Operation Flash 1995 – Part 1

Operation Flash 1995 – Part 1


Serb rebellion against Croatia had been stoked by Belgrade in support of its own expansionist plans. Serbia’s goal was to use the Serbs in Croatia as a fifth column, with rebellion and establishment of SAO Krajina eventually leading to an outcome where Serb areas on Croatia and Bosnia would be annexed by Serbia itself, thus leading to establishment of Greater Serbia – an imperialist Serb project half of whose territory would consist of areas that never were part of any Serb state throughout history. Western borders of this state would be on the line Virovitica – Pakrac – Karlovac – Ogulin – Karlobag, which means that majority of Croatian historical lands would be part of Serbia.

Serbian leadership hoped to fulfill this goal with the help of Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) and the rebel Serbs in Croatia itself. Serb rebellion in Croatia itself started in July 1990. in northern Dalmatia, before spreading to western Slavonia. It was in western Slavonia that first conflict erupted, after municipality of Pakrac, on 22nd February 1991., decided to join the Serb Autonomous Area (Srpska Autonomna Oblast – SAO) Krajina (or as is more commonly known, Republic of Serbian Krajina). Constitutional Court of the Republic of Croatia declared the decision invalid on 28 February 1991., after which police officers of Serb ethnicity and local Serb extremists disarmed non-Serb officers on 1 March, taking over the police station in Pakrac. The rebellion was mostly broken next day by the anti-terrorist unit Lučko and special forces of the Ministry of Interior of Republic of Croatia, but the rebels were saved by JNA which established a buffer zone between Croatian Police and the rebels.

Under protection of JNA, Serb rebels continued with their activities against Croatia. On 12th August the rebels declared SAO Western Slavonia, and by mid-August Serb rebels began open aggression against Croatia, supported by the Yugoslav Army, Territorial Defense units of Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as Chetnik volunteers from Serbia.

Operations Orkan-91, Otkos-10 and Papuk-91

On 18th August 1991., units of the 5th Corps of Yugoslav People’s Army crossed Sava in an attempt to link up with Serb rebels (Chetniks) in western Slavonia and also with units of 32nd Varaždin Corps of JNA. The goal was to cut Croatia on the line Okučani – Lipik – Pakrac – Daruvar – Virovitica. By mid-October 1991, Serb forces had taken large area of western Slavonia in municipalities of Novska, Nova Gradiška, Pakrac, Daruvar, Grubišno Polje, Virovitica, Podravska Slatina, Orahovica and Požega. Croatian forces managed to defend municipal centres and stop any further advance by Serb forces. The only success of Serb forces after this was capture of Lipik on 28th November 1991.

Meanwhile, Croatian forces moved to liberate areas of Western Slavonia. Operation Orkan-91 began on 29th November 1991., and by 3rd January 1992. Croatian forces had liberated sixteen settlements in municipalities of Novska, Nova Gradiška and Pakrac. Operation also indirectly assisted operations Otkos-10 and Papuk-91, which had been carried out in parallel on northern part of Western Slavonian theatre. Operation Otkos-10 had begun on 31st October 1991 and ended on 12th December 1991. During the operation, Croatian forces had liberated Grubišno Polje and part of Daruvar. Following the consolidation of Croatian forces, operation Papuk-91 was launched, and lasted until 3rd January 1992. Operation had liberated municipalities of Daruvar, Virovitica, Podravska Slatina, Orahovica and Požega, as well as parts of the Pakrac municipality. All operations ended on 3rd January 1992. when Sarajevo ceasefire began.

Croatian Preparations for Liberation of Occupied Areas

Some 600 square kilometers of Western Slavonia had remained under Serb control. The area consisted predomantly of the plains of the Sava river valley, with only northern areas reaching hills and a mountain of Psunj. Occupied areas had population of between 23 000 and 29 000, leading a very difficult life due to heavy dues required to maintain the military forces. Occupied area of the Western Slavonia was defended by 18th Corps of the Serbian Army of Krajina (SVK).

