The Battle of Nuštar: The First and Last Line of Defence of the City of Vinkovci

By dr. Peter Anthony Ercegovac, PhD

Autor posvećuje ovaj rad svim pripadnicima HOS-a iz Vinkovaca i Nuštra koji su branili Nuštar, a time Vinkovce i Hrvatsku

Nuštar from the very beginning of the war found itself in an awkward strategic position, being a Croatian village surrounded by villages with majority ethnic Serbian populations. Already as hostilities began in July 1991 throughout Eastern Slavonia and Baranja local authorities began to reorganise civil defence along military lines. Volunteers were sought from the local community to man guard posts along major traffic routes and the periphery of the town in order to scout the activities of the JNA[1]. Most were young people in their late teens and early twenties. Though young they came from many forms of life: students, agricultural workers, labourers as well as doctors and schoolteachers. Whilst the first initial defence positions were established the population of the village slowly withered away as families and elderly people left to more secure Croatian cities behind the front lines.

With the front lines between ethnically divided villages solidifying the rebel Serbs with assistance of the JNA began 24 hour bombing of the village in July. This followed the classic tactics of the JNA based on the Ottoman-Turkish concept of Akrim or scorched earth policy. First, the JNA would surround a town, then evacuate as many members of Serbian ethnicity as possible, once it was established that all “friendlies” had left then they would proceed with grid based artillery (both heavy and light) carpet bombing of a town until it was left as rubble. All this was designed to lay waste to defensive positions of enemy combatants in order to allow for open space for a full frontal ground force attack accompanied by tanks.

Why Nuštar was of strategic importance for the JNA was that it was a strategic logistics point for the ZNG[2] to replenish supplies in manpower, food and medicines for the city of Vukovar, which was one of the more important goals of JNA strategists. Essentially, JNA strategists believed that if the ethnically mixed city of Vukovar along the Danube would quickly fall then JNA forces would have open tank land before them all the way to Osijek, the regional capital of Slavonia and eventually Zagreb the Croatian capital. Much of these plans were based upon the routes of the Srijem Front, which the Soviet Red Army followed in its conquest of the German and her allied armies whilst retreating through the former Yugoslavia from 1944 to 1945. In fact during the 1980s many war games had been played by the JNA using the very same lines of attack in case of a foreign incursion from the West by NATO forces. All aggressive defensive strategies played out during these war games were done so from east to west- from the Socialist Republic of Serbia through the SR Croatia and SR Slovenia to the Austrian and Italian borders.

From the standpoint of the fledgling Croatian Govt that had just declared independence Vukovar had a different strategic value. Vukovar was designated the city that would become the first point of major military resistance with several strategic objectives. Firstly, it would be the point whereby Serbian expansion must be halted in order to buy time for the arming and training of the ZNG in development. Secondly, the concentration of Serbian and JNA forces upon one focal point of attack would tie them down significantly enough for the Croatian Govt to place the ZNG in other strategically important towns with the aim of solidifying front lines, which would in turn grant Croatia deeper back lines so civilian life could go on as the country would be able to continue to function economically, socially and politically whilst also dealing with hundreds of thousands of refugees. In essence the defence of Vukovar would allow for the nation-state of Croatia to form and develop behind the front lines. Thirdly, Vukovar would become a focal point of Croatian resistance which for propaganda purposes become an important morale booster in convincing the nation that they could withstand all suffering in the goal of establishing an army that would be capable of defending and eventually liberating the Croatian state of Serbian occupation.

Taking this into account JNA and Serb military strategists soon became aware that Vinkovci and Nuštar could not be left as isolated points of conflict, as they were only 15 km from one another. Vukovar had to fall as quickly as possible. Perhaps the first signs that Nuštar would pose true resistance came when at the beginning of the attack upon Vukovar a JNA column of tanks attempted to enter Bršadin via Nuštar. They were halted by local ZNG volunteers who had surrounded the column, brandishing their newly acquired automatic assault rifles, forcing the tanks to move back and find another route. By the end of September and beginning of October all sides realised that Vukovar would not fall without a spreading of the front toward Vinkovci which was about five km from Nuštar. Hence, the goal of the new JNA and Serbian offensive was to take control of all thoroughfares leading in and out of the regional capital Vinkovci, which was using Nuštar as a front line base for rearming Vukovar. The thoroughfare Marinci-Bogdanovci-Vukovar became the main site of the battle as JNA and Serbian Četniks[3] solidified their front line along the Mirkovci-Marinci-Bršadin line.

