Operation Endowment

This was a Yugoslav and British assault on the German garrison of Hvar island in the Adriatic Sea off the Dalmatian coast of German-occupied Yugoslavia (22/26 March 1944).

Generaloberst Dr Lothar Rendulic’s 2nd Panzerarmee had decided to withdraw almost all of the 2/738th Jägerregiment of Generalleutnant Josef Kübler’s 118th Jägerdivision from Jelsa on Hvar island, leaving only its 8th Kompanie in Sućuraj to hold the island’s eastern half. This withdrawal was effected by night using landing barges and other craft as a result of the daylight supremacy of Allied air power, which on 15 March sank two Siebel ferries (SF-102 and SF-276) and the landing craft I-72 in Jelsa, there by delaying the completion of the undertaking. The 8th Kompanie left Jelsa only during the evening of 22 March, just before it was attacked.

Working on the basis of the intelligence reports that had led to the air attack, the Allies swiftly planned ‘Endowment’ to make use of the newly arrived British No. 43 (Royal Marine) Commando. Marshal Josip Broz Tito’s partisan movement offered its 26th ‘Dalmatia’ Division, but the British felt that this was unnecessary given the weakness of the German garrison only then, on the advice of a liaison officer already on the island, accepting the offer of 400 men of the 1st and 4th Battalions of the 1st ‘Dalmatia’ Brigade.

The vessels carrying the assault force departed from Vis during the later afternoon of 22 March. Embarked in infantry landing craft, the 280 men of the No. 43 Commando reached Hvar before the two Yugoslav battalions, which were being transported in the motor sailers Slobodan, Jadran, Sretna Sloboda, Sokol and Lahor. Unused to this type of operation, the Yugoslav partisans were not as careful as their British counterparts, and were discovered and pinned down by the Germans next to a minefield. Reaching their positions near Jelsa behind schedule, largely as a result of a German bombing raid between 16.30 and 17.00, only 74 commandos were available to engage the Germans, who were already withdrawing from Jelsa. The Germans fell back to the surrounding high ground, which made it possible for them to encircle the commandos and to fall back to Sućuraj.

The arrival of the two partisan battalions then sundered the German encirclement and after two-hour fight broke up the German column.

The following day was occupied in a pursuit of the remaining German troops across the island, commandos clearing eastern end of the island and the partisans its western half. In the evening of 23 March the commandos decided to leave the island, leaving the task of completing the clearance to the partisans. In the course of the night of 23/24 March the Germans landed two companies at Sućuraj to create a beach-head into which the 8th Kompanie, which had in fact now been destroyed, could withdraw.

During the evening of 24 March the two German companies encountered the partisan 4th Battalion, which fell back after a fight. As it withdrew, the battalion spotted the German assault boat I-69, which had been damaged by Allied aircraft in Bristova cove, and captured five sailors. On 25 March the island was effectively divided, with the Germans holding the eastern half as far as Bogomolj, and the partisan 4th Battalion in Pitavska Pla˛a and the 1st Battalion in Brusje. Between 18.45 and 19.15 on 22 March the Luftwaffe sent 12 aircraft to bomb the port of Komi˛a on Vis island, leaving three Germans dead and 33 wounded, sinking the partisan patrol boat PČ-70, and damaging several other ships.

Immediately after learning of the destruction of the 8th Kompanie, the 2nd Panzerarmee decided to launch a counterattack but discovered that there was insufficient shipping to transport the required troops in the single lift which was necessary. Moreover, the lack of German surface units in the area meant that the Yugoslavs could move troops and supplies between Vis and Hvar. When the partisans learned that the Germans were preparing a major landing on Hvar, they decided to withdraw the two battalions to Vis, and during the night of 28/29 March 420 soldiers and 437 refugees were evacuated, another 16 soldiers and 47 refugees following during the next night. Only a small partisan detachment was then left on Hvar island.

With reinforcements arriving on 27 March, the Germans began a slow advance toward Jelsa, during the night of 29/30 March sailed from Sumartina to make a landing near Jelsa, and on 1 April took control of Stari Grad. On Hvar island the Germans had suffered 32 killed and 152 captured, while the partisan losses had been three dead and 20 wounded. The British suffered only three wounded and captured eight Germans. Allied aircraft also sank several German landing craft and barges, which was a major blow to the capabilities of the German navy in Adriatic.

‘Detained’ and ‘Endowment’ compelled the Germans to make changes in their overall concept of island defence. They no longer located their garrisons in requisitioned schools and other buildings in villages, where they could be easily surrounded and were easy target for air attacks. The garrisons were now moved to high ground with stone-lined trenches protected by barbed wire and land mines to buy the time for reaction forces to be deployed swiftly from the mainland. This made future operations much costlier for the Allies, but achieved the primary goal of these raids inasmuch as it forced the Germans to commit larger number of troops and other resources to coastal defence.