Overlord'S Blog: Tanks against Hooligans
In 1992 the Balkans erupted into civil war. As most civil wars do this one descended into atrocity and crimes against humanity. As a teen watching the news it was the first time I'd ever heard the words "genocide" or "ethnic cleansing". The years before the outbreak of the war had seen violence in the area, to such an extent the United Nations had stepped in to try and stabilize the situation and setting up the UN Protection Force. This multi-national force worked throughout the civil war to try to keep the excesses of the combatants in check and save lives.
While partially successful things carried on getting worse, as the situation deteriorated heavier forces were dispatched. In the autumn of 1993 the Danes stepped up, and dispatched a squadron of tanks to reinforce NORDBAT 2. NORDBAT 2 was a battalion of Nordic raised troops based at Tuzla in Bosnia.
The squadron was made up of ten Leopard 1A5's from the Jutland Dragoons called DANSQDN.
On April the 4th a small fire fight broke out between the tanks and Serbian forces, this had followed increasing tensions in the area. Soon afterwards the UN positions were being regularly shelled. NORDBAT 2 then came up with a response plan called Operation Bøllebank, which translates as "Hooligan Bashing". The idea was the tanks would act as a reaction force, as the UN soldiers had noticed that Serb forces tended to stop shooting when the tanks arrived.
As the situation got worse the Serbian forces decided to lay a trap.
At 2200 on April 29th, 1994 the Serbian forces began to fire upon an observation post called TANGO 2, which watched the Serbian border. This was a fairly regular occurrence, as the position had been hit twenty eight times in the preceding weeks. This time the position was taken under direct fire as well as indirect. The seven Swedish soldiers manning the position radioed for help and Operation Bøllebank was set in motion again. Two platoons led by the Squadron Commander, Major Carsten Rasmussen moved out, and as they neared TANGO 2 they met the APC of the second in command (Colonel Lars Møller) of NORDBAT 2 who was heading to the position as well.
At 2315 the column reached the town of Saraci. They drove in boldly, the bright white Leopards gleaming in the headlamps of the other tanks. They still had to cover ten kilometres to reach TANGO 2. That's when Serbian forces from the Sekovici brigade began to shell the Danish tanks. Col. Møller left one of the tank platoons in the village to provide overwatch and carried on the advance with the remaining four tanks.
Barrelling forward at speed it took about fifteen minutes to reach the village of Kalesija, all the while the Serbians fired upon the column.
Just outside of Kalesija a road led towards TANGO 2, however there is a tight hairpin turn in the road. The heavy tanks had to slow to a crawl to get around it. The first two tanks had negotiated the turn when a warning blared out across the radio. The overwatching platoon had seen the flash of guided missiles launching, and could see the flares from the booster rockets tracking across the darkness towards their colleagues on the road.
The first missile was off by only a few metres hitting the ground between two tanks. A second missile had been aimed at Col. Møller's APC, but hit a building he was parked next to. The final missile was perfectly aimed at the rearmost Leopard. Flashing arrow straight towards the bright white tank, the driver alerted by the warning slammed his brakes on, and the missile blew a hole in the road just in front of the skidding tank.
Against the darkness the Serbian positions began to twinkle with lights as cannon and HMG began to pepper the road. The two Leopards that had made the hairpin turn were ordered forward to TANGO 2, they came under fire from the Zvornik brigade, but blasted through the Serbian positions and reached TANGO 2.
The rest of the column below the hairpin retreated into Kalesija. Under cover from direct fire the Serbs started shelling the tanks with mortars.
At this point both Maj. Rasmussen and Col. Møller came to the same conclusion. That enough is enough, and the Serbs had filled the Rules Of Engagement (ROE). In Bosnia UNPROFOR's ROE said that they could return fire in self defence, at any weapon shooting at them.
In Saraci the overwatch platoon received the orders "Neutralize the anti-tank positions!". The long range was not a problem for the tanks, fully fitted with computerised fire control systems linked to laser range finders and fitted with thermal sights, the three Leopards effortlessly destroyed the anti-tank missile positions. But the enemy was well dug in with several positions and carried on firing. The two tanks in Kalesija joined in firing against a second set of positions on a nearby mountain. Their next salvo knocked out a light AA gun, observation post and crippled a bunker.
The expert gunnery of the Danes and the lack of targets quickly silenced the Serbian positions. The vehicles in Kalesija waited a while to see if any other fire would be incoming, when it wasn't they broke cover to fall back to Saraci. However as soon as they were visible again the Serbians opened fire once more. The overwatch platoon responded immediately by giving the Serbian positions a massive beating. The three Leopards fired constantly as fast as they could fire for 15 minutes.
As the overwatch platoon opens fire they see a flicker in their thermal scopes. Three Serbian T-55's had switched on their infrared searchlights. However the thermal sights showed that the gun barrels of the tanks are cold. What happens next differs from account to account. Some say all three T-55's are knocked out by the Danish fire, others that they are not engaged at all. All we know is the Danish vehicles managed to get into Saraci without taking any hits. Then the Danish forces pull out of Saraci, the last shot fired by one of the overwatch platoon gets lucky and hits a ammunition stockpile causing a massive explosion that provides excellent confusion to help cover the tanks withdrawal.
During the fight the Danes fired 72 rounds, with 44 being high explosive, nine white phosphorous and 19 sabot, and they took no casualties. The Serbians admitted to nine killed, although estimates suggest a figure of about 150 is closer to the truth.
Col. Møller said after the battle:
"It was an ambush, and a damn good one, Tango Two was the cheese, and we were the mouse. But this time the mouse ate the cat."