30 Years of Fall of Vukovar, 1991. – 2021.

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30 Years of Fall of Vukovar, 1991. – 2021. – History and War (wordpress.com)

From Easter of 1991. until late August, Serbia and JNA had been leading an undercover war against Croatia. Officers of JNA’s Security Service (UB SSNO) along with Serbian Ministry of Interior (MUP) carried out a series of secret operations aimed at arming the Serb minority in Croatia, and trained Croatian Serbs in terrorist and sabotage actions against Croatia. Generals Aleksandar Vasiljević (UB SSN0) and Jovica Stanišić (MUP of Serbia) allowed the Serbian imperialists control over the media. They used this control to spread false information about Croat attacks on Serbs, thus creating an atmosphere of fear and hatred which would eventually lead to numerous war crimes.

This dualism of JNA and Serbia in attacks n Croatia was not accidental, but detailly planned and organized so as minimize the possibility of Serbia’s involvement in war in Croatia being proven. Blockade of Serbian military facilities by Croatian police and army, itself carried out to prevent supplies reaching Serb terrorists, was used by JNA to activate its already prepared plan for the occupation of Croatia. Forces of JNA from the 1st Military District in Belgrade were tasked with breaching Croatian positions in Eastern Slavonia, advancing along the line Vukovar – Vinkovci – Osijek towards Western Slavonia where they were to link up with the 5th Banja Luka Corps of JNA. Attack on Vukovar was to be carried out by the 1st Guards Mechanized Division and 12th Novi Sad Corps, which were to attack Vukovar, and 17th Tuzla Corps which was tasked with forcing Sava between Bosanski Šamac and Bosanski Brod, and thus breach the rear of Croatian forces. According to this plan, JNA and Chetniks were to reach Varaždin in 8 days, bypassing major settlements which would be blocked by Chetnik units mobilized from Serb minority in Croatia.

First stage of the plan would have lasted two to three days, and consisted of relieving JNA’s barracks in Vukovar and Vinkovci, followed by taking control of Našice – Slavonski Brod line. Second stage will have been linking up with the Banja Luka corps near Okučani, and continuation of operations towards Varaždin and Koprivnica. At this time, Croatia was practically disarmed, which led Belgrade to believe that victor will be decided within a few days.

Tuđman’s Plan and Early Actions

Tuđman developed a strategy to counter this – the only possible strategy, considering the disparity in resources. His plan was to prevent JNA from undertaking any operational maneuver by forcing it into pitched battles against defensive positions established at every single settlement in the area. At the same time, convoys and negotiations would internationalize the conflict. In this way, he hoped to at least partly neutralize Serb advantage in number and size of maneuver units such as armored brigades. Consistent defense of every city and every village was a key to slowing down JNA’s strategic offensive, and in some places such as Vukovar and Dubrovnik, this offensive was completely halted for a time.

JNA and Chetniks started their operations in Eastern Slavonia as early as July. In just a few days, armored and mechanized units from Vojvodina occupied Baranja. Following this, the New Sad Corps aimed their efforts against Vukovar. Intense fighting around Vukovar started on 25th of August, after an armored vehicle of JNA struck a mine while attempting to bypass Croatian checkpoint. This was quite enough for JNA – from its barracks in Vukovar – and Chetniks from Borovo Selo to start a joint attack against both Borovo Selo and Vukovar.

Battle began intensely, with JNA losing 15 tanks in first few days, and both ferries across Dunav also being destroyed. Generals of JNA believed that any Croatian reinforcements to Vukovar would create major logistical and strategic issues for their advance towards Zagreb, and thus decided to conquer Vukovar at any cost. As a result of this and stubborn defense of Vukovar, JNA would waste its most powerful units. As the battle grew in intensity, it became a political symbol for both Zagreb and Belgrade, and both sides would spend disproportionate amount of effort on the Vukovar front.

Battle of Vukovar

Fighting for Vukovar grew in intensity ever since the arrival of 1st Motorized Guards Division from Serbia on 20th of September. From then on, JNA would put pressure on Vinkovci in order to cut off supply line of Croatian forces in Vukovar. The advance would be accompanied by ethnic cleansing. Forces around Vukovar also grew. By beginning of October, Vukovar was being attacked by Serbian forces numbering 36 000 soldiers, 1 600 armored vehicles, 60 aircraft and 350 artillery pieces. These were opposed by Croatian forces numbering 1 800 lightly armed defenders, many of whom were members of Croatian Police (around 800) or volunteers. Elite elements of the defense consisted of small elements of the “A” Brigade of ZNG (Croatian National Guard) as well as 58 members of HOS (Croatian Defense Forces).

On 2nd of November, JNA managed to breach defenses in area of Lužac, located between Borovo Naselje and Vukovar. Fighting in Lužac continued until 10th of November, when JNA took the highway towards Vukovar. Some of defenders fell back to Borovo Naselje, others to Vukovar. On 12th of November, defences of Vukovar were cut in two more places, with defenders being forced into three isolated pockets. On 13th of November, JNA finally captured Vupik’s silo, finally cutting off any contact between Borovo Naselje and Vukovar. Isolated pockets of resistance held out until 15th of November. On 17th November, many of surviving defenders abandoned Vukovar, sneaking out in small groups.

Consequences

While the battle was a Serb tactical victory, it was in reality a strategic victory for Croatia. Focus of large Serb forces on Vukovar, including many of JNA’s elite units, threw a wrench into Serb plans. What was to be a quick and decisive victory turned into a grueling siege, giving Croatia time to prepare defenses of other areas. It was also a major moral success, proving that a victory in the war was indeed possible. Just as importantly, heavy losses and lack of progress in fighting around Vukovar proved devastating for Serb morale. Elite units of JNA were rendered combat-ineffective as a result of combat losses and flagging morale – one armored transport vehicle managed to run away all the way from Vukovar to Knez Mihajlo Street in Belgrade. At the same time, enthusiasm for war in Serbia almost completely dried up, with recruitment flagging as heavily as JNA’s morale, and desertion becoming an ever increasing problem. From then on, heavy lifting in fighting in Croatia will be borne by the Chetnik insurrection units.

During fighting in Vukovar, Croatian losses numbered 450 soldiers and 1 350 civilians, of which 86 children. Over 2 500 people were wounded, and many were taken to Serbian concentration camps. Between 9 000 and 10 000 Croats passed through Velepromet concentration camp, which functioned from September 1991. to March 1992. After occupation of 18th November 1991., fate of 2 630 people was left unknown. During and after reintegration of eastern Slavonia, over 50 mass graves were discovered in Vukovar and its surroundings.
 

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