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PRESERVING THE ITEMS THAT WITNESSED HISTORY

United Nations UN Blue Helmets in Sarajevo

United Nations UN Blue Helmets in Sarajevo

When Bosnia-Herzegovina declared itself independent in April of 1992, the United Nations sent Canadian General Lewis McKenzie to Sarajevo with a small escort of Finnish soldiers. One month later, the Finnish soldiers were replaced by a French detachment. This French unit was the 153rd Infantry Regiment which brought with it eight VAB personnel carriers. Despite his good wishes, General Mckenzie had no influence on the several groups fighting in Bosnia, and the intensity of their clashes increased daily. Sarajevo became a city under siege and life became a nightmare for the civilian population. In an attempt to quell the conflict, the French President Mitterand, at great personal risk, flew to Bosnia and landed at the Sarajevo airport on June 27, 1992. Although this action did not change matters on the ground, it did open the way to an "air bridge” that would be used to reinforce the UN troops and deliver humanitarian aid. On July 1, French Marines of the 2nd Marine Regiment were airlifted to Sarajevo airport. The next day they were reinforced by a Canadian mechanized battalion. The Canadians were eventually replaced by a Ukranian and an Egyptian battalion. None of the participants in the struggle in Bosnia is particularly happy about the UN presence. In the months since the UN troops arrived in Sarajevo, belligerents on both sides have made attacks against them. Mortar attacks, sniper fire, and anti-tank rockets have accounted for the death or wounding of UN soldiers from Ukraine, France, Egypt and Canada. Despite the difficulties they face, the UN troops continue to try to deliver desperately needed supplies to the civilian population.

 

 

This French VAB personnel carrier belonging to the 153eme Régiment d'Infanterie (153rd Infantry Regiment) is parked outside the UN headquarters in Sarajevo. This position was often mortared by both Bosnian and Serbian forces but few of the VABs were damaged. The soldiers of the 153rd are considered to be the veterans of the fighting around Sarajevo. Prior to the siege, they replaced the Finnish contingent that had escorted General McKenzie to Sarajevo. They then volunteered to stay and assist in the opening of Sarajevo's Butmir airport.

 

 

General McMenzie selected this VBL Panhard to be his personal vehicle for liason work and travel in Sarajevo. Rugged and reliable, this vehicle is mounted with heavy machine gun. It is shown here at the airport that was secured by the French force under the General's command.

 

 

On July 1, the 1st Company of the 2eme RiMa (2nd Marine Regiment) was airlifted to Sarajevo to help the 153rd Infantry secure possession of the airport there. After their arrival, these Marines of the 2nd Regiment cleaned the airfield of its debris and fortified the airport with empty ammunition crates. From their observation post, the French "Marsouins" keep watch on the Serbian positions near the airport. Just across the street was a row of houses that served as shelter to the Serbs who were besieging nearby Dobrinja.

 

 

Inside a bunker fortified by tires, sandbags and ammunition crates, a French Marine adopts a defensive stance, aiming a FR-F2 sniper rifle through an observation hole.

 

 

In a photograph taken on July 2, "Marsouins" from the 2nd Marine Regiment are seen patrolling at the Sarajevo airport. One of the first steps taken by the newly arrived French and Canadian troops was to establish a presence on the approach path of the runway in order to lessen the threat of anti-aircraft rockets being fired at incoming UN planes. In the background is a C-160 Transall transport plane, one of several aircraft that were instrumental in delivering humanitarian supplies to the besieged civilians in Sarajevo. Note how the belly of the C-160's opens to facilitate the loading of supplies directly onto trucks.

 

 

This photograph offers an excellent study of the uniform and equipment issued to the French Marines. The predominant feature is the sky-blue helmet worn by all UN troops. This piece of protective headgear is the reason the UNPROFOR soldiers are nicknamed "Blue Helmets". The Marine's weapon is the easily recognizable 5.56mm FA MAS rifle. On his left arm is a sleeve brassard which displays the tricolor national flash.

