The tentative study, '"The German Campaigns in the Balkans (Spring 1941)," is an account of a Nazi blitz in which political machinations and military policy were synchronized and utilized to insure rapidity in decision, in planning, in concentration, end in operations. The campaigns culminated in the largest mass airborne attack that had ever been launched up to that time. The success of this action captivated the minds of Allied military men and probably helped create the very considerable airborne force organized by Great Britain and the United States. Little did they know at the time of the serious loss sustained by the Germans who never again employed any considerable number of airborne troops in an air landing.
It is believed that this study, although tentative, will prove of interest and of value to all serious military students.
The purpose of this tentative study is to describe the German campaigns in the Balkans and the seizure of Crete. It will be perfected, as source material and comments become available, and finally published as a pamphlet. It is believed that the study, the first of a series dealing with large-scale German military operations in Eastern Europe, will reveal many lessons of value to military students. Other studies such as The German Support of Finland, The Axis Campaign in Russia, 1941-45: A Strategic Survey, and German Army Group Operations in Russia will follow.
German victories over Poland, Denmark and Norway, and the Low Countries and France and their ally Great Britain were gained cheaply by blitz tactics. In the broadest sense, however, those victories were merely tactical. They only tended to clear the foreground and to bring the European Axis fare to face with political and strategic al problems of ever-widening range and complexity. To an aggressor these problems could only be solved by force. Relieving himself unable to act decisively in the west, Hitler sought to resolve his problem to the east, but simultaneously was pulled to the south by Mussolini's rashness and by the peculiar situation existing in the Balkans. At the same time he was forced to consider his northern flank and the support of Finland, which had so heroically taken up arms against Russia in defense of its liberty.
From the point of view of German strategy, the Balkans posed a difficult problem which had to be resolved before action could be taken against the USSR. Hitler hoped to attain his aim by diplomacy and to a certain extent did. But in the end the maneuvering of Great Britain and the military failures of Italy compelled him to use force. The campaign that followed was based on severing the lines of communication between Yugoslavia and Greece by an armored thrust from the Bulgarian border in the direction of Albania. Once the Belgrade - Salonika railway was cut, Yugoslavia was isolated. After that, the tactical operations amounted to little more than police action. The culmination of the campaign was the German airborne attack upon the island of Crete which made such a profound impression upon Allied military men. In this account it is seen through German eyes.
"The Gorman Campaigns in the Balkans" is written from the German point of view and is based almost entirely on original German records and postwar manuscripts prepared by former German officers who participated in the operations. The lessons and conclusions following each narrative have been drawn from the same German sources. (These records and manuscripts are listed in Appendix III.) Material taken from U.S. and Allied sources has been integrated into the text, but specific cross references have bean made only in those instances where the sources deviate from the German documents.
The work of preparing this study, which consisted of translating several basic German monographs, performing additional research, and then rewriting the monographs with an eye for continuity and correct factual data, was done in the Foreign Studies Branch, Special Studies Division, Office of the Chief of Military History. In the process of presenting the material, every effort has been made to give a balanced account of German strategy and operations in the Balkans during the spring of 1941.
The German authors had access to selected documents bearing on the subject. Among the authors were: Dr. Helmuth Greiner, Gen. Burkhart H. Mueller-Hillebrand, arid the late Gen. Hans v. Greiffenberg.
The German studies and documents were translated and edited and then expanded by material drawn largely from German and British sources by Mr. George E. Blau, assisted by Lt. Gerd Haber and Mrs. Olga V. Fuhrman. The maps were prepared by Mr. Frank Vogel.
P. M. ROBINETT
Brigadier General, USA, Ret.
Chief, Special Studies Division
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 Hitler had consistently stated that Germany had no territorial ambition 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 Russian, 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, the seizure of unoccupied France, and — last but certainly not least — the attack on Russia. By 1940 Hitler had refined the process of bloodless aggression to a high degree of efficiency. As the immediate political means in the Balkans, he used the customary fifth-column tactics, by which the Germans infiltrated the internal structure of one Balkan state after another. As soon as the political machinery of a country was sufficiently paralyzed, its government was forced to adhere to the Tripartite Pact, which had been signed by Germany, Italy, and Japan on 27 September 1940 (see Appendix II, Chronological Table of Events). Adherence to the pact was the symbol of admission to the ranks of satellite states; it also meant the loss of that country's independence. In general, shortly after the new member of the pact had signed, a German military mission crossed its border and took over communications, airfields, and the responsibility for the internal security of the country.
MAP 1. GENERAL REFERENCE MAP
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.
After the signing of the Franco-German armistice on 22 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 refusal 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. Ho 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 Array 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.
After the failure of the air offensive against the British Isles Hitler decided, on 12 October 1940, that the invasion of England would be postponed until the spring of 1941. With the plans for a direct invasion of England shelved, he tried to find a way to defeat Great Britain without attempting a cross-Channel attack.
For this purpose he 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 a series of offensive operations launched from its Libyan bases. In Hitler's opinion, the Italians would net be able to launch the final decisive drive into the Nile delta before the autumn of 1941. German forces were to participate in the final stage of the operation, and the Army High Command was instructed to prepare the necessary forces — approximately one panzer corps — for desert warfare in the tropical climate. Since the Germans lacked experience in this type of warfare, appropriate 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 its neighbors and by lining up the Balkan countries on the Axis side.
The dismemberment of Romania was accomplished in successive stages. Russian occupation of Besserabia 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 an armed conflict. Hitler's intervention in favor of Bulgaria led to the cession of the southern Dobrudja by Romania on 21 August 1940. By then only the Hungarian claims remained to be settled. This was achieved by the Vienna Arbitration Award, which took place on 30 August. Romania was to yield to Hungary one third of Transylvania, that is, some 16,600 square miles with a population of 2.4 million inhabitants. Even more important than the partition of Transylvania, however, was the guarantee given by the Axis Powers to defend the territorial integrity of what was loft of Romania. Thin guarantee was clearly directed against the Soviet Union. In Romania the various territorial concessions caused a political overturn, bringing Gen. 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 Romanian military forces, and prepare the ground for a possible attack on Russia from Romanian bases.
Neither the Italian nor the Russian 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, Mussolini 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 notice to Germany,. Mussolini 9xpected 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. Yugoslavia and Greece were supposed to be zones of interest in which Italy could adopt whatever policy it saw fit, There was no reason why the man who had revived the Mare Nostrum concept should hesitate to demonstrate to the entire world that his twentieth century Romans were as superior to the modern Greeks as their ancestors had been to the Greeks 2,000 years ago.
Although not officially informed, the German military and political leaders seem to have been aware of Italy's intention to attack Greece. What enraged Hitler was that his repeated, pointed statements of the need of peace in the Balkans had been ignored by Mussolini. The attack was launched on 28 October, and the Italians' immediate lack of success only served to heighten Hitler's displeasure. In the opinion of the German military, 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. Tn any event, on 4 November Hitler ordered the Army High Command to initiate preparations for military operations in the Balkans.
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 case 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 6n Crete. For this purpose I intended to make practical suggestions regarding the employment of a parachute and of an airborne division.
In his reply of 22 November Mussolini expressed his regrets about the misunderstandings with regard to Greece. The Italian forces had 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.
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 serve the double purpose of depriving the British of bases for future ground and air operations across the restive Balkans against the Romanian oil fields and of assisting 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, enumerating to the three services the following objectives (Map 2):
a. The capture of Gibraltar via Spain;
b. The seizure of Egypt and the Suez Canal from Libyan bases;
c. The invasion of Greece from Bulgaria; and
d. The speedy seizure of unoccupied France at a moment's notice.
MAP 2. GERMAN OPERATIONS AND PLANS
July 1940 - March 1941
(1) INVASION OF GREAT BRITAIN:
First discussion of the plan-----------------------Toward the end of June 1940
Order to Start preparations------------------------16 July 1940
Intended start of the operation-----------------September 1940
Cancellation of the operations order-----------12 October 1940
(2) INCREASE AIR AND NAVAL WARFARE AGAINST ENGLAND
First discussion of the plan----------------------July 1940
Order to start preparations-----------------------1 August 1940
Start of the operations------------------------------8 August 1940
First discussion of the Plan----------------------September 1940
Order to start preparations-----------------------12 November 1940
Intended start of the operation-----------------January 1941
Cancellation of the operations order —------8 December 1940
(4) SEIZURE OF UNOCCUPIED FRANCE:
Order to start preparations------------------------12 November 1940
Execution of the operation-----------------------November 1942
(5) PARTICIPATION IN ITALIAN OFFENSIVE TOWARD EGYPT (SUEZ CANAL)
Order to start preparations.----------------------12 November 1940
Intended start of the operation-------------------Autumn 1941
( Actually, operations in support of the Italians started already at an earlier moment, but with defensive objectives)
(6) OPERATION MARITA:
First discussion of the plan----------------------4 November 1940
Order to start preparations-----------------------13 December 1940
Start of the operation:--------------------------------6 April 1941
(7) OPERATION 25:
First discussion & order to start preparations----------------27 March 1941
Start of the operation-------------------------------6 April 1941
(8) OPERATION BARBAROSSA
First discussion of the plan-------------------------End of July 1940
Order to start preparations------------------------18 December 1940
Intended start of the operation----------------15 May 1941
Start of the operation---------------------------------22 June 1941
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 invasion 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 voiced doubts as to the advisability of conducting offensive operations in North Africa, since Italy did not control the Mediterranean. That these doubts were we11 founded became apparent when, on 6 November, British naval air forces inflicted a severe defeat on the Italian Navy at Taranto.
In December 1940 the German plans in the Mediterranean underwent considerable change when, at the beginning of the month, Franco rejected the plan for attack on Gibraltar. Consequently, German offensive plans in the Mediterranean had to be restricted to the campaign against Greece. 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 cut 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 co-ordination 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 support the ground forces, neutralize the enemy air force, 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 into 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 on 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 19A1 their forces in North Africa were in imminent danger of being completely annihilated. If that happened, Italy with its indefensible coast line would be exposed to an enemy invasion. To avoid such disastrous developments, German air units under the command of X Air Corps were transferred to Sicily, and the movement of German Army elements to Tripoli via Italy was begun immediately. In February the first 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. Hitler felt that the Soviet Union would take advantage of the diversion of strong German forces into distant Mediterranean areas by exerting political pressure on some of the Balkan countries.
After having forced Romania to cede Bessarabia and northern Bukovina in June 1940, the Soviet Union established itself at the mouth of the Danube, Germany's principal supply line from the east, and intensified its political activities in the Balkans, particularly in Bulgaria. By the autumn of 1940 Russo-German relations had deteriorated considerably as the result of the Vienna Award, the presence of the German military mission in Romania, and the question of threatened Soviet domination of the Danube.
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 wore to be laid at the same time. It is interesting to note that German planning for the invasion of the USSR was already well advanced. A tentative plan for the Russian campaign had been submitted on 5 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 re-establish 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. The conversations 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 1940, 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. Since Hitler believed that this move 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 more 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 53,000 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.
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. He explained these requests by pointing out the 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 Fact, 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 v/as to permit the assembly of German forces in its territory.
Antonescu's conference with Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, the chief of OKV7 (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 BARBAR0SSA 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 redeployment of troops would require four additional weeks and their rehabilitation would add a further delays the units participating in the Balkan campaign would not be available for Operation BARBAROSSA before mid-May 1941.
Hitler believed that up to this time the threat of German retaliation had had the effect of preventing British 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. The assembly of forces for Operation MARITA was therefore an absolute necessity and the preparations for the campaign had to be pushed so that the offensive could be launched by the beginning of March 1941.
In the meantime, late in December, the first attack echelon of the Twelfth Army, which was to be in charge of the ground forces during iteration MARITA, entrained 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 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 stationed 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 Fact 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 for 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 bombardment planes. 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 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 their 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 .night seek to recoup itself through the occupation of the Bulgarian Black Sea port of Varna. The Bulgarians therefore insisted that .ill 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 v/ere 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 got acquainted with local conditions, especially those pertaining to the weather.
On 9 January Hitler approved these suggestions and agreed that the first Gorman 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 fore 3 for Operation MARITA wa-s to be accomplished by 26 March. At that time the Italians were to pin down the 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 Gorman 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's 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 demarshe. Consequently, about 10 January the Russian ambassador in Berlin was 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, whereupon Hitler 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 stained 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 was to be guaranteed by the presence of Gorman 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, the German plans must not be revealed prematurely. For this reason the crossing of the Danube must be delayed as long as possible and, once it was executed, the attack on Greece must bo 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 confidence that General Antonescu would be capable of keeping it in hand. During a conference between Gen. 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 asked the Germans to abstain from sending troops to Albania as planned for Operation ALPENVEILCHEN. This German plan called for the transfer of ore 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's 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, Constantsa, 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 non-aggression 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 v:ere 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 (a headquarters in charge of an armored force of army size, but operating in conjunction with an army), was to be detrained 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.
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 Gorman 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 non-aggression pact with Greece in 1938 — and was determined to maintain and further develop its traditionally friendly relations with the Soviet Union."
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 had 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. Oreat Britain broke off diplomatic relations with Bulgaria. Yugoslavia, 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; hovever, 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 US president received Hitler's message explaining that 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, eleven and one-half divisions, and one infantry regiment, arrived on Bulgarian territory. In accordance with previous agreements, Sofiya, which the Bulgarians intended to declare an open city, v/as net occupied by combat troops but only by service elements. The Twelfth Army under Field Marshal Wilhelm List established its headquarters south of Sofiya and initiated the transfer of the German divisions to their assembly east along the Greek-Bulgarian border.
During that time the third echelon was stiil retraining in Romania. As early as 7 March the Army High Command had pointed out 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 to make sure 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 non-aggression 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-Marcovic 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. The use of the Belgrade - Nis - Salonika rail line was essential to the solution of the many logistical problems presented by a campaign in the Balkans.
On 14 February 1941 Hitler and Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop met with the Yugoslav Premier Dragisha Cvetkovic and Cincar-Marcovic. For the Germans the results were as inconclusive as those of the preceding meeting, since the conference did not
lead to the conclusion of any agreements. 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, oven after adhering to the Tripartite Pact, Yugoslavia would not be required to permit the transit of German troops across its territory. Because of the lack of direct rail lines between Bulgaria and Greece, the use of the Yugoslav railroads leading to Salonika would have been of the utmost importance for the rapid execution of Operation Mi-RITA and the speedy redeployment of forces for Operation BARBAR0SSA. Although the military continued to insist on using the Yugoslav rail net, 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 later on the Yugoslav Government could 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 those they guaranteed to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Yugoslavia at all tires and promised that, for the duration of the war, Yugoslavia would not be requested 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 26 - 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 Gen. 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. In Belgrade and several other Serbian cities anti-German demonstrations were held 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. The entire country 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. Moreover, 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 ox-tent 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 over-all 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 en 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 co-ordination 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 Albania 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 co-operation 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 German 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, Hitler was not interested in any such agreement because of continued Italian reverses in Albania. Finally, he decided that liaison officers might bo 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 showed 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 Gorman military mission stationed in that country, provide rear guard protection against an attack on the Soviet Union. Antor.escu 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 signature of a treaty of non-aggression and friendship between the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. Hitler tried to reassure him by-promising maximum German support and ordering the immediate reinforcement of the German antiaircraft artillery units in Romania and the transfer of additional fire-fighting 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 non-aggression 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.
Upon his assumption of power on 27 March 1941, General Simovic, the new head of the Yugoslav Government, was faced with a difficult situation. Realizing that Germany was making feverish preparations to invade Yugoslavia, he tried his utmost to unify his government by including representative Croat elements. It was not until 3 April — just three days before the German attack was launched — that the Croat leaders finally joined the Simovic government. Upon entering the cabinet, Croat representatives appealed to their people to give the new regime whole-hearted support. However, any semblance of national solidarity was to be short lived. When Croatia proclaimed itself an independent state with Hitler's blessings on 10 April, the Croat political leaders promptly left the national government in Belgrade and returned to Zagreb. Thus the cleft in Yugoslavia's national unity, superficially closed for exactly seven days, became final and complete.
While the Simovic government made every effort to maintain friendly relations with Germany, Hitler was bent on settling the issue by force of arms. Preparations for the rapid conquest of Yugoslavia were hastened so as not to jeopardize the impending campaign against Russia. Germany's limited resources precluded the possibility of tying down forces in Yugoslavia for a;v protracted period while simultaneously invading the Soviet Union.
Whereas the German General Staff had prepared studies for the invasion of almost every European country, the possibility of an attack on Yugoslavia had hitherto not been considered try by Army planners. For a better understanding of the problems involved in the campaign against Yugoslavia, it is necessary to examine the topographic features of that country.
Geographically the Balkans extend from the Danube to the Aegean and from the Black Sea to the Adriatic. (Map 1) Mountain ranges and narrow, mountain-lined valleys are characteristic of the Balkan peninsula, of which Yugoslavia constitutes the northwestern and central portion. Central Yugoslavia is a plateau that slopes gently toward the Danube Valley and gradually merges into the Hungarian plains.
The Yugoslav coastline along the Adriatic extends for approximately 400 miles and is fronted by numerous small islands. The Dalmatian Alps, which run along the coast, constitute a formidable barrier since good roads are scarce. Stretching across the peninsula, roughly from east to vest, are the Balkan Mountains. The ranges are high, rough, and rugged, and are interstected by numerous passes which, however, can be successfully negotiated by specially trained and equipped mountain troops.
The inland frontiers of Yugoslavia extend some 1,500 miles and border on Italy, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, and Albania, Covering a land surface approximately the size of the State of Oregon, Y,^oslavia has a population of almost 16 million, of which 5 million Serbs and 3 million Croats constitute thn two loading ethnic groups. In the northern part of the country a German minority element numbers about half a million. The largest cities are Belgrade, the national capital, with 400,000 inhabitants, and Zagreb, the principal Croat city, with 200,000.
The country can be roughly divided into five distinct natural geographic regions. The so-called Pannonian Basin, within which the national capital of Belgrade is centrally located, is by far thy most important industrial portion. The Sava and Drava valleys link this area with the Slovene Alps, the forerunners of the more formidable Julian Alps. The Morava - Vardar depression extends southward from Belgrade to the jreek frontier. The Adriatic coastal belt extends from Italy in the north to Albania in the south. The Dalmatian Alps rise directly out of the sea and overshadow the central mountain or Dinaric Karst region farther inland.
There are several great routes of communication in the Balkans. One of these follows the Morava and Vardar Rivers from Budapest to Salonika and connects the Danube with the Aegean. The beat roads and railroad lines are to be found in the northern and northeastern fringes of Yugoslavia.
Because of its difficult terrain, Yugoslavia is far from being ideally suited for the conduct of major military operations. This poorly developed, rugged, and mountainous country, with its limited routes of communication and sparsely populated srea, is bound to raise havoc with an invader's communications, movements, and logistical support.
Almost all of the rivers, including the Drava, Sava, and Morava, are tributaries of the Danube, which flows through the northwestern part of Yugoslavia for about 350 miles. Soon after crossing the northern border an attacking ground force is confronted by three formidable river barriers: — the Mura, the Drava, and the Sava. At the time of the spring thaw these rivers resemble swollen torrents; the Drava at Bares and the lower course of the Sava become as wide as the Mississippi at St. Louis. It is therefore of vital importance for the invader to seize the key bridges across these rivers while they are still intact.
During the conference that took place in the afternoon of 27 March 1941, Hitler formulated overall strategic plans for the projected military operation against Yugoslavia. The decisions reached at this meeting were summarized in Directive No. 25, which was disseminated to the three armnd services on the same day. The campaign against Yugoslavia took its cover name — Operation 25 —- from this directive.
Hitler declared that the uprising in Yugoslavia had drastically changed the entire political situation in the Balkans. He maintained that Yugoslavia must now be regarded as an enemy and must be destroyed as quickly as possible despite any assurances that might be forthcoming from the new Yugoslav Government. Hungary and Bulgaria were to be induced to participate in the operations by extending to their, the opportunity of regaining Banat and Macedonia, respectively. By the same token, political promises were to be extended to the Croats premises that were bound to have all the more telling effect since they would render even more acute the internal dissension within Yugoslavia.
In view of Yugoslavia's difficult terrain, the German plans called for a two-pronged drive in the general direction of Belgrade, with one assault force coming from southeastern Austria and the other from western Eulgaria. These forces were to crush the Yugoslav armed forces in the north. Cimultaneously, the southernmost part of Yugoslavia was to be used as a jump-off area for a combined German-Italian offensive against Greece. Vital as the early capture of Belgrade proper was considered to be, possession of the Belgrade - Mis - Salonika rail line and highway and of the Danube waterway was of even greater strategic importance to the German supply system. Hitler therefore arrived at the following conclusions:
1. As soon as sufficient forces became available and the weather conditions permitted, the Luftwaffe was to destroy the city of Belgrade as well as the ground installations of the Yugoslav Air Force, by means of uninterrupted day-and-night bombing attacks. The launching of Operation MARITA was to coincide with the initial air bombardment.
