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ponedeljek, 17 januarja, 2022

[30 YEARS OF INDEPENDENT SLOVENIA] War for Slovenia DAY 3; ARMED CONFLICT AT THE MAIN SLOVENIAN AIRPORT

By: Tomaž Kladnik

The Yugoslav political and, especially, military leadership, which actually ruled the federal state, tried to resolve the difficult situation in which it found itself – when the war activities continued and they experienced failures in their war adventure in Slovenia – with the principle of “a carrot and a stick”. 

Thus, on 29 June, in a letter to Presidents Milan Kučan and Lojze Peterle, the Chief of Staff of the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces of the SFRY and Federal Secretary for People’s Defence, Army General Veljko Kadijević, issued an ultimatum that the Slovenian Territorial Defense must stop attacking the Yugoslav army by 9 a.m., unblock the barracks and enable the army to implement the ZIS (Federal Executive Council) decrees. 

Threats and the session of the Slovenian Assembly 

A secret session of the
assembly was held in
Ljubljana on Saturday
evening, but even before
that, special police units in
Ljubljana had to make sure
that no YPA agent would
disrupt the session.

The threats were then repeated publicly, via Belgrade television, by the head of the YPA Counterintelligence Service, General Marko Negovanović. At the same time, Yugoslav General Andrija Rašeta negotiated a truce with the Slovenian leadership in Ljubljana. In the evening, according to the “Plebiscite” plan, all three assemblies of the Assembly of the Republic of Slovenia met and adopted “Positions of the Assembly of the Republic of Slovenia regarding the political and security position of the Republic of Slovenia”. They supported the position that the President of the Presidency of the Republic of Slovenia, Milan Kučan expressed in Zagreb, and called on the European Community to send its observers to Slovenia without delay. Also, Pope John Paul II. sent a telegram to Milan Kučan, Franjo Tuđman and Ante Marković, in which he proposed an immediate cessation of hostilities. 

YPA in trouble, danger of air strikes 

On the battlefield, demands came from the YPA and the federal militia for a ceasefire and the unblocking of military facilities. At the same time, their units faced new surrenders and escapes of soldiers, as well as losses of team and equipment. Representatives of the Slovenian Defence Forces took part in talks on a ceasefire and established regional centres for prisoners of war. At the same time, they faced the danger of YPA airstrikes in four cities and the ongoing fighting. Locations of important events or conflicts: Brnik, Trzin, Škofije, Ljubljana. 

Locations of important events or conflicts: Brnik, Trzin, Škofije, Ljubljana. 

The seriousness of
the situation was also
experienced by two Austrian
photojournalists who were
killed in a federal army air
strike at Brnik airport.

On 29 June 1991, the Chief of Staff of the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces of the SFRY and the Federal Secretary for People’s Defence, Army General Veljko Kadijević, issued an ultimatum to the Slovenian side. 

Four YPA soldiers and two officers were wounded in the clash, and the commander’s armoured vehicle was damaged. 

TO member Peter Petrič did not return from the night reconnaissance operation; he later turned out to have fallen in a fight. 

From the Vrhnika barracks,
YPA tanks penetrated to
Brnik Airport (pictured: two
YPA tanks at the airport
fence.

Battle Brnik 

In the days before 27 June, a platoon of the 21st TO Brigade was deployed in the area of Brnik Airport, with the task of guarding the control tower. At 1.30 a.m., the 1st Armoured Brigade of the YPA from Vrhnika was given a task that anticipated immediate combat readiness, securing military facilities and preventing possible interference by the territorial defence and the militia. The task of the brigade’s reconnaissance company was to move in the direction of Vrhnika–Ljubljana–Kranj and, together with the 345th mountain brigade, close the border crossings of Rateče, Korensko sedlo, Ljubelj, Jezersko and Hrušica. The 1st battalion of the 1st armoured brigade was given the task of moving in the same direction and blocking the Brnik Airport. At 3.15 a.m., the national coordination group informed the Gorenjska coordination subgroup that the tanks had left the barracks in Vrhnika with the task of occupying the wider area of the Brnik airport, establishing conditions for taking over air traffic control and the operation of the customs service and border militia. The 1st tank battalion of the 1st armoured brigade from Vrhnika was divided into two columns, which penetrated towards Brnik in two different directions.

