Battle for Vukovar
The Battle of Vukovar was one of the first major battles in the Croatian War . After the first armed clashes since May 1991 in the eastern Croatian city of Vukovar , the battle for the city on the Danube took place from September 14th to November 20th, 1991.
Croatian armed forces under the command of General Mile Dedaković defended the fortified city against troops of the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) , the Yugoslav Territorial Defense (TO) and Serbian irregulars under the command of General Života Panić , who eventually took Vukovar after three attempts. They destroyed most of the city by artillery fire and, after the fall of the city, carried out ethnic cleansing of Croats and other non-Serbs as well as war crimes such as the Vukovar massacre .
The two-month ties between Yugoslav formations around Vukovar gave the Croatian armed forces time to realign themselves, to form the defense, to establish defensive lines and to advance the training, equipment and armament of the newly emerging Croatian army . The Battle of Vukovar is considered a turning point in the Croatian War and an example of a Pyrrhic victory despite the capture of the city .
In the run-up to Croatia's declaration of independence in June 1991, there were repeated clashes between militant groups on both sides. Initially, the JNA tried to create a buffer zone between the parties, but later increasingly supported the Serbian side. The status of the border town of Vukovar was particularly controversial because before the Croatian War about 37% Serbs and 43% Croats lived there and ethnic tensions were particularly pronounced here. At the beginning of May 1991 there was a skirmish in Borovo Selo in Borovo near Vukovar .
Croatia's battle for barracks
Croatia's war goal was to maintain its territorial unity. This required at least a larger and better equipped army to oppose the JNA. On September 14, 1991, the Croatian government started an offensive against all JNA barracks in order to capture enough infantry and heavy artillery weapons and neutralize the combat strength of the JNA bases on Croatian territory. Units of the Croatian National Guard and the police surrounded and blocked every JNA barracks and depot in Croatia. Some smaller and more isolated JNA bases in Croatia were captured.
JNA offensives against Croatia
The JNA then mobilized troops to carry out five major strategic offensives in East Slavonia , West Slavonia, Kordun , Knin - Zadar and Mostar - Split / Dubrovnik . After a week of mobilization , the operation in Eastern Slavonia and Baranja began on September 20, 1991 under the command of the First Military District of the Yugoslav People's Army . The original target at the beginning was to break through the Osijek-Vinkovci line, a key position of the Croatian defense. To this end, the 12th (Novi Sad) Corps was supposed to advance between Osijek and Vinkovci in the direction of Našice . At the same time, the 1st Motorized Guard Division was to advance south of Vinkovci, while the 17th (Tuzla) Corps was to cross the Sava between Bosanski Samac and Bosanski Brod / Slavonski Brod to join the Guard Division and then along the Belgrade-Zagreb highway advance westward. After the breakthrough, the union with the 5th (Banja Luka) Corps should take place, which should conquer Western Slavonia in a separate operation. At the beginning of this operation, the Baranja was captured by Serbian troops.
Croatian city defense
At the end of August 1991, the former JNA officer Mile Dedaković (* 1951) and his chief of staff Branko Borković (* 1961) came to Vukovar in order to establish a uniform structure for the Croatian units of the Croatian National Guard (ZNG) and police (MUP). They formed the 204th Vukovar Brigade from the independent and decentralized units of the respective city districts . To defend the city, however, Dedaković could only dispose of about 2,000 to 2,300 men from the National Guard and Police, the paramilitary and ultra-nationalist Croatian Defense Forces (HOS) and volunteers. In October, Branko Borković took command of the city's defense.
The arming of the Croats was modest compared to the armament of the attackers and consisted primarily of light infantry weapons such as automatic and semi-automatic rifles, machine guns, some guns and a limited number of armor-piercing weapons and ammunition as well as a few anti-aircraft guns and portable anti-aircraft missiles of the types Igla and 9K32 Strela-2 . The defense of the city against the heavily armored, but infantry-weak units of the JNA was achieved through a defense system consisting of large-scale mining of the access roads, mobile groups for anti-tank defense , snipers and strongly fortified defenses. As soon as an attack by the JNA was stopped, the Croatian defenders often succeeded in throwing back the often isolated attacking spearhead with powerful counter-attacks.
Course of the battle
Beginning of the battle
The JNA barracks in Vukovar, around which there were minor clashes at the end of August 1991, was blocked by Croatian units on September 14, 1991. On the same day, a small unit of the JNA's 1st Motorized Guard Division advanced to the barracks in Vukovar. The attempts of the JNA to cut off the narrow Croatian supply route from Vinkovci and to purge Vukovar of Croatian forces in the following two weeks failed. During the fighting for Vukovar, newly mobilized troops of the JNA Guard Division began an attack on Vinkovci to end the siege of the local barracks. They conquered many places south of Vukovar and created a safe zone from which part of the JNA could begin the attack towards the west. The first phase of the Battle of Vukovar ended on September 25, 1991 when the JNA Guard Division was able to force the Croatian forces to allow the evacuation of the JNA barracks in Vinkovci.
Reorganization of the JNA and second attempt at conquest
End of September 1991 Vukovar was the JNA and Serbian from a larger regiment of soldiers guerrillas surrounded. In the greater Vukovar area (both in Croatia and in Vojvodina ), the Yugoslav armed forces pulled together tanks and artillery. The Yugoslav Air Force had no enemy in the air, there were no Croatian fighter planes . The supplies from Serbia could thus reach the troops unhindered.
The residents of the enclosed city could only be supplied with food, ammunition and medical supplies by overcoming the siege ring along a narrow corridor near the villages of Marinac and Bogdanovci.
The JNA generals believed they could take the city quickly. Most of the population remained in the city, although the attackers expected a mass exodus of the Croats and abandonment of the city, given their superior military strength.
Due to the chaos in the JNA actions, the new commander of the JNA's First Military District Života Panić (1933-2003) reorganized. He subdivided the operational area and accordingly set up headquarters for the new operational zones north and south, with the intention of bringing order and discipline to the JNA command structure. The arrival of additional reinforcements from the JNA around Vukovar made it possible to plan another attempt at conquest. With these reinforcements and the volunteers of the local territorial defense, the JNA had now gathered around 36,000 men to conquer Vukovar. Despite this impressive manpower, the JNA was insufficiently prepared for the upcoming local battle. The armored and motorized units of the JNA were intended for quick and open combat and not for use in the streets of a city. Even the untrained and poorly motivated men of the territorial defense were only inadequate substitutes for regular infantry.
The renewed attempt at conquest, led by the new JNA Operations Zone South, began on September 30, 1991 after heavy artillery fire and air strikes with a combined tank-infantry attack. Only slowly was it possible to make up ground against the Croatian defenders and a Croatian counterattack on October 3rd threw the overloaded JNA units back to their starting positions. Despite the JNA's withdrawal, the Croatian supply route was interrupted.
The subsequent follow-up attack by the JNA Northern Operations Zone against the Croatian key positions in the northern Vukovar district of Borovo Naselje broke through the Croatian defense line, but got stuck because of the strong defense. The effective defense of Borovo Naselje by the 3rd Battalion of the 204th Vukovar Brigade, under the command of Blago Zadro , became for some time the greatest frustration for the JNA and the local Serbs. In Borovo Naselje, the Croatian anti-tank groups consisted of 10 to 15 men, mostly between the ages of 18 and 25. Each group usually had automatic rifles, pistols, at least one sniper rifle and two anti- tank rifles . When the JNA attacked with tanks and / or armored vehicles, the tip of the vehicles was allowed to penetrate into the street. Most of the soldiers in the group then covered the gunner of the anti-tank rifles and tried to separate the JNA infantry from the armored vehicles with hand grenades and fire. After the infantry escaped or died, the armored vehicles were destroyed one after the other by the anti-tank rifles, the shooters often staying in the houses along the street. In the seven days from October 14, 1991 to October 20, 1991, the Croatian defenders in Borovo destroyed numerous JNA tanks and armored vehicles. Trpinja Street, where the fighting mainly took place, became a tank cemetery ( Groblje tenkova ). The second attempt at conquest by the JNA ended on October 27th.
