Underground airfield

Capt Scott MacGregor
First published in
SFOR Informer#164, August 1, 2003

Approximately six kilometres west of the town of Bihac exists the mysterious Zeljava airfield complex. It cannot be seen from the main road, nor can you see the labyrinth of subterranean offices, hangers and storage areas that exist inside Mount Gola, which dominates the BIHAC skyline. However, the complex becomes very apparent once you drive North past Bihac through the town of Vedro Polje, along the East Side of Mount Gola. An inspection team from Multinational Brigade Northwest went to investigate.

Bihac - It is obvious there is something strange and haunting about the surrounding area. Airstrips suddenly appear and a system of connecting roads cut into the side of Mount Gola. The Zeljava Airfield was an old JNA Airforce base that used to keep about 80 MIG 21s. The blast casements were designed to fit a single vertical stabilizer aircraft. There are four tunnels that are burrowed into the mountainside, which exit onto a quick response runway and this runway is paralleled by two smaller runways, all of which are cratered, and in ill repair.
Six Billion Dollars
The actual complex stretches over the Bosnian and Croatian border via Highway 5. It houses several de-commissioned military installations and two border crossing sites. The Zeljava Airfield Complex extends through Mount Gola to the Summit where a Canadian RRB detachment exists today. The connecting tunnel from the ground level to the summit has collapsed, but it was used prior to the war. The airfield was built between 1960 and 1970; it took 10 years to complete at a cost of 6 billion American dollars. Once operational, the airfield was manned by about 1500 troops inside the mountain and up to 5000, including the garrison serving to protect the airfield. "It is like being on a James Bond set" commented Cpl Yeves Gemus.
Golden Lily
The complex saw an incredible amount of fighting from 1992-1995. Ex-Airforce pilots from the Zeljava Airfield formed the Airborne Unit Bihac (not paratroopers) in August 1992 and proved proving to be an elite infantry force in the area, as well as an Airforce. Locals state that a member of this elite unit earned the "Golden Lily", a sort of Bosnian Victoria Cross.
One does not have to look far to see war scars and debris, a central tunnel entrance has had its solid concrete blast casement completely blown off, the interior of the tunnels are littered with debris and are overgrown with vegetation. Large chucks of twisted metal lay hundreds of meters from the tunnel entrances and the mountainside is scarred from indirect fire. Old maps indicate the complexity that exists inside but mine hazards prevent any further exploration.
Extreme caution must be used if you are visiting the Zeljava Airfield Complex. The local Police and the CPA use the area to train canines with the use of actual landmines due to the enormous amounts of mines that exist within the complex area. In November 2000, a Federation Airforce Major suffered a mine strike and died of injuries sustained by the explosion of a PROM-2 anti-personnel mine after searching for mushrooms.
The Zeljava Airfield is truly amazing and a must see if you are in Bihac. Just do not get too close for your own safety.

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Photos: Cpl Yeves Gemus

Doorway number two of the complex from inside and outside.