Wartime Commando dies

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Wartime Commando dies

Post by Andy H » 19 Sep 2003 17:21

From today's Daily Telegraph

Lt-Col Mike Webb
(Filed: 19/09/2003)

Lieutenant-Colonel Mike Webb, who has died aged 82, fought with 2 Commando in wartime operations in Italy, the Dalmatian Islands and Albania, and held the MC and Bar.

In July 1944, the Albanian partisans were desperately in need of weapons, and the decision was made to try to establish a beachhead through which arms could be supplied. The coastline chosen was in the area of Mirara, south of the Linguetta Peninsula.

First, however, the German garrison of 150 troops at Spilje had to be overcome, and this task was given to 2 Commando, which formed part of the force that embarked from south of Bari, Italy. The landing and the approach march were made in darkness, but the Germans had been forewarned by Albanian quislings, while the barking of dogs reinforced their suspicions that an attack was imminent.

Webb, then a captain, in command of two troops of 2 Commando, had to attack a series of strongly defended enemy houses and machine gun posts. He led several assaults himself with great dash and determination, and his infectious, aggressive spirit was an inspiration to his men when he rallied them for the final attack.

His force was called upon to assist other troops who were pinned down by snipers lying up in the vineyards. Later, during a difficult disengagement, when a large number of casualties had to be evacuated to the beaches, Webb proved a tower of strength. The attack by 2 Commando accounted for most of the garrison, and the remainder was soon rounded up by the partisans. Webb's courage, unflagging energy and leadership were recognised by a Bar to his MC.

Michael Hinton Webb, the son of an officer in the South African Army, was born on June 6 1921 at Hove. His home was in Johannesburg but he was educated at Stowe and, after the outbreak of the Second World War, he returned to South Africa and enlisted in the 1st Battalion Transvaal Scottish.

He was commissioned in 1941 and embarked for the Middle East in June that year. On May 28 1942, 1/3 Battalion Transvaal Scottish, part of the 1st South African Division, was at Bir-En-Naghia in Cyrenaica, northern Africa, when a fierce attack by the Italians forced the forward outpost to withdraw. It was vital to hold this position because it dominated the battalion's lines and also the sectors on both flanks. Webb, then a lieutenant, was detailed to take two sections and occupy the outpost.

His small force, despite coming under heavy shell and machine gun fire, succeeded in re-occupying the post. The next morning, he led an attack against the Italians. More than 100 prisoners were captured, and Webb was awarded an immediate MC.

In March 1943 he was seconded to the British Army on his appointment as ADC to General Sir Brian Robertson, the Commander Tripolitania Base. Webb was fascinated by higher strategy - but a life of action held still stronger attractions and, eventually, he persuaded the general to release him. After parachute training, Webb joined 2 Commando, part of 2 Special Service Brigade and, in January 1944, he accompanied his unit to Vis.

The Germans were determined to capture the island, the last of the Dalmatians still in the hands of the partisans; for the Allies, it was essential to maintain a foothold there to keep open communications with Marshal Tito.

The commandos raided the German garrisons on the nearby islands, harassed enemy shipping and ran supplies to the partisans on the mainland. The Germans were forced on to the defensive but, although they had to shelve their invasion plans, they kept up attacks from the air.

To escape from the hurly-burly of life on Vis, 2 Commando treated the nearby island of Hvar (which was under German occupation) as a recreation centre. After telephoning the postmaster there to make sure that the coast was clear, they would take a schooner across after dark, lodge with the local partisans, spend the next day swimming and sightseeing and return that night to Vis and the war.

After the operation at Spilje Bay and, subsequently, at the port of Sarande, in which he played a key role, Webb fought with 2 Commando in the Battle of Lake Comacchio and finished the war at Molinella, north-east of Bologna.

On being released from full-time military service in April 1946, he went back to South Africa to try his hand at farming and the Stock Exchange. But life in the peacetime Cape seemed dull, selfish and safe and in 1951 he returned to England to sign up again.