2. All forces already available in Bulgaria and Romania could be utilized for the ground attacks, one to be launched toward Belgrade from the Sofiya region, the other toward Skoplje from the Kyustendil - Gorna Dzhumaya area. However, approximately one division and sufficient antiaircraft elements must remain in place to protect the vital Romanian oil fields. The guarding of the Turkish frontier was to be left to the Bulgarians for the time being, but, if practicable, one armored division v/as to be kept in readiness behind the Bulgarian frontier security forces.
3. The attack from Austria toward the southeast was to be launched as soon as the necessary forces could be as sembled in the Oaz area. The ultimate decision as to whether Hungarian soil should be used for staging the drive against Yugoslavia was to be lsft to the Army. Security forces along the northern Yugoslav frontier were to be reinforced at once. Even before the main attacks could be launched, vital points should be seized and made secure along the northern and eastern Yugoslav border. Any such limited—objective attacks were to be so timed as to coincide witn the air bombardment of Belgrade.
4. The Luftwaffe was to lend tactical support and
cover the ground operations in the vicinity of the Yugoslav border end co-ordinate its efforts with the requirements of the Army. Adequate antiaircraft protection was
to be provided in the vital concentration areas around
Graz, Klagenfurt, Villach, Looben, and Vienna.
I. The Outline Plan
Working under tremendous pressure, the Army High Command developed the combined, outline plan for the Yugoslav and Greek campaigns within twenty-four hours of the military revolt in Yugoslavia. After this plan had been submitted to and approved by Hitler, it was incorporated into Directive No. 25.
This outline plan envisaged the following offensive operations:
1. One attack force was to drive southward from the former Austrian province of Styria and from southwestern Hungary. This force was to destroy the enemy armies in Croatia and drive southeastward between the Sava and Drava Rivers toward Belgrade. The mechanized divisions of this assault group were to co-ordinate their advance with the other attack forces that were to close in on the Yugoslav capital from other directions so thai, the bulk of the enemy forces would bo unalle to make an orderly withdrawal into the mountains.
2. The second force was to advance toward Belgrade
from the Sofiya area in western Bulgaria, take the capital,
and secure the Danube so that river traffic could be
reopened at an early date.
3. A third attack force was to thrust from south of Sofiya and drive in the general direction of Skoplje in an effort to cut off the Yugoslav Army from the Greek and British forces, while ai the same time easing the precarious situation of the Italians in Albania.
4. Finally, elements of tha German Twelfth Army, which were poised and ready to invade Greece from Bulgarian bases and had the difficult task of surmounting the hazardous terrain fortified by the Metaxas Line, were to pass through the southern tip of Yugoslavia, execute an enveloping thrust via the Vardar Valley toward Salonika, and thus ease the task of the German forces that were conducting the frontal assault against the Greek fortified positions.
II. The Timing of the Attacks
In its original version, the outline plan for Operation 25 called for the air bombardment of Belgrade and the ground installations of the Yugoslav Air Force to take place on 1 April, the invasion of Greece — Operation MARITA — on 2 or 3 April, and ground attacks against Yugoslavia between 8 and 15 April.
During the afternoon of 29 March the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army, Generalleutnant (major General) Friedrich Paulus presided over a special conference in Vienna at which the plans of attack and timetable for the operations against Greeco and Yugoslavia were discussed. Present with their respective cniefs of staff were Field Marshal List, the commander of Twelfth Army, Generaloberst (General) Maximilian von Weichs of Second Army, and Generaloberst (General) Ewald von Kleist of the First Panzer Group. Field Marshal List was brought up to date on the changes in the situation necessitated by the Yugoslav campaign, and all commanders were fully briefed on the projected plans for the conduct of the operations. Decisions were reached as to which units were to participate in the various thrusts from Austria and Hungary under the command of Second Army. In addition, the corps headquarters and GHQ units were selected and assigned.
One of the subject: discussed during this meeting was the participation of Germany's allies and satellites in the Yugoslav campaign. Since the Italians in Albania had demonstrated their inability to mount any offensive operations and the Italian Second Army deployed in northern Italy apparently would not be ready for action until 22 April, any real assistance from that side was not to be expected. At any rate, according to thu German urmy Command plans, the Yugoslav operations would be almost completed by the time the Italians would be ready. The Hungarians ucceded to all German requests for the use of their territory and agreed to take an active part in the operations by committing contingents, which were to be subordinated to the German Army High Command. At the conclusion of the conference, General Paulus proceeded to Budapest to discuss details of the operation with the Hungarian general staff.
Another result of the conference of 29 March was the decision to delay the initial air attacks so that they would coincide more closely with the attack on Greece. The purpose of this measure was to bring Operation MARITA into a closer relationship with Operation 25. The revised timetable thus foresaw that the attacks of Twelfth Army to the south and west and the air bombardment would be launched simultaneously on 6 April, the thrust of First Panzer Group on 8 April, and the Second Army attack on 12 April. These deadlines were adhered to with the exception of D Lay for Second Army, which was moved up when the rapid successes scored by the probing attacks led to the decision of getting off to a "flying start."
III. Second Army
In the final version of the plan of attack tho Second Army was to jump off on 10 April with its mechanized forces driving in the general direction of Belgrade between the Drava and Sava Rivers. The terrain between the two rivers was considered ideal for armored warfare, and no serious obstacles were reported. The army was greatly concerned, however, over the prospect of finding key bridges demolished, especially since little bridging equipment was available and the rivers were swollen by spring thaws. For this reason the lead elements of the XLVI Panzer Corps were to conduct limited objective attacks as early as 6 April in order to seize end secure the highway and railroad bridges across tho Drava near Bares, In this manner the corps would be able to get off on its thrust toward Belgrade by 8 April, the same time that the First Panzer Group was to attack from the southeast. One motorized column was to be diverted to the southwest with the mission of capturing Zagreb at the earliest possible moment.
Farther to the west, where the terrain becomes more and more mountainous, the LI Infantry Corps was to jump off on 10 April and drive in the direction of Zagreb with two infantry divisions. Here, too, limited objective attacks vere to be carried out during the preceding days so that strategic points in the proximity of the frontier could be secured.
On the same day, and as soon as sufficient troops became available, the XLIX Mountain Corps was to advance toward Celje.
IV. First Panzer Group
In compliance with Directive No. 25, Field Marshal List's Twelfth Army, which had originally been assembled in Bulgaria for the purpose of executing Operation MARITA, had to regroup its divisions into three separate attack forces. The plan of attack of the southern and central forces will be dealt with in Part III, "The German Campaign in Greece." The northern attack force of Twelfth Army, led by General von Kleist's First Panzer Group, was to launch a surprise attack in the direction of Nis - Kragujevac -Belgrade on 8 April, annihilate strong enemy forces concentrated in the Pirot - Leskovac sector, ard capture the Yugoslav capital v/ith a minimum of delay.
By co-ordinating the Twelfth Army operation against Greece with the Second Army attack from the north, the Army High Command hoped to gain several advantages. Not only would the Greek campaign be speeded up by thrusting across southeastern Yugoslavia, but a considerable part of the Twelfth Army foro9S assembled in Bulgaria could be employed without delay for the northwest thrust into Yugoslavia via Nis toward Belgrade. In this thrust armored divisions were to spearhead the drive with infantry forces following up closely. The First Panzer Group was ideally suited to assume command over this attack force, which had to be reorganized and regrouped for its new mission. By using every available motor vehicle, the regrouping could be achieved within a few days. For this purpose, motor vehicles from German forces stationed in Romania and from the 16th Panzer Division, deployed behind the Bulgarian-Turkish border, had to be organized into makeshift motor transport columns and hurriedly pressed into service. The forces at the disposal of the panzer group were comparatively weak, considering the difficulties they were bound to encounter. In all probability, the Yugoslavs would concentrate their best troops in the vicinity of the capital, which was not enily accessible from the southeast. The German armor would be forced to negotiate some formidable mountain roads before reaching its objective. Thus, in the event that the Serbs established a well-organized defense system, this attack might involve considerable risk.
V. XLI Panzer Corps
To coincide with this thrust, the XLI Panzer Corps, which was assembling in southwestern Romania, was to undertake a separate drive from the Timisoara area to Belgrade. The outline plan did not envision the employment of the XLI Panzer Corps during the Yugoslav campaign. However, without consulting the Army High Command, Hitler ordered the 2d SS Motorized Infantry Division to advance on Belgrade from Timisoara. He apparently wanted an SS division to be the first to enter the Yugoslav capital, both for prestige reasons and propaganda purposes. Upon learning of this move, the Army High Command protested vigorously and soon obtained complete operational control over this force, which subsequently formed the third prong in the drive on Belgrade.
Lacking up-to-date materiel, the Yugoslav armed forces were no match for the modernly equipped and highly-trained German war machine. Their deficiencies were particularly marked in the fields of aviation and armor. In January 19A1 the Yugoslav Air Force numbered approximately 700 military aircraft. Most of these were obsolete. A major portion of all weapons and equipment was of foreign moke, with the.Skoda armament plant the main source. After the Germans annexed the whole of Czechoslovakia in 1939, deliveries from that source ceased almost completely. The pronounced inferiority of Yugoslav equipment and materiel was partly compensated for by the inaccessibility of the country and the toughness of the individual soldier. However, internal friction between the different ethnic groups, particularly between Serbs and Croats, undermined the over-all combat effectiveness of the Yugoslav military forces.
II. Defensive Plans
The Yugoslav plan of defense called for a fairly even distribution of all available forces along the extended frontiers of the country. In so doing its high command displayed little ingenuity as it deprived itself of the opportunity of forming strong reserves. Since the capital of Belgrade and the industrial area around Nis and Kragujevac were situated so near the frontier, major elements of the Army'had to be tied down in the defense of those sectors. Moreover, the Yugoslav Command endeavored to main-tain contact v;ith the Greek &nd British troops in Greece by strengthening its forces in northern Macedonia. In conjunction with a Greek attack from the south, the Yugoslav high command planned to commit the Third Army in a drive against Albania from the east, 'while this attack force was to push the Italians out of Albania, the other armies were to fight delaying actions if any frontier sector should be invaded by Germany. In the evont of initial setbacks in the border areas, the Yugoslavs planned to conduct an orderly withdrawal into the inaccessible mountainous regions in the western part of the country, where they intended to continue their resistance by engaging the invader in costly arid time-consuming guerrilla warfare.
III. Training and Tactics
Combined arms training and maneuvers under simulated combat conditions were greatly neglected by the Yugoslavs. During training much emphasis was placed on delaying actions, defensive fighting, and the conduct of counterattacks. Considerable weight was also attached to assault tactics of infantry forces. The individual Serb soldier was well trained in close-combat and hand-to-hand fighting, but he was powerless against heavy artillery fire and air-supported armored thrusts.
IV. Guerrilla Warfare
Special emphasis was placed on guerrilla warfare, for which the Serbs were especially well-suited and trained. The "Cetnici," a partisan organization composed of loyal Serbs, had been formed into militia units of varying size up to battalion strength. Its primary mission was to carry out raids and acts of sr^otage against enemy command posts and rear area installations. Guerrilla units were to be committed to reinforce the frontier guards so that they could wage their specialized type of warfare against an attacker from the very outset of operations.
There was no continuous line of fortifications along the Yugoslav frontier. Although pillboxes had been constructed in certain places to reinforce individual strong points, these were at best interconnected by unimproved, open trenches. None of the pillboxes was provided with armor-plated cupolas; they were equipped primarily vith machine guns and, in some instances, with antitank and light artillery guns. Though these fortified positions vrere far from imposing, they were, as a rule, well concealed and camouflaged. Several rows of wire entanglements protected the positions. At some points tank obstacles and antitank Hitches rere built in front of the fortified lines. The obstacles consisted of from three to five rows of steel girders which had merely been driven into the ground but were not anchored in a concrete foundation. Consequently, they did not constitute a formidable barrier for the modern-type medium tank. The antitank ditches, though few in number, were well conceived and uffecvtivGly constructed. They measured twenty-four feet in width and nine feet in depth, and their steep retaining wall was revetted.
Because of the mountainous terrain along the German-Yugoslav frontier, the defense system in this area was limited to blocking main roads and key mountain passes where a German penetration was most likely to occur. It was here that most of the fortified positions had been constructed. Their size and strength varied depending on the import once of the border-crossing point and on the natural terrain features,
VI. Order of Battle
At the beginning of April 1941 the Yugoslav Army was composed of seventeen regular and twelve reserve divisions, sAx cembinud-arms brigades, thrco regular cavalry divisions and three reserve cavalry brigades, one fortress division, and one fortress brigade. There were also twenty-three frontier guard battalions, a number of frontier guard regiments, and some fortification troops. The fully mobilized strength of the Army was slightly under 1,000,000 men.
The divisions and brigades were not designated numerically, as is normally the case, but were named after provinces, rivers, mountain ranges, or-cities. They were organized into three army groups, seven field armies, and one coastal defense command. The following were their composition and primary missions on 6 April 1941:
1. The First Army Group consisted of: the Seventh Army including two divisions, two mountain brigades, and one coastal defense battalion was responsible for the defense of the northwestern part of the country facing the Italian and German frontiers,* the Fourth Army, composed of three divisions and one cavalry brigade, was to hold the sector facing the Hungarian border, and was deployed behind the Drava from Varazdin to Slatina. Behind this defense line a cavalry division stood in reserve in the Zagreb area, while three additional divisions were held in reserve south of the Croat capital.
2. The Second Army Group was composed of: the Second Army including three divisions holding the sector adjacent to Fourth Army up to the Danube; one additional division which was located south of Brod and formed the army reserve; and the First Army, which consisted of two infantry divisions and a cavalry division, and occupied the northwest corner between the Danube and the Tisza.
3. The Sixth Army was an independent command not subordinated to an army group. It was composed of two divisions, one brigade, one reinforced cavalry division, and one reinforced cavalry brigade. These forces were deployed around Belgrade and in the Banat region east of the Tisza. Two additional divisions were held in reserve along both banks of the lower Morava Valley.
4. The Third Army Group consisted of: the Fifth Army, which had four divisions and two brigades to cover the Romanian border from the Iron Gate up to Kriva Palanka; three additional divisions under the army's jurisdiction cvered the adjacent sector to the south, extending to the Greek frontier; and the Third Army, composed of four divisions and one separate battalion, which was deployed along the Albanian border from Lake Ohridsko to Lake Shadarsko. One reserve division was stationed in thd Skoplje area.
5. The Coastal Defense Command had at its disposal one infantry division at; well as the Kotorski Fortress Division and the Sibenik Fortress Brigade. This command was responsible for the defense of the Adriatic coast from the Bay of Kotorski to Gospic.
VII. Deficiencies and Confusion
Because of the political situation, the inadequate rail and road nets, and the poor organization of the Army as a v;hole, the Yugoslav defense forces were committed piecemeal. The frontier defenses, although built around favorable terrain features, lacked depth and usually confined themselves to thj immediate border environs.
When hostilities began on 6 April, the Yugoslav Army was still in the mil!ft of mobilization with major forces being clothed and equipped in their garrisons. As a result, the disposition of troops behind the 1,500-mile border was totally inadequate. Some of the border security battalions were on a war footing, but even they were still understrength. As late as 3 April the Yugoslavs started shifting troop units from the Sarajevo area to the Bulgarian frontier, liven at that tine there were no strategic reserves whatsoever in the Ljubljana sector.
During his discussions with Yugoslav leaders in Belgrade on 1 April, General Sir John Dill, Chief of the British Imperial General Staff, found nothing but coifusion and paralysis. Political leaders repeatedly stated that Yugoslavia was determined not to provoke a German armed attack. Dill found that the Yugoslav ministers failed to realize the imminence of their country's peril. Their mood and outlook seemed to indicate that they had months to make their decisions and enforce their plans, whereas in reality only a few days were to elapse before tha Germans launched their attack.
I. Command Posts
On 5 April Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch, Commander in Chief of the German Army, moved to Wiener Neustadt (thirty-five miles south of Vienna) with an advance echelon of the Army General Staff in order to assume personal command of the Second and Twelfth Armies, which were to conduct the campaigns against Yugoslavia and Greece. Reichs Marshal Goering, Commander in Chief of the Luftwaffe, established his field headquarters at Semmering Pass, southwest of Wiener Neustadt.
Accompanied by his close entourage and the forward echelon of the National Defense Branch of the Armed Forces Operations Staff, Hitler departed from Berlin on the evening of 10 April. On the following day the Fuehrer arrived at a small station on the single-track railroad line leading from Yliener Neustadt southward to Fuerstenberg (fifty miles east of Graz). There, his special train and that of the National Defense Branch halted in front of the northern and southern exits respectively of a tunnel that leads through the Alps south of Aspang. From these locations the trains could easily be pulled into the tunnel in the event of enemy air attacks. While the two trains remained in the area, the entire line was blocked to normal traffic, It v;as from this vantage point that Hitler directed the Balkan campaigns until 25 April, when he returned to Berlin.
II. The Luftwaffe
To support the impending operations in the Balkans, plans to reinforce the air arm were made and executed by the Fourth Air Force under the command of General der Flieger (Lieutenant General) Alexander Loehr, whose headquarters was then located in Vienna. The actual air operations were carried out by tiis VIII Aii Corps of General der Flieger (Lieutenant General) Wolfram von Richthofen. It was he who established such an outstanding record in supporting the slashing armored thrusts during the Battle of France.
Between November 1940 and February 1941, a force of over 400 planes, including long-range bombers, dive-bombers, fighters, and reconnaissance aircraft, had gradually been built up in Romania and Bulgaria. By 27 March, when the Yugoslav revolt occurred, there were 135 fighters and reconnaissance planes in Romania, and 355 bombers and dive-bombers in Bulgaria.
Early in April still more air roirrTornomerito mire rushed to tho Balkans. From as far away as. France, Africa, and Sicily about 600 additional aircraft of sll four types were brought up and readied for action within ten days. The fighter and reconnaissance craft were sent to fields near Arad, Deva, and Turnu-Severin in western Romania, all within easy striking distance of Belgrade. The long-range bombers were to operate from fields at Wiener Neustadt and near Sofiya, northwest and southeast of the Yugoslav capital, at 200 and 100 miles distance, respectively.
III. Second Army
The disposition and order of battle of the various attack groups under Second Army were as follows (Appendix I):
1. XLIX Mountain Corps under General der Infanterie (Lieutenant General) Ludwig Kuebler was assembled in the Klagenfurt area. The only division originally assigned to this corps was the 1st Mountain Division.
2. LI Infantry Corps of General der Infanterie (Lieutenant General) Hans Reinhard moved into the Leibnitz area. This corps was to form the main effort of the southward thrust with the 101st Light Infantry and 132d and 183d Infantry Divisions.
3. LII Infantry Corps, under the command of General der Infanterie (Lieutenant Genera]) von Briessen, including two infantry divisions, the 79th and 125th, were originally to be committed alongside LI Corps. Since these forces did not arrive in time and were not needed for the operation, they were placed in the Army High Command reserve.
4. XLVI Panaer Corps, under the command of General der Panzertruppen (Lieutenant General) Heinrich von Viotinghoff, was assembled in southwestern Hungary near Nagykanizsa. It was composed of the 8th and 14th Panzer Divisions and the 16th Motorized Infantry Division.
IV. First Panzer Group
The First Panzer Group under General von Kleist was originally concentrated in the Sofiya area in western Bulgaria to spearhead the Twelfth Army attacks against Greece. The following units were assigned to the panzer group and diverted to participate in the Yugoslav campaign:
1. XIV Panzer Corps, under the command of General der Infanterie (Lieutenant General) Gustav von Wietersheim, composed of 5th and 11th Panzer, and 294th Infantry and 4th Mountain Divisions.
2. XI Infantry Corps, under the command of General der Infanterie (Lieutenant General) Joachim von Kortzfleisch, including the 60th Motorized Infantry Division.
V. XLI Panzer Corps
An independent armored corps, the XLI Panzer Corps, was assembled in western Romania near Timisoara under the command of General der Panzertruppen (Lieutenant General) Georg-Hans Reinhardt. It comprised the 2d SS Motorized Infantry Division, the Motorized Infantry Regiment "Grosis Deutschland," and the Panzer Regiment "Hermann Goering."
