Zagreb and Split. Croatia Air also has 15 direct flights between several major European cities and Split. Croatia Air runs a bus shuttle service, between the Split airport and the Split ferry terminal. From the ferry terminal there are a minimum of two trips per day to Komiza, with more during the high tourist season.

Once the political situation settles down, there probably will be direct air service from America to Split for the pilgrimages to Medugorje in Bosnia-Hercegovina.

There is scheduled ferry service from Ancona on the Italian coast to Split, leaving Ancona around 10:00 p.m. (depending on the season) and arriving at Split at 6:00 a.m. the following morning. These ferries are more like cruise ships than the ferry you might normally envision, with dining rooms, private cabins, and casinos. Upon arrival in Split it is only a short walk to the connecting ferry to Vis.

During the tourist season there is a direct Hydrofoil service between Pescara, Italy, and the island of Vis itself. On the scheduled days the ferry leaves Komiza or Vis at 6:00 a.m. arriving at Pescara around 9:00 a.m.. The ferry returns at 7:00 p.m. that same night. This ferry holds about 150 people and travels about 30 plus miles per hour. No food or beverage services are available on board. This schedule is subject to change depending upon the demand and should be confirmed before plans are made.

Vis,(formerly known as Issa, or Lissa) is the farthest offshore of the Dalmatian islands, approximately 38 miles south of Split . It is a two and one half hour ferry ride from Split to Vis. The current ferry is called the "Bartol Kasic". She is about 200 feet long with a beam of 45 feet and a tonnage of 3,100 tons, and five decks. She can hold about 50 vehicles. The major city on the island is Vis, while Komiza is about a one half hour bus ride (3 trips per day). The average temperature of the island is generally two degrees higher in the winter, and two degrees cooler than Split in the summer months. The city of Vis has a tourist office that has a German/Croat/English speaking staff. The major hotel in the city of Vis is the "Hotel Issa" (built in the 1970�s). There are two well-stocked grocery stores in Vis. There are several Venetian style homes, as well as several Austrian style buildings, several castles, some forts and a museum located in the city.

Komiza has one major hotel called "Hotel Bisevo." Boarders are also accepted into private homes, as arranged by the Tourist Office. There is telephone service available at public phones, the post office, and at the Hotel Bisevo. The Hotel Bisevo is a category "B" hotel, built in the 1970�s, by the government, as a rest and relaxation point for its military personnel. The hotel has six floors, with 130 rooms that can sleep 300 people. They offer room-only plans, as well as room with meal plans. The hotel staff speaks English and I found them to be very helpful. The rooms are on a par with a Motel 6 in America, with full private bathrooms, toilets, telephones, and most have balconies overlooking the Adriatic and the island of Bisevo. The Hotel Bisevo has several nice dining rooms, a bar, conference rooms and a T.V. salon.

It is only a short walk to town where there are many sidewalk cafes that serve dinner until very late at night. The currency of choice is the Croatian "Kuna." There is a bank/money exchange and telephone/post office exchange in town. There are some small grocery stores and tourist shops in town. It seems that today you can purchase almost anything you would need from the small shops in town; toiletries, medicines from the pharmacy, groceries, and some clothing items.

There is a small art museum in Komiza. The Austrians built fortress Baterija Madonna at Vis in the 1830�s. This fortress is now used as a museum and houses an archaeological collection. In the summertime concerts are held in the museum.

The Spilja, or Blue cave on the island of Bisevo, has been know for hundreds of years to the local people. In May 1884 an Austrian painter by the name of Baron E. Ransonnet was visiting the Dalmatian coast and heard of the Blue cave. He was able to have the Komiza fishermen escort him to the cave. He was overwhelmed by the beauty of the cave and slowly word spread throughout Europe of this beautiful cave which rivals the caves on the isle of Capri.

The tour trip to the Island of Bisevo from Komiza leaves about 10 a.m. in the morning returning around 6:00 p.m. The famous blue cavern called "Modra Spilja" by the people, with viewing of the cavern, picnic lunch and the obligatory swim, is claimed by all who have been there as quite an event. .

