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C - 20 : Josip's Toys

For most of you, the name Josip Broz Tito still rings a bell. Indeed, he was the Croatian Partisan Leader the Nazi Germans never managed to defeat. Then he was President of the Pople’s Republic of Yugoslavia until he passed away in 1980. A little less know are the facts that he was the Yugoslav Communist Party’s Secretary General and that he survived the Stalinist purges before 1941 without a scratch - an quite miraculous achievemnt...

Even in his partian days always immaculately dressed - here with his German Shepard dog

When the Italian Kingdom surrendered to the Allied Forces in 1943, Tito’s guerilla could liberate large parts of Croatia and Bosnia, including the many islands we sail by during the second week of our trip.

The island of Vis in the center of this snapshot from Google Earth

Tito established his head quarter on the island of Vis, protected by his body guards, about 1’000 English Special Forces, a small flotilla from the Royal Navy and after 1944 a Squadron of US Air Force B-24 bombers (the runway still exists albeit is not in use). During his days on Vis, Tito - a truly professional soldier who had fought with distinction in WW1 - admired the daring daily raids of the English sailors on their torpedo boats and small submarines. They were able to completely stop German naval activities along the Dalmatian coast. All supplies had to be shipped by land as a consequence and the Wehrmacht’s garrisons never got enough to properly fight.

Yugoslav midget submarines in the 1980ies

When President of Yugoslavia and Supreme Commander of its Armed Forces, Tito remenered his experience from 1943 - 1945 and built a small flotilla of midget submarines and torpedo boats based on the Dalmatian islands to disrupt and cut off any invador’s supply lines - as the English did to the Germans in WW2.

Secret submarine base on the island of Vis

To protect his navy against air attacks, Tito militarised Vis and built large underground caverns to shelter his submarines. The Swiss were not the only ones to drill tunnels in the Cold War to protect their most important military assets. Vis was completely off limits for ordinary Yuguslav citizens.

With the dissolution of the People’s Republic of Yugoslavia in 1992, these installations lost their purpose. Vis was opened to tourism and the submarine shelters are today a tourist attraction - people love to swim there. Thanks to its off-limits status, Vis kept its natural beauty and was spared the fate of other Dalmatian towns who’s architecture got destroyed by cheap modern buildings in the 1970ies and 1980ies.

With the benefit of hindsight, these tunnels indeed protected Dalmatia - albeit in a different sense than originally intended. We will swim there too!

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