Croatian Defense Forces (HOS – Hrvatske Obrambene Snage) were the paramilitary force of the Croatian Party of Rights (HSP) and also one of the first organized paramilitary units operational in the Homeland War in Croatia and BiH, having been founded in 1991. In 1992., during reorganization of Croatian forces, Croatian Defense Forces were integrated with the Croatian Army, while in Bosnia they continued to operate as a separate unit under Bosnian and Herzegovinian Ministry of Defense until the murder of Blaž Kraljević, after which the organization fell apart.
HOS in Croatia
Croatian Party of Rights was revived on 25th February 1990., under leadership of Dobroslav Paraga. As a major portion of Serbs in Croatia radicalized and resisted the Croatian government, numerous Croats armed themselves on their own initiative. Open Serb rebellion began on 21st December 1990., with declaration of the so-called Republic of Serb Krajina, supported by the Yugoslav Army forces commanded by the Belgrade. While Croatian government under Tudjman attemted to avoid open conflict which it did not feel ready for, this weakness led Dobroslav Paraga and Ante Paradžik to form the paramilitary arm of the Croatian Party of Rights. Final decision to form the military arm was made following the Yugoslav Army’s attack on Slovenia.
Croatian Defense Forces were formally founded on 25th June 1991. by Dobroslav Paraga, Ante Paradžik, Alija Šiljak and several other members of the HSP leadership. HOS troops were at first weakly armed, with self-procured infantry weapons. Despite this, they were highly successful in combat against rebel Serb forces and JNA (Yugoslav National Army), and so gained attention which helped them secure funds and supplies. Thanks to donations of Croatian emigration and members of HSP from Australia and Canada, leadership of Croatian HSP managed to procue larger quantities of weapons and so the number of HOS troops rose. HOS was joined by Croatians from Croatia and abroad, but also by foreign volunteers. There were no restrictions on ethnicity of combatants, and some Serbs also fought in HOS. Restrictions on age were also laxer, and many minors fought in HOS uniform.
One of the best known foreign members of HOS was Jean-Michel Nicolier, who joined the independent company of HOS by accident. Having arrived to Zagreb by train, he asked for the closest recruitment center. The closest one was Starčević’s home, which was also the seat of HSP. Nicolier was eventually deployed to Vukovar, where he was wounded and later murdered by Serb forces on Ovčara.
HOS on Croatian battlefields
Number of HOS members on Croatian battlefields had increased to 6 000, and they were fighting on all battlefields, especially critical battlefields such as Vukovar, Posavina and Dubrovnik early in the war. They acted semi-independently in relation to regular units of the Croatian National Guard and listened only to their own officers. And while the rule was never made official, HOS recruited primarily from members of HSP, leading to impression of being a private party army of HSP. Major issue that ZNG had with HOS units was their stubborness: HOS units would not retreat even when the alternative was a complete destruction. As HOS units were integrated with the Croatian Army, this tendency had to be reduced and controlled.
In the beginning of the war, HOS operated together with ZNG (Croatian National Guard) units in capture of the barracks. As popularity of both HOS and HSP grew, units of HOS began to be founded wherever there were active HSP branches. On 10 September 1991., Paraga and Paradžik presented the Vukovar company of HOS in Zagreb at the Ban Jelačić Square. Immediately afterward, the company was sent to Vukovar, under command of Robert Šilić. They would proceed to play a massive role in defense of the city, suffering 28 dead out of the original strength of 58. Commander of defense of Vukovar, Mile Dedaković Jastreb, had deployed the HOS troops to Sajmište, the most difficult area of defense of the city.
At the same time, units of HOS had been founded in Dalmatia. By May 1991., HOS in Dalmatia had reached the company strength. By October 1991., that company had reached the strength of a battalion. Named the IX Battalion “Rafael Vitez Boban”, it was commanded by Major Jozo Radanović, until then the president of Split branch of HSP. At the beginning of December 1991., HSP leadership promoted Radanović into lieutenant colonel.
HOS was also active in Vinkovci and the surrounding area, where positions were held by the 6th Battalion “Marijan Baotić” which by the late February 1992. had numbered 800 men commanded by Major Ivica Zupković and Captain Ivan Zoraja. Osijek and Čepin were defended by Čepin company commanded by Slobodan Tolj. Gospić and its surroundings were defended by the XIX Battalion “Vitez Jure Francetić” under command of colonel Valentin Rajković.
