Partisan fleet. Flotilla of vessels from the partisan navy in the 2nd Primorje-Obalje Sector on assignment in Adriatic coastal waters.



In September and October 1943 NOVJ units took part in disarmament of Italian troops in Slovenia, Dalmatia, Herzegovina, Montenegro and Macedonia. They seized considerable quantities of equipment, vehicles, weapons and ammunition as well as uniforms and supplies. Many Italian soldiers, particularly from divisions Venezia and Taurinese, joined Yugoslav partisans and created an independent division Giuseppe Garibaldi. After Italy's capitulation partisans controlled Istria (but Trieste, Pula and Rijeka), major part of Slovenian coastland and almost the whole district of Ljubljana, Adriatic coasts (but some areas) as well as parts of Montenegro, Sanjak and western Macedonia. Altogether liberated areas made two thirds of Yugoslav territory.

Radoljub Čolaković gives an account of the events of that period:

Capitulation of Italy was for us a period of a rapid growth of uprising in whole Slovenia, on both sides of the former Yugoslav-Italian border as far as to Trieste. Our units in Slovenia had disarmed three divisions, generously setting off even "black shirts", who had committed a lot of crimes in Slovenia. (...)

Simultaneously with disarmament of Italian troops were liquidated their supporting forces - gendarmerie and the White Guard, who tried to escape either to Italy or underneath the heel of new masters - The Germans. The only serious battle with the White Guard was waged on Turjak, next to well-fortified medieval castle, where about a thousand of traitors had locked themselves. Ours surrounded the castle and after five days of fights took it. Among prisoners there were several infamous leaders of the White Guard, who were tried for their crimes on the Slovenian nation by a special tribunal.

Shortly before Italy's capitulation there was proclaimed a general mobilization, which brought new brigades and divisions. In autumn 1943 we had already twenty-five brigades divided into five divisions, which comprised the Seventh and the Ninth Corps. We did not wait too long for a reaction of the German to the events happening in so important area. Here were running important communications between Austria and Italy. Occupiers reinforced their forces from Italy and Austria and began an offensive against liberated territories. During the fights our units lost a lot of heavy weapon and vehicles, but preserved a major part of the liberated territories and - above all - people. [Чолаковић Р. (1966).]

Seizure of major areas of Adriatic coast enabled NOVJ to create its own partisan navy. First steps were already undertaken in 1942 on Makarska coastland - a narrow stripe by the Biokovo Mountains stretched from Vrulje bay to Neretva's estuary. Along this coast run sea routes between Split and Dubrovnik. Partisans sunk there a steam vessel and two barges, seized 12 motor vessels and attacked six other ones. By the end of 1942 Biokovo partisans made, through their own CPY cell, a contact with Italian coastal guards where served many Croat sailors. On 1 December, during the transfer of some rifles from Italian storages, Lieutenant Velimir Škorpik and two sailors managed to defect to the partisan battalion Vid Mihajlević deployed in Biokovo Mountains. On 17 December in Bosanski Petrovac they met Josip Broz (Tito) at the General Headquarters. Next day the order was issued to create partisan navy with headquarters and base in village Podgora. Lt. Škorpik took command. Partisan sailors started from operating in fishing boats, eight sailors in a boat with a machine gun. They used to catch bigger Italian ships by surprise, seize them and direct to Podgora. To fight sea guerrilla the Italians had brought navy ships and artillery to shell Podgora and vicinity. Together with chetniks they tried to capture it in an abortive land attack. Soon partisan navy possessed motor vessels and boats. Assaults on Italian ships were made almost every day. They were either sunk or directed to ports where their loads, mostly supplies for Italian troops, were seized. Admiral Antonio Bobbiesie, the commander of the Naval Forces Dalmatia (Maridalmazia) quartered in Split (Spalato), ordered on 2 January 1943 to clear the sector of partisans and improve seafaring safety. The Italians did not manage to fulfil the order.

In January 1943 Lt. Škorpik formed the Navy Detachment South Dalmatia with Niko Sržić in van and several coastal outposts, which controlled the coast and nearby islands. In February the partisan navy got reorganized. Lt. Škorpik, promoted to the rank of Commander, became the commander of Naval Forces of Dalmatia. After Italy's capitulation the navy was reinforced by sailors from the Italian navy, mostly the Croats and Slovenes, who being Italian citizens served in Italian armed forces. Among them joined the NOVJ hitherto commandant of the Italian naval base in Crkvenica, Juraj Bonaci. Hitherto commandant's office in Crkvenica had become the Command of the Partisan Navy (since 24 September the National Liberation Navy of the Croatian Coast and Istria). By the end of October it had small warships and marines.

Since then the NOVJ navy started regular fights with enemy alongside the whole coast. In December 1943 it took part in defence of Korcula Island, where the Germans made a large landing. This defence cost partisans 532 killed, wounded and captured. The navy managed to evacuate the rest of the wounded and civilians. During the landing and battle for Korcula they sunk a dozen of German ships and captured two of them - HZ-8 and HZ-9 - which later served under the partisan banner as NB-1 and NB-2.

The partisan navy also played a considerable role in communication among coastal hamlets and units of the national liberation forces as well as with Allied bases in southern Italy. From those bases since autumn 1943 had been transferred weapon and supplies. Back to southern Italy were transferred wounded partisans and civilians. Altogether Anglo-American supplies for Yugoslavia by sea made 63 thousand tons by May 1945. A part of those supplies was carried by partisan ships. Since January to October 1944 the partisan navy took part in defence of islands Brac, Hvar and Vis (Lissa). Since 7 June 1944 on Vis quartered the NOVJ commander-in-chief Josip Broz (Tito) with the General Headquarters, Central Committee of CPY and other authorities of communist Yugoslavia.