Many Basques have of course fought on all fronts of World War II. But there was one: a pelotari from the small town of Basusarri, unknown to many historians, praised by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill for his ability to shoot down Nazi tanks with grenades thrown with one arm at an incredible distance . His name: Víctor Iturria.
He was born October 22, 1914 in this city of Iparralde, 45 kilometers from San Sebastián. As a young man, he moved with his family to the border town of Sare. After a strict religious education, he worked as a stonemason and quickly gained notoriety as a pelotari. Iturria won prestigious championships thanks to his huge forehand.
His sports career went well until 1939. He volunteered to stop the Nazis from the beginning of the conflict. It is for his ability to neutralize tanks that Iturria has become a war hero. He alone, with the talent acquired as a pelotari, destroyed seven Nazi tanks PANZER in one day by throwing grenades with a hand so precise. This feat did not go unnoticed by his leaders who immediately decorated him with his first medal and called him one of the most outstanding soldiers of the French army. In 2014, the historian Dominique Lormier included it in his book “The great figures of the French resistance”.
After this feat, one of the most important episodes of the Battle of France took place: the evacuation of Dunkirk June 3, 1940. During this gigantic operation, Víctor Iturria will be seriously injured. He is repatriated with about 340,000 British, French and Belgian soldiers with the help of merchant ships. It was in England that Iturria met the famous Captain George Bergé, the first secret agent of France occupied by the Nazis. At the end of 1940, he was recruited by him to be one of the thirty men who formed the first section of paratroopers of Free France and joined the brigade of the Special Air Service (SAS) commanded by Colonel David Stirling .. The pelotari quickly showed his physical qualities, especially when throwing grenades. Before embarking for the Middle East with his new unit in July 1941, he had time to gain the admiration of Churchill himself. The prime minister wanted to see with his own eyes what was the thrower of grenades so much talked about.
Víctor Iturria loved the demonstrations. In front of the British Prime Minister, the pelotari placed a txapela on the ground at 50 meters. Churchill watched the scene with skepticism. When the Basque took two short strides and threw a grenade with all his might that fell just inside the beret. The prime minister was speechless.
In the Middle East, Iturria and the rest of the French parachutists of the British SAS played a very important role, especially in the battle of the Suez Canal. In Libya, they distinguished themselves by their violent offensive surprises. On June 12, 1942, the Basque hero participated in the attack on one of the aerodromes of the Cyrenaica region, on the north-west coast of the country, under the orders of André Zirnheld and Philippe Fauquet. More attacks will follow. The pelotari has become the moral leader of this unit thanks to his exceptional courage, which has often come close to imprudence. It did not take long for his parachute jumps just meters from the German lines and his sense of direction on the battlefield to be famous. The results of his unit were so important that he received the praise of General Eisenhower himself in his memoirs.
Víctor Iturria was also decorated in Algiers in 1943 by General Giraud. Later, the SAS became the first unit of France released to fight in France against the Nazis. They were parachuted into enemy lines until, on August 25, 1944, the pelotari was killed in an ambush at Blain. The bad luck he would find death on the day of the liberation of France. He was only 29 years old.
In 1947, after the Second World War, General Bergé went to Sare. He was awarded the Legion of Honor posthumously. A year later, a sculpture was erected in his honor, reflecting his qualities of throwing grenades. And nearly 75 years after his death, the French army still remembers the pelotari. On April 15, 2015, his name was taken to name the promotion of the National School of Saint-Maixent.
Source ABC Historia Israel Viana (HITZA HITZ translation)