UNA IN MY EYE
UNA IN MY EYE
MY TESTIMONY ABOUT OF THE WAR OPERATION "UNA-95"
After the Military-Police Operation "Oluja 95" and the magnificent victory in that operation, and the liberation of most of the occupied territory of the Republic of Croatia, as brigade scouts of the 2nd Guards Brigade "Grom", reinforced by a tank crew, we were stationed in Maja in Banovina from where we often went to the so-called actions of clearing the terrain from the remaining broken enemy groups and individuals, of which there were many in the forests and hamlets of the hilly Banovina.
Although most of the enemy surrendered or fled to Bosnia and Herzegovina or the Republic of Serbia, fearing retaliation for ethnic cleansing and numerous war crimes in the occupied territory of the Republic of Croatia, some armed enemy forces and individuals hid in the woods unwilling to surrender. Although they are all guaranteed forgiveness or amnesty, unless they have committed war crimes.
As such, they posed a serious danger to the population who began to return to their destroyed and burned villages from which they had been expelled in 1991. And that after the ethnic cleansing by the insurgent Serbs, which was helped and armed by Slobodan Milosevic and the government of the Republic of Serbia, with the help of the so-called Yugoslav People's Army, which was completely taken over by the Republic of Serbia after the independence of the Republic of Croatia.
We were already pretty well trained for all kinds of fighting, so when the order for action arrived on September 18, 1995, we routinely prepared for another “one day at work”.
The first platoon of our company went to Dvor na Uni, while we from second platoon were transferred by truck, accompanied by the Military Police to Hrvatska Dubica. I know that the Military Officer wished us luck when he escorted us to the gathering place.
It was foggy, in the morning, and we waited for the fog to dissipate so the action could begin.
I was glad to see comrades from the first infantry battalion called "Black Mamba". We were in the same barracks in Trstenik with them, so I knew many of them. And in "Oluji" our platoon was added to the first battalion and I know that the boys are great warriors and many of them went through the entire Homeland War and had great experience in the battles for the freedom of Croatia.
We were only partially acquainted with the details of the action that awaited us. We acted in the auxiliary direction of the attack Hrvatska Dubica - Bosanska Dubica. We were supposed to provide a bridgehead when the fog lifted to introduce other forces and armor across the Una, probably planning to build a pontoon bridge to cross tanks and other vehicles.
I know I wasn’t overly nervous, there was adrenaline as the battle prepared. But I had comrades with me with whom I felt safe. And combined with our tanks, I believed we were unstoppable.
The fog lifted and we lay down on the shelters on our shore and waited for the guys with the armor to clear the opposite shore where the enemy bunkers were.
And it started ...
The earth shook from the hundreds of explosions that hit the opposite bank of the Una. I know I thought that on the other shore no one can survive. It seemed both terrifying and impressive as the explosions lifted the earth from the trenches and the concrete of enemy bunkers into the air.
The detonations stopped and we went to the boat that was supposed to transfer us to the opposite shore.
Boarding the boat we noticed that we would be driven by a regular soldier. We asked him if he was afraid to which he replied that if we are not afraid, neither is he. He later deservedly received a high decoration for bravery as he drove a boat across the river and back for the duration of the fierce battle. He deserved the sincere respect of all of us.
We set off in the first boat, our 2nd Reconnaissance Squadron with individuals from the 1st Infantry Battalion. There were maybe a dozen of us because some people were on sick leave due to injuries in "Oluja". Tubes aimed at the enemy shore, me in my camouflage hat and with an M72 machine gun. We tried to be as few targets as possible in the boat in case they started shooting at us.
Suddenly, on almost half of the Una River, the boat's engine stopped working. Una was fast, muddy and swollen and started to carry and turn us.
While the conscript was trying to start the boat's engine, my detachment commander managed and told us to start paddling with rifles.
We were already starting to grab the barrels of the rifles when the boat’s engine finally started but the river took us quite a distance from the planned landing area that ours had cleared with explosives.
