The Adriatic Campaign of World War II
was a naval
campaign fought during World War II
between the Greek, Yugoslavian
and Italian navies
, the Kriegsmarine
, and the Mediterranean squadrons
of the United Kingdom, France, and the Yugoslav Partisan naval
forces. Considered a relatively minor part of the naval warfare of
World War II, it nonetheless saw interesting developments, given
the specificity of the Dalmatian
Prelude — Italian invasion of Albania
On 7 April 1939, Mussolini's troops occupied Albania, overthrew
Zog, and annexed the country to the Italian Empire
. Naval operations in the
Adriatic consisted mostly of transport organisation through the
ports of Taranto.
The Greco-Italian War
lasted from 28 October 1940
to 30 April 1941 and was part of World War
. Italian forces invaded Greece and made limited gains.
outbreak of hostilities, the Royal
Hellenic Navy was composed of the old cruiser Averof, 10 destroyers (4 old Theria class, 4
relatively modern Dardo
class and 2 new Greyhound
class), several torpedo boats and 6 old submarines.
the formidable Regia Marina, its role
was primarily limited to patrol and convoy escort duties in the
This was essential both for the completion
of the Army's mobilization, but also for the overall resupply of
the country, the convoy routes being threatened by Italian aircraft
and submarines operating from the Dodecanese Islands
Nevertheless, the Greek ships also carried
out limited offensive operations against Italian shipping in the
The destroyers carried out three bold but
fruitless night-time raids (14-15 November 1940, 15-16 December
1940 and 4-5 January 1941). The main successes came from the
submarines, which managed to sink some Italian transports.
Italian side, although the Regia Marina
suffered severe losses in capital ships from the Royal Navy during the Taranto
raid, Italian cruisers and destroyers continued to
operate covering the convoys between Italy and Albania.
Also, on November 28
, an Italian
squadron bombarded Corfu, while on December
and March 4
, Italian task forces
shelled Greek coastal positions in Albania.
Invasion of Yugoslavia
The Invasion of Yugoslavia
(also known as
) began on 6 April 1941 and ended with the
unconditional surrender of the Royal Yugoslav Army on 17 April
. The invading Axis powers (Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Hungary, and Bulgaria) occupied and deismembered the
When Germany and Italy attacked Yugoslavia on 6 April 1941, the
Yugoslav Royal Navy
available 3 destroyers, 2 submarines and 10 MTBs as the most
effective units of the fleet. One other destroyer, the Ljubljana
was in dry-dock at the time of the invasion and she and her
anti-aircraft guns were used in defence of the fleet base at
The remainder of the fleet was useful only
for coastal defence and local escort and patrol work.
Kotor was close to
the Albanian border and
the Italo-Greek front there, but Zara (Zadar), an Italian
enclave, was to the north-west of the coast and to prevent a
bridgehead being established, the destroyer "Beograd", 4 of the old
torpedo boats and 6 MTBs were despatched to Šibenik, 80 km
to the south of Zara, in preparation for an attack.
was to be co-ordinated with the 12th "Jadranska" Infantry Division
and two "Odred" (combined regiments) of the Royal Yugoslav Army attacking from the
Benkovac area, supported by air attacks by the 81st Bomber
Group of the Royal Yugoslav Air
The Yugoslav forces launched their attack on 9
April, but by 13 April the Italian forces had counter-attacked and
were in Benkovac by 14 April. The naval prong to this attack faltered when
the destroyer "Beograd" was damaged by near misses from Italian
aircraft off Sibenik when her
starboard engine was put out of action, after which she limped to
Kotor, escorted by the remainder of the force, for
maritime patrol float-planes of the Royal Yugoslav Air Force flew
reconnaissance and attack missions during the campaign, as well as
providing air cover for mine-laying operations off Zara (Zadar).
their successes included an Italian tanker being damaged by a near
miss off the Italian coast near Bari, attacks on
the Albanian port of Durrës, as well as
strikes against Italian re-supply convoys to Albania.
April, one Dornier Do 22K
notably took on an Italian convoy of 12 steamers with an escort of
8 destroyers crossing the Adriatic during the day, attacking
single-handed in the face of intense AA fire.
Naval forces of the Yugoslav resistance were formed as early as
September 19, 1942, when Partisans in Dalmatia
formed their first naval unit made of
fishing boats, which gradually evolved into a force able to engage
the Italian Navy and Kriegsmarine
conduct complex amphibious operations. This event is considered to
be the foundation of the Yugoslav
.At its peak during World War II, the Yugoslav Partisans'
Navy commanded 9 or 10 armed ships, 30 patrol boats, close to 200
support ships, six coastal batteries, and several Partisan
detachments on the islands, around 3,000 men.
