|Battle of Orašje|
|Part of the Bosnian War|
Orašje on the map of Bosnia and Herzegovina
|Commanders and leaders|
|8,000 soldiers||6,000 soldiers|
The Battle of Orašje was fought during the Bosnian War, from 5 May to 10 June 1995, between the Bosnian Serb Army of Republika Srpska (Vojska Republike Srpske – VRS) and the Bosnian Croat Croatian Defence Council (Hrvatsko vijeće obrane – HVO) for control of the town of Orašje and its surrounding area on the south bank of the Sava River. The offensive codenamed Operation Flame-95 (Serbian language: Operacija Plamen-95) and referred to by Croatian sources as Operation Revenge (Croatian language: Operacija Osveta ) was actually fought with varying intensity, as more or less intensive combat was interspersed by lulls lasting two to seven days. The heaviest fighting was reported on 15 May, when the VRS managed to break through a portion of the HVO defences near the village of Vidovice, but the breakthrough was successfully contained and rolled back by the HVO.
The HVO, supported by the Croatian Army artillery deployed north of the river, managed to withstand the offensive and the front line remained unchaged in the end. The outcome of the battle was the result of changing balance of power in the war. The VRS initially held the upper hand, particularly in terms of heavy weapons and organisation, but over the three years of war since mid-1992, its capabilities were matched by its adversaries.
As the Yugoslav People's Army (Jugoslovenska narodna armija – JNA) withdrew from Croatia following the acceptance and start of implementation of the Vance plan, it was reorganised into a new Bosnian Serb army and later renamed the Army of Republika Srpska (Vojska Republike Srpske – VRS). This reorganisation followed the declaration of the Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina on 9 January 1992, ahead of the 29 February – 1 March 1992 referendum on the independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This declaration would later be cited by the Bosnian Serbs as a pretext for the Bosnian War. Bosnian Serbs began fortifying the capital, Sarajevo, and other areas on 1 March. On the following day, the first fatalities of the war were recorded in Sarajevo and Doboj. In the final days of March, Bosnian Serb forces bombarded Bosanski Brod with artillery, drawing a border crossing by the Croatian Army (Hrvatska vojska – HV) 108th Brigade in response. On 4 April, Serb artillery began shelling Sarajevo.
The JNA and the VRS in Bosnia and Herzegovina faced the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Armija Republike Bosne i Hercegovine – ARBiH) and the Croatian Defence Council (Hrvatsko vijeće obrane – HVO), reporting to the Bosniak-dominated central government and the Bosnian Croat leadership respectively, as well as the HV, which occasionally supported HVO operations. In late April, the VRS was able to deploy 200,000 troops, hundreds of tanks, armoured personnel carriers (APCs) and artillery pieces. The HVO and the Croatian Defence Forces (Hrvatske obrambene snage – HOS) could field approximately 25,000 soldiers and a handful of heavy weapons, while the ARBiH was largely unprepared with nearly 100,000 troops, small arms for less than a half of their number and virtually no heavy weapons. Arming of the various forces was hampered by a United Nations (UN) arms embargo introduced in September 1991. By mid-May 1992, the VRS controlled approximately 60 percent of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
A significant portion of the territory controlled by the VRS, and the Bosnian Serb capital of Banja Luka was located in western Bosnia, and it was dependent on resupply from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, on a single road spanning the Bosnian Sava Basin from west to east through Derventa and Brčko. The same road was also used to ressuply the Republic of Serbian Krajina, the Croatian Serb controlled areas of Croatia. After the capture of Derventa by the HVO and the HV in May 1992, the VRS launched Operation Corridor 92 and restored the route to its control in late June, and by October it eliminated all HV or HVO-held pockets along the southern bank of the Sava River and the border of Croatia, except a single bridgehead around the town of Orašje. Even though the fighting secured the route for the VRS, the corridor remained mere 3 kilometres (1.9 miles) wide at its narrowest point.
The balance of military power in the Bosnian War started to shift against the VRS since early 1994, despite its advantages in heavy weapons. In early 1995, while the ARBiH exerted an increasing pressure against the VRS, especially in the area of the Mount Vlašić, and the HV and the HVO advanced west of Livno (Operation Leap 1), the VRS launched its own offensive—Operation Joint Action 95 (Serbian language: Operacija Sadejstvo 95). Operation Joint Action 95 was meant to be a war-winning offensive, launched south of the Derventa–Brčko corridor. The move was also designed to widen the critical route. The offensive, launched on 19 April, faced determined resistance from the ARBiH and the HVO and bogged down by the end of the month.
