Canadians to be recognized for valour
Date: Sunday, September 08 2002
Topic: International News
September 2, 2002
FIREFIGHT AT THE MEDAK POCKET
Ottawa will honour Canadians who took part in a little-known battle
MICHAEL SNIDER with SEAN M. MALONEY
In September, 1993, Canadian troops stationed in an area of Croatia known as Vojna Krajina engaged in a fierce battle with Croatian forces attacking a predominantly Serb enclave. The engagement, little known outside of military circles, was not publicized by the Canadian government, which was hesitant to draw attention to the increasing dangers the country's troops were facing abroad. But this December, Ottawa will finally honour the soldiers who took part in that firefight by presenting them with a unit commendation. Maclean's tells the story of the battle:
PTE. SCOTT LeBLANC'S machine gun jackhammered against his shoulder as he fired at the Croatian troops dug in 150 metres away. Grenades exploded around him; bullets and orange tracer-fire screamed through the smoky air. The Croatians hammered the Canadians for 15 hours straight -- thinking the 30 soldiers from the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry would buckle and run like other UN peacekeepers had often done. But the Canadians, members of one of three platoons making up the Patricia's Charlie Company, held their ground. "They're trying to flank us," LeBlanc's section leader barked, sending a jolt of adrenalin through LeBlanc's exhausted body. Standing halfway out of his trench, the 19-year-old reservist swung his gun around and opened fire on the Croatians. "We could see muzzle flashes and threw everything we had at them," recalls LeBlanc, now a 28-year-old lieutenant who has just returned from Afghanistan. "After that, everything got real quiet."
The fierce battle took place in September, 1993, about a year and a half after Canadian peacekeepers had first arrived in the former Yugoslavia. Vicious fighting and appalling acts of ethnic cleansing made their task of disarming and separating the various combatants nearly impossible. Especially volatile was one mountainous region of Croatia called Vojna Krajina, or Military Frontier, home to an isolated pocket of some 500,000 Serbs. Fiercely nationalistic, the Krajina Serbs began to drive out Croats. But on Sept. 9, Croatian Commander Rahim Ademi launched an attack to capture an area of Serb-controlled territory in Krajina called the Medak Pocket. The UN, fearing that 400 Serbs living in four unprotected villages in the area were at risk of being slaughtered by Croatian troops, ordered the Patricia's into the area -- and into the biggest firefight Canadian forces had been involved in since Korea.
Five months into a six-month tour of duty, the Canadians were led by Lt.-Col. James Calvin, 41. The 875-man battle group was a patchwork of regular and reserve soldiers. In fact, 70 per cent of the front line soldiers were reservists -- a makeup that, Calvin says, could prove dangerous in a war zone. "Reservists are just as long on valour and courage," the now-retired Calvin told Maclean's from his home on Wolfe Island, Ont., near Kingston. "But you can't expect one to do the same things you expect from a regular soldier."