THE MILITARY-POLITICAL SITUATION IN THE BALKANS
(October 1940-March 1941)
General Reference Map (451K)
During the latter half of 1940 the Balkans, always a notorious hotbed of intrigues, became the center of conflicting interests of Germany, Italy, Russia, and Great Britain. From the beginning of World War II Adolf Hitler had consistently stated that Germany had no territorial ambitions in the Balkans. Because his primary interest in that area was of an economic nature—Germany obtained vital oil and food supplies from the Balkan countries—he was prepared to do his utmost to preserve peace in that part of Europe. For this reason he attempted to keep in check Italy's aggressive Balkan policy, to satisfy Hungarian and Bulgarian claims to Romanian territory by peaceful means, and to avoid any incident which might lead to Great Britain's direct intervention in Greece. It was no easy task to synchronize so many divergent political actions at a time when Germany was preparing the invasion of the British Isles and later planning as alternate measures the capture of Gibraltar, the occupation of Egypt and the Suez Canal, and the attack on Russia.
The unprecedented speed with which Germany had conquered western Europe in 1940 had immediate repercussions in the Balkan countries, some of which had previously belonged to the French sphere of influence. By applying diplomatic pressure and undermining their internal structure Hitler led one Balkan state after another to adhere to the Tripartite Pact, which had been signed by Germany, Italy, and Japan on 27 September 1940 (see app. II, Chronological Table of Events). In general, shortly after a new member had signed the pact, a German military mission would cross its border and gradually assume control over communications, airfields, and internal security.
For a better understanding of the military operations that took place in the Balkans during the spring of 1941, it is necessary to analyze the political events that led to the outbreak of hostilities.
The Great Powers
After the signing of the Franco-German armistice on 21 June 1940, Hitler believed that Great Britain would be prepared to come to an understanding since British forces had been driven off the Continent and France had been subdued. However, soon after his return to Berlin on 6 July it became evident that the British Government, far from entertaining any ideas of reconciliation, was determined to carry on the war. German preparations for the invasion of Great Britain were pushed with vigor. Hitler's speculations as to the reasons for Great Britain's stubborn refusals to come to terms led him, as early as 21 July 1940, to the belief that Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill hoped for Russia's entry into the war against Germany. On 31 July Hitler mentioned for the first time since the conclusion of the Russo-German treaty that he would be forced to invade Russia and that the attack would have to be launched in the spring of 1941. He requested the Army General Staff to study the various aspects of a campaign against Russia and directed that, in its organizational planning for the future, the Army must not lose sight of the possibility of a war with the Soviet Union. This request was subsequently repeated during the discussion of other plans.
Taking cognizance of the failure of the air offensive against the British Isles, Hitler decided on 12 October 1940 that the invasion of England would have to be postponed until the following year. Since the plans for a direct invasion were thus shelved, another way had to be found to defeat Great Britain without venturing a cross-channel attack. Alternative operations in the Mediterranean had been under consideration as early as the end of July, and now Hitler ordered the Army to draw up plans for the capture of Gibraltar on the assumption that Spain would permit the passage of German troops through its territory. Moreover, Italy planned to invade Egypt at the beginning of August 1940 by launching a series of offensive actions from its Libyan bases. In Hitler's opinion, the Italians would not be able to stage the final decisive drive into the Nile delta before the autumn of 1941. German forces were to participate in the final phase of the operation, and the Army High Command was instructed to prepare the necessary forces—approximately one panzer corps--desert warfare. in a tropical climate. Since the Germans lacked experience in this
type of warfare, motor transportation. equipment, ammunition, and clothing had to be developed and produced.
While Germany was preparing to intervene at both ends of the Mediterranean, peace in the Balkans had to be maintained at any cost. Hitler believed that this could best be achieved by forcing Romania to cede the territories claimed by Hungary and Bulgaria al in and by lining up the Balkan countries on the Axis side.
The dismemberment of Romania was accomplished in successive stages. Russian occupation of Bessarabia and northern Bukovina at the end of June 1940 gave added impetus to Hungarian and Bulgarian revisionist claims. The Romanian Government therefore issued orders for general mobilization to defend its territory. Germany and Italy had to use all their influence to prevent all armed conflict.Hitler's intervention in favor of Bulgaria led to the cession of the southern Dobrudja by Romania on 21 August 1940. By shell only the Hungarian claims remained to be settled. This was achieved by the Vienna Arbitration Award, which took place on 3O August. Romania was forced to yield to Hungary one third of Transylvania, that is, some 16,600 square miles with a population of 2.4 mill ion inhabitants. Even more important shall the partition of 'I'ransylvania, however, was the Axis Power s' guarantee to defend the territorial integrity of what was left of Romania. This guarantee was clearly directed against the Soviet Union. In Romania the various territorial concessions caused a political overturn, bringing (general Ion Antonescu to power. Upon the general's request the first elements of the German military mission entered Romania on 7 October. German Army and Luftwaffe units were to protect the oil fields. train and reorganize the Romania military forces, and prepare the ground for a possible attack on Russia from Romanian bases.
Neither the Italian nor the Soviet Government received official notification of the entry of German troops into Romania. This was all the more surprising to Mussolini because Italy and Germany had given a joint guarantee to Romania. He was very indignant about being faced with a fait-accompli and decided to pay Hitler back in his own Coin by attempting to seize (Greece Without giving official notice to Germany. Mussolini expected that the occupation of Greece would be a mere police action, similar to Germany's seizure of Czechoslovakia in the spring of 1939. On two preceding occasions Hitler had agreed that the Mediterranean and Adriatic were exclusively Italian spheres of interest. Since Yugoslavia and Greece were situ-
ated within these spheres, Mussolini felt entitled to adopt whatever policy he saw fit. 'There was no reason why the man who had revived the Triage Nostrum concept should hesitate to demonstrate tothe entire world that his twentieth Century Romans were as Superior to their Mediterranean rivals as their ancestor s had been to the Greeks 2,00 years ago.