I. The Rail Transportation Problem
The forces assigned to Second Army had to be shifted from France and Germany as well as from the Russian border. (Map 3) In accordance with the schedule for the concentration of forces for Operation BARBAROSSA, large-scale movements to Germany's eastern border were to begin in the near future. Consequently, the forces that were designated to participate in the Yugoslav campaign had to be rerouted toward the south, some of them even in the midst of their west-east movement. Several efficient railroad lines running from north to south were available for the movement. Two of these lines led to Vienna, one via Breslau and the other via Munich, Salzburg, and Linz. Two additional lines terminated in Passau, one via Nuremburg and the other via Munich. The line from Prague via Pilsen to Vienna was also available but had only a limited capacity.
MAP 3. THE CAMPAIGNS IN THE BALKANS DEPLOYMENT AND INITIAL OBJECTIVES
The movements from Vienna and Passau through the Alps into the detraining areas around Graz and into western Hungary presented more complicated problems. Since the capacities of the feeder lines and detraining points were considered inadequate, some elements were forced to detrain in Vienna and Salzburg and continue the movement to the assembly areas by road.
The Graz area and western Styria were particularly difficult to reach. Here, the feeder lines traversed the Alps and were consequently of very limited capacity. For this reason it became imperative to include the western tip of Hungary as an assembly area for some of the German attack forces. After Hungary had agreed to the use of its territory, the assembly of the German Second Army proceeded as follows:
1. Graz and western Styria were designated as assembly areas for all infantry divisions. Three railroad lines with the following daily feeder capacity were available in those areas.
a. The daily capacity of the line Vienna - Bruck - Graz was sixty trains from Vienna to Bruck and forty-eight from Bruck to Graz. However, only fifty-two military trains could be dispatched from Vienna to Bruck since eight trains destined for Italy were needed daily to haul coal over that stretch. These trains had to be kept running on schedule in order to conceal the German concentrations from the Yugoslavs as long as possible.
b. The line Passau - Ried - Leoben had a carrying capacity of eighteen trains.
c. The line Salzburg - Spittal - Klagenfurt could also carry eighteen trains daily, but only vith half the normal load because of the steep gradients across the Alps.
The daily detraining capacity of the Bruck - Graz - Klagenfurt area was seventy-eight trains, or the equivalent of the combat elements of two infantry divisions. Consequently, nil of the rear echelon elements of those divisions hod to detrain in the Vienna area, capable of handling 144 trains n day, and in Salzburg, where forty-eight additional trains could be unloaded.
The divisional service units then had to roach the assembly areas by marching overland. However, since road conditions were poor at this time of the year, snow-clearing detachments had to be provided to keep the Salzburg - Liezen - Bruck and Vienna - Bruck -Graz roads clear. These road3 also had to be used by those divisions that moved solely by motor transportation. Since rigid traffic control was enforced and traffic regulations were strictly adhered to, the execution of these movements did not entail any undue delay.
2. The area around Nagyknnizsa was selected for the assembly of the two panzer and one motorized infantry divisions subordinated to XLVI Panzer Corps headquarters. Some of the tracked vehicles moved up on the Vienna - Sopron - Nagykanizsa railroad line, whose feeder capacity was twelve trains a day. Other elements detrained in the Budapest - Szekesfehervar area and continued on to Nagykanizsa by road. Some of the motor vahicles could evjn CCI.G directly from Vienna by road since the Hungarian roads were clear of snow.
The above-mentioned capacity figures of railroads and highways were eventually reached, but not before many difficulties had been overcome. The main problem was that no preparatory work had been started until the evening of 27 March. The system of classifying all major railroad lines according to their capacity, introduced at the beginning of the war, and the method applied in processing military rail movements both proved efficient during this emergency. The maximum performance schedule, which required the almost complete stoppage of all nonmilitary traffic, had to be resorted to only on the Austrian railroads. Aside from conserving personnel and materiel, the adherence to normnl train schedules whenever possible permitted the Germans to camouflage tlie movements to the assembly areas right up to the time when the first contingents arrived at the detraining points.
Transportation bottlenecks in the Graz area made it necessary to resort to a complicated system of segregating troop shipments. Only vital combat elements could be included in the forward echelon of the infantry divisions. All divisional units that could be temporarily dispensed with, especially the bulk of the supply trains, were either held back for later shipment or sent to detraining points located far to the rear. This was the first time that such a divorcement of combat and service echelons became necessary and was put into effect. During its subsequent application in Russia, this improvised measure was further perfected and proved to be invaluable.
The co-operative attitude of the Hungarian transportation personnel made it possible to increase the capacity of the Nagy-kanizsa detraining area in record time. The German Movement Control headquarters in Budapest, recently transferred from Bratislava, was responsible for all preparations that had to be completed within three days. All loading ramps in the area had to be enlarged and reinforced to handle heavy loads, new sidings had to be laid, and adequate antiaircraft protection had to be provided. To increase the capacity of the railroads in Hungary and Bulgaria, the Army railroad transportation agencies formed a reserve pool of locomotives and box cars suitable for troop transports.
Special measures also had to be taken to ensure the flow of supplies into the Balkans once the campaign had started. The line Belgrade - His - Salonika, the only one capable of handling fully loaded trains, was vitally needed ior this purpose. Railroad engineer troops and construction equipment had to be reserved for the immediate restoration of this line aftor it had fallen into German hands.
The Bulgarian railroads were connected with the Belgrade -Nis - Salonika line. To avoid time-consuming reloading operations, troop and supply trains destined for Bulgaria were loaded at "Balkan Capacity," which was two thirds of the normal weight. This necessitated a rearrangement of the loading and unloading schedules, which was accomplished with the co-oparation of the Bulgarian General Staff and railroad authorities.
II. The Danube as a Route of Transportation
The Danube was of vital importance to the German war effort. Oil from Romania and Agricultural products from the Balkans were shipped to Germany along the great waterway. To switch this traffic to the inadequate rail net was impossible, and any disruption in the river shipping war> bound to have a telling effect. With the outbreak of hostilities in Yugoslavia, all Danube shipping would have to be suspended; its resumption would depend on the progress of the military operations as well as on the extent of demolitions and mine obstacles. It was known that the Yugoslavs had prepared some acts of sabotage along the Danube and intended to mine the Iron Gate.
At the defile of the Iron Gate, where the Danube forms the boundary between Yugoslavia and Romania, a fairly long stretch of the river if cnnalized. Because of the numerous locks and dams this portion of the river was extremely vulnerable. Therefore, a Gernan engineer training battalion, forming part of the military mission stationed in Romania, was assigned the task of seizing and protecting this vital area.
The Danube played a minor role as a military route of transportation. The available shipping facilities were barely sufficient for the transportation of essential materials. Although the military transportation agencies had repeatedly pointed to the urgency jf a large-scale construction program of Danube vessels, Hitler had refused to allocate the necessary steel for this purpose.
III. Other Logistical Planning
In 1941 the two beat railroad lines in the Balkans ran from Belgrade via Nis to Salonika and Sofiya, respectively. The use of these two vital supply arteries was denied to the German Army. Therefore the following precautionary steps had to be taken to ensure the uninterrupted flow of supplies to the Twelfth Army forces in Bulgaria:
1. Heavy truck transportation units at the disposal of the Army High Command were fully loaded and transferred to Romania and from there to Bulgaria.
2. A number of barges, loaded with a total of 10,000 tons
of supplies, and a tanker were assembling at Vienna destined for
Belgrade, where a supply base was to be established as soon as possible.
3. Another river fleet, carrying 16,000 tons of rations and ammunition, was standing by on the Danube between Regensburg and Vienna. The vessels were destined for the German forces in Romania and were to sail down the Danube as soon as the waterway had been reopened to shipping.
Providing Second Army with the necessary supplies presented no particular problems and caused no delay in the launching of the operations. When surgical hospitals failed to arrive, for example, they were replaced by additional hospital trains.
The logistical planning was greatly facilitated by the fact that beginning in the summer of 1940 a supply base had gradually bean built up near Vienna. It had not been established for a campaign against Yugoslavia, but because Soviet political activities in the Balkans during 19-40 had prompted the Army High command to stockpile large quantities of supplies at the gateway to southeastern Europe. The existence of this base made it possible to meat the sudden and unexpected demands of the Yugoslav campaign without shifting supplies from the interior of Germany, a step which would have delayed the operation considerably.
IV. The Assembly of Second Army
During the winter of 1940 - 41, Second Army headquarters in Munich had been responsible for training the divisions stationed in southern Germany and the former Czechoslovak territory. When Second Army headquarters was alerted for the Yugoslav attack, its training mission was assumed by Eleventh Army.
Toward the end of March 1941 no forces other than a few infantry divisions were available in Germany for immediate commitment. Those armored and motorized infantry divisions that happened to be in Germany at the time were in the process of activation, reorganization, or rehabilitation. The mechanized divisions needed by Second Army therefore had to be drawn from France, and their transfer to the Balkans was bound to result in delays. The only available mountain division, whose employment was essential for the successful conduct of the Yugoslav campaign, also had to be brought east, from France. Similar difficulties were encountered in assembling the necessary GHQ units and artillery, engineer, and service troops. The following chart shows the problem involved in assembling the divisions assigned to Second Army:
Assembly of Second Army Units
Assembly of Second Army Units
|Unit||Stationed in||Means of transportation|
|Second Army HQ Staff||Germany||Organic|
|8th Panzer Division||France||Railroad and Organic|
|14th Panzer Division||Russian Border||Railroad and Organic|
|16th Motorized Infantry Division||France||Railroad and Organic|
|1st mountain Division||France||Motor Transportation|
|79th Infantry Division||France||Railroad|
|101st Light Infantry Division||Germany||Motor Transportation|
|125th infantry Division||Germany||Railroad|
|132d Infantry Division||Germany||Railroad|
|183d Infantry Division||Germany||Railroad|
The actual movements of these units took place in the following manner: Using organic transportation, Second Army headquarters moved from Munich to Radegund, near Graz, on 2 April. The XLIX Mountain Corps was expected to arrive in its assembly area on 4 April. The main body of the 1st Mountain Division was moving by motor transportation from Landsberg, northeast of Berlin, to Vienna. On 5 April the forward echelon of the division was ordered not to dismount in Vienna as previously planned, but to continue the movement to its assembly area near Klagenfurt, where it was to arrive by the evening of 8 April, However, the bulk of it's combat elements did not get to Klagenfurt until 9 April, the eve of D Day, while most of the service troops joined the division piecemeal between 13 and 15 April, well after the start of operation.
Whereas LI Corps headquarters arrived in its assembly area in good time, the divisions under its command encountered many difficulties. The 132d and 183d Infantry Divisions had been ordered to entrain on 2 April. By 6 April about two thirds of each division had detrained in Graz, and both were completely unloaded by 9 April. Meanwhile, a truck transportation regiment, then located in Paris, was ordered to proceed to Czechoslovakia from where it was to move the 101st Light Infantry Division to it's assembly area. Advance elements of this division were to be in line by 9 April. However, icy roads delayed the movement to such an extent that the tail elements did not reach their destination until 15 April.
From the very beginning, every effort was made to speed up the concentration of LII Infantry Corps, but with little avail. By 11 April, after the attacks were well under way, the Army High Command was still in the dark as to when this corps might become operational. The 79th and 125th Infantry Divisions, which were to form the second attack wave under LII Corps, were to detrain close to the border. Eventually, the former division was transferred to XLIX Mountain Corps. It was 12 April when the first ten trains, carrying the 79th Infantry Division pulled into the assembly area.
Only the assembly of XLVI Panzer Corps went according to schedule. The advance echelon of the 16th Motorized Infantry Division arrived in Vienna by rail on 8 April and immediately proceeded from there to the concentration area in Hungary by organic transportation. By the evening of 7 April, the 14th Panzer Division arrived in Magykanizsa, while the 8th Panzer Division assembled its forces to the north of Lake Blation. Although the snow had melted, the movements all three divisions were hampered by heavy rains, and it was necessary to provide each with additional traffic control units to avoid undue stoppages. However, with the arrival of the lead elements of the 16th Motorized Infantry Division in their assembly area on 9 April, the XLVI Panzer Corps was the only major Second Army command whose units were ready to jump off on D Day.
I. The Air bombardment of Belgrade
The Luftwaffe opened the assault on Yugoslavia by conducting a saturation-type bombing raid on the capital in the early morning hours of 6 April. (Map 4) Flying in relays from airfields in Austria and Romania, 150 bombers and dive-bombers protected by a heavy fighter escort participated in the attack. The initial TViid was carried out at fifteen minute intervals in three distinct waves, each lasting for approximately twenty minutes. Tims, the city was subjected to a rain of bombs for almost one and a half hours. The German bombardiers directed their main effort against the center of the city, where the principal government buildings were located.
MAP 4. THE GERMAN CAMPAIGN IN YUGOSLAVIA (OPERATION 25)
The weak Yugoslav Air Force and the inadequate flak defenses were quickly wiped out by the first wave, permitting the dive-bombers to come down to roof-top levels. Against the loss of but two German fighters, tventy Yugoslav planes were shot down and forty-four were destroyed on the ground, when the attack was over, more than 17,000 inhabitants lay dead under the debris. This devastating blov virtually destroyed all means cf communication between the Jugoslav high command and the forces in the field. Athough some elements of the general sjtaff managed to escape to one of the suburbs, co-ordination and control of the military operations in the field were rendered impossible from the outset. Having thus delivered the knock-out blow to the enemy nerve center, the VIII Air Corps was able to devote its maximum effort to such targets as the Yugoslav airfields, routes of communication, and troop concentrations, and to the close support of German ground operations.
II. Probing and Limited Objective Attacks
When the Luftviaffe launched its attacks on 6 April, the German Second Army was just beginning to assemble its attack forces along the northern Yugoslav frontier preparatory to its projected jump-off on 10 April. In an effort to improve its lines of departure, the Second Army took full advantage of the interim period by launching limited objective attacks all along the frontier zone. The troop commanders, however, had to keep their forces in check to prevent major engagements from developing prematurely, which might subsequently have impaired the army's freedom of action and jeopardized the conduct of operations. Though all three corps, especially the LI Infantry Corps in the center, would have been able to move forward almost at will, the scope of these attacks had to be limited in the interest of the over-all plan.
On 6 April, for example, LI Corps' operations at Murek and Radkersburg were concluded successfully since both bridges over the Mura fell into German hands intact. During these probing attacks, the 132d Infantry Division occupied the Sejanska stream and the 183d Infantry Division took 300 prisoners. A bicycle detachment of the latter took Murska Sobota.
Since the enemy was giving ground all along the line, the corps wanted to exploit the situation further by continuing southward. The Second Army, however, felt compelled to order both divisions to hold in place and consolidate their newly won bridgeheads. While the corps wanted to drive to Liaribor and build up an advanced bridgehead that vould undoubtedly have offered greater advantages, ths necessary forcer, for such a bold venture were not ns yet available. Eventually a compromise was reached, and the corps was permitted to seize end occupy key terrain features atop the high ground directly north of Maribor.
At the same time the 538th Frontier Guard Division, in the XLIX Mountin Corps zone on the right, succeeded in seizing important mountain pisses, hills, and tunnels along the border.
The Army High Command was determined to seize intact the principal bridges in the XLVI Panzer Corps zone, Thereiore, as early as 1 April, corps elements were ordered to capture the bridge at Barcs and the railroad bridge about ten miles northeast of Koprivnica by a coup-de-main.
In Operations Order No. 1, issued on 6 April, Second Army directed LI Corps to hold its territorial gains, while the XLV1 Panzer Corps was to consolidate its Drava bridgeheads as quickly as possible. The 133d Infantry Division was to hold Murska Sobota in order to maintain communications between the expanding Radkersburg bridgehead and the panzer corps on its left.
By early evening of 6 Aprils the lack of enemy resistance and the over-all situation seemed to indicate that the Yugoslavs would not make a concerted stand north of the Drava. The LI Corps was therefore authorized to exploit its earlier successes and the XLVI Panzer Corps was ordered to establish bridgeheads across the Mura and Drava at Mursko Sredisce, Letenye, Zakany, and Barcs.
III. Raiding Parties by Special Assault Units
Under the code designation "Feuerzauber,'' units composed of cadre personnel and trained recruits were organized into several waves of special assault troops. The elements comprising the first wave consisted of four battalion staffs commanding nine rifle companies, two mountain artillery batteries, one self-propelled medium artillery battery, two mountain engineer platoons, four antitank companies, and three signal and four bicycle platoons. Additional waves were subsequently formed, involving altogether about two thirds of a reserve mountain division plus some attached specialist troops.
Originally these units were merely to reinforce the frontier guards and cover the gradually assembling Second Army forces along the southern border of Carinthia and Styria. This purely defensive mission, however, did not satisfy the commanders of the aggressive units. Therefore, between 6 and 10 April, they took upon themselves to conduct numerous raids deep into enemy-held territory, seized and held many strong points along the border, and thereby contributed to the rapid success of the campaign proper.
The first wave of assault units moved south from Graz in the direction of the Yugoslav border on 27 March. One of them, designated "Force Palten" after the captain in command, was assembled near Spielfeld during the first days of April. Its original mission was to secure the frontier and the vital bridge across the Mura near Gpielfeid. However, on the evening of 5 April the force started to attack bunkers and enemy-held high ground across the frontier. By the morning of 6 April several hills had been taken, and scouting patrols probing deep into the bunker line south of Spielfeld made contact with the enemy. After a limited engagement in the outpost area to determine the enemy's strength and disposition, the raiders pulled back. Most of the high ground remained in German hands as the enemy failed to counterattack. Then, toward 1600, mountain engineers seized the enemy bunkers without any preparatory artillery fire.
On 8 April, Captain Palten decided to personally lead a group of his raiders toward Maribor. He undertook this mission against orders from higher headquarters and do spite the fact that virtually all bridges along the route of advance had been blown. Since there was hardly any enemy interference, troops and equipment could be ferried across the Pesilica stream on pneumatic rafts. The vehicles had to be left behind, and the men were forced to carry their equipment the rest of the way.
After forming raiding parties on the south bank of the stream, Captain Palten continued to move southward. During the evening he entered Maribor at the head of his force and occupied the town without opposition. Much to their disappointment, the raiders were ordered to withdraw to the Spielfold area, where they had to sit out the remainder of the Yugoslav campaign performing guard duty at the border. Losses incurred by Force Palten were one killed and two wounded, while they captured more than 100 prisoners and much booty.
IV. The Three-Pronged Drive on Belgrade
Three separate attack forces converged on Belgrade from different directions. They were launched as follows:
1. First Panzer Group
Early in the morning of 8 April, the First Panzer Group jumped off from its assembly area northwest of Sofiya. Crossing the frontier near Pirot, the XIV Panzer Corps, spearheaded by the 11th Panzer Division, followed by the 5th Panzer, 294th Infantry, and Mountain Divisions, advanced in a northwesterly direction toward Nis. Despite unfavorable weather, numerous road blocks, and tough enemy resistance, the 11th Panzer Division succeeded in pushing past Pirot on 8 April. As early as 9 April its lead tanks rumbled into Nis, the former capital of Serbia. From Nis northwestward the terrain became mere favorable since the armored columns could follow the Morava valley all the way to Belgrade.
South of Paracin and southwest of Kragujevac several divisions of the Yugoslav Fifth Army attempted to stem the tide of the advance but were quickly routed after some heavy fighting. More than 5,000 prisoners were taken in this one encounter alone.
Meanwhile, the 5th Panzer Division became temporarily stalled along the poor roads near Pirot. After the division got roiling again, it was ordered to turn southward just below Nis and cut off the enemy forces around Leskovac. When it became apparent that the Nis front was about tc collapse, the 5th Panzer Division reverted to the control of Twelfth Army and joined the XL Panzer Corps for the Greek campaign.
By 10 April any semblance of organized resistance southeast of Belgrade ceased as XIV Panzer Corps forces was in close pursuit of enemy units retreating toward their capital. Two days later the corps was only forty miles from the city.
2. XLI Panzer Corps
Timed to coincide with the armored thrust of the XIV Panzer Corps from the southeast, was the drive of the XLI Panzer Corps to the south and toward the Yugoslav capital. Leading this attack was the Motorized Infantry Regiment "Gross Deutschland," closely followed by the 2d SS Motorized Infantry Division. After crossing the; frontier north of Vrsac, advance elements entered Pancevo on 11 April. Having meanwhile advanced to within about forty-fxve miles north of Belgrade, the main body of XLI Panzer Corps met with only isolated resistance on the following day as it raced toward the enemy capital.
3. XLVI Panzer Corps
During the night of 9 - 10 April a third powerful armored force entered the race for Belgrade when the XLVI Panzer Corps jumped off to the attack. Crossing the Drava bridge at Barcs in the morning of 10 April under strong air protection, the 8th Panzer Division, followed by the 16th Motorized Infantry Division, launched the XLVI Panzer Corps thrust to Belgrade by driving southeastward between the Drava and Sava Rivers. By the evening of 10 April forward elements of the 8th Panzer Division, having met with virtually no resistance, reached Slatina despite poor roads and unfavorable weather. Enemy pockets were quickly mopped up and the division drove on in the direction of the capital via Osijek, where the roads became even worse.
That the plight of the enemy was becoming more and more desperate could be gathered from the following appeal that General Simovic broadcast to his troops:
All troops must engage the enemy wherever encountered and with every means at their disposal. Don't wait for direct orders from above but act on your own and be guided by your judgment, initiative, and conscience.
On 11 April the 3th Panzer Division reached the Osijek region, while the 16th Motorized Infantry Division farther back was advancing beyond Nasice. Numerous bridge demolitions and poor roads retarded the progress of both divisions, whose mission it was to attack the rear of the Yugoslav forces that faced XIV Panzer Corps, arid to establish early contact with the First Panzer Group.
At 0230 on 12 April, the 8th Panzer Division entered Mitrovica after two vital bridges near Osijek had been captured intact. The division continued its thrust with the main body advancing toward Lazarevac, about twenty miles south of Belgrade, which was the designated link-up point with First Panzer Group. At 0820 the Division was in Ruma.
On the afternoon of 12 April, the XLVI Panzer Corps received new orders. According to those, only elements of the 8th Panzer Division continued their eastward drive to seize and secure the Sava bridge near the western outskirts of Belgrade. At 1830 the main body of the division turned southward and moved in the direction of Valjevo to establish contact with the left wing of First Panzer Group southwest of Belgrade. Simultaneously, the 16th Motorized Infantry Division, which had been trailing behind the 8th Panzer Division, also turned southward, crossed the Sava, and continued the advance toward Doboj and Zvornik. Thus both divisions were diverted from their original objective, Belgrade, in order to participate in the subsequent drive on Sarajevo.
Meanwhile, both the Second Army arid the Army High Command ware anxiously awaiting news of the fall of Belgrade. Of the three converging armored forces, XLI Panzer Corps was last reported closest to the capital, having reached Pancevo on the east bank of the Danube about ton miles east of the city, South of Belgrade resistance stiffened as the 11th Panzer Division, spearheading the First Panzer Croup forces neared the capital.
4. The Fall of Belgrade
With three separate though co-ordinated attack forces converging on Belgrade simultaneously, German confusion in determining which force was the first to roach the enemy capital was not surprising. Toward early evening of 12 April, a Captain Klingenburg of the 2d SS Motorized Infantry Division, finding all Danube bridges destroyed, took an SS patrol across the river in captured pneumatic rafts. The patrol entered the city unmolested, and at 1700 hoisted the Nazi flag atop the German legation. About two hours later the mayor of Belgrade officially handed over the city to Klingenburg who was accompanied by a representative of the German Foreign Ministry previously interned by the Yugoslavs.
At Second Army headquarters, no word from the 8th Panzer Division elements, which were last reported approaching the western outskirts of Belgrade, had been received for twenty-four hours. Finally, at 1152 on 13 April the following radio message came through from the chief of staff of the division:
"During the night the 8th Panzer Division drove into Belgrade, occupied the center of the city, and hoisted the Swastika flag."
However, since better communications hud existed between Second Army and First Panzer Group, the following flash was received shortly before the 8th Panzer Division message came in:
"Panzer Group von Kleist has taken Belgrade from the south. Patrols of Motorized Infantry Regiment "Gross Deutschland" have entered the city from the north. With General von Kleist at the head, the 11th Panzer Division has been rolling into the capital since 0632."
Thus the race for Belgrade ended in a close finish with all throe forces reaching their objective almost simultaneously. With the fall of the city, the First Panzer Group was transferred iron the Twelfth to the Second Army, while the XIVI Pcr.zor Corps was placed under the direct command of the panzer group for the next phase of the operation — the pursuit and final destruction of the remnants of the Yugoslav Array.
V. The Secondary Attacks
Early on the morning of 10 April, with dive-bombers clearing the route of advance, the 14th Panzer Division of XLVI Panzer Corps, split into two armored forces, broke out of the Drava bridgeheads and advanced southwestward toward Zagreb, the state capital of Croatia, This attack preceded the XLVI Panzer Corp main attack toward Belgrade and was intended as a diversion.
Although large enemy concentrations Lad been spotted in front of the division, air reconnaissance revealed that these forces were rapidly withdrawing southward;toward Zagreb. Though fierce at first, enemy resistance soon crumbled as German tanks came closer to their objective. However, extremely cold weather and snow-covered roads hampered progress to some degree. By 1930 on 10 April the lead tanks of the 14th Panzer Division reached the outskirts of Zagreb, after having covered a distance of almost 100 miles in one day.
In some instances Croat troops refused to fight, abandoned their weapons, deserted their positions, and either surrendered or simply went home. One German regiment surprised an enemy unit which was still in garrison and not yet fully mobilized. A party just in progress was interrupted only long enough to consummate a quick surrender, whereupon the festivities continued as though nothing unusual had happened.
So rapid was the advance of the division that its radio communications with corps and army were temporarily interrupted. Reconnaissance aircraft had to bo dispatched to ascertain its exact' location and chart its progress. When the 14th Panzer Division entered Zagreb from tie northwest it was welcomed by a wildly cheering pro-German populace. During the drive or. the city more than 15,000 prisoners were taken. Among the 300 officers were twenty-two generals, including the commanders of First Army Group and Seventh Army.
After it became apparent that the main armored thrusts on Belgrade and Zagreb were well on their way and promised an early successful conclusion, the Second Army was anxious to launch its other secondary attacks as soon as possible. Since the terrain across the Austrian-Yugoslav frontier was unsuitable for motorized units, Second Army had concentrated mountain and infantry divisions in this zone. Although none of the four divisions that were scheduled to launch the attack into the northwestern part of Yugoslavia had been fully assembled, the forward echelons started off by 10 April.
During the night of 9 - 10 April, the XLIX Mountain Corps ordered the 1st Mountain Division to cross the frontier near Bleiburg and advance in the general direction of Celje. By nightfall of 10 April forward elements of the division reached a point about twelve miles northwest of the town. At the same time, LI Corps expanded and consolidated tin previously occupied Drava bridgeheads by committing the 132d Infantry Division at Muribor and the 183d Infantry Division southeast of Radkersburg. Cold winds and intermittent snowstorms hampered movements greatly, and flood waters interrupted the crossings at Maribor during the course of the day. After overcoming some stubborn rear guard resistance, forward elements of LI Corps succeeded in advancing southwestward to within twenty-five miles of Celjo.
The LI Corps was to form flying columns and exert every effort to reach Zagreb from the north by 11 April in order to relieve the the 14th Panzer Division as soon as possible. The latter was to drive southwestward from Zagreb via Karlovac to consummate the encirclemerit of enemy forces facing the Italian Second Artmy in the Ljubljana Basin.
To accomplish the encirclement, the 538th Frontier Guard Division was to conduct feinting attacks in the north, and the Italian Second Army was requested to attack from the west without delay. In the early morning of 11 April army headquarters was informed that the Italian V, VI, and XI Corps would attack toward 1200.
In several instances Luftwaffe attacks had miscarried and hit German ground troops. All corps commanders were therefore warned to make the fullest use of visual recognition signals. Second Army issued detailed instructions to XLIX and LI Corps, the 14th Panzer Division, and the Italians as to the battle area to he isolated for air operations until 1800, 11 April. During this period the Fourth Air Force was to attack enemy columns and concentrations in the Ljubljana area.
On 11 April the command post of Second Army was moved to Maribor where word was received that the Hungarian Third Army had launched its attacks across the Yugoslav frontier north of Osijek and near Subotica during the late afternoon. Strong infantry and cavalry forces invaded the former Hungarian province in the northeastern part of Yugoslavia, meeting virtually no resistance.
After taking Karlovac on 11 April, the 14th Panzer Division was to pivot and drive southeastward via Slunj toward the Zvornik -Sarajevo line. Elements of the division were to thrust southwest-ward to link up with the Italians in Vrbovsk on the following day. The line Novo Mesto - Slunj - Bihac - Livino was designated as the boundary between the German and Italian Second Armies south of the Sava, The territory west of this line was assigned to the Italians. However, for the time being the German forces on the extreme right wing of XLIX Corps were authorized to operate in the Italian zone,. After exhausting marches and some hard fighting, the 1st Mountain Division took Celje on 11 April. Emissaries of the newly formed Slovenian Government asked the corps commander for a cease fire.
In anticipation of just such developments, Hitler had previously authorized field commanders to accept the surrender of individual units.
.after consolidating its forces and having organized flying columns, LI Corps began the advance toward Zagreb at 0600 on 11 April. Plodding through difficult terrain during the afternoon, forward elements reached the southern exit of the mountain range northwest of the city by evening. Here preparations were made to resume the drive and enter the Croat capital to relieve the 14th Panzer Division. A bicycle troop of the 183d Division wheeling eastward had, meanwhile, taken Varazdin, whore it captured a Serb brigade, including its commanding general.
By 2000 all enemy resistance appeared to be broken. The Yugoslav northern armies comprising the First Army Group disintegrated rapidly, A great number of prisoners and much booty were captured as entire divisions surrendered. About 30,000 enemy troops were concentrated near Delnica waiting to surrender to the Italians moving inland from the west.
VI. Pursuit and Mopping-Up Operations Luring the Final Drive on Sarajevo
After the fall of Belgrade, the Second Army was to launch and maintain a vigorous pursuit of the enemy forces withdrawing in the general direction of Sarajevo, Speed was now of the essence since it was intended that the combat divisions — particularly the mechanized forces — be pulled out and redeployed as soon as practicable.
As early as 12 April, both XLIX and LI Corps had closed up along the Sava River, The Fourth Air Force, which continued to operate in support of the ground operations, was ordered to neutralize the anticipated enemy troop concentrations in the Mostar -Sarajevo sector.
While the Hungarian Third Array had already fully occupied the northeastern part of Yugoslavia between the Drava and Tisza Rivers, the Italian Second Army was securing the coastal region.
The German Second Army was to conduct the pursuit and mopping-up phase, with Sarajevo, located in the heart of Yugoslavia, as the focal point upon which all forces were to converge. Accordingly, the army reorganized its forces into two separate pursuit groups. Under the command of the recently arrived LII Infantry Corps headquarters, the northern group consisted of four infantry divisions under XLIX and LI Corps as well as the 14th Panzer Division, which was to spearhead the drive on Sarajevo from the west. The eastern pursuit group, under the commr.nd of the First Panzer Group, was composed of six divisions, with the 8th Panzer Division leading the drive to Sarajevo from the east.
On the afternoon of 13 April Second Army moved its command post to Zagreb to facilitate communication with the two pursuit groups and direct the mopping-up phase of the campaign from this central location. The boundary between the German Second and Twelfth Armies was the line extending laterally across Yugoslavia from Sofiya via Prizren up to and along the northern border of Albania.
By the evening of 13 April there was no longer any semblance of enemy resistance in front of XLIX and LI Corps. The main body of the German forces reached the Kupa River and some elements were quickly put across. The 14th Panzer Division, meanwhile, sped eastward toward Sarajevo, As the division approached its objective, reports began to circulate that hostilities had broken out between Serbs and Croats in Mostar. German planes were quickly diverted to this area whore they blasted Serb troop concentrations for three hours. By the following day the fighting between the Serb and Croat factions had gained momentum and had spread throughout Dalmatia, However, by that time, the 14th Panzer Division had advanced to the line running from Jajce to Doboj, approximately fifty miles northeast of Sarajevo, while forward elements of the LI Corps, attempting to keep up with the armor, arrived at the Una after strenuous marches and established several bridgeheads across the stream.
In the zone of the eastern group, one armored division combed cut the sector south of Belgrade, while two infantry divisions cleared the industrial region in and around Nis. The 8th Panzer Division led the way southeastward toward Sarajevo, closely followed by two motorized infantry divisions which were driving hard toward the heart of Yugoslavia, one via Zvornik, the other toward Uzice. Among the vast amount of booty were seventy-five enemy aircraft still intact on the ground. During the operations on 14 and 15 April, prisoners were taken by the thousands. North of Nis the Germans captured 7,000; in and around Uzice, 40, 000; around Zvornik 30,000 more; and in Doboj another 6,000.
On 15 April both pursuit groups of Second Army closed in on Sarajevo. As two panzer divisions entered the city simultaneously from west and east, the Yugoslav Second Army, whose headquarters was in Sarajevo, capitulated. Leaving only security detachments in the city to await the arrival of the infantry forces, both divisions continued to race southward in close pursuit of fleeing enemy remnants.
VII. Armistice Negotiations
In view of the hopelessness of the situation, the Yugoslav command decided to ask for an armistice and authorized the commanders of the various army groups and armies to dispatch truce negotiators to the German command post within their respective sectors. However, those from Yugoslav Second and Fifth Armies who asked for separate cease fire agreements as early as 14 April were turned back by the German commanders because at that late stage only the unconditional surrender of the entire Yugoslav Army could be considered as a basis for negotiations.
Late on the evening of 14 April, a representative of the Yugoslav Government approached the First Panzer Group headquarters and asked General von Kleist for an immediate cease fire. When the Army High Command was advised of this turn of events, it designated the Second Army commander, General von Weichs, to conduct the negotiations in Belgrade.
During the afternoon of the following day von Weichs and his staff arrived in Belgrade and drew up the German conditions for an armistice based on the unconditional surrender of all Jugoslav forces. The next day a Yugoslav emissary arrived in the capital, but it turned out that he did not have sufficient authority to negotiate or sign the surrender. Therefore, a draft of the agreement was handed to him with the request that competent plenipotentiaries be sent to Belgrade without delay in order to avoid unnecessary bloodshed. To expedite matters, a plane was placed at his disposal.
The armistice was concluded and signed on 17 April, General von Weichs signed for the Germans, with the Italian military attache in Belgrade acting on behalf of his country. The Hungarians were represented by a liaison officer who, however, did not sign the document since Hungary was technically "not at war with Yugoslavia." Foreign Minister Cincar-Marcovic and General Milojko Yankovic signed for tlie Yugoslavs. The armistice became effective at 1200 on 18 April 1941, just twelve days after the initial Oerman attack was launched.
The losses sustained by the German attack forces were unexpectedly light. During the twelve days of combat the total casualty figures came to 558 men: 151 were listed as killed, 392 as wounded, and 15 as missing in action. During the XLI Panzer Corps drive on Belgrade, for example, the only officer killed in action fell victim to a civilian sniper's bullet.
The Germans took some 254,000 prisoners, excluding a considerable number of Croat, German, Hungarian, and Bulgarian nationals who had been inducted into thy Yugoslav Army and who wore quickly released after screening.
The campaign in Yugoslavia must be considered an improvisation, since it was launched before the attack forces were fully assembled.
This fact should be constantly borne in mind when evaluating the experiences gained.
In reviewing the operation the following facts stand out:
1. The tactical principles set forth in German Field Service Regulations proved their worth when properly applied.
2. The employment of motorized divisions in alpine terrain against an inferior defense force is not only possible but promises speedy success.
3. The German tanks and trucks proved capable of negotiating virtually every type of terrain.
II. Coalition Warfare
During the Yugoslav campaign the German command was confronted by the problems of coalition warfare for the first time. It became obvious from the very start that the German units would have to be the driving spirit and carry the brunt of the fighting during the operations. The participating allied and satellite forces achieved success only when they were under German command.
Both commanders and troops of the Italian Second Army lacked aggressiveness and initiative„ Moreover, the Italian command demonstrated little tactical know-how and failed to comprehend German strategic concepts. Its intelligence system was poorly developed and often tended to overestimate enemy strength and capabilities. During the entire campaign the Italians, as well as the Hungarians, displayed great reluctance to attack until the enemy had been soundly beaten and thoroughly disorganized by the Germans.
The assembly of the Second Army forces, based on the premise that the attack would not be launched until 10 April, proceeded according to schedule. However, with the Twelfth Army's attacked on 6 April, Second Army was forced to take action while still in one process of assembling. In planning the assembly this development was not anticipated; the sequence in which the forces arrived within their concentration areas was ill-conceived in many instances. To assure a more efficient assembly of forces in a similar situation, the following points should be borne in mind:
1. In establishing the march sequence for any troop movement it is vital that the unit commander concerned be consulted so that the forces necessary for immediate commitment have precedence over the technical support elements.
2. It is imperative that those command echelons directly responsible for the conduct of operations, such as army and corps headquarters, together with their signal, reconnaissance, and, especially, engineer units, be the first to arrive in the assembly area.
3. Within a division, the reconnaissance battalion and engineer elements should constitute the lead echelon along with the division command echelon, the signal battalion, and at least one regimental Headquarters, including its signal platoon.
IV. Other Organizational and Tactical Improvisations
The Yugoslav campaign must be considered primarily as a series of operations against river lines and in mountainous terrain. In both instances, independent combined arms teams with missions of seizing key bridges and hills proved effective and successful.
The infantry divisions that had to fight their way through mountainous terrain in northwestern Yugoslavia accomplished their missions relatively well. It would have been advantageous, however, if the divisions had been more familiar with the peculiarities of mountain warfare. Advance detachments played an important role, but were only formed when the need arose, ana again disbanded once their specific mission was accomplished.
After the initial penetrations had been achieved, powerful armored wedges exploited the situation by breaking through at various points end swiftly moving deep into the enemy rear. It was here that Gorman motorized equipment surpassed all expectations by covering great distances with lightning speed ovor primitive, winding roads and through narrow, treacherous mountain passes. Road and weather conditions, especially in the mountains, demanded the careful organization of march columns, and the proper employment of traffic control units, there can be no doubt that it was the rapid thrusts of the mechanized columns across the mountains that broke the back of enemy resistance and spelled the early-doom of the Yugoslav Army.
As during earlier campaigns in World War II, the German superiority in armor and air power led to the quick conclusion of operations. Although the German General Staff planners had been well aware of the deficiencies and weaknesses of the Yugoslav Army, they were greatly surprised that the campaign could be concluded within so short a time.
I, Yugoslav Military Unpreparedness
What were the causes that led to this unexpectedly rapid success? Surely the Yugoslav high command must have expected German armed intervention as an aftermath of the coup d'etat. For one thing the German Army was not actively engaged in any other theater of operations at that time. Furthermore, the growing concentration of German forces in Bulgaria should have been a clear warning that Hitler had aggressive designs on the Balkans. The campaigns of 1939 and 1940 should also have taught the Yugoslavs that German operations were invariably spearheaded by co-ordinated efforts of Luftwaffe and panzer units.
The idea of completely stopping a force so vastly superior in men and material could of course not have been entertained. However, sufficient resistance could have been mustered to gain time to permit allied forces to come to Yugoslavia's aid. The mountainous terrain in the Balkans gives the defender a certain advantage over a highly mechanized attack force. That Yugoslav defenses should have been better prepared is quite obvious. Some of the demolitions encountered in the German Second Army zone indicated that efforts in that direction had been made, but were either insufficient or came too late.
When the German forces struck, the mobilization and concentration of Yugoslav defense forces had hardly begun. Instead of massing their forces around strategic points and behind natural terrain barriers in en effort to conserve strength and operate along interior lines of communication, the Yugoslav command chose to scatter its forces and spread them along the entire perimeter of the country's frontier. Thus, by attempting to hold everywhere, the Yugoslavs lost everything.
II. Internal Disunity
The lack of fighting spirit among major elements of the Yugoslav Army was equally decisive. Almost from the outset this deficiency became particularly obvious in the Second Army zone. Although it had been common knowledge that considerable tension existed within Yugoslavia, the Germans were surprised to see the inroads that the spirit of revolt had made on the national unity of the country. There can bo little doubt that the rift between Serbs and Croats played a major role in the rapid collapse. Whereas the Serbs vigorously opposed co-operation with Germany, as demonstrated by the uprising on 27 March, the Croat element of the population thought it wiser to compromise with Hitler than to resist in the face of tremendous odds. Thin feeling was naturally also shared by the Croats in the Army. A number of Croat officers even went to the extremes of committing acts of treason. In one such instance an air force officer flew from Belgrade to Graz as early as 3 April and handed over to the Germans the highly classified list of airfields where the Yugoslav planes were dispersed. Thus, when the Luftwaffe struck these fields during the initial attack wave, it virtually wiped out what little Yugoslav air power there was.
In the ground fighting, shortly after the Germans attacked, entire Croat units simply threw away their weapons and quit. In some instances, Croat officers led their men in organized attacks against Serb elements that were actively resisting the invaders. On 8 April, Croat troops openly revolted in Vinkovci, the main railroad junction along the vital Belgrade - Zagreb line. They launched a concerted attack against the headquarters of First Army Group and held as prisoner its commander with his entire staff until they were rescued by loyal Serb troops. Such occurrences were not unusual and happened in other sectors as well.