As we approached the shore, we all started shooting towards the part we were going to land on because we weren’t sure if there were any enemies in that area so we covered ourselves with fire.
We finally landed along the shore which was quite steep. Several friends had already climbed the embankment and I slid into the water almost to my waist, trying to climb the muddy embankment with my hands. My comrades dragged me up the embankment.
After disembarking, we began to deploy along the coast targeting nearby bunkers and trenches. Good thing they were empty.
The boat, meanwhile, returned for another group from the 1st Infantry Battalion waiting on our shore.
As we lined up along the river along the bank, a comrade realized that we had entered a minefield, he saw part of an antipersonnel mine protruding from the ground next to him. We were a few meters short of their trenches, so we slowly switched one by one along the tracks made by the predecessor in front of us. We were lucky, because if someone had been hurt now, it wouldn’t have ended well.
In front of us was a clearing that needed to be crossed to get to the first few houses. We developed into archers and half-bent we crossed the clearing slowly with a distance of a few meters between us. Extremely dangerous part without any shelter. Without shelter you feel extremely vulnerable, you feel like the first bullet fired will kill you.
It was only as we approached the houses that we were opened fire on from several windows of one of the houses. We took refuge under the walls and threatened to blow them up if they did not surrender. As the firing continued, we began throwing bombs through the windows of the house.
I know I thought, if the bomb bounces off the wall or is returned to us, we’re done, because we were crammed into a group in the open under the wall of the house that provided us with some sort of shelter from the fire inside.
Then several explosions of bombs were heard from the house and the glass on the windows shattered around us.
The firing stopped and someone inside shouted that we should not shoot that there were children in the house.
We shouted for them to come out with their hands up and surrender.
After that, a woman came out, followed by two children with raised arms and one badly wounded enemy, whom we disarmed and lay on the ground. But he soon bled to death because a shrapnel bomb hit him in the eye. The other enemy had already been killed in a fight with each other before, so we just dragged him out of the house. I immediately took his M-48 and put it on my back.
We entered the house and I went upstairs to inspect the top floor room by room. As I entered the room, I would kick open the door and enter aiming at possible hidden enemies. But we didn't find anyone in that house anymore. We checked to see if there were any more weapons inside.
A friend picks up a telephone receiver from which a signal is heard that the telephone line is OK. We joked that we should call our homes.
In the meantime, several boats with the boys from the 1st Battalion had already arrived, so there were already enough of us to fight if the enemy counterattacked.
We inspected several other surrounding houses that were scattered along the coast, along the road, a few hundred meters from the entrance to Bosanska Dubica. We did not encounter enemies, but only an old woman.
We put the woman and children in the house with that old woman and threatened them not to go out, not to accidentally shoot them. In the chaos of battle, you usually shoot first and ask who it is. We should not have civilians or people on our conscience who are not a threat to us.
Suddenly, from one of the houses, which we have already inspected, the enemy jumps out of the window and starts running across the road into the nearby cornfield about twenty meters away. We shouted for him to stop, but as he did not listen to us, I fired several bullets at him from the side. I don’t know if I wounded him but he’s already lost in the corn.
He caught us unprepared because we had already relaxed a bit after the initial fight. And we were convinced that the houses we inspected were empty and that we were not in danger from that side. You are often in a situation where you cannot inspect every part of the house in detail because you have to go further. It could have cost us our lives.
Afterwards my friends teased me a bit that I let him go on purpose because I was a good shooter otherwise. The truth is that I was sorry then that I didn’t hit him because he posed a danger as he was behind our backs somewhere in the corn.
After regrouping, we embarked on a comprehensive attack on the city. We scouts, with part of the infantry from the 1st Battalion, marched in a column along a path above the town, while the rest of the infantry marched along the road towards the town. There weren’t a hundred of us or a little more overall. And they set off for a small town that was supposed to number thousands of people. And without the escort of armored vehicles.