nustar2The decision was made to make a stance in Nuštar as Serbian bombing of the village intensified. Daily aviation strafing and shelling of the village occurred at the hands of the JRV[4].  But the true escalation would occur on September the 22nd when the JRV dropped a series of cassette bombs weighing each between 250 to 500 kg called Sows. The damage was extensive with several historically significant ancient heritage homesteads from the Šokakian local culture being destroyed. It became obvious to the local HQ in Vinkovci that a move was being made upon the entire Nuštar county area as the artillery shelling was now coming from regular JNA artillery units placed on the Serbian side of the border across the Danube River. By October the 1st, Croatian forces successfully evacuated at the last minute elderly and invalid patients from the Nuštar Old People’s Home. Hours later the village of Marinci and the Estate of Henrikovci fell. In fact all the villages along the Mirkovci-Šid roads fell that day. The next day Cerić would fall, which brought the shifting JNA and Serbian lines to two km from Nuštar. Hence, expanding JNA/Serbian capabilities as now more precise field short-range light artillery could be implemented. With this action two major goals were achieved by the JNA/Serbian Forces: firstly, Bogdanovci was left isolated and defended by some 150 Croatian soldiers; and secondly, Vukovar was finally encircled and cut off from the rest of Croatia. As a consequence Nuštar was now the furthest defensive point still linked to unoccupied parts of Croatia in the east.

Now Nuštar would come under a combined heavy and light artillery attack. Mortar fire from 82 and 120 mm shells, rocket launched “oganj” and “orkan” missiles, Howitzer L118 105 mm British towed canon and Yugoslav M65 based on the M114 155 mm American towed canon[5], tank fire, 20 and 30 mm anti-aircraft canons and Precision Attack Munitions (PAMs) for destroying bunkers, [6] were all used. The combined bombing from across the Danube River, Marinci and Cerić would last three days in a bid to soften the defences in the village centre.

Even though Croatian Forces would succeed in destroying four APVs[7] that day the second village of Cerić would fall which would leave Nuštar enclosed and open to a frontal attack as Četnik forces ransacked these villages and slaughtered captured Croatian civilians.  Those defenders of Cerić who were able to retreat quickly moved into Nuštar. Hence on October the 2nd of the original 220 soldiers from all Brigades who had previously defended the town of Bogdanovci some 14 members of HOS[8] (six were to perish) were sent in as a reinforcement unit from Vinkovci each carrying some seven kilos of anti-tank weaponry.

Over 20 JNA tanks came along the main thoroughfare along the Marinci-Bogdanci-Vukovar road and just before the junction into the village they spread out to a distance of between 70 to 90 metres from one another. This forced members of HOS to come out into the open, some 20 to 30 metres from their covers in order to get to some 100 to 90 metres away from their targets. Two tanks and an APV were hit and in the chaos the JNA were ordered to withdraw and in some parts the combatants were 10 metres away from one another. At the cemetery this led to multiple lines forming ad hoc. Local Croatian MUP[9], some 14, not realising that HOS were also in the area fired upon them thinking them to be Serbs. After quick negotiations the situation was resolved.[10] This only highlights the fact that most of the defenders were in fact volunteers drawn up from differing units and check-points from not only Vinkovci, but also from Vukovar and all over Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina.

This was one of the advantages that HOS and ZNG had in that most of these men were not professional soldiers schooled in classic symmetrical warfare rather volunteers who came for the sincere reason that they simply wished to defend their country. As one HOS veteran of the Nuštar campaign stated: “…we did not divide ourselves from those in the ZNG or MUP… we were even mixed up together at our check points, in the same basements. For example, the reservist police and reservist guardists were organised within local communities and they were the ‘locals placed along the peripheral parts of the town’, and we came into their homes… There was never a problem amongst us, only unity and cooperation, because we were all in the same shit. Respect amongst ourselves was always there, whilst politics was lead far from the front lines. The HOS squad, together with the guardists, defended the centre of Nuštar on 03.10.1991… 20 HOS soldiers participated in that battle in the direct centre of Nuštar 03.10… In Nuštar there were volunteers from all over Croatia, not just locals…”[11]

This is important in understanding why the battle unfolded as it did. In essence, this fight was seen not as an ideological one but one for the survival of the nation. For many held the belief that if Slavonia would fall then eventually the whole nation would also. Thus those who came to defend Croatia were in fact a miscellaneous lot who could not apply classic symmetrical military strategies of defence as they had no such knowledge of such tactics. None were schooled soldiers. From organisation to distribution everything was done ad hoc. They literally invented their tactics on their feet running. Hence, they were successful in combating symmetrical military tactics through implementing asymmetrical strategies. Improvisation in engaging an enemy that used classic mobile artillery movements as support for infantry movement enabled defenders not only to use their trenches they had prepared but also the rubble strewn buildings as a counter-offensive measure as well as a trap for retreating enemy forces. The lack of supplies and equipment was highlighted by the fact that these men in the midst of autumn were wearing summer uniforms.

