Yugoslavian Military and Paramilitary Forces


During the war of Yugoslavian dissolution, there were several military and paramilitary forces operating within the Yugoslavian republics. These ranged from the remnants of the Federal Yugo­slavian Armed Forces to National Guard forces of the breakaway republics. As the war progressed, military forces fragmented along first ethnic, and then political lines. The war itself devolved into numerous small-unit actions and artillery bombardments. Each of the major combatants is examined below.


Federal Yugoslavian and Serbian Forces engaged in joint operations in 1991 and 1992 in an attempt to prevent the dissolution of Yugoslavia and to attempt to place Yugoslavia under Serbian dominion. The interoperability of these forces was based both upon the Yugoslavian military doctrine of Total National Defence and the ethnic similarity of their command. Since 1953, the officer corps and command structures of the Yugoslavian National Army had come to be dominated by Serbians and Montenegrins, while the Serbian Forces were an ethnically-organized militia. The military structures and doctrines of Yugoslavian and Serbian forces are examined below.

Army of the Republic of Yugoslavia

The Yugoslavian National Army (JNA), also known as the Yugoslavian Peoples’ Army (YPA), had a unique operational doctrine for a conventional military force. Yugoslavia based its defence doctrine upon the concept of Total National Defence (TND), which drew upon Yugoslavia’s rich partisan history during World War II. TND gave the JNA the role of defending borders against aggressors with the intention of delaying an invader long enough for Territorial Defence Forces (TDF) to enter the field and start wearing the invader down with partisan tactics. The entire Yugoslavian population under TND was to be engaged in armed resistance, armaments production, and civil defence. TND was believed by the Yugoslavian planners to be the best method by which a smaller nation could properly defend itself against a much stronger invader.

Ironically, the TND concept proved to be a catalyst in tearing the Yugoslavian nation apart in the bloody separatist battles of 1991 and 1992. The TDF were organized along social/political lines with each Republic, province, and commune possessing its own TDF elements. Unlike the JNA, which integrated all nationalities below the officer level, the disparate TDF elements were usually ethnically homogenous, and would form the base of nationalist resistance to the Yugoslavian Federation.

Each TDF force was split into manouverable and spatial elements. Under TND, manouverable elements were to act as mobile partisan squads, while the smaller spatial elements protected key locations and defended the population. The battalion-sized manouverable elements were under the control of republic staffs and these were the units which formed the armies of the breakaway republics.

The JNA itself was organized under six districts, based at Belgrade, Skopje, Split, Zagreb, Sarajevo, and Ljubljana. Before the war, the JNA fielded a large force, with some 213,500 people under arms and 575,000 reservists. The TDF fielded as many as one million personnel. The JNA organization is given on the table below.

Table of Yugoslavian National Army Composition


Infantry Divisions


Mechanized Infantry Brigades


 Motorized Infantry Brigades


Light Brigades


Mountain Brigades


Independent Tank Brigades


Artillery Regiments


Antitank Regiments


Antiaircraft Artillery Regiments


Antiaircraft Missile Regiments

As the war of Yugoslavian dissolution progressed, the JNA found itself being weakened, not only through the usual casualties and desertions accompanying an inter-ethic war, but also because JNA conscripts in Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, and Bosnia-Hercegovina refused to enter the ranks. The JNA slowly became a Serb/Montenegrin organization, and even these ethnic groups were wont to desert when they grew weary of the fighting.

Weapons and Equipment: JNA and TDF equipment consisted of material ranging in vintage from World War II to the present. Main Battle Tanks (MBTs) were primarily the older Soviet T-54/T-55 series, but the Yugoslavian State Factories were also producing the newer M-84 MBT, which was a licensed copy of the Soviet T-72M MBT (also known as the T-74). Other tanks in active service were the American M-47 Patton, and the Soviet PT-76 Light Amphibious Tank. As the war went on, World War II era T-34/85 Soviet tanks were pressed into service. Most tanks were organized into tank battalions attached to infantry divisions or regiments. Eight independent tank regiments consisting of one heavy tank battalion using M-84s and two regular tank battalions using T-55s were also fielded. Each tank battalion was organized along Soviet lines, with a headquarters tank over three companies of ten tanks each.

Armored personnel carriers were mainly locally produced BVP M80A and M60 APCs and BOV-M armored cars. Older Soviet equipment like BTR-60/-50/-40s as well as American M-3A1 halftracks and M-8 Greyhound armored cars were also in service. Soviet BRDM-2 vehicles were used for reconnaissance.

Helicopter support provided by the Yugoslavian Air Force consisted of Aerospatiale SA-341 Gazelles produced under license in Yugoslavia as the ”Partizan• and Mil Mi-8 Hip Transport helicopters. The air force also provided close air support over the combat zones with the Yugoslav-produced Galeb/Jastreb, Kraguj, and Soko IAR-93B Orao 2 and Soviet-made MiG-21F and MiG-21U jets.

