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Battle of Zadar
Part of the Croatian War of Independence
Battle of Zadar is located in Croatia

Zadar on the map of Croatia. JNA-held area in late December 1991 are highlighted red.
Date16 September – 5 October 1991
LocationNorthern Dalmatia, Croatia

Combat ended by a cease-fire

  • Croatia defended the city of Zadar
  • Yugoslav People's Army met some of its objectives and evacuated from Zadar
  • SAO Krajina expanded territory under its control
Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Yugoslav People's Army, Navy and Air Force
SAO Krajina SAO Krajina
Commanders and leaders
Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Vladimir Vuković
Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Ratko Mladić
Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Trpko Zdravkovski
Croatia Anton Tus
Croatia Josip Tuličić
Units involved
180th Mechanised Brigade
221st Mechanised Brigade
557th Mixed Antitank Artillery Regiment
9th Mixed Artillery Regiment
63rd Parachute Brigade
SAO Krajina TO
4th Guards Brigade
112th Infantry Brigade
ZNG BenkovacStankovci Battalion
ZNG Škabrnja Battalion
(180th Brigade alone)
(JNA estimate)
Casualties and losses
Unknown Unknown
34 civilians killed in artillery bombardment of Zadar

The Battle of Zadar (Croatian language: Bitka za Zadar ) was an military engagement fought between the Yugoslav People's Army (Jugoslovenska Narodna Armija – JNA) supported by the Croatian Serb Serbian Autonomous Oblast of Krajina (SAO Krajina) and the Croatian National Guard (Zbor Narodne Garde – ZNG) supported by the Croatian Police. The battle was fought north and east of the city of Zadar, Croatia, in the second half of September and early October 1991, during the Croatian War of Independence. The JNA's initial orders were to lift the Croatian siege of the JNA's barracks in the city and isolate the region of Dalmatia from the rest of Croatia, but the orders were later amended during the battle to include the capture of the Port of Zadar, located in the city's centre. The JNA's advance was supported by the Yugoslav Air Force and the Yugoslav Navy.

The fighting stopped on 5 October, when a cease-fire agreement was concluded by the belligerents, after the JNA had reached the outskirts of Zadar and completely blocked all land routes to the city. The subsequent negotiations resulted in a partial withdrawal of the JNA, restoring road access to Zadar via the Adriatic Highway, and the evacuation of JNA facilities located in the city. The JNA completed a part of its stated objectives. While it denied the use of the Maslenica Bridge to Croatia, thus interdicting the last overland route between the Croatian capital of Zagreb and Zadar, a route via Pag Island remained available, although that transport route relied on the use of a ferry. The JNA Zadar garrison was evacuated through the negotiations, but the ZNG captured several relatively small JNA posts in the city. The port was never captured by the JNA, although it was blockaded by the Yugoslav Navy.

The September–October fighting caused 34 civilian deaths in the city of Zadar, all of whom were killed by artillery bombardment. Afterwards, Croatia charged 19 JNA officers involved in the offensive with war crimes against civilian population. They were tried and convicted in absentia and sentenced to prison.


In 1990, following the electoral defeat of the government of the Socialist Republic of Croatia, ethnic tensions between Croats and the Croatian Serbs worsened. The Yugoslav People's Army (Jugoslovenska Narodna Armija – JNA) confiscated Croatia's Territorial Defence (Teritorijalna obrana – TO) weapons to minimize resistance.[1] On 17 August, the tensions escalated into an open revolt of the Croatian Serbs,[2] centred on the predominantly Serb-populated areas of the Dalmatian hinterland around Knin,[3] parts of the Lika, Kordun, Banovina and Slavonia.[4]

After two unsuccessful attempts by Serbia, supported by Montenegro and Serbia's provinces of Vojvodina and Kosovo, to obtain the Yugoslav Presidency's approval for a JNA operation to disarm Croatian security forces in January 1991,[5] and a bloodless skirmish between Serb insurgents and Croatian special police in March,[6] the JNA itself, supported by Serbia and its allies, asked the federal Presidency to give it wartime powers and declare a state of emergency. The request was denied on 15 March, and the JNA came under control of Serbian President Slobodan Milošević. Milošević, preferring a campaign to expand Serbia rather than preservation of Yugoslavia, publicly threatened to replace the JNA with a Serbian army and declared that he no longer recognized the authority of the federal Presidency. The threat caused the JNA to gradually abandon plans to preserve Yugoslavia in favour of an expansion of Serbia.[7] By the end of March, the conflict escalated after the first fatalities occurred during an incident at Plitvice Lakes.[8] The JNA stepped in, supporting the insurgents, and prevented Croatian police from intervening.[7] In early April, leaders of the Serb revolt in Croatia declared their intention to integrate the area under their control with Serbia. This was viewed by the Government of Croatia as an intention to secede from Croatia.[9]

