Operation Delphin (iii)


'Delphin' (iii) was a German operation against the partisan forces of Josip Broz Tito on the central Dalmatian islands of Ugljan and Pasman, off Zadar on the Croat coast of German-occupied Yugoslavia, with the object of opening the Pasman channel to German naval traffic (15 November/1 December 1943).

Under the overall control of General Ernst von Leyser’s XV Gebirgskorps within Generaloberst Dr Lothar Rendulic’s 2nd Panzerarmee of Generalfeldmarschall Maximilian Reichsfreiherr von Weichs’s Heeresgruppe 'F', the German forces involved in this amphibious operation included Generalleutnant Karl Eglseer’s 114th Jägerdivision, elements of Generalleutnant Otto Lüdecke’s 264th Division, the Küstenjägerabteilung of Generalleutnant Herman Schulte-Heuthaus’s Panzergrenadierdivision 'Brandenburg', the anti-aircraft cruiser Niobe (an obsolete vessel previously in Yugoslav and Italian hands before being seized by the Germans), one destroyer, several gunboats, two armed transports, three Siebel ferries, and numerous smaller ships, boats and landing craft.

Generalleutnant Wilhelm Raapke’s 71st Division had earlier secured Krk, Losinj and Cres islands, the focus of German attention along the Dalmatian coast then switching to Ugljan, Pasman and other northern Dalmatian islands, which in partisan and/or Allied hands would pose a threat to German naval traffic in the area to the south of Zadar. Attempts on 15 and 30 September to make surprise landings on Ugljan had ended in total failure, so for 'Delphin' (iii) landing exercises were carried out at Cape Ostro (Puna Mika) and Arbanasi, and on 30 October a landing was carried out near Zaton to capture Nin and Privlaka. On 19 November three harbour protection craft departed Zadar, shaped course for Rivanj and then sailed along the coast of Ugljan as far as Kukljica to test the island’s defences.

On shore, German troops advanced from Zadar and Benkovac to Pakostane and Biograd on 21 November, and from there opened fire on the larger settlements on Pasman island. The islands were the responsibility of the partisans' 3rd Maritime Coastal Sector, with the 1st Battalion holding Zdrelac on Pasman island with 200 or more men, and the 2nd Battalion holding Neviđani and Pasman on the same island with 110 or more men.

The landing on Ugljan was made at dawn on 22 November at Kukljica and Ugljan town, and the widely deployed 1st Battalion was quickly driven toward the southern part of this long and narrow island. By 14.00 the Germans had reached Sutomisćice, but the southern landing was being contained at Kukljica. By 16.00 the Germans were able to increase the pressure they were able to bring to bear, and artillery from Zadar began to shell positions and the Yugoslav observation position at Sveti Mihovil (the old Venetian Fortezza di San Michele above Preko). By 17.00 the partisan commander had come to the conclusion that a sustained defence was no longer possible and therefore ordered his surviving men to evacuate Ugljan.

The partisans gathered at Svitla bay, from which there were transferred to Iz island by 22.00 and thence to Luka on Dugi island. Only some 30 men remained on Ugljan until 23 November, when they too were evacuated to Dugi island. On 23 November the Germans made landings on Pasman, Rivanj and Sestrunj islands. The landing at Zdrelac on Pasman met to resistance as the staff 3rd Maritime Coastal Sector had decided it was impossible to mount an effective defence of the island and had withdrawn on 19/20 November, with the 2nd Battalion following on the night of 23 November to Dugi island. In a meeting on Iz island on 22 November the partisan command decided to hold Dugi island, and the relevant troop movement had been completed by 01.00 on 23 November.

On 24 November the Germans landed at three places on the east coast and one on the west coast of the now-abandoned Iz island, the cruiser Niobe and destroyers patrolling to prevent any partisan escape. At this stage the partisans now decided also to abandon Dugi island and withdraw to Vis island, leaving only small group in the interior of Dugi island. The evacuation was carried out during night of 26/27 November using 20 boats, leaving only the commander of the 3rd Maritime Coastal Sector at Lunga island in the Kornati archipelago, a single patrol boat and 30 men.

The Germans completed 'Delphin' (iii) with unopposed landings on Dugi island, Zut, Kornat and Murter. After completing their clearance of the islands, the German units were withdrawn to Zadar, leaving garrisons only in Preko on Ugljan island and Tkon on Pasman island to secure their naval communications, but leaving the other islands open to renewed partisan infiltration. The partisan detachment of 338 men had returned from Vis island to the Kornati archipelago by 5/6 December, but was soon moved to the mainland to join the Group of Northern Dalmatian Partisan Detachments while one section was moved to Olib island.