However, the Yugoslavian war was not a mobile war. Infantry and artillery ruled the battlefield, with tanks being pressed into service as self-propelled artillery. Other artillery consisted of D-30 and 2S1 (SAU-122) 122mm howitzers, M-101 105mm, and M65 and M-114 155mm Howitzers. There was a strong reliance on mortars, primarily the Soviet M-38 82mm and M-43 120mm types.

Yugoslavia also produced its own copy of the Brandt MO-120-AM50 120mm Mortar. Direct fire antitank guns included the 75mm M-1943, the 90mm M63B2, and the 100mm T-12.

JNA infantry weapons were primarily Warsaw Pact and locally-produced weapons, including AK-47s (called M-70 Zastavars) and AMD-65s assault rifles as well as the Soviet SVD sniper rifle and Tokarev TT33 (M-65) 9mm pistol. The JNA also fielded RPK (M-65B) light machineguns and relied upon the M53 SARAC (local copy of German MG-42 World War II-era MG), the German MG-3, and the Soviet PKM for heavier machineguns. Explosive infantry weapons included the local M-79 Osser 90mm rocket launcher and the M-71 LRL 128mm indirect fire rocket launcher.  Yugoslavia also relied quite heavily on older recoilless artillery and anti-tank launchers in the past, but these have not had much of a profile in media reports on the fighting, leading to the assumption that many had been retired and replaced by more modern rocket and missile launchers. Recoilless launchers included the 82mm M-60PB, the 57mm M-18, and the 105mm M-65. Anti-tank missiles included the AT-1 Snapper and the AT-2/AT-3 Sagger.

Rechristening: With the formation of the Federal Yugoslavian Republic (FRY) on April 27, 1992, the JNA was renamed the Army of the Republic of Yugoslavia, and was supposed to operate only on FRY territory, theoretically preventing any Army operations in Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, or Macedonia.

Serbian TDF

The Serbian TDF was the official military force of the Serbian republic and operated very closely with the JNA. The Serbian TDF was a militia/partisan structure under the TND concept which dominated Yugoslavian military structures for several decades and the TDF’s role was to assist in the defence of Serbia against foreign invasion. However, when the Yugoslav nation began its devolution, TDF units quickly became official armies for the breakaway republics and at this time, the Serbian government obtained control of the elements comprising the Serbian TDF.

Serbian TDF weapons were identical to JNA arms, although the TDF, being oriented towards small-unit operations, would have focused on infantry weapons. Because of the closeness of the Serbian TDF and the JNA, Serbian TDF units were much better equipped and trained than other TDFs.

Serbian Irregulars

The term irregular was applied very liberally to many non-JNA units operating in Yugoslavia and often encompassed government-controlled Territorial Defence Forces. In proper use, the term “irregular” should only apply to independent paramilitary forces.

The most prominent group of irregulars in Yugoslavia was the Cetnik movement. They were a wing of Vojislav Seselj’s Serbian Radical Party and operated in the partisan or marauder style, much like their World War II namesakes. The original Cetniks were nationalist Serbian partisans led by General Drazha Mihailovic fighting against Nazi German occupa¬tion. The original Cetniks were eradicated by Tito’s partisans following World War II.

Although Croatians used “Cetnik” to refer to both all Serbian irregulars and as a synonym for fascists or hardcore Marxists, the Cetniks were only one group of Serbian irregulars operating in Yugoslavia. Others prominent irregulars included the White Eagles under the command of Dragoslav Bokan and the Serbian Tigers of Zeljko (Arkan) Raznatovic.

Finally, there were irregulars which claimed to be the armies defending independent Serbian republics liberated from Bosnian or Croatian territory.  These included the Army of the Serbian Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina under the command of Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic and the Army of the Serbian Republic of Krajina. All of these irregulars, because of the close Serbian ties to the JNA, operated with arms and even armor and artillery equal to those of the JNA and relied on the JNA for air support. They also fielded civilian or irregular weapons where military weapons were unavailable.

Serbian Special Force

The Serbian military announced the formation of a Special Force of 20,000 “well-trained” troops on November 7, 1991. The exact role of this force has not been reported to date, although the name suggests elite force style missions, ranging from intense partisan warfare to internal security operations. A more likely role would be as a politically reliable and militarily effective guards unit, receiving the best equipment and personnel.


The Republic of Slovenia was the first Republic to break away from Yugoslavia, and also the first to suffer attack by JNA and Serbian troops seeking to preserve Yugoslavian ”jedenstovo” (unity). It was also the first republic to cement its independence with strong resistance and an effective and lasting ceasefire.

Slovenian TDF

The Slovenian Territorial Defence Force was organized along the same lines as other Yugoslavian TDFs, but in combat, the Slovenian TDF responded with well-trained and well-organized troops. In this sense, the Slovenian TDF was not the partisan militia that TND envisioned, but was the full-fledged republican army that Serbia feared. JNA troops in Slovenia found their ground assault facing heavy resistance, and then found their positions besieged by the Slovenian TDF.

Slovenian TDF units equipped themselves from Slovenian-based JNA and TDF armories and from weapons captured from JNA forces, so they used the same weapons and vehicles as the JNA, as well as any weapons which they were able to import from other nations.

The current Slovenian Army is now making use of JNA equipment handed over to them on the JNA withdrawl of October 25, 1992.

Slovenian and Croatian Special Forces

Given that the TDF structure did not allow for the formation of Western-style elite units, the sparse media references to Slovenian and Croatian Special Forces are a mystery. Of the two nations, Slovenia had a more professional TDF organization, so it is possible that elite units were organized from the best trained of Slovenian TDF troops to act as “palace guards” and partisan raiders, much like the Serbian Special Force (see above).

Croatian Special Forces, on the other hand, were likely Special Forces in name only, trading on the mystique surrounding elite units. Croatian “Zebras”, as they called themselves, were probably little more than a splinter of Croat irregulars or ZNG units. The organization of the Croatian ZNG and the splintering of Croat resistance along political lines precluded the estab­lishment and training of traditional “elite” units.


The resistance units which saw the most of the fighting in the war of Yugoslavian dissolution were the various Croatian militias. The fighting within Croatia lasted for several months and even spilled over into Serbia. Croatian units were also active in Bosnia-Hercegovina following the republic’s move to independence and were instrumental in carving the state of Herzeg-Bosna out of the old borders of Bosnia-Hercegovina.

Croatian TDF/ZNG

On April 11, 1991 the Croatian Territorial Defence Force became the cadre for the Croatian National Guard Corps or ZNG. The ZNG later filled the role of the republic’s army and was the main force of resistance to JNA and Serbian invasion. The ZNG came under the command of the Croatian ”Ministartvo Obrane” (Defence Ministry).

During the course of the war, the ZNG proved capable of fighting the JNA and Serbian forces to a standstill, but nothing more. The ZNG was primarily an infantry-based organization which used captured JNA weapons and artillery pieces where avail­able. Its infantry weapons were likewise primarily those of the JNA and civilian and irregular units (see below), although Croatian leaders, after scouring world arms markets, were able to procure a large amount of Ultimax 100 Squad Assault Weapons manufactured by Chartered Industries of Singapore. Other infantry weapons, primarily Soviet-designed, were imported from Hungary, Romania, and other former Eastern Bloc nations.

Armored Units: Although very rare, Croatian ZNG armor did operate in small units distributed throughout the Croatian theatre. Any armored vehicles the Croatians possessed consisted of captured JNA equipment or civilian vehicles. Tanks used by the Croatians included sparse collections of T-54/T-55 MBTs, M-84 MBTs, and whole units of T-34/85 World War II tanks. Armored Personnel Carriers included BVP M80As, M-60s, BOVs, BTR-60s, and BTR-40s, as well as civilian trucks and farm tractors which had steel plate welded on as expedient armor.

Croatian HOS and Irregulars

The political splintering of the Croatian military forces meant that there were several unofficial Croatian paramilitary forces operating as irregulars through the course of the war. The most prominent of the irregular units was the HOS, which was the military wing of the ”Hrvatska Stranka Prava” (HSP)–the Croatian Party of Rights or Croatian Party of Justice, depending on the translation. The HSP/HOS were an extreme right-wing organization which organized and fought independently of the actions of the Croatian government and even engaged in attacks in the Republic of Serbia. Naturally, this caused a great deal of friction between the HSP/HOS and the ZNG, and Dobroslav Paraga, the HSP leader, was arrested in November 1991 on charges of trying to overthrow the Croatian government.

The HSP/HOS appeared to be a resurrection of the Ustase radical movement of World War II. The Ustase were a fascist terrorist group installed as the government of independent Croatia following Hitler’s invasion of April 6, 1941. The Ustase militia terrorized the civilian population, but their most terrible crimes included the mass extermination of Orthodox Serbians and Croatian Jews with such brutality that even German and Italian officials were horrified.

HOS used weaponry similar to the ZNG, although frictions between the two organizations have probably meant that the HOS had been forced to limit itself to civilian and irregular weaponry or to cultivate other sources for its arms. HOS was primarily an infantry organization, but did use captured armored vehicles in a defensive role. HOS units engaged in both guerrilla infantry attacks on Serbian and JNA positions and villages, and also defended several village strongholds in Croatia.Üd[1][1]ÜŒ Croatian Specijalci and Milicija.

Many of the early clashes preceding Croatian independence occurred between Croatian ”Milicija” (police) forces and armed Serbian insurgents operating in the Serbian-dominated regions of Croatia. In response to Serbian insurrection, Croatian extremists, including those in the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) armed themselves and the Croatian government formed a special paramilitary police reserve known as the ”Specijalici”, an internal security force. Although the ”Specijalici” were demobilized in January 1991 to forestall a crackdown by the JNA, they were not disbanded and appeared two months later at Pakrac, acting as riot police in concert with the ”Milicija”. The Croatian police forces there cracked down heavily on Serbian separatists until replaced and forced out of the fighting by JNA forces.

Croatian International Brigade

The Croatian International Brigade was an irregular Croatian infantry unit which was composed of expatriate Croatians and non-Croatian mercenaries acting as cadre for local Croatian units. In practice, the Zagreb International Brigade acted as a receiving area for “imported” troops before assigning them to disparate Croatian ZNG and ”Samb” (independent) units. The International Brigade also referred to all “imported” troops, regardless of their actual unit assignment. The Internationals were of varying quality, ranging from untrained teenagers to professional soldiers. In a sense, they were much like the mercenaries and adventurers who fought the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War.

Weapons consisted of a varying mix of civilian weapons and Croatian military weapons.


To understand the warfare in Bosnia-Hercegovina, one must be aware that there were three distinct ethnically-based forces fighting for the same land. Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) made up just over half of the population of Bosnia-Hercegovina, with the balance composed of Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats in roughly equal numbers. The forces fighting in Bosnia are summarized below.

Serbian forces operating in Bosnia-Hercegovina included the JNA, who contributed 55,000 Bosnian-Serb troops as well as artillery and armor. The JNA forces were subordinated to the 100,000 strong Bosnian Serb Army commanded by Karadzic and Mladic, leaders of the Serbian Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina. Serbian irregulars also joined the fighting and included the Cetniks, Krajinan Serb volunteers, White Eagles, and Serbian Tigers. Although the irregulars were not officially under the command of the Bosnian Serb Army, they did receive aid and arms from Serbia.

Croatian forces in Bosnia-Hercegovina were mainly Bosnian Croats and included the Croatian Defence Council (HVO) and the Croatian Democratic Union. HOS units were also present, and although the Croatian government denied the reports, Croatian ZNG troops were said to be present in Herzeg-Bosna and near Sarajevo.

Bosnian government forces included the 120,000-strong Bosnian TDF which is a poorly-trained and poorly-equipped militia organization, and the 70,000 strong multiethnic Bosnian Police.

Independent units included the Muslim Patriotic League and the Bosnian Green Berets, which were the military wing of the ethnically-Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA).


Macedonian Armed Forces consist of the old Macedonian TDF and have been subordinate to the Macedonian government since January 1992. They have used JNA equipment turned over to them when the JNA pulled out on March 26, 1992.

Macedonia was not involved in the fighting surrounding the war of Yugoslavian dissolution and its independence came peacefully. However, the independence of Macedonia has angered Greece, and worried Bulgaria. Also, Macedonian Albanikos have started agitating for independence. So, given these factors the peacefully-born Macedonian Army will be tasked with border defence and internal security responsibilities for the forseeable future.


Combatants in Yugoslavia, and especially Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina, used a mix of weapons from a variety of sources. Although the primary weapons were those captured from JNA forces and arsenals, several others were imported by Croatia prior to an European Community arms embargo, while others were older weapons relegated to TDF arsenals.

The most common irregulars’ weapon was the Soviet-designed AK-47, and these were brought in from Hungary, Romania, and Czechoslovakia. German made G-3s and Argentinian produced FN-FAL Para Modelo IIIs were also present in quantity, and photographs showed combatants with Italian SPAS-12 shotguns, Czechoslovak-produced MGV 176 copies of the American AMD-180 submachineguns, and Soviet PPSh-43 submachineguns. Irregulars in Croatia also made extensive use of the Singaporan Ultimax 100 Squad Assault Weapon.

Civilian Weapons were pressed into military service, ranging from the new Croatian-produced HS-91 9mm submachinegun, to the World War II era Mauser Kar98K rifles. American-made hunting rifles in calibers ranging from .22 LR to Remington 7mm Magnum and beyond were used extensively when military weapons were unavailable.

On a much smaller scale, expedient firearms improvised out of steel pipe saw use in the most desperate areas. These included homemade pistols, rifles, and shotguns, including shotgun revolvers, and were as dangerous to the firer as to the tar­get. Improvised firearms have never been particularly effective when compared with modern weapons, but their danger on the battlefield should never be underestimated.


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