III. German Propaganda
German propaganda efforts naturally took full advantage of this open rift between Serbs and Croats. The constantly repeated official line was that Germany and Italy desired the creation of an independent state of Croatia and that the military operations were being conducted only against the Serbs, however, when Hitler was first told of the open animosity between the various ethnic factions in Yugoslavia, he is said to have remarked: "That is none of our business. If they want to bash each other's heads in, let them go ahead."
IV. Seeds of Unrest
The Germans. however, were soon to discover that, despite the official cessation of hostilities, many areas of Yugoslavia were far from pacified. The lack of resistance encountered during the brief military operations led the Germans to grossly underestimate the true fighting spirit of the Yugoslav people. That they were mistaken was clearly revealed during the ensuing years. The Yugoslavs' will to fight, squashed during the campaign of 1941 soon found outlet in wide-spread resistance movements. Operating from their sanctuaries in the Mountains, Serbs., Croats, Slovenes, and other ethnical groups united their efforts to harass and plague the German and Italian occupation forces until the final phase of World War II.
For a butter understanding of the German campaign in Greece, it is necessary to go back to Italy's attack on that country which started on 28 October 1940. After some initial successes, the invader was stopped by the Greek Army and thrown back to his jump-off positions. During the second phase of the operation the Greeks opened an offensive on 14 November, drove deep into Albanian territory, and threatened the principal Italian supply port at Valona. The Greek Army held the initiative through the beginning of March 1941, but made only local gains by eliminating enemy salients on the Albanian front. The Italian spring offensive, which started on 9 March, made no headway and the Greeks were able to hold their territorial pains until Germany entered the conflict. Except for some air support received from the British, the Greek Amy carried the fight entirely on its own, suffering very heavy casualties.
While the Creeks had thus demonstrated their ability to withstand the assault of the junior Axis partner, a German intervention in the Balkans could easily reverse the situation. In the event of a German attack, Greece was in a very unfavorable position because it lacked the necessary strength to cope with such a formidable opponent. The morale of the Greek forces in Albania was high, but it was difficult to foretell how a German attack would affect them. Moreover, since Greece had practically no armament industry, its equipment and ammunition supplies consisted mainly of stocks that the British had captured from the defeated Italian armies in North Africa.
In order to feed the battle in Albania, the Greek command had been forced to make continuous withdrawals from eastern Macedonia and western Thrace. To reverse this process in anticipation of a Gorman attack was inexpedient because the available forces were inadequate for sustained resistance on both fronts. The Greek command therefore decided to continue its successful resistance in Albania, no matter how the situation might develop under the impact of a German attack across the Bulgarian border.
In this difficult military situation Greece's only hope was that the ground forces offered by the British would arrive in time and that Yugoslavia and Turkey, or Yugoslavia alone, would participate in the struggle against the Axis Powers. If Yugoslavia joined Greece before the Germans were ready to attack, the Albanian pocket could be cleared of Italian forces. This in turn would make available considerable forces to block a German invasion of Greece.
During a meeting of British and Greek military and political leaders which took place in Athens on 13 January, Gen. Alexander Papagos, Commander in Chief of the Greek Army, reviewed the situation and expressed the opinion that Yugoslavia would probably remain neutral, The minimum assistance he asked from Britain was nine divisions with corresponding air support. These divisions should arrive in eastern Macedonia and western Thrace before the Germans moved from Romania to Bulgaria and assembled their forces for the attack on Greece, Secrecy and deception as to the ultimate destination of the British expeditionary force, which was to bo assembled in Egypt, were essential to prevent any German interference. However, all the British could offer was two to three divisions and a relatively small number of planes whose arrival would furthermore be delayed by the existing shortage of shipping, They suggested the immediate dispatch of a small token force of less than divisional strength., This offer was rejected by the Greeks who feared that the arrival of such a contingent would precipitate a German attack without giving them any sizeable assistance. British help would be requested if and when German troops crossed the Danube from Romania into Bulgaria. Such an overt act would be considered as a preliminary stop to an attack on Greece.
The Greek Government apparently informed the Yugoslavs of this decision, and they in turn transmitted it to the German Government. General Papagos writes on this subject:
"This, incidentally, disposes of the German assertion that they were forced to attack us only in order to expel the British from Greece, for they know that, if they had not marched into Bulgaria, no British troops would have landed in Greece. Their assertion was merely an excuse on their part to enable them to plead extenuating circumstances in justification of their aggression against a small nation, already entangled in a war against a Great Power. But, irrespective of the presence or absence of British troops in the Balkans, German intervention would have taken place firstly because the Germans had to secure the right flank of the German Army which was to operate against Russia according to the plans already prepared in autumn 1940, and secondly because the possession of the southern part of the Balkan Peninsula commanding the eastern end of the Mediterranean was of great strategic importance for Germany's plan of attacking Great Britain and the line of Imperial communications with the East.*"
[*] Alexander Papagos, The battle of Greece 1940 - 1941 (The J. M. Scazikis Alpha Editions, Athens, 1949), p. 317.
Throughout the month of February the Greek Government weighed the pros and cons of limited British intervention and a voluntary withdrawal of military forces from the northeastern border of the country. From the military point of view it would have been preferable to evacuate eastern Macedonia and western Thrace because this part of the country could not be defended with fewer than twelve divisions. Since the combined Greek-British defense force for this area would not amount to more than six divisions, it would have been preferable to establish a defense line along the shorter Varmion - Mount Olympus line which offered very favorable natural terrain features. Political considerations, however, made it impossible to take such a stop which would have involved the abandonment of Salonika and the entire region east of the Vardar River. Similar reasons stood in the way of a voluntary withdrawal of the Greek forces from Albania.
No decision on these problems was taken, mainly because of British and Greek hopes that Yugoslavia would join forces against the Axis Powers. When this hope finally and unexpectedly materialized at the end of March, the three countries failed to co-ordinate their efforts or establish a unified command. No such initiative was taken, and there was only one meeting of British, Yugoslav, and Greek representatives, on 3 April, and that led to no practical results.
The assembly area of the German attack forces in southwestern Bulgaria was delimited by the rugged mountain range along the Yugoslav - Bulgarian border. (Map 5) In order to enter northern Greece the attacker had to cross the Rhodopo Mountains, where only a few passes and river valleys permitted the passage of major military units. Two invasion routes led across the passes west of Kyustondil along the Yugoslav - Bulgarian border and another one through the Strimon valley in the south. The very steep mountain roads with their numerous turns could not bo negotiated by heavy vehicles until German engineer troops had widened them by blasting the rocks* Off the roads only infantry and pack animals could pass through the terrain.
MAP 5. THE GERMAN CAMPAIGN IN GREECE (OPERATION MARITA)
The Greek fortifications along the border had been skillfully adapted to these terrain features and a defense system in depth covered the few available roads. No continuous fortifications had been erected along the Yugoslav - Bulgarian border, but road blocks, demolitions, and extensive mine fields had been prepared at all border points. The Strimon and Nestos Rivers cut across the mountain range along the Greek - Bulgarian frontier; both valleys were well protected by strong fortifications which formed part of the Metaxas Line. This line was a system of concrete pillboxes and field fortifications, which had been constructed alone principle similar to these applied in the Maginot Line, Gen. John Metaxas, the Greek Premier who died shortly before the German invasion of his country, had initiated this construction project in the summer of 1936. Its strongest part extended over a distance of 125 miles from the north of the Nestos River to the point where the Yugoslav, Bulgarian, and Greek borders meet. The fortresses within this defense system blocked the road that led through the basin of Nevrokop and across the Rupel Gorge to eastern Macedonia. The strength of the Metaxas Line resided not so much in its fortifications proper as in the inaccessibility of the intermediate terrain leading up to the defense positions.
Along the Yugoslav - Greek border there is another mountain range with only two major defiles, one leading from Monastir to Florina, the ether along the Vardar River. Aside from these mountain range, bordering Greece in the north, an aggressor must surmount a number of other alpine and subalpine mountain ranges barring access to the interior of the country. In the west there are the Pindus Mountains stretching from Albania deep into the interior, whereas Mount Olympus and the Thermopylae are in the eastern part of the mainland. Finally, the inaccessible Peloponnesus Mountains obstruct operations in the southern provinces of Greece. Since habitations are few, water is in short supply, and the weather is inclement with sudden drops in temperature, troops are subjected to extreme physical hardships by a campaign across Greece.
According to military doctrine the mountainous terrain of Greece would seem ideally suited for defense. The high ranges of the Rhodopa, Epirus, and Olympus Mountains offer many possibilities to stop an invader. However, the defender must have sufficient air power, if the many defiles are not to become traps for the defense forces.
Whereas an invader thrusting from Albania can be stopped with relatively small forces in the high Pindus fountains, the northeastern part of the country is difficult to defend against an attack from the north. Eastern Macedonia and western Thrace are narrow strips of land that can be cut off from the rest of Greece by an advance following the course of the Vardar River. Salonika, the only efficient port in northern Greece, is situated within this vulnerable area. The supply system of the Greek force3 fighting in Albania was based on Salonika, The capture of the port would cut their supply lines arid isolate them in their exposed positions. Since a voluntary withdrawal of the Greek forces in Albania was not feasible and Salonika was practically indefensible, the Greek and British commands decided to fight a delaying action in the northeastern part of the country, anchor their defenses on Mount Olympus, and deploy the bulk of their forces behind the Aliakmon River. Their two main objectives were to maintain contact with the Greek Army in Albania and deny the Germans access to central Greece.
The German strategy call for the same blitzkrieg tactics that proved no successful during the Yugoslav campaign. After the occupation of Salonika, Athens, with the important port of Piraeus, was to bo the principal objective. Only this port and the Corinth Canal were in German hands, the withdrawal and evacuation of the British and Greek defense forces would be seriously jeopardized. Daring thrusts by mobile elements, strongly supported by tactical air power, would be the key to success.
I. Yugoslav Forces
The Fifth Yugoslav Army was responsible for the defense of the southeastern border in the area between Kriva Palanka and the Greek border. Three divisions were deployed along this part of the Bulgarian - Yugoslav frontier and one division held in reserve in the Skoplje area. At the time of the German attack the Yugoslav troops in this area v;ere not fully mobilized and were short of modern equipment and weapons. This explains their low combat efficiency at the outbreak of hostilities.
II. Greek Forces
Following the entry of German forces into Bulgaria, most of the Greek troops were evacuated from western Thrace, which was defended by the Evros Brigade, a unit consisting of three border guard battalions, when the Germans launched their attack. Adjacent to this unit, in eastern Macedonia, stood the Kestos Brigade in the area around Xanthi, The Metaxas Line was held by three infantry divisions, the 7th and 14th east of the Strimon, the 18th west of that river. The 19th Motorized Infantry Division was in reserve south of Lake Doiran. Including the fortress garrisons in the Metaxas Line and some border guard companies, the total strength of the Greek forces defending the Bulgarian border was roughly 70,000 men. They were under the command of the Greek Second Amy with headquarters in the vicinity of Salonika.
The Greek forces in central Macedonia were the 12th Infantry Division, which held the southern part of the Vermion position, and the 20th Infantry Division in the northern sector up to the Yugoslav border. On 28 March both divisions were brought under the command of Gen. Maitland Wilson, the commander of the British expeditionary forces. The bulk of the Greek forces — First Army with its fourteen divisions — was committed in Albania.
III. British and Imperial Forces
From 7 through 31 March the headquarters of I Australian Corps with Corps troops, the 6th Australian and 2d New Zealand Divisions, and the 1st Tank Brigade of the 2d British Armored Division, as well as service troops, disembarked at the ports of Piraeus and Volos. These forces had been assembled near Alexandria, Egypt, and shipped across the Mediterranean at the beginning of March. Immediately upon arrival, the tank brigade moved to the lower Vardar west of Salonika, the New Zealand division took up positions north of Mount Olympus in the bend of the Aliakmon River, and the Australian division dug in east of Kozani on both sides of the Alialmon. The commander of the expeditionary force established his headquarters northwest of Larisa. The Royal Air Force had previously occupied airfields in central and southern Greece. There were few planes that could be diverted to this theater in addition to defending Malta, providing air cover for the widely dispersed ground forces fighting in North Africa, and safeguarding the naval convoys across the Mediterranean.
The British forces were almost fully motorized, but their equipment was suitable for desert warfare, not for the steep mountain roads in Greece. There was a shortage of tanks and antiaircraft guns. The lines of communication across the Mediterranean were very vulnerable despite the fact that the British i:Navy dominated the Aegean Sea. All convoys had to pass close to enemy-held islands in the Aegean. The logistical problems were aggravated by the limited availability of shipping and the low capacity of the Greek ports. Only one single-line railroad and one good highway led northward from Piraeus, the principal port of debarkation.
The Twelfth Army under the command of Field Marshal List was charged with the execution of Operation MARITA. This army was composed of the following units (Appendix I):
1. First Panzer Group under the command of Generaloberst (General) von Kleist. This force was to thrust via Nis to Belgrade, forming one arm of the pincers that was to knock Yugoslavia out of the war. Since it was subordinated to Second Army as early as 13 April, First Panzer Group and its operations will not be discussed in this part of the study.
2. XL Panzer Corps, under General der Panzertruppen (Lieutenant General) Stumme, was composed of the 9th Panzer Division, the reinforced 1st SS Motorized Infantry Regiment, and the 73d Infantry Division.
3. XVIII Mountain Corps, under General der Gebirgstruppen (Lieutenant General) Franz Boehma, consisted of the 2d Panzer Division, 5th and 6th Mountain Divisions, 72d Infantry Division, and the reinforced 125th Infantry Regiment.
4. XXX Infantry Corps, under General der Artillerie (Lieutenant General) Otto Hartmann, was composed of the 50th and 164th Infantry Divisions.
5. L Infantry Corps, under General der Kavallerie (Lieutenant General) Georg Lindemann and composed of the 46th, 76th, and 198th Infantry Divisions, was detraining in Romania and did not participate in Operation MARITA.
6, 16th Panzer Division was deployed behind the Turkish - Bulgarian border to support the Bulgarian forces in case of a Turkish attack.
The German plan of attack was based on the premise that, because of the diversion created by the campaign in Albania, the Greeks would lack sufficient manpower to defend their borders with Yugoslavia and Bulgaria. By driving armored wedges through the weakest links in the defense chain, the freedom of maneuver necessary for thrusting deep into enemy territory could be gained more easily than by moving up the armor only after the infantry had forced its way through the mountain valleys and defiles. Once the weak defense system of southern Yugoslavia had been overrun by German armor, the relatively strong Metaxas Line, which obstructed a rapid invasion of Greece from Bulgaria, could be outflanked by highly mobile forces thrusting southward from Yugoslavia. Possession of Monastir and the Vardar Valley leading to Salonika was essential to such an outflanking maneuver.
As a result it was planned that the motorized elements of the XL Panzer Corps would thrust across the Yugoslav border and capture Skoplje, thereby cutting the rail and highway communications between Yugoslavia and Greece. Possession of this strategic point would bo decisive for the course of tho entire campaign. From Skoplje the bulk of the panzer corps was to pivot southward to Monastir for an immediate attack across the Greek border en the positions the enemy had established on both sides of Florina. Meanwhile, armored elements were to drive eastward and make contact with the Italians along the Albanian border.
The XVIII Mountain Corps was to concentrate its two mountain divisions on the west wing, make a surprise thrust across the Greek border, and force the Rupel Gorge. The 2d Panzer Division was to cross Yugoslav territory and drive toward Salonika as soon as it reached the Vardar River.
The XXX Infantry Corps was to reach the Aegean coast by the shortest route and attack from the east those fortifications of the Metaxas Line that were situated behind the Nestos.
All three corps were to converge on Salonika. After the capture of that main city, three mechanized and two mountain divisions were to be made available for the follow-up thrusts toward Athens and the Peleponnesus. Twelfth Army headquarters was to co-ordinate the initially divergent thrusts across southern Yugoslavia and through Bulgaria into Greece and, during the second phase of the campaign, drive toward Athens regardless of what happened on the Italian front in Albania. Actually, the Twelfth Army maneuver would constitute the most effective assistance that could be given the Italians.
This plan of operations with far-reaching objectives was obviously influenced by the German experience during the French campaign. It wan based on the assumption that Yugoslav resistance in front of the XL Panzer Corps would cramble within a short time under the impact of the German assault. The mechanized units would then continue their drive and, taking advantage of their high degree of mobility, would thrust across the wide pap between the Greek First and Second Armies long before the Greek command had time to regroup its forces. In anticipation of this move the enemy command could either move up the newly arrived British forces or pull back the Greek First Army from Albania and form reserves which could block the German advance from the north. In view of the difficult terrain conditions it seemed doubtful whether this could be achieved with the necessary speed.
The sudden change in the plan of attack for Operation MARITA, which was the direct result of the Yugoslav coup d'etat, confronted the Twelfth Army with a number of difficult problems. According to Directive No. 25, which was received at army headquarters on the morning of 28 March, Twelfth Army was to regroup its forces in such a manner that a task force consisting almost entirely of mechanized units would be available to attack via Nis toward Belgrade. With only nine days left before the attack v;as to be launched, every hour became valuable since a new assembly involving considerable troop movements had to be carried out with a minimum of delay. Unusual risks had to be taken to make up for the delays caused by poor roads and bad weather. Instead of waiting for the completion of the assembly, the two attack groups that were to invade Yugoslavia from the east had to use the "flying start" technique. Too much time would have been lost by waiting for the complete arrival of the divisions that were on the approach march from Romania. This race against time became necessary if the Yugoslav Army was to be prevented from completing its general mobilization.
The assembly along the Bulgarian border was complicated by the fact that the infantry and mountain divisions had to march distances up to 400 miles over the worst possible roads to reach their jump-off positions. During the forced marches, which took place under bad weather conditions, the accommodations of the troops were of the most primitive type. Nevertheless, by the evening of 5 April all attack forces that were to enter southern Yugoslavia and Greece the next morning had moved into their assembly areas and were ready for action.
In order to satisfy the demand for supplies, which was expected to increase with the progress of the Greek campaign, Twelfth Army established mobile supply points close to the Greek border. Essential supplies were loaded on trucks which were organized in convoys, ready to proceed across the mountain passes at short notice. In addition, loaded freighters were standing by in Romanian Black Sea ports. They wore to leave for Salonika as soon as that port had fallen into German hands.
I. The German Thrust across Southern Yugoslavia
The XL Panzer Corps, which was to attack across southern Yugoslavia, jumped off at 0530 on 6 April, thrusting across the upper Strimon Valley on a thirty-mile front. (Map 5) It met strong opposition from an enemy who seemed determined to stop the invaders. The 9th Panzer Division advancing toward Kumanovo was thus delayed along the mountain roads, and the 73d Infantry Division drive toward Stip was held up near Carevo Selo. However, after several hours of lighting, the enemy nests of resistance were reduced, and the first 600 Yugoslav prisoners were brought from the front. By the evening of the first day of the offensive, the advance points of the two divisions had reached the area east of Kumanovo and Kocane. During the night strong elements of the 9th Panzer Division closed up and the next day the remaining heavy vehicles crossed the mountain passes near the border. By the afternoon of 7 April the advance guard of the armored division entered Skoplje, almost sixty miles west of the border.
That same day the improvised motorized elements of the 73d Division reached Veles, while the main body of the division followed at some distance. The reinforced 1st SS Motorized Infantry Regiment, which had been held back, moved up along the 9th Panzer Division route to participate in the assault on the Vardar defense positions.
The continuation of the operation locked hazardous because a force of less than three divisions was to drive deep into enemy territory with both flanks open. The First Panzer Group offensive in the north was not to start until 8 April and no news on the progress of the 2d Panzer Division attack farther to the south was available. Moreover, the possibility of Yugoslav counterattacks against the rear of the panzer corps was not to be excluded. None of these threats materialized.
The Vardar was crossed with surprising ease and the corps thus gained freedom of maneuver. By the evening of 8 April the XL Panzer Corps began its pivoting movement and the advance elements of the 3S regiment captured Prilep. The important rail line between Belgrade and Salonika was severed and one of the strategic objective of the campaign — to isolate Yugoslavia from its allies — was achieved. In addition, the Germans were now in possession of terrain which was favorable for the continuation of the offensive. On the evening of 9 April the corps deployed its forces north of Monastir, ready to carry the attack across the Greek border toward Florina. While weak security detachments covered the rear of the corps against a surprise attack from central Yugoslavia, elements of the 9th Panzer Division drove westward to link up with the Italians at the Albanian border.
II. The 2d Panzer Division Drive to Salonika
Entering Yugoslavia from the east on the morning of 6 April, the 2d Panzer Division advanced westward in the direction of Strumica. It encountered little enemy resistance, but was delayed by demolitions, mine fields, and muddy roads. Nevertheless, the division was able to roach the objective of the day, the town of Strumica. On 7 April a Yugoslav counterattack against the northern flank of the division was repelled after brief fighting. The next day the division forced its way across the mountains and penetrated the Greek defenses south of Lake Doiran. A flying column was dispatched in the direction of Salonika and, despite many delays along the narrow mountain roads, it succeeded in entering the port by the morning of 9 April. Impressed by the lightning speed of the German offensive, the Greek Second Army capitulated without further resistance.