Strategically, position of Serbs in Western Slavonia was very difficult. They were surrounded by Croatian territory on three sides, and their only link with Serb-controlled areas in BiH was a bridge near Stara Gradiška. At the same time, their territory was extremely important to Croatia as it intersected the railway and the highway which connected central Croatia with Slavonia. At first, Croatian authorities attempted to reach a peaceful diplomatic solution, but they were well aware that military solution may be necessary.

As a consequence of this, as early as early 1992 plans had existed for liberation of western Slavonia. Further plans were made in late 1992. and early 1993., but were abandoned in favor of liberation of wider area of Zadar, which enabled linking Dalmatia with rest of Croatia.

Initial Plans

Due to attacks of Serb Army of Krajina (SVK) and Army of Republic of Serbia (VRS) on Bihać, Croatian Army (HV) and Croatian Council of Defense (HVO) initiated action Winter ’94 during late November of 1994. The goal was liberation of Dinara and Field of Livno, and successes in the operation led to making of plans for a new operation, which received name Bljesak (Flash). Initial plans called for liberation of western Slavonia, as well as city of Petrinja, Ljubovo and dominant positions on Velebit and Promina. Later, the first part of operation (Flash-1) was limited western Slavonia, and operation was entrusted to Command of the Corps Area Bjelovar, under command of brigadier Luka Džanko.

Plan called for a fast and energetic attack of infantry and mechanized forces along the Zagreb-Lipovac highway, starting from Nova Gradiška and Novska. The goal was to cut in half the rebel Serb forces (south and north of the highway) and liberate Okučani. After that, strong infantry and antitank forces would reach Sava in wider area of Stara Gradiška, and, if necessary, destroy the bridge on river of Sava and secure the border towards Bosanska Gradiška. Jasenovac was to be blockaded, and river ferries near Mlaka and Jablanac disabled, so as to prevent intervention of Serb forces from Banovina and Bosnia. In the second stage, Croatian forces were to destroy the now cut-off Serbian forces north of the highway. Operation was to last two to three days, and for its purpose the Corps Area Bjelovar received reinforcements from the General Staff as well as Corps Areas Osijek and Zagreb.

For the sake of successful completion of combat operations in the Flash-1 phase, temporary Forward Command Post had been formed in Garešnica for Croatian forces in Novlja and Pakrac areas, that is for western and northern fronts. Its formation had been ordered on 19th of January and it started with operation on 24th January 1995., under command of General-Major Marijan Mareković. Command of operation on the eastern front remained under Corps Area Bjelovar, which in early January 1995 had established its own forward command post in Nova Gradiška.

Preparations for the operation itself began during December 1994. Constant scouting provided new intelligence, while units carried out day and night training on terrain similar to that of the areas they had been assigned for the operation. Special police formed scouting groups which, starting from March 1994., scouted the area of western Slavonia. Due to this, Croatian army soon gained good information on Serb deployments. Final preparations for the operation began in late April 1995., with arrival of main units that had been assigned to the operation to their respective starting positions and mobilization of reserve forces.

Opening the Highway and Increase in Tensions

At the same time, after many attempts and failed negotiations, Croatian authorities had managed, on 2nd December 1994., to sign an economic agreement with rebel Serbs. Among other points, the Zagreb-Lipovac highway had been put back into operation on 21st December 1994. But, taught by the experience, Croatia could not peacefully wait the results of the agreement which Serbs were likely to break in due time anyway. Planning continued for military liberation of the occupied territory, should attempts at peaceful reintegration fail.

Even so, opening of the highway led to significant reduction in tensions. Serbs from western Slavonia began en masse to cross into Croatian territory, seeking to buy necessities which were lacking in the SAO Krajina. Many requested and received Croatian nationality certificates, and some also engaged in smuggling fuel which they procured in free Croatian territories. Situation seemed calm enough that Chief of the General Staff of Croatia Janko Bobetko on 18th April of 1995. commanded that both forward command posts were to be shut down on 21st April. Yet only two days later, on 23rd of April, the command posts had been reactivated due to increased tensions.

Tensions in the western Slavonia rose again on 24th April, when president of rebel Serbs Milan Martić decided to close the highway for 24 hours. In this way, Serbs protested behaviour of UNCRO which had stopped large number of trucks with fuel and contraband being sent to Serbs. At the same time, Chief of the General Staff of Croatian Army decided that forces slated for the operation Flash were to be in place by morning of 26th of April. This decision however was withdrawn as the tensions calmed the next day.

Situation grew tense again on 28th April after Tihomir Blagojević had been murdered on the territory controlled by Croatian government. Tihomir was killed by a man whose brother he had murdered, and Serbs, led by Tihomir’s brother, responded by shooting at cars passing through their territory, killing several civilians and capturing five. These were quickly released as the Serbian government feared Croatia could use this as a justification for the attack. Road was closed, and UNCRO prevented a larger conflict, after which the highway was to be opened in the morning of 29th April. But this did not happen due to opposition by commander of 18th Corps of Serb Army of Krajina, Lazo Babić, and secretary of SUP Okučani, Dragan Veselinović.

Later captured Serb documents indicate that they were following orders of Milan Martić with support of general Milan Čeleketić and the General Headquarters of Serbian Army of Krajina (SVK). Their beliefs was that opening the road would give advantage to forces of Croatian Army. But they were counting chickens that had not yet hatched, as blockade of the road made conflict unavoidable.

Change in Plans

The only possible solution that remained was the military one. On 29th April 1995., order was sent to activate the Directive Flash, but with no operations being undertaken. All units in the Western Slavonia were placed at full combat readiness, while in other areas Croatian Army prepared for potential defensive actions. Franju Tuđman originally intended only the highway itself and a four-kilometer wide segment along it to be liberated, but as such an operation was militarily impossible, he was convinced to allow liberation of the entirety of Western Slavonia.

Basic idea behind the operation was to break Serb forces through a combination of heavy firepower and fast maneuver of infantry, mechanized and armored forces with the aim of liberating western Slavonia before forming a system of defense along the Sava river. Operation itself was divided into two phases. In the first phase, which was to last one day, forces of the 18th Corps of Serb Army of Krajina (SVK) would be cut along the line of Donje Kričke – Donji Rajčići – Benkovac Okučanski – Širinci, and a flanking maneuver from the north would ensure fast advance along the lines of Novska – Okučani and Nova Gradiška – Okučani. In the second phase, expected to last two days, main aim was to cause Serb rebels as many losses as possible, liberate Jasenovac and Okučani, reach Sava river and form a defense along it. This would ensure unimpeded destruction of surrounded forces of SVK’s 18th Corps on Psunj. Main lines of advance were Nova Gradiška – Okučani and Novska – Okučani, while auxilliary forces advanced along the lines of s. Pivare – Stara Gradiška, Novska – Jasenovac and Pakrac – Lipik – s. Bijela Stijena.

Just before the beginning of the operation, larger groups of the Special Tasks Police of the Ministry of Interior (MUP) of Croatia entered the depth of the occupied territory, establishing themselves in the immediate proximity of Serb positions with task of taking control of key objects along the lines of advance and preventing consolidation of Serb forces. In order to achieve this objective and maintain surprise, there was no artillery preparation in areas where MUP forces were active.

Beginning of the Operation

Croatian government waited for a good moment to start the Operation Flash. In the end, using Serb refusal to open the highway as a casus belli, the operation began at a prearranged signal in 5:21 in the morning of 1st May 1995. Operation should not have been a surprise. Military and civilian officials of RSK had received warnings from multiple sources, including international community, that the operation was being prepared. But these warnings came too late: final confirmation that Croatian forces will attack only came at midnight of 30th April / 1st May, when their intelligence service warned lieutenant colonel Gvozdenović about Croatian negotiations with command of Nepal battalion of UNCRO in village of Dragalić and of the Croatian attack which will begin at 6:00, but lieutenant showed no concern.

Around 2:30 on 1st May 1995. Croatian government notified UNCRO Command of Western sector about the impending operation in western Croatia. Two hours later, UNCRO Command in Zagreb ordered its units to avoid their positions along the highway and take shelter in their camps, which was soon done.

Occupied territory of the Western Slavonia was defended by 18th Corps of Serb Army of Krajina (SVK), which consisted of the HQ and its assigned units, 51st, 54th and 98th Infantry Brigades, 59th Daruvar and 63rd Podravina-Slatina detachments, Tactical Group 1 (TG-1), intervention battalion, 18th Mixed Artillery Regiment (MAP), Mixed Antitank Artillery Battalion (MPOAD), Light Artillery Battalion of Air Defense (LAD PVO) and 91st Background Base (PoB). The corps was supposed to have 8 379 men, but it had no more than 4 551 men. Specifically, the real versus prescribed numbers were: corps command – 442 (463), 54 pbr – 1320 (2069), 51 PBR – 1016 (2239), 98 PBR – 549 (1978), 59th detachment – 159 (603), 63rd detachment – 125 (603), 18 MAP – 267 (1005), MPOAD – 122 (283), LAD PVO – 131 (236), TG-1 – between 60 and 318 (459) and 91 PoB – 102 (97). Overall, it was the smallest and weakest of SVK’s corps. Note that “D” in some of the abbrevations stands for “divizijun“, which is actually a battalion-sized unit, as opposed to “divizija” which is a division. This confusion was carried over from the Soviet Army.

According to the war plan Gvozd from February 1995., 18th Corps of SVK was supposed to “by decisive and active defense prevent the penetration by Ustashi forces into their zone of defence, with emphasis on directions Novska – Okučani, Nova Gradiška – Okučani and Pakrac – Okučani, destroy the wedged forces and create conditions for the attack towards ethnic Serb areas, with focus on the Pakrac – Lipik – Daruvar”. Corps was supposed to defend for three to five days, thus enabling other Serb corps to carry out offensive actions with goal of conquering Croatian territories which would serve as a compensation for the eventual loss of Western Slavonia.

Operations in the West

According to a Directive for the Attack of the Chief of the General Headquarters from 1994., operation Flash was under authority of Command of Corps Area Bjelovar. In early 1995. this changed as new Forward Command Post of the General Headquarters of Croatian Army (IZM GS HV) in Garešnica was set up for the purpose of commanding the forces on the western (Novlja) and northern (Pakrac) fronts.

Croatian forces in the western direction were: 125th Home Guard regiment, 1st Battalion, Artillery and Missile Battalion (“divizijun”) as well as Armored-Mechanized Company of 3rd Guards Brigade, 2nd Battalion of 1st Guards Brigade, battery of 76 mm antitank guns and a platoon of 105 mm howitzers from 123rd Brigade, 13th Antitank Artillery and Missile Battalion (POTRD), platoon of self-propelled anti-aircraft artillery battery 57/2 mm and battery of anti-aircraft artillery from 4th Battalion of 202nd Artillery-Missile Brigade of Anti-Aircraft Defense.

Main forces were grouped on the direction of Novska – Okučani, while auxilliary directions of attack were Novska – Jasenovac and Pakrac – Lipik – Bijela Stijena. They had to fulfill the basic idea of the directive for attack, which was to achieve powerful opening artillery strike against vital objects of Serb forces and with concurrent energetic attack by infantry and armored-mechanized forces which, advancing from multiple directions, would break Serb forces and liberate the western and northern parts of western Slavonia.

Main direction of the attack Novska – Okučani was to be handled by the 1st Battalion and Armored-Mechanized Company (OMS) of the 3rd Guards Brigade of the Croatian Army (HV), Platoon of the Self-Propelled Artillery Battery of the Anti-Air Defense 57/2 mm and Infantry Company of 125th Home Guard Regiment (125.dp). Their task was to reach the line of Gornji Rajić railway – Gornji Rajić highway – Gložik forest, and then with reinforced forces continue the attack on the line of Gornji Rajić – Okučani, taking control of the line s. Bodegraj – s. Klenik. Task of the 2nd Battalion of 1st Guards Brigade (1.gbr), 1st Battalion of 125th Home Guard Regiment (125.dp) and special forces of the Ministry of Interior (MP) was taking control of the line Donji Rajić – Gornji Rajić – Roždanik and securing the advance of forces in the hinterland of the highway and the railway.

The auxiliary direction of attack Novska – Jasenovac and Novska – Mostine – Jablanac was assigned to the 125th dp without the 1st Battalion, with the task of blockading Jasenovac, taking control of Mostine, reaching the national border on Sava and preventing Serb reinforcements from BiH from crossing the river. Task of the forces of the Special Police was cutting the former UNPA sector West from two directions (West and East) and connecting in Trnakovac on the road Okučani – Pakrac. Artillery support to infantry and armored-mechanized forces was provided by the purpose-created Artillery-Rocket Group (TRS) West, consisting of the Artillery-Rocket Battalion (“divizijun”) of 3.gbr and a battery of 155 mm howitzers from 16th Artillery-Rocket Brigade of Croatian Army from Bjelovar. Anti-armor combat was carried out by the Antiarmor Detachment West, created from 13th Anti-Armor Artillery-Rocket Battalion and a mix of antitank forces from other units. Air support was provided by Croatian Air Force (HRZ). As a part of preparations, special police forces unit Ris (Lynx) from Kutina led other special police force units to starting positions.

Occupied area in the direction West was defended by the 98th Infantry Brigade of 18th Corps of Serb Army of Krajina (SVK). This unit consisted of four infantry battalions, logistics company, mortar battery, and additional reconnaissance-diversion platoon. Brigade had a command place in Rajić and area of responsibility Jasenovac – Mlaka – Paklenica – Rajčići. Command of brigade was colonel Milanko Babić. Immediate area of Jasenovac was defended by the Tactical Group 1 (TG-1) commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Borivoj Pavlović.

After, on the 1st May in 2:00 in the morning, UN had been notified of beginning of the combat operations by Croatian military, operation itself began at 5:21. In order to maintain the element of surprise, operation began by inserting small forces with no previous artillery support.

Tactical Group of 3rd Guards Brigade: Group consisted of the 1st Battalion of Brigade, reinforced with armored-mechanized company (consisting of 10 T-55 main battle tanks and 4 M-80 infantry fighting vehicles), communications platoon, engineering and reconnaissance platoon, electronic warfare squad, and platoon of twin-barreled 57 mm self-propelled anti-aircraft guns. Group was commanded by Colonel Marko Leko. First Battalion had during the night taken up starting positions near vollage of Stari Grabovac and Zelenika forest, while OMS (armored-mechanized company) was transported by train to Novska where it immediately commenced combat operations. Before beginning of the combat operations at 5:45, UNCRO forces near Grabovo canal were isolated and bypassed. Attack against fortified Serb positions at Paklenica canal commenced immediately afterwards, without artillery preparation or armored support. Heavy resistance – especially in the main direction where 2nd Infantry Company advanced – necessitated introduction of OMS into combat. With its help, Serb lines were penetrated at around 7:00, which allowed fast and unopposed drive into depth of Serb lines and following pursuit of broken forces while one platoon was separated to control the right flank and provide safety towards Sava river.

First Infantry Company advanced slightly slower along the secondary axis of advance on the railroad. Around 12 hours, TS (Tank Company) reached the line of Voćarica – Jazavica – Roždanik Channel. Around 16:00, Donji Rajić (Lower Rajić) and overpass Borovac were captured. Serb forces began to retreat towards Okučani, putting up only a sporadic and disorganized resistance. By 18 hours the area around the highway and the railroad had been put under control, and a defense line was established on the line s. Klenik – Sloboština canal.

2nd Battalion of 1st Guards Brigade: For participating in the operation Flash the 2nd Battalion was reinforced by addition of 30 troops from 3rd Battalion and 22 troops of the reconnaissance company, as well as reinforcements from the communications company, logistics company, engineering company, electronic warfare platoon and self-propelled anti-aircraft cannon platoon. In total, 329 members of the 1st Guards Brigade participated in the first day of the operation and 412 in the second day. It was commanded by Major Andrija Kolobarić.