In Mussolini's opinion one of the main attractions of an attack on (Greece was that Italy would not have to depend on Germany s assistance for the execution of such all operation. On 15 October he decided to invade Greece, although he knew that the Germans would disapprove. The attack was launched on 28 October, and the almost immediate setbacks of the Italians only served to heighten Hitler's displeasure. What enraged the Fuehrer most was that his repeated statements of the need for peace in the Balkans had been ignored by Mussolini.
The German military experts also disapproved the Italian plan of operations, but for other reasons. In their opinion any campaign in the Balkans would have to be executed in a manner similar to the one applied by the Germans in the campaign in Norway. The strategically important features would have to be seized in blitzkrieg fashion. In the Balkans these points were not situated along the Albanian border but in southern Greece and on Crete. The Italian failure to capture Crete seemed a strategic blunder, since British possession of the island endangered the Italian lines of communication to North Africa and assured Greece of a steady flow of supplies from Egypt. Moreover, the British bombers were now within range of the Romania oil fields that the Germans had secured at such great effort.
Hitler's decision to intervene in the military operations in the Balkans was made on 4 November, seven days after Italy had attacked Greece through Albania and four days after the British had occupied Crete and Limnos. He ordered the Army General Staff to prepare plans for the invasion of northern Greece from Romania via Bulgaria. The operation was to deprive the British of bases for future ground and air operations across the restive Balkans against the Romanian oil fields. Moreover, it would indirectly assist the Italians by diverting Greek forces from Albania.
The plans for this campaign, together with the projects involving Gibraltar and North Africa, were incorporated into a master plan to deprive the British of all their Mediterranean bases. On 12 November 1940 the Armed Forces High Command issued Directive No. 18, in which Hitler outlined his plan for the conduct of future operations to the three services. He first mentioned that Vichy France was to
German Operations and Plans, July 1940 March 1941 (490K)
be given an opportunity for defending its African possessions against the British and Free French. Gibraltar was to be seized and the straits closed, while at the same time the British were to be prevented from landing elsewhere on the Iberian Peninsula. German forces were to support the Italians in their offensive against Egypt, if and when the latter reached Mersa Matrull. The Luftwaffe, in particular, was to make preparations for attacking Alexandria and the Suez Canal. The Army was to ready ten divisions for the seizure of northern Greece, possession of which would permit German flying formations to operate against British air bases in the eastern Mediterranean and thus protect the Romanian oil fields. (Map 2)
The operations against Gibraltar and Greece were scheduled to take place simultaneously in January 1941, while the German offensive in North Africa was to be launched in the autumn of that year. The inversion of the British Isles was also mentioned in this directive, the target date of which was tentatively scheduled for the spring of 1941. The particular difficulty involved in the execution of some of these plans was that the German Army was supposed to conduct operations across the seas even though the Axis had not gained naval superiority in the respective areas. On 4 November even Hitler had voiced doubts as to the advisability of conducting offensive operations in North Africa, since Italy did not control the Mediterranean. That these doubts were well founded became apparent when, on 6 November, British naval fir forces inflicted a severe defeat on the Italian Navy at Taranto.
The German displeasure at the ill-timed Italian attack on Greece found its expression in a letter Hitler addressed to Mussolini on 20 November 1940. Among other things, he stated:
I wanted, above all. to ask you to postpone the operation until a more favorable season, in any ease until after the presidential election in America. In any event I wanted to ask you not to undertake this action without previously carrying out a blitzkrieg operation on Crete. For this purpose I intended to make practical suggestions regarding the employment of a parachute and of an airborne division.
After enumerating the psychological and military consequences of the Italian failure in Albania, the Fuehrer suggested a number of countermeasures to restore the situation. Spain would have to be induced to enter the war as soon as possible ill order to deny the British the use of Gibraltar and to block the western entrance to the Mediterranean. Every possible means would have to be employed to divert Russia s interest from the Balkans to the Near East. Special efforts
would have to be made to arrive at an agreement with Turkey whereby Turkish pressure on Bulgaria would be relieved. Yugoslavia would have to be induced to adopt a neutral attitude or, if possible, be led to collaborate actively with the Axis in solving the Greek problem. In the Balkans any military operation that was to lead to a success could be risked only after Yugoslavia's position had been fully clarified. Hungary would have to grant permission for the immediate transit of sizable German units destined for Romania. The latter country would have to accept the reinforcement of the German troops guaranteeing the protection of its territory. Hitler then continued by stating that he had decided to prevent any British buildup in northeastern Greece by force, whatever the risk may be.
In his reply of 29 November Mussolini expressed his regrets aboutthe misunderstandings with regard to Greece. The Italian forceshad been halted because of bad weather, the desertion of nearly all the Albanian forces incorporated into Italian units, and Bulgaria's attitude, which permitted the Greeks to shift eight divisions from Thrace to Albania.
In December 1940 the German plans in the Mediterranean underwent considerable change when, at the beginning of the month, Franco rejected the plan for an attack on Gibraltar. Consequently, German offensive planning for southern Europe had to be restricted to the campaign against Greece. Upon insistence of the Luftwaffe, the entire country was to be occupied, not just the northern provinces. For this purpose the Armed Forces High Command issued Directive No. 20, dated 13 December 1940, which outlined the Greek campaign under the code designation, Operation MARITA. In the introductory part of the directive Hitler pointed out that, in view of the confused situation in Albania, it was particularly important to thwart British attempts to establish air bases in Greece, which would constitute a threat to Italy as well as to the Romanian oil fields. To meet this situation twenty-four German divisions were to be assembled gradually in southern Romania within the next few months, ready to enter Bulgaria as soon as they received orders. In March, when the weather would be more favorable, they were to occupy the northern coast of the Aegean Sea and, if necessary, the entire Greek mainland. Bulgaria's assistance was expected; support by Italian forces and the coordination of the German and Italian operations in the Balkans would be the subject of future discussions. The Luftwaffe was-to provide air protection during the assembly period and prepare bases in Romania. During the operation the Luftwaffe was
to neutralize the enemy air force, support the ground forces, and whenever possible capture British bases on Greek islands by executing airborne landings.