On the first day of the YPA’s
attack on Brnik, about 600
members of the Territorial
Defence were in combat
positions there.

Immediately after receiving the message on tank movements to Brnik, the Command of the 3rd PŠTO Kranj carried out reinforcements of the command structure. The platoon of the 21st TO brigade in Brnik was ordered to be deployed in the area of the Zgornji Brnik–letališče Brnik–Spodnji Brnik airport intersection, and at the same time it was armed with six armbrusts. The events at the blockade were followed by orders received by the Gorenjska Province TO command to secure and defend Brnik Airport and all communications to the airport, and to send reserve units from Radovljica, Škofja Loka and Kranj to the airport area. Thus, on the first day of the attack on Brnik, there were about 600 members of the TO there and together they formed a unit that almost reached the rank of a battalion. The problem for the TO members at Brnik was that, until the departure of the YPA armoured unit from Brnik, they had not known how many armored vehicles were in positions at Brnik. They assumed that there were six to eight, but in fact there were many more. The Brnik Airport and its surroundings were constantly flown over by Yugoslav Air Force planes and helicopters. At nine o’clock, an air invasion of the YPA units on the Brnik Airport was announced, but it did not take place. From daily newspapers published during the war in Slovenia, it can be seen that members of the YPA disembarked from a transport helicopter and headed towards the helicopter base, but later it turned out that they were members of the federal militia. There was a TO anti-aircraft unit near Komenda. At 1.30 p.m., a member of the anti-aircraft unit fired a missile at a Yugoslav Air Force helicopter, but it missed its target and hit one of the houses in Komenda. Until about 3 p.m., a kind of stalemate prevailed in Brnik, in which both sides repeated their demands. As tensions grew, a manoeuvre, with which the tanks attempted to take up positions on the south side of the entire length of the runway (Spodnja Dobrava), was performed. This was followed by a group of territorials. At around 6 p.m., there was the first major clash between the members of the TO and the YPA in Brnik.

Consequences of the YPA
air attack on Brnik Airport
− destroyed civil planes
and cars.

Second lieutenant Marguč shot at the commander’s vehicle with an anti-armour weapon and hit him. Four YPA soldiers and two officers were wounded in the clash, and the commander’s armoured vehicle was damaged. After the clash, the tanks moved towards Velika Dobrava and lined up south of the administrative airport building to defend their positions in a circular manner. A few minutes after the combat operation, members of the YPA started firing from the military base at the positions of the TO units, but none of the TO members were hit. Members of the TO then undertook a partial redeployment of their positions, mainly narrowing the circle around the YPA air base at the airport. The unit there was cut off from events in the surrounding area and the outside world throughout the fighting in the Brnik area. On the evening of 27 June, however, the YPA convoys managed to unite. On the night of 27-28 June, the command of the 3rd PŠTO Kranj ruled that an air attack and an air landing of YPA units could be expected. Therefore, at 1.30. a.m., an order was given to move the TO units in and around the airport area. The 1st and 2nd companies of the Škofja Loka TO detachment moved towards the village of Lahovče, while the remaining TO units made minor movements within their previous positions.  The 3rd battalion of the 21st TO brigade was mobilized, with the main task to defend the Brnik Airport: Before the war, it was intended to operate as part of the YPA in the event of war. Members of the battalion were deployed in the southwestern part of the airport in the Voglje–Voklo area. The task of the battalion was to cover the southern part of the YPA’s deployment and to control the places of possible landings. That night, a group of TO members went to reconnoitre the positions of YPA units. They wanted to check how many YPA armoured vehicles there were in the area of the Brnik Airport, as the territorials had information that nine tanks were approaching Brnik. The group approached the positions of members of the YPA, who noticed them, and a minor armed conflict ensued. TO member Peter Petrič did not return from this operation; he later turned out to have fallen in a fight. 

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