Operation Flash

Operation Flash
Operation Flash
Part of the Croatian War of Independence
Operation flash map.jpg
Map of Operation Flash
Date 1–3 May 1995
Location Croatia
Result Decisive Croatian victory
Croatia regained about 500 km2 (190 sq mi) of territory.[1]
 Croatia  Serbian Krajina
7,200 soldiers[2] 8,000 soldiers[2]
Casualties and losses
42 killed
162 wounded
188[3]-283 killed
1,500 captured
12,000[3]-30,000 Serbian refugees[4]

Operation Flash (Croatian: Operacija Bljesak, Serbian: Операција Бљесак) was a brief offensive conducted in the beginning of May 1995 by the Croatian Army, which removed Serb forces from the self-declared Republic of Serbian Krajina (RSK) region of SAO Western Slavonia. The offensive was part of the later stages of the Croatian War of Independence and seen as a precursor for the larger and more ambitious Operation Storm.

The operation also resulted in a large number of ethnic Serb civilian casualties, while over 15,000 left their homes.[4][5] The Hague Tribunal was preparing a war crimes indictment against then Croatian President Franjo Tuđman for Operation Flash, but he died in 1999.[4] Croatian Serb forces also shelled Zagreb and other Croatian-held cities in retaliation for the operation.



Okučani on the map of Croatia, 1991/1992. Serbian-held territories are highlighted in red.

The Serbs in western Slavonia took part in the organized rebellion against the government of the Republic of Croatia that had just proclaimed independence in June 1991, by proclaiming the Serbian Autonomous Oblast of Western Slavonia in August 1991. It formally joined the rest of rebel areas later in the year, resulting in the proclamation of the Republic of Serbian Krajina (RSK) in December 1991.

Initially, the territory of the SAO Western Slavonia was relatively large and the rebel forces could theoretically advance north to the Hungarian border and sever the link between Zagreb and Osijek. This could have resulted in the formation of the infamous Virovitica-Karlovac-Karlobag line. In reality, the territory of the SAO Western Slavonia was mostly hills and forests, with a relatively poor communication infrastructure. Establishing and maintaining a base for such ambitious operations required more resources than the Serbian government was willing or able to invest. As a result, the SAO Western Slavonia didn't receive as much support from the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) as other parts of the RSK did. Most of its forces were local militias, poorly trained and lightly armed. The military weakness of SAO Western Slavonia became apparent in late 1991 when local Croatian forces, armed and equipped from the captured JNA garrison in nearby Varaždin, conducted a series of offensives which ultimately reduced SAO Western Slavonia to a relatively small pocket centered around Okučani. The borders of the rebel area in Western Slavonia were entrenched after the Sarajevo armistice in 1992. Its main supply lines were to Serb-held territory of SAO Bosanska Krajina, while its connection to SAO Krajina was a forested area south of Novska.

The position of SAO Western Slavonia became even more precarious with the escalation of the Bosnian War in 1992. Veljko Džakula and a group of other local rebel Serb politicians in 1992 and 1993 realized that it was untenable in the long run, and started secret negotiations with the Croatian government about eventual peaceful transfer of the rebel areas in Western Slavonia under Croatian authority. On 18 February 1993, Croatian and local Serb leaders (led by Džakula) signed the Daruvar Agreement. The Agreement was kept secret and was working towards normalizing life for the locals on the battlefield line.[6] However, the Knin authorities learned of the deal - and Džakula was arrested by the authorities of the RSK and replaced by hardliners.

The UN negotiators saw this development as an encouraging sign that the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia could be ended peacefully. The authorities of Croatia and the rebel areas in Western Slavonia were encouraged to take part in various confidence building programs like family reunions. Some of those programs began to bear fruit in late 1994. The most important was the opening of the Zagreb-Županja motorway for Croatian traffic.

In late April 1995 there was an inter-ethnic incident which resulted in the deaths of a number of Croats and Serbs and in the disruption of the motorway. Hrvoje Šarinić, Franjo Tuđman's former Cabinet Chief, confirmed under cross-examination at the Slobodan Milošević trial a transcript detailing the then Croatian leadership's plan to stage an incident as a pretext[7] for the offensive on May 1, although no linkage was shown to the abovementioned incident. Šarinić, as a witness at the same trial, downplayed the significance of such a plan, pointing out there were many incidents daily, and to his own experiences at being refused entry on the motorway, problems with reopening the oil pipeline, and finally stating that he was "very astonished that any incident was needed, because it was quite legitimate to free part of the country that had been occupied".[7]


On the early morning of 1 May, Croatian Army forces (which included elements of the 3rd Guards Brigade and 5th Guards Brigade) and Special Police units began their advance from three directions. Over 7,200 soldiers and policemen participated in the operation.

Rebel forces were quickly overwhelmed and in a few hours time local commanders and civilian authorities issued orders for evacuation across the River Sava into parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina controlled by Serbian forces.