The "residual military sensitivity" of the island has changed. With the political changes of 1991, the military has abandoned the island, leaving all the military paraphernalia, equipment and supplies in place. The local people warn everyone not to go onto any military site as there are strong suspicions that the various camps, caves, buildings and other sensitive areas may have been booby trapped. BE WARNED!!

 

COMMERCIAL ACTIVITIES

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About 42 miles south-southwest of Vis is located the small island group called Palagruza. The name Palagruza comes from the Greek and means "Open Sea." Although a very small area, it is quite a fishing spot due to the shallow water and the natural marine conditions that promote a very nutrient-rich area for the sardines and other fish groups. The island has a very substantial lighthouse that is now staffed full-time. There is also a weather station located on the larger island. The Island of Palagruza also has remnants of an ancient Roman flint mine as well as some ancient tombs.

From Josko Bozanic, Komiska Ribarska Epopeja

The fishing at Palagruza was done in an age old method. Seasonal fishing area rights were acquired and determined on the basis of who got there first. To preclude continuing problems a "Regatte" was held each month. All the fishing vessels called "Falkusas," or "Gajetas," raced to the island on a given day. The race was started by a cannon shot from the Castle at Komiza. The first arriving boats lay claim to the best fishing spots and later arriving boats took less productive spots. The Falkusa was a wooden boat, 26 to 29 feet long and up to 9 feet wide with two sails totaling 1,000 square feet. If the wind conditions were poor the boats had to be rowed by the men (there are usually 5 men per boat) and it could take up to 13 hours to row to the islands. When wind conditions were good, the boats could sail to Palagruza in about five hours. Both gillnets and purse seines were used to catch the Sardines at Palagruza. The Falkusa crews could catch and salt, in barrels, about 6 tons of Sardines and it could take 20 days to catch and salt that much fish.

In better years, the fishermen of Palagruza could market 15,000 to 25,000 barrels of sardines. The last official Regatte was held in 1937. In the 16th Century records indicate the duties levied by Venice on the "Sardelle" catch of Komiza amounted to 4000 Ducats per year. Venice as well as the later Austrians also levied a tax on the salt used to cure the fish.

It is said, that one year, a long time ago, the fishermen from Hvar came to Palagruza and arrived before the fishermen from Komiza. The Hvar fishermen selected the best fishing spots for themselves and set up a base camp in a cave on Palagruza. One night a large earthquake hit the island and the mouth of this cave collapsed, closing the entrance with big boulders, rocks and dirt, trapping the Hvar fishermen inside. When the fishermen from Komiza came to the island they heard the Hvar fishermen pleading for help. Unfortunately they could not save the fishermen from Hvar.

Government records indicate that in 1911 the Vis fishing fleet consisted of 264 fishing boats with 1,540 registered fishermen. Other villages on the Adriatic could claim only about 50 fishing boats, so Vis was by far and away the largest fishing port on the coast.

The treaty that ended World War I, gave Palagruza to the Italian government, but the fishing rights to Palagruza were guaranteed to the Komiza fishermen for a period of 60 years for no more than 60 fishing boats, versus 264 boats in 1911. During this period Greek and Italian freighters would call at Komiza to load fresh and salted fish for foreign markets. After World War II, Komiza lost its leading position in the Adriatic as a commercial fishing port and became a fishing port of local significance. Some Falkusas were still in use until the 1950�s.

At the turn of the century other commercial activities of the island included winemaking, with Vis�s quality vineyards yielding 70,000 to 80,000 barrels of wine per year. Vis�s wine was in great demand in foreign markets.

Today wine making is done mostly for personal consumption. The government will buy locally produces wine for about 3 Kunas per liter or about $1.50 U. S. Dollars per gallon. The money generated by winemaking is not enough to justify a commercial industry at this time. It would appear that only one percent of the available vineyards are being tended today. The grape harvest is done in mid September, being field crushed and then fermented for 3-10 days depending upon the vintner�s whim. It is then pressed once and barrel aged for about 2-4 months. The pressed mash is reconstituted with water and allowed to ferment for a few more days and is pressed again, with this pressing being distilled and used to make the famous "Grappa". Generally the vines are sprayed once with insecticide and then blue stoned (copper sulfate) about four times during the growing season. There is nothing more vibrant then the vineyard below the Muster in the month of June.

