On 9 March 1945, twenty-seven men from the Special Boat Squadron, were tasked to attack the enemy occupied Villa Punta, on the Yugoslav island of Lussino. Initially occupied by Italian fascists, the fortified villa, with extensive gardens and the surrounding village had recently been reinforced with German troops.
The initial plan was for a small party of men, led by Lieutenant Ivan Jones-Parry, to draw the enemy to the back of the villa – the seaward side, while the main party of seventeen men, led by Captain Ambrose McGonigal, would storm the front of the building.
At about 0200 hours the target was spotted. Jones-Parry’s patrol advanced along the coastal path on the south side of the villa, but almost immediately they were challenged by a sentry and when they failed to give the password, the sentry opened up on them. The raiders responded with typical aggression and heavy fire from their Bren guns, but the commotion alerted the defenders and a fierce fire-fight ensued.
Casualties were taken on both sides, including Bren gunner, Bombardier Arthur Morgan, who was seriously wounded in the back. Morgan, however, refused to leave his position, continued to fire his Bren at the enemy, and despite his injuries joined the main assault and was further wounded in his leg.
For twenty minutes they slugged it out until eventually the enemy was driven back into the villa and surrounded. McGonigal seized the moment and ordered his men to storm the building. Instructing Jones-Parry and his men to clear the ground floor, while Lieutenant Donald Thomason and three men, the first floor.
As Jones-Parry launched his assault he spotted a machine gun and tripod mounted in the garden, one of his men, Marine Tommy Kitchingman found an Italian behind it and duly killed him. Jones-Parry, Sergeant McDougal and Tommy Kitchingham rushed in through the front door and cleared the first room. In the darkness they moved to the second, which was directly opposite.
Sergeant McDougal covered the corridor as the other two went in. Kitchingman, covering Jones-Parry’s back, asked his officer if he was alright? ‘Yes’ was the reply as a burst of fire from the first room ripped into them. Twenty-one-year-old Tommy Kitchingman, ‘a good footballer and a great lad’, was hit in the head. Jones-Parry, hit in the arm and chest, watched the Royal Marine slump to the floor dead. Confused and badly wounded, Jones-Parry changed the magazine on his Tommy gun and emptied it into the shadows of the first room – ‘there was no reply, only groans’ – he later reported.
Meanwhile on the first floor Lieutenant Donald Thomason was demonstrating tremendous courage and determination. The three men that had followed him into the villa had all been wounded while climbing the stairs. Single-handedly, and in the face of intense fire, he fought his way from room to room. On three occasions he withdrew, replenished his ammunition and returned to the fray until the enemy was silenced – a deed of extraordinary bravery that earned him the Military Cross.
By 0300 hours it was all over, the enemy resistance had ceased and McGonigal ordered his men back to their boats. Although the operation was a success, it had come at a price. Tommy Kitchingman and Captain James Lees, who had gone to assist Thomason on the first floor, and had been shot by a German hiding behind a sofa, were both dead.
Eight men were wounded, including Bombardier Arthur Morgan, who despite his back and leg wounds had managed to walk unaided back to the boats, a distance of about four miles over a range of hills and rough ground. For his ‘persistence in carrying out his duty’ and for being ‘an inspiration to all ranks’, Arthur Morgan was awarded the Military Medal.
Images: Villa Punta © The SAS and LRDG Roll of Honour
Tommy Kitchingham © Paul Ogden