Bold and silly. But I guess the commanders know what they are doing (I'm sure they were so comforted in the trenches of the First World War, the commanders should supposedly know everything, from the comfort of their offices ...).
Our group in a column, with a distance of several meters from each other, set off across a canal to a nearby hill. We have already walked maybe 200 meters. There were a dozen people in front of me, we were mixed with comrades from the infantry. We exited the canal that ran through the clearing toward the hill and entered a path that led through sparse trees that provided at least some protection from the view from the direction of the city.
And then hell broke loose!
A little earlier, below us, a burst of gunfire was heard from several weapons. The infantry, who were walking along the road directly towards the city, entered into battle with the enemy. Bursts are heard, bomb explosions ...
The front of our group had already reached some old school on the hill when they started beating us from an armored anti-aircraft three-barrel with explosive ammunition.
We lay on the ground as frightening pieces of scattered anti-aircraft bullets buzzed around us, piercing the walls of the old school as if they were made of paper.
The branches of the rare trees around us were falling on me and my friends. If only I could dig a deep hole with my teeth, but I doubt it could protect me even then.
The guys tried with several anti-tank hand grenades to hit an armored vehicle that was constantly firing at us. But the vehicle was on a nearby hill, too far away to be aimed precisely, so the rockets fell long before that vehicle.
A little later, the firing on us stopped. I don’t know if anyone hit him or they just retreated. I saw guided missiles flying through the air, Maljutka, from our side, so that was probably the reason they stopped fighting at us.
A few meters in front of me lay Aunt Nena (that's what we called her from miles away), nurse Nevenka Topalusic, who only went with us with a medical bag at the top of the attack. The true heroine of the Homeland War, died at the veterans' protests in Zagreb on October 22, 2014. Since then, that Square has been named after her: Nevenka Topalusic Square. An incredibly brave woman. I was happy that she was close to me, because if I was wounded, I would have her professional help. I felt safer. She was like a mother to us twenty-year-olds kids.
We lay in that place for quite a long time, we couldn't move because they were constantly beating on us and around us. There was a constant buzzing of bullets. And in the distance constant bursts.
Fierce gunfire was heard below, there was close combat as our infantry entered into close combat before entering the city.
Suddenly, a few meters in front of me and Aunt Nena, a mortar shell of a larger caliber fell. The detonation lifted us a few centimeters into the air and covered us with a layer of earth falling on us from the explosion. Lying down saved our lives because shrapnel flew over us. I felt a strong shock wave and was in shock for probably half a minute. Tinnitus...
Little by little I began to hear the voice of Aunt Nena calling out to me: Pedi, are you wounded, are you all right? I looked at her, covered with earth, who was also covered with earth. I point to her ears and wave my palms so I can't hear her. And she nodded to me and showed that she heard almost nothing. Then we just laughed at each other. We were very lucky that we were not dismembered. I check to see if I have blood in my ears but my eardrums have not ruptured. It's okay for now.
In front of us is a downhill and at 200-300 meters you can see one of the streets of the town with a series of houses and a road. Around us a few trees, behind us a thick bush next to which is a cornfield. At the bottom left, where we came from, a few hundred meters you can see the river Una with an alley and some houses. At the top of the hill, about 50 meters from me, is the old school building.
I was surprised to see a van full of uniformed enemies passing through the city on a side road. A few of us opened fire on him and the van turned uncontrollably off the road into a yard of one of the houses in the suburbs that was closest to us. Several enemies scattered around the houses in that alley, while the driver and a couple of people remained lying in their seats, apparently dead.
As we later learned in a difficult way, it was a group of well-trained snipers. They were deployed in those houses, on the windows and roofs, and they killed and wounded a lot of our people.
In our group, the guys from the infantry who were left in the cleared area behind us, without shelter, had the hardest time. Snipers fired at them one by one. Some would only be wounded, so if someone went to help them, they would kill him.
