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World War II: Axis Invasion of the Balkans (1940-44)


Figure 1.-- We do not know what is going on here. There is some writing on the back with the location. It reads: Near Pecinci, a farmer's boy. Pecinci is in Serbia (Yuguslavia at that time). The German officer here with the pistol is patting a peasant boy on the forehead, He has a World War I EK2 ribbin and a spange. The Germans invaded Yugoslavia during Aril 1941. The officer doe not look menancing nor the boy scared, but the boy does not seem to be as amused as the German soldier. Unsaid here is the degree to which this boy's future would have been determined by his ethnicity had the NAZIs pervailed. Click on the image for a more detailed discussion.

Germany's famed statesman, the Iron Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, had insisted that the Balkans was "not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier." Hitler had hoped to avoid commiting the Wehrmacht to the Balkans and made considerable progress toward that goal. Mussolini undid Hitler's carefully laid plans by invading neutral Greece through its Albania bases (October 28, 1940). Mussolini's 1940 invasion of Greece complicated Hitler's time table for Barbarossa. The invasion was not coordinated with Hitler in advance. (The Axis partners never coordinated their operations like the Allies.) Mussolini announced it when Hitler arrived on a visit. "Führer, we are on the march." The Italian troops were beaten back and the Greek troops overtook over one third of Albania. Greece had a Fascist Government that could have possibly brought into the Axis or at least would have remained neutral. Instead Mussolini turned the Greeks into a British ally. The British sent about 50,000 troops to help Greece, which they had to deplete from Egypt. This was important bercause critical to the German invasion was access to the Romanian oil fields. Germany had been relying on Soviet oil deliveries to supplement its synthetic oil production. The Soviet deliveries would end of course when Germany invaded leaving the Germans dependant on Romanian oil until the Soviet Caucauses could be seized. Greek successes against the Ilalians had created an Allied belingerant that could provide air fields to attack the Romanian oil fields. Hutler thus saw a German intervention to seize Greece and secure Germany's southern flank would be necessary. As a result, German forces in Romania were reeinforced and efforts were made to bring Yugoslavia into the NAZI orbit so that the Panzers could move through that country to attack Greece. Hitler had forced Yugoslavia to join the other AXIS Balkan partners, but the Government was overthrown necessitaing a full sacle German invasion. Hitler had to come to the rescue Mussolini. The Germans invaded Greece and Yugoslavia simultaneously on April 6, 1941. Belgrade was subjected to Luftwaffe terror bombing for rejecting an alliance with the NAZIs. The Germans swept through Yugoslavia and Greece and took Crete with a daring, but costly parachute assault. (Hitler never again allowed a parachute assault.) Greece was defeated on April 27, 1941. Despite the success of the German invasion, it proved to have been a strategic dissaster. The Balkans diversion delayed Operation Barbarossa by at least 6 weeks. If Hitler had started his invasion to of the Soviet Union May it seems highly likely that they would have seized Moscow if not have defeated the Red Army. As it was the Wehrmacht was stopped on the outskirts of Moscow in December, 1941.

The Balkans

Germany's famed statesman, the Iron Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, had insisted that the Balkans was "not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier." The Balkans were critical for the NAZI war effort. Conducting the War required enormous quantities of petroleum. Germany did not have oil resources of its own. It was developing an industry to convvert coal to oil which was to play an important role in the War. As part of the NAZI-Soviet Non Agression Pact (August 1939), the Soviets began delivering petroleum to Germany. The major source of petroleum for Germany was the Romanian oil fields. There were other resources in the Balkans (chrome, copper, magnesium, and other materials), but the most important was the Romamaian petoleum. Without that oil, Germany could not wage any prolonged war. For Hitler, the great prize in the War was not regaining the territories lost in World War I, it was rather expanding east into Poland and the trackless steppe of Russia and the Ukraine. He did not hide this objective. It is described at some length in Mein Kampf. This of course ment war with the Siviet Union. Thus the Balkans took on greater strategic importance because to mose east against the Soviets, Germany's southern flank needed to be sevured.

NAZI Diplomacy

Hitler had hoped to avoid commiting the Wehrmacht to the Balkans and made considerable progress toward that goal. Germany even after World War I had the largest industrial economy in Europe. This gave it enormous influence, especially in the Balkans. After the NAZIs seized power (1933), Germany began a carefully orchestrated campaign to bring the Balkan countries within the German orbit. This included both the countries that fought wiyh the Central Powers in World War and the countries which fought with the Allies. Germany used both economic means as well as promoting Fascistg political parties. Hitler's objective was obtain access to needed natural resources as well as to secure Germany's southern flank for the eventual attack on the Soviet Union.

Axis Strategic Planning


Italian Actions

Mussolini undid Hitler's carefully laid plans by invading neutral Greece through its Albania bases (October 28, 1940). Mussolini's 1940 invasion of Greece complicated Hitler's time table for Barbarossa. The invasion was not coordinated with Hitler in advance. (The Axis partners never coordinated their operations like the Allies.) Mussolini announced it when Hitler arrived on a visit. "Führer, we are on the march."

Italian invasion of Albania (April 1939)

Finally the Italians invaded Albania on April 7, 1939. This was Mussolini's response to Hitler's seizure of Czechoslovakia (March 1939). Italy had been deply involved in Albania since the end of world War I. Mussolini had been attempting to seize Albania for years. While the world's attention was focused on Germany and Czecheslovakia, it seemed the perfect time to act. There was virtually no international consequences. Britain and France still hoped that Mussolini could be disuaded from joining Hitler it the war that was now clearly coming.

Italian invasion of Greece (October 1940)

The Italian invasion of Greece to be the most poorly planned Axis offensive of the War. Italy after entering the War performed poorly against nearly postrate France (June 1940). Italian operations against the British in North Africa fared even worse. Rather than focus the country's limited military assetts, instead Mussolini without consulting Hitler ordered an invasion of another country that was neutral at the time--Greece. The idea of launching a war over extremely rough terraine in October when the military would face difficult weather conditions is ludicrous in itself. Even more unbelieveable is that Mussolini ordered the invasion at a time when the British were pressing the Italian forces in North Africa and half the Italian Army had been demobilized to bring in the harvest. (The High Command and taken this step in part to prevent any adventuresome action by Il Duce. Hitler learned about the Italian invasion on the train at night as it was headed toward Florence and the neeting with his ally October 27). He was furious and railed against Mussolini to his advisers. Hitler loved delivering facti-acompli to others, he did not enjoy receiving them. THe next morning Il Duce was waiting for Hitler at the Florence train station which had been decorated for the occassion. After delivering a Fascist salute, he exclaimed, "Führer, we are marching. This morning a victorious Italian army has crossed the Greek frontier." Hitler congratuated Mussolini, but had misgivings which proved well founded, undoing the carefully orchestrated NAZI diplomacy of many years. The Italian troops were beaten back and the Greek troops overtook over one third of Albania.

Strategic Impact

Greece had a Fascist Government that could have possibly brought into the Axis or at least would have remained neutral. Instead Mussolini turned the Greeks into a British ally. The British sent about 50,000 troops to help Greece, which they had to deplete from Egypt. This was important bercause critical to the German invasion was access to the Romanian oil fields. Germany had been relying on Soviet oil deliveries to supplement its synthetic oil production. The Soviet deliveries would end of course when Germany invaded leaving the Germans dependant on Romanian oil until the Soviet Caucauses could be seized. Greek successes against the Ilalians had created an Allied belingerant that could provide air fields to attack the Romanian oil fields. Hutler thus saw a German intervention to seize Greece and secure Germany's southern flank would be necessary. Hitler would have to do precisely what he had hope to avoid, commit German forces at a time he was attempting to focus on his invasion of the Soviet Union.

Romania

As a result, German forces in Romania were reeinforced and efforts were made to bring Yugoslavia into the NAZI orbit so that the Panzers could move through that country to attack Greece.

Yugoslavia Joins the Axis

Hitler forced Yugoslavia to join the other Axis Balkan partners.

Yugoslavian Coup

The Yugoslav Government was overthrown necessitaing a full sacle German invasion. Hitler had to come to the rescue Mussolini.

German Invasion: Military Campaign (April 1941)

