Saturday, 25 April 2015
Friday, 3 April 2015
I, Matthew Rhodes, was the gunner for Major Barnes, OC for C Company, 1st Battalion the Devonshire and Dorset Regiment whilst in Bosnia.
The Warriors, resplendent in their white United Nations livery, sailed from Emden, via Southampton, to Split. The 1st Battalion flew to Bosnia in late April, assuming responsibility for its duties as 'BRITBAT 1' on 4 May 1995. A Company (Major Watson) was based at Gornjï Vakuf, B Company (Major McFarlane) and Battalion HQ were at Vitez while C Company (Major Barnes) was at Zepce/Jelah. Liaison responsibilities, so vital with the Battalion dispersed in this way, rested with HQ Fire Support Company. During the first three weeks there was an eerie calm. The companies mounted guards and manned checkpoints and they attempted to win 'hearts and minds' by, for example, playing football and providing medical assistance. At the end of May relations between the Bosnian Serbs and the UN deteriorated. The Serbs attacked UN Safe Areas, the UN responded with air strikes and the Serbs reacted by taking members of the UN hostage. The 1st Battalion reconfigured to become the Bosnia-Herzegovina Command Reserve and concentrated on Vitez, pending new orders. For a week the Battalion waited while the international community wrestled with the issues. The Battalion then moved to Tomislavgrad for field-firing exercises, which were as much for demonstration purposes as they were part of a training programme. By early July the Multi-National Brigade was formed; the 1st Battalion became Task Force Alpha while the French Le Deuxième Régiment Etranger d'Infanterie became Task Force Bravo, leading to a lasting relationship, later formalised by a Bond of Friendship between the two Battalions.
On 23 July 1995 the 1st Battalion, in Warriors now repainted in their traditional black and green camouflage, escorted artillery and engineer equipment onto Mount Igman, where the Serbs had controlled the eleven-mile Mount Igman trail, the only route into, or out of, Sarajevo, for the previous three years. At long last this signified a real declaration of intent from the international community. During this period of tension Corporal Harvey of B Company won the MC, having twice extracted his Warrior under fire, using his weapon systems to good effect. The NATO offensive commenced on 30 August with several days of air strikes and artillery bombardments, which eventually brought the Bosnian Serbs to the negotiating table. Throughout September the 1st Battalion was warned, briefed and then stood down for numerous operations, including Op Cygnet 7, the lifting of the siege around Sarajevo. By late September the Serbs at last agreed to allow free UN movement and, from then on, the Battalion's task was to guarantee safe passage for humanitarian aid coming into Sarajevo. The dreadful living conditions and abject poverty of the local population made a lasting impression on all who participated in these operations. Having been widely praised for the job that they had done, the 1st Battalion returned to Germany in early November