Aviatoret Deshmore



Attack of Yugoslavian aircraft on Rinas airport near Tirana, Albania on April 26th, 1999

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Few details are available on this attack, but I decided to share with you what I know at this moment (05-05-99) about this extraordinary operation. I will add more information as it becomes available. If anyone can add anything new to this information please contact me.

For several days in April Yugoslavian G-4 Super Galebs were taking off from an airfield near Podgorica, Montenegro, and flew toward the Albanian border, but would abruptly turn back at the last moment before crossing the border. The planes were never fired upon. Podgorica and nearby airfields were never attacked by NATO aircraft on any significant scale (if ever).

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Rinas airport near Tirana, Albania is about 120km away from the Yugoslavian Golubovci airbase near Podgorica, Montenegro. This airport was closed off by NATO forces after the attack, without giving any official explanation. The airport was/is used by the American task force Hawk and a group of Apache attack helicopters. The airport was possibly also used by KLA as a training facility and staging area. A 30-ton load of 1000 western-made mortars, which originated from NATO arsenal  in Germany, was to be delivered to KLA, but was intercepted by Italian police in the port of Ancona, as was reported by Italian Corriere della Sera newspaper. According to some sources, the mortars were to be delivered to Rinas from a nearby Albanian port and then flown to northern Albania to re-enforce KLA troops there.
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Yugoslavian G-4 Super Galeb strike aircraft.

On April 26th, a pair of G-4 Super Galeb strike aircraft took off from the Golubovci airbase near Podgorica and once again set course toward the Albanian border. Only this time the planes did cross the border and went directly for the Rinas airport used by NATO troops and aircraft. The Rinas airport and nearby facilities are believed to be used by the American task force Hawk, which includes the Apache attack helicopters, flown there from Italy several days earlier. A KLA training facility is also believed to be situated at or nearby the Rinas airport. This is one of two major KLA training camps where NATO military instructors train KLA fighters. Reuters report mentioned that "...ethnic Albanian volunteers train in Durres, Albania, before heading into Kosovo for service with the Kosovo Liberation Army. The volunteers arrived at Rinas airport on a special charter flight from the United States to sign up to fight with the KLA." Another such camp was located near Kamenica in the northern Albania, near the Yugoslavian border. This camp was attacked and destroyed by Yugoslavian troops on April 13th. A second group of seven Apaches were flown flown from Italy to Rinas just one day before the attack on the airport on April 26th.

The two G-4 Super Galebs were never detected by airport's limited air defenses and dropped their load of cluster bombs, presumably, on the Apache helicopter base lass then 20 minutes after taking off from Golubovci. According to several private sources, at least nine Apaches were heavily damaged or destroyed. The G-4s quickly turned around and left Albanian airspace at high speed. The planes did not land at the Golubovci airbase, fearing that it may be attacked by NATO planes, but proceeded to the Ponikve airbase near the town of Uzice some 270km from the Rinas airport. The Ponikve airbase has reinforced underground hangars and was the origin of an earlier attack against the Tuzla airport in Bosnia on April 18th.

Immediately after the attack, NATO planes and cruise missiles delivered three massive strikes against Podgorica and nearby military sites. There were three separate NATO attacks against Podgorica in one day. Prior to these attacks NATO tried to avoid targeting any sites in Montenegro. A few days later NATO delivered a second massive strike against Uzice and Ponikve airbase. This was the second such attack: Uzice and Ponikve base were heavily bombed by NATO shortly after a group of nine Yugoslavian planes attacked an airport in Tuzla on April 18th.

NATO forces in Albania closed off Rinas airport shortly after the attack without giving any explanation (ITAR-TASS report here, in Russian). NATO denied the use of the airport to the Italian Interior Minister, who was returning to Italy from a meeting in Tirana. Not even Albanian president could use the airport for his return from a European Council meeting in Strasburg. NATO officials only said that the airport was closed due to "a rapidly deteriorating situation in the Adriatic." On the day of the attack on Rinas (04-26-99), one American Apache crashed in a "training exercise". Another Apache crashed on May 4th, also while "training."

May 05, 1999

P.S. I will add more information as it becomes available. Don't ask me for the sources of this information: if I could have shared them with you I certainly would have. The materials on this page are simply "for your information," so you should feel free to believe it or ignore it. Information I received in regard to this attack was so consistent and overwhelming that I simply couldn't sit on it much longer.

NEW: According to some sources, there might have been two more Yugoslavian aircraft participating in this attack. These two aircraft flew the mission from a different airbase (in Pristina, according to some information I have) and joined the two G-4s from the Golubovci base. Up to 12 Apaches were damaged or destroyed, as well as some NATO transport planes. Two of the Yugoslavian planes might have been hit by NATO SAMs, but the pilots survived and have either ejected of crash-landed their planes. I have information that some details of this attack were reported by an Italian television news channel. I am still looking for more information about this attack and will update this page as soon as any more substantial details become available.

NEW: According to an ITAR-TASS review of the article published by the Foreign Military Review magazine of the Russian Defense Ministry, Yugoslav aviation prevented the use of American AH-64 Apache attack helicopters during the Kosovo conflict. The "NATO Losses in the War with Yugoslavia" article, the Foreign Military Review writes: "... the biggest sensation was the number of troops lost by NATO. Not just NATO pilots were killed in Yugoslavia, but also search-and-rescue troops that were tasked with locating downed pilots. Yugoslav air defenses have shot down no less than five NATO helicopters, which resulted in deaths of about 100 troops of the Alliance."

According to the Foreign Military Review, the reason why Pentagon did not use Apaches in Kosovo "...had nothing to do with technical problems with the helicopters or insufficient training of their flight crews, as was often stated by NATO officials. The only reason was the April 26 attack carried out by Yugoslav "Galeb" fighters against "Rinas" airport located near Albania's capital of Tirana, where the Apaches were based. That day two groups of these light helicopters were destroyed and over 10  helicopters were damaged."

A similar operation was carried out by Yugoslav AF on April 18 against the airport in Tuzla, Bosnia, used as an emergency landing site for NATO aircraft. As the result of this attack some fifteen NATO aircraft have been destroyed on the ground. The Foreign Military Review writes: "Despite the fact that American aircraft dominated NATO operations, they weren't the only aircraft shot down by Yugoslav air defenses.  Among the destroyed aircraft were five German "Tornadoes," several British "Harriers'" two French "Mirages," Belgian, Dutch, and Canadian aircraft. On June 7 the USAF lost a B-52 strategic bomber, while on May 20 a B-2A "Spirit" was shot down."

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