Yugoslav Ground Forces

Ground Forces

Emblem of the Yugoslav People's Army Ground Forces
Active 1945–1992
Country  Yugoslavia
Size about 600,000 personnel (ca. 2.000.000 reserve)
Part of Yugoslav People's Army
H/Q Belgrade
Anniversaries 22 December
Engagements Ten Day War
Croatian War of Independence
Bosnian War
Disbanded Breakup of Yugoslavia (1992)
Last commander Colonel General Života Panić

The Yugoslav Ground Forces (Serbo-Croatian: Kopnena Vojska – KoV, Cyrillic script: Копнена Војска – КоВ) was the ground forces branch of the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) from 1 March 1945 until 20 May 1992 when it became the Ground Forces of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia under the threat of sanctions.


The origins of JNA can be found in the Yugoslav Partisan units of World War II. As a part of the antifascist People's Liberation War of Yugoslavia, the People's Liberation Army of Yugoslavia (NOVJ), a predecessor of JNA, was formed on 22 December 1941 in the town of Rudo in Bosnia and Herzegovina. After the liberation of the country from the Axis Powers occupation, that date was officially celebrated as the Day of the Army in the SFR Yugoslavia. In March 1945, the NOVJ was renamed the Yugoslav Army (Jugoslovenska Armija) and finally on its 10th anniversary on 22 December 1951, received the adjective People's (i.e. Narodna).[1]

In September 1968 the Territorial Organization was formed to support the JNA and on 21 February 1974 TO units were subordinated to their provinces or republics. Thus the JNA and TO became equal parts of the Yugoslav Armed Forces (Oruzane Snage SFRJ).

IAW the 1974 Yugoslav Constitution the Land Forces were divided into six armies allocated to the five republics:

Plus the Coastal Naval District (Split) – formerly Fourth Army

Tensions between the JNA and the To became evident at the political situation in Yugoslavia deteriorated in the 1980s. The Federal government became concerned that Yugoslavia's constituent republics would use the TO to facilitate their secession from Yugoslavia and therefore disarmed the Kosovo TO of 130,000 members. In 1988 the JNA absorbed the entire TO with the Bosnian Serb General Blagoje Adzic becoming the JNA Chief of the Armed Forces General Staff.

In 1988 the armies were reorganized into Military Districts or Regions which no longer corresponded to internal borders thereby making it harder for the republics to control their own forces. Apart from the Proletarian Guard, a mechanized corps, the Land Forces infantry divisions were reorganized into 17 Corps each consisting of four to eight brigades.

1991 organization

Once considered the fourth strongest army in Europe with 140,000 active troops and million reserves, in 1991 the ground forces were organized in four military regions. Which were:

In 1990 the army had nearly completed a major overhaul of its basic force structure. It eliminated its old divisional infantry organization and established the brigade as the largest operational unit. The army converted ten of twelve infantry divisions into twenty-nine tank, mechanized, and mountain infantry brigades with integral artillery, air defense, and anti-tank regiments. One airborne brigade was organized before 1990. The shift to brigade-level organization provided greater operational flexibility, maneuverability, and tactical initiative, and it reduced the possibility that large army units would be destroyed in setpiece engagements with an aggressor. The change created many senior field command positions that would develop relatively young and talented officers. The brigade structure also was more appropriate at a time of declining manpower.


There were 17 Corps (both named and numbered), they consist of the following:

Each Corps contained the following:

During the course of the ten-year-long Yugoslav wars, corps were modified by being reinforced with extra units from out of theatre; battalions then became regiments and regiments became brigades. However many units were also disbanded when their non-Serbian/Montenegrin personnel deserted.


In the 1980s the land forces had about 140,000 active-duty soldiers (including 90,000 conscripts) and could mobilize over a million trained reservists in wartime. Most soldiers were of Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian or Montenegrin origin. Reserve forces were organized along republics' lines into Partisan Forces and Territorial Defence Forces and in wartime they were to be subordinate to JNA Supreme Command as an integral part of defence system. Territorial Defence (reserve force) was made up of former conscripts and they were occasionally called up for war exercises.

The ground forces were infantry, armour, artillery, and air defence, as well as signal, engineering and chemical defence corps.


See also: Yugoslav wars and Ten Day War

The Ten-Day War

During the Ten Day War the JNA performed abysmally as many of the Yugoslav soldiers did not realise they were taking part in a real military operation, rather an exercise, until they came under attack. The officer corps was dominated by Serbs and Montenegrins and in many cases ideologically committed to Yugoslav unity. The rank and file troops however were conscripts, many who had no strong motivation in fighting against the Slovenes. Of the soldiers of the 5th Military District, which was in action in Slovenia, in 1990 30% were Albanians, 20% Croats, 15 to 20% Serbs and Montenegrins, 10% Bosniaks, and 8% Slovenes.[2] The JNA eventually lost nearly all of its Slovenian and Croat personnel, becoming an almost entirely Serbian and Montenegrian force. Its poor performance in Slovenia and later in Croatia discredited its leadership – Kadijević resigned as defence minister in January 1992, and Adžić was forced into medical retirement shortly afterwards. Due to the short duration (10 Days) and relatively low intensity of the war, casualties were low. According to Slovenian estimates, the JNA suffered 44 fatalities and 146 wounded, while 4,692 JNA soldiers and 252 federal police officers were captured by the Slovenian side. According to post-war assessments made by the JNA, its material losses amounted to 31 tanks, 22 armoured personnel carriers, 6 helicopters, 6,787 infantry weapons, 87 artillery pieces and 124 air defence weapons damaged, destroyed or confiscated. Property damage was fairly light, due to the scattered and short-term nature of the fighting.