Nuštar was placed along this front line and was defended by 250 members of the 2 Battalion 3rd Brigade ZNG-a and MUP (intervention police) Vinkovci along with some 150 members of the local TO[12], HOS and Andrija Marić’s Yellow Ants Anti-Tank Group of the 3rd Battalion 204th Vukovar Brigade[13] from Trpinjska Road outside Vukovar. It was also the village where the famous corn path would be used until the fall of the village of Marinci on October 1, 1991. The corn path was essentially cornfields that the ZNG and HOS used to smuggle weapons, food and medicines into Vukovar under cover of the tall corn stalks.

One must note, however, that when writing about Croatian numbers and which formation was where one has to take into account that the chaotic nature of the defence of the village was undertaken by an army in formation, as one HOS volunteer related to me on how many people originally defended the village: “These are not exact numbers, so I do not know whether or not I should actually mention them… I am afraid that the exact numbers no one actually has. People from today’s perspective of organized systems follow things as such, but then there was no organisation, nor systems, nor statistics, nor vertical lines of command. Everyone was a sheriff in their own street. Everything was ad hoc. Hence everything that I wrote you is my subjective evaluation. You know that things get inflated all the time. We had units who were formally companies (that would have to be about 100 soldiers), but were really expanded platoons of 30-40 soldiers. That was how it then was…” [14]

Hence, when on October the 3rd heavy fighting was being waged along the whole Vinkovci front toward Nuštar the exact numbers of how many people remained and how many left no one truly knows. The changes on the battlefield were too fluid to determine what was happening at the time. In the midst of this chaos the village of Karadžićevo quickly fell and the ZNG soon realised that they had major technical problems with their tanks. The ZNG received seven T-55 and 11 BVP m-80 tanks and anti-tank APVs without anti-tank and anti-infantry ammunition, nor did they received anti-APV rockets, whilst the tank crews who came from Varaždin were given the orders to dump the tanks in the field in fixed positions outside Đakovo and return immediately to Varaždin for further training. In essence, Nuštar as the last point toward Vukovar was left without mobile artillery.

nutar_u_domovinskom_ratu_3_20121217_1651446466

With this in mind on October 3rd the JNA, Teritorijalna Obrana Šumadija[15] and Serbian četniks moved onto the roadways toward Nuštar and Vinkovci. The night before Bogdanovci was bombed all night long. In the morning 10 JNA tanks and 10 APVs turned onto the road toward Cerić from Marinci and took the position of Zidine, which would be the staging point for the first full frontal attack. This would take place in the afternoon. It was a two-pronged attack with infantry units moving in behind three tanks with the main attack coming down Way of the Cross St into the centre of the village. HOS and ZNG troops decided to let two tanks and two APVs enter the centre of the village before releasing fire upon them from anti-armour shells, which succeeded in destroying one M-84 tank and two APVs whilst another M-84 was destroyed by an anti-tank mine. In the confusion JNA/Serbian forces quickly received the order to retreat with the two surviving tanks in the direction of the Nuštar Cemetery along Marin Držić St, which was from where the second prong of the attack was coming from. This led to a traffic jam of sorts between the retreating tank units and APVs coming in from the other direction. Hence, leading to the loss of another APV.  As a soldier told me about the chaos this traffic jam caused by those retreating and those defending: “One interesting thing concerning that tank in the centre, the one where the ‘tank top flew off’ (which is a famous photo)… that tank was destroyed-disabled when a second tank came and fired on its own which separated the tank top from the rest of the tank… they probably thought it was our tank… that was told to me by Nijemac [sic* nickname meaning the German, real name known to this author] who was there at the time… They messed around with him afterwards because in the panic he apparently shot his Zolja [hand-launched M80 anti-tank rocket] backwards… ha ha ha…” [16]

As one can see mass confusion hit all sides due to the nature of this street-to-street fighting. This was when the JNA decided to send in that afternoon tanks from the Vinkovci suburb of Mala Bosna upon the village of Cerić with the aim of severing the links between Vukovar and Nuštar.

All up the Croatian defenders were able to destroy one modern M-84 JNA tank and one APV. The shock of such a loss led to a full artillery attack from light to heavy artillery from the JNA 252nd Armoured Brigade from Kraljevo in Central Serbia. The incoming artillery barrage came from three sides: Marinci and the Henrikovci Estate from the north and Cerić from the east. At the same time the town was being encircled by Četniks moving into open ground from their strongholds of Bršadin and Pačetin to the north-west of Nuštar, whilst to the west Ostrovo would fall into Serbian Četnik hands. This provided the base for the Yugoslav and Serbian forces’ tank attacks, which would come from Bršadin and the Henrikovci Estate and APVs from Marinci. Tanks, canons, airplanes, mortar, aerosol bombs and Howitzers were all used. The bombing lasted two days leaving no building undamaged.