With the support of a number of distinguished soldiers, including Field Marshal Sir Gerald Templer, Webb joined the 1st Battalion Scots Guards. Undeterred by his loss of seniority, he accompanied the battalion on two tours in Egypt as a company commander, serving with distinction and panache for the next 12 years.

In 1959 Webb was posted to the War Office as GSO2 to the Director of Military Intelligence. He retired from the Army in 1963 in the rank of lieutenant-colonel.

A charismatic leader and trainer, he was also a natural desert-fighting soldier with great self-confidence, unusual rapidity of mind and a rare intuitiveness, possessed by very few, as to what the enemy was likely to do next.

In retirement, Webb used his excellent connections and numerous Arab friendships to help the Arab cause in the Yemen and elsewhere. A colourful figure who eschewed anything but the best, he liked the champagne life and could live only in Belgravia. As old age caught up with him, he was sustained by his friendships with Sir James Goldsmith, John Aspinall and many others.

Mike Webb was unmarried.

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Post by Marcus » 20 Sep 2003 09:37

Thanks for sharing the sad news.


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Post by Korbius » 20 Sep 2003 17:30

I'm translating this article from an Albanian newspaper called "Shekulli" (The century) that came out 5 days ago, in 15th of September regarding the veterans of this commando raid.

The British Veterans tell their story: How we fought in Albania during '44.
Tirana- With medals and badges covering their chest, british style berets of the '40s style, the veterans of the Royal Marines, in their 80-ies, have returned to Albania where they fought 60 years ago beside the allies to expel the germans.

For the first time since 1944, they have returned to Albania to remember their fallen comrades that fell during the fighting in Saranda. Even though in a very fragile age, Peter Fisher, Reg Wise, Chappie Page and George Quin have undertaken their second "mission" in Albania: to honor the memories of those that fell in the war against the german invaders while passing through these stations: Beograd, Albania, Corfu and Brindisi. These are four of the few remaining that fought the war and after 60 years they take this last journey towards countries and places where they endangered their own lives, and lost 26 fellow soldiers plus over 40 injured.

"With these memories kept behind after so many years, we have returned to Albania for remembering them once again to honor our friends that did not survive the battles and remained in Albania"-they say.
The youngest of them is a 79 year-old Englishman who came from Canada where he actually lives today, and rejoined his friends and other veterans in Albania. The others are 80, 81 and 82 years old. All of them veterans of the Royal Marines "Commando 40". However they are not the only surviving veterans that survived from the unit but they are the representatives for the rest because due to their fragile age and expenses the rest could not make it to Albania to rejoin these four brave fellows.

Albania was their second destination. We met them in Tirana after a tiring day with many meetings that started from the British soldier's memorial in the National Park of Tirana by the lake and concluded with a visit to the National History Museum. They met the President, Alfred Moisiu, Minister of Defense, Pandeli Majko and the British veterans say that this visit was made possible with the assistance of Colonel Lakaj in Albania. The Veterans tell us that under the direction of the "Officer Commando" the men of "Commando 40" were reorganized in Italy and Malta before their embarkation in 24th September 1944 for Albania.

"The Germans at the time were evacuating their forces from the Greek isles through the Albanian seaport of Saranda. While we, "Commando 40" were directed towards the Garrison 1200 of the Germans. 2 Commandos have neutralized the German forces in Delvina" Later the veterans continue their story and tell that the four men were part of the first units that took action against the enemy in the Saranda and the areas around. The unit was part of the Commando brigade which landed in north of Saranda in the area known as "the sugar beach".

According to the stories of the veterans, the troops that took part in this mission had the support of the partisan forces for achieving their objectives. The war for the control of Saranda was fought in the streets of the city and the British forces succeeded in achieving victory but lost 26 soldiers and over 40 wounded.

I will translate some more of the article later as I am unable to do so now.

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Post by Aufklarung » 20 Sep 2003 19:44

A fairly unsung theatre of war outside of the Balkans itself. A good soldier who made a difference. Rest in peace.