In the beginning of 1991, Croatia had no regular army and in an effort to bolster its defence, the country doubled its police personnel to about 20,000. The most effective part of the force was the 3,000-strong special police who deployed in 12 battalions and adopted a military structure. In addition there were 9,000–10,000 regionally organized reserve police. The reserve police were grouped into 16 battalions and 10 independent companies. The police were armed with small arms only, but a portion of the force was unarmed.[10] In May, the Croatian government responded by forming the Croatian National Guard (Zbor narodne garde – ZNG),[11] but its development was hampered by a United Nations (UN) arms embargo introduced in September.[12]


In April and early May, the ethnic tensions in Zadar and the northern Dalmatia escalated further. That followed an increase of sabotage activities targeting communications, power distribution grid and other property.[13] On 2 May, the situation continued to deteriorate after killings of Croatian policemen at Borovo Selo, and the killing of Franko Lisica, a member of the Croatian special police, in the village of Polača near Zadar by Serbian Autonomous Oblast of Krajina (SAO Krajina) troops. The news provoked riots in Zadar the same day, where the crowds marched through the city centre demanding weapons to confront the Croatian Serbs, and smashing windows of shops owned by Serbian companies and Serbs living in the city itself.[14] Croat-owned businesses in Knin were demolished during the night of 7/8 May in retaliation.[15] The JNA took a more active role in the events in nearby Benkovac on 19 May, distributing a leaflet containing the names of 41 Croats who they said should be killed immediately,[16] and providing weapons to the SAO Krajina forces in the area.[17] In late May, the conflict gradually escalated to exchanges of mortar fire.[18]

By late June and throughout July, northern Dalmatia saw daily armed skirmishes, but no actual combat. Nonetheless, the increasing intensity of the conflict in the region and especially elsewhere in Croatia led Zadar residents to construct bomb shelters.[19] SAO Krajina authorities called up three TO units in the Zadar hinterland on 11 July, one day after another fatal shooting of a Croatian police patrol in Zadar area,[20] and from the end of July, the JNA 9th (Knin) Corps began conscripting the local Serb population in Benkovac to strengthen its ranks.[21] On 1 August, Croatia deployed two battalions of the ZNG 4th Guards Brigade to Kruševo near Obrovac, and they became involved in combat with the SAO Krajina TO and police forces two days later, marking the first such engagement of the Croatian War of Independence in the region.[22] Later that month, the JNA openly sided with the SAO Krajina. On 26 August, the 9th (Knin) Corps troops and artillery, commanded by chief of staff of the 9th Corps, Colonel Ratko Mladić, attacked the village of Kijevo advancing alongside SAO Krajina forces to expel all Croats from the village.[23] Another significant setback for Croatia in the region came on 11 September when the JNA captured the Maslenica Bridge. In doing so, the JNA severed the last overland road link between Dalmatia and the rest of Croatia.[24]

On 14 September, the ZNG and the Croatian police blockaded and cut utilities to all JNA facilities it had access to, beginning the Battle of the Barracks.[25] The move blockaded 33 large JNA garrisons in Croatia,[26] and numerous smaller facilities including border posts and weapons and ammunition storage depots.[25] The blockade forced the JNA to amend its plans for the campaign in Croatia to accommodate the new development.[27]


Location map of Zadar and Zadar hinterland
Maslenica Bridge
Biograd na Moru
Lišane Ostrovičke
Zadar AFB
Šepurine Base
Križ Hill
Pag Bridge
Map of Zadar area


