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Battle of Orašje
Part of the Bosnian War

Orašje on the map of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Date5 May – 10 June 1995
LocationNorthern Bosnia and Herzegovina
Result Army of Republika Srpska defeat
Belligerents
Republika Srpska Republika Srpska HVO
 Croatia
Commanders and leaders
Republika Srpska Dragoslav Đurkić
Republika Srpska Momir Talić
Republika Srpska Ratko Mladić
Đuro Matuzović
Strength
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.

Background[edit | edit source]

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.[1] 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.[2] On 4 April, Serb artillery began shelling Sarajevo.[3]

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.[2] 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.[4] Arming of the various forces was hampered by a United Nations (UN) arms embargo introduced in September 1991.[5] By mid-May 1992, the VRS controlled approximately 60 percent of Bosnia and Herzegovina.[6]

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,[7] 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.[8]

Prelude[edit | edit source]

The balance of military power in the Bosnian War started to shift against the VRS since early 1994, despite its advantages in heavy weapons.[9] In early 1995, while the ARBiH exerted an increasing pressure against the VRS, especially in the area of the Mount Vlašić,[10] and the HV and the HVO advanced west of Livno (Operation Leap 1),[11] 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.[12] The offensive, launched on 19 April, faced determined resistance from the ARBiH and the HVO and bogged down by the end of the month.[9]

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.[13]

Order of battle[edit | edit source]

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.[13]

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,[14] built along the 18 kilometres (11 miles) of the front line.[15] The defence was further supported by substantial HV artillery and multiple rocket launchers deployed north of the Sava River, in Croatia.[14]

Army of Republika Srpska order of battle[16]
Corps Unit Note
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
Croatian Defence Council order of battle[16]
Corps Unit Note
Orašje Corps 4th Guards Brigade Held in reserve
202nd Home Guard Regiment In DomaljevacGrebnice 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

Timeline[edit | edit source]

Map of the Battle of Orašje, May–June 1995

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 ).[13] The offensive started off with substantial artillery bombardment and a ground assault,[17] 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.[18] While the fighting was in progress, the VRS artillery bombarded the town of Orašje itself.[19] The advance was quickly defeated, and after the initial setback, the VRS paused the operation for five days.[17]

The operation resumed on 10 May, when a number of 9K52 Luna-M rockets were fired against the HVO.[17] 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.[20] 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.[17] During combat, rumours circulated that the Orašje area would be surrendered in barter for territory lost to the HV in western Slavonia.[18]

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.[17] On that occasion, a combined armour and infantry broke through three rows of trenches,[18] 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,[21] 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.[17] 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.[22] 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.[23] By 10 June, the VRS called off the operation.[17]

Aftermath[edit | edit source]

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,[17] but both belligerents reported dozens of casualties, both military and civilian.[24] Even though the battle was over, intermittent artillery exchanges continued in the area, and as early as 19 June, the VRS bombarded Orašje again.[25]

Footnotes[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Books
News reports
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Coordinates: 44°58′55″N 18°43′36″E / 44.982072°N 18.726690°E / 44.982072; 18.726690

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