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Tuesday, August 9, 2022

[30 YEARS OF INDEPENDENT SLOVENIA] War for Slovenia DAY 2; SEVERE CONFLICTS AT BORDER CROSSINGS

By: Tomaž Kladnik

On Friday, 28 June, the enemy carried out intense attacks on civilian facilities and telecommunications transmitters with military aircraft. There were further wounded and dead among the civilian population and foreign journalists and truck drivers who were stopped in front of the barricades on the roads where the YPA units were penetrating. 

On the other hand, enemy units began to disintegrate as desertions and surrenders of its members became more frequent. 

Gaining balance on the battlefield 

Despite the intensive combat operations of the enemy, the Slovenian defence forces managed to establish balance on the battlefield and take the initiative, so that some border crossings were again under Slovenian control. Negotiations were launched with the opponent regarding unnecessary casualties on both sides, and a ceasefire against the Yugoslav People’s Army was ordered. Solving the problem of prisoners of war began and the Slovenian “war” was also successful as far as the media is concerned. Locations of important events or conflicts: Medvedjek, Gibina, Brnik, Rožna dolina–Vrtojba, Črniče, Holmec, Bukovje, the Karavanke tunnel, Šentilj, Kum and Nanos TV transmitters, Štrihovec. 

In the international arena, the European Community Troika, Jacques Poos, Gianni de Michelis and Hans van Broek, and Slovenian representatives Milan Kučan and Dimitrij Rupel met in Zagreb on the night of 27 to 28 June, where they talked about the armistice and a three-month moratorium on the implementation of the independence of the Republic of Slovenia.

Holmec Battle 

The Holmec border crossing was completely destroyed in the fighting between 27 and 29 June 1991. (Photo: Marjan Garbajs)

233 members of the TO RS, 18 active and 31 reserve members of the militia, 9 ambulance drivers, 2 doctors and 7 nurses took part in the battle for the Holmec border crossing. There were no fatalities among the members of the TO RS, but two reserve militiamen, Željko Ernoič and Bojan Štumberger, were killed. All the seriously wounded were also members of the militia, namely: Otokar Praper, Miran Ring and Maks Breznik. On the YPA side, there were three dead and five wounded. Five more people, four police officers and one YPA soldier, were slightly injured in the fight. The area of the conflict at Holmec was in favour of the YPA due to its natural geographical features. The border crossing was in the valley, with a guardhouse in the immediate vicinity, but a few tens of meters higher. It was this dominant point that provided members of the YPA with a good overview of the valley and of the militia facilities at the border crossing. There were 62 members of the YPA in the Holmec guardhouse on 25 June 1991, of which were 2 officers, 2 non-commissioned officers and 58 soldiers, as the team of the usual 40 members was reinforced by a team from Celje who had come there for training. The clash was virtually inevitable. On June 26 1991, at 7.30 a.m., members of the Slovenian police raised the Slovenian flag at the border crossing. Members of the YPA responded by taking up positions in the vicinity of the guardhouse, fully armed, as the intention of the federal authorities was to capture the Holmec border crossing. This was expected to be carried out by members of the federal militia with the support of the YPA crew in the guardhouse. In order to defend their positions, the Slovenian forces formed four strike groups, whose tasks were coordinated in support of each other, with the ultimate goal of forcing the YPA unit to withdraw into the facility and surrender, and preventing the penetration or assistance of YPA members from other guardhouses. Preparations were completed and on June 28 at 5.10 a.m., the first burst on the IV. strike group occurred, followed by two more. This group was ambushed on the right wing, below the Oven farm, by a group of YPA members from the Sonjak guardhouse. The platoon commander of the 115th TO anti-sabotage company, Mihael Cerjak, said: “…About 300 m before the caravel we fell into an ambush, but did not immediately respond with fire. We urged the soldier who started firing to surrender, but he refused to do so. Then, two more came and we opened fire, with the patrol commander and one soldier wounded, and the third surrendered.” At 5.20 a.m., two more bursts and one single shot on III. strike group followed. At 5.30 a.m., however, the YPA launched an attack on the Holmec border crossing with all available weapons. A few minutes later, a firing from a recoilless cannon followed, the projectiles of which damaged the roof of the customs building at the border crossing, seriously injuring the commander of the border crossing Otokar Praper and lightly injuring the police officer Zlatko Godec. At 5.45 a.m., the TO RS also responded to the shooting. The clash lasted until 7.10 a.m., when they ceased fire to care for the wounded. The commander of the guardhouse was also sent a call for surrender, but he refused, as he had received a notification of incoming help from Major Slobodan Miladinović, commander of the 67th border battalion. During the ceasefire, the TO RS units prepared for the second part of the attack, starting at 8.05 a.m. The strike groups were supplied with ammunition and the fire support groups were reallocated to new positions; at the same time, they received a notification that the YPA was preparing a helicopter invasion to help the unit at Holmec. At 8.04 a.m., the YPA resumed combat operations against the Slovenian units that had already surrounded the area, encouraged by the news of aid, which was supposed to come in the form of an additional hundred soldiers from the armoured motorized convoy that was advancing towards Dravograd. The shelling of the border crossing also claimed the first casualties on the Slovenian side – two dead and one wounded militiaman. At 8.26 a.m., combat operations were halted again; they cared for the wounded and carried away the dead on both sides. At 9.55 a.m., YPA members fired a shot from a recoilless cannon again. An incendiary grenade was fired at the border crossing facility and the building caught fire. The militiamen found themselves in a hopeless situation, the YPA members fired at them, and when they informed the command of what was happening, they received the following answer: “Our units will attack the guardhouse with all their might, and you will run at the last exit towards the underpass, which already borders Austria.” Concentric fire from all available weapons was opened by TO RS units at 10.15 a.m. The withdrawal of the police officers was successful, and at 10.50 a.m. the clashes between the TO RS units and the YPA units in Holmec ended with the surrender of the first members of the YPA. 

