German soldiers, caught by sniper fire on the road, return fire. Yugoslavia
Duce, dreaming of creating a new Roman Empire, decided it was time to act. He was especially attracted by Greece. He hoped to attract, as it were, "kindred" Roman-speaking Romania. Mussolini, after losing the illusion that Italy is the "elder brother" and the Third Reich is the "younger", considered: let the Germans dominate in Western and Northern Europe, while Italy should dominate in South-Eastern Europe. In addition, he decided to create a huge colonial empire in North and East Africa. And capture British Somalia, Sudan and Egypt.
The Italian military-political leadership dreamed too much, but it clearly lacked the will, determination and energy. As well as the military-industrial potential. Italy had a chance to snatch victory in Egypt and East Africa, having there initially a huge advantage in strength, in soldiers and in number tanks and aircraft. England during this period pulled back the best forces for the battle in Europe and its own defense. The Italians at this time could concentrate all the air and naval forces for the operation in Malta, conduct an amphibious operation, take the island - a key position in the central Mediterranean Sea. Then send selected mobile divisions that remained in the metropolis to Libya and break through to the Suez. Further, it was possible to unite the Italian North and East Africa. But the Italians limited themselves to the first victories in Sudan, Somalia and Egypt. And on this they calmed down. Lost precious time. They acted too stupidly, hesitantly, without concentration, a clear strategy.
In addition, the commander-in-chief of the Italian army in Libya, Marshal Graziani, knew about Mussolini's preparations for the Greek campaign. I decided that it was necessary to wait, gain a foothold in the occupied territory, tighten up the rear, and establish supplies. At this time, the British will begin to transfer troops from Egypt and Palestine to the Balkans. In North Africa, the front will be bare, and then the Italians will reach the Suez. As a result, Italy lost its strategic initiative and advantage in Africa.
Meanwhile, the British, realizing that Hitler would not go to storm the English Isles, captured and defeated the fleet of Vichy France (Operation "Catapult". How the British drowned the French fleet), with the help of detachments of the "Free French" captured Gabon, launched an offensive in other French colonies, quickly strengthened their positions in Malta, Egypt, Sudan and Kenya.
German gunners with 37mm PaK 35/36 anti-tank guns on a mountain road in Yugoslavia. 1941 g.
German soldiers and a Pz.Kpfw tank. III on the street of the Yugoslav city of Nis
Meanwhile, the Fuhrer also took into account the actions of the ally in Africa and adjusted his plans. Operation Sea Lion (capture of Britain) was finally released on the brakes. Admiral Raeder drew Adolf's attention to the fact that the fatal blow to England can be inflicted not only by landing in England, but also in the Mediterranean. Capture the most important British bases and bridgeheads - Gibraltar, Malta, Egypt with Suez. Intercept the most important communication linking the British metropolis with its colonies. Break through to the Middle East, where Turkey and the Arab tribes will go over to the side of the Germans. All the prerequisites for the implementation of such a project were there. Italy had colonies in North Africa. Syria and Lebanon belonged to the allied Vichy France.
It was only necessary to focus on this project, to combine all efforts and skillfully direct them. Hitler first became interested in this plan. To capture Gibraltar, they began to train paratroopers, who distinguished themselves in Belgium and Holland. We decided to come to an agreement with Spain. Hitler and Ribbentrop began to persuade Franco. They recalled that they helped him win the civil war. They offered a military alliance.
However, the Spanish caudillo was on his own mind. In words, he was extremely grateful and friendly. But in fact, he dodged in every possible way and wanted to avoid participation in the war. In principle, it could be understood: Spain suffered heavy losses in the turmoil, it took time to heal the wounds, and it was extremely dangerous to fight with England and in the future with the United States. It was more reasonable to benefit from both sides.
After empty correspondence, Hitler decided that a personal meeting was needed. He believed in his "magnetism", the ability to subordinate other people to his will. However, this number did not work with Franco. The Spanish ruler talked about friendship, bargained, offered to give him all the French colonies in Africa. Upfront, just like that. He himself promised to seize Gibraltar. But without specific commitments and deadlines. As a result, the Fuhrer's visit was wasted.
Obviously, the Fuhrer would have been able to crush Franco if he had abandoned the campaign to Russia and concentrated his efforts on the southern strategic direction - the Mediterranean Sea, the Middle East, then Persia and India. However, he could not abandon the idea of a war with the Russians, which was fatal for the Reich. Therefore, he did not increase the pressure on Spain, he did not need a quarrel with the caudillo at the time of the impending march to the East.
From Franco, Hitler went to Marshal Pétain. The Frenchman was ready for anything. He signed an agreement that France will participate in the fight against England within the limits of its capabilities. Fortunately, the French were angry with the attacks of the British and de Gaulle on their fleet and colonies. For this, France was to receive an important place in the new world.
