After the successful completion of its first phase, the second phase of Operation “HURRICANE 91” to liberate occupied areas of western Slavonia began in early December 1991. Its first objective was to cut all possible links between Okučani and Lipik and surround all enemy forces in the area around Pakrac and Lipik.
One of those routes was through the village of Rajčići towards Bijela Stijena. As a precursor to the attack that began on 11 December 1991, a group of “Tigers” engineers led by Dejan Petrović carried out diversionary tactics on a bridge near Rajčići the previous day and managed to destroy it despite being in close range of enemy artillery. The group included Martin Ožvačić, Zvonko Mavrlja, Boško Šalamon and Željko Benček and the diversion was carried out in cooperation with the Special Group of the 1st A “Tigers” Brigade commanded by Ante Gotovina.
In the early, foggy and cold morning of 11 December, the “Tigers” headed towards Rajčići from Kučerin and Kričko Brdo. The forces of the 2nd “Tigers” Battalion were led by Božo Kožul and Tomo Medved, the 4th Battalion by Damir “Gavran” Tomljanović and the Special Group within the “Tigers” by Ante Gotovina.
The mission started well. The enemy was pinned down in one part of the village but the attack was unsuccessful due to strong resistance that resulted in many Croatian casualties. At least four “Tigers” were killed during the attack – Ivan Čižić, Miodrag Mihaljević, Marko Ilišević and Robert Bakula who succumbed to his wounds on the way to the hospital. A large number of Croatian soldiers were severely wounded, among which was Ante Gotovina. Albeit a romanticized, fictional biography of General Gotovina, author Nenad Ivanković recorded the event in in the book “Warrior, Adventurer and General”:
It’s around two o’clock in the afternoon. A fog has set in and nightfall will follow. This must be avoided at all costs our troops can get stuck in their positions in such conditions. He made the decision. He selected twenty of the best soldiers from the reconnaissance and sabotage company and deployed ten on his left flank and ten on the right. He briefly explained what to do and then gave the order to directly attack the “White Eagles” Serbian paramilitaries in the woods by going directly across cleared territory. They ran bent over and fired from their automatic weapon specially adapted for close combat. The “White Eagles” retaliated with sniper fire and short machine gun bursts. Bullets flew in all directions and you couldn’t hear anything over the gunfire. Some Croatian fighters have already been hit and lay on the damned wasteland with their souls in their mouths but others continue running forward jumping around like wild cats and shooting. They were about twenty-five metres away from the “White Eagles” when an ambulance got in Ante’s way. It was destroyed and a wounded Croatian fighter, somehow stuck, hung from the open left door. He was hit several times so he was unable to move or throw himself on the ground to find shelter. “Help me take cover,” the young man shouted to the soldier running towards him. Without stopping, Ante moved his deadly F.A.L. battle rifle to his left hand and continued to shoot at the “White Eagles” as he grabbed the guy with his right and threw him to the ground. In a sweeping move, he turned to the right, exposed his side and was hit in the hip but just behind the bone in his buttocks. The bullet passed through the deep muscle on his left cheek and exited from the right cheek, missing the colon by a millimetre. Blood poured from the four wounds caused by that single bullet. As if someone had hit him with a club, he ended up on the floor from the impact of the bullet. His legs began to rot and then his back as well.
Ante Gotovina recovered from his injuries in Zagreb and the village of Rajčići was not liberated until Operation “FLASH” in 1995.
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 edits the Braniteljski.hr portal and 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.