Report on a Visit to Croatia


Report on a Visit to Croatia


Pommerol, JGL




1919 June 5


Cary T. Grayson Papers, Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library, Staunton, Virginia




From: Captain JGL POMMEROL


Army of Occupation, I T A L Y.

Report on a visit to LESINA - LISSA, CURZOLA - described by the Italians as “Isole Curzolane.”

In this report I intend to describe my visit in each Island separately, giving at the end of the report considerations of a general nature.

L E S I N A.

I visited 3 towns at LESINA, viz:-


At GELSA the inhabitants had undoubtedly been informed of my arrival, as a great crowd of people had gathered on the foreshore when the ship steamed into the harbour. The crowd, composed of women, children, and men, carrying flowers in their hands, greeted me as I was in the act of stepping ashore with cries of “ Zivia Engleska, Zivia America, Zivia Wilson” and a few - “Zivia Jugo-Slavia!” Thereupon the Italian sailors and carabinieri pounced upon the crowd, striking right and left with the utmost brutality. A young man was struck by an Italian sailor and thrown down on the steps leading up to the ship. He was eventually arrested and led away to prison. Another boy, aged 9, named TOMIC, was struck in the mouth and side by an Italian carabinieri with his clenched fist and a doctor had to be called in. This deisplay of violence was absolutely unnecessary in my opinion, the behaviour of the populace having nothing violent in its expression.

I landed and paid a visit to the Italian Officer who is in command at GELSA, CAPTAIN MOCANESI. He is a young officer who gave me the impression of being a nice fellow, but whose control over his men is nil. The inhabitants, a good many of whom I talked to later, have the same opinion about him: they all agree that he is just, but is not obeyed by his soldiers. It appears that a few soldiers and sailors have taken matters into their own hands and are terrorising the population.

Captain MOCANESI, in the course of our conversation, admitted that his position was difficult.


The visit of Allied Officers is always followed by arrests and deportations. Here, as elsewhere in the zone occupied by the Italians, as will be shown later in my report, the slightest sympathy for Jugo-Slavia is in itself a crime, serious enough for imprisonment and deportation.


At first, food was used as a means of furthering Italian interests: but in the presence of marked determination on the part of the population not to accept or buy any foodstuffs which were given by the Italians as being purely Italiajn, this method of propaganda was dropped. The foodstuffs are representced now as coming from America. The food distribution as admitted by the inhabitants themselves, not only in LESINA but in all the other islands, is fair, and no undue pressure is exerted.


Here, the inhabitants had received no intimation of my arrival. I paid my visit to the Italian Commandant without any incident. I met in the office of this officer the Mayor of the town, a certain DR. TANASKOVIC, an ex-Austrian officer of the 22nd Regt. of Infantry. He had been sent for to meet me. He is a pro-Italian, and gave me to understand that the population is almost entirely Italian or pro-Italian, and satisfied with the conditions under which they were living - the incidents which occurred later will prove whether he is right or wrong.

DR. TANASKOVIC was appointed Mayor by the Italians when they occupied the Islands. The ex-Mayor, whom I interviewed later, and several other members of the community tell a different tale. The ex-Mayor says he was dismoissed summarily, no reason being given. The other gentleman whom I saw corroborated his statement. They all say that practically everyone is anti-Italian, and most dissatisfied with the Italian rule. As an instance, the following incident is related. On the night of March 28/9 the Croatian Reading and Meeting Club was forced into by the Italians, ornaments, books, literature carried away and thrown into the sea. These were found latedr near the Italian torpedo-boat which is anchored a few yards away from the reading-room.

Following upon this, several Croatians were arrested and imprisoned. The reading-room is now sealed.

The Italian Commandant accompanied me back to my ship, and while we were talking, several people, men and women, were introduced to me. Some came from BRAZZA, others from ZARA: the majority of them Italians from non-occupied territories.