The planned JNA campaign included an advance in the Zadar area by the 9th (Knin) Corps. The corps began its operations against the ZNG on 16 September, as it was already fully mobilised and prepared for deployment. It was assigned the task of isolating Dalmatia from the rest of Croatia.[28] In order to achieve the task, its units advanced with their main axis directed at Vodice and supporting advances directed towards Zadar, Drniš and Sinj. The initial push was intended to create favourable circumstances to attack Zadar, Šibenik and Split.[29] The bulk of the JNA 221st Mechanised Brigade, with its battalion of World War II-vintage T-34 tanks replaced by a battalion of modern M-84 tanks from the corps reserve, was committed to the main axis of the attack. It was supported by elements of the SAO Krajina TO. The secondary advance, towards Biograd na Moru, was assigned to the 180th Mechanised Brigade, supported by the T-34 battalion detached from the 221st Brigade, the 557th Mixed Antitank Artillery Regiment, and elements of the SAO Krajina TO. Further elements of the 221st Brigade were detached from the main axis and tasked with lifting ZNG blockade of JNA garrisons in Sinj and Drniš areas. The overall offensive was supported by the 9th Mixed Artillery Regiment and the 9th Military Police Battalion.[30] Despite the secondary role initially assigned to it, the 3,000-strong 180th Brigade became the main attacking force deployed against Zadar.[31] Zadar was defended by the elements of the 4th Guards Brigade, the 112th Infantry Brigade, the independent Benkovac–Stankovci and Škabrnja battalions of the ZNG, and the police.[32][33][34] The JNA estimated the Croatian troop strength at approximately 4,500,[35] but the Croatian units were poorly armed.[36] The defence of the city was commanded by Colonel Josip Tuličić, head of the Zadar Sector of the 6th (Split) Operational Zone.[37]

The offensive commenced at 16:00 on 16 September, and by the second day, the commanding officer of the JNA 9th (Knin) Corps, Major General Vladimir Vuković, modified the initial plan due to significant resistance offered by the ZNG and the Croatian police, who were relying on populated areas and terrain features to hold back the JNA forces. The changes involved diverting a part of the force to attack Drniš and Sinj directly, while the remainder of the attacking force rested.[38] These orders were confirmed on 18 September by the JNA Military-Maritime District commander, Vice Admiral Mile Kandić.[39] The Yugoslav Navy started a blockade of the entire Croatian Adriatic coast on 17 September,[29] further isolating Zadar. The electrical power supply to the city was also cut off on the first day of the JNA attack.[32] The ZNG was driven out of Polača towards Škabrnja on 18 September.[40] In the city of Zadar itself, Croatian forces captured seven JNA facilities,[32] the most significant among them being "Turske kuće" barracks and depot. These captures provided the ZNG with approximately 2,500 rifles and 100 M-53 machine guns,[40] as well as ammunition. The Yugoslav Air Force bombed the barracks on 22 September in an unsuccessful attempt to hinder removal of the weapons. The captured weapons bolstered the Croatian defence, but the JNA attacks north of the city resulted in a stalemate where the Croatian forces were spread too thin to defend the city and also capture the remaining barracks, while the besieged JNA garrisons were too weak to break out.[29]

After this, there was a lull in fighting around Zadar that lasted until the end of the month, with only sporadic small arms fire and small-scale skirmishes taking place.[41] In that period, the JNA's efforts were concentrated on the Battle of Šibenik and on an advance towards Sinj. Even though the ZNG successfully defended Šibenik and Sinj, it lost control of Drniš, abandoning it before the JNA arrived there on 23 September. In the last week of September, the JNA turned its focus back to Zadar, stepping up its artillery bombardment of the city. Nonetheless, the naval blockade was withdrawn on 23 September.[29] On 29 September, the JNA edged towards Zadar, capturing the villages of Bulić, Lišane Ostrovičke and Vukšić.[40] The same day, the JNA announced that it intended to evacuate its barracks in Zadar as it had begun to suffer from desertions.[42]


The fighting picked up again on 2 October,[43] when a JNA tank and infantry attack on Nadin—the northernmost point of ZNG resistance in the Zadar area—was repelled.[44] On 3 October, the Yugoslav Navy reinstated its blockade of the Adriatic Coast.[45] That same day, the JNA 9th (Knin) Corps ordered a new push towards Zadar, with the objectives of relieving the JNA barracks in the city, the destruction of the ZNG or its ejection from Zadar, and the capture of the Port of Zadar, situated in the city centre. The attacking force was augmented by the 1st Battalion of the 592nd Mechanised Brigade.[46] The attack commenced at 13:00 on 4 October, supported by artillery, naval and air assets.[29] The besieged JNA garrisons in the city, with the exception of the Šepurine barracks garrison, also provided support with mortars and snipers. The 271st Light Artillery Regiment and the 60th Medium Self-Propelled Missile Regiment of the Yugoslav Air Defence, based in Šepurine, managed to break through the Croatian siege and join the advancing JNA force. Even though the ZNG and the police managed to hold the city and inflict considerable casualties on the JNA, by the night of 4/5 October, Zadar was under JNA siege. The circumstances forced the Croatian authorities in Zadar to request a cease-fire and negotiations.[47]