German parachutist looks at a pile of trophy weaponscaptured in the city of Corinth (Greece). In the foreground and to the right of the paratrooper, captured Greek officers
The failure of Mussolini's adventure
However, while the Fuhrer was negotiating with Spain and France, Mussolini presented him with an unpleasant surprise. He harbored a grudge against Hitler. He was unhappy that he received so little after the defeat of France. I learned that the Germans appeared in Romania. And Duce believed that the Balkans were his sphere of life. The Germans did not even warn, did not want to agree! Mussolini got angry and decided to pay back in kind. He ordered the troops stationed in Albania to launch an invasion of Greece. On October 28, 1940, the Greco-Italian War began. The Fuehrer was not warned about this. True, intelligence reported to Hitler about the plans of the Duce, and he went from France to Italy to cool the ardor of his comrade-in-arms. But I was late. The invasion of Greece has already begun.
Hitler was annoyed. As it turned out, he was not afraid in vain. The Italians were embarrassed. The theater was difficult. The Greek army was far from perfect. The weapons are mostly outdated, there are few tanks and aircraft, guns of different calibers, systems, production and time. There was not enough ammunition, often cartridges were given out by the piece (30 rounds per rifle). However, the Greeks fought for their homeland. Their morale was high. The Italians pushed the border units of the Greeks, but then the enemy maneuvered, gathered forces and hit the flank. The Duce army rolled back. The Greek army continued to advance, the Italians could have been driven out of Albania (How the mediocre Italian blitzkrieg failed in Greece).
Meanwhile, the British strengthened their forces in Africa and launched a counteroffensive. The Italians relaxed in six months, they did not establish reconnaissance. A sudden blow to a relatively small British group in Egypt in December 1940 led to the complete defeat of the Italian army. The British pursued the demoralized enemy for two months, captured Tobruk, Benghazi. The Graziani army practically ceased to exist: 130 thousand prisoners alone, large trophies - 500 tanks, more than 1200 guns. In East Africa, the British also went on the offensive. Ethiopia revolted. By April 1941, the Italian colonial empire in East Africa had fallen (Operation Compass; How Mussolini's East African Empire died).
Thus, instead of the victories that the Duce dreamed of, the threat of catastrophe arose. Berlin now had to fear that Rome would panic at all and ask England for a separate peace. In this case, a great threat arose for the Reich in the south. Italy was pulling out of the war. The neutrality of Greece was broken, and the British landed there. Germany received the threat of war on two fronts in Europe, in the event of a war with the Russians. The Duce's adventures mixed up the Fuhrer's plans.
Greek soldiers in battle in the mountains during the war with Italy in the winter of 1940-1941.
The need to invade the Balkans
Hitler had to intervene to avoid a war on two fronts in the European theater and to improve the Duce's affairs. Rommel's corps was sent to North Africa, which launched an offensive at the end of March 1941, defeated the British, recaptured Benghazi and laid siege to Tobruk (How Rommel defeated the British in Cyrenaica).
The Greek problem had to be solved. The British made an alliance with the Greeks, landed on the islands of Crete and Lemnos, in the mainland of Greece. From Greek airfields, the British were able to strike at the oil fields of Romania - the main source of fuel for the Wehrmacht. When the war with the Russians began, the southern part of the Eastern Front could be under the threat of an enemy strike.
The British were actively negotiating to win over Yugoslavia and Turkey to their side. The Americans were also unexpectedly active in the region. One of the heads of the US intelligence services, William Donovan, appeared in the Balkans. He urged the governments of the Balkan countries to oppose the Third Reich.
However, the Germans had strong positions in the region. Romanians and Bulgarians have already sided with Hitler. Turkey was an ally of Germany in the First World War. True, then the Turks got a hard hit, their empire collapsed. Therefore, this time the Turks were in no hurry to get into a fight. But they did not want to be at enmity with the Germans either. They preferred to wait, whose will take. Belgrade doubted whether the British would help or abandon, like Poland, Norway and France? While diplomatic maneuvers were going on, Hitler decided it was time to rectify the situation with brute force. In January 1941, a military council was held at the Berghof. The Fuhrer ordered to send troops to Albania, to strengthen the Italian army. The Fuhrer ordered Greece to be crushed before attacking the USSR. The operation was named "Marita" (the plan was being prepared since December 1940).
Column of Italian bersagliers on Dubrovnik street
Riot in Romania
In Romania and Bulgaria, the 12th army of General Field Marshal List, 19 divisions (including 5 tank divisions) was deployed. True, at this time a commotion began in Romania. General Antonescu came into conflict with the fascist "Iron Guard". Right-wing radicals felt that their time had come. It is necessary to "cleanse" the country not only of Jews, communists and other leftists, but also of thieves-officials, the old intelligentsia, democratic leaders associated with the financial, industrial, military and political elite of the country. That is, the Iron Guards encroached on power. This spoiled Antonescu's relationship with his deputy, the leader of the Iron Guard Horia Sima. At the end of November 1940, Antonescu ordered to deprive the guardsmen of police functions, in December he ordered to suppress their arbitrariness.
This confrontation alarmed Hitler. He had to choose who to bet on. The guards, who demanded full coordination of the foreign and domestic policy of Romania with the actions of Germany, were confident that the Germans would support them. Romanian fascists idealized the Reich. They considered themselves brothers with both the Italian Blackshirts and the German SS men. On January 14, 1941, