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fredag, november 10, 2023

Alberta natives recall horrors of little-known battle in Croatia

’This time of yr is fairly robust for lots of men and so they attain out to individuals they know’

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The jagged brilliance of an artillery barrage splintering the nighttime sky over the Croatian city of Gospic heralded a descent into hell for William Ray and his fellow Canadian peacekeepers.

However at that second 30 years in the past, that they had no concept what horrors they’d confront as they have been ordered to maneuver up and place themselves between two warring factions seething with hate.

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“Once we arrived, the Serbs and Croats have been returning hearth,” stated Ray.

“At round 10:30 or 11 (within the morning), the Croats opened up on us and we have been fairly seen in our white-painted UN automobiles.”

It was the beginning of Canada’s largest navy engagement because the early Fifties Korean Battle, amid a Balkan maelstrom ignited by the fragmentation of Yugoslavia.

Ethnic Serbs in a swath of territory alongside the Adriatic coast rebelled towards Croatia’s declaration of independence and violently carved out their very own republic they named after the area, Krajina, which suggests frontier.

Then-25-year-old Ray, who’d grown up bouncing round rural northern Alberta and attended highschool in Edmonton, joined the Canadian navy as an artillery soldier till he was connected to Winnipeg-based 2 Princess Patricia’s Canadian Gentle Infantry.

The battalion have been despatched as UN “blue helmets” to Krajina to maintain a rarely-existent peace between Serbs and Croats, the latter who sought revenge for the atrocities they’d suffered and a return to the houses they’d misplaced.

Ray was a driver of a boxy, Fifties-vintage M113 armoured personnel service which he’d maneuvered right into a hull-down place within the stays of a home on the sting of what grew to become infamously referred to as the Medak Pocket.

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The Canadians, bolstered by an organization of French troops, have been responding to a Croatian offensive searching for to reclaim territory captured by ethnic Serbs.

36 hours of fight

He remembers Croatian gunners working a 30-mm auto-cannon discovering the vary on him and the positions of his C firm.

“It’s like one thing out of Star Wars — the tracer simply goes previous you want a laser and it’s received a shock wave,” stated Ray, who now lives on a produce farm close to Yarmouth, N.S.

“At one level, it received inside 4 toes of my head, it truly scorched a part of my uniform.”

There was little hesitation among the many Canadians to answer in sort, with then-Grasp Cpl. Ray hurling rounds from his C-7 computerized rifle.

There have been Serb fighters close to the Canadians, he stated, “however the Croats have been actually concentrating on us, they guessed we’d pack up and depart however we didn’t.”

“We hit them with the whole lot we had.”

That included TOW anti-tank missiles flung at armour the Croats had deployed within the space.

william Ray at the Battle of the Medak Pocket in 1993
William Ray, Battle of the Medak Pocket, 1993. Courtesy William Ray

At evening in the course of the heaviest combating, Ray stated the Canadians fired on the Croatians’ muzzle flashes, inflicting appreciable losses.

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By the point it was over after 36 hours of fight, it’s believed the Croatians suffered 27 killed whereas 4 Canadian troopers have been wounded.

When negotiations led to a truce, the PPCLI troopers superior into the Medak Pocket with a Maple Leaf flag lashed to a two-metre pole, passing troops they’d killed earlier than encountering the our bodies of Serb civilians who’d been massacred.

“We have been passing the our bodies of women and men mendacity in these varied villages,” stated Ray, who was among the many peacekeepers to protect conflict crimes investigators that included RCMP personnel who shortly adopted.

“We equipped safety for what was actually a criminal offense scene … actually not everybody (in my unit) who confirmed up was prepared for it.”

These investigators discovered our bodies that had been burned, shot and mutilated, with the Worldwide Prison Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia concluding a minimum of 100 Serbs had been unlawfully killed.

‘By the point of Medak, I used to be fairly numb to most issues’

On the time, the Canadian authorities launched little details about the battle, and solely in subsequent years did extra particulars about it come to mild.

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One information story in September 1993 reported 600 Canadian and 200 French troops shifting right into a ravaged space containing 11 destroyed villages after Croatian forces withdrew, and of their interception a 16-man Croat patrol inside a buffer zone.

The Croats stated they’d launched the Medak offensive in response to Serb aggression and accused the Canadians of siding with their enemies.

Albertan Dave Huedepohl arrived in Croatia with Ray and was despatched south into the troubled Krajina the place French peacekeepers had suffered casualties.

However his A Firm didn’t be part of Ray’s males in immediately confronting the Croatian navy, although they might see the battle’s fiery earlier phases.