We were thus cut off from the bulk of the forces that were grouped near the Una by the surrounding houses.
Someone called Aunt Nena because there were a lot of wounded and she went to help the wounded. She herself suffered several wounds and ended up in a wheelchair. When she set out to bend down to help the wounded, all I know is that I thought in shock; woman of God where are you going ... Subconsciously happy that I don't have to go anywhere from my position because the tall grass in front of me hid me enough from the view of the enemy, even though we were on a hill.
But still our group, which was lying, was exposed without any shelter, except for those rare trees around us. If they started shelling us harder, the grenade could explode on one of the branches and explode in the air, so lying on the ground wouldn't help.
Every now and then a sound would be heard that, as if from the depths of hell, passed between us and Una, and would be created by bullets from snipers. They were probably specially adapted sniper bullets because ordinary bullets pierce the sound barrier and sound completely different, more like the buzzing of hornets. These sounds were frightening, as if passing through a tunnel, like the muffled roar of some beast. Since we were on a hill, those bullets were passing under us and that’s probably why that sound was weird to us.
Later, when we knew more about the details of the action, I learned that almost every sound took someone’s life or hurt someone. They were very precise. They knew how to intentionally injure someone, so they would kill anyone who went to help them.
A few meters next to me was my friend from the platoon, Zmaj. I see him constantly shooting at houses lower in the city. I ask him what he is shooting at and he points to a clearing near the city and says: "The godparents" are coming at us.
I was lying sideways in relation to him so he had a better view of the city. I had something to see, the enemy as in the movies over some clearing bent runners towards us. I opened fire too. I still think to myself, what kind of fools go like moving targets in front of the barrels of our weapons.
I later assumed that the Serbs had forced their own, who had fled before us in "Oluja," to storm to certain death.
The attack was somewhat repulsed. I guess they no longer had anyone to sacrifice in vain.
I look towards Una when I see two enemy planes dropping bombs and rocketing positions on our coast. As we were on the hill, they were almost at eye level. I later learned that one was "Jastreb" and the other was "Orao", from the Serbian Air Force.
As they turned, I saw exactly their cabins and both wings and firing rockets at comrades who were across the Una, on our shore.
I think to myself, I guess they won't come to us now. I have no shelter. I felt helpless, like I was bare-handed in front of a T-Rex. We have no chance of surviving if they are told we are here. But they did not attack us.
We lay in the same places for hours. I said all the prayers I could think of, I promised God that if I got out, I would never go to war again ... I pulled out my gun, put a bullet in the barrel with the intention of not falling alive into their hands. Scouts and snipers usually get by badly when caught alive.
I also forgot I had an M-48 on my back. A more powerful and accurate rifle than my machine gun.
We shot at the roofs and windows of the houses, assuming that the snipers were beating ours from there. Everything was by heart. Too far to see or guess anything well. Every window, every tile, door is suspicious ...
From time to time the buzzing of bullets around us would remind us that they know we are here. And grenades would fly over us, towards Una. Their familiar buzz was heard as they passed above. These are not as dangerous as those whose buzzing you do not hear. Rarely that would fall a little closer to us, maybe some 100 meters.
All this time I was naively consoling myself that ours would finally build a pontoon bridge and that our tanks would come. Then they might have some chance. Although I later learned that in the meantime from Banja Luka and from the entire so-called Republika Srpska received large reinforcements to the enemy in manpower and technology.
At first we surprised them in that auxiliary direction of attack so they sent most of the people to defend the main direction of the attack. But they soon organized and deployed and we had a nasty battle on our line of action as well.
A new shock ensued when I heard behind my back from the bushes someone or something coming breaking branches around me. I thought exactly that the enemy had come behind us.
I lie on my back and prepare for a burst of gunfire. When a comrade from the 1st Battalion springs up. He came through the branches to pick us up to get us to the school building.