The distillation of rosemary oil was another money producing occupation resulting in production of up to 24,000 pounds of rosemary oil in a good year. There are also some indications of Chrysanthemum harvesting , in which the flowers were dried and then powdered and burned as an insecticide to kill mosquitoes. Bisevo, in the early 1900�s with a population of about 200 souls, was noted for bee-keeping and wild honey production.

 

The Benedictine monastery of Saint Nicholas (also called "Muster," which means monastery, although not used as such in recent times) sits on a small hill overlooking Komiza. There are numerous legends and stories about the muster. It is the burial place for the dead of Komiza. It is also the most significant landmark of the town.

The site was probably selected some say, for the purpose of defending the bay and fields. With no strong wind and many wells, it was an ideal spot as it could sustain a larger population that Bisevo or Svetac. It was built on the remains of a pre-Romanesque church in the 13th century. Although there is an inscription " A.D. DCCCL" (850 A. D.) over the entry arch of the church, that type of date recording was not used until the 12th century. It is assumed that the inscription was placed there in the 12th century, with the knowledge that the original structure occupying the site was built in the 850 A. D. era. This would coincide with several church legends eluding to Benedictine settlements in the area. No records, information, or proof exist of the 850 A.D. structure, yet this date would coincide with the reign of Pope Nicholas the Great in Rome, while the celebration of the Saints Day is held on December 6th each year which coincides with St Nicholas of Myra, Turkey (circa 300 A. D.).

The Benedictines came to Comisa (Komiza) from Bisevo in the 12th century to this more desirable spot. Bisevo had no fresh water other than what was collected with cisterns. Comisa on the other hand had a much lager fertile plain as well as more than enough fresh water springs to support a large agricultural endeavor. The plains of Komiza were much more susceptible to pirate attacks, therefor a greater fortification was built there to protect the village.

During the 15th and 16th centuries the church was redone in the late Gothic and Renaissance style. In the 17th Century the shrine was enlarged and the interior of the church redone in the Boroque manner. The church contains a total of seven alters, as well as a pipe organ of over 800 pipes. It is interesting to note that the oldest "communal graves" located at the very top level of the cemetery are dug in a vertical position rather that the horizontal position we are more familiar with. This custom goes back to the Illyrian burial method of 2,000 B. C. There also have been some Illyrian graves located near the Felandino Bimbul on Svetac. A Benedictine Abbot ruled the monastery with 80 monks under his control at one time. There are recorded 40 different parish priests for the village of Komiza.

One old legend tells of a tunnel under the Muster that contains treasures of gold and jewels. All major forts going back 3,000 years had secret tunnels which the inhabitants could use to flee if the enemy came over the top of the defending walls. In 1963 a new section was added to the cemetery and the old tunnel was filled in. If there was any gold or treasure, it has found a better home.

Another legend of the Muster tells of three brothers. One of the brothers died, and as was the custom of the time, the body was taken to the alcove at the entrance of the graveyard at the Monastery. There the body was prepared for burial. The custom was for family members to stand vigil over the body until the next morning. The two brothers made a commitment to stand the vigil together. It was a very cold, windy night and the first brother said, "I will go back to town and get some Grappa to keep us warm through the night." A little while later the second brother, who was shivering from the cold wind and saw that his brother who was lying dead in the casket was warmer than him . So this brother took his dead brother out of the casket and placed him on the chair in the alcove, and then climbed into the coffin to keep warm. A little while later the first brother returned with the Grappa and said to his brother " Here, take some of this to keep you warm," but received no response. Again he said with a little more authority, "Here take some of this. It will keep you warm." He of course was addressing his words to, unknown to him, the dead brother in the chair. Whereupon the living brother, laying in the casket to keep warm, said, "Hey, if he doesn�t want that, I will take it." Needless to say, the brother with the Grappa thought that his dead brother was talking to him, dropped everything and high tailed it back to town.

Saint Mary�s church,"Pirate," is located at the far north end of town near the end of the small pebble beach, just north of the Hotel Bisevo. The original church was built in 1513, while the two wings were added in the 17th century. One story claims that the "Pirate" designation comes from the theft of the painting of "Saint Mary" in the 18th century. They conduct Mass in the church regularly, and a local nun plays the church organ. The altar is absolutely beautiful and is a sight to see. There is a baptistery outside in the front of the church. Apparently all weddings and baptisms are held at this church, while funerals are held at the Muster. The church was evidently built on this spot, because it is next to the natural springs where the people from the north section of town would go to draw their drinking water.

