“I swear on their Ustasha mothers that I will flatten Petrinja to the ground” – The Attack on Petrinja Begins

On this day in 1991, the Yugoslav People’s Army (YPA) and rebel Serbs launched their attack on Petrinja.

After Serbian terrorists attacked a police station in the city center, Lieutenant Colonel Slobodan Tarbuk, commander of the YPA’s Petrinja garrison organized a press conference at the Vasilj Gaćeša barracks. He tried to convince attending journalists that Croatian forces carried out a mortar attack on the barracks and this fictitious attack served as the justification for a YPA tank raid on Petrinja. When General Andrija Rašeta, commander of the 5th Military District called Tarbuk, the conference was interrupted and Tarbuk told him: I swear on their Ustasha mothers that I will flatten Petrinja to the ground.

YPA tanks on their way to Petrinja

A violent assault ensued and lasted all day. The first shells began to fall on Petrinja at 12:18 PM and the attack continued with sniper fire and bursts of gunfire in the center of the city. At 3:00 PM, a helicopter from the Croatian Ministry of the Interior arrived to evacuate wounded children. There was fighting in the streets of the city and several residential buildings were set on fire due to widespread use of tromblon mines. Tanks were deployed from the “Šamarica” ​​and “Vasilj Gaćeša” barracks and destroyed everything in their path. The tank attack destroyed the city’s kindergarten, high school, St. Lawrence Church, hospital, Municipal Court and municipal offices as well as commercial buildings such as Slavijatrans, the Gavrilović meat processing plant and the local shoe factory. National Guard soldier Nikola Lokner, Ministry of the Interior staff member Andrija Rokić and civilian Stjepan Bučar were all killed in the fighting.

In addition to Petrinja, the surrounding villages of Hrastovica, Taborište, Pecki and Budičina were also attacked. Budičina alone was hit with over 100 mortar shells on that fateful day in September. A small number of Croatian defence forces managed to defend Petrinja and the tanks withdrew to barracks at approximately 7:00 PM. The damage was enormous. Firefighters extinguished the blazes until the early hours of the following morning and it was only then that the inhabitants of Petrinja realized the scale of the attack on their city.

Little by little and step by step we went out and looked at the city in astonishment. The market was completely demolished, the kiosk on the corner crushed like a box of matches, a half-destroyed reservoir in front of the court was still burning… shell casings filled the grooves in the asphalt left by the tanks… we watched in silence… but there were no tears in anyone’s eyes… It was only then that I realized how much I love this city… how painful it is to see the ruins, the gouged roads, the children, women and the elderly fleeing their homes with only a bag in hand…

Recollection of the September 2 attack by a Petrinja resident
Footage of the destroyed city of Petrinja

It was a sign of difficult days that would come for Petrinja, culminating in the fall of the city on 21 September.

Cover photo – Tomaž Skale/Dnevnik.si

Sources
Literature
Gajdek, Đuro. Petrinjska bojišnica 1991.-1995., Petrinja: Grad Petrinja, 2008
Pejaković, Toni. “Petrinja u Domovinskom ratu (1990.-1995.)”. Završni rad, Sveučilište u Zagrebu, 2019

TV
TV Kalendar. Croatian Radio-television. author Tomislav Šulj, editor Vladimir Brnardić, September 2, 2016

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