When it comes to Dog Fights, the term used to close quarters aerial battle between military aircraft, we often think back to WW2 when this form of combat was commonplace. In recent conflicts, significant modern dogfights are few and far between.
Few and far between, but not non-existent. One of the most lesser-known modern dogfights took place in the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s. This aerial war saw Yugoslav Air Force pilots take a last stand against NATO warplanes during the bombing campaign on Yugoslavia.
The Birth of Modern Dogfights of the Yugoslav Wars
On the 24th of March 1999, NATO began the 78-day bombing campaign of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Known as “Operation allied force” or ”Noble Anvil” in the West and ”Merciful Angel” in Serbia, the campaign was in response to the then-ongoing Kosovo conflict.
Throughout the campaign, NATO aircrews flew over 38,000 sorties, 10,484 of which were strike sorties against Yugoslavia. Despite being massively outnumbered and outgunned by NATO, the pilots of the Yugoslav Air Force mounted an air war against NATO.
Despite severely lacking modern military equipment, the YAF was able to pull off a miraculous defense, including the infamous downing of an f-117 nighthawk. But in today’s article, we’re going to focus on the acts of sacrifice that many Yugoslav air force fighter pilots made for their country.
The Yugoslav Air Force Prior to the NATO Bombing Campaign
Prior to the NATO bombing campaign, the Yugoslav Air Force was heavily effectd by the economic situation in FR Yugoslavia. As one of the worst in modern European history, it was defined by astronomical hyperinflation and hard-hitting international sanctions.
As a result, the Yugoslav Air Force had to make do with the equipment they had. Although they had 12 Mig-29 fighter jets alongside a dozen Mig-21s, the economic situation simply did not allow the army to pursue any real modernization efforts. In some cases, the Mig 29 fighter jets had half of their electronic devices nonfunctional and most of the aircraft would have been noncombat effective.
However, even if the Yugoslav Air Force had 50 modern fully geared aircraft with better radars and longer-range missiles, it still wouldn’t have been able to withstand the hundreds of modern aircraft that Nato could throw into the flight.
On May 4th, 1999, at around 12 o’clock, a larger group of NATO planes was spotted operating in the direction of Valjevo, mainly at the Krušik ammunition factory, as well as at military depots in the village of Pričević.
One of the junior officers received the command to take off. However, Lieutenant Colonel Pavlović ordered by phone to keep the pilot from doing so. Instead, he flew to Valjevo with his MiG-29 plane. He soon found himself over Valjevo, however, after takeoff, his AC generator broke down so that was left without radar.
Pavlović embarked on an unequal battle against 16 NATO planes. Initially, his bold performance managed to confuse them and even forced the NATO plans to flee. But soon, around 12:45, he was hit by three rockets fired by Dutch pilots from F-16s which were west of Tuzla and he did not even notice them. Pavlović died in the air.
The remains of his plane fell in the village of Petnica. He was buried on May 6, 1999, in the New Bežanija Cemetery. Today, the main street in Batajnica, which leads to the airport, is named after Colonel Milenko Pavlovic after his actions in one of the iconic modern dogfights of the Yugoslav Wars.
At the time of the beginning of the NATO campaign on the FR Yugoslavia, Zoran Radosavljević was in his unit, the 127th Fighter Aviation Squadron “Vitezovi” (The Knights) and located at the military airport “Batajnica” in the Serbian capital of Belgrade.
On March 26, 1999, just two days after the NATO bombing began, Colonel Slobodan Peric and his colleague Zoran Radosavljevic were ordered to take off and oppose NATO aviation. This decision could rightly be considered insane because the Yugoslav Army was incomparably weaker.
The MiG-29 planes were in a semi-working condition, incapable of air combat. The radar range of the NATO plane was 120 km, while the range of the MiG-29 had only half of such a range. This meant that enemy planes could target Yugoslav Army pilots before they even spotted the enemy.
“The day before his death, I begged him not to fly. Zoran told me at the time. “MOM, I HAVE TO, What is a man if he loses his homeland? We pilots must take the first blow on ourselves and thus save at least one child in this country.”– Quote from Zoran Radosavljević’s mother.
Colonel Peric had all of this information. However, that did not stop him from fulfilling the order and flying in a pair with his colleague Zoran Radosavljević. Zoran’s MIG-29 plane was shot down in the region of Loznica, but the wreckage and body were found immediately in the evening by two boys in the Majevica region of Republika Srpska.
The fuselage was on a meadow, the beak on one mountain, and Zoran’s body with a seat on the other. The boys took ladders and blankets from one grandmother. They wrapped him up and handed him over to the Republika Srpska army. The soldiers took him on foot to the hospital in Loznica.
Zoran Radosavljević was buried three days later in the cemetery of Lešće in Belgrade. He was posthumously awarded the Medal for Courage and promoted by the decree of his commander.
The medal for bravery won in war is much more significant than the one won in peacetime. It is even more so when it is awarded posthumously. Today, the main street in Batajnica proudly bears the name of Major Zoran Radosavljević.
Zivota Djuric was a pilot and commander of the 241st RV VJ fighter-bomber squadron, who was killed during the NATO aggression on the FRY on a combat mission. He was posthumously promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel.
On March 25th, 1999, While flying over the Glogovac area of Kosovo, he noticed a Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) base. Comprimising of a command post and a warehouse, he destroyed the base with two bombs before he continued the flight towards a predetermined point.
When he had to turn the plane to the side due to the configuration of the terrain, Djuric was hit by fire from the ground. Pilot Slobodan Dimovski, Životas friend who accompanied him on the task at the time, said:
According to the assessment and assumption of accompanying pilot Dimovski, Commander Djuric did not want to fall into the hands of KLA fighters who were known to torture and behead captured enemy fighters. Unable to escape, he made a decision.
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Rather than face capture, Djuric crashed his plane into the enemy lines of the KLA. He was listed as missing for two days before his body was found. Djuric was posthumously decorated and promoted. He was buried in the town of Paracin in Central Serbia.
In my personal opinion, it was always clear that there is no way that the Yugoslav air force could have withstood the onslaught of NATO aircraft breaching its airspace. But that was not the point. Instead, it was to show NATO that the military was willing to sacrifice everything for their country through these modern dogfights. The same as in the battle of Košare and Paštrik.