By: Tomaž Kladnik
On Wednesday, June 26 1991, as part of the ceremony marking the country’s independence, the first presentation of the Slovenian Territorial Defence (TO) honorary unit took place on Trg republike in Ljubljana. The unit consisted of soldiers, non-commissioned officers and officers from both training centres.
The commanding officer at the ceremony was Lieutenant Colonel Anton Krkovič, who reported with an honorary sabre to the President of the Presidency of the Republic of Slovenia Milan Kučan for the first time in the history of the independent state and its army – on the day of the declaration of independence.
Ceremony with the first signs of escalation
The new national flag was hoisted on a pole on the square by the following TO officers: Bojan Šuligoj, Andrej Kocbek, Uroš Krek, Goran Vidrih and Stojan Ledinek. At the same time, members of the Yugoslav People’s Army (YPA) and the federal militia began to occupy Slovenian border crossings, and a Yugoslav military aircraft made a low pass over the scene of the celebration of the proclamation of Slovenian statehood. And the first shots by a member of the YPA were fired in Divača, marking the beginning of a planned, coordinated and uniformly guided attack by the YPA on Slovenian sovereignty. It started with tanks penetrating from the barracks of the tank brigade in Vrhnika and with a convoy of armored combat vehicles coming from Croatia, being first stopped in Poganci. In response to the YPA’s combat operations, the head of the Territorial Defence Republic Headquarters (RŠTO), Colonel Janez Slapar, issued an order on the combat operations of the TO. That is, that “the realisation of the planned tasks is ensured by decisive combat operations, with a focus on the action of armoured units and other means of technology, and to use the available combat means to ensure the protection of facilities, borders and communications, and to prevent manoeuvres by YPA units”.
YPA units against TO RS units
The aggression against Slovenia was launched by the YPA units and commands on 26 and 27 June 1991 from the following corps areas, which were subordinated to the 5th Military Area in Zagreb: 13th Corps, Command in Rijeka, 14th Corps, Command in Ljubljana, 31st Corps, Command in Maribor, 32nd Corps, Command in Varaždin, 10th Corps, Command in Zagreb and 5th Corps of Military Aviation and Air Defense, Command in Zagreb. Thus, the YPA in Slovenia had twenty to twenty-five thousand soldiers, about 250 tanks of permanent composition and about 100 tanks that came to Slovenia from Croatia, and about 300 armoured vehicles for various purposes (transporters, anti-aircraft guns, command vehicles, reconnaissance vehicles, etc.). And at four airports with concrete runways (Cerklje, Maribor, Brnik and Portorož), there were about 90 planes and 50 helicopters at the beginning of the clashes.
The Slovenian TO was commanded by RŠTO. It consisted of a protection brigade and seven provincial staffs, which were divided into 26 regional headquarters. Already on the first day of the fighting, 15,000 men were engaged – and a total of 35,100 men were engaged. There were 500 professionals in the Slovenian TO, including both senior officers and administrative and technical staff. Its members were armed with infantry weapons, support weapons (mortars, cannons, etc.), anti-armour weapons, and light artillery weapons for anti-aircraft defence (Strela 2 M missiles). Its weapons also included confiscated YPA weapons, which enabled the formation of new units, such as tank troops, anti-aircraft defence batteries, and more. Slovenian police units that played an extremely important, often key role in the conflict, numbered 7,100 people (including the information system and support services). In the segment of preparations for aggression and leading the resistance in war operations, the armed forces were supported by the civil defence system, which significantly contributed to the victory in the war of independence through its activities. Within and outside combat operations, members of the civil defence, under the leadership of Franci Žnidaršič, carried out obstructions, disconnections of electricity, water, gas, transport and blockades, and the supply of defense forces in an organized and systematic manner.
YPA frontal attack on Slovenia
The YPA was supposed to carry out the operation in Slovenia relatively quickly and without too many complications. The attack came as no particular surprise, as it had been expected all along. There was a possible surprise regarding the tactical and operational plans because it was not known exactly when and where the aggression would be carried out. The measures in Slovenia before the declaration of independence were such that the Slovenian defence forces had been already practically formed, so they were able to act against the opposite side completely unencumbered and as equals in the initial stage of the war.
To summarize the events during the first few days or hours of the existence of an independent and democratic Slovenian state, it can be concluded that on 26 June the long-awaited formal attack of the Yugoslav federal authorities on the Republic of Slovenia finally began. Early in the morning of that day, the Federal Executive Council adopted a decree on the direct enforcement of federal regulations on crossing the state border of the territory of the Republic of Slovenia. It stated that in the event of resistance, the federal militia and the YPA must enforce the decree by force. The YPA and the federal militia thus began to move YPA units towards the new Slovenian state borders, the first shots were fired in the war near Divača, and the Federal Aviation Administration closed all Slovenian airports. A Yugoslav Air Force plane flew over the celebration scene in Ljubljana, demonstrating force and threats to the new state. During this time, the Slovenian defence forces established controls at the southern border, removed Yugoslav markings and placed Slovenian ones at border crossings, set up barricades in the direction of the penetration of the YPA units, additionally carried out the mobilization of the TO and were ordered not to use weapons first.
First day of the war: 27 June 1991
On June 27, the general, planned, coordinated and uniformly led intervention of the Yugoslav People’s Army against Slovenia began. The first clash between the TO and the YPA occurred near the hamlet of Poganci, between Metlika and Novo mesto. At a session at 6 a.m., the Presidency of the Republic of Slovenia assessed the intervention of the YPA as a direct violent intervention and as an attempt at the permanent occupation of the Republic of Slovenia. It adopted a decision on the implementation of preparatory measures to impede the penetration of the YPA units and block its infrastructure facilities, as well as to defend facilities and communications. The President of the Presidency of Slovenia, Milan Kučan, informed the public about the decisions of the Presidency on television at 11 a.m. The Archbishop of Ljubljana, Alojzij Šuštar, informed Pope John Paul II, all presidents of episcopal conferences and the former president of Switzerland about the military conflict in Slovenia, and asked for intervention for a peaceful solution. In two letters (morning and evening), the commander of the 5th Army Area threatened the President of the Executive Council of the Republic of Slovenia that the army would occupy the state border and border crossings, if necessary, also by force. During the war, the headquarters for the foreign journalistic public operated on the premises of the Nova revija journal.
With quick manoeuvres, the YPA managed to occupy all border crossings and airports in the Republic of Slovenia, to which members of the federal militia and the federal customs administration began to arrive. The YPA conscripts were poorly informed about their mission in Slovenia, so their first surrenders and escapes from the YPA units began. The enemy, however, tried to intimidate the civilian population by bringing tanks onto the streets, violently breaking through barricades and scattering leaflets. On the other hand, members of the Slovenian militia and TO, together with economic organizations, set up road barricades to prevent and impede the penetration of the YPA; an order was issued for the use of weapons, the first successful actions were taken to stop and destroy the enemy’s manpower and resources, most YPA facilities were left without water and electricity, the Slovenian armed forces sought to take full control of border crossings and captured the first prisoners of war. Locations of important events or conflicts: Ormož, Štrihovec, Šentilj, Limbuš, Poganci, Rigonce, Cerklje ob Krki, Kučare, Dravograd, Medvedjek, Središče ob Dravi, Jezersko, Brnik, Maribor, Trzin, the Obrežje border point.
The aggression against the Republic of Slovenia was launched by units and commands of the so-called Yugoslav People’s Army on 26 and 27 June 1991.
