March 24th. Year 1999. The very end of the 20th Century. With the nightfall strange sounds were heard in the sky and at 19:45 – explosions. Bomb fell on Yugoslavia, small sovereign country in Central Europe.
One word is on everyone mind – WAR!
Yugoslavia was attacked by NATO military alliance led by United States of America, the country Yugoslav people always considered as one of the best friends. At first, people were fighting mixed feelings caused by unjustly accusations, vicious attacks and betrayal of considered friendly and ally countries and disbelieve that what happens is at all possible as that was act against international law.
Soon everyone realized this is serious. Real danger is over heads. Enemy is heavily armored, overpowered and has no scruples, ready to use whatever necessary to achieve his goals. Enemy is on the door and he brought death and destruction.
Suddenly, nothing else mattered but to defend. For people in Yugoslavia all differences became irrelevant, even political ones. There became only one party in Yugoslavia – defenders.
However, enemy were people who were playing. Playing a big war game. NATO soldiers sat calmly behind big screens with joysticks searching and destroying whatever pleased them. They did not considered those dots on the screens to be real men, women and children they are killing, not real factories, schools, hospitals, houses, buses, trains they were destroying. And they did heavy destroying – most of their targets were civilian facilities and civilian people. They did not even spare churches and ancient monasteries.
NATO strategy was to make civilian people to suffer as much as possible, causing whole society to collapse and break military defense. Military tactics was predictable from their previous campaigns in other regions. They played safely (better military expression is – cowardly) using high tech to produce bomb attacks from high altitudes and long distance rockets to avoid risk for their own personnel.
Their first objective was to destroy air defense to clear way for bombing from lower heights. That forced Yugoslav army to withheld from using radars and other air-defense equipment to preserve them from imminent destruction. And that was moment Yugoslav Army decided to call radio-amateurs to step in.
Emergency Network Starts
Radio-amateurs responded promptly. Emergency network was quickly set up and it included about 5000 voluntair operators covering whole attacked territory. Hundreds of amateurs from surrounding countries provided help too. Radio-amateurs became eyes and ears of Yugoslav defense replacing radar system. Yugoslav military headquarters had quality information about take-offs and whereabouts on enemy aircrafts. They had enough information to predict targets and warn and relocate people.
Thousands of lives were saved that way. But, sadly, not all. About 600 soldiers, 400 policeman and about 2500 civilians were killed from enemy attacks (81 were children). 12,500 more people were wounded. And those are not conclusive numbers. Number of victims were never found, and people are constantly dying from depleted uranium spread by heavy bombings.
Bombs were falling on top of the streets, squares, hospitals, schools, churches… No one could predict that. Even earlier experience of brutal terror from Catholic Crusaders hordes from Europe and Muslim hordes from Turks empire in Middle age, Austrian-Hungarian and Bulgarian occupation in Great War, Nazis Germany and Fascist Croatia in Second World War did not make people expect brutality from yesterday’s friends – United States of America and it’s NATO allies.
Radio-amateurs also monitored hits to enemy aircrafts and crash locations and especially landing location of survivals, They did that efficiently providing great success in finding and capturing survival enemy soldiers.
Enemy was well aware of activities and role of amateur-radio operators and they also became military targets. On numerous occasions, enemy tried to search and destroy amateur radio-stations but, hopefully did not have success. Changing locations, switching radio equipment and operators provided uninterrupted 24 hour operation for all 78 days of NATO aggression on Yugoslavia. No amateur station was destroyed and no amateur radio operator was killed while performing their tasks.
All enemy could do was to try to jam radio-amateur communications but failed that too. Huge experience from world wide contesting was displayed at it’s best. Jamming simply did not have any effect.
Success (if we can call it)
Amateur radio operator contribution to defense against NATO was widely recognized. It is even recognized by enemy itself. NATO acknowledged successful radio-amateur contribution to defense from aggression on Yugoslavia and learned from it, adjusting their military doctrine so they can better deal with radio-amateurs in invasions they start in the future.
Yugoslav radio amateurs were put before ultimate task – to participate in war using their skills. And they did it well and with dedication as there is no more you can do but to save lives defending them from enemy aggression. I salute you my fellow hams and hope you will never have to do it again.