Ray van der Linden story, part 2: My first war scars

I stayed in the HOS until the day we were demobilized on 23-08-1992, Tanja had left before me, and now I actually had no idea what to do next, except I wanted to get to Tanja, with all my might! I don’t remember how but I went to Zagreb, where Tanja waited for me at the bus station, and brought me to her home some where in the middle of nowhere, a village called Barbarić near Kravarsko.

I had some rest but the war was not over yet so I looked where to go to next, but now the fact I did not have a Domovnica started to play a role in me joining the Croatian army again…tried the 204th Vukovar Brigade but was refused.

“I have one Dutch here (Joost van Dijk, who got kicked out of the First Dutch due to excessive alcohol abuse) and trust me, that is more than enough for me.”

So that was no go. Then Tanja told me to try Starčević Dom, or the HQ of HOS in Zagreb.. And so I did, and was accepted, filled in some paperwork, and was send to (with a guy that spoke real good English, Marko Popović) to the II bat. HOS in Bosanska Posavina. Here I was put into the scout unit, based upon the papers I had from the First Dutch and the HOS units in Gospić, and so I went on to fight, but now at a place called Grebnice…. a place that is graved into history by HOS and by the 104th Br. HVO.

Soon, days after I had arrived, in a Serbian attack on the village in front of Grebnice and in front of the HVO lines, called Lijeskovac, we had a tank attack our positions, and amazed as I was, all were hiding in the houses at that position, and no one fired even at the them? I worked my way up to the front-house position we had, only 50m from the četnik lines, and saw 5 armoured vehicles in a line firing at our positions. The one closest to me was a T-34, but I also saw two T-55s, one T-84 and a BVP-20mm-just like a shooting range!

Sadly, I did not have the right arms to deal with the situation, our Osa (90mm AT) had just 1 rocket, our RPG-7 had nothing,  the Zoljas (64mm AT) were not available. But there was 1 old RB (JNA crap) with a few grenades. I fired the Osa first at the T-34, but it fell just in front of it, not doing any harm except now they knew they were under fire as well, so I had to act fast. I could not fire the RB but it was all I had left to play with,  so I ran outside the building and fired the RB at the T-34 –and I managed to get a direct hit on the turret! Flames shot out of the turret the same moment… but I could not believe my own eyes… she started to move backwards…as did the rest of the četniks vehicles??

Having nothing left to shoot with, I moved forward alone with only my TT (pistol) left with ammo, to verify the state at the bridge that separated us from the četniks, firing on the move towards the bridge just to make sure there would be no attempt to cross the bridge by them. All mines were still in place, the bridge was secure and the četniks had all fled the scene. There were still some mortars coming in but we were used to that as to the sun rising each day, not to mention machine gun fire.

The same day, our C.O. Mladen Antonić called me into his office, and Marko Popovic went with me to translate for me. On the spot I was promoted to the new IDV (scout-demolition platoon) C.O. I was told I had to choose my deputy, and for that I took my buddy Marko, as I knew I would need a translator for this job, and one I could trust!

Anyway, we did a lot of good things, saw some real fighting, even hand to hand combat, artillery barrages, infantry attacks with tank support on Lijeskovac, but the Serbs never they came even close to breaking our spirits, let alone our front line that was actually about 300m in front of the HVO lines. But, due to all problems surrounding HOS at that time, and especially the situation within the II Bat. HOS, I decided to leave HOS, and start my own unit with the 104th HVO, together with more then half of our unit from HOS – all in by negotiating with our C.O. Mladen A. and even managing to get his blessing

So, from 05-12-1992 I became an HVO scout platoon C.O. for a brigade scouts/intervention unit, with my own unit named  the”19th “…as it represented the average age of my men. At the time I was only 24. Not long after, I had my first encounter with what was war really all about…and what it can do to a man.

Preparing an attack of our brigade on the četnik held “Corridor” in Bosanska Posavina, I did my job, locating every bunker, mine field (ours as well as the enemies), finding out the occupation size of every enemy crew inside the bunker and the weapon-systems they had, making my calculations on how to best over-run a bunker and then to spread into their trenches to roll them all up.

I had made my own plan for this assault to liberate Posavina, based upon the idea I would be left “alone” as the scout-unit that o do its own thing, and what they are here for anyway- to break through. But the local 1st Bat. C.O. of the 104th had his own ideas about that, and the evening before the attack I got the supprise of my life!

He divided my unit into three separate units and appointed every unit to 1 bunker. Did he not know that for one bunker with five men inside, I need 20 men at least to kick them out? In 1992. my wife was with me for Christmas and insisted she would take part in that action the next day. I felt bad and I had a bad feeling about it all, not due to my wife, but due to the fact my unit was smashed into three small groups that alone would only become a number in the statistics of war casualties!

I had a fight with my wife, which did not make things better; she refused to wear body armor however insisted that I would? So I refused to put her in front with my team, and as I had some other woman in my unit, I put her on the 60mm mortar, while I put my deputy Marko in charge of the other mortar. So standing at the front-line of our HVO brigade, I had one worry less on my mind!

The attack began at 05.00, we were in the field, but for reasons still unknown to me today, it never launched as it should, so the mortars stopped coming, so I had to return to the HVO lines to see what was going on. A mortar round had misfired and so became useless so I had to get the “refusing” round out of the mortar, and showed them at the same time how to do that safely, before I could return to my starting position in front of the HVO lines, some 25mtr from the četnik bunker.

Mortars coming in again, time to move now, then suddenly I was flat on my back. I got up and felt blood running over my belly. I looked but could not see my wound, my right arm was dead – I could not move a finger? Where is my AK? I had it in my right hand I asked myself? My pistol I still have …25mtr from a četnik bunker…but I cant get it…its on my right hip but I am right handed and my right arm isn’t functioning…where is my AK? I went looking for it, and found it 8m to the left of me…how did it get there?

The guys with me are in panic… our C.O. is down…I asked them for help… give me morphine guys…and I gave them a little bag with two ampoules of morphine, two needles and syringes… but somehow they have lost the needles…so the morphine is useless, yes you can drink it and it will work like that, but not as soon as it does when injected… never mind guys, we are done here, the surprise element is gone, retreat!

Half way back to our lines, my head starts spinning. I went down, on my back, legs up… a few minutes and I was back on my feet… we returned to our lines at bunker # 3, where to my surprise that prick of the 1st battalion that had ruined my plan for attack appeared asking me “Ray…šta je bilo?” I raised my AK, holding it with my left hand and pointed it at him, saying, ” You should have been in front of me you fuck!” But realising my state I was in now in I had no time to waste.

I walked with my guys to our bunker #1 where my wife was with the 60mm mortar, on my way to the first-aid post another 300m behind the HVO line. In my shock I almost forgot to kiss Tanja and to tell her that I’m ok, I am wounded but ill be right back – I still had no idea of the damage I took with that hit. Later it would show it must have been a .50 Cal or 12.7mm AA round, judging by the size of the wounds and damage done.



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