“The Croatians have been attempting to shoot up the Serbian statement posts … we have been one of many blocking components,” stated Huedepohl, who was a 22-year-old corporal on the time.

He recalled considerations that Canadian peacekeepers have been ill-equipped to cope with Croats armed with Soviet-made T-54 and T-55 tanks.

Even so, he stated his unit’s months of expertise in one other sector of the battle had hardened them to its realities by the point of the Medak struggle.

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“We’d conduct late-night operations to grab weapons,” stated Huedepohl.

Canadian peacekeeper keeps watch south of Medak, Croatia in 1994
A Canadian UN peacekeeper retains watch on warring Serbs and Croats from a hilltop statement put up about 25 kilometres south of Medak, Croatia in April 1994.

The vet stated he got here inside a cut up second of capturing a threatening Croatian policeman and his unit had assisted within the trade of corpses between the 2 warring sides.

They’d additionally been witness to the disinterring of our bodies from a mass grave, he stated.

At one other time, “We’d simply crossed over from the Croatian to the Serbian aspect of the road and someone fired rifle propelled grenades at a border checkpoint (manned by Canadians). We have been attempting to determine who fired them,” he stated.

“By the point of Medak, I used to be fairly numb to most issues, you get fairly inured to minefields and everyone’s received weapons,” stated Huedepohl.

‘You higher make sure that it’s performed for the suitable causes otherwise you’ll traumatize a complete era of individuals’

In the summertime of 1995, the Croatian navy launched Operation Storm, sweeping into the enclave, brushing apart UN peacekeepers that included Canadians and crushing Serb resistance.

Some 200,000 ethnic Serbs fled the area within the largest displacement because the Second World Battle.

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For Huedepohl, that remaining act factors up the futility of their process and left him with a deep sense of disillusionment in a mission that saddled him with post-traumatic stress dysfunction that grew to become commonplace amongst colleagues.

“It was an entire waste of time, like (Canada’s mission in) Afghanistan — you higher make sure that it’s performed for the suitable causes otherwise you’ll traumatize a complete era of individuals and that’s deplorable,” he stated.

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That have finally led Huedepohl to grow to be a case employee with Veterans Affairs Canada the place he helps ex-warriors — many struggling PTSD as effectively — navigate the advantages system.

Companies to assist veterans heal from emotional wounds, he stated, have improved dramatically from when he returned from Croatia. Now, troopers are offered time to decompress and ensured providers that have been absent three many years in the past, stated the Albertan.

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“I used to be in a spot the place you could possibly be blown up or shot and be again in my front room in 72 hours,” he stated, including wartime risks like landmines nonetheless hang-out him.

“I nonetheless don’t like driving down unpaved roads.”

Remembrance Day pays tribute to troopers, mentally wounded: Huedepohl

Even earlier than they’d returned to Canada, members of Ray’s C Firm have been conscious of the emotional toll the battle was already taking.

A soldier who’d proven a newly-arrived Ray the ropes in Croatia and had been rotated residence previous to the Medak battle succumbed to his conflict zone experiences, he stated.

“He ended up committing suicide in his home in Winnipeg earlier than we even received residence,” stated Ray.

Throughout his stint within the Balkans, two members of his unit have been killed, stated Huedepohl, who remembers one other who suffered extreme accidents when he tripped up a booby lure.

“Considered one of our part commanders who was clearing a bunker line didn’t end his tour as a result of he misplaced of chunk of his thigh the scale of a fist,” he stated.

It’s to those troopers and people who got here again mentally wounded that Remembrance Day pays tribute, stated Huedepohl who lives close to Sundre, the place he hosted 40 previous comrades for a thirtieth anniversary of the Medak battle final September.

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“This time of yr is fairly robust for lots of men and so they attain out to individuals they know,” he stated.

A Canadian peacekeeper with Serb militiamen in Medak, Croatia in 1994
A Canadian UN peacekeeper (R) is seen with Serb militiamen in a village about 25 kilometres south of Medak, Croatia in April 1994.

Fellow artilleryman Ray agrees however provides the that means of Nov. 11 also needs to be targeted on stopping repeats of conflict he says too typically stem from political demagoguery.

“It’s the directed use of id politics for political acquire,” stated Ray, citing conflicts like these within the Balkans, Rwanda and Ukraine the place once-friendly neighbours are satisfied to activate one another.

However he nonetheless sees worth in what he and his fellow troopers did in Croatia regardless of the heavy toll, largely in psychological trauma that’s led to quite a few suicides.

“There was lots of price to it however we did save many, many human lives,” stated Ray.

“I’m extremely happy with what we did — the remainder of it’s out of our palms.”


X (Twitter): @BillKaufmannjrn

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