THE GERMAN CAMPAIGNS IN THE BALKANS (SPRING 1941),CMH Pub 104-4

This publication replaces DA Pam 20-260, November 1953
Facsimile Edition, 1984, 1986
CENTER OF MILITARY HISTORY
UNITED STATES ARMY
WASHINGTON, D.C

FOREWORD

The purpose of this study is to describe the German campaigns in the Balkans and the seizure of Crete within the framework of Hitler’s military policy during the second year of World War II. The study is the first of a series dealing with large-scale German military operations in Eastern Europe; other historical studies such as Germany and Finland–Allies and Enemies in World War II, The Axis Campaign in Russia, 1941-45: A Strategic Survey, and German Army Group Operations in Russia will follow.

«The German Campaigns in the Balkans» is written from the German point of view and is based mainly on original German records and postwar military writings by Dr. Helmut Greiner, General Burkharth. Mueller-Hillebrand, and the late General Hans von Greiffenberg. 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 been made only in those instances where these sources deviate from the German documents. Συνέχεια

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WW2 Balkan Campaign – Yugoslavia

The Yugoslav army was regarded for one of the strongest in Europe. Its prestige was strengthened by glorious traditions of the Serbian army from two Balkan and the First World wars. That was however the army of ethnically homogeneous Serbia whereas in 1941 the army was comprised of soldiers of multinational Yugoslavia and within its ranks occurred all the contradictions splitting this country.

During the peacetime the Yugoslav army numbered about 150,000 men divided among 20 divisions. Mobilization plans foresaw formation of 31 divisions (28 infantry and 3 cavalry ones) as well as many border, fortress and auxiliary units; altogether 1.7 million men.  This large force had inadequate armaments, especially in anti-tank, anti-aircraft weapons and vehicles (only two tank battalions were available, which possessed only one modern tank). Partially modernized air forces had about 520 aircraft, and smallish navy apart from the Adriatic fleet also had its own air force, coastal defence and a large riverine flotilla. Συνέχεια

Conquest of Yugoslavia

First shots were fired yet before the midnight on 5 April 1941: German assault groups attacked several object along the Yugoslav borders. At 2:00 a German engineer group took by surprise the Yugoslav side of the Iron Gate and voided the Yugoslav plan to block the shipping on the Danube. At 5:00 German and Italian air forces set off for the action, and at 5:15 started the German attack on Skopje, Veles and Strumica. At 6:30 first aircraft from the German 4th Air Fleet flew over Belgrade. Συνέχεια

WW2 – Balkan Catastrophe

In October 1940 the British command happened to withdraw some forces from North Africa to give aid to Greece, a rather moral one. The Greeks though proved to be inflexible beyond expectation, they had fought off advanced Italian divisions, driven them back, and close behind them entered Albania. The general situation in the Balkans was worsening week after week and the reinforcement of British expeditionary forces in Greece was becoming an urgent necessity. To the country of the Hellenes had been sent one of two brigades of the 2nd Armoured Division, two infantry divisions and a considerable part of aviation, 50,000 men altogether. A highland rifles brigade had to join them soon. In command was Gen. Henry Maitland Wilson. Συνέχεια

WWII Italian offensive ; Greece says «NO»

Αθήνα 1940, οδός Πανεπιστημίου. Παρέλαση στρατιωτών που αναχωρούν στο μέτωπο

Ochi! Greek volunteers marching from Athens to the front. This picture illustrates very well the moods after the Italian invasion.

The Italian fascism saw the Balkans as a natural area of its expansion, either through direct conquest of certain lands (Dalmatia, Ionian Islands) or through their political and economical subordination. However the results of this policy were weak: apart from occupation of Albania closer relations were established only with Hungary. Their basis was in common hostility towards Yugoslavia and in Budapest’s seeking some balance to the III Reich, especially after the annexation of Austria and dismemberment of Czechoslovakia. In April 1939 Benito Mussolini, who unlike Adolf Hitler had gained nothing from creation of the Axis Rome-Berlin, and inspired by his foreign minister, count Galeazzo Ciano, decided to annect Albania. Out of Mussolini’s crippled conquests this was probably the most bizarre one. Italian expeditionary forces were created literally hastily. They had no combat experience, no adequate equipment, no precise orders and they almost blundered in face of the chaotic Albanian defence. Only the faint-heartedness of the Albanian king Zog I, as well as corruption and treason among his many ministers and generals, caused, that Albania was eventually occupied. This operetta-style invasion had brought to the Italian king, Victor Emmanuel III, yet another title – the King of Albania, to the Italian industrialists – an opportunity of unlimited exploitation of the country, and to the Italian military – a bridgehead for further conquests. But the real beneficiary was count Ciano, who practically had got his own appanage principality. Συνέχεια