The cease-fire was agreed upon at 16:00 on 5 October and scheduled to come into force two hours later, while negotiations were set for 09:00 the next day. The fighting continued regardless, and the negotiations did not take place as originally planned—the JNA citing the general mobilization in Croatia as the reason for cancellation. The negotiations eventually started at the Zadar Airbase on 7 October and took two days. The talks involved Vuković, commander of the JNA garrison in Zadar, Colonel Trpko Zdravkovski, and Colonel Momčilo Perišić. Major Krešo Jakovina represented the General Staff of the HV at the talks, while Tuličić represented the regional defence command. The negotiations also included civilian representatives of the city of Zadar—Ivo Livljanić and Domagoj Kero.[48] The cease-fire came into effect at noon on 10 October.[49] On 8 October, while the negotiations were in progress, Croatia declared its independence from SFR Yugoslavia.[50]


Situation in northern Dalmatia, January 1992

The JNA 9th (Knin) Corps had fulfilled a significant part of its assigned task even before the overall offensive against Croatian forces started in the second half of September. This was the result of the capture of the Maslenica Bridge—thereby interdicting the Adriatic Highway and achieving near complete isolation of Dalmatia from the rest of Croatia.[51] The isolation was reinforced by the Yugoslav Navy blockade, which was only withdrawn on 13 October.[45] Nonetheless, the cease-fire agreement that was reached ended the JNA siege and a supply route to Zadar was opened via the Pag Island road. The JNA remained in positions on the outskirts of the city, from where it could threaten the ZNG defences.[52] Even though the ZNG and the police were unable to hold ground against the well-led JNA force backed by artillery and armour,[51] they managed to hold Zadar.[47] The city of Zadar celebrates the successful defence of the city on 6 October each year.[53]

The cease-fire agreement also provided for the evacuation of the JNA Zadar garrison. The evacuation began on 11 October and took 15 days to complete. The JNA removed 2,190–2,250 truckloads of weapons and equipment and personal belongings of the JNA personnel and their family members. The evacuation encompassed six barracks and 3,750 persons.[54] The agreement required the evacuated personnel and equipment to be removed from Croatian soil, and the JNA largely met that requirement, except in respect of artillery which was largely left to the SAO Krajina TO.[55] During the evacuation, the JNA also transferred 20 truckloads of weapons to the SAO Krajina TO in the area.[56] On 18 October, the ZNG Independent Benkovac–Staknovci Battalion was amalgamated with the 1st Battalion of the 112th Brigade to create the 134th Infantry Brigade.[33]

The exact number of casualties sustained by the ZNG, the police or the JNA has never been reported. In Zadar itself, 34 civilians were killed and 120 structures damaged by artillery fire during September and October 1991. For these actions, the Croatian judiciary tried a group of 19 JNA officers, including Perišić and Mladić, in absentia and convicted them of war crimes against civilian population.[57][58]

Renewed fighting

After the JNA completed the evacuation of its Zadar garrison, its force north of the city regrouped and launched a new offensive on 18 November involving infantry and armoured units supported by artillery bombardment and close air support. The attack targeted the villages of Škabrnja, Gorica, Nadin and Zemunik Donji. Škabrnja was captured on the first day,[59] following an air assault by a battalion of the JNA 63rd Parachute Brigade,[31] and Nadin fell on 19 November.[59] During the attack on Škabrnja, and in its immediate aftermath, the JNA and the supporting SAO Krajina TO forces killed 39 civilians and 14 ZNG soldiers in what later became known as the Škabrnja massacre. Some of those killed were buried in a mass grave in the village, and 27 victims were exhumed in 1995, after the end of the war. Another seven civilians were killed in Nadin.[60]