Battle conflict at Poganci
The day after the declaration of independence, on Thursday night at 12.44 a.m., the 23rd ObmŠTO announced that a convoy of armoured vehicles was driving through Metlika on the M-4 road towards Novo mesto. The first information about the movement of the convoy also came through the police station (PM) Metlika and PM Ozalj. The question arose as to how strong the convoy was, and only in the morning did it turn out to consist of 12 self-propelled anti-aircraft guns (BOV – 3 20/3 M55A4), 6 lorries (TAM 5000) and 3 off-road vehicles, two FIAT 1107 vehicles and pinzgauer 710) from composition 306. LAP PZO. At the time, it was estimated that there were 120 to 150 members of the Yugoslav People’s Army in the convoy. Initially, various data came in about the direction of the penetration of the YPA convoy. Thus, the 2nd PŠTO only learned about the actual direction of the convoy at 1.15 a.m.: across Gorjanci towards Novo mesto. The armoured part of the convoy moved faster than the cargo part (the section of the convoy with trucks was also guarded by two BOV-3 armoured vehicles) and thus a large distance was created between them. Two militia inspectors in a civilian car managed to push their way into it. From their reporting, UNZ and PŠTO also received important information about the location of the convoy. Due to the speed of events and determining the direction of the penetration, the Republic Coordination issued an order at 1.15 a.m. to set up a non-violent blockade on the bridge over the Kolpa river near Metlika. Thus, at 1.16 a.m., PŠTO decided to set up a barricade near Poganci, just before entering Novo mesto, because it was too late for the planned and more favorable barricade at Vahta. Poganci is a small settlement near Novo mesto along the road M–4 Metlika–Novo mesto. On one side is the stream called Težka voda, while on the other side there is a small hill. The barricade was set up at 1.45 a.m. at an abandoned quarry, where the road begins to climb towards Novo mesto. Workers of the Novo mesto Road Company set up a barricade with four trucks filled with sand at Kaburjev mlin in Poganci. The side road, which leads along the Petelinec stream past the YPA medical warehouse, was left unhindered. The armoured part of the convoy drove past before the barricade was set up and stopped at the Mačkovec turnoff on the M–1 Novo mesto–Ljubljana road, where it intended to wait for the cargo part. However, the cargo part of the convoy had already been blocked at Poganci, where it collided with a barrier at around 2 a.m. The armoured vehicles then returned to Poganci, to the stopped transport section. There, members of the 21st ObmŠTO anti-sabotage company were already waiting for them, divided in two parts, the left and the right along the road in the immediate vicinity of the barricade. Upon receiving information that the armoured part of the convoy was in Mačkovec, some of the officers and soldiers of the 2nd PŠTO went to Poganci. A part of the reconnaissance platoon was also activated, with the task of occupying a position in the direction of Mačkovec. Even before the platoon reached Mačkovec, the armoured part of the convoy had already returned to the transport part in Poganci. The platoon thus went to Poganci and blocked the armoured part of the convoy with vehicles. The cargo part of the YPA convoy, together with two armoured vehicles, stood in front of the road company barrier, which was guarded by the anti-sabotage company 21. ObmŠTO, then the armoured part of the YPA convoy was stationed, which was blocked by TO reconnaissance platoon cars. This barricade was set up in Jedinščica. Negotiations began as to whether to allow the convoy through the first barricade; the commander of the YPA convoy backed up the negotiations with threats of gunfire. Due to their small number, low firepower and proximity to the YPA military facility, TO units were in a subordinate position. When the armoured part of the convoy returned to the first barricade, the YPA commander demanded the withdrawal of the barricade, otherwise they would shoot. To illustrate the request, he fired a shot from a handgun into the air at 3.15 a.m. After the shot, several members of the Yugoslav People’s Army quickly moved from the trucks towards the barricade, to which the TO company responded. A YPA officer was wounded in the arm during a short exchange of shots. The shooting stopped quickly. By delaying the renegotiation, the TO gained time, so that they could determine a more favourable position to stop the convoy in an area remote from the civilian population. It was still night when Commander Gutman arrived there and negotiations began between the two sides, which were unsuccessful. By morning, a part of the Šentjernej special purpose corps from the 21st ObmŠTO had arrived in the vicinity of Koroška vas on the Novo mesto–Metlika road, higher in the direction of Metlika above Poganci. The corps closed its way in the direction of Gorjanci, but its members could not break through to the anti-sabotage company at the first barricade. At that time, the TO unit received 6 armbrusts at the barricade, which were deliberately exposed to the naked eye in order to create psychological pressure on the members of the YPA in the column. At 5.30 a.m., at the initiative of the TO, they negotiated for the second time and decided to redirect the convoy over the barricades to the M–1 road towards Ljubljana. They tried to stop the convoy on a more favourable terrain. The convoy left Poganci at 10.15 a.m. The militia constantly monitored the movement of the convoy and, by directing civilian traffic on the M–1 road, also its speed. It also blocked all exits from the M–1 road. The convoy was also accompanied by anti-sabotage companies and groups of members of the 2nd PŠTO, together with the trucks of the Road Company.