Category Archives: Victor Smith

SPILLWAY 70 years on: October 24-30 1943

Peter Kemp of the Special Operations Executive in Albania, autumn 1943 (National Archives)

Peter Kemp of the Special Operations Executive in Albania, autumn 1943 (National Archives)

A rather belated update of what the Special Operations Executive’s ill-fated SPILLWAY mission was up to 70 years ago, in October 1943.

Week two of the SPILLWAY mission saw Brig ‘Trotsky’ Davies begin to take a more realistic view of his position. On Saturday 24 October 1943 he issued orders that all men should have minimum personal kit packed and ready to grab, and one wireless set and operator should always be ready to leave immediately. His intention is that the mission can disappear from its Bizë quarters with one hour’s notice.

On Monday 25 Davies hears that Enver Hoxha and the LNC Council are likely to make contact in the near future. An Italian vet, Lt Tesio, arrives – quite an asset as the mission has accumulated over 100 mules and horses. Two BLOs who had been present in Albania since summertime, Andy Hands and Richard Riddell arrive from Dibra; Hands apparently has an unworkable plan to raise resistance, which Davies refuses to approve.

On Tuesday 26 a 50-strong party from the Balli Kombetar, nationalists bitterly opposed to Communism, arrive. The partisan guards bristle, but there’s no shooting.

Wednesday sees Davies visit the local partisan camp, where he is much amused by its ragged drill displays. He comments that they appear to believe there are four Allies in the war – Russia, Britain, the US and Albania. Peter Kemp, who has recently spent a few days exploring Tirana (badly) disguised as an Albanian, arrives.

On Thursday two of Davies’ most trusted BLOs, Alan Palmer and Victor Smith, leave for the south. When Davies is shot and captured in January, command of the British mission to Albania will fall to Palmer, much to the puzzlement of most of the surviving BLOs, including Reg Hibbert, who thinks Peter Kemp is by far the most able officer in the country and the obvious choice to take over. Kadri Hoxha, the local partisan commander arrives for dinner. He brings with him a striking-looking female partisan who speaks good French.

On Friday Kadri Hoxha returns to the partisan base with Lt Frank Trayhorn, who returns later with a long list of complaints about the supplies dropped to the partisans by the RAF. A supply sortie is expected that night but fails to arrive.   

Saturday sees Captain Alan Hare (future chairman of the Financial Times), heading into the nearby town of Elbasan for a shopping trip. The partisans slip in a long list of ‘luxury’ items. Two members of the Balli Kombetar arrive; they are polite and reasonable in stark contrast to the LNC members Davies has encountered so far. Kadri Hoxha arrives with an invitation to Labinot for the following day – Enver Hoxha is finally ready to meet Davies.

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Ladies to the Left

A female partisan, photographed by SOE's Bill Tilman

A female partisan, photographed by SOE’s Bill Tilman

My last post, which included the first entry of Lt Col Arthur Nicholls’ SPILLWAY diary, didn’t go so well. A few hours after I put it up Rod Bailey emailed to say the Imperial War Museum are very antsy about people quoting their materials, and advised me to remove it sharpish. Rather than face the wrath of their legal department, I’ve complied. What a shame.

A bit of an issue for me as I’m currently languishing in Tirana ahead of a meeting with the British embassy on Monday, and am yet to hit the mountains to research the route of September’s Endurance Vile Trail, so don’t have a huge amount to blog about. Tirana, to be fair, isn’t a bad place to languish. It may lack beauty, but it certainly doesn’t lack charm. Shabby charm, to be sure, but charm nonetheless.

So as a filler, I thought I’d share some great photos I found in the National Archives, which I’m pretty sure I can post without being taken to court. They’re of various partisan girls, including Liri Gega who, it’s worth mentioning, was shot on Enver Hoxha’s orders in 1956. She was pregnant at the time. In The Anglo-American Threat to Albania, Hoxha suggests she and SOE’s Victor Smith had a bit of a pash in 1944, but Hoxha’s extensive memoirs are often less than reliable (though to be fair he was right to suggest that SOE’s Albania expert Margaret Hasluck had been the lover of the elderly Albanian regent under the Germans, Lef Nosi. Whom Hoxha had tortured and shot…).

Curiously, many of the photos seem to have been taken by another British Liaison Officer, the mountaineer Bill Tilman, who I had always assumed was homosexual. Rod reckons he was asexual, but perhaps his penchant for the turn of a partisan heel suggests he was just terribly, terribly repressed. He did bathe in mountain streams each and every day through the harsh winter of 1943/44, which has to mean something.

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