III. The Struggle across the Metaxas Line
The frontal attack on the Metaxas Line, undertaken by one German infantry and two mountain divisions of the XVIII Mountain Corps, met with extremely tough resistance from the Greek defenders. After a three-day struggle, during which the Germans massed artillery and dive-bombers, the Metaxas Line was finally penetrated. The main credit for this achievement must be given to the 6th Mountain Division, which crossed a 7,000-foot snow-covered mountain range and broke through at a point that had been considered inaccessible by the Greeks. The divisions reached the rail line to Salonika on the evening of 7 April and entered Kherson two days later.
The two other divisions advanced step by step under great hardship. Each individual group of fortifications had to be reduced by a combination of frontal and enveloping attacks with strong tactical air support. The 5th Mountain Division together with the reinforced 125th Infantry Regiment penetrated the Strimon defenses on 7 April and, attacking along both banks of the river, cleaned out one bunker after another. After repelling several counterattacks the division reached Neon Petritsi, thus gaining access to the Rupel Gorge from the south. The 125th Infantry Regiment, which was attacking the gorge from the north, suffered such heavy casualties that it had to be withdrawn from further action after it had reached its objective. The 72d Infantry Division, which advanced from Kevrokop across the mountains, was handicapped by insufficient mountain equipment; as were all the other infantry divisions. It suffered particularly from a shortage of pack animals and medium artillery. Nevertheless, even this division got through the Metaxas Line by the evening of 9 April, when it reached the area northeast of Seres. Some of the fortresses of the line held out for days after the German attack divisions had bypassed them and could not be reduced until heavy guns were brought up.
IV. The Seizure of Western Thrace
The XXX Infantry Corps on the left wing progressed in a satisfactory manner and reached its designated objective. The two infantry divisions also encountered strong resistance during the first days, although both the enemy forces and fortification? were weaker here than west of the Nostos River. On the other hand, the road conditions were worse than anywhere else, often causing delay in the movement of artillery and supplies. By the evening of 8 April the 164th Infantry Division captured Xanthi, while the 50th Infantry Division advanced far beyond Komotini toward the Nestos, which both divisions reached on the next day.
V. The German Estimate of the Situation on 9 April
In an estimate of the situation dated 9 April, the Twelfth Army commander expressed the opinion that, as a result of the swift advance of the mobile units, the German forces were in a favorable position for gaining access to central Greece by smashing the enemy build-up behind the Vardar River. It was to be assumed that British strategy called for delaying the German offensive by prolonged resistance at the Aliakmon and Vardar positions. Any premature withdrawal on the part of the British would seriously endanger the exposed Greek main force in Albania. Blocking the gateway to central Greece south of Monastir would surely be the special concern of the defenders, since a break-through at that point would give the German armor an opportunity to envelop the British positions. If that happened, the Greek First Army in Albania would suffer the same fate as the Second Army in Macedonia.
On the basis of this estimate the Twelfth Army requested the transfer of the 5th Panzer Division from First Panzer Group to the XL Panzer Corps. Thin division was no longer needed for the Jugoslav campaign, and its presence would give some additional punch to the German thrust through the Monastir gap. For the continuation of the campaign the army formed two attack groups, an eastern one consisting of 2d Panzer, 72d Infantry, and 5th and 6th Mountain Divisions, and a western group composed of the 1st SS Motorized Infantry Regiment and 73d Infantry Division, which were subsequently to be joined by the 5th and 9th Panzer Divisions.
VI. The Attack on Kozani and the Vardar Positions
By the morning of 10 April the XL Panzer Corps had finished its preparations for the continuation of the offensive. A reconnaissance battalion that had been sent ahead did not encounter any strong opposition until it reached the vicinity of Florina. Against all expectations, the enemy had decided to leave open the gateway to central Greece south of Monastir. The British were apparently withdrawing to new positions farther to the south. During the next days it became obvious that they were fighting a series of delaying actions in which they employed tanks. By the morning of 14 April the spearheads of the 9th Panzer Division reached Kozani. That same evening the division established a narrow bridgehead or the other side of the Aliakmon River, but its further advance was stopped by intense enemy fire. For the time being the XL Panzer Corps attack had come to a halt in front of the British positions behind the Aliakmon.
After the capture of Salonika XVIII Mountain Corps had to wait until the rear elements of its divisions, which were lagging behind in the mountains, were able to close up. The advance in the direction of the Vardar was resumed as soon as the bulk of the corps had been assembled. After the Vardar crossing had been accomplished on 11 April, the 6th Mountain Division drove in the direction of Edhossa and then turned southward toward Veroia, while the 5th Mountain, 72d Infantry, and 2d Panzer Divisions launched an attack toward Katorini. Here, too, it was soon discovered that the enemy had withdrawn to the south and was merely fighting a rear guard action. It was therefore decided to use the divisions of the XVIII Mountain Corps as one arm of a pincers movement, while from the west the XL Panzer Corps was to envelop the British forces deployed around Mount Olympus.
VII. Securing the German Rear Areas
Simultaneously with the advance of the attack divisions, the Twelfth Army had to direct the pacification of eastern Macedonia, western Thrace, and the Aegean Islands. Following its capitulation the Greek Second Army was demobilizing in orderly fashion. The northeastern part of Greece was occupied by the XXX Corps, and on 19 April the 50th Infantry Division moved to Salonika, where it was to remain throughout the remainder of the campaign. The 16th Infantry Division was given the task of securing the Aegean coast and occupying the islands in the Aegean. On 17 and 20 April elements of the division captured Thasos and Samothraki, respectively. Limnos was seized on 25 April, and Mitilini and Khios were taken on 4 May. Even though little enemy resistance was met, this operation was not without difficulties for the ground troops. The infantry units were transported in a fleet of small boats requisitioned in various harbors along the Greek coast, Some of the boats had to travel distances of more than sixty miles. Airborne units, together with elements of the 6th Mountain Division, were employed in the seizure of some of the larger Cyclades and Sporadhes Islands.
VIII. The Withdrawal of the Greek First Army
The position of the Greek First Army, still fighting in Albania, was seriously jeopardized by tho rapid advance of the XL Panzer Corps via Fiorina and by the British withdrawal to positions behind the Aliakmon. The Greek command therefore had to come to grips with the necessity of withdrawing southward from Albania.
However, it was not until 13 April that the first Greek elements began to withdraw toward the Pindus Mountains, On the previous day the German Twelfth Army commander had ordered motorized elements to drive toward Koritsi to cut the Greek Army's route of withdrawal. On 14 April an advance detachment of the 73d Infantry Division encountered elements of the Greek First Army as they were coming down from Albania into the area west of Fiorina. Heavy fighting took place on that and the following day, especially at Kastoria Pass. The Greek withdrawal soon extended to the entire Albanian front, with the Italians in hesitant pursuit. The 1st SS Regiment launched an attack in the direction of Yannina to cut off the Greeks' route of retreat to the south. This mission was accomplished by 20 April, following a pitched battle in the 900-foot high Metsovon Pass in the Pindus Mountains. Realizing the hopelessness of the situation, the Greek commander offered to surrender his army, which then consisted of fourteen divisions. After brief negotiations, which, on strict orders from Hitler, were kept secret from the Italians, the surrender was accepted with honorable terms from the defeated. In recognition of the valor with which the Greek troops had fought, their officers were permitted to retain their side arms. The soldiers were not treated as prisoners of war and were allowed to yo home after the demobilization of their units.
For reasons of prestige Mussolini insisted that the Greeks also surrender to the Italians. Hostilities between the Greeks and Italians continued for two more days, and on 23 April the Greek commander signed a new surrender agreement which included the Italians.
IX. Attempted Envelopment by XL Panzer Corps
When it became apparent that the British had decided to offer stronger resistance along the Aliakmon than anywhere else up to that time, the XL Panzer Corps was faced with the choice of making a frontal attack on the enemy positions or attempting to bypass them. The area around Crevena farther upstream presented a possibility for an enveloping attack. After having forced the crossing of the Aliakmon at this point, the attacker would enter terrain unfavorable to the movement of heavy vehicles because of the absence of roads and the multitude of ravines. Nevertheless, the enveloping attack was decided upon because the German command assumed that it would be less time consuming than a frontal attack near Kozani. On 15 April the 5th Panzer Division, recently assigned to the corps, launched the enveloping movement north of the Aliakmon with the intention of driving southward via Kalabaka toward Lamia. As expected, the division encountered very unfavorable terrain conditions after it had crossed the Aliakmon near Grevona in the face of light resistance. Extraordinary efforts were needed to keep the heavy vehicles moving over cart roads which had been washed out by snow and rain. Not until 19 April did the division emerge from the mountains and was finally able to move at its usual speed. Lamia was seized on the following day against minor enemy resistance. It now became apparent that too much time had been lost in crossing the mountains, and the withdrawing British forces could no longer be encircled in the plain of Thessaly. Nevertheless, it was this threat of encirclement that had induced the British to withdraw the bulk of their forces behind the Thermopylae Pass.
Among the other units of the XL Panzer Corps, only the 9th Panzer Division took part in the attack across the Aliakmon. Traffic congestion after the river crossing forced the division to halt near Larsson and assemble its forces. They were eventually redeployed to Germany. The 73d Division remained in the vicinity of the Greek - Albanian border.
X. The Fighting near Mount Olympus
Meanwhile, the XVIII Mountain Corps had begun to attack the Mount Olympus position. In keeping with the corps plan to collapse the British position by an envelopment from the east, the Gorman main effort was placed on the left wing, although the terrain at that point was not at all suitable for armored operations. On 14 April the 6th Mountain Division, which was attacking on the right wing, effected a crossing of the Alamo south of Veroia. At the same time the 2d Panzer Division, reinforced by a flying column of the 5th Mountain Division, pushed southward via Katorini toward Mount Olympus in the general direction of Elasson. Despite the soft, rain-soaked ground and extensive demolitions, the attack made slow but sure headway. Once again the 5th Mountain Division spearheaded the German drive and hurled back ths British rear guard. On 19 April the XVIII Mountain Corps captured tho town of Larisa, an important road junction, and the airfield where the British had left their supply dumps intact. The port of Volos fell on 21 April, bringing to a successful conclusion the fighting for the Mount Olympus region.
XI. Regrouping of the German Forces
As early as 16 April the German command had realized that the British were evacuating their troops aboard ships in Volos and Piraeus. The whole campaign had taken on the characteristics of a pursuit. For the Germans it was now primarily a question of maintaining contact with the retreating British forces and counteracting their evacuation plans. The infantry divisions were withdrawn from action because they lacked mobility. The 2d and 5th Panzer Divisions, the 1st SS Motorized Infantry Regiment, and the two mountain divisions launched the pursuit of the enemy forces. For days at a time, German flying columns were cut off touch with their respective division head quarters. Even the Luftwaffe had difficulty in keeping up with the rapid advance of the flying columns. Dive-bombers and pursuit, planes were obliged to fly their sorties from distant bases in the rear since the construction of new airfields in the mountainous regions of Greece would have taken far too long. Not until the ground forces reached the plain of Thessaly could the tactical air support units be reorganised to operate from fields that were close to the fast-moving mobile forces.
The British had to forego air support of their evacuation at the very time it was sorely needed to protect the ports of embarkation. As of 21 April British aircraft had ceased to operate from the Greek mainland.
XII. The Last British Stand at Thermopylae
After their withdrawal from the Mount Olympus positions, the withdrawing British decided to make a last major stand at Thermopylae. By 22 April a flying column of the 3th Panzer Division was attacking the British rear guard. The initial probing attacks were without success. On the next day, after the arrival of German reinforcements, a combat team consisting of 6th Mountain Division units and tanks succeeded in pushing past Gravia. The main body of the division pained ground slowly along the Aegean coast. On the night of 24 April a motorized infantry battalion took the initiative and after bitter fighting at close range succeeded in opening the pass. The final obstacle on the road to Athens had been removed.
XIII. The German Drive on Athens and across the Peloponnesus
The British rear guard elements withdraw to their last switch position in front of Athens that had been improvised south of Thebes. From this position, however, they were unable to offer effective resistance. On 26 April the 5th Panzer Division pierced the enemy defenses and drove the last British elements across the Isthmus of Corinth onto the Peloponnesus. The motorcycle battalion of the 2d Panzer Division, which had crossed to Euboea to seize the port of Khakis and had subsequently returned to the mainland, joined forces with the 5th Panzer Division in the drive on Athens. After only slight resistance the German forces entered the Greek capital on 27 April.
Meanwhile, on the morning of 26 April parachute troops of the 7th Airborne Division had made a successful descent by which the city and isthmus of Corinth came under German control. The bridge across the canal was accidentally destroyed, but the erection of a temporary span allowed the 5th Panzer Division to cross the following day. Airborne reinforcements, which had meanwhile come in by glider, expedited the crossing of the canal.
The pursuit across western Greece was launched on 25 April when the SS regiment thrust southward via Arta along the west side of the Pindus Mountains and reached a point north of the Gulf of Patras by the following day.
On 27 April the Twelfth Army ordered the immediate pursuit of the enemy forces across the Peloponnesus to prevent their evacuation by sea. Driving via Argos to Kalamai, the pursuing German forces reached the south coast on 29 April. The action from that point on consisted merely of isolated small-scale engagements with groups of British troops which had been unable to make ship in time. In their hasty evacuation which took place mostly st night the British used numerous small ports. On the Peloponnesus some 8,000 British and Yugoslav prisoners were captured and many Italians were liberated from Greek camps. By 30 April the last British troops had either escaped or been taken prisoner and hostilities ceased.
The German casualties amounted to approximately 1,100 killed and 4,000 missing and wounded. The British losses totaled 11, 840 men, including prisoners of war, out of 53,051 who formed the British expeditionary force at the time of the German attack. Most of the British casualties were the result of the hasty evacuation during which twenty-six ships were sunk by air attacks. In addition, the Germans took some 270,000 Greek and 90,000 Yugoslav prisoners during the Greek campaign.
I. Employment of Armor in Mountainous Terrain
The invasion of Greece was the first operation in which panzer and motorized infantry divisions were employed in distinctly alpine terrain. Despite the difficulties they encountered, the commitment of two armored divisions to spearhead the attack through the mountains proved to be sound tactics. The two major successes during the first phase of the campaign — the early seizure of Skoplje and the quick capture of Salonika — could not hive been accomplished without those divisions. The enemy command was paralyzed by the initial upsets, which were caused in some measure by "tank scare" of the rank and file soldier, as had been the case during the French campaign. The speedy capitulation of the Greek Second Army was the direct result of the sudden appearance of German tanks in the vicinity of Salonika.
II. Air Support
Throughout the campaign the Luftwaffe played an important role in its support of the ground forces which was all the more effective because of the enemy's decided inferiority in the air. During the later stages of the campaign the almost complete absence of hostile aircraft greatly facilitated the task of the mobile units, which are extremely vulnerable from the air. In the mountains, however, one can usually count on frequent interference with air operations because of unfavorable atmospheric conditions.
III. Flying Columns
Flying columns were formed by most spearhead divisions because it soon became apparent that in mountainous terrain small motorized detachments are able to exploit advantages better than the more unwieldy units of divisional size. Engineer and service troops should be integrated into the flying columns. The unit commanders should be well forward so that they can evaluate terrain obstacles and enemy resistance at first hand. In many instances it proved advantageous for the division commander to take his place in the lead column. He was thus able to take appropriate action on the spot such as changing the march route of the following divisional elements whenever he ran into insurmountable obstacles.
During the coarse of the Greek campaign the carefully selected commanders of the improvised flying columns were repeatedly able to turn the tide of battle in their favor. With complete disregard of what happened on their flanks and in the rear, they drove ahead into enemy territory. It must not be forgotten that such daring forward thrusts could be executed only because the Greeks — and during the initial phase the Yugoslavs also — were on the verge of collapse. Similar tactics rarely proved successful in the Russian campaign.
IV. Mission-Type Orders
Reliance on mission-type orders proved to be especially justified in difficult mountain terrain. Great latitude of decision had to be granted to the tactical commanders in all echelons because of the frequent interruptions in signal communications. As a rule when orders were received tardily or not at all, these subordinate commanders went ahead on their own initiative and took action within the scope of their general mission.
V. Mountain Training and Equipment
Specially trained and equipped mountain troops are indispensable in alpine terrain. Regular infantry divisions should be committed in mountain warfare only after they have been given adequate training and issued special equipment.
VI. Pacification of Enemy Territory
In view of the impending invasion of Russia, the Germans were forced to redeploy their divisions before the enemy forces were completely disarmed and Greece was thoroughly pacified. Some of the difficulties encountered during the subsequent years of military occupation stemmed from this neglect on the part of the German authorities.
The Greek campaign, so basically different from the earlier ones Germany fought in Poland and France, ended in a complete German victory won in record time. Despite British intervention the campaign was over within twenty days. Tn the British decision to send an expeditionary force to Greece, political factors seemed to have overshadowed military considerations.
The British did not have the necessary military resources in the Middle East to permit them to carry out simultaneous large-scale operations in North Africa and the Balkans. Moreover, even if they had been able to block the Gorman advance into Greece, they would have been unable to exploit the situation by a counterthrust across the Balkans. It is worth notice that the British planners in Cairo secretly started to work on evacuation plans from Greece at the time when the expeditionary force was being transferred from Egypt to Greece. The ill-fated expedition was considered a hopoless undertaking by those who knew how little help Britain would actually be able to offer to Greece. General Papagos also had strong misgivings about the effectiveness of assistance the. British wore able to furnish and the soundness of their planning.
The Germans neither expected nor received effective help from their allies and satellites. The Italian forces contributed only to the extent that their presence tied down the Greek First Army in Albania. Bulgarian forces did not participate in the military operations. In accordance with previous arrangements they were subsequently employed for the occupation of parts of Greece.
In the political field Hitler felt obligated to respect the prestige and aspirations of his fellow-in-arms, Mussolini. Thus, for example, he forced the Greek First Army commander to repeat the surrender ritual before the Italians, despite the fact that the latter had had no share in the defeat of that army. Moreover, Hitler arranged that Italian troops march in the victory parade in Athens and turned over to Italian authorities the occupation of conquered Greece. As soon as the Italians were placed in authority, political agitation and active resistance gained ground. This reaction of the Greek people stemmed from their hatred of the invaders of October 1940 who had demonstrated their military inferiority to the Greek Army. The German troops stationed in Greece until 1944 suffered greatly from increasing partisan warfare. The act of giving the Italians free reign in Greece nullified whatever good will the Germans had acquired by the immediate release of Greek prisoners of war.
In enumerating the reasons for the quick and complete Gorman victory in Greece, the following factors seen of the greatest significance:
a. Germany's superiority in ground forces and equipment;
b. German supremacy in the air;
c. Inadequacy of the British expeditionary force;
d. The poor condition of the Greek Army and its shortage of modern equipment;
G. Absence of a unified command and lack of co-operation between the British, Greek, and Yugoslav forces;
f. Turkey's strict neutrality; and
g. The early collapse of Yugoslav resistance.
The seizure of Crete, which the Germans effected between 20 May and 1 June 1941, constituted the first major military operation carried out by airborne forces. After having achieved local air superiority, the attacker was able to airland a strong ground combat force that eventually defeated the numerically superior garrison defending the island. With his overwhelmingly superior naval forces, the defender intercepted seaborne convoys that attempted to land supporting elements, equipment, and supplies. During the decisive phase of the operation, the attacking air force routed the defender's naval forces, thereby isolating the island garrison. In this trial of strength, air power won a decisive victory over a naval force maneuvering in restricted waters.
Even though some of the conditions that prevailed in Crete may not recur during future airborne operations, many lessons may be learned from the German invasion of that island.
Immediately after the Italian surprise attack on Greece in November 1940, the British occupied Crete and garrisoned the island with approximately one brigade in addition to some Greek units. They improved the three local airfields and the harbor installations at Suda Bay. During the German invasion of Greece, Crete was at first the main supply base for British operations in the Balkans and later the collecting point for most of the troops, evacuated from Greece.
To the Germans, Crete was of great strategic importance, (Map 6). As long as the British told the island, they were able to maintain naval and air superiority in the eastern Mediterranean Crete could serve as a spring board for British landings along the Balkan coast; and it was a potential air base from which the Romanian oil fields could be attacked. With Crete in Axis hands, the Greek mainland and the sea lanes across the Aegean would be safe. Quite apart from the boost to Axis morale that the capture of the island was bound to produce, Crete would be an ideal jump-off base from which Germany could conduct offensive air and naval operations in the eastern Mediterranean and support a ground offensive against Egypt and the Suez Canal.