The ground forces led in personnel. It had about 540,000 active-duty soldiers (including 120,000 conscripts) and could mobilize over a million trained reservists in wartime. Reserve forces were organized along republics' lines into Territorial Defence Forces and in wartime they were to be subordinate to JNA Supreme Command as an integral part of defence system. Territorial Defence (reserve force) was made up of former conscripts and they were occasionally called up for war exercises.

The ground forces were infantry, armour, artillery, and air defence, as well as signal, engineering and chemical defence corps.


Tank and armoured brigades

Yugoslav tank brigades comprised two or three battalions each with 31 tanks in three ten tank companies. They operated 1114 Soviet T-54s and T-55s, 73 Soviet T-72s, 443 Yugoslav M-84s, and some United States-made M-47 tanks. The army's tanks were in many respects its most obsolete forces. The T-54/-55 was a frontline model during the 1960s. Domestic production of the M-84 (an improved version of the Soviet T-72 built under license in Yugoslavia) was providing the army with a late 1970s and 1980s model. The army also had a reserve of old T-34/85 and Sherman tanks from World War II.

The Yugoslav army had 955 M-80A IFVs and 551 M-60P armored personnel carriers produced domestically. The infantry also operated more than 200 Soviet-made BTR-152, BTR-40, and BTR-50 armored personnel carriers (APCs), which had been purchased in the 1960s and 1970s. It had 100 M-3A1 half-tracked personnel carriers produced by the United States and a small number of new Romanian TAB-72 (a variant of the BTR-60) armored personnel carriers. Armored reconnaissance vehicles included a few older Soviet BTR-40s, newer BRDM-2 and BTR-60 models, and domestic BOV and M-8 vehicles.



Yugoslav artillery regiments were well equipped with Soviet, U.S. and domestic systems. Soviet artillery in these units consisted of approximately 1,000 towed 122 mm howitzers, 130 mm guns, 152 mm gun/howitzers, and 155 mm howitzers. There were about 700 older United States 105 mm and 155 mm towed guns and domestically produced models such as the M-65 in the artillery regiments. Towed pieces were very important for operations in the country's mountainous terrain.

Artillery units operated Soviet 100 mm and 122 mm and Yugoslav-produced 105 mm M-7 self-propelled guns. Those units had over 8,000 82 mm and 120 mm mortars, including a self-propelled 82 mm mortar mounted on an M-60PB variant of the standard armored personnel carrier.

Yugoslav artillery units operated several battlefield missile systems including 160 128 mm YMRL-32 and M-63 multiple-rocket launchers. The arsenal included four launchers for Soviet FROG-7 surface-to-surface missiles. First fielded in 1967, the unguided FROG-7 had a range of 100 kilometers.


Anti-tank regiments

Yugoslav anti-tank regiments had towed anti-tank guns, recoilless rifles, and Soviet anti-tank guided missiles. Antitank guns included 75 mm, 90 mm, and 100 mm models. They were Soviet produced with the exception of the 90 mm M-63B2, which was manufactured domestically.

The recoilless rifles were manufactured domestically and included 57 mm, 82 mm, and 105 mm models. Two self-propelled 82 mm recoilless rifles could be mounted on an M-60PB armored personnel carrier.

Anti-tank guided missiles were the Soviet AT-1 (NATO: Snapper) and AT-3 (NATO: Sagger). They were used in both anti-tank and infantry units, but because of their early vintage, effectiveness against advanced armor was uncertain. The four wheeled BOV-1 armored reconnaissance vehicle could be equipped with six AT-3 launchers to serve as a highly mobile anti-tank platform.

Air defense

Larger Yugoslav army units had considerable tactical air defense assets, designed to defend major troop concentrations against enemy air strikes. The ground forces had four surface-to-air missile regiments and eleven antiaircraft artillery regiments. The former operated large numbers of Soviet SA-6, SA-7, SA-9, SA-13, SA-14, SA-16 missiles. Short-range systems also were employed in infantry units.

Yugoslav antiaircraft artillery regiments operated over 5,000 guns. Self-propelled gun systems included the Soviet-made 57 mm dual ZSU-57-2 gun systems and the domestically produced triple 20 mm BOV-3s and dual 30 mm BOV-30s. Large numbers of towed antiaircraft guns of many calibers were in the inventory. Of both domestic and foreign origin, they included pieces purchased from the United States, Czechoslovakia, Switzerland, and Sweden.


