Air Operations in the Balkans and Italy

Air Operations in support of Operations in the Balkans and Former Republic of Yugoslavia

NATO Combined Air Operations Cell
C130 Sarajevo Air Lift, Op Cheshire, Zagreb, 1992

Following the death of President Josip Broz Tito in 1980 and the demise of the Former Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), a series of conflicts were fought in Yugoslavia during the 1990s between the republics that sought independence and sovereignty from the central government in Belgrade. These wars were often highly complex: characterized by historical and often bitter ethnic conflicts among the peoples of the former Yugoslavia, mostly Slovenes, Croats, Kosovar Albanians, Bosniaks, and ethnic Macedonians.  The wars ended in various stages and mostly resulted in full international recognition of new sovereign territories, but with massive economic disruption to the successor states.

Initially the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) sought to preserve the unity of Yugoslavia by crushing the secessionist governments. However, with the influence of the of Slobodan Milošević, Serbian, who was willing to support the Yugoslav state so in order the unity of Serbs in one state, nationalist rhetoric was evoked. In accordance with the United Nations report released in 1994, the Serbs did not aim to restore Yugoslavia, but to create a “Greater Serbia” from parts of Croatia and Bosnia. Often described as Europe’s deadliest conflict since World War II, the conflicts have become infamous for the war crimes involved, including mass murder, genocide and weaponised rape.

 

Following the UN brokered peace plan in 1992, the RAF and UN undertook numerous operations in and around the Mediterranean to support the ongoing operations in the former Republic of Yugoslavia. Tactical Communications Wing deployed teams to Zagreb (formerly Yugoslavia) and Ancona, Gioa del Colle, Palermo and Vicenza in Italy – deployments that remained throughout the conflict.

 

Following the UN brokered peace plan in 1992, the RAF and UN undertook numerous operations in and around the Mediterranean to support the ongoing operations in the former Republic of Yugoslavia. Tactical Communications Wing deployed teams to Zagreb (formerly Yugoslavia) and Ancona, Gioa del Colle, Palermo and Vicenza in Italy – deployments that remained throughout the conflict.

 

 

 

Operation DENY FLIGHT 1993-1995

GR7 Harriers taxi at Gioia del Colle, 1995
Weapon Systems - 'Thanks for making me miss Game of Thrones'

The ethnic Serbs in Bosnia, initially supported clandestinely by the Federal Yugoslav Army, then openly by the government of President Milosevic, stepped up their attacks on the Muslim Slavs in Bosnia with the purpose of ‘cleansing’ the Muslims from territory claimed by the Serbs. To try to stop this genocide, the UN ordered a general economic blockade of Serbia-Montenegro (then calling itself Yugoslavia), deployed a UN Protection Force and established a no-fly zone over Bosnia-Herzegovina. NATO’s Operation SKY FLIGHT monitored no-fly zone breaches for six months.

 

Operation DENY FLIGHT ran from April 1993 to December 1995 and had three purposes: to monitor and enforce compliance with the UN Resolution banning flights over Bosnia; to provide air cover requested by the UN Protection Force and to conduct air strikes against targets threatening UN safe havens.

NATO established a no-fly zone over Bosnia at the end of March 1995 and Tactical Communications Wing deployed several detachments to support RAF aircraft within the NATO Force to implement the zone. These included Tornados, Boeing Sentries, Jaguars and VC10 Tankers based in Italy.

Tactical Communications Wing continued to support all these deployments until 2001. They originally had a VSC 501 satellite link providing standard communications, secure communications and information and messaging system developed by the RAF. This equipment was upgraded during the life of the operation to include an RAF Transportable Telecommunication System installation and Air Staff Management Aid.

Operation DELIBERATE FORCE 1995

RAF Tornado and Raptor Surveillance Pod, Italy
Aircraft Hangers, Gioia Del Colle, Italy
TCW 501 detachment Italy
Canadian C130, Brindisi Air Head

On 30 August 1995, NATO launched its biggest military operation to date in response to the shelling of Sarajevo’s marketplace two days earlier. UN Commanders received forensic confirmation that the mortars had been fired from Serb territory, although the Serbs continued to deny their mortars had struck the marketplace.

Tactical Communications Wing teams were deployed as part of the Tactical Air Operations Cell in Sarajevo. Over 60 planes attacked Bosnian Serb positions around Sarajevo on the first day. These first attacks were hampered by fog but targets included air defences, munitions factories, ammunition dumps and storage depots. The Rapid Reaction Force’s artillery fired over six hundred rounds against Bosnian Serb positions in Sarajevo. Two months later, the Bosnian Serbs agreed to the cease-fi re conditions and the bombing ended. Their heavy weapons were withdrawn, and the siege of the city was lifted. This operation was unusual as it was designed to contain aggression and save lives rather than to defeat an enemy. The warring factions were forced to accept the UN brokered framework agreement, through the cogent use of airpower.

This judicious use of airpower succeeded where intense diplomatic pressure had failed.

Operation DECISIVE EDGE 1995

Operation DECISIVE EDGE, NATO Bombing of Serbian Infrastructure, Yugoslavia
VC10 refueling Harriers, Operation DELIBERATE GUARD,1996
Aircraft Hangers, Brindisi
Palermo Based Royal Air Force Tristar Refuels a United States Navy Prowler alongside two Tornado's
International Air Bridge, Ancona

Operation DELIBERATE FORCE brought the Bosnian Serbs to the negotiating table and a cease-fi re was agreed in October 1995. This was followed by US sponsored talks which resulted in the Dayton Peace Accord in December. The Accord partitioned Bosnia-Herzegovina between the Bosnian Serbs and the Muslim/Croat Federation. A NATO Implementation Force of 60,000 troops was put in place to enforce the Accord.

Operation DECISIVE EDGE was the air element policing the no-fly zone. To support it, additional Tactical Communications Wing detachments were sent to Ploche in Croatia with satellite communications and associated ancillary equipment.

 

Operation DELIBERATE GUARD 1996

In December 1996, the Implementation Force became a Stabilisation Force and DECISIVE EDGE was renamed Operation DELIBERATE GUARD. Aircraft from several NATO nations operated from various countries in the region and from aircraft carriers at sea, including British Harrier jets, replaced by Jaguars early in 1997.

By April 1998 the situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina was sufficiently stable to allow a reduction of forces in the region. British aircraft returned to the UK and, with them, Tactical Communications Wing commitment.

 

Operation SWANSTON 1998

Whilst the Dayton Accord brought an uneasy peace to the Balkans, it did not resolve the fundamental problem of the explosive nature of the region’s ethnic mix. To monitor and maintain the peace, Permanent Joint Headquarters sponsored several exercises under the operational name of SWANSTON. In September 1998, Tactical Communications Wing deployed to Brindisi in Southern Italy as part of the NATO Stabilisation Force, operating out of Brindisi airfield and Gioia Del Colle.

 

 

 

 

Air Operations in Italy and Yugoslavia 1992-1998

Following the UN brokered peace plan in 1992, the RAF and UN undertook numerous operations in and around the Mediterranean to support the ongoing operations in the former Republic of Yugoslavia. Tactical Communications Wing deployed teams to Zagreb (formerly Yugoslavia) and Ancona, Gioa del Colle, Palermo and Vicenza in Italy – deployments that remained throughout the conflict.

Video: Airfield Activation, Pristina 1999

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