A stone fell from my heart. Good thing I didn't shoot blindly. The few of us who had been lying for an eternity (at least it seemed so to me) on that part, crawled to the branches and met the rest of the people, about ten of them, at the old school building that was about fifty yards from our previous positions. But it still provided some shelter from mortars and snipers.
We only had to run through a cleared area of ten meters, which our comrade-in-arms warned us to run one by one because the enemy was covering it with snipers. There were already wounded in that part. I have to conclude that I have never run faster in zigzag than then.
We met the others from our group and heard what the situation was like. Only then did we find out what problems we were in because until then we had no connection with the others. A friend from my room, Zeljko, was also wounded there. They managed to pull him down to the bulk of the forces along the Una and by boat across the river.
There we were left to bandage a comrade from the 1st Battalion who was shot in the chest. And we could relax a little as much as the situation allowed. Although there was constant gunfire and shelling. Several friends went to the first nearby house to see if there was food and to bring us water.
And so cut off we prepared for a possible fight. We checked the ammunition. I didn't spend too many bullets because they fired single shots, you never know how long you'll be out of supplies so you don't scatter unnecessary bursts of fire. It was still fine for me, since I had one version of the Kalashnikov that uses ammunition that the enemy has. My comrades from the unit had another type of weapon with NATO ammunition.
There were about fifteen of us, with one seriously wounded. We also welcomed dusk.
When here is Shargija picking us up through the cornfield. He is one of the bravest warriors I know. In open offensive battles, as well as in sabotage actions, we scouts were often the tip of the blade, and Shargia was usually the first.
We took the door off the school and put on it a badly wounded comrade who had already lost a lot of blood and was completely pale. I was almost certain he wouldn’t get away with it. Luckily I was wrong, years later I found out he stayed alive.
We made our way a little through the cornfield to the bulk of our forces that were next to the houses near Una. There we regrouped and waited to see what to do next. We finally managed to hurry up and eat something.
That's when we found out what kind of massacre we experienced, that we couldn't reach the bodies of our dead, about the strength of the fighting, the multitude of wounded ...
A semicircular defense was made and the groups alternated during the night in the defense thus made. A few of us scouts from the 2nd platoon lined up on the beds in the room where the field command was and took a nap for maybe 2 hours in sitting positions, without taking off our combat equipment.
We managed to overhear conversations with the Motorola with the commander on our shore who stubbornly says that the "Gromovi" are not retreating. It's as if he doesn't hear people shouting at him on the edge of his strength over Motorola that there is no one to hold his defense, that if they attack us, they will run over us.
We also hear the enemy interrupting the conversation because he took a Motorola from one of our killed comrades.
I don't know if there are maybe half of us left who started the attack. The others were either dead or wounded. The losses were great.
Later it was our turn to take up defensive positions around the group. We were there for about an hour. We saw nothing but the flash of grenades. But that's why the noise of vehicles was heard in the distance.
The better you do; the river swelled behind us, not a hundred of us remained in the enemy's area, the enemy was accumulating forces in front of us ...
For some time I had no hope of getting out alive.
At last the sound of the engine on the boat began to be heard from our shore, and we learned that a retreat had been ordered. Midnight is long gone, soon darkness will not protect us.
Boat by boat until everyone from the 1st Battalion got out. We were the only scouts left to guard the retreat.
The boat arrived for us. We slowly retreated to the river bank in the dark and began to board.
Shargia was, of course, the last to retreat. He came to us a few who had not yet boarded and said that the enemy was very close, he was approaching us little by little during the night, they could be heard talking and hitting the equipment on the move.
We were the last to board the boat. The boat heads towards our shore with the first rays of light.
We made it. We made our way to our shore. If we had only stayed a little longer, I most likely would not have written this.
We slept for a few hours in the morning in houses on our coast. We didn't even hear that there was still shooting around Una.