MAP 6. THE STRATEGIC IMPORTANCE OF CRETE
For these reasons it was not surprising that the German Fourth Air Force, which had been committed in the Balkans under the command of General Loehr, became interested in the seizure of Crete. On 15 April General der Flieger (Lieutenant General) Kurt Student, one of Loehr's subordinates and commander of XI Air Corps, submitted to Goering a plan for capturing Crete. On the same day the Army High Command transmitted to General Jodl a plan for the invasion of Malta that had been under consideration for some time.
After a conference with General Student, Hitler decided in favor of invading Crete and, on 25 April, the necessary orders were issued under the code designation Operation MERKUR.
At that time the Axis campaign in the Balkans was drawing to a close. Ample ground forces were available in the southern Balkans, but a major obstacle stood in the path of the seizure of Crete. British naval superiority in the eastern Mediterranean remained uncontested and a seaborne landing in Crete could not be effected until the British fleet had been destroyed or at least driven out of the Aegean. The initial invasion would therefore have to be executed by airborne forces. Almost single-handed, the Luftwaffe would have to neutralize the enemy's air and ground defenses, air transport and land the German assault troops, defeat the British naval forces, and support the ground operations by airlifting supplies.
These tasks wore facilitated by the availability of a number of airfields in Greece and on the Italian-held Dodecanese islands, which were at ideal distances for bombing operations. On the other hand, the British air bases in Egypt were too remote for the protection and logistical support of the three exposed airfields on Crete.
Whereas the Luftwaffe envisaged the invasion of Crete with full confidence, the other two services maintained a reserved attitude. Unable to participate in the operation with its own bottoms, the German Navy was all the more skeptical because of the manifest weakness of the Italian Fleet. On the other hand, the German Navy welcomed this opportunity for defeating the British Mediterranean Fleet. The Army's lack of enthusiasm was based on the assumption that the British would defend to the bitter end this key position in the Aegean since it protected their flank in North Africa and at the Suez Canal, moreover, there was a very real danger that too high a percentage of first-class troops might be diverted to a secondary theater of war. In view of the impending invasion of Russia, such commitments had to bo avoided if at all possible.
The island of Crete is approximately 160 miles long and varies in width from 8 to 35 miles. (Map 7) The interior of the island is barren and covered by eroded mountains which, in the western part, rise to an elevation of 3,100 feet. There were few roads and water is scarce.
MAP 7. THE SEIZURE OF CRETE (OPERATION MERKUR)
The south coast descends abruptly toward the sea; the only usable port along this part of the coast is the small harbor of Sphakia. There are hardly any north-south communications, and the only road to Sphakia. which can bo used for motor transportation ends abruptly 1,300 feet above the town. The only major traffic artery runs close to the north coast and connects Suda Bay with the towns of Maleme, Canea, Retino, and Heraklion. Possession of the north coast is vital for an invader approaching from Greece, if only because of terrain conditions. The British, whose supply bases were situated in Egypt, were greatly handicapped by the fact that the only efficient port was in Suda Bay. The topography of the island therefore favored the invader, particularly since the mountainous terrain left no other alternative to the British but to construct their airfields close to the exposed north coast.
At the beginning of the German invasion of Crete, the island garrison consisted of about 27,500 British and Imperial troops and 14,000 Greeks under the command of Gen. Bernard C. Freyberg, the commanding general, of the New Zealand division. The original garrison, numbering approximately 5,000 men, was fully equipped, whereas the troops evacuated from Greece were tired, disorganized, ana equipped only with the small arms they had saved during the withdrawal. The Greek soldiers were mostly inadequately armed recruits. there was a general shortage of heavy equipment, transportation, and supplies. The armor available to the defenders consisted of eight medium and sixteen light tanks and a few personnel carriers. The artillery was composed of some captured Italian guns with a limited supply of ammunition, ten 3.7-inch howitzers, and a few antiaircraft batteries. The construction of fortifications had not been intensified until the Crete campaign had taken a turn for the worse.
General Freyberg disposed his ground forces with a view to preventing airborne landings on the three airfields at Malone, Retimo, and Heraklion and seaborne landings in Suda Bay and along the adjacent beaches. He divided his forces into four self-supporting groups, the strongest of which was assigned to the defense of the vital Maleme airfield. Lack of transportation made it impossible to organize a mobile reserve force.
During May 1941 the British air strength on Crete never exceeded thirty-six planes, less than half of which were operational. Incapable of meeting the German preparatory attacks from the air, the British decided to withdraw their last few planes the day before the invasion began.
The British naval forces defending Crete were based on Suda Bay, where the port installations were under constant German air observation. During the period immediately preceding the invasion intensive air attacks restricted the unloading of supplies to the hours from 2300 to 0330. The British fleet was split into two forces: a light one consisting of two cruisers and four destroyers was to intercept a seaborne invader north of Crete and a strong one composed of two battleships and eight destroyers was to screen the island against a possible intervention of the Italian fleet northwest of Crete. The only aircraft carrier in the eastern Mediterranean waters was immobilized soon after the start of the German assault and its planes wore therefore unable to support the defenders of the island.
General Loehr, the commander of Fourth Air Force, was put in charge of the execution of Operation MERKUR.*
[*] For the chain of command, see below.
His task force consisted of the following units:
1. VIII Air Corps under the command of General von Richthofen. His forces were composed of 2 medium bomber, 1 dive- bomber, 1 single-engine, and 1 twin-engine fighter wings with 150 planes each, as well as 2 reconnaissance groups.
2. XI Air Corps, commanded by General Student, consisted of 10 air transport groups with a total of approximately 600 troop carriers and 100 gliders; 7th Airborne Division composed of ono assault and three parachute regiments; 5th fountain Division; one regiment of 6th Mountain Division; one reconnaissance squadron; and several airborne antiaircraft, engineer, and medical battalions forming the corps troops. The total strength of the invasion force was approximately 25,000.
3. One bombardment group, which was to lay mines in the Suez Canal area.
4. One naval patrol group and one air sea rescue squadron. The assistance of additional bombardment groups of X Air Corps based on Sicily had been promised to Fourth Air Force. The Naval Commander Southeast, Admiral Schuster, had no German naval units under- his command. The 63 motor sailers and 7 freighters with 300-ton capacity each, which were to form two convoys, were to be escorted by Italian destroyers and motor torpedo boats. The transport vessels had been captured during the Greek campaign and were assembled at the port of Piraeus. The motor sailors were to carry ono battalion of the 6th Mountain Division, the service elements and that equipment of 7th Airborne Division which could not bo airlifted, and the pack animals and equipment of 5th Mountain Division, as well as rations and ammunition, The cargo vessels were loaded with tanks, antiaircraft and antitank guns, heavy equipment, ammunition, and other supplies.
The sole German Army division trained for air landings, the 22d Infantry Division, was unable to participate in the invasion of Crate because it could not be transferred in time from Romania, where it guarded the oil fields near Ploesti. The absence of those specially trained troops was all the more regrettable because the division taking their place, 5th Mountain Division, had no practical experience in airborne operations. Even though the mountain troops gave an excellent account of themselves during the fighting on Crete, their commitment had all the characteristics o£ a daring improvisation.
Initially, the Luftwaffe had two invasion plans under consideration. The first one, submitted by Fourth Air Force, called for airborne landings in the western part of the island between Maleme and Canea and the subsequent seizure of the remaining territory by an eastward thrust of all airlanded troops. This plan had the advantage of enabling the invader to concentrate his forces within a small area and achieve local air and ground superiority. On the other hand, its execution might load to extensive mountain fighting during which the enemy would remain in possession of the Heraklion and Retimo airfields in the east. The second plan, submitted by XI Air Corps, envisaged the simultaneous airdrop of parachute troops at seven points, the most important of which were Maleme, Canea, Retimo, and Heraklion. This plan had the advantage of putting the Germans ii: possession of all strategic points on the island in one fell swoop. A mopping-up operation would do the rest. However, the plan involved great risks because the forces dropped at individual points would be weak and the tactical air units would be unable to lend support at all points at the same time.
The plan of attack which was finally adopted by Goering was a compromise solution. Some 15,000 combat troops were to be airlanded and 7,000 men were to be seaborne. On D Day the 7th Airborne Division was to land in two waves, the first one in the morning at Maleme airfield and near Canea, the second one in the afternoon near the airfields at Retimo and Heraklion. The VIII Air Corps was to provide strong tactical air support during the landings. At H Hour the first groups of gliders, carrying one battalion of assault troops each, wore to land at Malemu airfield. The airlanded troops very to neutralize the remaining ground defenses and protect the descent of the parachute troops. Additional groups of gliders were to come in at fifteen-minute intervals and consolidate the gains made by the time of their landings. The combat team that was to land at Maleme was to consist of one regiment of assault troops reinforced by parachute infantry, one battery of parachute antiaircraft artillery, and one parachute medical platoon. A similar procedure was to be followed near Canea, where the gliderborne troops were to land on the beaches. The commander and staff of the 7th Airborne Division were to establish headquarters near Canea.
At H plus 8 hours the second wave was to jump over Retimo and Heraklion without the assistance of gliderborne forces. Each group was to consist of one parachute combat team composed of infantry, antiaircraft artillery, engineers, and medical personnel. The four groups, separated by distances varying between ten and seventy-five miles, were- to establish contact at the earliest possible moment. On D plus 1 the mountain troops were to bo airlifted to the three airfields, which would meanwhile be cleared of all enemy forces. The naval convoys would land at the same time at Suda Bay and any minor ports that would be open to shipping.
The assembly of all units that were to participate in Operation MERKUR took place within a little less than two weeks. To assess the true value to this performance, it is necessary to remember the poor road and difficult terrain conditions in Greece. The truck transportation available, including columns provided by Twelfth Army, was very limited, and the situation was aggravated by the fact that supplies had to be hauled from bases in Austria, Romania, and Bulgaria, The railroads could not be repaired in time, and coastal shipping had to carry the main supply load. This task was complicated by the shortage of vessels, the insecurity of convoy routes, and the generally low port capacities. Aviation gasoline was the principal bottleneck because the tanker fleet was too small, and Home of the tankers that had formerly been available had been lost during the Balkan campaign. The shortage of gasoline gave rise to all the more anxiety because an adequate supply was essential for an operation in which planes were to play such an important role- The solution of these logistical problems caused some delay and resulted in the postponement of D Day from 16 to 20 May.
The dive-bombers and single-engine fighters were based on recently constructed airfields on the inlands of Melos and Skarpanto as well as in the Peloponnesus. Twin-engine fighters were to fly from Rhodes and other fields within a 200-mile radius from Crete. The bases for long-range bombers and reconnaissance aircraft were in the Athens and Salonika area as well as in Bulgaria. The troop carriers were to operate from a number of fields near Athens and in southern Greece. On D minus 1 the islands of Kythorn and Antikythera were seized, and antiaircraft batteries wore hastily installed at both places. The 7th Airborne Division was moved by rail from Germany to Arad and Craiova in Romania and from there by truck via Sofiya and Salonika to the airfields in southern Greece. The mountain troops had participated in the Greek campaign and wore given special training in airborne operations.
These troop and supply movements did not past unobserved. On the last few nights preceding D Day, the British were able to bomb the assembly areas, but caused little damage. However, the element of surprise — so important in any airborne operation — could not be maintained. British agents in Greece transmitted accurate information on the German build-up and left little doubt as to the next German objective.
1. The Initial Airborne Landings (20 May 1941)
Early on the morning of 20 May waves of dive-bombers and low-flying fighter planes subjected the Maleme, Canea, and Suda Bay-areas to the heaviest bombing and machine gun fire hitherto experienced by the seasoned troops manning the defenses. Most of the antiaircraft guns were put out of action and the defenders were forced to seek shelter. At 0800 the first gliders, each carrying twelve men, landed near the airfield and on the beaches near Canea. At the same time approximately 2,000 parachutists jumped in waves of 200 each at fifteen-minute intervals. Two out of every three parachutes in each wave carried containers with weapons and supplies. At Maleme, the parachute troops jumped into strong enemy fire from infantry weapons, which originated from positions built into the hills south of the airfield. Many of the paratroopers were killed during the descent or shortly after landing. One battalion came down too far to the east. Because of the concentrated enemy fire most of the men were unable to recover the weapons containers and had to rely on the pistol, four hand grenades, and largo knife they carried. The gliders would had been completely destroyed by enemy fire, had they not been covered by clouds of dust which formed as soon as they touched ground.
The casualties were very heavy. The commander of the 7th Airborne Division, Generalleutnant (Major General) Suessman was killed during the approach flight, while Generalmajor (Brigadier General) Eugen Meindl, who was in command of the Maleme group, was critically wounded shortly after landing. Both the Malome and Canea groups were therefore without their commanders.
Meanwhile, the German command in Greece assumed that the
operation was progressing according to plan because all troop carriers with the exception of seven returned to their bases. On this assumption, which was proved erroneous only after several hours had passed, the troop carriers were readied for the afternoon landings at Heraklion and Retimo. Because of a delay in the refueling, these planes arrived too late over the designated drop points and the paratroops were therefore without direct fighter and bomber support. One parachute combat team in regimental strength jumped over each of the two points between 1500 and 1630.
Running into very heavy British fire, the parachutists suffered even more casualties than at Maleme and failed to capture the airfields, towns, or ports. Some of the troops landed at the wrong points because the troop carriers had difficulty in orienting themselves. The remnants of the two forces held out in isolated groups in the vicinity of the airfields.
Air reconnaissance and radio messages had meanwhile rectified the erroneous picture of the first landings in western Crete. By the evening of 20 May not a single airfield was in German hands. The most favorable reports came from Maleme, where the defenders were falling back from their perimeter defenses around the airfield which, however, was still under British artillery fire. Moreover, parts of the field wary obstructed by crashed aircraft and gliders. Thus, no field was available for the airborne landing of the 5th Mountain Division which was scheduled for the next day, Canea was still in enemy hands and the isolated troops landed at the four drop points had so far been unable to form airheads, let alone establish contact among themselves. While the attacker had run into unexpectedly strong resistance and had failed to roach the objective of the day, the defender was surprised by the fury arid strength of tin onslaught,
II. The Seaborne Invasion (20 - 22 May)
During the night of 20 - 21 May a British light naval force broke through the German aerial blockade and searched the waters north of Crete. Admiral Schuster thereupon decided to call back to Melos the first naval convoy, which was approaching Crete under escort of an Italian destroyer. At dawn on 21 May German planes sighted the British ships and subjected them to heavy air attacks. One destroyer was sunk and two cruisers damaged. At 0900 the waters north of Crete were cleared of enemy ships and the convoy was ordered to continue its voyage in the direction of Maleme. During the day German dive-bombers based on Skarpanto and Italian planes flying from Rhodes scored several hits on British ships returning to Crete waters, thereby preventing them from intercepting the Axis convoy. The German troops on the island were anxiously awaiting the arrival of artillery, antitank guns, and supplies, but poor weather conditions so delayed the convoy that it could not reach the island before darkness.
When it finally came around Cape Spathe at 2300, the convey way suddenly confronted by a British task force which immobilized the escort vessel and sank most of the motor sailers and freighters. Many German soldiers, most of them mountain troops, were drowned. The majority of the shipwrecked, however, were picked up by sea rescue planes. The second convoy, which had meanwhile reached Melos, was recalled to Piraeus to save it from a similar fate. No further Seaborne landings were attempted until the fate of Crete had been decided.
On the morning of 22 May, VIII Air Corps started an all-out attack on the British fleet, which was forced to withdraw from the Aegean after suffering heavy losses. The battle between the Luftwaffe and the British Navy ended in the victory of German air power.
III. The Continuation of the Airborne Invasion (21 May - 1 June)
On the morning of 21 May a few planes were able to make forced landings on the beaches near Maleme and bring in badly needed weapons and ammunition to the assault troops in that area. Enemy artillery fire interdicted any landing on the airfield proper. It was therefore decided to drop additional parachute troops behind the enemy positions dominating the airfield. In the early afternoon four companies of parachute troops jumped near Maleme. The two that were supposed to land behind the enemy lines descended directly into well camouflaged enemy positions and were almost completely wiped out. The other two joined the assault troops which, by 1700, succeeded in dislodging the enemy infantry from the town and airfield of Maleme. The airdrop was effectively supported by tactical air force attacks on enemy defenses; however, the bombers were unable to silence the British artillery pieces which were particularly well camouflaged and which, in order not to uncover their position, stopped firing whenever German pianos were in sight.
Troop carriers with the 5th Mountain Division troops began to land at Maleme airfield at 1600, even though the field was still under intermittent artillery and machine gun fire. Low-flying planes kept the defenders' fire to a minimum and the landings proceeded without major losses. From that point on reinforcements and supplies kept pouring in and the fate of Crete was sealed. Little by little the entire 5th Mountain Division was flown in. Evan more important to the attack forces were the artillery pieces, antitank guns, and supplies of all typos, which had been missing during the initial stage of the invasion and which were now being air lifted into Maleme.
On 22 May Ganeralmajor (Brigadier General) Julius Ringel, the commander of the 5th Mountain Division, assumed command of all the German forces in the Maleme airhead. His first task was to establish contact with the Canea forces and to clear the western part of the island of enemy troops. On D plus 5 the Germans broke through the British positions east of Maleme, and the next day entered Canea, the capital of Crete, and occupied Suda Bay after a forced march across the mountains. During this fighting the enemy offered strong resistance and showed no signs of willingness to give in. On the contrary, German reconnaissance planes reported that some British pianos had eoturned to Heraklion airfield on 23 May and that reinforcements were arriving by sea.
If complete air superiority over Crete was to be maintained by the Luftwaffe, the return of British planes en masse had to be prevented by all means. It was therefore decided to reinforce the German troops in the Heraklion pocket by dropping hastily assembled parachute units. They ware to take possession of the airfield and, until relieved by approaching ground forces, prevent the landing of British planes. Four companies of parachute troops were formed at Malame and dropped in the vicinity of the Heraklion pocket west of the town. It was not until 27 May that the airfield was finally occupied by German troops.
By that time British resistance began to decrease. German supplies and equipment were landed at Suda ray without interference from enemy naval or air units. On 29 May motorized reconnaissance elements, advancing through enemy-held territory, established contact with the German troops in the Retimo pocket and the next day reached Heraklion, which the British garrison had evacuated during the night of 28 - 29 May, A small Italian force, which had landed at Sitia Bay on the eastern tip of the island on 28 May, linked up with a German advance detachment two days later.
Meanwhile, on 28 May, the bulk of the enemy ground forces had received orders to fight their way back to the south coast of Crete so that they could be evacuated to Egypt. Since this plan was not immediately recognized by the German command, only a weak force consisting of o reinforced mountain battalion was committed to launch a pursuit in the direction of Sphakia, while the main body of German troops continued its eastward thrust. It was not until 31 May that additional forces wore diverted to the south to drive toward Sphakia.
After repeated encounters with enemy rear guards, the German forces reached the north coast of the island on 1 June. The struggle for Crete was thereby terminated, Despite the long delay in the issuance of evacuation orders, the British Navy was able to embark approximately 14,000 men and return them to Egypt. Even though it had suffered severe losses, the Navy performed the evacuation during four nights in spita of constant harassment by German planes.
The figures for German casualties suffered in the Crete operation remain a matter of conjecture. Whereas Gorman after action reports give total losses varying between 3,986 and 6,453 men, Winston 3. Churchill states that more than 4,000 graves have been counted in the area of Maleme and Suda Bay and another thousand at Retimo and Heraklion.* In Churhill's opinion the Germans must have suffered over 15,000 in killed and wounded. Part of the difference may be explained by the fact that the British estimated the number of men drowned in the sinking of the first convoy at 2,500 men. Actually, only two battalions had been embarked on vessels in that convoy and the air sea rescue squadron apparently rescued most of the shipwrecked. In a recont study on German losses in Crete, British military historians seem inclined toward accepting the highest German figures as correct.**
[*] Winston S, Churchill, The Grand Alliance (Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1950)., p. 301.
[**] German Casualties, Crete 1941, Enemy Documents Section, Historical Brand, Cabinet Office, April 1952.
Some 350 German planes, more than half of them troop carriers, were lost or damaged.
The British were able to evacuate 14,800 out of a garrison of 27,500 men, Left behind were also the 14,000 Greek troops, either dead or captured. The Royal Navy suffered crippling losses which resulted in its withdrawal from the Aegean.