It gradually dawned upon my mind that a little demonstration had been arranged for my benefit before my departure. As I was taking leave of the Italian officer, a small party of Italians - between 20 and 30 - who had gathered round me, shouted “Viva l’Italia”. The Jugo-Slavs, who by this time had learnt that an English officer was in their town, had mustered either through curiosity or sympathy to see him. These responded to the cry of “Viva l’Italia” by “Zivia Inghilterra” - “Zivia Wilson”, etc. etc.

The Italian soldiers gave another display of gallantry, this time with raised rifles and struck women, children and men down: and a scene of indescribable violence and brutality followed. I have heard since that twelve persons including 3 priests have been arrested and thrown into prison. I told the officer politely that I was sorry to have witnessed the Italian soldiers and sailors, before the eyes of their own officer without any attempt on the part of the latter to stop it, strike defenceless women and children.


When I arrived at LESINA, I was informed by the Officer Commanding that place that no one was allowed to have any sort of interview with anybody unless permission was obtained from Admiral MILLO, Governor of Dalmatia and the Dalmatian Islands, as he signs and calls himself: as a matter of fact he showed me a telegram which he had received from the Vice-Admiral Commanding KURZOLA to that effect. As the Officer Commanding at LESINA was only carrying out an order from superior authority, I decided to proceed to ZARA to see Admiral MILLO. The senior Italian Officer at SPALATO put a torpedo-destroyer at my disposal for that purpose. Admiral MILLO objected at first to my visiting any of the Islands because he said he had not been informed by his Government of my arrival. I proved to his satisfaction that I was a bona-fide British Officer and he subsequently agreed to my continuing my visit. I therefore returned to LESINA.

L I S S A.



The whole of the Island of LISSA is under the command of Capitando di Fregata SPORTIELLO. This Officer is rather decent - there is no complaint against him personally - but against the brutality of the men under him.

At LISSA and the other places which I subsequently visited during my trip another method was adopted by the Italians to prevent the inhabitants showing their feelings: soldiers and sailors were landed in great numbers. All the inhabitants were ordered intra muros, all exits, streets and squares guarded by carabinieri soldiers and sailors with loaded rifles and fixed bayonets. The inhabitants were not even allowed to show their faces at the windows - if they did, they soon had to take shelter from the stones that greeted their appearance. In order to avoid any demonstration from which the people would have to suffer, I decided to receive people, Italians as well as Jugo-Slavs, on board. I ask to be pardoned for the introduction here of the comic incident which happened at LISSA.

In the cemetery the Austrian Government has erected a monument in commemoration of the Battle of LISSA, 20th July, 1866, to the memory of those who gave their lives during the battle. That battle, as everyone knows, was a victory of the Austrians over the Italians. The Italians have inserted two slabs of marble, one above, the other under the description of that battle. The two slabs have the words “ITALIA VINCITRICE, NOVEMBRE 1918.” This act, in itself, showing a gross lack of taste, has aroused the indignation of the citizens.


There is nothing very much to report apart from the usual behaviour of the Italians concerning customs dear to the Jugo-Slavs - i.e.

1. Dismissal of all Municipal Officers:

2. Closing down all Societies and Buildings where the people used to collect to read the papers and have their amusements. The inhabitants also say that even their religious performances are forbidden, such as processions during the Rogations.

At KOMISSA many persons, young men especially, have been arrested and sent to prison because they sang their national songs. It would appear that as a whole LISSA is the least badly administered Island under the Italians.

C U R Z O L A.



It is on the Island of CURZOLA that I have seen the worst and most painful examples of brutality.



This is the first town I reached during my visit on the island. Situate at the end of a fairly long canal, the town of VALLE GRANDE is built at the foot and on the slope of a circus of hills. The view is very picturesque. The majority of the inhabitants are fishermen and contadini, the majority of them being vine growers.

I noticed there the same display of force: many carabinieri and sailors had been drafted into Valle Grande to frighten the inhabitants.

The Officer Commanding the town is Captain de Micahelis, an Officer who is a perfect gentlemen in every respect. The Jugo-Slavs of the town are loud in his praise, and as loud in their condemnation of the officers and soldiers under him.