Meanwhile, the Luftwaffe was to assist the Italians in stabilizing the precarious situation on the Albanian front. This was to be accomplished by airlifting approximately 30,000 Italian troops and great quantities of equipment and supplies from the Italian mainland to Albania.
Even though Hitler had decided to attack Greece, he wanted to tread softly in the Balkans so as not to expand the conflict during the winter. If Turkey entered the war against Germany, the chances for a successful invasion of Russia would diminish because of the diversion of forces such a new conflict would involve. Moreover, at the beginning of December 1940 the British launched an offensive from Egypt and drove the Italians back to the west. Toward the end of the month the situation of the Italians in Libya grew more and more critical. By January 1941 their forces in North Africa were in danger of being completely annihilated. If that happened, Italy with its indefensible coast line would be exposed to an enemy invasion. To forestall such disastrous developments, German air units under the command of X Air Corps had previously been transferred to Sicily, and the movement of German Army elements to Tripoli via Italy was begun immediately. In February initial small contingents of German ground troops arrived in North Africa, and the critical situation was soon alleviated. The first German troops to arrive were elements of a panzer division under the command of General Erwin Rommel. Hitler ordered these forces to protect Tripoli by a series of limited-objective attacks, thus relieving the pressure on the Italian troops. The political objective of this military intervention was to prevent Italy's internal collapse which would almost certainly result from the loss of her African possessions.
III. Soviet Union
Following the conclusion of the Russo-German alliance in August 1939, Hitler's policy was to try to divert Russian expansionist ambitions. He wanted to interest the Soviet rulers in a southeastward drive to the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea. However, there were many indications that the Russians were more interested in the Dardanelles and the Danube delta, where their political and military aspirations clashed with German economic interests. When the Russians showed their bad faith by subjugating the Baltic States and
forcing Romania to relinquish Bessarabia and northern Bukovina which normally was preoccupied with the campaign in the West, Hitler felt that the Soviet Union would surely take advantage of the diversion of strong German forces into distant Mediterranean areas by exerting political pressure on some of the Balkan countries.
Hitler's apprehensions were all the more justified because the Soviet Union intensified its political activities in the Balkans, particularly in Bulgaria, as soon as the Russian troops had established themselves at the mouth of the Danube, Germany's principal supply line from the east. By the autumn of 1940 Russo-German relations had further deteriorated considerably as the result of the Vienna Award, the presence of the German military mission in Romania, and Soviet pressure on Bulgaria.
These problems, as well as the entire question of the future relationship between Germany and the Soviet Union, were to be the subject of discussions between Molotov and the German political leaders during the former's visit to Berlin on 12-13 November 1940. All areas of disagreement were to be covered during these discussions and, if possible, the foundations for a common policy were to be laid at the same time. It is interesting to note that German planning for the invasion of the USSR was as already well advanced. A tentative plan for the Russian campaign had been submitted on ~ August and Directive No. 21 for Operation BARBAROSSA, which was issued on 18 December, was being drafted by the Army General Staff. Directive No. 18, issued on the day of Molotov's arrival in the German capital, stipulated that preparations for Operation BARBAROSSA were to be continued regardless of the outcome of the conversations.
During his conversations with Hitler, Molotov stated that, as a Black Sea power, the Soviet Union was interested in a number of Balkan countries. He asked Hitler whether the German-Italian guarantee to Romania could not be revoked because, in his opinion, it was directed against the Soviet Union. Hitler refused to give way on this question and did not commit himself on the subject of a Russian guarantee for Bulgaria, by which Molotov intended to reestablish the balance of power in the Balkans. Nor was Hitler prepared to help the Soviet Union to arrive at an agreement with Turkey regarding the settlement of the Dardanelles question. As to Greece, the Fuehrer intimated that Germany would take all military steps necessary to prevent Great Britain from establishing itself in that country. The conference ended in a deadlock.
IV. Great Britain
During the spring of 1940 Hitler was greatly concerned over the possibility of British intervention in the Balkans. Had not Britain and France tried to establish a solid political and military front in the Balkans by concluding a series of agreements with Turkey, by trying to draw Yugoslavia into their orbit, and by consolidating their position in the Aegean? Germany s first countermeasures came in May and June 1940, when Romania was induced to repudiate the Anglo-French territorial guarantee after it had been pressured into signing a pact which stipulated that the Romanians would step up their oil production and would make maximum deliveries to the Axis Powers. British personnel supervising the operation of the oil fields were dismissed during the month of July. After the Vienna Award of August 194O, Romania intended to break off diplomatic relations with Britain, but after consultation with Berlin this action was postponed because of the potential danger of British air attacks on the oil fields.
When Greece was attacked by Italy on 28 October 1940, it did not request any assistance from Great Britain, for fear of giving Hitler an excuse for German intervention. Nevertheless, the British occupied Crete and Limnos three days later, thereby improving their strategic position in the eastern Mediterranean. By 4 November British air force units began to arrive in southern Greece. Since Hitler believed that these moves brought the Romanian oil fields within British bombing range, he decided to transfer additional antiaircraft, fighter, and fighter-bomber units to Romania to protect the German oil resources.
When the German threat began to take mole definite shape during the winter of 1940-41, the Greek Government decided to accept the British offer to send air force Units to northern Greece to strengthen the defense of Salonika. Early in March 1941, the British sent an expeditionary corps of some 53,0()() troops into Greece in an attempt to support their allies against the impending German invasion.