In view of the particular circumstances that surrounded the German seizure of Crete, its success should not be taken as proof for the contention that trio airborne invasion of an island is the ideal solution in any similar situation. Comparisons with other theaters of war, for instance the British Isles, are misleading. The invasion of Crete was in a category by itself, but a number of lessons with general validity for similar operations can be learned from the German experience. In general, the success of an airborne operation against an island will depend on the following factors:
a. Control of the air above the island is essential for the successful execution of airborne landings. During the Crete operation the British had no air power to speak of and were unable to improvise air cover by flying in a sufficient number of fighter planes because of the long distance between the air bases in Egypt and the fields on Crete.
b. Control of the sea around an island is next in importance. The invader's navy must be able to provide full protection for the convoys that must bring up tanks, heavy weapons, and supplies of all types. During the attack on Crete, British naval units cut off German seaborne transportation and thereby delayed the ground offensive, which in turn enabled the British to evacuate considerable forces to Egypt. German reinforcements, supplies, and -- above all — tanks, artillery, and antitank guns could not be brought to the island by sea when they were merit needed. The warning given by the German Navy before the start of Operation MERKUR — not to send naval convoys to Crete before the waters around the island had been cleared of the enemy — had been justified.
c. The command channels regulating interservice co-operation must be clearly defined and unit of command over both airborne and seaborne forces must be firmly established. During the invasion of Crete, the Gorman command organization was unified, and for the first time an air force general was in over-all command of air, ground, and naval forces. The command structure was as follows:
In contrast to the simplicity of their command organization, the British ground and air force units were under independent local commanders who in turn were subordinate to the respective service commanders, Middle East, stationed in Egypt. The naval commander sailed with the fleet. All three service commanders, Middle East, reported through their ministries to the War Cabinet in London and received their orders from that source. To add to the confusion, General Freyberg, the New Zealand commander of the ground forces, also reported to his government half way around the world, whenever he felt that this was necessary or in the interest of his country.*
[*] Winston S. Churchill, The Grand Alliance. pp. 274 - 75.
Prime Minister Churchill sent messages directly to General Freyborg and intervened when he believed that his influence and encouragement would be of benefit. Thus, on 27 May, at a time when the fate of Crete was no longer in doubt and the local commander was preparing orders for withdrawal, Churchill telegraphed to the commanders-in-chief, Middle East: "Victory in Crete essential at this turning-point in the war. Keep hurling in all you can."*
[*] Winston S. Churchill, The Grand Alliance, p. 295.
d. The element of surprise is essential to the success of an airborne operation which involves great risks under any circumstances. To achieve surprise, it is particularly important to maintain the secrecy of the offensive plans until the last minute. This will never be fully accomplished, but several measures may be taken to deceive the enemy at least with regard to the exact time for the start of the attack. For example, whereas the logistical preparations at the jump-off airfields for troop carriers and gliders may be accomplished well ahead of time, the airborne formations proper should be moved in as late as possible. The presence of parachute troops should be kept secret by restricting movements to and from the airfields of departure. Also, the enemy must be prevented from flying reconnaissance missions over the staging areas.
e. Other important factors are the intensive collection
of intelligence and the proper dissemination of information obtained. The terrain of the potential landing
areas must be thoroughly reconnoitered by low-flying
planes, aerial photography, and agents. By the time
the parachute troops descend, the main enemy nests of
resistance and defensive weapons must have been neutralized or the rate of jump casualties will be abnormally high.
German air reconnaissance during the period pro-ceding the invasion was inadequate and the intelligence picture presented by the Luftwaffe did not correspond to the actual situation on the island. The British had succeeded in concealing fortifications and camouflaging their gun positions. Dummy flak positions were extensively bombed, while the real ones were not discovered. Some British positions were erroneously marked as artesian wells and the prison on the road to Canea was thought to be a British ration dump. Apparently, Twelfth Army had more accurate information from local agents, but, in the firm belief that the British intended to evacuate the island immediately after the first airborne landings and that the garrisons consisted of only 5,000 combat troops, the Luftwaffe refused to consider more realistic estimates of the enemy preparations.
f. Airborne tactics must be flexible. After the seizure of Crete the Germans learned from captured documents that the British had studied the German operation orders pertaining to the airborne invasion of Holland in 1940 and had used the information for troop training purposes fond for the construction of fortifications. Since the Germans had not changed their tactics, the enemy defense system proved entirely adequate during the first stage of the invasion. Had the Luftwaffe adopted different tactics, such as limiting the number of initial objectives to one or two, it could nave achieved a greater concentration of forces. Moreover, the first waves of parachute troops jumped over the three airfields and landed amidst the concentrated fire of all defensive weapons the enemy had emplaced near each one of them. The purpose of landing on top of the objective, instead of near it, was to immediately paralyze the principal defense centers. This plan failed in each instance and its execution involved heavy casualties. A strong and well-integrated defense system cannot be overcome by such tactics unless it has previously been smashed by continuous bombing attacks. The parachute troops must jump at a distance from the objective, which must subsequently be reduced by customary infantry tactics. For this purpose the paratroopers must receives infantry training.
g. Strong reserves, including flying formations, must be readily available so that any initial success, achieved wherever airborne landings have taken place, can be immediately exploited. Or, if unexpected difficulties arise, as in the Crete operation where the British fleet suddenly, intervened, these reserves must be capable of immediate effective counteraction.
Because of its daring execution and the novel techniques employed, the airborne invasion of Crete may be considered an historic military achievement. However, its many deficiencies, most of which are to be attributed to insufficient preparations, gave the operation all the characteristics of an improvisation. Despite the success achieved, the high cost of the seizure of the island led Hitler to lose confidence in airborne operations.
The possession of Crete proved of little offensive value to the Axis Pavers because subsequent developments in the over-all situation prevented them from exploiting their success. One of the first effects of the Russian campaign, which started only twenty-one days after the cessation of hostilities in Crete, was the withdrawal of German air power from the eastern Mediterranean.*
[*] B. Mueller-Hillebrand. The German Campaign in Greece and Crete, 1941, Historical Division European Command, MS # C - 100, p. 66.
Moreover, after October 1941 the shortage of trained ground forces compelled the German command to commit trained airborne and parachute units as infantry in Russia. General Student therefore seems to have been justified in stating that "Crete was the grave of the German parachutists."*
[*] The Strategic Importance of Crete, 1940-1941. Enemy Documents Section, Historical Branch, Cabinet Office, February 1951, p. 11.
By its intervention in the Balkans in 1940-41 Britain actually opened a second front several months before the first front — in Russia — had come into being. That this strategic move was largely abortive and had little immediate affect on the execution of Operation BARBAROSSA seems only incidental. The Axis Powers enlarged their area of responsibility by occupying territories whose economic potential was of some importance, but whose strategic advantages they were unable to exploit. Resenting occupation by Italian forces, Greek and Yugoslav nationalists were soon to rise against their conquerors. From that time through tho end of World War II, the Balkan sore in the Axis flank refused to heal.
Actually, Germany had little choice in the matter of launching the campaigns in the Balkans. Once Mussolini had committed the blunder of thrusting his blunt sword across the Albanian border into Greece and had suffered bitter reverses, Hitler felt obliged to rescue his brother-in-arms. Aside from reasons of prestige, Hitler's hand was forced by the British occupation of Crete and other Greek islands as well as by subsequient Russian and British political activities in the Balkans. The threat to Germany's southern flank in the impending invasion of Russia could either be eliminated by a lightning offensive or neutralized by creating a defensive belt cf security in the Balkans. The former solution, which Hitler decided to adopt, had the advantage that only relatively small forces were tied down. Had the Germans adopted defensive methods, they would probably have had to commit more forces in the Balkans in the long run. A minimum force of three divisions would inevitably have been needed in Aloania to support the Italians, Sooner or later the British would have succeeded in drawing Yugoslavia into the war on their side. If this had happened while Germany was engaged in hostilities with the USSR, an extremely dangerous situation might have developed.
Assuming therefore that the Germans wore forced to execute the Balkan campaigns before they invaded Russia, the next step is to analyze the connection between these military operations.
I. Hasty Execution of the Balkan Campaigns
In order to avoid any unnecessary delay in launching Operation BARBAROSSA, the two campaigns in the Balkans and the seizure of Crete and to be carried with utmost speed, In many instances during the Yugoslav campaign divisions could not be fully assembled, and advance echelons had to jump off while the roar elements were still on the move to the concentration areas. The haste with which Crete had to be seized led to a number of improvisations in the preparation and execution of this airborne operation. Many of the deficiencies could have been avoided, had the Germans not been so pressed for time.
II. Hurried Redeployment from the Balkans
Even before the German victories in Yugoslavia and Greece had been fully achieved some of the units had to be redeployed to Germany to be refitted in time for Operation BARBAROSSA. Some of the corps headquarters, GHQ units, and, above all, the mechanized divisions committed in the Yugoslav campaign wore indispensable for the start of the invasion of Russia. Tn some instances units were stopped In mid-action and redeployed to the zone of inferior. Because of the poor roads and defective railways in the Balkans, these movements interfered with the smooth oxecu'ion of the military operations.
III. Defective Occupation of Yugoslavia and Greece
The insistence on speedy redeployment made it impossible to completely disarm the enemy forces or womb out the mountain areas in which some of the stragglers found refuge. Many weapons were hidden and stocks of military supplies vanished before they could be seized. The early rise of resistance and partisan movements in the Balkans was one of the consequences of the haste with which military operations in this theater had to be brought to an end.
I, Delay of Operation BARBAROSSA
Because of the annual spring floods in eastern Poland and western European Russia, 15 May was the earliest possible date for the start of the invasion of Russia. No postponement was mentioned before the Yugoslav revolt, which had an immediate effect on the plans for Operation BARBAROSSA. As early as 28 March Army planners estimated that the campaign against Yugoslavia would delay the invasion by at least four weeks. This estimate was based on the diversion of forces for the assembly against Yugoslavia. Headquarters staffs, divisions, and GHQ units that were on the way to the concentration areas for Operation BARBAROSSA or whose departure was imminent had to be diverted. Those units had to be replaced by others whose departure was delayed because they were not ready for commitment. However, of the two corps headquarters and nine divisions that were diverted to the assembly for the Yugoslav campaign, all but three infantry divisions were eventually replaced from the Amy High Command reserves.
Another factor considered in calculating the delay was the fact that all units, in particular the mechanized divisions, would have to be refitted after the Balkan campaigns. This rehabilitation, which was estimated to take a minimum of three weeks for the mobile units, had to be performed within Germany in the vicinity of major repair shops and spare parts depots.
The plans for the invasion of Russia were modified in accordance with this estimate. On 7 April Field Marshal von Brauchitsch issued an order in which he explained that Operation 25 necessitated changes in the preparations for the Russian campaign postponing it between four and six weeks. The new target date was to be 22 June. Subsequent conferences between Hitler and his military advisers confirmed this new date for D Day, and it was adhered to in the end.
Actually, only part of the delay was caused by the campaigns in the Balkans. Operation BARBAROSSA could not possibly have started on 15 May because spring came lato in 1941. As late as the beginning of June the Polish-Russian river valleys were still flooded and partly impassable as a result of exceptionally heavy rains.
II. The Redeployment of the Ground Forces
As soon as it became apparent that the Yugoslav campaign would be over within a relatively short time, the movement of forces destined for the Balkans was stopped and reversed. As early as I4 April three corps and seven divisions were rerouted to their respective points of departure in Germany and Romania. The redeployment of mobile divisions employed in Yugoslavia started on 21 April when the 16th Motorized Infantry Division was ordered to reassemble before entraining, for Germany. Two days later three of the panzer divisions received similar orders.
While the campaigns in the Balkans were under way, the German Army hurriedly organized weak security divisions that were to be sent to western Europe and the Balkans for occupation duty. By the end of May five of these divisions had arrived in Yugoslavia and taken the place of all the combat divisions still remaining in that country. All but three of the German divisions employed in the Greek and Crete campaigns were redeployed before the beginning of Operation BARBAROSSA. Only the 2d and 5th Panzer Divisions, which had advanced as far as southern Greece, were not available in time for the start of the invasion.
III. The Influence on Air Operations
The considerable losses suffered by the Luftwaffe during the seizure of Crete, especially insofar as troop carrier planes were concerned, affected the strength of the German air power available in the start of the Russian campaign. Moreover, since the German parachute troops had been decimated in Crete, the number of men, qualified to carry out large-scale airborne operations at the beginning of the invasion was insufficient.
As previously mentioned, the timetable for the attack on Russia did not allow for exploiting the strategic advantages the Germans had gained in the eastern Mediterranean. Even before the seizure of Crete had been accomplished, VIII Air Corps was ordered to redeploy its forces to Germany for refitting. While the ground personnel proceeded directly to their now bases in Poland, the flying units returned to Germany as soon as they could be released from participation in the Crete campaign. The movement along extended and complicated lines of communication, had to be accomplished with maximum speed since it had to be completed in less than three weeks.
IV. The Balkan Campaigns as a Diversion
The German operations in the eastern Mediterranean in the spring of 1941 were successful in diverting world attention from the build-up in Poland. Coinciding with Rommel's advance in the North African desert, the German campaigns in the Balkans seemed to indicate that Hitler's plans of expansion were directed toward the eastern Mediterranean. The airborne seizure of Crete seemed to confirm the opinion that Hitler was bent on taking Suez by a combined air, sea, and ground operation, while the Russians were far from pleased to see the Balkans under German domination, they must have followed the diversion of German strength with great interest. The complete surprise achieved by the German invasion of Russia on 22 June may be partly attributed to the fact that the Balkan operations drew attention from the preparations that took place in Poland during April and May 1941.
To form an unbiased opinion on the true relationship between the campaigns in the Balkans and the invasion of Russia is far from easy. German military authors state that the diversion in the Balkans had hardly any influence on the course of the subsequent campaign, since Germany's casualties were relatively low and the expenditure of material and supplies insignificant. They agree that the invasion of Russia might have started three weeks earlier if there had been no Balkan campaigns. This delay of three weeks might appear of decisive importance considering that the sudden start of severe winter weather turned the tide when the Germans stood in front of Moscow. To them the validity of this theory seems at least doubtful considering that the German offensive in Russia in 1941 collapsed because of the conflict over the strategic concepts that broke out between Hitler and the Army High Command in the summer of that year. The arguments over the strategy to be adopted after the initial successes cost the Germans several precious weeks. Additional time and a lot of manpower were wasted by Hitler's insistence on making Leningrad and the Ukraine his principal objectives until he finally agreed to a drive on Moscow before the outbreak of winter. The three weeks lost by the execution of the Balkan operations therefore seem of less importance.
On the other hand, postwar publications by authors of other nationalities stress that the British intervention in Greece and Crete, and even more the Yugoslav revolt, led to the postponement of Operation BARBAROSSA to 22 June, while they de-emphasize the effect of the spring floods.
In the light of the gigantic struggle that was to begin with the invasion of Russia, the campaigns in the Balkans may appear as the last training gallop before the race to the finish.
GERMAN CHAIN OF COMMAND AT THE START OF THE BALKAN OPERATIONS
(6 April 1941)
CHRONOLOGICAL TABLE OF EVENTS
10 Germany launch invasion of western Europe.
10 Italy declares war on Great Britain and France.
17 Pro-Russian government established in Lithuania.
20 Latvia and Estonia occupied by Russians.
22 Franco-German armistice signed at Compiegne.
26 Russian occupies Bessarabia and northern Bukovina.
13 Hitler discusses reason for continuance of British resistance at daily situation conference
21 During a staff meeting, Hitler first mentions possibility of a campaign against Russia,
31 Hitler orders preparations for a campaign against Russia in spring of 1941.
21 Romania cedes the southern Dobrudja to Bulgaria.
30 Vienna Arbitration Award: Romania yields one third of Transylvania to Hungary.
13 Italy begins drive into Egypt.
27 Germany, Italy, and Japan sign the Tripartite Pact.
7 German troops enter Romania.
12 Hitler postpones invasion of Great Britain until spring 1941.
28 Italy invades Greece from Albania.
31 British occupy Crete and Limnos.
4 Hitler orders preparations for eventual intervention
12 Directive No. 18 issued, enumerating the following objectives: capture of Gibraltar via Spain, seizure of Egypt and Suez Canal from Libyan bases, invasion of Greece from Bulgaria, and seizure of unoccupied France at a moment's notice.
12 - 13 Molotov visits Berlin and confers with Hitler on future relationship between Germany and Soviet Union.
18 Hitler confers with King Boris of Bulgaria.
20 Hungary adheres to Tripartite Pact.
23 Romania joins Tripartite Pact.
28 Hitler confers with Yugoslav Foreign Minister Cincar-Marcovic and asks Yugoslavia to join Tripartite Pact.
5 Hitler conference, Army plans for campaigns against
Greece and Russia presented.
9 British start counterattack in North Africa and advance across Libya.
13 Directive No. 20 is issued, outlining Operation MARITA, the campaign against Greece.
18 Directive No, 21 issued, ordering preparations for Operation BARBAROSSA, the campaign against Russia.
18 - 20 Hitler meets Mussolini and informs him about intended German attack on Greece.
14. Hitler urges Yugoslav Premier Cvetkovic to join Tripartite Pact.
17 Bulgaria and Turkey conclude treaty of friendship.
28 German troops bridge the Danube.
28 At a conference in Ankara, British Foreign Secretary Eden and President Inoenue of Turkey stress mutual respect and adherence to Turkish-British alliance, but Turkey refuses to intervene in Balkans.
1 Bulgaria joins Tripartite Pact.
2 German troops enter Bulgaria.
4 Hitler sends message to President Inoenuo.
4 Hitler confers with Prince Regent Paul of Yugoslavia.
7 British Expeditionary Force begins to land in Greece.
9 Start of Italian spring offensive in Albania.
18 Yugoslav privy council decides to join Tripartite Fact.
24 Rommel starts drive through weak British defenses in North Africa.
25 Yugoslavia signs Tripartite Pact.
26 - 27 Yugoslav coup d'etat.
27 General Simovic assumes power in Yugoslavia,
27 Directive No. 25 is issued, outlining Operation 25, the campaign against Yugoslavia.
29 Conference of German Army commanders responsible for campaign in Balkans.
3 Croat leaders join Simovic government.
5 Soviet Union signs treaty of friendship and non-agression with Yugoslavia.
6 German air bombardment of Belgrade.
6 Twelfth Army invades southern Yugoslavia and Greece.
6 Second Army launches limited objective attacks against Yugoslavia.
7 German troops enter Skoplje.
7 Metaxas Line pierced by Gorman mountain troops,
8 First Panzer Group starts drive toward Belgrade.
9 2d Panzer Division elements capture Salonika; Greek Second Army capitulates,
9 - 10 XLVI Panzer Corps enters the race for Belgrade.
10 Start of Second Army drive on Zagreb and capture of the city.
10 Croatia proclaims itself an independent state.
10 XLIX Mountain and LI Infantry Corps cross northwestern Yugoslav border.
10 First Panzer Group reaches point forty miles from Yugoslav capital.
11 XLI Panzer Corps advances to within forty-five miles of Belgrade.
11 German mountain troops cross the Vardar.
12 Fall of Belgrade,
13 Greek First Army begins to withdraw from Albania.
14. XVIII Mountain Corps pierces Mount Olympus defenses.
14 Beginning of Yugoslav armistice negotiations.
15 German troops enter Sarajevo.
15 Seizure of Lamia.
15 General Student submits his plan for the seizure of Crete to Goering.
17 Capture of Thasos.
17 Yugoslav representatives sign unconditional surrender.
18 German armistice with Yugoslavia becomes effective at 1200.
19 5th Panzer Division enters Plain of Thessaly.
19 XVIII Mountain Corps captures Larisa.
20 Seizure of Samothraki.
21 Greek First Army offers to surrender to Germans.
21 British withdraw air force from Greece.
21 Redeployment of German troops from Balkans begins.
23 Greek First Army signs surrender agreement with
Germans and Italians.
24 Last British stand at Thermopylae.
25 Directive No. 28 covering Operation MERKUR, the seizure of Crete, is issued.
25 Seizure of Limnos.
26 German parachute troops seize the Isthmus and town of Corinth.
27 Panzer elements enter Athens.
29 German forces reach south coast of the Peloponnesus.
30 Hostilities cease in Greece.
15 Tentative date for beginning of Operation BARBAROSSA.
20 Beginning of airborne invasion of Crete.
21 German mountain troops begin to land at Maleme airfield.
21 - 22 British Navy intercepts German seaborne invasion force approaching Crete.
22 Air-sea battle in Crete waters.
22 German forces secure the Maleme airfield.
23 British planes return to Heraklion airfield.
26 Canea falls.
27 Capture of Heraklion airfield.
28 British begin to withdraw to south coast of Crete.
28 Italian landings at Sitia Bay.
28 - 29 British garrison evacuates Retimo.
29 German troops establish contact with Retimo Force.
30 Relief of Heraklion forces.
1 German forces reach Sphakia and complete seizure
22 D Day for German invasion of Russia.