2nd Battalion along with special forces of Ministry of Interior (MUP) and 1st Battalion of 125. dp were to be deployed at the area of Radanovo brdo – Roždanik – Donji Rajić and take control of said area, thus allowing a quick penetration of forces into rear area of the highway and the railway. After the signal and without artillery preparation, 2nd Battalion attacks from Kričko brdo (Krik hill) towards Kućerine and Roždanik. Having linked up with MUP Special Forces team Ajkule, 1st and 3rd infantry company advance towards Kućerine, losing one soldier in the process. After that, SF team destroys the bunker, while units of 2nd Battalion of 1.gbr continue towards Gornji Rajić where they link up with MUP Special Forces team Bak from Pula. The combined force then climbed down the Radan hill and around 16 hours liberated Gornji Rajić, setting up an active defense. At the same time, 2nd Infantry Company captured Roždanik. The battalion suffered 2 dead and 4 wounded.

During the day, as per command of the Chief of the General Staff of the Croatian Army, 1.gbr formed a mixed armored-mechanized unit consisting of four M-84 tanks and four M-80 IFVs which was sent to Garešnica, from where two tanks and two IFVs were sent to 105th Brigade of HV in Donji Čaglić.

Special Police of MUP RH: According to the plan, special police forces were divided between two sectors (A and B) with Forward Command Places (IZM) in villages of Cernička Šagovina and Kričke. Commander of the Group Forces of SJP (2160 members) in operation Flash was Mladen Markač while Chief of Staff, as well as the commander of IZM of Sector B – Sector West, was Željko Sačić. Participating in the attack as part of that sector were special police force units Omege (Omegas – 150 members), Alfe (Alphas – 180 members), Rode (Storks – 140 members), Ose (Wasps), Ajkule (Sharks) and part of Bak (150 members), Barun (Baron) and part of Grom (Thunder) (200 members – reserve forces).

Well-fortified rebel lines were penetrated with artillery support near village of Kričko and on Kričko hill. One members of Alphas died there, but with this, majority of Serb forces in the West had been broken, and further defense was organized in reatreat, by using villages as points of resistance. Around 19 hours, members of the Special Police unit Ris (Lynx) reached villange Benkovac Okučanski, which was captured by around 20 hours in the evening, thus taking control of the Lipik – Okučani road as well as joining forces with the forces advancing from the east.

125th Home Guard Regiment: Task of the 1st Battalion (minus its 1st Company) of the 125th Home Guard Regiment (125.dp) at the line Novska – Rajči was liberation of Paklenica, Voćarica and Jazovica. After artillery preparation, forces of the 1st Battalion, around 8:30 in Voćarica, reached the road Novska – Rajići. With this, Serb forces in Paklenica were surrounded. After several hours of combat, and despite significant reinforcements, Serb forces retreated towards Novska hill, allowing the 125.dp to liberate Kremenduk, Paklenica and Jazavica. Liberated area near the road Novska – Rajići was occupied by a company of 105th Brigade of HV Bjelovar (HV – Croatian Army).

Along the auxilliary line of the attack in the south was 2nd Battalion of the 125.dp which, along with the 1st Company of the 2nd Battalion was tasked with blockading Jasenovac from Drenov Bok and Bročice. Serb forces, few in number and broken by the artillery barrage, withdrew without resistance and Croatian forces entered Jasenovac already on the first day, much sooner than planned. After that the battalion shifted to defense of border on Sava. The battalion however lost its commander, captain Ivica Čajo, who was killed by a sniper soon after entering Jasenovac.

3rd Battalion of the 125.dp was securing the right flank of the tank company (TS) of the 3.gbr in the area of the highway, using a portion of its forces to blockade Košutarica and Mlaka on Sava, and reaching the road leading from Mlaka to village of Mostine, which was liberated at around 17 hours. During combat operations of the first day, the regiment suffered significant losses of nine dead and nine wounded members. Commander of the regiment during the Operation Flash was colonel Željko Perinović.

Overall, Croatian Army and Police forces had achieved their goals for the first day of the operation. Special Forces of the Ministry of the Interior from West and East, and their linking up near Benkovac Okučanski, had cut in half the 18th Corps of Serb Army of Krajina (SVK), while armored-mechanized and infantry forces from the direction of Novska penetrated to Vrbovljani. With this, that part of the highway had been taken and Okučani semi-surrounded, the road Stara Gradiška – Okučani had been cut off, and Jasenovac liberated. This meant that Serb reinforcements in Banovina, Kordun and BiH were helplessly cut off. Croatian forces did not enter Okučani this evening due to the chaos which ruled the city. Serb forces had also stubbornly defended the road Okučani – Stara Gradiška, as this was the only avenue of retreat into Bosnia that they had.

In order to keep up the successes and reinforce the forces for the second day of the operation, the General Headquarters ordered sending of new units onto to area of combat operations. As a result, battle group of the 1st Croatian Guards Brigade (1.HGZ) in strength of 220 – 250 men had been sent there, as well as one battalion of 104th Brigade of HV Varaždin. From 2nd Guards Brigade was sent an Armored-Mechanized Company (OMS) consisting of 3 T-55 and 3 M-84 main battle tanks as well as three M-80 infantry fighting vehicles. They were supposed to reinforce the tank company (TS) of 3.gbr, but due to delay in leaving the assembly area the OMS ended up reinforcing 1.HGZ instead.

Second Phase of the Operation

Command to carry out the second phase of the operation Flash was made in the early morning at the Forward Command Post (IZM) in Garešnica. Focus was on stopping any eventual attempts at lifting the blockade of the forces of the 18th Corps of SVK at area of Pakrac. This meant an energetic assault by the armored-mechanized and infantry forces in the area of the highway and the old road Rajići – Okučani with the goal of linking up with Croatian forces advancing from the East.

Plan was for the 2nd Battalion of the 1st Guards Brigade (1.gbr), with support of a tank platoon from the 3rd Guards Brigade (3.gbr), continue with the attack from direction of Rajići and take control of village Bodegraj on entrance to Okučani. At the same time, the battle group of 1st Croatian Guards Brigade (1.HGZ) reinforced with Armored-Mechanized Company (OMS) from 2.gbr was to attack along the line of Vrbovljani – Čovac – Dubovac – the loop, where it was to link up with Croatian Army (HV) forces advancing from the East.

Task of the tank company of 3.gbr (TS 3.gbr) and companies of 125.dp was to support the attack by 1.HGZ and be prepared for intervention. Battalion of the 104th Brigade was to attack on direction of Mostine – Jablanac and establish a defense on Sava, while 125.dp without one battalion was to attack on direction of Jasenovac – Košutarica – Mlaka and then establish defense on Sava. One company each from 125.dp and 104th Brigade was left as a reserve and intervention force.

Concurrent attack of all units along their assigned directions started at 6:00 in the morning with strong artillery support. Along the main direction of the attack in the area of the highway advanced the group of 1.HGZ. It had deployed on the highway in the night, and at that time also received OMS from 2.gbr. Battlegroup of 1.HGZ was commanded by Chief of Staff of 1.HGZ colonel Ante Šaškor. After breaking resistance of Serb forces in Vrbovljani with help of tanks and artillery, the group continued to advance, forcing Serb forces to retreat. By evening, villages Čovac and Grečane were liberated, followed by securing the area towards the Strug canal and Sava, as well as the road Okučani – Novi Varoš – Stara Gradiška.

Tactical group (TG) of 3.gbr was at reserve positions when the attack started, but later on supported the assault by 1.HGZ. Around 13 o’clock, TG 3.gbr, supported by a tank and an infantry company, entered Okučani and around 13:20 linked up with group of 3.gbr which had advanced from the East. 2nd Battalion of 1.gbr continued its advance along the main path of the attack north of the highway, liberating villages Borovac, Lađevac and Bodegraj, in which it also linked up with forces of 3.gbr advancing from the East. After this, they received the order to set up defences in Lađevac and Bodegraj against possible Serb attack from north.

Special Police left a portion of forces in Benkovac Okučanski, while special unit Ris from Kutina continued advancing towards Okučani. In morning hours the village of Cage is liberated, while two members of Ris unit were wounded. In the afternoon, Risovi reached the northern entrance to Okučani, where they linked up with members of the 1st Guards Brigade. Alphas (Alfe) meanwhile had taken control of the village of Trnakovac where they established control of the Pakrac – Okučani road in the length from Bijele Stijene (White Rocks) to Trnakovac, with the goal of preventing the escape of surrounded Serbian forces. Other units of the Special Police Forces linked up with their counterparts coming from East without much difficulty. Distance from the starting position to the meeting point was 16 kilometers from the western side, and from the eastern side six kilometers of a very difficult terrain. Along the direction of the attack of 125.dp and 3rd Battalion of 104th Brigade of HV, Mostine – Mlaka, members of 125.dp liberated Košutarica around noon, and around the evening village of Mlaka where they linked up with 104th Brigade of HV.