Captain de Micahelis wears three wound stripes and has seen a lot of fighting. This explains very likely his urbanity and kindness. On my arrival I paid him a visit, and while I was in his office I heartd two shots fired under the window of the room. I looked out of the window, and saw soldiers pressing back one or two women threatening them with their bayonets. When everything was quiet again I resumed my conversation with the Italian Officer. Now, a machine gun began its song: we rushed down, and discovered it to be the work of an excitable Italian soldier who had let off his weapon as soon as he heard a noise. Shortly after the incident related above, while I was talking with some Italians on board the ship by which I had travelled we noticed on the top of a hill which overlooking the bay three flags waving proudly their colours to the wind - a British, a Jugo-Slav, and an American flag. Two boys were standing, one on each side of the flags, shouting “Zivia Engleska, Zivia America, “Zivia Jugo-Slavia!”

This display of national sentiment under the very nose of the Italians within rifle shot enraged the Italians who thereupon proceeded to attack the hill from three sides, firing their rifles at everythigng that wore skirts, trousers, or a hoof. As I left shortly afterwards I could not ascertain the number of casualties resulting from this gallant affair.


I covered the distance between VALLE GRANDE and BLATTA in a motor-car. The road was thronged with small groups of Jugo-Slavs who bombarded me with flowers, shouting “Zivia Wilson”.

At BLATTA I had occasion to witness scenes which filled me with disgust.

When the inhabitants began to shout “Zivia Wilson, Inghilterra and America” the soldiers and sailors assaulted the population, which consisted mostly of women and young persons: holding their rifles by the barrels and strkiking them down with the butt ends.

The Commander of the place, Commander VERDINOVA, only raised his hands to his head complaining of the brutality of his marines, though doing nothing to stop the disgraceful show. This Commandant, from all reports I received, is a very cruel man: and his face shows it. I was told by several persons that he himself at the head of forty Italian sailors held his revolver at the head of three brothers, punchoing their faces whiole so doing. The statement was corroborated by the actual witnesses of the scene. In the morning of my arrival, five persons were wounded by rifleshots because they had cried, “ Viova America, Viva Wilson, Viva Jugo-Slavia.” I heard the story from the doctor who attended the wounded, DR NIKOLA MORETTI. One person, SARDELIC, son of PETER MARINOVA , bullet wound through the nose, head smashed with butt of rifle: Franco Pierovic ZANIN, son of ANTONIO ZANIN, bullet wound through the leg. He had not yet seen the three other wounded when he was called to the Commandante.

There are many complaints against the Italians generally. Priests, schoolmasters, doctors, are threatened with the most terrible consequences if they do not pay their compliments to the high Italian Officials who visit the Island. Forty-eight thousand kronen belonging to DR. MORETTI, the brother of the above-named doctor, were taken from his ship in the harbour by the Italians, and carried away.. A woman came and threw herself on her knees before me to ask for protection against the Italians who had imprisoned her husband: and an old man did the same in the middle of the street in front all the Italian soldiers - his son is in prison. I left BLATTA as soon as I could and proceeded to KURZOLA, which is the head of the Italian Command in the Islands.


At CURZOLA my ship wqas moored fawr away into the harbour, and I saw the people on board. I paid my compliments to the Italian Commander the following morning, when a boat was sent for me. The Italian Commander at CURSZOLA is a full Colonel; he has a brutal face, and seems a choleric man. I told him of the incidents I had witnessed and protested against the cruelty displayed. I decided not to visit the town lest my presence should bring harm to the population, who have suffered enough already.

I left CURZOLA for SPALATO, which I reached on the morning of the 12-6-19. My report covers the period between the 5th and 12th June.

C O N C L U S I O N S.

1. Method of Working. I took the greatest care, before starting on my journey from Spalato, to inform Capitano MENINI, the Italian Senior Officer at Spalato, that I was going, and where I was going: and on arriving at my destination I paid a visit to the Italian Commandant before seeing anybody else.

2. Methods adopted by the Italians with reference to my visit.
They try to monopolise you from the start. They invite you in such a nice way that it would appear rude to refuse any ingvitation. They never leave you alone one minute, if they can help it: they manage to bring round you men and women of Italian sympathy blood and speech, also Croats of pro-Italian sympathy.