By the afternoon of May 2 all rebel forces were evacuated and the Croatian Army had achieved all of its initial aims. One large group of rebel soldiers and civilians, including Džakula, failed to evacuate and had to surrender near Pakrac. The operation produced a total of around 1,500 Serb POWs, the largest capturing of an enemy force to date in the war.

The forces of the RSK also launched a retaliatory action against civilian targets by launching a number of cluster shells on Zagreb on May 2 and 3rd. The attack killed seven and injured at least 175 people. On that very same day the leader of the RSK, Milan Martić publicly took responsibility for the shelling, and that statement was used against him at his International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) trial.


Map of the territorial division of the Republic of Serbian Krajina, 1995.

Initially, Croatian authorities reported that Croatian Army and police units had 55 fatalities during the course of the operation. In 2000, the official quote was that 33 members of the army and 9 members of the special police units were killed, and that 162 were injured. The government refused to publish a list of these casualties and only spoke in general numbers, causing some public outcry.

Gojko Šušak had claimed that 454 people were killed in the Operation on the Serbian side.[citation needed]

The outcome of the operation was not surprising, considering the disparity in equipment, training and, ultimately, morale between two opposing sides. However, it proved to be major boost for Croatian Army and it tested procedures and tactics that would be employed in Operation Storm with even more wide-ranging results.

The United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) also removed itself from the former United Nations Protected Area (UNPA) Sector West, but did not make any effort to oppose the Croatians since the October 1993 Security Council resolution affirmed that the United Nations Protected Areas were an integral part of the Republic of Croatia.

Among Serbs in the RSK and the Republic of Srpska, Operation Flash caused huge demoralisation. The 500 km² of the SAO Western Slavonia was not only the first major part of the RSK to be erased from the maps; it also proved the untenability of the Greater Serbian project under the new circumstances. Rebel Serbs from Western Slavonia not only failed to get support from Serbia proper, but also from Republika Srpska.

Civilian casualties and exile

The Serb civilian population of the RSK-controlled areas of western Slavonia was gravely impacted by Operation Flash, and they mostly fled the region as a result of the operation. Sources differ regarding the number of Serb refugees after Flash: Veritas documentation-information center, a Serb non-profit organization based in Knin and later in Belgrade, supporting the RSK, reports around 15,000 inhabitants of the region,[5] while the Serbian news agency Beta press estimates 30,000.[4] While there have been returnees since the end of the war, to all parts of Croatia, the number of returnees is small in comparison to the pre-war population.

The reports of war crimes during and after Flash were relatively scarce, and conduct of Croatian military and police was generally professional[citation needed]. Nevertheless the U.N. Secretary General's Personal Representative, Yasushi Akashi said that "massive" human right abuses have taken place during the offensive,[citation needed] though a subsequent and in-depth Human Rights Watch investigation showed there were only isolated incidents and criticized the Secretary General for his preemature and counterproductive statement.[3]

Reprisals against POWs or Serb civilians did, however, happen. The Croatian Government's Commission on missing and captured persons composed a list of 168 fatalities together with places of burial, of which 79 bodies were identified. A Croatian Helsinki Committee report from 2003 noted a total of 83 civilians murdered by the Croatian forces, of which 30 in the attacks on refugee columns and 53 in their homes.[5]

The Serbian Veritas NGO reported that "283 people were either killed or went missing, 57 of them women and nine children. The Croats buried 168 Serbs, mostly listing them as "unidentified", and those bodies have to date not been exhumed and identified".[5]

The Association of Refugee Organizations of Serbs from Croatia is based in Belgrade, headed by one Milojko Budimir, and they yearly commemorate the event and attend church services for the victims of Operation Flash. Their stance is that no one has been held accountable for the crimes committed against the Serbs, "neither in front of the Hague Tribunal, nor in front of the domestic courts".[5]


  1. ^ Croatia. Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia. Accessed 17 August 2009. Archived 2009-11-01.
  2. ^ a b Thomas, Nigel; Mikulan, Krunoslav; Pavlović, Darko (2006). The Yugoslav Wars (1): Slovenia & Croatia, 1991–95. p. 55. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1841769630.
  3. ^ a b c Human Rights Watch/Helsinki - The Croatian Army Offensive in Western Slavonia and It's Aftermath; July 1995.[1]
  4. ^ a b c d "Anniversary of Croatian attack on Serbs". B92. 2008-05-01. http://www.b92.net/eng/news/crimes-article.php?yyyy=2008&mm=05&dd=01&nav_id=49882. Retrieved 2010-10-22. 
  5. ^ a b c d e "Anniversary of Croatia's "Flash" onslaught". Beta press. B92. 2009-05-01. http://www.b92.net/eng/news/crimes-article.php?yyyy=2009&mm=05&dd=01&nav_id=58861. Retrieved 2010-10-22. 
  6. ^ (Croatian) War in Croatia 1991-95, Part II[dead link]
  7. ^ a b Page 31288. International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Accessed 17 August 2009.

External links

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