The Vance Plan was a Serbian idea
by Interview with General Anton Tus, Chief of Staff of the Croatian Army 1991-2
What led to the passivity of the Croatian Army (HV) in the Croatian theatre of war during the period 1992-5? Was this due to the demobilization in 1992 of its wartime formations, which is what General Bobetko [Tus's successor] claims, or to the attempt to divide Bosnia-Herzegovina, as argued in the recently published book Rat u Hrvatskoj i Bosni i Hercegovini 1991-1995 [War in Croatia and B-H 1991-1995]1?
General Bobetko should tell the truth. I am surprised by what he says, especially since he knows very well that our political leaders accepted the Vance Plan, which to me as Chief of Staff was quite unacceptable. Prior to its adoption I had proposed to President Tudjman a concept involving four military operations. One of them was indeed entrusted to General Bobetko himself, after he joined the HV in February 1992. My intention was to begin on 1 January 1992 with `Operation Knin' and to continue in that way until we reached Eastern Slavonia. However, the President decided otherwise. He asked that half of our army, which at that time numbered 240,000 men, be demobilised, but that it remain in a state of readiness for possible later action. What did we do? We demobilised one third, but did not wholly dissolve it. So if two thirds of the HV remained in place, one cannot say that the demobilisation resulted in an effective disarmament of Croatia. If we really had wished to disarm Croatia, as Bobetko imputes, we would have demobilised the whole of the HV.
General Bobetko says that removing the133 mm guns from the Gospic battlefield to Rijeka was an act of sabotage.
The Vance Plan specified a demarcation line along which were allowed to deploy only a minimal force. This meant that we had to place in a state of active reserve also the active Guard Brigades which were to serve against eventual counter-attacks. Once the agreement was signed we had to observe it.
Your main criticism in regard to the performance of the HV has to do with the existence of a dual chain of command?
True. The chain of command was a personal one - it was the President's own. He would jump over the established system of command, which is unacceptable. On receiving an item of information, he would contact directly a brigade commander and then either approve or ban an action.
Can you tell us about the most drastic cases of his disregard for the established chain of command?
One such example was his order [which was disobeyed] to end the siege of the [JNA] garrison in Bjelovar. ImagiÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ
ne what would have happened if that armoured brigade with its 150 tanks had managed to leave the barracks! The Drava highway would have been cut as well as Western Slavonia. The whole of Slavonia, in fact, would have been cut off. I subsequently explained to the President that we had to take that garrison, despite the casualties. In Western Slavonia too [during a major operation conducted in late 1991], the established line of command was circumvented. After General Decak's brigade had suffered casualties, he reported directly to the President, who then ordered him to end the advance. His group was moving from the north while two other HV groups were advancing from the direction of Novska and Gradiska. Those four days during which Decak took time off, his failure to reach Bijele Stijene, contributed to the failure of the operation. As a result we were unable to reach the Sava in the time planned, before the signing of the Vance Plan.
Did the HV have sufficient strength at the time for a strategic offensive on that front? General Bobetko has described the operation in Western Slavonia as `a simulation of force'.
At that time the JNA had been destroyed in Eastern Slavonia. It is true that Vukovar had fallen, but the offensive capability of the Serbian formations had been destroyed and they no longer had the strength for further attacks between Vinkovci and Osijek. At that time they were mobilizing troops with which to break more deeply into Croatian territory, while in Western Slavonia we had already begun our offensive. The strategic initiative, in other words, was on our side. What happened then?
The Vance Plan. The pacification of this part of Croatia was a Serbian idea which Croatia accepted, after which the two moved to Bosnia-Herzegovina with intentions that are well known.2
When will the documents dealing with HV actions in Bosnia-Herzegovina become available? When are we going to learn the truth about the reasons for the engagement in the neighbouring state?
In ten years' time.
General Bobetko, however, has already published in his book documents detailing operations which he had conducted only two years earlier.3
The documents are deposited with the General Staff, i.e. in the Ministry of Defence. I wish to repeat that due to discord between the political and the military aims we did not fight all the battles which we should have fought. Some battles, however, we fought without the permission of the politicians. It would have been disastrous if we had not.
Which battles did you fight without authorization?
We took the [JNA] barracks without permission from the President. The operation in Western Slavonia had also not been permitted. Nor was our action in the Bosnian Posavina. Our army was then withdrawn from there by recourse to the other chain of command, despite the fact that we had been holding `their' [Serbian] corridor under fire for two days and had practically cut it off.
Which events from the Patriotic War should, in your view, be re-examined and seen in a different light?
Why was it necessary to wait for the aggression against Slovenia to discover that Serbia was going to war? If the political leaders knew that the war was about to start, why were the preparations for it so inadequate, especially given the fact that we had become an independent state? Also, why did we accept the Vance Plan at the end of 1991 and bring everything to a halt,
although at that point in time our army's strength was at its peak? We should have gone onto the offensive and liberated our territory. Instead we accepted the Vance Plan and ended all military activity, despite the fact that it left 28% of our territory under occupation.
Translated from Vjesnik (Zargreb)
11 February 2000 (footnotes and material in square brackets added).
1. Norman Cigar, Branker Magas and Ivo Zanic (ed)ÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ
, Rat u Hrvatskoj i Bosni i Hercegovini 1991-1995, Zagreb and Sarajevo 1999.
2. At the time of the signing of the Vance plan on 2 January 1992, 'our forces needed a day or so to reach the [Zagreb-Belgrade] motorway, which would have led to the enemy being surrounded as indeed happend in 'Operation Flash' [conducted in 1995]'. Anton Tus, 'War in Slovenia and Croatia Up to the Sarajevo Ceasefire', in Rat u Hrvatskoj i Bosni i Hercegovini 1991-1995, op. cit, p. 88 A detailed account of the operation can be found in Rudi Stipicic, Napokon smo Krenuli! [We Are Finally Moving!], Zagreb 1996
3. Janko Bobetko, Sve Moje Bitke [All My Battles], Zargreb 1996