Operation Flounced

This was a British special forces and Yugoslav partisan attack on Brac island in the Adriatic Sea off the Dalmatian coast of German-occupied Yugoslavia (31 May/5 June 1944).

While the headquarters of Brigadier T. D. L. Churchill’s British 2nd Special Service Brigade was searching for island target on which a successful assault would avenge the failure of ‘Farrier’, and the headquarters of the 26th 'Dalmatia' Division of Marshal Josip Broz Tito’s partisan forces was simultaneously planning its raid on Brac island, news reach the Allies on Vis island that the Germans had launched ‘Rösselsprung’ (ii) in an attempt to capture Tito and his headquarters staff.

In order to reduce the pressure on Tito, the ‘Flounced’ raid on Brac island was quickly planned and implemented to persuade the Germans that the partisans intended to take and hold the island, and then land on the coast itself. Thus the Germans would be dissuaded from sending forces from the coast inland to support ‘Rösselsprung’ (ii), and perhaps even force them to send reserves from inland to defend the coast.

At this time Brac island was held by two reinforced battalions of the 738th Jägerregiment of Generalleutnant Josef Kübler’s 118th Jägerdivision, less one reinforced company holding the eastern part of Hvar island. The strongest German positions were those in the central part of the island, to the south-east of Nerezisc, and in the eastern part of the island in the area of Selca and Sumartin; in the area of Supetra and on Vidova mountain there were only smaller German forces.

The Allied forces for ‘Flounced’ comprised the 26th ‘Dalmatia’ Division (less two battalions of the 3rd Overseas Brigade) amounting some 1,300 men transported and supported in 45 vessels, and the reinforced British No. 43 Commando supported by elements of the British No. 40 Commando and men of the Raiding Support Regiment with two captured Italian 47-mm anti-tank guns. The assault force was transported in and supported by some 20 warships (including two destroyers) and landing craft.

The assault force was divided into three columns. The Northern Column was to land during the night of 31 May/1 June on the south coast, remain hidden on the island during the day and then during the night of 1/2 June use the smaller part of its strength to destroy the German stronghold in the Vidova hill area and the larger part of its strength to blockade Supetar and Nerezisc. The Western Column, the strongest of the three columns and transported by three groups of ships, was to land in the same area as the Northern Column but on the following night was to destroy the German strongholds in the area of Nerezisc. The Eastern Column was to land on the same night as the other two columns, but in the area to the east of Bol, and was then to attack the German strongholds in the eastern part of the island.

All three columns were to attack at 06.00 on 2 June, and a reconnaissance platoon (20 partisans and six commandos) was to be transferred on the night of 1/2 June to Solta island to report the movement of any German reinforcements from Solta and to any report ship movements from Split harbour.

Two advance parties were landed on 31 May/1 June and moved into position. At first light British warplanes attacked the German main position and also that at Supetar with rockets fired by Hawker Hurricane fighter-bombers. No. 43 Commando attacked the northernmost points of the main position, Pt 542, but its effort was halted by a minefield, as the Highland Light Infantry had been during the previous night in attempting to take a German observation post. The partisans attacked Pts 648 and 622 in the morning and Pt 542 in the afternoon. Another attack by the Highland Light Infantry and a company of partisans again failed to take the observation post. The RAF was called in for support, and the position was finally taken.

Air attacks preceded the partisan attacks on Pts 648 and 622, but the combination of mines and wire proved formidable, although the partisans did succeed in overrunning the outposts.

No. 43 Commando had a similar problem at Pt 542, and further partisan attacks during the night were unsuccessful. Reinforcements were summoned during that night, these amounting to three troops of the British No. 40 Commando, 300 partisans and two 25-pdr gun/howitzers landed in the early hours of 3 May.

In the east the partisans enjoyed considerable success and captured or killed a large number of Germans, and by 12.00 on 3 June had the remainder bottled up in the town of Sumartin.

The main German position still remained a problem, so it was decided that Nos 40 and 43 Commandos would attack Pt 422 at dusk, the partisans harassing Pts 542 and 48, and the commandos would then support the partisan attacks on these. Communications now developed problems, with No. 40 Commando’s orders indicating that it alone was to make the attacks with partisan support on its flanks. No. 43 Commando began its attack at 20.30 with supporting artillery fire, and got through the minefield with the use of Bangalore torpedoes. The men of the commando reached the top of the hill just before 22.00, but were taking fire from both flanks. Almost immediately the commando was counterattacked and lost touch with its B Troop on the right. The lack of radio communications with brigade headquarters and steadily mounting casualties persuaded Lieutenant Colonel Simmonds to withdraw. B Troop was held up by a suspected minefield and the withdrawal took its far to the left of No. 40 Commando. The men of B Troop were located by No. 40 Commando and took part in No. 40 Commando’s attack, which passed through the suspected minefield and reached the objective. Here the British soldiers came under heavy fire, and D Troop of No. 43 Commando arrived, but German soldiers overran the position and captured 13 men, whereupon the rest of No. 40 Commando and B Troop of No. 43 Commando withdrew to the start line, where they joined forces with the rest of No. 43 Commando.

The attack had cost the commandos 10 officers and 41 other ranks killed or missing, and six officer and 70 other ranks wounded. The company of the Highland Light Infantry had taken 16 casualties and the partisans on the flanks some 60 casualties.

In view of the fierce German resistance it seemed unlikely that the two commandos would be able to destroy the German garrison and they withdrew, covered by the Hurricane warplanes of the RAF’s No. 242 Group and by British warships.