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Friday, October 22nd 2010, 8:24pm

Yugoslav Events 1940 - Exercise Mirnoca

Placeholder for the events of Exercise Mirnoca (Serenity)


Friday, October 22nd 2010, 8:44pm

Exercise Mirnoca Nr.1

Bar, Saturday 10 February 1940

"Do you have any idea why The Boss summoned us?" asked Lieutenant Commander Marko Mihajlovic, commander of the minesweeper Galeb. The officer beside him, Lieutenant Commander Josip Hocevar of the minesweeper Jastreb shrugged. "I haven't a clue. The entire flotilla is preparing for exercises and there's so much to get done before we sail."

"Something must be up," responded Mihajlovic, "or else The Boss would have called all his officers in." Their journey through the sprawling naval base ended as the staff car drew up in front of Naval Headquarters. Mihajlovic, the senior by three weeks, exited first, followed by Hocevar. The sentries on duty snapped to attention as the officers entered the four-story office block.

Captain Danilo Kalafatovic, commander of the Royal Yugoslav Navy's First (and presently only) Minesweeper Flotilla sat at his desk, re-reading the orders before him. He was still surprised at them, and their assurance that no significant issues were expected. "That", he thought, "must be the bonzen at the Foreign Ministry." A knock at the door called his attention. "Galeb and Jastreb arriving," announced Kalafatovic's yeoman, ushering the two officers in.

"Sit down," Kalafatovic ordered, following the obligatory exchange of salutes. "I have orders for you. I am not certain whether you will like them or not." Mihajlovic and Hocevar nodded slightly, wondering what was meant, but sat opposite thei commanding officer.

"The Naval Staff," Kalafatovic began, "have ordered me to nominate two vessels of my command for a special assignment, one requring experience and good judgment. You are my choices." He paused but a moment, not allowing the compliment to sink in deeply. "At the conclusion of our currently scheduled exercise Galeb and Jastreb will detach and set course for Venice, where you will call upon the Italian authorities for a good will visit. My yeoman will have your written orders for you when you leave."

Mihajlovic and Hocevar sat stunned. Not since the Great War had there been a shred of cooperation between Yugoslavia and its Latin neighbor, and much bad feeling. Each now understood their commander's uncertain views on their selection. Hocevar spoke first, "Venice sir? It's not a major naval base. Why send us there?"

It's something set up by the Foreign Ministry," Kalafatovic answered. "I suppose they think we can show the Italians that we are not savages with forked tails."

"Let me make this clear," he contined. "There will be no incidents, no brawls, no insults hurled. You and your crews will conduct themselves correctly at all times during your visit. All honors and salutes will be promptly rendered and answered. Your vessels will be open for official and unofficial visits, and if you are invited to visits you will accept such gracefully. Do I make myself clear?"

"Crystal clear, sir" Mihajlovoc answererd. "It seems we have much to prepare."


Sunday, October 31st 2010, 8:12pm

Exercise Mirnoca Nr.2

Saturday, 17 February 1940, 1645 Hours – 40.29 North, 18.89 East

Captain Danilo Kalafatovic stood on the bridge of his temporary flagship, the escort Zagreb, observing the maneuvers of his command, the First Minesweeping Flotilla, as they simulated protecting the Zagreb from submarine attacks. Zagreb was playing the role of merchantman in this war-game, and over the last several days the little ships of the First Minesweeping Flotilla had done a creditable job – the Zagreb had only been sunk twice, out of nine attempts, and the exercise umpires had even rules one of the ‘attacking submarines’ destroyed. Kalafatovic, however, was not thinking about the exercise.

On the bridge of the minesweeper Galeb Marko Mihajlovic paced as best he could in such a confined space. His mind too was elsewhere, but it was quickly brought back to reality.

“Smoke on the horizon!” cried the lookout. “Smoke bearing Green Five Zero”. Mihajlovic snapped from his reverie. “What ship?” he asked, his voice demanding an answer. Before even receiving one he ordered his signalman to pass the sighting information to the flagship. “Italians?” Mihajlovic wondered.

Aboard the Zagreb the sighting stirred great excitement among all the officers save Kalafatovic, who appeared relieved. “Put us on a reciprocal course,” he ordered. “Signal the flotilla to form a line astern of us.”

“Several ships ahead Captain,” the watch officer of the destroyer Pristina reported. Anton Lokar acknowledged it with a simple, “I’ll come”, and made his way to the bridge from his sea cabin.

“One sloop and six smaller ships,” said Ivan Babic, the Pristina’s executive officer. “It looks like Zagreb and her escorts.” Lokar nodded. “Right on schedule. Order the Podgorica to maintain course and speed.”

Marko Mihajlovic had placed the Galeb near the end of the column, as ordered, with the Jastreb astern of her. “Signal from the flag sir,” the signalman cried. “Prepare to render passing honors.”

“The Boss must know something we don’t” Mihajlovic thought. From his position in line he did not have a view of the oncoming vessels. He ordered his crew to assemble and prepare to man the rails.