After the Italian
(8 September 1943) following the Allied invasion of Italy
partisans took most of the coast and all of the islands. On 26
October 1943 the Yugoslav Partisans' Navy was organized first into
four, and later into six Maritime Costal Sectors (Pomorsko
, POS). The task of the naval forces was to
secure supremacy at sea, organize defense of coast and islands, and
attack enemy sea traffic and forces on the islands and along the
first move (Operation Wolkenbruch) the Germans rushed to occupy the
notthern Adriatic ports of Trieste, Fiume and Pula, and established
the Operational Zone Adriatic Coast
OZAK, with its headquarters in Trieste, on 10 September. It comprised the
provinces of Udine, Gorizia, Trieste, Pula (Pola),
Rijeka (Fiume) and
Since an Allied landing in the area was anticipated, OZAK also
hosted a substantial German military contingent, the
Befehlshaber Operationszone Adriatisches Küstenland
commanded by General der Gebirgstruppe Ludwig Kübler
. On 28 September 1944,
these units were redesignated XCVII Armeekorps
. Soon also
German marine units were formed. Royal
engagement was also on the rise.
German Navy in the Adriatic
Vice Admiral Joachim LIETZMANN was Commanding Admiral Adriatic
(Kommandierender Admiral Adria). Initially, the area of operation ranged
from Fiume to Valona, and the area of the Western coast was under
the jurisdiction of the German navy for Italy (Deutsches
Marinekommando Italien). The line of demarcation between the two
naval commands and corresponded between the Armed Group F (Balkans)
and the Armed Group E (Italy) as a border between the Italian Social Republic (RSI) and
the Independent State of Croatia (NDH). Soon on LIETZMANN insistence on the area of
operation was extended to include the whole of Istria to the mouth
of the Tagliamento, and in correspondence to the boundary line between
the Italian Social Republic
and the area of the Operational Zone Adriatic
One of the first operations was Operation Herbstgewitter
consisted of landing German troops on the islands of Krk, Cres and Lošinj in November 1943.
The Germans used some old
ships such as the cruiser SMS Niobe
the auxiliary cruiser Ramb III
. During the action the
islands were cleared of partisan forces and the Niobe with
two S-boat managed to capture a British
military mission on the island of Lošinj.
Gradually the German navy was built up, mostly with former Italian
ships found in an advanced phase of construction in the yards of
Fiume and Trieste. The strongest naval unit was the 11th
Sicherungsflotille. Formed in May 1943 in Triest as the 11.
Küstenschutzflottille, in December 1943 it was designated 11.
Sicherungsflottille. It was employed in protecting marine
communications in the Adriatic, mostly from partisan naval attacks.
On 1 March 1944 the Flotilla was extended and re-designated the 11.
Until end of 1943 the German forces were advancing into Dalmatia
after capitulation of Italy. By 1944 only Vis
island remained unoccupied and divisions task become its defense
against later canceled German invasion (Operation FREISCHÜTZ). The
island was about 14 miles long and 8 miles wide, with a mainly
hilly perimeter, with a plain in the centre covered with vines,
part of which has been removed to make way for an airstrip about
750 yards long, from which 4 Spitfires
the Balkan Air Force
operating. At the west end of the island was the Port
of Komiža, while at
the other end was the Port of Vis, these were connected by the only
good road running across the plain.Vis was
organized as a great stronghold, held until the end of the
In 1944 Tito's headquarters moved there and British forces with
over 1,000 troops was also included in the defence of Vis.
British forces, already on the island, were called Land Forces Adriatic, and were under
the command of Brigadier George Daly, and consisted of the 40th and
43rd Royal Marine Commando,
2nd SAS Brigade, Highland Light Infantry (part of the
51st Highland Division) and other support troops.
from the two ports were several Royal Navy craft, Marshal Tito’s
forces numbered about 2,000. Vis was functioning as the political and
military center of the liberated territories until the liberation
of Belgrade in late 1944.
A remarkable figure was the Canadian captain Thomas G. Fuller
, son of the Canadian Chief Dominion
Architect Thomas William Fuller
who in 1944 took command of the 61st MGB flotilla. Operating from
the island of Vis he supplied the partisans by pirating German
supply ships. He managed to sunk or capture 13 German supply boats,
involved in 105 fire fights and another 30 operations where there
was no gunfire. Characteristically for the Yugoslav operations
theatre, Fuller attributed a good part of his success to the
blood-curling threats uttered by the Yugoslav partisan who manned
the MGB's loud hailer: a 400 ton schooner was captured with its
whole cargo and whose crew gave up without a struggle because of
the explanation of what would be done to them personally, with
knives, if they disobeyed.
The liberation of Dalmatia
British naval forces in the Middle East operating in the Adriatic
Sea were under the command of Flag Officer Taranto and Adriatic
& Liaison with the Italians (F.O.T.A.L.I). All the naval forces
were controlled by Taranto and operated in close coordination with the Coastal
attack operations conducted by the BAF.
The Yugoslavs used
the units in the British navy to transport materials and men, but
especially to make landings on the islands of Dalmatia to liberate
them from German occupation.
During Vis period Partisans carried out several seaborne landings
on Dalmatian islands with help of Royal Navy and Commandos:
The French Navy was involved as well in the first half of 1944,
with the 10th Division of Light Cruisers made up of three Fantasque class destroyers
, Le Terrible
, Le Malin
high speed sweeps in the Adriatic, destroying German convoys.