Ante Paradžik was murdered in Zagreb area on 21st September 1991. by the Croatian Police, most likely under orders of Franjo Tuđman or another high-ranking Communist from HDZ. Following his murder, duty of the Chief of Staff of HOS was temporarily taken by Anto Đapić. Dobroslav Paraga survived by a hairsbreadth when on 1st March 1992. a bomb destroyed the headquarters of HOS in Vinkovci, killing 5 and wounding 8 people.
In early November 1991., command of the surrounded Vukovar requested Paraga’s help. On 13th of November Paraga sent 200 HOS soldiers from Zagreb, commanded by Major Eugen Meindorfer. Unit however was stopped in Vinkovci by then-Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Tomislav Merčep. Instead of going to the battlefield, HOS troops were interned in a prison in Osijek. They were pulled out of the prison by Minister of Defense Martin Špegelj, who on 16th of November ordered Merčep to punch a corridor towards Vukovar on the line Nuštar – Bogdanovci in order to try and get the civilians out of the surrounded and by now undefendable city. Merčep refused to carry out the order, or to release HOS troops to help Vukovar, saying that Dedaković might shoot him in the back. Two days later, Vukovar fell.
List of dead HOS soldiers in Vukovar
After this, on 22nd November 1991., leadership of HSP and commander of defense of Vukovar Mile Dedaković were arrested. Dedaković was frequently beaten in the jail, while Paraga began u hunger strike. The arrest caused public protests in Zagreb. Politically-founded “Commission for Vukovar” led by Josip Manolić, a former agent of Yugoslav UDBA, declared Paraga and Dedaković guilty for the fall of Vukovar and accused them of working for the Yugoslav National Army’s Counterintelligence Agency, and of preparing an attack on Banski Dvori. However, on 13th of December, the Supreme Court of Republic of Croatia decided that all accusations against them were unfounded. After being released, Dedaković left the Croatian Army and joined HSP, and Paraga named him as HOS’ Chief Inspector.
After the general mobilization had been declared on 23rd November 1991., units of HOS were gradually integrated into the Croatian Army. On 13th January 1992., all units of HOS in Croatia received an order to join the Croatian Army, partly due to mistrust generated by Paradžik’s murder. The process was finished by March, with the Croatian Army taking over the HOS training camps. Some HOS units did keep official independence until 1993., but still as part of the Croatian Army and under its command. Other HOS units moved to Bosnia and Herzegovina, where war between Serbs on one side and Croats and Muslims on the other was beginning.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Foundation of parliamentary democracy in Bosnia and Herzegovina also meant the foundation of political parties. This included the Croatian Party of Rights of Bosnia and Herzegovina (HSP BiH), which started founding BiH units of HOS as the war spread to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Command of the War Headquarters of HOS for Herzegovina was founded on 18th December 1991., while the Headquarters themselves were officially founded on 3rd January 1992. in Ljubuško. However, the first unit of HOS in Herzegovina had been founded in late October 1991. in Ljubuško. War Headquarters themselves were located in Zenica.
At the beginning of the war HOS members were active at the most critical points of the front line, in Sarajevo, Western Herzegovina and Bosnian Posavina. Units of HOS were crucial in liberation of Mostar, Čapljina, Neum and Stolac. Goal of HOS was cooperation of Croats and Muslims against the Army of Republika Srpska, and so HOS was in constant competition with HVO (Croatian Council of Defense) for influence among BiH Croats. In late July 1992. in Čapljina, 700 HVO troops – members of the “Sokol” battalion – transferred to HOS. Similar events were happening in Tomislavgrad, Livno and Mostar.
Until its breakup, BiH HOS was of mixed composition: majority were Croats while about 40% were Bosnian Muslims. According to official documents of HOS, BiH HOS had 5134 soldiers. Officialy it was under overall command of the President Council of BiH and was a part of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In reality, on battlefield it acted independently, obeying orders of HSP leadership from Zagreb. While HOS in Croatia was dependant on the Croatian Army and government, BiH HOS was acting completely independently. They did not acknowledge authority of HVO which had support of the Croatian government, and had their own military police.
In the middle Bosnia, HOS was active in Zenica, Novi Travnik, Kakanj, Vitez, Konjic, Jablanica and Fojnica. It also fought battles against Serb paramilitary forces (Chetniks) around Jajce and Travnik. Commander of Middle-Bosnian HOS was Major Darko Kraljević, with his command in Vitez. Units of HOS in eastern Bosnia had been founded by Alija Šiljak. II. Battalion “Ante Paradžik” was active on the battlefield near Domaljevac in Bosnian Posavina, under command of Stojan Vujnović “Srbin”. Bosanski Brod was defended by HOS troops under Ante Prkačin, who became the Chief of the War Staff of HOS in June 1992. On 6th of June 1992., forces of HOS of Herzegovina began an action which in few hours had liberated Klepci, Tasovčići and Prebilovci in the Čapljina municipality. This action began the operation “Lipanjske Zore” (June Dawns).
Best known commander of the Herzegovina HOS was the Major-General Blaž Kraljević, Chief of Staff of the Herzegovina HOS, who 15 days before his death had also become a member of the General Headquarters of the Army of the Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo. Blaž Kraljević was a returning emigre, and had publicly called onto the soldiers of HVO to join HOS and refuse to obey Mate Boban, a president of te so-called Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia and agent of Franjo Tuđman.
Forces of the Herzegovina HOS commanded by Major Stanko Primorac “Ćanet” had entered the area of Trebinje on 7th August 1992. Two days later, Blaž Kraljević was murdered at a HVO checkpoint in Kruševo while returning from the meeting with Mato Boban. His murder threatened to cause an open war between HOS and HVO forces, and in order to prevent it the meeting was held between representatives of HOS and HVO in Grude, on 10th of August 1992. HOS was represented by Major- General Ante Prkačin (Chief of Staff of HOS), Major Stanko Primorac “Ćane” (temporary commander of Herzegovina HOS) and Major Krešimir Pavičić “Pava”, while HVO was represented by Vice Vukojević, Mate Boban (president of the Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia) and General Slobodan Praljak (Chief of the General Staff of HVO).
The meeting achieved nothing. Vice Vukojević openly demanded disbandment of HOS within 24 hours and transfer of HOS members to HVO. No agreement was reached, yet on 23rd of August Ante Prkačin held a meeting in Grude with Mato Boban, where he signed a document in which he agreed to disbandment of HOS. Prkačin was thrown out of HSP the same day. After the war, general of HVO Slobodan Praljak admitted that Prkačin had been destroying HOS from withing at request of President Franjo Tuđman.
In early September, leadership of HVO demanded that Stanko Primorac transfer elite HOS units from Herzegovina to Bosnian Posavina. This request was fulfilled, but HOS members there were mostly killed when Posavina fell, with the Croatian Army making no move to help. HOS in Herzegovina was left without leadership and fell apart, despite arrival of Mile Dedaković. Dedaković later left HSP due to this failure.
On 26th September, Special police broke into Starčević home in Zagreb where it seized large quantities of weapons and ammunition that were meant for HOS units fighting in Bosanska Posavina.
On 9th October 1992., Paraga ordered formation of unified command for all units of Bosnian-Herzegovinan HOS, General Headquarters of HOS for Bosnia and Herzegovina, headed by Brigadier Mladen Holman, until then a commander of HOS in Zenica. Members of the Headquarters were: Draško Uzunović, Davor Vulin, Neven Milanović and Miro Arapović. Main headquarters of HOS for Bosnia and Herzegovina was also in Zenica. Still, HOS was slowly falling apart.
HVO and Army BiH were pressuring the remaining HOS leaders into submission and disbandment. Units of HOS in Sarajevo, Konjic and Jablanica were subordinated to the Army BiH, while those in Vitez, Livno, Tomislavgrad, Čapljina, Mostar and Zenica were subordinated to HVO. Some commanders of HOS were murdered. Stojan Vujnović, one of commanders of HOS in Bosnian Posavina, was murdered in HVO ambush. Ivo Vuletić, commander of HOS in Kakanj, was murdered by members of the Army BiH.
Majority of Bosnian-Herzegovinian HOS members, majority Croatians, joined HVO where they formed the core of the special tasks units. Smaller portion, mainly Muslims, joined the Army BiH. Some left BiH completely and returned to Croatia or the emigration. It was not long before incidents started happening between HVO and ArBiH. When Croatian-Muslim conflict erupted in Prozor in late November 1992., local HOS unit sided with HVO. In December 1992., Dobrislav Paraga reorganized the General Headquarters of HOS for Bosnia and Herzegovina as General Headquarters of HOS, taking HOS away from control of the BiH Presidency and making it responsible directly to him.
While HOS was quickly falling apart, some of its units in Bosnia and Herzegovina had remained independent into 1993. II Battalion “Stojan Vujnović Srbin” remained active in Bosnian Posavina until February 1993., when it was disbanded. I Expeditionary Battalion of HOS from Zenica had survived as a unit of Army BiH until April 1993. With breakout of the Croatian – Muslim conflict on 16th April this unit was merged into the 156th Brigade of HVO under Tihomir Blaškić, marking the end of HOS as an organization.
In June 1993. at military court in Zagreb, Dobroslav Paraga, Anto Đapić, Mile Dedaković and Ante Prkačin were accused of creating a paramilitary organization, endangering the constitutional order of the Republic of Croatia, planning a coup d’etat, illegal acquisition of weapons, and agitation against the government. Plaintiff was Mirsad Bakšić. Witnesses against Paraga, Đapić, Dedaković and Prkačin were Krešimir Pavelić (former secretary of HSP), Janko Bobetko (a general of HV) and Mate Šarlija “Daidža” (general of HV and HVO), while the accused were defended by Zvonimir Hodak, HSP’s attorney. After a month spent at court, the accusation was rejected, all accused were recognized as innocent, and HOS was accepted as a legal part of the Croatian Army.
HOS until the end of the Homeland War
During the entire existence of HOS, its units were gradually absorbed into the regular armies of the states they were operating in (Croatian Army, Army BiH and the Croatian Council of Defense). Majority of HOS units were outright disbanded and their personnel transferred to other units, while some units had survived within the armies in question. Examples of latter are the 13th Battalion “Jure vitez Francetić” which had continued to operate as an independent battalion within the HVO brigade “Kralj Tomislav” (King Tomislav) from Tomislavgrad, unit “Vitezovi” (Knights) which had continued to operate until 1994. as the special tasks unit of HVO, battalion “Crni Vukovi” (Black Wolves) from Kalesia continued operation as an Independent saboteur battalion “Crni Vukovi” within the Army BiH, company of HOS from Prozor – Rama had survived as a unit of HVO under name of Company for special purposes “Marinko – Beljo”, 101. Sarajevo battalion survived as a part of Army BiH and in early 1995. was incorporated into the Croatian brigade of Army BiH “Kralj Tvrtko”. Longest surviving was the IX battalion “Rafael vitez Boban”, which survived the war as part of the 4th Brigade and 114th Brigade of HV and was demobilized in 1996.
Command Structure and Organization
At the head of HOS was the General Headquarters of HOS with seat in Zagreb. At the head of the headquarters was Headquarters Chief. During the existence of HOS, this function had been filled by Ante Paradžik, Anto Đapić, Ante Prkačin and Mladen Holman. General HQ remained in Zagreb until late 1992. when General Headquarters of HOS for BiH in Zenica became the General HQ. Commander in Chief of HOS was the president of HSP Dobroslav Paraga, but majority of promotions were decided by officers on the battlefield. Ranks and rank insignia in HOS were identical to those of HV and HVO, with the exception of the highest rank of krilnik (wingman) which was unique to HOS.
HOS units were of the platoon, company and battalion size. A total of 8 000 volunteers had passed through ranks of HOS. Operations were on a regional basis, meaning that each commander of HOS had an area of responsibility, similar to territorial defense units. Thus Jozo Rodanović was a commander for central Dalmatia, Mladen Holman for Bosnia and Blaž Kraljević for Herzegovina. However, units were often deployed where most needed. For example, some platoons of the IX Battalion from Dalmatia were deployed to battlefield in Slavonia.
Units and even individual soldiers had very heterogenous equipment, some of it being home-made, bought or captured from the enemy. Majority of soldiers utilized standard US woodland pattern camouflage, but some soldiers and units wore completely black uniforms. Those units that were logistically integrated with HV had a good supply of vehicles.
HOS markings were also utilized differently in spite of regulations. HOS emblem was prescribed to be worn on the left shoulder, but soldiers would also wear it on the right shoulder, or on the left side of chest. Just before disbandment of HOS in Croatia, soldiers of HOS often wore markings of both HOS and ZNG. Some members of BiH HOS also wore the markings of BiH Territorial Defense. Berets were marked with the Croatian coat of arms with the first white field.
HOS was well equipped with infantry weapons, especially light weapons such as pistols and assault rifles. Most of these weapons had been bought by HSP (Croatian Party of Rights) with the money donated from abroad, but some had also been captured from the enemy. HOS had no heavy artillery, though BiH HOS had several pieces of light artillery.
2 thoughts on “HOS – Croatian Defense Forces”
Reblogged this on Croatian History.