Operation Libelle

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Operation Dragonfly
Part of the 1997 Albanian riots, 1997
OperationLibelle map.png
Map showing the route of the German helicopters
Date March 13–14, 1997
Location Tirana, Albania
Result German Success
Germany Germany Albania Albanian Insurgents
Commanders and leaders
Germany Col Henning Glawatz Albania Unknown
> 100 Unknown
Casualties and losses
No casualties
1 helicopter damaged
Unknown number of wounded
No reported deaths

Operation Dragonfly, in German Operation Libelle, was an evacuation operation of the German Armed Forces in the Albanian capital Tirana on March 14, 1997. In the same week, American, British [1] and Italian military forces evacuated their citizens from Albania. Operation Libelle is the first time since World War II that German infantry soldiers fired shots in combat.[2]

Situation in Albania

In March 1997 riots spread across Albania after the collapse of the financial system which drove the country into a serious economical and social crisis. This crisis culminated in a massive civil disorder known as the Lottery Uprising. Thousands of people had lost their entire savings after all pyramids of the usurers had collapsed. The people then rioted in the streets. After army and police weapons depots were looted by insurgents, some 1500 people had been killed. Albania quickly became dangerous for foreign nationals residing there. On March 11 all foreigners were instructed to leave Albania; Italian and U.S. forces conducted initial evacuation operations. By midday of March 13 it was no longer possible to leave the country by conventional means as the rioters had substantively disrupted national peace and order. With nowhere to go 98 persons fled to the German embassy, which had not yet evacuated.


March 13

March 14

  • Five CH-53G heavy transport helicopters with 89 soldiers from the German SFOR - contingent headed from Bosnia to Dubrovnik, Croatia. At the same time in Germany, three C-160 transport planes had been held in readiness to fly to the Balkans. The Niedersachsen waited in readiness in the port of Durrës, Albania.
  • 11.30 am - The German Government under Chancellor Helmut Kohl decided to deploy German Forces to evacuate the embassy. Because the German military cannot operate abroad without a permission of the German Parliament, the Government employed emergency rules and only informed the leaders of the parliament and the Defence Committee about the planned operation. The C-160s flew to Podgorica, Montenegro. The task force, consisting of CH-53s and soldiers from combat-, supporting- and medical units, lifted off to Tirana.
  • 3.39 pm - Although American Forces had cancelled a separate evacuation operation in Tirana after a Blackhawk helicopter was hit by small arms fire, Colonel Glawatz decided to continue the approach. The first CH-53 landed on an abandoned airfield near the outskirts of Tirana. Perimeter security was established and the civilians started to board the helicopters. Insurgents in armoured vehicles approached the area and attacked the escaping civilians. As the German units returned fire, additional gunmen opened fire from the edge of the air strip. At least 188 rounds were fired at the evacuation force, and one CH-53 helicopter was hit and lightly damaged.[3] At least one Albanian was wounded.[4]
  • 4.09 pm - the last helicopter left Tirana.
  • The helicopters returned to Podgorica with the refugees after the successful end of the operation; they were then transported to Bonn, Germany.

The German parliament gave its subsequent permission on March 19.

List of evacuated persons

Country Number
Germany Germany 21
Hungary Hungary 14
Japan Japan 13
Austria Austria 11
Czech Republic Czech Republic 5
Denmark Denmark 3
Peru Peru 3
Switzerland Switzerland 3
Egypt Egypt 2
Albania Albania 2
Bosnia and Herzegovina Bosnia and Herzegovina 2
Netherlands Netherlands 2
Poland Poland 2
Others 8

External links

  1. Roberts, John (2009). Safeguarding the Nation: The Story of the Modern Royal Navy, 352pp, Seaforth Publishing, ISBN 978 1 84832 043 7
  2. RP Online
  3. ''Operation "Libelle" Tirana '97: Das erste Gefecht der Bundeswehr'' RP Online, 14 March 2007 (German)
  4. Laurin, Carin (2005). Baltic Yearbook of International Law, 2005. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, p. 71. ISBN 9004147888

See also