German Antiguerrilla Operations in the Balkans (1941-1944) CMH Publication 104-18

TABLE OF CONTENTS
FOREWARD
Part One: THE BALKAN AREA AND ITS PEOPLES
•Chapter 1: Physical Geography
•I. Topography
•II. Climate
•Chapter 2: National States
•I. General
•II. Greece
•III. Yugoslavia
•IV. Albania
•V. Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Turkey
•Chapter 3: Transportation and Communication
•I. General
•II. Main Rail Lines
•III. Principal Highways
•IV. Waterways, Airfields, and Signal Facilities

Part Two: THE OCCUPATION OF THE BALKANS AND THE RISE OF THE GUERRILLA MOVEMENT (1941-44)
•Chapter 4: The Occupation Zone and Forces
•I. Division and Dismemberment
•II. The Italians
•III. The Germans
•IV. The Bulgarians and Hungarians
•V. The Puppet Governments
•Chapter 5. The Early Movement and Axis Countermeasures
•I. Yugoslavia
•II. Greece
•Chapter 6: Organization of Guerrilla Units
•I. Unit and Command Structure
•II. Communications and Supply
•III. Training and Tactics

Part Three. THE GUERRILLA MOVEMENT IN GREECE, YUGOSLAVIA, AND ALBANIA (1943-44)
•Chapter 7: Operations (January-August 1943)
•I. Yugoslavia
•II. Greece
•III. The German Situation by Mid-1943
•Chapter 8: The Defeat of Italy and Its Effects
•I. General
•II. Yugoslavia and Albania
•III. Greece
•Chapter 9: Operations to the End of 1943
•I. General
•II. Yugoslavia and Albania
•III. Greece
•Chapter 10: Operations in 1944
•I. General
•II. The Area of Army Group E
•III. The Area of Army Group F
•Chapter 11. GEMSBOCK and STEINADLER

Part Four: RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS

Συνέχεια

Swastika over the Balkans

The conquest of Greece and Yugoslavia by hitlerite Germany and its fascist allies in April 1941 (operations Marita and 25) had diametrically changed the political, military and strategic situation on the Balkan peninsula. Germany and Italy started the conquests and subordinating of other countries yet before the outbreak of the 2nd World War. In effect of nearly bloodless Italian aggression Albania lost its independence already on 7 April 1939 and was incorporated (12 April) into Italian empire. The king Ahmet bej Zogu ( Zog I) got deposed by the collaborationist Constituent Assembly and made for exile to Turkey. The Assembly addressed the king of Italy Victor Emmanuel III «with a request to accept the Albanian crown». The collaborationist government with a former prime minister Shefqet bej Vërlaci had been brought into being. But actually in Albania ruled the Italian governor Gen. Francesco Jacomoni di San Sarino. About a month after the Italian invasion on Albania, on 6 May 1939, 200 Albanian tribal chieftains signed the «pact of friendship» with Italy. On 13 July a not too big in numbers Albanian army had been merged with Italian forces. There had been created the Albanian Fascist Party (Partia Fashiste Shqiptare), which together with invaders used to terrorize the population protesting against new order. Intensified the exploitation of Albania’s natural resources (among others chromium and copper ores, brown coal, and oil), as well as the works concerning preparation of that tiny country to form a bridgehead for further conquests in the Balkans (development of communication network, roads, airfields etc.) Συνέχεια

The Balkan Campaign (Betewwn a rock and a hard place)

Greek infantry fighting in the mountains. In the harsh weather conditions and forbidding terrain the Greeks repelled the Italian invasion, while a German invasion was being prepared in their rears.

The Greek intelligence became aware of the operation Marita quite soon. Greece had found itself in the position of a man, who, while fighting with one stooge, simultaneously has behind his back another stooge, pointing a gun at his head. The only solution of the situation was seen in creating some great coalition of the Balkan countries and Turkey, British support, and defeat of the Italian forces in Albania sooner than the Germans could manage to appear on the scene. The Greek prime minister, Ioánnis Metaxás, did not abandon any available option, but, being a sober man, he decided to face the German invasion even if left alone, for he realised that the Allied cause would eventually prevail. Since all the resources at that time were engaged in the war with Italy, Greece could put against the Germans only five weak divisions. It meant a fight purely for honour, for there was not the slightest chance to repel the invasion. Along those lines Metaxas rejected British support, if it had to be merely symbolical, since he rightfully realised that would only prompt Germans for further actions.

Συνέχεια

Before the storm

In the end of October 1940 a beautiful Mediterranean autumn ruled in Rome and Athens. But to the Greco- Albanian frontier running through the wilderness of the Pindus plateau came a Balkan winter – cold, rainy, even snowy in upper parts of the mountains. In that frontier, which separated Greece from Italian- occupied Albania, since some time had been freezing soldiers of both sides: Italian, who by Mussolini’s will were about to march on Athens, and Greek, who were preparing to defend their country of the invasion. Italian soldiers expected a tourist march to Athens, after which they would promptly return to their homes. The commander of the Aquila Battalion from the 3rd Alpine Division (Giulia), Major Fatuzzo, on 27 October 1940 noted in his diary: Συνέχεια

WW2 German Attack to Greece:Codename MARITA

Development of the situation in Greece had frustrated Germans’ hopes for quick conquest of Greece by Italy. Quite the contrary, Berlin contemplated a possibility to face a broader anti-fascist coalition in the Balkans, including Turkey siding with the British. Also the Bulgarian government warned Berlin that Yugoslavia also might change its policy. In those circumstances Adolf Hitler decided about an intervention in Greece. However, such an intervention required additional political manoeuvres. It was necessary to attract Bulgaria and Yugoslavia to the «Axis», neutralize Turkey, obtain Romania’s consent to increase the contingent of the German troops in that country, and obtain Hungary’s consent for transporting the troops via its territory. It was also important to mask all those actions in a way that would not alarm the Soviet Union. Moreover, the military operation against Greece had to be completed soon enough to engage the participating troops against the USSR before May 1941. Hence the obvious tendency had emerged to solve the Italo-Greek conflict by «peaceful» means. Politicians in Berlin expected that merely a threat of a German intervention would be enough to force Greece’s capitulation. Συνέχεια

Fire in the Balkans

Although politicians in Rome were talking about an occupation of the whole Greece, there was barely enough troops concentrated in Albania to seize Epirus. Bigger operations had to be improvised while the hostilities were already going on. Out of 140,000 men deployed in Albania 100,000 were in combat units: five infantry divisions, one armoured, and one alpine division. Moreover three cavalry regiments, one grenadier regiment and some smaller units were used to create the Coastal Group, which more or less equalled in strength to a division. Most of those forces were concentrated along the Epirus frontier. General Sebastiano Visconti Prasca exercised the command through the Supreme Command Albania (Superalba). On 24 October his forces were divided into two army corps: 25th or Ciamuria in Epirus under the command of Gen. Carlo Rossi, and 26th in Western Macedonia under the command of Gen. Gabriele Nasci. The Ciamuria Corps had to strike with the forces of the Division Ferrara (23rd Inf.) and the Armoured Division Centauro (131st Amd.) from the area of Tepelena and Gjirokastra on Kalpakion, Yannina and Arta. The Infantry Division Siena (51st Inf.) had to force the Kalamas River, and support the advance on Yannina. Συνέχεια

WWII The Italian Offensive

When the Italian command stopped the offensive in Greece, it planned to resume it after reinforcements come from Italy. Meanwhile the Greek command, in view of the progress in mobilization, neutrality of Sofia allowing shifting some troops from the Bulgarian frontier, as well as the British control over the sea coasts, decided to go to a counter-offensive. General Aléxandros Papágos ordered to strike on 14 November 1940. The core forces – Army Western Macedonia (Gen. Ioánnis Pitsikas), III Army Corps (Gen. Geórgios Tsolákoglou), and II Army Corps (Gen. Dimitrios Papadopulos) had to take the area of Korytsa (Korca), and the left-wing I Army Corps (Gen. Panaiotis Demestichas) had to drive an auxiliary advance on Argyrokastron (Gjirokastra). The Greek offensive started as scheduled. Troops from the Army Western Macedonia in heavy fights took the Morove massif, and started the maneuver to surround Korytsa . The Italian 9th Army found itself in a critical situation, and eventually started withdrawal from the city, where on 22 November at 17:15 entered advanced units of the Greek 9th Infantry Division (Gen. Christos Ziguris). Συνέχεια

Treaty between the USSR and Yugoslavia. 11 April 1945

The Presidium of the Supreme Council of the USSR, and the Board of Regents of Yugoslavia, determined to carry on the war against the German invaders to the end, desiring further to strengthen the friendship existing between the peoples of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia who are waging a joint struggle against the common enemy, Hitlerite Germany, expressing their unbending will to secure close co-operation between the peoples of both countries and all the United Nations in time of war and in peace, to make their contribution to the cause of postwar organization of peace and security, confident that the consolidation of friendship between the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia meets vital interests of both peoples and will serve in the best possible manner the cause of further economic development of both countries, have decided to conclude with this end in view the present treaty and have appointed as their plenipotentiaries: for the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, V.M.Molotov, People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs of the USSR; for the Board of Regents of Yugoslavia, Marshal Josip Broz Tito, President of the Council of Ministers of Yugoslavia, who, after an exchange of their credentials found in due form and good order, agreed, upon the following: Συνέχεια

Remarks by the Prime Minister of Canada Hon. Lyon Mackenzie King. 1 July 1941

The world had the greatest admiration for Classical Greece, but now the admiration for the same land is beyond any bounds. Italy attacked first, and then German forces came to Italy’s assistance. Greece stood up against both – a lesson of natural courage. Humanity will never forget the bravery shown by Greece at this time. The sacrifice of Greece was not vain. Canada’s efforts to alleviate famine in Greece were welcomed as was her promise to send wheat to Greece as soon as ships are available. Canada will never rest until Greece is restored and her independence secured.

Mackenzie King,

Prime Minister of Canada

Message to King Peter II of Yugoslavia, 8 April 1941

Department of State Bulletin, 12 April 1941

April 8, 1941

The people of the United States have been profoundly shocked by the unprovoked and ruthless aggression upon the people of Yugoslavia. The Government and people of the United States are witnessing with admiration the courageous self-defense of the Yugoslav people, which constitutes one more shining example of their traditional bravery.

As I have assured Your Majesty’s Government, the United States will speedily furnish all material assistance possible in accordance with its existing statutes.

send Your Majesty my most earnest hopes for a successful resistance to this criminal assault upon the independence and integrity of your country.

Directive No. 25, preparations for invasion of Yugoslavia-Greece, 27 March 1941

Hitler’s war directive No. 25
Concerning preparations for invasion
of Yugoslavia.
27 March 1941

The Führer and the Supreme Commander Führer Headquarters
of the Armed Forces. 27th march 1941.
13 copies

DIRECTIVE No. 25
1. The military revolt in Yugoslavia has changed the political position in the Balkans. Yugoslavia, even if it makes initial professions of loyalty, must be regarded as an enemy and beaten down as quickly as possible.

  1. It is my intention to break into Yugoslavia in the general direction of Belgrade and to the south by a concentric operation from the Fiume-Graz area on the one side, and the Sofia area on the other, and to deal an annihilating blow to the Yugoslav forces. Further, the extreme southern region of Yugoslavia will be cut off from the rest of the country and will be occupied as a base from which the German-Italian offensive against Greece can be continued. Συνέχεια

Georgios Vlahos:Open letter to A.Hitler

To His Excellency, Adolf Hitler,
Translation of an open letter to Hitler from M. Georges Vlachos, published in the Kathimerini of Saturday, March 8th, 1941.

To His Excellency, Adolf Hitler,
Chancellor of the German Reich
Excellency,
Greece, as you know, wished to keep out of the present war. When it broke out she had barely recovered frim the wounds that she had suffered from various wars and dissensions at home. She had neither the strength nor the intention, nor any reason to take part in a war, the end of which, no doubt, would be of great importance to the whole world, but at the start did not offer any direct threat to her integrity. Let us ignore her declarations on this point, let us ignore the official documents published in the White Book, let us ignore the speeches and articles which bore witness to her permanent desire to keep out of the war. Let us take into account one fact only. When, after the Italian sinking of the Helle in the port if Tenos, Greece found the remains of torpedoes, when she had proof that these torpedoes were Italian, she kept silent. Why? Because if she had disclosed the truth she would have been forced either to declare war, or to see war declared against her. Greece never wished for war with Italy, neither by herself nor with allies, whether these be British or Balkan. She wished only for her small part of the world to live as quietly as possible, because she was exhausted, because she had fought many wars and because her geographical position is such that she could not have as an enemy either the Germans on land or the English on sea. Συνέχεια