The goal was to take control of all thoroughfares leading in and out of the regional capital Vinkovci, which was using Nuštar as a front line base for rearming Vukovar. The JNA and Serbian Četniks would this day attempt to encircle Vukovar via Borovo naselje and Bogdanovci. At the end of that day the JNA and Serbian Četniks would lose some 10 T-55 tanks and APVs, suffering 100 casualties in Bogdanovci alone. HOS soldier Žarko Manjkas would himself destroy four T-55 tanks. All up in Borovo naselje they would lose 17 tanks and nine APVs of the 26 tanks and 19 APVs they sent in. Whilst in Nuštar during the intense bombing the ZNG and HOS troops laid low in their basement bomb shelters waiting for the eventual infantry assault.

The bombing that occurred in the morning of October the 5th was relentless with an estimated 3000 shells falling on the village[17]. The JNA started to use aerosol bombs to cause maximum human damage.[18] Croatian forces reported that when they came out of their basement bunkers the entire village was covered with a white substance that looked like spider webs. [19] The village was laid waste but during the morning the Croatian defenders prepared for the coming attack through re-organising and resupplying stocks of ammunition. The main defensive weapons to be used in halting the second attack were to be hand weapons such as assault rifles, grenades, M80 Zolja anti-tank rocket launchers and other anti-armoured vehicle shells.

Once again, as in the first attack on October the 3rd, this combined tank and infantry attack, which was launched just after 0900 hours, would come from Marinci and the Henrikovci Estate and was launched in the early morning hours. All up some 50 tanks and APVs would start the offensive providing a moving shield for an infantry force of some 500 to 1000 JNA and Serbian Četnik troops, pending on sources. Just before the entrance into the village the JNA/Serbian forces combined. At the entrance to the village one ZNG canon awaited them but it was soon overran. Then the combined JNA and Serbian Četnik forces started to separate at the local cemetery before entering the village forging a two-prong attack. It was here that one set of enemy combatants entered the main street whilst the other followed the path running by the side of the cemetery along into Marin Držić St heading toward Ban Jelačić St which would lead to an attempt to form a pincer movement that would unite with Četnik forces that were now leaving recently occupied Cerić. As this occurred a third group of Serbian troops would enter Marin Držić St adding numbers into the field. The goal was to move into the centre with one set of forces whilst attacking the castle in the village where the Croatian command had its field HQ. If the HQ was taken then the regional capital of Vinkovci would have all its roadways toward Vukovar severed. Along the way “White Eagles” and “Arkanovci” Četniks were used by the JNA to cleanse basements of remaining civilians who were promptly killed. They soon would take up positions on whatever roofs were left in order to set up sniper and machine gun positions/nests to fire upon the defenders.

nustar3

However combined JNA/Četnik forces would again break off into three groups, as the street fighting would lead to a break in the JNA/Četnik forces at Marin Držić St, which was supposed to be their access point into the village centre once they had regrouped with the forces coming in from Cerić. [20] As they slowly advanced HOS would continue to hold their ground throughout the day – through the use of light infantry weaponry fire and anti-tank hand fired mortars – as long as they could as new supplies and troops arrived around midday from Vinkovci the closest major Croatian city still under full Croatian control. The local defenders were handed shoulder fired anti-tank rounds and rockets. Reserve Croatian troops from the 109th Brigade of the ZNG in Vinkovci would lose many lives in this initial resupply stage, as they became victims of Serbian snipers whilst they deployed along the shifting front lines.

To get an idea of the chaotic nature and panic that was occurring behind Croatian lines as the HQ in Vinkovci realized the significance of the need to defend Vinkovci in Nuštar I think it is important that we get the opinion of soldiers who fought in the battle. As one soldier from HOS who arrived from Vinkovci told me about how they entered Nuštar on October the 5th to reinforce the village: “In Nuštar there was one permanent Nuštar HOS squad and that day a few more of us came to help from various control points together and we were mixed with other units, but totally unorganised… By my judgement there could have been around 40 HOS soldiers at the time there. There was chaos and panic because Vinkovci had not established defensive lines in case Nuštar fell… they started mobilising volunteers from all check points of the city’s defence and was a mix from all units… The unofficial order that no one saw was that 1/10 of [sic* all soldiers] from all check points were to go to Nuštar to help out… It was said that we had to gather and in formation leave from the brickyards at the exit of Vinkovci for Nuštar…  The police, ZNG, HOS gathered there, 200 all up, but no one turned up to lead the entire group, there was no organised commander… there was fear amongst many and I think that more than half of those at the brickyards never went to Nuštar… in the end we marched five km in unorganized groups of 10 people, at the entrance into the village locals directed us where we had to go because we did not know the village well nor the situation… There was no list nor organisation, nor leadership. After we repelled the Četniks we returned to our positions that we came from.” [21]