These come to you with ready made speeches about the Italianity and the pro-Italian feelings of all the Islands. I beg to be excused to the word “Italianity”: but this being the word which is always in the mouth of the Italians, I think it better to adopt it to describe a state of things which the Italians try to convey to the world.

Italians from ZARA, from the unoccupied and non-contested territories, have been widely drafted in the occupied territories to give them an air of Italianity.

A D M I N I S T R A T I O N.

All the Municipal Administrations, at least pro-Jugo-Slav administrations, have been dismissed bodily, and replaced by Italians from RAGUSA, ZARA, BRAZZA, and elsewhere: and replaced by Croatians in favor of Italy. I shall not discuss the sincerity of these people but I shall point out that among the many Italians that were produced for my benefit as emblems of “Italianity”, two were convicts: one for forgery, the other for smuggling. Several had only been citizens of the Islands since the occupation of the Italians.


The three Islands are almost shut off from the outer world, no papers of any description, except Italian papers, are allowed: very few letters are sent out and none received.


The Curzolane Islands produce a great quantity of wine and have Sardine factories, the main industry being fishing. There is at present in the Islands an overstock of wine as no exportation is allowed. Lire and unstamped kronen are the currency in circulation; and no stamped money is allowed in the country; consequently they have no means of buying goods, as a good deal of the money owned in the Islands is in the banks at Spalato and other parts of Jugo Slavia.


The distribution of food by the Italians seems on the whole fair and just. Prices are reasonable, and everybody, irrespective of national tendencies, receives the same amount.


In spite of the fact that the Islands and the mainland of Dalmatia were occupied by the Italians in the name of the Allies, the whole country is treated as Italian: and the Italianisation of these territories is being systematically carried out. No flags are allowed to be shown except the Italian flag, which, by the way, is in evidence everywhere; churches, convents etc. The Italians may say that they do not forbid the wearing of the Allied flags and badges, but in practice children are not even permitted to have on their cap or blouse a French, American or English flag or rosette. I have had hundreds of persons to confirm that, and I have personally not seen any flag but the Italian, in spite of the pro-American specially and the pro-Entente sympathies.


The Italians think, and, I am convinced, believe that wherever there is a stone left by Rome or a building by Venice or a lion of St,. Mark anywhere, the place ought by right to be Italian. May be the population is non-Italian, they may even be hostile to the Italians - it does not matter. There is, to use again their expression, an air of “Italianity” about the place, and it must be Italian. Many officers and civilians with whom I spoke in friendly terms speajk of Malta, Savoia (France), and Tunisia as “Italia teridenta.”


It does not require much perspicacity and observation to discover that the very large majority of the inhabitants of the Islands which I have visited are Slavs or pro-Slavs, and hostile to the Italians. One cannot help noticing the strength and the depth of that feeling which is expressed in unmistakable signs. Nowhere is there any theatrical display, but the expression of the strongest sentiment. The poor fisher folk and peasants which compose 95% of the population of the Islands show their desire by their looks, their tears, and the stoicism with which they endure opprnession The brutality of the Italians has awakened their national conscience, and it would take a great deal of force to suppress it, if it can be suppressed. No opportunity is missed by the Italians to hurt their feelings. I have heard them called beasts, barbarians, and savages by the Italians, the latter seeing in them only enemies which have to be suppressed and coerced at all costs.

S O U R C E   O F   I N F O R M AT I O N.

The acts of brutality which I quote were perpetrated in my presence: as regards the other cases which I did not see, I only accepted their veracity when corroborated by reliable persons.

Though I did not give names in this report, I have kept the names of the people I saw, and I saw hundreds of them. As to the oppression of the people, a mere looking at them will convince anybody: they have the look of hunted wild beasts in abject dejection.

Original Format



Army of Occupation



Pommerol, JGL, “Report on a Visit to Croatia,” 1919 June 5, WWP15786, Cary T. Grayson Papers, Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum, Staunton, Virginia.