Fall of the city
After this defeat, the Yugoslav army changed its tactics with the beginning of the third attempt at conquest on October 29, 1991: The encircled Vukovar was henceforth continuously (day and night) with heavy artillery fire and also attacked by fighter planes.
Attempts to penetrate the city were concentrated on a few points. The lives of the residents and the work in the hospital could only continue in cellars. Vukovar received international coverage in all media.
In October 1991, the besiegers no longer allowed aid convoys into the city, only a few injured were allowed to leave the city. At the end of October 1991 Croatian troops tried to break through the siege ring from outside. However, EC observers ultimately demanded that this attempt at relief be ended.
The Yugoslav army tried unsuccessfully to take the devastated city. At the beginning of November, the Yugoslavs shifted the main attack to the Luzac district. Only in this situation did the Croatians withdraw further into the city center.
After the fall of Luzac and the lack of supplies, the strength of the defenders dwindled. On November 11, 1991, Bogdanovci, a neighboring town of Vukovar, fell. In the last days of the Battle of Vukovar, the city's defense was split in two: from Lusic towards the Danube and along the Vuka River to the city center.
Later, the Vukovar defenders split into smaller groups and attempted to break through to the west. Some of the Croats in Mitnica and Borovo Naselje were completely surrounded and taken prisoner along with at least 1,500 civilians on November 18, 1991. The prisoners were taken to camps in Sremska Mitrovica and other places in Serbia , some of them killed in the Borovo naselje massacre . Some people are still considered missing, while others were released after a prisoner exchange. The Croatian city commandant surrendered on November 18, and the fighting over Vukovar finally ended on November 20, 1991.
Consequences of war
In the Battle of Vukovar, around 1,400 people were killed on the side of the city's defenders and over 4,000 were wounded. To date, there is no precise information about the level of losses on the side of the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA).
300 injured and sick people from the Vukovar hospital were brought to the former Ovčara pig farm . The following day, 100 shared by them in tens and twenties groups and taken to nearby villages, 200 were of Serb irregulars and soldiers of the JNA killed ( Vukovar massacre , massacre Borovo naselje ).
The two months of large Yugoslav associations around Vukovar gave the Croatian army time to realign itself. The Battle of Vukovar is considered a turning point in the Croatian war despite the fall and the capture of the city by the JNA, Serbian militants and Chetnik groups. This gave the Croatian leadership more time to regroup the defense and establish defensive lines, as well as to advance the training, equipment and armament of the emerging Croatian army. Another result was the increased international attention and increased support in Germany for the recognition of Croatia under international law.
Most of Vukovar's residential buildings and urban infrastructure have been devastated and looted. Numerous cultural assets, churches and schools were destroyed during the fighting.
After the fall of the city, UN troops were relocated to the region. Despite this, the expulsions and looting of Croats and other non-Serbs continued.
Reconstruction made slow progress at the beginning, to which unexplained ownership claims contributed in particular.
Eltz Castle (Vukovar) , 2007
Since the beginning of the 2010s , the city's reconstruction has been progressing rapidly. Almost the entire city center of Vukovar has now been renewed. Many new structures were also built for this purpose. The Vukovar water tower has been renewed since 2017 . It will serve as a memorial in a preserved state and will therefore not be returned to its original state.
- Central Intelligence Agency [CIA] - Office of Russian and European Analysis (ed.): Balkan Battlegrounds: A Military History of the Yugoslav Conflict . tape 1 . Washington DC 2002, The Battle of Vukovar: Croatia Stymies the JNA, p. 99-102 .
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