Another HOS volunteer stated: “In any case organizationally and command wise it was chaos… it all came down to some form of voluntarism. At the brickyards, in the end, he who did not shit himself went to Nuštar on his own. I was also worried, because I did not know what awaited me, nor where I was going. The village I knew shallowly and only the main road that led towards Marinci and Vukovar (and the other branch from Bršadin-Vukovar). The inner village I did not know, nor the people whom I met up with there. I am nonetheless from Vinkovci and left when I was 16 and had not returned until then. That was not enough time to get to know my own city let alone people from surrounding villages. Usually the picture people from Zagreb have is that people from small cities all know each other but it is not like that… [sic* so] I went through the city form the train station where I lived toward our position towards Mirkovci (a distance of 4 km) and there I met no one on the street… like in those films (New York 2080- like after some cataclysm) when some “Arnold Schwarzenegger” walks through a devastated city all alone with a rifle in his hand… everything surrounding me was in flames… as I walked I thought to myself 100 times, ‘Am I cretan or are the cretans all those who left the city?’ ”[22]

The first engagement would happen at Way of the Cross St. HOS was very active here and took the initiative in awaiting for the arrival of enemy tanks and APVs, which they promptly attacked and left several damaged including an M-84 tank, the most modern in the JNA arsenal.[23] The first two tanks were left incapacitated by ZNG 109th Brigade fighter Andrija Andabak who had already along this line of the front personally destroyed 30 tanks and APVs.[24] At the same time, when a JNA Armoured battalion moved with Serbian Četnik infantry toward the centre HOS and ZNG halted the pincer movement attempted by the other tank and APVs force from both sides before the cemetery. This unexpected resistance caused confusion in the Serbian lines as at the same moment that the pincer movement was stopped eight more JNA tanks were entering the battleground from Bršadin causing a traffic jam of sorts in the retreat. Three tanks would be destroyed at this point at Zidine, whilst five in total would be destroyed, along with four APV-s in the centre of the village of Nuštar. Essentially, the rubble-strewn battlefield was providing light cover for Croat forces to attack from the side but also limiting the space for JNA armoured forces to attack and retreat. The tanks and APVs moved back toward the entrance into the village back behind their lines in Cerić.

By the afternoon the JNA and Četniks had managed to once again enter the centre of the village and were halted at the Holy Spirit Catholic Church. It was at this stage that the Croatian Forces decided to include two Croatian T-55 tanks in what would be their second counter offensive.  This shifted the weight of the battle and by the end of the day the JNA and Četniks were once again pushed out of the village. This battle would last throughout the night of the 5th through to the 6th of October with the 109th Brigade enabling to gain full control over Nuštar. In fact the nature of the second counter-offensive was effective enough to allow HOS to take up their initial defensive positions that they held before the first offensive the day before. Serbian combined forces lost eight tanks and four APVs.

This second defeat of Serbian forces at the hands of Croatian Forces forced the JNA command to rethink their strategies. The next morning, on October the 6th, the JNA would recommence the previous tactics of the months before, re-implementing grid bombing by heavily artillery along with sporadic attacks from the air by JRV, which would strafe the Croatian held lines. This prevented initially the Croatian Sanitary teams of the 3rd Brigade HV and Ambulance First Aid Unit from the Vinkovci Hospital from attending to wounded soldiers and removing killed soldiers and civilians.  By the end of the day, however, they were able to do their job under fire. This would provide cover for the JNA and Serbian Četniks to retreat their 252 Armoured Brigade from the Zidine-Nuštar frontline toward Petrovac and eventually back onto the Marinci-Bogdanovci-Vukovar roadway on October the 7th.

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On October the 8th the Croatian defenders of Nuštar then prepared for a counter-offensive to win back Marinci and break the blockade of Vukovar but on the arrival of a battalion from the “A” Brigade of the ZNG news came from HQ in Osijek to stop. The excuse was that the Croatian troops were exhausted, which would cause “unsuitable” behaviour. Though one HOS soldier told me that he never heard on the ground of any counter-attack being planned at all nor that it was supposedly halted from Osijek, saying that he does not believe this story as all their initial orders came from Group Command HQ Vukovar-Vinkovci-Županja.[25] The JNA and Serbian Četniks were now able to prepare for their final offensive on Vukovar on October the 10th. The success of the defence of Nuštar was so great that on October the 11th even the International Red Cross was able to reach Nuštar in its last attempt to break the JNA and Serbian blockade of Vukovar, though they were denied access by Major Veselin Šljivančanin of the JNA who was eventually convicted of war crimes at the IWCTFY at the Hague. Nevertheless, throughout this period they would continually attempt to reenter the village of Nuštar but they never again achieved their goal of breaking through Croatian lines into the village centre. The bombardment of the village though would continue through to the spring of 1992.