Pristina, followed by Podgorica, bore down on the small flotilla, making an easy eighteen knots. “They are making a fine show,” Lokar thought. His own crew was doing likewise, and the ranks of white-uniformed sailors fell into place. “Give them a good berth helmsman.”

The two groups of ships passed one another at half-a-cable’s length, cheers and trumpets erupting from all the vessels. As the lead destroyer came abreast of the little Galeb Mihajlovic realized what was happening and smiled inwardly. In a moment the two lines were past each other.

“Signal from the flagship sir,” the Galeb’s signalman reported. “Detach and execute Mirnoca. Good luck and Godspeed. Kalafatovic.”

Mihajlovic scanned the horizon to assure that they were well clear of the destroyers’ track. “Signal Jastreb – Execute Mirnoca. Helm, port twenty degrees. Settle on course 010.”


Tuesday, November 23rd 2010, 11:00pm

Exercise Mirnoca Nr.3

20 February 1940, 1630 Hours – Venice, Italy

Lieutenant Commander Marko Mihajlovic of His Yugoslav Majesty’s minesweeper Galeb sat in his day cabin, the fading beans of sunlight still streaming through the port hole. Galeb and her sister Jastreb were tied up at one of the smaller quays of the venerable city, yet Mihajlovic still felt the two Yugoslav ships had several sets of professional eyes upon them. Not that anything untoward had happened; quite the opposite.

Their arrival the previous morning had provoked interest, but the round of official calls upon the Italian authorities proceeded correctly – salutes and honors exchanged with exactitude. Few units of the Italian Navy were stationed at Venice, so the number of official calls was mercifully small. It had afforded Mihajlovic and Lieutenant Commander Josip Hocevar, captain of the Jastreb, the chance to carefully their ships’ liberty parties as well as taking the opportunity to see some of the many sights of Venice.

He and Hocevar had taken a late morning’s coffee at the Caffe Florian – the oldest coffee house in Europe – though it cost them the equivalent of a week’s pay. They had gone to the Rialto and viewed the Grand Canal, where they had attracted some notice among the Venetian populace, who seemed to expect the Yugoslav officers to behave like long-tailed barbarians. It was also at the Rialto that they had noticed a discreet escort of Carabinieri , who kept their distance but whose presence was nevertheless unsettling. Neither officer was certain whether the Carabinieri were there to intervene in case of trouble or to arrest them if they showed excessive interest in anything important.

Mihajlovic felt certain that ‘professional interest’ would draw some visitors to the ships’ open day scheduled for the morrow – perhaps there might even be some curious Venetians as well. Among them might be some visitors with ‘special’ interests – operatives of Italian naval intelligence; not that the two minesweepers could hide much between them. Mihajlovic pondered this for a few moments as an idea formed in his mind. Finally he arose and stepped to the bridge.

“Pass the word for the First Lieutenant and the Chief Boatswain to join me on the foredeck” he told the watch officer. Moments later the three were conferring.

“I want the door to the after helm control station boarded over; prominently placard the rest of the ship’s stations for our visitor’s benefit. I want them to think that we might have something worth hiding.”

Dismissing his subordinates to do their work, Mihajlovic returned to the bridge to advise the watch officer that he would be making a brief visit to Jastreb. It would be best if she also had a camouflaged station…


Sunday, December 12th 2010, 5:19pm

Exercise Mirnoca Nr.4

0830 Hours, 23 February 1940, Venice, Italy

Even in Italy the winter sun shines weakly, and it did little to warm the waters of the harbour of Venice. Lieutenant Commander Marko Mihajlovic stood on the bridge of his command, the minesweeper Jastreb, as she warped out of her berth and began her departure. To the credit of his crew their stay in Venice had been uneventful; nary a seaman had gotten drunk and there were no formal complaints lodged in any quarter that he, Mihajlovic, was aware of. Contrary to his hopes, however, their visit had occasioned few visitors, and the courtesy call by the Royal Italian Navy had been just that – brief, perfunctory but correct. In part Mihajlovic had expected little else. He supposed that the Foreign Office might consider Exercise Mirnoca a success but to the crews of Jastreb and Galeb it was stale, flat and unprofitable. Now they were departing with quiet dignity, Jastreb leading the way, with Galeb in her wake.

Near the bar the pilot cutter approached, and the Italian pilot came aboard to guide Jastreb down the channel to the open Adriatic. It was not that the channel was not clearly market, nor difficult, but it was proper protocol to allow the pilot to control the movement in and out of the port, so Mihajlovic submitted. He wanted to shake the dust of Venice from his feet as quickly as he could, but the pilot’s careful commands kept Jastreb at a stately five knots.

At last they reached the buoy that marked the exit of the channel. The cutter came alongside to retrieve the pilot, who Mihajlovic escorted to the rail. As he went over the side the pilot paused…

“Safe journey home Captain,” he said. “Let the TIGR walk with you back to Bar.” With that he quickly climbed down the ladder and jumped to the deck of the cutter. It was only then that it occurred to Mihajlovic that the pilot had expressed his thoughts in Croatian…