And Brle, and Zmaj, and the deceased Hrpa... and all the other comrades, my brothers in arms with whom I shared both good and evil in those battles, we managed to sleep for a while in the houses, on soft beds. Although in clothes and equipment, with a rifle in his arms. It was like a 5 star hotel.
Only those who have been through it can understand that. You don’t need much to be happy when you’re in a situation like that.
They woke us up from sleep because supposedly enemy helicopters were heading towards us.
And it was said that we would return to the attack, again across the river. Oh God...
I don’t know how many people reading this will be able to comprehend that feeling: We barely got our heads out alive, reconciled first that we weren’t going to get away, and yet we barely manage to get out. Completely demoralized. What about going back now? Now that the enemy is eagerly waiting for us with much stronger forces in manpower and technology?
I went and sat halfway across the meadow behind the house where we slept for a couple of hours. I put the bullet in the barrel and waited for the helicopters.
I didn't care if I was going to die ... From a helicopter, a sniper ... Just to be quick ...
But let me at least get a chance to shoot myself. Because if we go back to attack, we won't cross Una either, we'll be dead, either from bullets or drowning.
Still a false alarm. The attack was abandoned ...
We went back to the road, to our truck. Good thing one of ours remembered not to sit in the truck right away, but to walk along the ravines along the road, next to the truck. The road was near the Una River. We later saw that the tarp on the truck had been ripped off.
We were lucky. We returned to the field base in Maja. If going through such hell can be called that we were lucky. The brain remembers, the consequences remain permanent, forever. Unlike the others, we are back. Many are not.
On our way back, we learned that our friends from the 1st Platoon of the Reconnaissance Company had ambushed the main direction of the attack. Many were wounded. Mostly difficult. They were expecting them.
Operation "Una-95" took 49 lives, of which 26 was from our Brigade "Grom". Of that, 13 ours comrades from "Grom" were killed in our attack area. We could not pull out the 9 dead because the enemy formed a strong line of defense in the part where our fallen comrades remained lying.
111 people were injured. And all in just over 24 hours.
Who to blame? Command leadership, Serbs, Croats, yourself, destiny?
Whoever we blame will not bring back the lives of the dead, they will not heal the physical and mental wounds left.
But I would like the real truth about the causes and consequences to finally be known. Whatever she was.
I listened to everything, everything was written about the action. As the operation was hastily planned in Zagreb because we allegedly got the green light from the USA, so the generals wanted to prove themselves in planning the operation without field reconnaissance, not taking into account the swollen river and the strength of the opponents, the number of people sent to cities in which is inhabited by 10-20 times more enemies than we were in the attack. And that even at a time when a lot of our comrades were on vacation or recovering from injuries in the "Oluja" that was a month before.
Well, if they had changed their minds in the USA, because the destruction of the so-called Republika Srpska created a huge number of refugees in Serbia ... Because on the other hand, the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina launched an attack with which we were supposed to destroy the Serbs enemy in that area ...
All this sounds like a cheap excuse for the planners of this action to justify the large number of losses on our part and the heaviest defeat we suffered just before the end of the Homeland War.
As if they didn’t care about our lives.
How to explain some things today to people who are burdened with wearing blue or green clothes, who are stressed if their boss yells at them at work ... Who moan for months if they run over a cat on the road. Who tell us today how privileged we are ...
I made an effort to write this my memory of that event. There is certainly a lot that I have left out. It is simply impossible to write everything. I forgot something, something was too emotional to write ...
And to know this: Only in "Oluja" and "Una" 1995, in just over a month, so in just two actions that lasted a total of about a week, the reconnaissance company "Grom" had half the people wounded and injured, with one killed members - Darko Lisac.
Our company numbered about thirty men in the fighting force at the time, deployed in the 1st and 2nd Platoons.
We who have survived will carry that event all our lives as a physical and mental wound that will never heal.
It never happened again to anyone and never!
For all the dead: Rest in the peace of God.
Note: The text is electronically translated with Google Translate.