The cost of the two initial offensives of the JNA and Serbian Četniks in Nuštar, as well as the winter grid bombing campaign, would be extensive. During this period from October the 3rd through to the spring of 1992 more than 100 000 projectiles were lanced upon the village of Nuštar which left over 90% of the town’s infrastructure destroyed. All major state, government and religious buildings were destroyed from schools, houses and churches to the town hall and administrative buildings.  Human casualties were large. Of the 400 odd Croatian defenders from HOS, ZNG and MUP, 46 soldiers were killed and 120 wounded whilst up until the end of 1992 94 soldiers were killed and 280 wounded, a total of 374 casualties out of 400 soldiers used. Many via summary execution at the hands of Četnik clean up squads or via JNA bombing. Twenty-two would become wheelchair or bed bound invalids.

It was not until the spring of 1992 that civilians would slowly recommencement returning to the village and start the job of rebuilding not only their homes, farms and state buildings/infrastructures but more importantly their lives. Even though long range shelling would continue throughout the next four years of conflict. The last shell would fall upon Nuštar in the early morning of August the 5th 1995.

However, an even more important role would be played by the Croatian Forces of Nuštar when they would be the welcoming point of Croatian Forces who would retreat from Bogdanovci and Vukovar when they fell on November the 10th and 18th respectively. Nuštar until the end of the war in 1995 would remain the first line of defence for Slavonia and hence Croatia. From here many of these men and women would become the backbone of the new brigades in formation of not only the HV but the HVO[26] in Bosnia-Hercegovina and they would continue fighting until both Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina were liberated in Operation Storm from August the 4th to 7th 1995. But to ignore the sacrifice of these men and women, and the scars left on them would be an injustice. Many would go onto survive the war and form families, businesses or get an education or regular jobs while others would have to live with their demons. Official and unofficial diagnoses of PTSP would also play a role in their disenfranchisement from the local population they fought to protect.  But that is another story. Nonetheless I would like to end this article with the words of a HOS veteran about this battle for Nuštar which was more than just a battle for Nuštar, but also in reality a battle for Vinkovci in order to put matters into perspective. Primarily, so we can understand the events from the eyes of our veterans who participated in this battle:

“Many times we mentioned amongst ourselves ‘we will not allow the cunts who ran away to return to the city when the war ended’, and then Mađar [sic* nickname of their commander the Hungarian] (Džulijan-Hijena) would shower us with his words, ‘Men, how many inhabitants does Vinkovci have?’ We’d answer: ‘35 000’. Then he’d ask us: ‘And how many of you are now in the city?’ We’d answer ‘3500’… He‘d sum up: ‘When this war ends there will be 90% of them and they will swallow you up and piss you out’… and that’s the way it was… He had too much experience as a Légionnaire [sic* French Foreign Legion soldier]. Mađar from Vojvodine knew how to speak Croatian without case declinations, and no one knew his real name… there you go my Pero, that is the way it was…”[27] In many ways no one will remember these boys names except those who were with them or their family members if they choose to open up, here Mađar was right. But without their passage from boyhood to manhood at Nuštar we would not have the freedoms today that we hold so dear if these men had not made a stand those cold, rainy and shell filled early October days in Nuštar, Vinkovci’s first and last line of defence. Lest we forget.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] JNA was the Yugoslav National Army aligned with Milošević’s Serbia.

[2] ZNG or Zbor narodne garde, the fledgling regular Croatian Army in its beginning stages.

[3] Četniks were irregular Serbian paramilitary forces.

[4] JRV or Jugoslovensko Ratno Vazduhoplovstvo, the Yugoslav Air Force.

[5]  Hogg, Ian V.; Walter, John Infantry Support Weapons: Mortars, Missiles and Machine Guns, Greenhill Books, 2006, ISBN: 978-185367-484-6 & Federation of American Scientists Military Analysis Network https://fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/land/m114.htm

[6] Hallion, Richard P. Precision Guided Munitions and the New Era of Warfare, Air Power Studies Centre, paper number 53., RAAF Base, Fairburn, ACT, Commonwealth of Australia, 1995. http://fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/smart/docs/paper53.htm

[7] Armoured Personnel Vehicle.

[8] HOS or Hrvatske Obrambene Snage was the paramilitary wing of the right wing nationalist party the Croatian Party of Rights. HOS was renowned for its strict holding to the rules of engagement, bravery, refusal to take repraisals on civilian targets and strong nationalist doctrine, eventually they were merged into the HV (Croatian Army).

[9] MUP or Ministarstvo unutarnjih poslova, were the official Croatian Police who were mobilised into military units at the war’s commencement when Croatia had yet to have a standing army. Eventually they would become the base for the formation of Croatian special forces anti-terrorist squads.

[10] Heroji Vukovar: HOS u Bogdanovcima, Series 2, episode 9.

[11] Interview, HOS volunteer Nuštar 2N: “Mi se nismo dijelili od ZNG-a i MUP-a … zajedno smo bili čak i miješano na punktovima, u istim podrumima. Npr. rezervna policija i rezervna garda je bila organizirana po mjesnim zajednicama i oni su bili ‘domaćini na rubnim dijelovima grada’, a mi smo dolazili k njima u kuće … Nikad nije bilo međusobnih problema, nego zajedništvo i suradnja, jer smo svi bili u istim govnima. Međusobno poštovanje i uvažavanje je uvijek bilo, a politike su se vodile daleko od crte. Vod HOS-a je zajedno s gardistima obranio centar Nuštra 03.10.1991. …. 20-tak HOS-ovaca je sudjelovalo u bitci u samom centru Nuštra 03.10. .. U Nuštru je bilo branitelja-dragovoljaca iz cijele Hrvatske, a ne samo domaći …”

[12] Teritorijalna Obrana (TB) was a civil reservists’ unit found throughout Yugoslavia.

[13] At this stage of the war Vukovar was slowly being encircled and even though all up the Yellow Ants were made up of 14 local Vukovar defenders and seven volunteers from other parts of Croatia, the commander of the unit Marko Babić decided to let  Andrija Marić take the unit to defend Nuštar.

[14] Interview, HOS volunteer Nuštar 1N: “To nisu egzaktni podaci, pa ne znam da li da ih uopće spominješ …. Bojim se da te egzaktne podatke uopće nitko niti nema. Ljudi iz današnje perspektive uređenog sustava promatraju stvari, a tada nije bilo ni organizacije ni sustava ni statistike, ni vertikalne linije zapovjedanja. Svatko je bio šerif u svojoj ulici. Sve je bila stihija. Zato je ovo što sam ti napisao neka moja subjektivna procjena. Ti znaš da se stvari napuhavaju uvijek. Mi smo imali postrojbe koje su formacijski bile satnije (što bi trebalo biti oko 100 vojnika), a zapravo su bili eventualno prošireni vodovi s 30-40 vojnika. Tako je to tada bilo…”

[15] TO from Central Serbia. Marjan, Davor Bitka za Vukovar Hrvatski Institut za povijest, Podružnica za povijest Slavonije, Srijema i Baranje, 2004, ISBN: 9536659182  p.154.

[16] Interview, HOS volunteer Nuštar 2N: “Jedna zanimljivost glede onog tenka u centru kojem je ‘kupola odletjela’ (poznata slika) .. taj tenk je bio uništen-onesposobljen, a onda je došao njihov drugi tenk i pogodio svoga te mu odnesao kupolu s kućišta .. valjda je mislio da je naš … to mi je rekao Nijemac koji je bio tamo … Njega su zajebavali poslije jer je od panike navodno ispucao zolju unazad.”

[17] Source: Krajina, Grga Nuštar u Domovinskom Ratu http://www.nustar.hr/o-opcini/domovinski-rat

[18] Source: Bliml, Igor  https://hrvatskoobrambenostivo.com/2016/10/05/nustar-5-listopad-1991-5-listopad-2013/

[19]  After taking samples and sending them off to the laboratories of Pliva phamaceuticals (now part of GlaxoSmithKline), the Ministry of Health announced on the national radio server HRT: “Public announcement! Experts from Pliva have taken samples for analysis of the substance collected from the area under daily bombardment and upon which has been thrown military poisons, in the form of a spiderweb! We request that citizens be careful as they are nerve based military poisons, whose formula were made up by the Serbian četnik army”. Dr Mirjana Semenić Rutko believes that the effects are in fact felt today with the rise of cancer patient coming in waves at numbers seven times higher than before in the region, especially amongst veterans and their children.

http://www.glas-koncila.hr/index.php?option=com_php&Itemid=41&news_ID=27634

[20] Leko, Stanko Pregled ratnih događanja u našoj općini  http://www.nustar.hr/o-opcini/domovinski-rat