German Führer Adolf Hitler was by 1941 intent on his invasion of the Soviet Union. He thought he had the Balkans sorted out to provide a secure southern front. He had to be concerned with the vital Ploesti oil fields in Romania. Hitler forced the Yugoslav governent to adhere to the Axis. A popular revolt occured in Belgrade against joining the NAZI-dominated Axis. The revolt led by students overthrew the regency under Prince Paul. They installed the youthful King Michael and rejected the treaty that Prince Paul had signed with the NAZIs. Hitler was enraged with the coup. He decided to punish and cow the Serbs by desrtoying Belgrade by a Luftwaffe terror bombing. Wehrmact and Luftwaffe military units had already been positioned in the Reich and and allied states (Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria) for such an intervention, although the target was believed to be Greece. Hitler called the invasion, occupation and dismemberment of Yugoslavia “Operation Punishment” or “Operation 25.” Belgrade was subjected to Luftwaffe terror bombing for rejecting the alliance with the NAZIs. Unlike World War I, militart resistance in Yugodlavia quickly collapsed and in some areas the NAZIs were treated as liberators. Mussolini's actions at complicated Hitler's plans in the Balkans. The attack on Yugoslavia provided the excuse for attacking Greece as well. The quick collaose of the Yugoslave Army allowed the NAZIs to concentrate in Greece. The Wehrmact called the invasion and occupation of Greece “Operation Marita. Unlike Yugoslavia, the Wehrmacht had to fight in Greece, primarily because Churchill had rushed troops from Egypt to support his Greek Ally. Even so, Greece fell within only a few weeks. Hitler followed his Balkan victories with a successful, but costly parachute assault on Crete. >br>

Consequences

Despite the success of the German invasion, it proved to have been a strategic dissaster. The Balkans diversion delayed Operation Barbarossa by at least 6 weeks. If Hitler had started his invasion to of the Soviet Union May it seems highly likely that they would have seized Moscow if not have defeated the Red Army. As it was the Wehrmacht was stopped on the outskirts of Moscow in December, 1941.

Operation Barbarossa (June 1941)

The Battle of Britain in many ways changed the course of the War. An invasion of Britain was impossible without air superiority. Hitler, fearing a cross-Channel invasion, decided that the only way to force the British to seek terms was to destroy he Soviet Union. He began shifting the Wehrmacht eastward to face the enemy that he had longed to fight from the onset--Soviet Russia. The nature of the War changed decisevely in the second half of 1941. The Germans invaded Russia in June 1941, launching the most sweeping military campaign in history. The Soviets were surprised and devestated. Stalin ignored warnings from the British who as a result of Ultra had details on the Germna preparations. Stalin was convinced that they were trying to draw him into the War and until the actual attack could not believe that Hitle would attack him. The attack was an enormous tactical success. The Soviets were surprised and devestated. The Soviet Air Force was destoyed, largely on the ground. The German scaptured 3.8 million Soviet soldiers in the first few months of the campaign. No not knowing the true size of the Red Army, they thought they had essentally won the War. German columns too the major cities of western Russia and drove toward Leningrad and Moscow. But here the Soviets held. The Japanese decission to strike America, allowed the Sovierts to shift Siberian reserves and in December 1941 launch a winter offensive stopping the Whermacht at the gates of Moscow--inflicting irreplaceable losses. The army that invaded the Soviet Union had by January 1942 lost a quarter of its strength. Hitler on December 11 declared war on America--the only country he ever formally declared war on. In an impassioned speech, he complained of a long list of violations of neutality and actual acts of war. [Domarus, pp. 1804-08.] The list was actually fairly accurate. His conclusion, however, that actual American entry into the War would make little difference proved to a diasterous miscalculation. The Germans who months before had faced only a battered, but unbowed Britain now was locked into mortal combat with the two most powerful nations of the world. The British now had the allies that made a German and Japanese victory virtually impossible. After the Russian offensive of December 1941 and apauling German losses--skeptics began to appear and were give the derisory term " Gröfaz ".

The Balkans Partisan Struggle (1941-44)

A guerilla war began began between the NAZIs and the two Yugoslavians partisan groups (Tito and Mihajlovic) and the Greek guerillas. Tito the communist was a Croat and Mihajlovic was a Serb. The ethnic disputes had begun befre the War and with NAZI encouragement, Yugoslavia became a vast killing field. The Yugoslaves and the Greeks managed to tie down almost 1 million German soldiers. Mihaljlovic partisans saved over 500 American airmen in Operation Halyard and got them back safely to the Allies. Just for the record, The NAZIs were shooting 100 civilians for every German soldier killed. My friend John Roberts who was saved by the Serbs when his B-24 was shot down. John told me his story how the Serbs hid him and later was put on a boat in the Adriatic sea and was picked up by a US Navy ship. After the war John contacted the Serbs who help him and was told about one hundred civilians from that village were shot to death. John past away a few years ago and he was one of the 500 airmen that were saved in the Operation Halyard pipeline.







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Created: 12:35 AM 10/7/2004
Last updated: 11:29 PM 6/3/2008