On 21 November, the JNA and the SAO Krajina TO destroyed the Maslenica Bridge,[61] and started to reorient their main effort towards Novigrad, Pridraga, Paljuv and Podgradina on the right flank of the Zadar sector.[59] Those efforts culminated on 31 December 1991 – 1 January 1992, when those four settlements were captured. On 3 January, the JNA attacked Poličnik and Zemunik Donji, which once again directly threatened the road to Pag and Zadar, but the advances failed.[62][63] Zadar itself was subjected to artillery bombardment during the offensive.[59] A plan by the JNA 9th (Knin) Corps to advance to the Adriatic coast at Pirovac, east of Zadar, was drawn up by 30 December 1991 under codename Strike 91 (Udar 91), but was never carried out.[64] This period saw more war crimes committed by the SAO Krajina troops, including the killing of nine civilians and a JNA member in the Bruška massacre on 21 December.[65] The fighting stopped again on 3 January, as a new cease-fire was implemented based on a peace plan brokered by the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Cyrus Vance.[66]

In early 1992, the Independent Škabrnja Battalion was transformed into the 1st Battalion of the 159th Infantry Brigade.[34] Control of the battlefield changed slightly during the night of 22/23 May 1992 when Croatian forces captured Križ Hill, near Bibinje, north of Zadar. The capture of this hill improved security for vehicles travelling along the Adriatic Highway.[67] A further change took place in January–February 1993, when Croatian troops recaptured part of the Zadar hinterland in Operation Maslenica and its aftermath.[68] The entire region was recaptured by Croatia during Operation Storm in August 1995.[69]


  1. Hoare 2010, p. 117
  2. Hoare 2010, p. 118
  3. The New York Times 19 August 1990
  4. ICTY 12 June 2007, p. 44
  5. Hoare 2010, pp. 118–119
  6. Ramet 2006, pp. 384–385
  7. 7.0 7.1 Hoare 2010, p. 119
  8. The New York Times 3 March 1991
  9. The New York Times 2 April 1991
  10. CIA 2002, p. 86
  11. EECIS 1999, pp. 272–278
  12. The Independent 10 October 1992
  13. Ružić 2011, p. 409
  14. Ružić 2011, p. 410
  15. Ružić 2011, p. 412
  16. Ružić 2011, pp. 412–413
  17. Ružić 2011, p. 414
  18. Ružić 2011, p. 413
  19. Ružić 2011, p. 416
  20. Ružić 2011, p. 418
  21. Ružić 2011, p. 420
  22. Ružić 2011, p. 421
  23. Silber & Little 1996, pp. 171–173
  24. CIA 2002, p. 93
  25. 25.0 25.1 CIA 2002, p. 95
  26. Ramet 2006, p. 401
  27. CIA 2002, p. 96
  28. CIA 2002, p. 99
  29. 29.0 29.1 29.2 29.3 29.4 Brigović 2011, p. 428
  30. Hrvatski vojnik September 2010
  31. 31.0 31.1 Brigović & Radoš 2011, p. 9
  32. 32.0 32.1 32.2 Zadarski list 23 September 2011
  33. 33.0 33.1 Čerina 2008, p. 422
  34. 34.0 34.1 057info 28 August 2011
  35. Hrvatski vojnik October 2010d
  36. Čerina 2008, p. 420
  37. 18 November 2011
  38. Hrvatski vojnik October 2010a
  39. Hrvatski vojnik October 2010b
  40. 40.0 40.1 40.2 Čerina 2008, p. 421
  41. Hrvatski vojnik October 2010c
  42. Los Angeles Times 29 September 1991
  43. 057info 20 November 2011
  44. Brigović & Radoš 2011, p. 11
  45. 45.0 45.1 Brigović 2011, pp. 428–429
  46. Hrvatski vojnik November 2010
  47. 47.0 47.1 Brigović 2011, p. 429
  48. Brigović 2011, pp. 429–430
  49. Brigović 2011, p. 430
  50. Brigović & Radoš 2011, p. 5
  51. 51.0 51.1 CIA 2002, p. 103
  52. Brigović 2011, p. 432
  53. Nacional 6 October 2007
  54. Brigović 2011, p. 431
  55. Brigović 2011, p. 433
  56. Brigović 2011, pp. 431–432
  57. Novi list 1 March 2013
  58. DORH 14 March 2007
  59. 59.0 59.1 59.2 59.3 Brigović & Radoš 2011, p. 10
  60. Brigović & Radoš 2011, p. 14
  61. Thomas & Mikulan 2006, p. 53
  62. Brigović 2011, p. 450
  63. Zadarski list 3 January 2013
  64. Zadarski list 21 November 2011
  65. ICTY 12 June 2007, p. 147
  66. Armatta 2010, pp. 194–196
  67. 057info 16 April 2009
  68. CIA 2002, pp. 267–268
  69. CIA 2002, pp. 367–377


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