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Panther Guard - The Mad Max Vehicles of the Bosnian War

Panther Guard - The Mad Max Vehicles of the Bosnian War

The lack of available military vehicles during the Yugoslav civil war motivated the warring sides to turn to improvised armored vehicles of different shapes and sizes, armed with various weapons. These vehicles were made from all available resources, parts of the obsolete military vehicles from the Yugoslav People’s Army reserve, combined with civilian vehicles and improvised armor. 1st Bijeljina Light Infantry Brigade, better known under the name Panther Guard (Garda Panteri), was the most notable wartime producer of unique improvised armored vehicles.


 Despite being officially known as a Light Infantry Brigade due to terminology derived from the Yugoslav People’s Army (JPA), a notable aspect of the guard was its extensive use of various improvised armored vehicles which helped in establishing its reputation as the legendary Bosnian war unit. The Panther Guard was founded at the end of March 1992. Named after the nickname of its first commander Branko Pantelić Panter, Garda Panteri was involved in numerous military clashes throughout Bosnia.

Captain Michel Ostojic, a French-born Serbian soldier, volunteer in the Bosnian war, was the main constructor behind Mad Max styled vehicles, used by the unit. This inventor has made the first Mad Max truck in less than a month after the formation of the unit: A light military truck TAM110 was used as a basis, of the platform on which a three-barrel anti-aircraft gun M-55 of 20 mm, known as “Trocevac”, was mounted. The assembly cabin was removed, and only the weapon received armor protection of 8 mm thickness, which was enough against light infantry weapons and fragments of grenades.


All of Captain Ostojic’s vehicles had unique features in the forms of good luck charms like a horseshoe placed in the front vehicle bumper, or a religious one like an orthodox cross located on the left fender. Captain Michel had the principle of using every available resource at a given moment, and often upgraded the vehicles on the go, as the Guard gained more resources.


Thus, aircraft cannons NR-30 and GS-23 were requisitioned from the overhaul institute “Soko”. The weapons of MiG-21s, characterized by a very large cadence of fire, were highly favored. So too were TAM or FAP trucks, UAZ off-road cars, or armored cars like the BRDM-2.


The fully armored multi-barrel rocket launcher on the TAM 110 was one of the most desirable weapons for these homemade armored vehicles. This truck's chassis was also used as the basis for the mass production of BoV combat armored vehicles. After complete armoring, the vehicle received a distinctively pointed front section, a device with three launchers of unguided rocket shells of caliber 69.7 mm. The launchers were armored and shaped into a "box" shape. The launchers were initially delivered with an F-86 Saber fighter as part of Allied (American) military assistance to Yugoslavia in the mid-1950s and were designed to attack larger air targets.

After the unit's stock of American missiles was exhausted, 57mm unguided rocket launchers were installed, which were originally designed for the MiG 21. When the M-cannon was mounted on the back of the armored FAP-13 truck, one of the most fascinating wartime structures was built.
To provide better ballistic protection, all protective plates were mounted at a wide-angle. The K-13 PA missiles from the first MiG-21s were based on one of FAP's trucks. Each vehicle that Captain Ostojić created in his workshop was one-of-a-kind. The dome was removed from the armored reconnaissance car BRDM-2, for example, and a GS-23 automatic 23mm cannon was fitted. A second engine was mounted in the tank, as well as extra armor protection on the exterior. After adding extra armor, UAZ 469 off-road cars were often fitted with a 12.7mm DSK, 14.5mm KPVT, or four-barrel machine gun taken from the F-86D fighter. Old PA cannons of Soviet and American origin were also used: 61K (M1939) of 37mm and M-12 of 40mm, which were installed on armored trucks.


When it came to tanks used by the unit, improvised armor was also added, and VBR M-63 Plamen was mounted on the armored TAM 5000. Large rubber pads would be mounted on T-55 tanks to “lower their radar signature” but there is no clear evidence of their effectiveness.