Coastal defense

The coastal artillery batteries had both surface-to-surface missiles and guns. They operated the Soviet-designed SS-C-3 and a truck-mounted, Yugoslav-produced Brom antiship missile which was essentially a Yugoslav variant of the Soviet SS-N-2. Coastal guns included over 400 85 mm, 88 mm, 122 mm, 130 mm, and 152 mm artillery pieces obtained from the Soviet Union, the United States, captured and refurbished WW2 German and Italian pieces, and Yugoslav manufacturers.

Rank and uniforms


According to the Army Law of 1 October 1982 the Land Forces had five categories of ranks; general officers, senior officers, junior officers, Non-commissioned Officers, and soldiers.


The soldier and NCO ranks were private first class, corporal, junior sergeant, sergeant, sergeant first class, senior sergeant, senior sergeant first class, warrant officer, and warrant officer first class. Privates first class, corporals, and junior sergeants wore one, two, and three red chevrons, respectively, on a background of olive-green, blue-gray, or black—corresponding, respectively, to the ground forces, air force, or navy. In the land forces and air forces, sergeants, sergeants first class, senior sergeants, and senior sergeants first class wore single thin yellow-gold chevrons with one, two, three, and four yellow-gold stars, respectively. Warrant officers and warrant officers first class wore two yellow-gold chevrons with one and two gold stars respectively.

Ranks in Serbo-Croatian Zastavnik I klase
Заставник I класе
Stariji Vodnik I klase
Старији Водник I класе
Stariji Vodnik
Старији Водник
Vodnik I klase
Водник I класе
Mlađi vodnik
Млађи водник
Ranks Warrant Officer, 1st classWarrant OfficerSenior Sergeant 1st classSenior SergeantSergeant, 1st classSergeantJunior SergeantCorporalPrivate


Insignia for commissioned officers were worn on shoulder boards in olivegreen for the land forces. Shoulder boards were piped with single and double yellow-gold braid, respectively, for junior and senior officers. General officers wore shoulder boards piped with twisted gold cord.

Junior officer ranks were sub-lieutenant, lieutenant, lieutenant, captain, and captain first class and their shoulder boards had one, two, three, and four small yellow gold stars, respectively.

Senior officer ranks were major, lieutenant colonel, and colonel and their shoulder boards bore one, two, or three large yellow-gold stars respectively.

General officer ranks were major general, lieutenant colonel general, colonel general, and general of the army. General was the rank created for federal secretary of people's defense in 1955 and it was abolished in 1974. Army general officers wore a crossed sword and cannon and one, two, three, four and five gold stars.

Tito was the only person to hold the rank of Marshal, and the position was abolished shortly after his death. The shoulder board insignia featured the Emblem of Yugoslavia.

Ranks in Serbo-Croatian General
General Armije
Генерал Армије
General Pukovnik
Генерал Пуковник
Kapetan I klase
Капетан I класе
Ranks GeneralGeneral of the ArmyColonel GeneralLieutenant Colonel GeneralMajor GeneralColonelLieutenant ColonelMajorCaptain, 1st classCaptainLieutenantSub-lieutenant


Enlisted and NCO's

Soldiers and NCOs were issued field uniforms and service uniforms, while NCOs were authorised a dress uniform. Military school cadets wore soldier's uniforms. Soldiers' winter and summer uniforms were made of light or heavy wool and cotton in olive-green. All soldiers wore neckties of the same colors except in summer, when the uniform shirt was worn with an open collar.

There were several variations on the basic soldier's uniform and women's uniforms were of the same style as those for men, with a skirt being substituted for trousers. Paratroops wore an olive-green beret instead of the standard garrison or service cap.

Mountain troops wore distinctive stiff field caps with semi-rigid visors and ear flaps. They wore loose winter shirts, under which additional layers could be worn. The shirt itself had a lining and a collar that could be turned up to cover the neck and chin. The trousers worn by mountain troops extended just below the knee, with a strap and buckle closure. Leather leggings, heavy wool socks, and foul-weather capes also were worn by the mountain troops.

Several different patterns of camouflage uniforms were worn by select units.


Officers had to buy their field, service, dress, and full dress uniforms. They wore insignia on the lapels of the field uniform shirts. The service uniform differed only in a few details from the basic dress uniform. The shirt buttons of the dress uniform were yellow-gold instead of the service color. The trousers, jackets, and overcoats were piped red along the seams. The dress cap visor showed the same piping as the officer's shoulder boards. The general officer's dress cap had a chin strap of twisted gold cord. Other officers wore plain plastic or leather chin straps. Full dress uniforms were blue and were worn with a yellow-gold sash belt lined with the appropriate service color. Cap emblems all included a red star with yellow-gold rays, given distinctive configurations according to branch. Airborne officers had the red star resting on a silver parachute against a blue background. Cap emblems for general officers showed the same gold wreath as the shoulder boards.

See also


Further reading

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