It may not be known to everyone, but the first missile battalion of the "S-125M Neva" air defense system, but also the first medium-range air defense missile unit (according to the classification at the time) that launched a surface to air missile in that war year of 1999, was lt col. Bacetić, 7th Air Defense Missile Battalion from Mladenovac, from then Belgrade 250th Air Defense Missile Brigade.
The unit fired a missile for the first time in the morning hours of 25/03/1999 at around 03:50 hours with 1 rocket on enemy planes.
This is just part of their story .....


Story by: Dragan Bacetic, (then) commander of the 7th missile battalion in Mala Vrbica

In the second half of the 20th century, for decades, history was divided into the years before the war and the years after the war (World War II), and our JNA (Yugoslav national army) army lived peacefully in those years. Then came the wars "in which Serbia did not participate" in the 1990s, only to culminate in the three-month NATO bombing in 1999, which endangered every inhabitant of the Mladenovac municipality. Today, when we think about the question: "Who was the most endangered at the time of the 1999 bombing in the Mladenovac area?", We have to come to only one answer - it was the missile battalion in Mala Vrbica, which was NATO's number one target in those months, in this part of Shumadija (central Serbia).

In order for the dramatic struggle of this battalion in the spring of 1999 not to fall into historical oblivion, we will record this story.
On the evening of March 24, 1999, everything was peaceful in Mladenovac. The people knew about the outcome of the negotiations in Rambouillet (France) and about the threat of NATO, but accustomed to all kinds of events in previous years, no one even dreamed what would happen in the next three months. And then that evening (24/03/1999) at 20.04, Mladenovac had a terrible explosion from the direction of Kosmaj mountains that all the windows in the "25th of May" settlement shook.

The news quickly spread through the city that Mala Vrbica was hit and that the barracks was in the first group of targets with which NATO marked at the beginning of the war. Everyone knew what was stationed at Mala Vrbica, that the 7th Air Defense Missile Battalion was a part of the 250th Air Defense Missile Brigade, which is in charge of Belgrade's air defense, but only few knew at that moment that the battalion had been displaced from there for twenty days, and that the cruise missiles of the powerful war machine of the NATO pact hit a worthless model of the missile ramp in a completely empty barracks.

Today we know that the fall of that cruise missile at Mala Vrbica was neither the beginning nor the end of the story about the bombing in 1999, which lasted for 78 days. The commander of the 7th Missile Battalion, Dragan Bacetic, then a lieutenant colonel of the Air Defense forces, will tell us how everything happened on the territory of our municipality.

Did you expect a war with the NATO pact in March 1999?
As an army, we were ready for something like that in 1998, when we were in the field for a month and a half and when a bombing was just barely avoided. At the moment when the dummy missile ramp was hit on the March 24th, the barracks was emptied of people and important material resources. We had a dozen of locations for a combat position at 40 km in a circle in the region of Kosmaj mountain, and the combat part of the unit was still at one of those positions from February. At the time of the explosion, I was in a combat position and there were only three officers on duty in the barracks who, like the facilities, lacked nothing. Only the model was destroyed, which was in a firing position in the center of the barracks, and was hit by a cruise missile of a few hundred kg of classic explosives launched somewhere in the Mediterranean. After the explosion, I did not allow anyone to enter the barracks, we did not allow the police or the firefighters to enter, we did not touch anything. Probably thanks to that, the barracks was not targeted again and remained intact.

What kind of weapons did you have at your disposal?
We had the Russian medium-range surface to air missile system S-125 Neva-M, which was introduced into the weapons in the JNA in the 1980-s. The system arrived at Mala Vrbica in 1994, when it replaced the older Russian SA-75Mk Dvina system (in armament since 1963). It is at least three generations older, in terms of electronics, than the weapons that NATO had at its disposal, so it was a fight between David and Goliath not only in terms of technology, but even more in terms of the amount of combat means. Our only advantage was that we had trained and had experienced crews who applied different tactical procedures in outwitting with a far superior attacker.

How successful have you been with this system in opposing NATO?
Training on missile systems is very complicated and complex. Only thanks to the enormous motivation and training of officers, soldiers and reserve soldiers, we managed to get the most out of the system and be a constant concern for NATO until May 2, 1999, when we were hit by a guided air bomb and disabled for further combat operations.

Have you fired missiles before that?
On the missile system, we have a service that performs combat operations. The service is commanded by the Fire commander (commander or deputy commander). I managed to fire my missiles twice with my crew, and I tried to do so several more times, constantly observing the activities of NATO planes with the observation radar. I launched for the first time on the second day of the bombing from the Barajevo region, around 4.50 in the morning, and that was the first missile launching in the defense of Belgrade. We fired one surface to air missile on one plane and according to our reports, that plane was hit. The launch of a missile in such complex combat conditions under constant surveillance and NATO actions depends on several conditions.The time in which the target tracking radar is allowed to "radiate" is measured in seconds. You have to win the battle with time, otherwise you become a victim, because NATO planes are equipped with anti-radar missiles. From the moment the target is spotted on the target radar screen, the decision to launch must be made in a few seconds, after that it is too late. The second time I launched was on March 28 from a position in the area of the village of Arnajevo. Two missiles were fired at one plane. Neva missile when launched from the launch pad, makes great thunder and rumble, with a huge flash. The planes flew high at an altitude of 4,000 to 8,000 meters, and our missiles had a maximum range of 25,000 meters (18 km in altitude and 17.5 km in distance) and we were able to reach them.
But we have been drawn into an unequal electronic battle with the most complex technology they had, which has the task of searching for you, interfering with you and your work and destroying you. Unmanned aerial vehicles, AWACS-s, satellites, planes heading towards you have been searching for our position without a brake. Anti-radar missiles were the most dangerous, and hundreds of them were fired at our brigade. They often had an automatic mode to fire themselves as soon as they were irradiated by enemy target radar. But we acted and had results. The Iraqis had the same technology, many times higher in quantity, so they did nothing.