Locations of important events or conflicts: Medvedjek, Gibina, Brnik, Rožna dolina–Vrtojba, Črniče, Holmec, Bukovje, the Karavanke tunnel, Šentilj, Kum and Nanos TV transmitters, Štrihovec. 

Three YPA soldiers were killed in the clash, 16 were wounded and 6 civilians were also wounded, two T-55 tanks were destroyed, and there were no casualties on the side of the TO and the militia. 

Rožna dolina battle 

Late in the afternoon of 27 June, Slovenian territorials attacked a YPA tank unit at the Rožna dolina border crossing.

On 27 June, after the Slovenian militiamen left the Rožna dolina international border crossing after negotiations at around 10 p.m., the units of the federal militia and army occupied it with all their weapons, equipment and documentation. On the night of 27-28 June, the Coordination Subgroup agreed that the border crossing would be occupied via a surprise attack and the use of weapons; although a possible conflict could cause civilian casualties and great material damage, as the occupation – given that the YPA had managed to capture all border crossings – would mean a great psychological advantage and moral encouragement for the Slovenian Armed Forces. Two smaller groups were designated to occupy the border crossing: the SBS 6th PŠTO, led by Major Srečko Lisjak, was designated for a direct attack on YPA units, and the PEM department, led by Franc Šumandl. Preparations for the attack took place in strict secrecy, so that even the commanders of the units for the wider security of the border crossing did not know about the attack. At 4.30 p.m., both groups – territorials and militiamen – departed from outside the UNZ building towards the border crossing separately. In addition, criminal investigators were sent to the border crossing to persuade the civilian population to withdraw from the border crossing area. Around 5 p.m., members of the PEM occupied positions in the Rožna dolina–Pristava area, while members of the SBS occupied positions next to and between houses in Ulica 25. maja. At 7.20 p.m., the SBS attacked the border crossing. The attack began with bursts and a shot from an armbrust hitting a tank at an intersection. The loader was also hit by the armbrust. Shortly after the shooting began, the YPA tank began combat operations with a machine gun. After a few minutes of shooting, civilian Drago Kosmač, who had already helped criminal investigation officers evacuate civilians from the border crossing before the attack, broke into the border militia area and disarmed a group of YPA officers and federal militiamen. He described the events as follows: “I decided to capture the officers and federal militiamen on the other side of the crossing, for only then would the conflict probably be over quickly. I stepped to the door and prepared to run to the other side. I was not armed. I acted as I was trained in the military. I was in a special unit. Maffi approached me and said he was the head of the border crossing and I should step away from the door. I didn’t have time to listen to him, so I pushed him away, ran across the street, stormed into the room and shouted ‘Drop your weapons, surrender, you are surrounded!’ We watched each other for a few seconds; they had their weapons pointed at me. Again, this time louder, I repeated the surrender command. It worked. One of them dropped an automatic rifle. I quickly bent down, picked it up, and cocked it. The charge flew out of it. I leaned against the wall and ordered them to drop their weapons a few more times. They threw their weapons on the ground and waited with their hands raised for me to take away their personal weapon, unload it and throw it out of their reach. I soon heard a voice say, ‘We need a doctor, the captain is dying.’ I looked at what it was and saw that the non-commissioned officer was binding Kovačič’s hand. ‘Edo,’ I said, ‘you won’t die because of it.’ Captured officers, non-commissioned officers and federal militiamen waited calmly because they were convinced that they were really surrounded and that I was by no means alone. When Kovačič was taken care of, I ordered the non-commissioned officer to break off the radio antenna and tie the rest of the bandage or gauze on it. So, he made an improvised little white flag, with which he later walked in front of the group that had surrendered to me. I don’t remember the exact number of men captured, but there had to be at least ten of them.” After the YPA soldiers in a working tank in front of the border crossing also surrendered, other soldiers began to surrender en masse, as they were demoralized and confused. At 7.36 pm, SBS shots were heard again, also aimed directly at the scene of the clash, which had already ended. Lisjak attributed the shooting to the disapproval of some YPA officers who refused to surrender, and the still threatening power of the enemy. At 7.37 p.m., the first members of the SBS began to arrive at the scene, followed by the militiamen of the Nova Gorica PM and part of the PEM unit. Three YPA soldiers were killed in the clash, 16 were wounded and 6 civilians were also wounded, two T-55 tanks were destroyed, and there were no casualties on the side of the TO and the militia. 

Members of the independent battle group of the 6th PŠTO under the command of Major Srečko Lisjak, who carried out the operation.

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