However, before Germany could think of starting military operations in the Balkans, it had to secure its lines of communication. For this purpose it had to obtain firm political control over Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria, and to wrest some important concessions and assurances from Turkey and Yugoslavia.
Germany's Satellites in the Balkans
The strong German forces needed for the attack on Greece could be assembled in Romania only after the Hungarian Government had granted them free passage through that country. The first step in that direction was to obtain Hungary's adherence to the Tripartite Pact. On 20 November Hungarian Premier Teleki signed the pact in Berchtesgaden and Hitler mentioned on that occasion that he intended to assist the Italians in Greece, thus preparing the way for later demands he intended to make on Hungary.
During the second part of October 1940 General Antonescu made urgent requests to speed up the reinforcement of the German military mission in Romania. According to his indications there was a grave danger of a Russian attack on Romania. By mid-November the 13th Motorized Infantry Division, reinforced by the 4th Panzer Regiment, engineer, and signal troops, six fighter and two reconnaissance squadrons, and some antiaircraft units had arrived in Romania. On the occasion of Romania's adherence to the Tripartite Pact, which took place on 23 November, Hitler informed Antonescu of his plans against Greece. Romania would not be required to lend active assistance in the attack on Greece, but was to permit the assembly of German forces in its territory.
Antonescu's conference with Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, the chief of OKW (Armed Forces High Command), which took place on 24 November, was of great importance to Romania's future. Romania's plans called for the organization of thirty-nine divisions. Motorization was the principal bottleneck but, because of Germany's shortage of rubber, Keitel could not offer Antonescu any tires. The Romanian chief of state then explained his country's plan of defense against an attack by the Soviet Union. Keitel reassured him that the German Army would lend immediate assistance to the Romanian forces in the event of a Russian invasion which, however, he considered unlikely. As a result of this conversation the German military mission was reinforced by the transfer of the 16th Panzer Division to Romania during the second half of December.
Meanwhile, the German Army General Staff had initiated the preparations for Operations MARITA and BARBAROSSA and had drawn up the schedule for the concentration of forces and the plan of
operation. On 5 December these plans were submitted to Hitler with the observation that it would not be possible to start MARITA before the snow had melted at the beginning of March. The completed plan would have to be drawn up by the middle of December since the assembly would require seventy-eight days. No definite estimate of the duration of the campaign could be given, but it would be safe to assume that it would last three to four weeks. Since the redeployment of troops would require four additional weeks and their rehabilitation would add a further delay, the units participating in the Balkan campaign would not be available for Operation BARBAROSSA before mid-May 1941.
Hitler believed that the threat of German retaliation had so far prevented the British from launching air attacks on the Romanian oil fields from Greek territory and that probably no attacks would take place during the next months. Nevertheless, Germany would have to settle the Greek problem once and for all, unless Greece took the initiative to end the conflict with Italy and force the British to withdraw from its territory. In that event, German intervention would prove unnecessary since the issue of European hegemony would not be decided in Greece. Since the Greeks had shown no intention of taking any such initiative, the assembly of forces and preparations for Operation MARITA had to be pushed energetically so that the offensive could be launched by the beginning of March 1941.
In the meantime, late in December, the first attack echelon of Twelfth Army, the headquarters that was to be in charge of the ground forces during Operation MARITA, began to entrain for Romania. The heavy bridge equipment needed for crossing the Danube was shipped on the very first trains so that it could be unloaded at the Danube wharfs by 3 January. The engineer units needed for the bridging operation had been transported to Romania during the second half of December, together with the 16th Panzer Division. They were to prepare the construction of bridges along the Danube as soon as the equipment arrived. Heavy snowfall disrupted the rail movement, and snowdrifts caused additional delays during January. Internal uprisings, which took place in Bucharest and other Romanian cities during the second half of January, were quickly suppressed by (general Antonescu and therefore did not interfere with German preparations. By the end of January the Twelfth Army and First Panzer Group (a headquarters in charge of an armored force of army size, but operating in conjunction with an army) Headquarters, three corps headquarters with corps and GHQ troops, and two panzer and two infantry divisions had arrived in Romania in full strength. In conformity with Bulgaria's request, the two panzer divisions were sta-
tioned in and around Cernavoda in northern Dobrudja, while the two infantry divisions were assembled in the Craiova-Giurgiu area in southern Romania.
A few days after Molotov's departure, on 18 November, King Boris of Bulgaria arrived in Germany. Hitler tried to persuade him to join the Tripartite Pact and discussed with him the question of Bulgarian participation in the attack on Greece. With obvious reserve, the king merely called attention to the fact that the weather and road conditions in the Greek-Bulgarian border region would not allow the commitment of major forces before the beginning of March. Moreover, he emphasized very strongly that it was of utmost importance for Bulgaria not to be openly involved in any German preparations until the last moment before the actual attack. Since Bulgaria's participation therefore appeared doubtful, Hitler decided that the number of German divisions would have to be increased.
In view of the appearance of British troops in Greece, the establishment of a German warning net in Bulgaria was of vital importance. The Bulgarian Government agreed to admit to its territory one Luftwaffe signal company consisting of 200 men, dressed in civilian clothes, who were to operate an aircraft reporting and warning service. The Luftwaffe, however, first asked permission to dispatch two companies, then a few days later increased this figure to three companies, because incoming reports indicated that the British were constructing air bases on the Greek mainland and the Aegean Islands and were bringing in a steadily increasing number of long-range bombers. The German negotiations with the Bulgarian military authorities made little progress because of the adverse effect of the reverses suffered by the Italians in Albania. By the end of 1940, however, an agreement was reached, and by mid-January all three L. Luftwaffe signal companies, their personnel disguised in civilian clothes, were operating on the mountain range which extends across Bulgaria.