In early May, the HV launched a successful offensive, codenamed Operation Flash, against a RSK-held part of western Slavonia. The move caused the VRS to reorient its attention to the Orašje pocket, the only territory outside its control between the Derventa–Brčko road and the Sava River. The shift of VRS's focus to Orašje might have been the result of a desire to retailate for the defeat suffered by the RSK in western Slavonia, or meant as a quick land-grab before a peace settlement was accepted.
Order of battle
The VRS earmarked the Tactical Group 5 (TG-5), normally deployed against the HVO positions in the Orašje pocket, for the offensive. The TG-5, commanded by Colonel Dragoslav Đurkić, normally consisted of approximately 6,000 troops drawn from four infantry or light brigades, but for the offensive it received further 2,000 reinforcements. Those included elite assault units assigned to the 1st Krajina Corps, elements of the 1st Armoured Brigade and corps-level artillery. Furthermore Colonel Generals Momir Talić and Ratko Mladić were there to directly supervise the TG-5's advance.
The Orašje pocket was defended by 6,000-strong HVO Orašje Corps, consisting of one guards brigade and three Home Guard regiments. Overall command of the corps was held by Staff Brigadier Đuro Matuzović. The defence of the area was characterised by its very shallow depth, not exceeding 10 kilometres (6.2 miles), and in consequence, the HVO prepared strong forward defences, utilising numerous trenches and bunkers, built along the 18 kilometres (11 miles) of the front line. The defence was further supported by substantial HV artillery and multiple rocket launchers deployed north of the Sava River, in Croatia.
|1st Krajina Corps (TG-5)||1st Čelinac Light Infantry Brigade||In Krepšić area|
|11th Dubica Infantry Brigade||In Lončari area|
|2nd Krajina Infantry Brigade||In Obudovac area|
|2nd Posavina Infantry Brigade||In Bosanski Šamac area|
|Reinforcements to the TG-5||1st Military Police Battalion|
|1st Armoured Brigade||One or two battalions|
|43rd Prijedor Motorised Brigade||4th Battalion only|
|1st Bjeljina Light Infantry Brigade||Some elements of the brigade only|
|Drina Wolves||Special operations detachment|
|1st Reconnaissance Sabotage Detachment|
|1st Mixed Artillery Regiment||Organised in two to three artillery groups|
|Orašje Corps||4th Guards Brigade||Held in reserve|
|202nd Home Guard Regiment||In Domaljevac–Grebnice area|
|106th Home Guard Regiment||In Oštra Luka area|
|201st Home Guard Regiment||In Vidovice–Vučilovac area|
|Special police detachment||200-strong unit of the Ministry of the Interior|
|HV Osijek Corps||Croatian Army artillery, located north of the Sava River, inside Croatia|
On 5 May, the 1st Krajina Corps launched the offensive aiming to capture the Orašje pocket, codenamed Operation Flame-95 (Serbian language: Operacija Plamen-95) and referred to by Croatian sources as Operation Revenge (Croatian language: Operacija Osveta ). The offensive started off with substantial artillery bombardment and a ground assault, directed at Oštra Luka, at the centre of the front line. According to Croatian sources, the 5 May attack was not coordinated very well and it gave the HVO the chance to bolster its defences. While the fighting was in progress, the VRS artillery bombarded the town of Orašje itself. The advance was quickly defeated, and after the initial setback, the VRS paused the operation for five days.
The operation resumed on 10 May, when a number of 9K52 Luna-M rockets were fired against the HVO. The two opposing armies blamed each other for the resumption of fighting—the VRS accused the HVO of bombarding the road Derventa–Brčko road to inerdict traffic, while the HVO accused the VRS of bombarding the town of Orašje first. During the morning, UN observers counted more than 1,000 explosions in the area and described the fighting as "intense", but said that it lost some momentum by the afternoon. The primary axes of the attacks, directed at the centre and the east of the pocket and aiming towards Orašje and the village of Vidovice failed to gain ground, while the secondary effort on the left flank, made some headway towards Grebnice, before being beaten back by the HVO. During combat, rumours circulated that the Orašje area would be surrendered in barter for territory lost to the HV in western Slavonia.
The VRS repeated its attacks at least seven more times over the next thirty days, with two to seven days in between those individual efforts. Some attacks lasted for several days, and during each one of them, the UN observers counted from 2,000 to 5,000 explosions. The most successful attack occurred on 14–15 May, when the VRS nearly reached Vidovice on the southern bank of the Sava River. On that occasion, a combined armour and infantry broke through three rows of trenches, with strong artillery support including bombardment of HVO positions with approximately 5,000 shells and two 9K52 Luna-M rockets. In the fierce combat to gain control of Vidovice, the VRS was pushed back by the 4th Guards Brigade and the 106th Home Guard Regiment to the positions held before the start of the offensive. According to Bosnian Serb sources, the HV fired six rockets from its positions in Posavski Podgajci and Rajevo Selo area against targets in Brčko, causing substantial damage but no casualties. Even though the fighting continued, including skirmishes between the VRS and the ARBiH in the area south of Orašje, its overall intensity declined 15 May. By 10 June, the VRS called off the operation.
The VRS failure in the battle was the result of declining capabilites relative to its adversaries over the preceding three years. Even though the offensive was conducted competently, applying military doctrine of the VRS calling for use of armoured and assault infantry supported by artillery. By 1995, the VRS was facing well-organised militaries employing a comparably large number of artillery pieces and good defensive fortifications. In consequence, the VRS was not capable of smashing the defences with its own firepower and it was unwilling to commit its dwindling infantry to a decisive and risky attack. The combat resulted in no territorial changes, but both belligerents reported dozens of casualties, both military and civilian. Even though the battle was over, intermittent artillery exchanges continued in the area, and as early as 19 June, the VRS bombarded Orašje again.
- Ramet 2006, p. 382.
- Ramet 2006, p. 427.
- Ramet 2006, p. 428.
- CIA 2002, pp. 143–144.
- Bellamy 10 October 1992.
- Burns 12 May 1992.
- CIA 2002, p. 145.
- CIA 2002, p. 146.
- CIA 2002, p. 304.
- CIA 2002, pp. 302–303.
- CIA 2002, pp. 295–296.
- CIA 2002, p. 303.
- CIA 2002, p. 298.
- CIA 2002, pp. 298–299.
- Tomas July 2012, p. 45.
- CIA 2002, p. 400, note 88.
- CIA 2002, p. 299.
- Tomas July 2012, p. 46.
- Pomfret 8 May 1995.
- Cohen 11 May 1995.
- Pomfret 15 May 1995.
- Herald Scotland 15 May 1995.
- Jahn 16 May 1995.
- Wilkinson 20 May 1995.
- The Columbian 19 June 1995.
- Central Intelligence Agency, Office of Russian and European Analysis (2002). Balkan Battlegrounds: A Military History of the Yugoslav Conflict, 1990–1995. Washington, D.C.: Central Intelligence Agency. ISBN 978-0-16-066472-4. http://books.google.hr/books?id=it1IAQAAIAAJ.
- Ramet, Sabrina P. (2006). The Three Yugoslavias: State-Building And Legitimation, 1918–2006. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-34656-8. http://books.google.com/books?id=FTw3lEqi2-oC.
- News reports
- Bellamy, Christopher (10 October 1992). "Croatia built 'web of contacts' to evade weapons embargo". Archived from the original on 7 August 2012. http://www.webcitation.org/69jOzutQk.
- Burns, John F. (12 May 1992). "Pessimism Is Overshadowing Hope In Effort to End Yugoslav Fighting". Archived from the original on 29 November 2013. http://www.webcitation.org/6LUaZaPMQ.
- Cohen, Roger (11 May 1995). "Heavy Battle Erupts Between Serbs and Croats in Bosnia". http://www.nytimes.com/1995/05/11/world/heavy-battle-erupts-between-serbs-and-croats-in-bosnia.html.
- "Fighting rages along Serb corridor Zagreb, Sunday". 15 May 1995. http://www.heraldscotland.com/sport/spl/aberdeen/fighting-rages-along-serb-corridor-zagreb-sunday-1.680516.
- Jahn, George (16 May 1995). "Sarajevo Erupts in Heaviest Fighting in More than a Year". Associated Press. http://www.apnewsarchive.com/1995/Sarajevo-Erupts-in-Heaviest-Fighting-in-More-Than-a-Year/id-1ba8cd85df56d06e5a6ea75ed994cc5c.
- Pomfret, John (8 May 1995). "Bosnian Serbs Shell Sarajevo Suburb, Launch Attacks on Catholic Churches; NATO Reprisal Airstrikes Not Being Considered, U.N. Officials Say". http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P2-830722.html.
- Pomfret, John (15 May 1995). "Croatia Serb Sees Lesson In a Defeat; Krajina Radical: Moderates Undercut". http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P2-832747.html.
- "U.N. Role Shrinking in Bosnia". 19 June 1995. http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P2-23325016.html.
- Wilkinson, Tracy (20 May 1995). "Battle Rages Over Serb Supply Route: Balkans: Fight over key transport corridor could merge scattered conflicts into wider war". http://articles.latimes.com/1995-05-20/news/mn-4010_1_supply-route.
- Other sources
- Tomas, Mario (July 2012). "Operacija "Osveta" i pobjeda HVO-a" (in Croatian). Operation Revenge and HVO's Victory. Večernji list. ISSN 1333-9192. http://vojnapovijest.vecernji.hr/broj-16-vp/operacija-osveta-i-pobjeda-hvo-a-907871.
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