The "New Church" is located in the heart of town just behind the Castle. It is named "Our Lady of Sorrows" and was build in 1759. Daily masses are held in this church, while weekend Masses seem to be held in Saint Mary�s church at the North end of town.

At the southwest corner of town near the fish cannery is located the church of Saint Roco (St. Richard). This church is very box like and is only used on Saint Richard�s holy day. It was originally built as a Venetian fort and later converted to a church.

Otok Svetac (often called San Andrija, after the name of the church on the Island, and also called as such under the Venetian rule) has one very small church. This church, called Saint Andrija, was built sometime in the middle of the 18th century. There are some graves located within the church, although I could not find them. Even in the older days the church was in very bad condition. When the priest from Hvar would come there to say Mass he had the people make a tent out of fishing nets, so he could hold Mass for the inhabitants. Bishop Gally had noticed the graves and remains of the once domed church and he had it renovated at some point in time.

There is the church of Saint Blaise (St. Robert) on top of the mountain north of Komiza. An annual trek is made there in February to celebrate Saint Blaise�s "Blessing of the Throats" rite.

The Church of Saint Mihovil (St. Michael) sits on the right side, at the pass, just off the road on the way to Vis.

The church of Our Lady of Plaint (17th century) sits alongside the road between Vis and Komiza, just a little past St. Mihovil. It is a little round church with several small windows and a very sturdy door. I believe it is used on a regular basis, but when and how I do not know. It looks more like a watchtower than a church.

Saint George Church dates from the 14th century and is the church of the patron of the town of Vis. The church sits at the entrance to the port of Vis, by the British cemetery.

The Church of Our Lady of the Cave was originally built in the 16th century and was reconstructed and enlarged several times. It has a 17th century organ which is still in use today.

The Church and Monastery of Saint Jeronim was built in the 16th century upon the foundations and stone of an antique Roman theater. The church sits on a peninsula that juts out to the middle of the harbor of Vis.

Church of Saint Cyprian and Justine is within the city of Vis proper, and was built in 1742.

There is a Church on the island of Bisevo, called Saint Sylvester. The original small church was built in the 11th Century by Ivan Gaudijev Grlic of Split under the authority of Prince Berigoja, a Benedictine from the Island of Tremeti. A monastery was later founded near the church by the Benedictines. The church was rebuilt in the 14th century in the gothic style. There is also a small "Chappela" about 500 yards south-southeast from the church. This chapel was built out as an extension from a small grotto on the side of the hill. The church itself was used by the British during World War II as a command center.

There are many other churches on the island. It would seem that each little hamlet would have its own church no matter how small the settlement. I would estimate that there are over 50 churches on this one small island.

 

Komiza is located at 43 degrees, 3 minutes north latitude and 16 degrees, 5 minutes east longitude. This is about the same latitude as Roseburg, Oregon, and the same longitude as Vienna, Austria. The time difference between Komiza and U.S. Pacific Standard Time is 10 hours, while during Daylight Savings Time, the time difference is 9 hours.

Frost can occur on Vis anytime during January or February. Snow, is very rare, but has been observed on the ground and hillsides in the month of January in the early 1960�s.

The winds of Komiza are the Maestral (or westerly wind), it is the prevailing mild wind for the Island.; the Bura (or north wind), is the very cold winter wind; the Yugo (or east wind) from the Levant can be very treacherous; the Sirocco (south wind), comes from northern Africa and can wreck havoc on the town as it can blow directly into the little harbor.

There is not a great tidal difference in this area of the Adriatic, maybe one to two feet, but there are ocean currents that can be dangerous. In and around the island of Vis the ocean depths are only about 300 feet. Which is well within the range of SCUBA divers.

We can only find almanac temperature figures for the city of Split on the mainland:

Month averages in degrees Fahrenheit

Month High Low
January 50 41
February 52 41
March 59 45
April 64 52
May 72 61
June 76 66
July 80 72
August 80 72
September 78 66
October 68 57
November 59 50
December 53 45

finis

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