During the political and military negotiations between German and Bulgarian leaders, the latter were very hesitant. Their attitude was motivated by fear of Turkish intervention in the event of a German attack on Greece and by concern over Soviet reaction. After the German military mission had established itself in Romania, the Soviet Union offered to send a military mission to Bulgaria. This offer, made in late November, was rejected, and the Bulgarian Government feared that, as soon as the German military intervention in Bulgaria became manifest, the Soviet Union might seek to recoup itself through the occupation of the Bulgarian Black Sea port of Varna. The Bul-
garians therefore insisted that all preparatory measures that the Germans intended to take in Bulgaria be carried out in the utmost secrecy and requested that Germany supply Bulgaria with arms and equipment to reinforce the Black Sea coast defenses. This would include the delivery of modern coast artillery and antiaircraft batteries with the necessary ammunition, as well as furnishing mines and mine-laying vessels. Moreover, German naval experts were to assist in the construction of new coastal defenses.
Hitler promised early compliance with these requests in order to obtain in return some concessions from the Bulgarian Government. One concession was the permission to send a joint military mission, composed of officers from all three services who were to travel through Bulgaria disguised as civilians. Upon returning to Germany, the chief of the mission reported that, in view of the inadequate billeting facilities, the poor condition of roads and bridges, the limited supply of rations, fodder, combustibles, and motor fuel, as well as the absence of reliable maps, operations launched in the Balkans during the wet and cold seasons presented problems that were difficult, though not insurmountable. If appropriate measures, such as improving the roads, reinforcing the bridges, equipping the troops with light motor vehicles and snowplows, employing more German transportation experts, and preparing better maps, were introduced, the attack could be launched even in winter. Since it was generally assumed that major military operations in the Balkans were not practicable in winter, it would be all the easier to camouflage Operation MARITA, inasmuch as nobody would believe that the Germans were feverishly planning and preparing an operation for that time of the year. As an initial step, Bulgaria should permit the entry of a mission of technical experts, whose presence would be kept secret. The mission was to supervise the improvement of the road net and bridges by indigenous labor forces and get acquainted with local conditions, especially those pertaining to the weather.
On 9 January Hitler approved these suggestions and agreed that the first German elements should cross the Danube as soon as the ice on the river could carry them. It was expected that the crossings could be effected between 10 and 15 February. By that time the Luftwaffe was to have assembled sufficient forces to provide adequate air cover. The concentration of forces for Operation MARITA was to be accomplished by 26 March. At that time the Italians were to pin down a maximum number of Greek forces in Albania so that only a relatively few Greek divisions would block the German thrust toward Salonika. Bulgaria was to be approached about billeting facilities for the first German elements to arrive south of the Danube.
After issuing these instructions, Hitler evaluated the overall situation in the Balkans. In his opinion Romania was the only friendly and Bulgaria the only loyal country on which the Axis Powers could rely. King Boris' hesitations in joining the Tripartite Pact were regarded as motivated only by fear of the Soviet Union, whose apparent aim it was to use Bulgaria as an assembly area for an operation leading to the seizure of the Bosporus. The greater the pressure applied by the Russians, the more likely was Bulgaria's adherence to the Tripartite Pact. Yugoslavia maintained a reserved attitude toward the Axis Powers; the leaders of that country wanted to be on the winning side without having to take any active part and were therefore playing for time.
At the beginning of January Hitler issued instructions that the Soviet Union should not be informed of German intentions in the Balkans until it made official inquiries. A few days later he changed his mind. Since rumors of an imminent German entry into Bulgaria were circulating at the time—these rumors prompted the Greek minister in Berlin to make inquiries at the Foreign Ministry and induced the Bulgarian Government to issue an official denial—Hitler deemed it advisable to forestall a Soviet demarche. Consequently, about 10 January the Russian ambassador in Berlin w as informed of the transfer of German troops to Romania. The Soviet Union showed its concern about this information by filing a protest note in Berlin, warning Germany that the presence of foreign military forces on Bulgarian territory would be considered a threat to the security of the USSR. Hitler thereupon ordered that all discernible preparations for the Danube crossing into Bulgaria be discontinued until further notice. Although he apparently did not feel that the execution of Operation MARITA would lead to a war with Russia, he seemed to believe that the Soviet Union might attempt to incite Turkey to take up arms against Germany.
During the conferences between Hitler and Mussolini, which took place from 18 to 20 January, the Italians were fully informed about the imminent march into Bulgaria and the intended attack on Greece. On 20 January, during a review of the overall political and military situation, Hitler stated that three objectives were to be attained by the strategic concentration of German forces in Romania. First, an attack was to be launched against Greece so as to prevent the British from gaining a foothold in that country. Second, Bulgaria was to be protected against an attack by the Soviet Union and Turkey. Third, the inviolability of Romanian territory would have to be guaranteed by the presence of German forces. Each of these objectives required
the formation of specific contingents of troops, and it was therefore necessary to employ very strong forces, whose assembly would take considerable time. Since it was highly desirable to effect this assembly without enemy interference, precautions had to he taken that the German plans would not be revealed prematurely. For this reason the crossing of the Danube would have to be delayed as long as possible and, once it was executed, the attack on Greece would have to be launched at the earliest moment. In all probability, Turkey would remain neutral, which would be most desirable since the consequences of Turkey joining Great Britain and placing its airfields at the latter's disposal could be quite unpleasant. Romania's internal situation was not fully clarified, but Hitler felt confident that General Antonescu would be capable of keeping it in hand.
During a conference between General Alfredo Guzzoni, the Italian Assistant Secretary of War, and Field Marshal Keitel, which took place on 19 January, the latter gained the impression that, in view of the situation in Libya and Albania, the Italians would be unable to support the German attack on Greece. On the other hand, Guzzoni askedthe Germans to abstain from sending troops to Albania as planned for Operation ALPENVEILCHEN. This German plan called for the transfer of one mountain corps, composed of three divisions, to Albania. Flanked by Italian troops, these forces were to break through the Greek front at a suitable point. The plan was finally abandoned, and the Germans were thus able to concentrate their efforts on assembling forces for Operation MARITA.
In view of the prevailing uncertainty of Turkey stand, the Bulgarian Government preferred not to join the Tripartite Pact before the entry of German troops on its territory. Moreover, this step was to be contingent upon the prior arrival of sufficient German antiaircraft units on Bulgarian soil.
On 28 January Hitler decided that the entry of German troops into Bulgaria was to depend upon the completion of the secret assembly of the VIII Air Corps in Romania, the establishment of adequate antiaircraft protection and coastal defenses at the ports of Varna, Constanta, and Burgas, and the provision of air cover over the Danube crossing points. The assembly of German forces in Romania was to continue without letup. The new target date for Operation MARITA—on or about 1 April—must be adhered to by the services. Antiaircraft units were not to move into Bulgaria before the other German troops. Bulgaria was not to proceed with a general mobilization before sufficient numbers of German troops had arrived in that country. The Bulgarian Air Force and antiaircraft units, as well
as the civil defense organization, were to be unobtrusively alerted. German military forces were to occupy Tulcea to secure the region around the Danube estuary against seizure by the Russians.
A memorandum from the Armed Forces Operations Staff to the Foreign Ministry called special attention to the fact that no announcement of Bulgaria's adherence to the Tripartite Pact was to be made until immediately before German troops entered that country. From a military point of view it would be desirable if nonaggression pacts between Bulgaria and Turkey, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia, and Germany and Yugoslavia could be concluded before this event. The logistical problems of Operation MARITA would be greatly eased if, after the entry of German forces into Bulgaria, it would be possible to route supplies via Yugoslavia.
Upon request of the Army High Command, Hitler gave his permission to resume preparations for bridge construction on both sides of the Danube. The actual construction, however, was to be delayed as long as possible. The German forces stationed in southern Romania were to be ready to cross into Bulgaria when these preparations could no longer be kept secret. The Twelfth Army was to march from Romania into Bulgaria, move into the assembly areas along the Greek border, and simultaneously provide flank cover against a possible attack by Turkey. The Twelfth Army forces were to be divided into three echelons. The first, under the command of First Panzer Group, was to detrain in Romania by 10 February. It was to consist of three corps headquarters, and three panzer, three infantry, and one and one-half motorized infantry divisions. The second echelon was to be composed of a corps headquarters and one panzer, one infantry, and two mountain divisions, as well as one independent infantry regiment. The third echelon was to consist of one corps headquarters and six infantry divisions. The last two echelons were to detrain in Romania between 10 February and 27 March 1941.
The Other Balkan Countries
If Bulgaria repeatedly postponed joining the Tripartite Pact, it was primarily because of its concern over Turkish intervention. Actually, negotiations for a Bulgarian-Turkish treaty of friendship were being carried on throughout January 1941. These were progressing satisfactorily, and the terms of the treaty proposed by the
Turkish Government indicated clearly the latter's desire to keep out of the war. The signing of the treaty was announced on 17 February. Both countries stated that the immutable basis of their foreign policy was to refrain from attacking one another.
In German eyes this was by no means a guarantee that Turkey would stand aloof while German troops first entered Bulgaria and then attacked Greece, Turkey's ally. In the meantime Hitler had given his approval for bridging the Danube on 20 February; he subsequently acceded to a Bulgarian request for an eight-day postponement and set the final date as 28 February. The entry of German troops into Bulgaria was scheduled for 2 March, the day after the Bulgarian Government was to sign the Tripartite Pact. On the day the bridge construction operation was to start, the German ambassador in Ankara was to inform the Turkish Government of the impending entry of German troops into Bulgaria and of Bulgaria's decision to join the Axis Powers. Moreover, he was to announce Hitler's intention of sending a personal message to Turkey's president.
On the basis of information received from Ankara, Hitler arrived at the conclusion that the danger of Turkey's intervention had been averted. His confidence remained unshaken despite reports concerning the meetings that had taken place in Ankara on 28 February between President Ismet Inoenue and British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden. These meetings stressed mutual respect for and adherence to the Turkish-British alliance, but apparently the British had been unsuccessful in inducing the Turks to intervene in the Balkans.
The bridge construction across the Danube began at 0700 on 28 February. At the same time, the first German unit, an antiaircraft battalion which had been assembled in southern Romania, crossed the Bulgarian border en route to Varna, where it arrived the same evening. The 5th and 11th Panzer Divisions, stationed in the Cernavoda area, were alerted to move up to the Bulgarian-Turkish border even before the general entry of German troops into Bulgaria had been effected. This turned out to be an unnecessary precaution. On 1 March Bulgaria officially joined the Tripartite Pact during a ceremony held in Vienna. On this occasion the Bulgarian premier emphasized that Bulgaria would faithfully adhere to the treaties of friendship it had previously concluded with its neighbors—in addition to the treaty just concluded with Turkey, Bulgaria had signed a treaty of friendship with Yugoslavia in 1937 and a nonaggression pact with Greece in 1938—and was determined "to maintain and further develop its traditionally friendly relations with the Soviet Union."
Figure 1. The military bridge aerosol the Danube.