 

 

Another Marine strikes a pose in front of an M-113 armored vehicle. Like all French troops, he is armed with a FA MAS rifle. This weapon has a very unusual appearance because of its distinctive carrying handle. The FA MAS is a reliable and effective weapon, though, able to shoot single shots, three-round bursts or deliver full automatic fire. Loaded with a 25-round magazine, the rifle weighs a little over nine pounds.

 

 

A Canadian relief convoy reached Sarajevo and the nearby airport on July 3, 1992. An M-113 armored personnel carrier belonging to the convoy is shown here. The M-113 has the distinction of being the first armored fighting vehicle of aluminum construction to be produced. Note that all vehicles used by the UN are painted white and marked with the initials "UN" for easy recognition.

 

 

Elements of the English-speaking 1st Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR) and the French-speaking 22nd Royal Canadian Regiment patrolled in downtown Sarajevo on July 3. Here a Canadian soldier keeps his eyes and .50 caliber machine gun trained on Sirokaca hill outside of the city from where sniper fire has come. He never shot his gun, though, due to the instructions given to UN troops not to return fire unless their lives are directly threatened.

 

 

To make themselves a less inviting target, the crew of this M-113 has parked their vehicle alongside some billboards to screen it from sight. The commander has perched himself atop the APC and surveys the distant buildings through binoculars in an effort to locate any snipers. Note the many windows that have been blasted out of the high-rise building in the background.

 

 

This photograph gives some idea of the geography of the Sarajevo area. Of particular note are the hills rising in the background. With the city situated in a valley like it is, the Serbs are in complete control of Sarajevo even if they are not actually in possession of it. No movement can go undetected and the Canadian convoy shown here has been watched throughout its trip.

 

 

The Canadian convoy has several of these M-113 rolling in it. It is little wonder since this model of APC has proved itself reliable for decades while in use by Western armies. The M-113s were used to carry reinforcements the day this photograph was taken; the next day they carried humanitarian supplies.

 

 

The M-113 is a versatile armored vehicle and is available in a variety of models. The command model shown here has been fitted with the ambulance kit. Note that despite the red cross painted on the right side of the hull the vehicle is armed.

 

 

In this close-up view, the commander is shown handling the .50 cal. machine gun. While the soldier at the right wears a blue helmet with white UN identification letters stenciled onto it, the APC's commander wears a beret.

 

 

In a setting that could have come straight from a souvenir postcard of Sarajevo, an M-113 of the 1st Royal Canadian Regiment patrols the center of the city on its arrival on July 1. This was done in an effort to "show the flag" and earn some respect for the UN presence. Since they were not acting under orders to do so, and after they received a warm welcome from the Serbian snipers, they decided to withdraw from the area.

 

 

The Mandate of UNPROFOR (United Nations Protection Force) calls for the UN troops to "attempt to secure the reopening of Sarajevo airport to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian supplies." This scene of an M-113 parked in front of the airport at Sarajevo is visual confirmation that the UN troops succeeded in making this goal more achievable. Although the French Marines were initially the most involved in securing the airport, some credit should go to the Canadian forces, like the men in this APC, who reinforced the French.

 

 

French-Canadian troops of the 1er Bataillon, 22eme Régiment Royal Canadien (1st Battalion, 22nd Royal Canadian Regiment) reinforced the French Marines at the Butmir airport in Sarajevo with a company of M-113s and an anti-tank platoon. One of these M-113s is shown here pulling into position at the edge of the airstrip. The success of the rest of the mission depended on keeping the airport open so that transport planes like the one seen in the background could deliver their shipments. The Canadians showed that they are ready to accept the challenge.

 

 

The ramp leading into the personnel compartment in the rear of the hull of this M-113 TUA has been lowered to allow for the removal of equipment. As we examine the nature of the landscape surrounding the airstrip, we are once again provided with a view of the lush, but deadly hills that surround Sarajevo.

 

 

This particular tank was designed for use by army engineers. It was in fact used by the Royal Canadian Engineers at the Sarajevo airport to dig trenches for the French soldiers. Built on the chassis of a Leopard tank, the vehicle has a back hoe that extends out at the rear of the vehicle and a tractor plow blade at the front. Its only armament is a machine gun located atop the hull at the commander's hatch.

 

 

AUTHORS: YVES DEBAY & JAMES HILL

 

 


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