‘Despite his experiences at Drvar, Tito had not lost his liking for caves,’ wrote Fitzroy Maclean, Churchill’s liaison officer with the Yugoslav Partisans. Less than a fortnight after his dramatic rescue from a cave near Drvar in Bosnia during Operation Rösselsprung, Tito installed himself in yet another cave halfway up yet another mountain on the island of Vis, three hours east of Split on the Croatian coast. At this time, Vis remained the only island in the Adriatic unoccupied by the Nazis.
Tito lived and worked here from 7th June to 19th September 1944.
The plaque reads: "Here, from June to October 1944, were maintained the working parties of the Supreme Command of the Yugoslav Communist Party and other assistants in the War of National Liberation."
The cave looks 117 degrees ESE towards the expanse of Adriatic islands and left towards the WW2 Allied airstrip to the left. The runway is east-west and can easily be seen with the naked eye.
To get to the cave on Mount Hum from the town of Komiža is a 10km drive or 2km as the crow flies. A slim, tortuous road that I suspect was once a donkey track, clings to the side of the mountain and looks directly over the sea, which was a vivid blue the morning we visited. Travelling down slightly, we passed through two villages and finally made a left turn at Borovik which, despite the name, doesn’t seem to be a village at all, then along a very narrow road up the mountain. About two thirds of the way to the top, we parked and walked up a steep winding track a further hundred metres to the cave.
The location is mountain quiet. Wild rosemary and oregano lightly scent the air and dry trees rise to a height of no more than 3 m. The dimensions of the cave are: 4m across the entrance, width 4.5m, depth 9m – a flat floor without a slope - domed ceiling to 4m. Three steps at the back lead to a flat area of 1.5m in depth. Although the steps suggest another room, there is nothing further back.
The cave is in a magnificent position with expansive views over the aerodrome, the SE Adriatic and the islands heading south down the coast. It looks down into a plunging valley which forms a V on two sides that expands at the bottom left to the airstrip and the sea. “A war cave entrusted to eagles!” I think. A perfect spot.
Grapes and olives are grown in the interior of the island and the rich red soil near the aerodrome, but in the remainder of Vis the soil is poor and supports only dry scrub. Harsh winds and an abundant scattering of limestone add to the impression of barrenness and a stark reminder that a farmer’s life is not as easy here as in the fertile northern plains of Slavonia and Serbia.
The cave is marked by a red dot and A is the airstrip, but don’t let the map fool you. Vis really isn’t very big. The landing area looks far away on the map, but once you’re there it is clear that everything is close to everything else. For a fascinating account of Vis airstrip, see Forgotten airfields europe
See also: Eastern Approaches by Fitzroy Maclean, Jonathon Cape 1949
Photo credit LIFE The Balkans Time Life International 1966.