Ever since the beginning of the Serbian uprising and aggression against the Republic of Croatia, Pakrac and the Pakrac region were among the most difficult crisis hotspots. Special units of the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Croatia had intervened in Pakrac on several occasions since March of 1991 and a general attack on the town and its surrounding area began in August that same year.
Units from the National Guard Corps began to arrive to help police forces and local defenders and among the first of these was the “A” Company of the 105th Bjelovar Brigade. On 8 September 1991, only a few days after arriving on the frontlines at Pakrac, a platoon set off in an improvised armoured vehicle on a mission to the predominantly Serb village of Kusonje. The Croatian soldiers were ambushed, their vehicle destroyed and they took cover in a local house whose address was number 55. It was here that they prepared to defend themselves.
Croatian forces from positions nearby soon came to their aid but the soldiers did not want to leave the many wounded who could not be evacuated due to heavy enemy fire. Since there was no longer an opportunity to break through Serbian positions, the surviving Croatian soldiers had to surrender. Those who did not die in battle were summarily executed and buried in a mass grave. The names of the Croatian defenders killed in Kusonje are: Nikola Benkus, Željko Nesek, Marinko Crnogaj, Mato Čančar, Miroslav Černak, Marijan Dukić, Stipe Gadža, Petar Grubeša, Anto Ivandić, Stjepan Kolar, Vladimir Krivačić, Stjepan Mamić, Tadija Markić, Ivan Palić, Zlatko Pavlović, Nedjeljko Pekić, Mario Posarić, Igor Stipić, Dubravko Štefulinec and Ante Tandara.
The village was liberated on Christmas Day in 1991 after which the remains of the twenty soldiers exhumed in January 1992 and re-buried the following month in Bjelovar. This was not the end of the Kusonja tragedy as another crime occurred during a memorial ceremony held on the second anniversary of the massacre on 8 September 1993. As wreaths were laid, a landmine exploded killing three officers of the 105th Brigade and wounding 13 others.
The heroic struggle of Croatian defenders in Kusonje was recalled in the popular feature film “Number 55” that was released in 2014.
Cover photo – Attempt to break through towards Kusonje on September 9 (photo by Boris Fabijanec)
Mijatović, Anđelko. Otkos-10 : prva uspješna oslobodilačka operacija Oružanih snaga Republike Hrvatske u Domovinskom ratu : Domovinski rat u zapadnoj Slavoniji : 1990.-1991. Zagreb: Udruga dragovoljaca i veterana Domovinskog rata Republike Hrvatske; Hrvatski memorijalno-dokumentacijski centar Domovinskog rata, 2011
Ivan Zvonimir Ivančić: “Zločin u selu Kusonje – 8. rujna 1991. i 1993.”, Braniteljski.hr, access achieved September 8, 2020, https://braniteljski.hr/zlocin-u-selu-kusonje-8-rujna-1991-i-1993/
TV Kalendar. Croatian Radio-television. author Vladimir Brnardić, editor Obrad Kosovac, September 8, 2006.
Graduated with a Master’s Degree in History from the University of Zagreb. He has worked at the Croatian History Museum and as a researcher for the popular TV Calendar program for Croatian Radio and Television. He has authored several books and documentaries about Croatia’s Homeland War and is the creator/producer of the immensely popular “It Happened on this Day – Homeland War” Facebook page as well as the online portal Domovinskirat.hr. Borna also is the host and editor of the daily segment “Patriotic Minutes” on Croatian Catholic Radio. He created CroHis to promote the values of the Homeland War and ensure that the sacrifices of those who defended Croatia’s independence would not be forgotten.