Balkan Campaign of 1941

Balkan Campaign of 1941

 

a campaign by the armed forces of the Fascist bloc (Germany, Italy, and Hungary) against Yugoslavia and Greece during World War II, 1939–45. In their plans for war against the USSR and England, the German imperialists ascribed great significance to the Balkan countries because of their important strategic position and rich economic resources. Before the attack on the USSR, the Hitlerite leadership envisioned the use of diplomatic means to compel Bulgaria and Yugoslavia to join the Fascist bloc and also to aid the Italian forces, which were engaged in unsuccessful military actions against Greece starting from Oct. 28, 1940. Germany succeeded in winning over Bulgaria. On March 25, the Yugoslav government of Cvetkovic secretly signed a protocol providing for Yugoslavia’s adherence to the Triple Pact. However, this government was soon overthrown, and the new government, under pressure from the masses, rejected an alliance with Germany. On Apr. 5, 1941, it concluded a treaty of friendship and nonaggression with the USSR. In view of this turn of events unfavorable for Germany, Hitler on March 27 issued Directive No. 25, which provided for simultaneous strikes against Yugoslavia and Greece. A force of 33 German and 43 Italian divisions, including 12 tank divisions (five of which took no part in the operations) and four motorized divisions, two German brigades, and ten Hungarian brigades supported by 1,500 planes was massed for this purpose. The armed forces of Yugoslavia included 28 infantry (11 of which were not mobilized) and three cavalry divisions, 18 people’s militia units, and 415 airplanes. The Greek army was composed of 20 infantry and one mechanized divisions, two brigades, and about 80 combat-ready airplanes. In addition, the First Australian Corps (two infantry divisions and one tank brigade) landed in Greece in March 1941. The Fascist troops occupied an advantageous, enveloping position against the Yugoslav and Greek troops, which were extended along the border. On April 6 and 12, the Italian-German and Hungarian troops respectively began their invasion. The Italian-German air force inflicted massive bombing strikes; on the very first day of the attack, they destroyed Yugoslav and Greek airfields and won supremacy in the air. On the land front, after three days of fierce fighting the German forces broke through the defenses of the Yugoslav troops in several directions and sent mobile units into the breach that had been made, developing a concentric attack against Belgrade. Major groups of Yugoslav forces were surrounded and taken prisoner. After Belgrade fell on April 13, the German forces began to develop an attack on the south. It was in this context that A. Pavelić, a traitor to the Yugoslav people, declared the “independence” of Croatia and called upon Croats to desert the Yugoslav Army. This further undermined the army’s effectiveness. The Yugoslav government emigrated on April 14, and on April 18 Yugoslavia surrendered; 344,000 of its soldiers and officers were taken prisoner. The German Twelfth Army inflicted the main blow through its left flank. After three days of tenacious fighting across Yugoslav territory, the Twelfth army bypassed the Greek fortified Metaxas Line on the Bulgarian border; on April 9 it moved toward Thessaloniki. On April 12 the Greek forces received the order to retreat from Albania. On April 9 and 20 respectively, the commanders of the Eastern Macedonian and Epirus armies (under generals Bakopoulos and Tsolakoglu respectively) signed treasonous documents of total surrender. Thus, pursuing the remnants of the retreating Greek forces, German troops rapidly moved toward Thermopylae. They broke the resistance of the Australian corps and on April 24 took the mountain pass. On April 26 an airborne landing force seized the bridge across the Gulf of Corinth and opened the way to the Peloponnesos. Athens fell on April 27. Greece surrendered, and 330,000 Greek soldiers and officers were taken prisoner. Only about 70,000 English and Greek soldiers were successfully evacuated to the island of Crete and to Egypt.

REFERENCES

Vsemirnaia istoriia, vol. 10. Moscow, 1965.
Tippelskirch, K. Istoriia vtoroi mirovoi voiny. Moscow, 1956. (Translated from German.)

N. M. CHEREPANOV

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