Special Operations Battalion (Croatia): “Everyone is invited, few are chosen”

Author: Eric Sof

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The Special Operations Battalion, also known as the Bojna za specijalna djelovanja (BSD), is a highly-skilled unit of the Croatian Armed Forces. Established on September 8th, 2000, under the General Staff Unit of the Croatian Armed Forces, they are considered the Croatian counterpart of the U.S. Army Special Forces, the Green Berets.

Introduction

The Special Operations Battalion was formed through the merger of staff from the Centre for Special Combat Skills, based in “Šepurine,” and soldiers and personnel from the 1st Croatian Guard Corps. The unit’s headquarters is located in the “Drgomalj” barracks in Delnice. Its motto is “Everyone is invited, few are chosen.”

As one of the most elite units within the Croatian Army, the Special Operations Battalion is highly trained and well-equipped for special operations, making it one of the most formidable units in the region. The unit symbol is a snake, and its members are often mistakenly referred to as cobras because the viper is the unit’s emblem. The viper is a hazardous and poisonous snake found in Europe and Croatia.

Tasks

The Special Operations Battalion is assigned various tasks in line with standard NATO special operations force (SOF) duties. These include special reconnaissance and surveillance (SR), military assistance (MA), and direct action (DA), as well as additional responsibilities such as counterterrorism and providing specialized aid to civilians during crises. Additionally, the unit conducts specialized training for other units and individuals within the Croatian Armed Forces.

The unit is also involved in search and rescue operations, including combat search and rescue for the needs of the armed forces and search and rescue for civilian purposes.

History

The Special Operations Battalion comprises members of the Croatian Army, many of whom have experience from the Croatian War of Independence and have served in special forces and reconnaissance brigades. Over time, the unit has become one of Croatia’s most elite and highly-trained special forces units. Its members are trained to operate in land, sea, and air environments, weather conditions, and terrains. The unit’s patron saint is St. Martin of Tours.

Operators from the former Centre for special combat skills in Sepurine, Croatia
Operators from the former Centre for special combat skills in Sepurine, Croatia (Photo: XY)

The unit’s specialties include insertion behind enemy lines, extraction of forces from behind enemy lines, anti-terrorist activities, assistance during natural disasters and large-scale accidents, participation in international military operations, and implementation of special activities in military and non-military operations, such as search and rescue, reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, and data processing. The unit is equipped with the most modern weapons and specialized equipment.

The Special Operations Battalion is a composition of Army staff units within the Croatian Armed Forces. It has been elevated to the level of strategic decision-making to improve its utilization (shortening the decision-making process by reducing the level of one command).

Since its establishment, the Special Operations Battalion has undergone two reorganizations. The most recent one was completed in 2008, which increased the unit’s size from 150 to 300 members. The goal of the reorganization was to consolidate all special forces within the armed forces into a single organizational unit, making the Special Operations Battalion the only special unit of the Croatian Army.

Under the new structure, the Anti-terrorist police company and the naval commandos company were added, making the Special Operations Battalion fully rounded in all specialties within the armed forces. The unit conducts various training, such as scuba diving, parachuting, mountain climbing, and sniping, for its members and members of other units within the Croatian Army.

Special Operations Battalion from Croatia is armed with the modern Western weapons in the line with NATO standards
Special Operations Battalion from Croatia is armed with modern Western weapons in line with NATO standards (Photo: XY)

Organizational structure

  • Command structure – responsible for ensuring the system’s functionality, medical care, supply and transportation, and security.
  • The First Company of the Special Operations Battalion – specializes in implementing air-landing operations and security of Airborne bases.
  • The Second Company of the Special Operations Battalion – specializes in implementing operations in mountainous and hilly areas and winter conditions. It is responsible for training in skiing and mountaineering.
  • The Third Company of the Special Operations Battalion – specializes in implementing amphibious-landing operations on sea and inland waters. It is responsible for training combat swimmers and divers.
  • The Company for counterterrorism and urban warfare – specializes in urban and anti-terrorist actions. Specifically trained to prepare and conduct counter-terrorist operations (direct actions on objects, hostage resolution) and VIP protection. It was formed by incorporating the Military Police Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATVP) into the BSD.
  • The Company of fire support – specializes in sniper and mortar training. Provides direct fire support to other units within the BSD.

Equipment

The members of the Special Operations Battalion are equipped with the latest weapons and equipment that meet NATO standards. These include armored vehicles and advanced infantry weapons such as the HS VHS-2, HK G36 assault rifles, sniper rifles, light machine guns, and rocket launchers.

Selection and training

Selection

The candidates for Special Operations Battalion during the Commando selection
The candidates for Special Operations Battalion during the Commando selection (Photo: paluba.info)

The selection process for the Special Operations Battalion is voluntary and open to members of all branches of the Croatian Armed Forces. Candidates first undergo psychological testing and a medical examination before moving on to physical preparation. Those who meet all the selection requirements proceed to the training conducted at four locations and lasts 50 days.

The entire selection process lasts 50 days and is divided into five phases. During this time, the candidates are isolated from the outside world, with no access to information on the date, without ranks, cell phones, television, and contact with the outside world. Only the best candidates manage to pass the commando selection.

The first phase of selection is two weeks of socialization and physical conditioning. The next phase is the elimination, which also lasts two weeks and involves testing according to the criteria of the Special Operations Battalion. This includes a 300-meter swim in under 6 minutes, diving 25 meters, and completing an 8-kilometer march with a 10-kilogram rucksack and full equipment, all in under 60 minutes. Candidates must also pass an aerophobia test on an 18-meter-high tower. After passing these tests, there are 16-18 hours of rigorous military drills daily, including physical exercises, long walks, and running.

The third phase, which lasts eight weeks, emphasizes the individual’s abilities, including physical endurance and military knowledge. The drill is relentless, and many candidates who have signed up for an adventure, want a higher salary, or are fans of action movies drop out at this stage. Those who pass this phase of selection are awarded a basic parachuting badge.

Soldiers from Croatian Armed Forces during Commando selection course for the Special Operations Battalion
Soldiers from Croatian Armed Forces during Commando selection course for the Special Operations Battalion (Photo: XY)

The fourth phase focuses on teamwork and the ability to work together. Candidates learn to plan operations, undergo psychological operations, and survival operations. The final phase, known as “hell week,” is a seven-day period where candidates must demonstrate all the skills they have learned during the previous four phases. They sleep for only 4-6 hours daily and are exposed to severe physical challenges. Only the strongest survive.

Around 100 candidates apply for selection, and an average of 8-12 candidates meet all the criteria.

Training

To become a Commando, a member of the elite Special Operations Battalion, the only unit of the Croatian Army, a candidate must complete six months of rigorous training.

Special Operations Battalion operators during the training at the shooting range
Special Operations Battalion operators during the training at the shooting range (Photo: paluba.info)

Those who successfully complete the commando training are then assigned to a specialized company, such as divers, paratroopers, counterterrorism, climbers, or troop fire support. Only then do they begin their specialized training and education, both domestically and internationally. Candidates for this training must have served at least two years in the armed forces.

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