After the construction of the Danube bridges had been completed according to plan, road repair and maintenance crews were sent ahead of the German troops, which made their official entry into Bulgaria at 0600 on 2 March. The VIII Air Corps moved in simultaneously, and most of its formations arrived at the airfields near Sofiya and Plovdiv by 4 March. As soon as the bridging operation (ad started, all outgoing telegraph and telephone communications were stopped by German counterintelligence agents in Bulgaria, and on 2 March the Bulgarian Government closed its borders with Turkey, Greece,
and Yugoslavia. The international reaction to the German entry into Bulgaria was unexpectedly mild. Great Britain broke off diplomatic relations with Bulgaria now completely isolated, appeared more amenable to German suggestions to join the Tripartite Pact. The German minister in Athens discontinued his conversations with Greek officials; however, in conformity with Hitler's instructions diplomatic relations with Greece were not broken off. This enabled the Germans to receive reliable information from that country until shortly before they started their attack. According to reports received from Athens, motorized British and Imperial troops began to disembark at Piraeus and Volos during the first days of March.
Immediately after the German entry into Bulgaria, Turkey closed the Dardanelles and maintained a reserved attitude. On 4 March Turkey's president received Hitler's message explaining the entry of German troops into Bulgaria was the only possible solution to the predicament that confronted Germany when the British began to infiltrate Greece. Pointing to the German-Turkish alliance during World War I, Hitler emphasized his peaceful intentions toward Turkey and guaranteed that German troops would stay at least thirty-five miles from the Turkish border. In the reply, which was handed to the Fuehrer by the Turkish ambassador in Berlin in mid-March, President Inoenue also made reference to the former alliance and expressed the hope that the friendly relations existing between their two countries would be maintained in the future. After receiving this reply to his note, Hitler was no longer apprehensive of Turkey's attitude. However, in order to go one step farther and put Turkey under an obligation, Hitler contemplated giving Turkey that strip of Greek territory around Adrianople through which the Orient Express passes on its way to Istanbul.
The occupation of Bulgaria proceeded according to schedule. By 9 March the advance detachments of the leading infantry divisions had arrived at the Greek-Bulgarian border, and the 5th and 11th Panzer Divisions were fully assembled in their designated areas within fifty miles of the Turkish-Bulgarian border. Eight days later the first and second echelons, consisting of four corps headquarters, eleven and one-half divisions, and one infantry regiment, arrived on Bulgarian territory. In accordance with previous agreements, the troop contingents entering Sofiya, which the Bulgarians intended to declare an open city, consisted exclusively of service elements. The Twelfth Army under Field Marshal Wilhelm List established its
headquarters south of Sofiya and directed the transfer of the German divisions to their assembly areas along the Greek-Bulgarian border.
During that time the third echelon was still detraining in Romania. As early as 7 March the Army High Command arrived at the conclusion that, in view of Turkey's more and more favorable attitude toward the German occupation of Bulgaria, it would be advisable to keep the six infantry divisions of this echelon in Romania so that they would be promptly available for Operation BARBAROSSA and would not be exhausted by long marches.
Throughout this period Yugoslavia had successfully avoided being drawn into the Italian-Greek conflict. Hitler's policy was to induce the Yugoslav political leaders to collaborate with Germany and Italy. On 28 November 1940, during a conference with Yugoslavia's Foreign Minister Lazar Cincar-Marcovic, the Fuehrer offered to sign a nonaggression pact with Yugoslavia and recommended its adherence to the Tripartite Pact. Hitler mentioned on that occasion that he intended to intervene in the Balkans by assisting the Italians against Greece. Once the British forces had been driven out of the Balkans, frontier corrections would have to be made, and Yugoslavia might be given an outlet to the Aegean Sea through Salonika Although Cincar-Mareovic seemed impressed by these arguments, no further progress was made.
During the planning for Operation MARITA, German military leaders pointed repeatedly to Yugoslavia's crucial position and asked that diplomatic pressure be used to induce that country to join the Axis Powers. Because of the lack of direct rail lines between Bulgaria and Greece, the use of the Brigade-Ni - Salonika rail line was essential for the rapid execution of Operation MARITA and the speedy redeployment of forces for Operation BARBAROSSA.
On 14 February 1941 Hitler and Foreign Minister Joachim van Ribbentrop met with the Yugoslav Premier Dragisha Cvetkovic and Cincar-Marcovic. For the Germans the results were as unsatisfactory as those of the preceding meeting, since the conference did not lead to the conclusion of any agreement. D-day for Operation MARITA was drawing closer and Yugoslavia still refused to commit itself. Hitler therefore invited Prince Regent Paul to continue the negotiations, and a meeting took place on 4 March. The prince regent's reaction to the German desiderata was much more favorable than that of the political leaders whom Hitler had met before. However, in strict pursuance of Yugoslavia's policy of neutrality, Prince Paul declined to give the Axis Powers any military support, intimating
that this would be incompatible with Yugoslav public opinion. Hitler assured him that he fully appreciated the regent's difficulties and guaranteed him that. even after adhering to the Tripartite. Pact, Yugoslavia would not be required to permit the transit of German troops across its territory. Although the military considered the use of the Yugoslav rail net as essential, Hitler attached so much political weight to Yugoslavia's adherence to the Tripartite Pact that he would not let that point interfere with the successful conclusion of the pending negotiations. Moreover, he hoped that the Yugoslav Government could eventually be induced to reverse its decision and permit the transit of German supply and materiel shipments across its territory.
For the time being, however, the negotiations with Yugoslavia made little progress, in spite of Hitler's willingness to make concessions. Yugoslav opposition to Italy's interference in the Balkans seemed to be the chief obstacle. By mid-March the situation had reached the point where Mussolini decided to order the reinforcement of the garrisons along the Italian-Yugoslav border. On 18 March the situation suddenly took a turn for the better—the Yugoslav privy council decided to join the Tripartite Pact. The ceremony took place in Vienna on 25 March, when Cvetkovic and Cincar-Marcovic signed the protocol. On this occasion the Axis Powers handed two notes to the Yugoslav representatives. In these they guaranteed to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Yugoslavia at all times and promised that, for the duration of the war, Yugoslavia would not be required to permit the transit of Axis troops across its territory.