A :(

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Post by Korbius » 21 Sep 2003 12:22

continued from the article above....................

Under the rainy clouds, in the Albanian mountains, Peter Fisher, NCO of the Royal Marine "Commando 40" tells us that he remembers only few things of the old Albania; the the rain that accompanied them during their mission in Saranda during September-October and also the tiny houses throughout the seaport of Saranda, the good hot coffee that was served to them by civilians and partisans during their stay.

"I remember once that during a return from a mission where I had to transport ammunition and supplies to the "sugar beach" in Saranda through the mountains in terrible weather, I suddenly got lost in the darkness. I found a small improvised shelter and an hour later a partisan came and he helped me to find the way by escorting me for 2 miles until I knew where I was",-tells Peter, which was Lieutenant of the "Commando 40" of the Royal Marines. He also remembers that during that time around 260 British troops were fighting, also the war with the Germans in a hospital of Saranda where he said that they captured 600 Germans and from there they departed to Corfu with a boat.

"We had to return back to Saranda and during the trip with the boat, a German prisoner took out a gun. We didn't have enough time to check them for weapons, but I noticed him and I killed the bastard"-continues Peter Fisher smiling. 600 POWs were being guarded by 30 troops in the boats to Corfu.

"For the comrades that fell in the battle" Peter says" they were buried where they were killed but their graves have been lost and the memorial in the Park of Tirana doesn't have any bodies buried in it. There is just their memory and for this we have returned again to Albania".

I hope you like the article :)

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Post by Musashi » 21 Sep 2003 12:46

Sure. Thank you, Korbius :)

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Post by Matt H. » 21 Sep 2003 13:01

Aufklarung wrote:A fairly unsung theatre of war outside of the Balkans itself. A good soldier who made a difference. Rest in peace.

Agree completely.

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Re: Wartime Commando dies

Post by Korbius » 22 Sep 2003 16:03

Andy H wrote:In July 1944, the Albanian partisans were desperately in need of weapons, and the decision was made to try to establish a beachhead through which arms could be supplied. The coastline chosen was in the area of Mirara, south of the Linguetta Peninsula.

Just wanted to correct a minor mistake, the place is called "Himara" and the name derives from the mythological creature "Chimera" so that's where supposedly the location where Chimera was living.

The quote below comes from the book by Bernd J. Fischer "Albania at War 1939-1945", 1999 Purdue University Press, West Lafayette, Indiana, Pg. 232

On a number of occasions, British ground forces, which began small and limited action in Albania in June, participated directly in the partisan advance. The largest and most controversial of these actions involved the taking of the southern coastal town of Saranda on 9th October, an operation destined to become another milestone in the growing hostility between Hoxha and the Western Allies. The British were interested in Saranda primarily because of its location directly across the straits from Corfu. Under Brigadier Tom Churchill (without informing Hoxha's headquarters) British commandos, with cooperation from local partisans under Islam Radovicka, took the town on 9 October and considered taking advantage of the success and pushing north to Vlora. Hoxha's headquarters--afraid that the British intended to mantain a permanent foothold--complained that British soldiers had looted Saranda. Once this issue had been resolved, the British HQ for land forces in the Adriatic decided not to pursue the matter further. The commandos were withdrawn, although some L.R.D.G patrols remained in Albania.

Still, as with many of their dealings with the Albanians, the British might have handled the situation differently. They might, for example, have found some way to either inform Hoxha or the BLOs attached to him that the operation was planned. The fact that it came as a surprise did little to assuage Hoxha's fears of the British designs. Perhaps more seriously, British War Office documents indicate that Greek Zervas forces took part in the Saranda operation, raising fears that the British, whose preference for the Greeks was clear to all Albanians, were attempting to establish Greeks in areas of southern Albania, which Greek nationalists claimed as rightfully theirs. Although Albanian fears were probably exaggerated, the British seem to have done everything in their power--inadvertently--to inflame them.

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