How difficult is it to bring a battalion into combat position?
In order for the battalion to engage, it is necessary to place it in a combat position, which is an extremely difficult and complex job. In addition, the battalion is the most vulnerable then. You have to lift the equipment on wheels, pull it to the position, and these are means weighing 15 tons each. But our people were very motivated and trained, some norms were achieved in deployment at the battalion positions that were amazing, for example, what was planned to be done in three hours, we worked in two. When we changed our position, we tried to move at night and with reduced visibility, but when it was ordered, we also went during the day.
We took care that there were as few crowds of people and equipment as possible, that they were not large columns, and we used branches and camouflage nets.

How much did the reserve soldiers help here?
There were about 70 reserve soldiers during the war, and the same number was in the peacetime composition, in which there were only sixteen conscript soldiers. The reserve soldiers were exemplary in all matters, they stayed with us until the end, except the part of them being decomissioned and sent home when we were hit. Reserve soldiers also exposed their lives every time we changed the position. Technology would not be able to move and prepare for combat without them. The missile unit has a target tracking radar, launch pads, surveillance radar, power supplies, communications equipment. All these means must be put in a certain place, transported by trucks and deployed in a combat position, tested, and only then are they ready for action. And by May 2, we had seven such changes of positions.

And how did the air bomb hit?
We were hit on May 2 in the afternoon at 5.30 pm in the area of the village of Bozdarevac near Barajevo. Extreme measures were taken not to expose people to unnecessary danger, especially soldiers and reserve soldiers, so that at the time of the strike there were no soldiers or reserve soldiers in the crew, they were all officers. One of the elders later retired due to injuries. There were six of us in the Guidance station, another 5-6 not far from there, and at two hundred meters there were about twenty reservists in the shelter, but there were pieces that flew there as well.
Lt Col. Malešević was the Fire commander at the time of the hit, he and I changed places occasionally, because one man could not endure for 24 hours in a row. The Guidance station was below ground level, and the target tracking radar must be above ground. Their air bomb hit the target tracking radar, and part of the shrapnel deformed the Guidance station and hit the officer Stanković.
Before that, the target tracking radar was turned on and an attempt to engage was made. Our P-18 surveillance radar shows a rough picture of a few hundred kilometers and target tracking radar based on this data, must acquire the target. The Fire commander decides what target to launch at and turn the target tracking radar on, and at that moment is decisive in the race whether we will fire a missile or will they hit us before that. This time they were faster.

Were there any more dangerous situations?
The previous day, a cluster bomb was dropped in the area of the village of Sibnica, the unit was in relocation and only a part of the personnel remained there. Fortunately, we did not have any injured or wounded then. However, every day was a critical situation because they were looking for us every day.

Has Kosmaj mountain been shot at any other time?
There are also means of communication on Kosmaj mountain and Kosmaj was targeted as far as I know two more times.

Have you received any recognition at the end of the war?
The sky above Serbia and Belgrade itself was defended by the 250th Missile Brigade, commanded by Colonel Miroslav Lazović, and we were one part of it in Mala Vrbica. On March 27th, the 3rd Missile Battalion of our brigade shot down an "invisible" stealth plane F-117A over Srem with a Neva missile, which was shot down for the first time in our country, although it had previously ravaged the skies of Somalia, Panama, Libya and Iraq, and in which production was invested billions of dollars. Our brigade had 9 dead in the defense of Belgrade, and fortunately there were no casualties in our 7th Battalion, although our lives were endangered many times.
For the defense of Belgrade, our Brigade received the Order of the Nation's Hero, so the 7th Missile Battalion from Mala Vrbica also received the Order of the Nation's Hero. The assembly of the municipality of Barajevo also awarded a letter of thanks to the Battalion for its contribution to the defense against NATO aggression.

How much did the people help?
The people highly appreciated and helped us. For example, for Easter that year, which found us on the field in the area of the village of Arnajevo, we received 1,700 Easter eggs from the people, and we also had to return the piglets they brought, cause it was too many. In addition, the following companies also helped: Drapšin, Damjanović, Mija, Komunalno from Barajevo ..., as well as many other friends of the unit. Members of the unit were mostly housed in private houses throughout the war.

Were there more targets in Mladenovac?
It was announced on the internet that Drapshin factory would be targeted as a military factory, but no, those are all speculations. A good part of this country lived during the war as if there was no war. When I came to Mladenovac for a short time, for the first time in 20 days, and found full coffe shops, I thought of my people on Kosmaj mounatin and it seemed to me that we were not part of the same world and time.

How did the unit recover after the war?
The unit returned to the barracks in July 1999. The equipment was brought to the functional state and already in July, the battalion was ready for battle, everything was restored to its original state as if there was no war. Otherwise, even in peacetime, the battalion must always be combat ready for action. The battalion is trained constantly, theoretically practically, training in simulators, etc.

How much will the army reform affect Mladenovac?
In Mladenovac, you have a situation that soon there will be no army on the territory of the municipality, so it would be good for the municipality to take care of preserving the memory of the unit that existed for almost half a century in our municipality, to protect the launch pad with a rocket in front of the former army barracks in Mala Vrbica, to remain as a permanent monument to the 1999 war.

Attached Files 7th battalion.jpg