Organized Serb resistance was nearly nonexistent during the second day of the operation, as they had mounted a static defense along a single line of defensive positions on the border. The border defences were very solid, with strong points of resistance with good artillery support and extensive minefields. But there were no backup lines of defense, fortified strongpoints or mobile reserve. As a result, majority of Croatian losses happened on the first day. After Serb defences had been penetrated on the first day, there was no solid defense or even organized retreat. Instead, Serb forces ran away in blind panic, mixed within civilian columns, towards Okučani, and after that across Sava into Bosnia and Herzegovina. Later during the Operation Storm this habit of running away in blind panic will lead to tragedy as in several places Serb tanks ran over the columns of their own escaping civilians, crushing and killing tens in the process. Serb data for the zone of 98.pbr state that 70 soldiers were killed and 50 captured, while the rest managed to cross Sava into Bosnia, leaving behind all heavy weapons and equipment and escaping with small arms only.

End of Combat Operations in West

Ending with the 2nd May 1995., combat operations ended on the Western front. After this started efforts to organize the defense and reorganize forces, as well as keep Serb forces encircled in the northern area contained. 3rd Guards Brigade was redeployed to ZP (Zborno Područje – Corps Area) Osijek due to a possibility of Yugoslav Army offensive in Eastern Slavonia. OMS from 2.gbr was transferred to Jasenovac following the end of combat operations, while 2nd Battalion of 1.gbr was pulled back the next day and transferred to Headquarters reserve. 1.HGZ was, until 4th May, deployed as reserve in Vrbovljani, Čovac and Gređani.

While this was going on, Special Police Forces took care of the remains of broken Serb forces. In early morning of 3rd of May, police checkpoint in the area of Borovačka kosa was attacked, with one policeman being killed and another captured, tied up and then executed. Next day, forward command posts were shut down and replaced by the common Headquarters of Forces of Special Tasks Police at Bijele Stijene (White Rocks). During 3rd and 4th of May, Special Police helps in breaking the resistance of surrounded Serb forces at Omanovac, after which it is tasked with searching the area of the operation. In the process, police forces discovered 250 tons of various combat material. During the operation, police had lost eight killed and 36 wounded, having liberated 250 km2 of territory.

Area liberated in the operation was divided, on 2nd May 1995., onto two parts – the western and eastern. Western part was a responsibility of IZM GS HV (forward command post of General Headquarters of the Croatian Army), while the eastern part was a responsibility of the Command of the Corps Area (ZP) Bjelovar. IZM GS gave responsibility for defense of Sava (Jasenovac, Bročice, Mostine, Jablanac) to 125.dp and elements of 105th Brigade of HV. Five tanks and two IFVs were moved from Vrbovljane to Jasenovac as reinforcements. Serb pontoon bridge across Sava was captured and pulled to the right shore of Sava.

Particular attention was paid to area close to Sava in order to secure the border and prevent a potential counterattack from Bosnia. For this purpose, IZM GS (Forward Command Post of the General Headquarters), on 4th May 1995. founded the Second IZM GS, situated in Novska under command of Colonel Drago Matanović. It was comprised of 125.dp, 104th and 105th Brigade of HV, antitank and antiair unit, as well as one armored-mechanized platoon from 1.gbr. Main task was fortification of positions for the active defense, which had proven its utility after strong artillery bombardment from direction of Draksenić. This IZM GS was shut down on 9th May 1995., with plans to form the Tactical Group Jasenovac. This however was abandoned after the General Headquarters ordered ZP Bjelovar to, from 8th May, take command of all forces in Western Slavonia. This also led to shutdown of IZM GS in Garešnica.

4 thoughts on “Operation Flash 1995 – Part 1

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