[21] Interview, HOS volunteer Vinkovci 1V: “Bio je tamo jedan stalni nuštarski vod HOS-a i došlo je taj dan nas još nekolicina u ispomoć s raznih punktova skupa i miješano s ostalim postrojbama, ali totalno neorganizirano … Po mojoj procjeni moglo je negdje oko 40-tak HOS-ovaca tada biti tamo. To je bio kaos i panika jer Vinkovci nisu imali postavljenu liniju za slučaj pada Nuštra … skupljali su ljude dragovoljce sa svih punktova obrane grada i od svih postrojbi miješano … Neslužbena je naredba koju nitko nije vidio bila da 1/10 sa svakog punkta ide u Nuštar na ispomoć … Rečeno je i trebali smo se svi skupiti i organizirano krenuti s ciglane na izlazu iz Vinkovaca prema Nuštru … skupilo se tamo policije, ZNG, HOS ja mislim barem 200 sve skupa, ali nitko da povede cijelu grupu, nema organiziranog zapovjednika za sve ljude tamo … bilo je i straha kod mnogih i mislim da ih više od pola s te ciglane nikad nije krenula prema Nuštru … na kraju smo mi išli pješke 5 km u neorganiziranim grupicama po desetak ljudi, a na ulasku u selo su nas domaći usmjeravali kamo ići jer ne poznajemo dobro selo ni situaciju .. Nije tu bilo ni popisa ni organizacije, ni vođenja. Nakon odbacivanja četnika vratili smo se na položaje s kojih smo i došli.”

[22] Interview, HOS volunteer Vinkovci 2V: “U svakom slučaju organizacijski i zapovjedni kaos je bio .. i sve se svelo na neku dobrovoljnost. S ciglane na kraju tko se nije usrao, taj je otišao za Nuštar sam. Bilo je i mene frka, jer nisam znao što me čeka i gdje idem. Selo sam poznavao površno, samo oko glavne ulice koja vodi za Marince i Vukovar (a druga grana Bršadin – Vukovar). Dubinu sela nisam poznavao, kao niti ljude s kojima sam se tamo našao. Ja sam ipak iz Vinkovaca otišao sa 16 godina i nikad se više nisam tamo vratio. To nije bilo dovoljno vremena da upoznam niti vlastiti grad, a kamo li ljude iz okolnih sela. Obično je slika ljudi iz Zagreba da se u malim gradovima svi međusobno poznaju, ali to baš nije tako…prolazio sam gradom od željezničkog kolodvora gdje stanujem pa do položaja prema Mirkovcima (udaljeno 4 km) a da tada nikoga ne sretnem na ulici … kao u onim filmovima (New York 2080.-te nakon neke kataklizme) kad neki “Arnold Schwarzenegger” hoda po srušenom gradu sam samcat s puškom u ruci .. a sve okolo gori … Hodajući tako mislio sam si stotinu puta ‘jesam li ja kreten ili su kreteni svi oni koji su napustili grad?’”

[23] TV Kalendar 05.10.2014 HRT 1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2fBB9XSnG24

[24] Andrija Andabak would eventually fall in action in the Posavina battleground on July the 7th 1992 but evenutally had a recognised strike rate of destroying or disabling 32 vehicles of which 30 were tanks, including: 14 T-84s, 16  M-55s https://hrvatskoobrambenostivo.com/2016/07/07/heroj-andrija-andabak/

[25] Interview, HOS volunteer 3N Nuštar, 06.XI.2016.

[26] HVO or Hrvatsko vijeće obrane was the official Croatian Army of the Croat entity of  Herceg-Bosnia which at war’s end become integrated as part of the complete Bosnian-Hercegovinian Army.

[27] Interview, HOS Vinkovci 2V: “Puno puta smo rekli međusobno ‘nećemo pičkama koji su pobjegli dopustiti da se vrate u grad kad rat završi’, a onda nas je Mađar (Džulijan – Hijena) otuširao riječima ‘Momci, kolko Vinkovci imaju stanovnika?’ Mi odgovorimo: ‘35 000’. On nas pita: ’A koliko je Vas sada u gradu?’. Mi kažemo ‘3500’… On zaključi: ‘Kad rat prođe njih je 90% i oni će vas progutati i zapišati’ … tako je i bilo … On je imao više iskustva kao Legionar (bio je Mađar iz Vojvodine i znao je hrvatski bez padeža, a nitko nije znao kako mu je pravo ime …) .. eto moj Pero, tako ti je to bilo ..”

 

NAPOMENA:

U našem radu poštuje se etika u istraživanjima na kakvoj se inzistira na sveučilištima engleskog govornog područja. U praksi to znači da se niti jedan sudionik ili ispitanik ne navode pod svojim punim imenom i prezimenom ili s bilo kakvim drugim osobnim podacima koji bi mogli pomoći u identifikaciji dotičnog osim u onim slučajevima kada je za to dan izričit pisani pristanak. U skladu sa svjetskim standardima, svi sudionici označeni su isključivo kodom i njihova anonimnost je zagarantirana. Iz ovih razloga nećemo otkrivati identitete pripadnika HOS-a koji su pomogli u pripremi ovog teksta iako im ovim putem još jednom zahvaljujemo.

 

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