The death of Andrija “Spider” Matijaš

On 9 October 1995, General Andrija “Spider” Matijaš, one of the greatest heroes of the Homeland War was killed in action near Mrkonjić Grad during “SOUTHERN MOVE”, the last operation of the Croatian forces in the Homeland War.

Matijaš was born on 31 July 1947 in Pozorac near Marina west of Trogir. He graduated from the “School for Armoured Mechanized Units of the Yugoslav People’s Army” in Banja Luka and as a professional soldier, Matijaš was an expert in tanks and armoured combat. He was also an excellent overall athlete distinguished himself in the YPA as a top all-around athlete from 1970 to 1980.

The struggle for Croatian independence was welcomed by Matijaš and he voluntarily joined in the defense of the homeland. Immediately after leaving the YPA he was wholeheartedly accepted among the young guardsmen. Unlike many other defectors from the old Yugoslav army, Matijaš was full of fighting spirit, military spirit, ready for any sacrifice but at the same time very witty. That is why we loved him the most. His vast life experience, maturity, military knowledge and human qualities quickly became the backbone of the 4th Guard Brigade with which he spent the entire war journey after returning from the Banija region where he received his military baptism of fire.

General Janko Bobetko

Matijaš arrived in the 4th Guard Brigade, later named the “Spiders” in his honour, in October 1991. As commander of one of its companies, he showed exceptional warrior skills and immense courage as an infantryman. Following the capture of the first tanks from the YPA in June 1992, Matijaš formed an armoured mechanized company and became its commander.

The company was immediately engaged in battles around Dubrovnik where it played an important role and it was there that Matijaš was nicknamed “Spider”. At the end of 1992, the company grew into a battalion consisting of thirty tanks. Matijaš led them during Operation “MASLENICA” of which he wrote the following prophetic words in his diary: “Once we head into battle, heaven and earth will burn”. During the Battle of Kašić in that operation, Matijaš was severely wounded by 12 pieces of shrapnel but returned to the battlefield after escaping from the hospital in Zadar.

Andrija Matijaš Pauk and Damir Krstičević (Commander of the 4th Guard Brigade)

As Chief of Staff of the 4th Guard Brigade, Matijaš took part in Operation “WINTER ’94” in late 1994 and later “LEAP 1”, “LEAP 2” and “SUMMER ‘95”. These were preparatory operations for Operation “STORM” in August 1995 in which he led tanks into Knin as the Deputy Commander of the 4th Guard Brigade.

He instilled confidence in the unit and in combat. He always emboldened his comrades-in-arms and in difficult moments told jokes over the Motorola even though the mood was sombre. He had a perfect battle sense. Although a tough and sometimes rude soldier he took great care of his men, especially the wounded and the families of those killed in action. In his free time, he and his wife visited hospitals and relatives of the deceased. Unfortunately, he did not have any children but had a perfect marriage with his beloved Nada.

General Janko Bobetko
One of last pictures of Andrija Matijaš taken before Operation “Southern Move”

After Operation “STORM”, Matijaš decided to end his military journey and began preparations for retirement. He decided to regain the time devoted to Croatia’s struggle for freedom with his wife after the completion of the final Operation “SOUTHERN MOVE” but unfortunately laid down his life on the altar of the Homeland during the approach on Mrkonjić Grad (for a time briefly named Matijaševo in his honour). Matijaš was buried on 12 October 1995 in the local cemetery in his native Pozorac. He was posthumously awarded the rank of Major General along with numerous other decorations.

Sources
Literature
Bobetko, Janko. Sve moje bitke. Zagreb: Vlastita naklada, 1996
Monograph 4. gardijska brigada Hrvatske vojske Pauci” Zagreb : Despot infinitus, 2013

Internet
Općina Marina: “Znamenite osobe”, access achieved October 5,2020, http://www.marina.hr/znamenite-osobe/

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