Hitler's triumph over this diplomatic success was? however, short-lived. During the night of 96-27 March a military coup d'etat at Belgrade led to the resignation of the existing government and the formation of a new one headed by General Richard D. Simovic, the former commander of the Yugoslav Air Force. Simultaneously, the seventeen-year-old King Peter II acceded to the throne and Prince Regent Paul and his family departed for Greece. The frontiers of Yugoslavia were hermetically sealed. Anti-German demonstrations were held in Belgrade and several other Serbian cities and, on 29 March, the Yugoslav Army was mobilized.
Although a nationalistic wave of enthusiasm swept the entire country with the exception of (Croatia, the realities of the military situation gave little reason for optimism. Yugoslavia was surrounded by Axis forces except for the narrow strip of common border with Greece. The situation of the Yugoslav Army was rendered particularly difficult by the shortage of modern weapons. More
over, since most of its equipment had been produced in Germany or in armament plants under German control, it was impossible to renew the supply of ammunition.
On 27 March the new Yugoslav foreign minister immediately assured the German minister in Belgrade that his country wanted to maintain its friendly relations with Germany. Although it would not ratify its adherence to the Tripartite Pact, Yugoslavia did not want to cancel any standing agreements. Despite this information Hitler was convinced that the new government was anti-German and opposed to the pact and that Yugoslavia would sooner or later join the Western Powers. He therefore called a meeting of the commanders in chief of the Army and Luftwaffe and their chiefs of staff, Ribbentrop, Keitel, and Generaloberst (General) Alfred Jodl for 1300 on 27 March. He informed them that he had decided to "destroy Yugoslavia as a military power and sovereign state." This would have to be accomplished with a minimum of delay and with the assistance of those nations that had borders in common with Yugoslavia. Italy, Hungary, and to a certain extent Bulgaria, would have to lend direct military support, whereas Romania's principal role was to block any attempts at Soviet intervention. The annihilation of the Yugoslav state would have to be executed in blitzkrieg manner. The three services would be responsible for making the necessary preparations with utmost speed.
Following these explanations Hitler issued the overall instructions for the execution of the operation against Yugoslavia and asked the commanders in chief of the Army and Luftwaffe to submit their plans without delay. These instructions were laid down in Directive No. 25, which was signed by Hitler the same evening and immediately issued to the services.
In a telegram sent to Mussolini on 27 March, Hitler informed the Italian chief of state that he had made all preparations "to meet a critical development by taking the necessary military countermeasures," and that he had acquainted the Hungarian and Bulgarian ministers with his views on the situation in an attempt to rouse the interest of their respective governments to lending military support. Moreover, he asked the Duce "not to start any new ventures in Albania during the next few days" but "to cover the most important passes leading from Yugoslavia to Albania with all available forces and to quickly reinforce the Italian troops along the Italian-Yugoslav border."
A written confirmation of this telegram was handed to Mussolini the next day and negotiations regarding Italy's participation in a war against Yugoslavia were initiated immediately. The Germans
submitted a memorandum containing suggestions to promote the coordination of the German and Italian operations against Yugoslavia. The memorandum outlined the German plans and assigned the following missions to the Italian forces:
a. To protect the flank of the German attack forces, which were to be assembled around Graz, by moving all immediately available ground forces in the direction of Split and Jajce;
b. To switch to the defensive along the Greek-Albanian front and assemble an attack force, which was to link up with the Germans driving toward Skoplje and points farther south;
c. To neutralize the Yugoslav naval forces in the Adriatic;
d. To resume the offensive on the (Greek front in Albania at a later date.
Mussolini approved the German plans and instructed General Guzzoni to comply with them. As a result, the Italian army group in A1bania diverted four divisions to the protection of the eastern and northern borders of that country where they faced Yugoslavia.
No definite agreement had been made about possible cooperation between the German and Italian naval forces in the war against Greece. At the beginning of March, during a conversation between (general Guzzoni and the (Berman liaison officer with the Italian armed forces, the former had emphasized the necessity of defining the German and Italian military objectives in the Balkans and of assigning liaison staffs to the field commands. However, because of continued Italian reverses in Albania, Hitler was not interested in any such agreement. Finally, he decided that liaison officers might be exchanged between Twelfth Army and the Italian commander in Albania. The Italians were not supposed to know any details of Operation MARITA or its target date until six days before D-day.
When first approached, the Hungarians shoved little enthusiasm for participating in the campaign against Yugoslavia. They made no immediate military preparations, but gave their permission for the assembly of one German corps near the western Hungarian border southwest of Lake Balaton.
Romanian units were to guard the Romanian-Yugoslav border and, together with the German military mission stationed in that country, provide rear guard protection against an attack by the Soviet Union.. Antonescu was greatly concerned over the possibility of Russian intervention in the Balkans as soon as Germany invaded Yugoslavia. His apprehensions were based on rumors regarding the signing of a mutual-assistance pact between the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. Hitler tried to reassure him by promising maximum German support and ordering the immediate reinforcement of the German anti-
aircraft artillery units in Romania and the transfer of additional firefighting forces to the oil region.
King Boris of Bulgaria refused to lend active support in the campaigns against Greece and Yugoslavia. He pointed out that by 15 April only five Bulgarian divisions would be available for deployment along the Turkish border and that he could not possibly commit any forces elsewhere.
On 3 April a Yugoslav delegation arrived in Moscow to sign a pact of mutual assistance with the Soviet Union. Instead, they signed a treaty of friendship and nonaggression two days later. By concluding this treaty the Soviet Government apparently wanted to show its interest in Yugoslavia and the Balkans without much hope that this gesture would induce Hitler to reconsider his decision to attack Yugoslavia The next day, 6 April 1941, the Luftwaffe unleashed an air attack on Belgrade and the German Army started to invade Yugoslavia.