In the second half of 1944 the Royal Navy
sent a destroyer flotilla in the Adriatic. The biggest engagement
happened on 1 November 1944 when two Hunt class destroyers HMS Avon Vale
with her sister ship HMS Wheatland
were patrolling the coastal
shipping routes south of Lussino in the Adriatic. That evening two
enemy corvettes were sighted. (UJ-202 and UJ-208. The two
destroyers opened fire at a range of 4,000 yards. In less than ten
minutes the enemy ships were reduced to mere scrap, the two British
ships were circling the enemy and pouring out a devastating fire of
pom-pom and small calibre gunfire. When the first corvette was sunk
Avon Vale closed to rescue the Germans while Wheatland continued to
shoot up the second corvette which eventually blew up. Ten minutes
later the British came under fire from the German Torpedoboot Ausland
(ex-Italian destroyer Audace) which suddenly
appeared on the scene. When the two British ships directed their
fire at her and the enemy destroyer was sunk. But while the
Adriatic campaign continued to the end of the war, the Hunts did
not again engage large German warships, although the German Navy
was constantly launching and commissioning light destroyer types
from the yards of Trieste and Fiume.
Moreover, on 14 December 1944, the HMS
struck a mine around the island of Škrda
and it was the last British destroyer lost
To prevent entrance to North Adriatic in last two years of Second
World War, Germans spread thousands mines and blocked all ports and
canals, Many of underwater mine fields has been situated at the
open sea. Mine sweeping was executed by Britain ships equipped with
special mine-sweep technology. On 5th of May 1945 HMS Coriolanus
of type "Trawler" and class
"Shakespeare" hit a mine while it was sweeping the sea in front of
Planned allied landings
Allies, first under French initiative of the general Maxime Weygand planned landings in the
Thessaloniki area. Although discarded by the British, later the
landing option became most advocated by Winston Churchill. the so called Ljubljana
gap strategy proved ultimately to be little more than a bluff owing
to American refusal and skepticism upon the whole operation.
nevertheless, the British command planned several landing
operations in Dalmatia and Istria codenamed
ARMPIT and a more ambitious plan GELIGNITE. Facing American
opposition the British made last attempts were marked by sending an
air force called FAIRFAX in Zadar area, and an
artillery attachment called FLOYD FORCE also in Dalmatia, but due
to Yugoslav obstruction such attempts ceased.
the bluff worked since Hitler eventually awaited an allied landing
in the northern Adriatic, and diverted important resources in the
area. Instead of landings the allied agreed to provide Tito land
units with aerial and logistical support by setting up the Balkan Air Force
biggest British-led combined operation in the eastern Adriatic
codenamed Operation Antagonise
in December 1944 was intended to capture the island of Lošinj, where the Germans kept E-boats and (possibly) midget submarines.
was only partially executed since the partisan Navy Commander in
Chief, Josip Černi
, refused to give
his troops for the landing operation. Instead a group of
destroyers and MTBs
shelled the German gun positions and 36 South
African Air Force Bristol
Beaufighters attacked the naval base installations with
RP-3 3 inch Rocket Projectiles As the
attacks proved ineffective in stopping German activities they were
repeated also in the first months of 1945.
Final naval operations
By the end of October 1944 the Germans still had five destroyers
(TA20, TA40, TA41, TA44, and TA 45) three corvettes (UJ205, UJ206,
and TA48). On January 1, 1945 there were four German destroyers
operative in the northern Adriatic (TA40, TA41, TA44, and TA 45)
three U-Boot Jäger corvettes (UJ205, UJ206, and TA48). even as late
as 1 April TA43, TA 45, and UJ206 were in commission and available
to fight. Allied aircraft sank four in port (at Fiume and Trieste)
during March and April, British MTB
45 in April.
last operations of the German navy involved the evacuation of
troops and personnel from Istria and Trieste before the advancing Yugoslavs that took place in
May 1945. An estimated enemy force of 4000 was landing
from 26 ships of all types at the mouth of the Tagliamento River at Lignano Sabbiadoro.
The area is a huge sand spit running out
into a big lagoon, and at its southern end the Tagliamento River
enters the sea. The Germans had evacuated Trieste to escape the
Yugoslav Army. The Germans were protected by naval craft holding
off three British MTBs, which could not get in close enough to use
their guns effectively. There were about 6000 of them and their
equipment included E-boats, LSTs, a small hospital ship, all types
of transport, and a variety of weapons. The 21st Battalion of the
New Zealand 2nd Division
was outnumbered by 20 to one, but at the end the Germans
surrendered on 4th of May 1945. Others had already surrendered to the
British troops on German ships which arrived from Istria to
Ancona on 2 May
British sources wrote there were about 30 boats but no
exact record is mentioned.
- Fatutta, et al, 1975.
- Whitely, 2001, p. 312.
- Shores, et al, 1987, p. 218.
- F A Mason, The last destroyer : HMS Aldenham, 1942-44, London:
- Thomas M. Barker, “The Ljubljana Gap Strategy: Alternative to
Anvil/Dragoon or Fantasy? Journal of. Military History, 56
(January 1992): 57-86
- Paul J. Freeman, The Cinderella Front: Allied Special Air
Operations in Yugoslavia during World War II, Air Command and Staff
College, March 1997. URL: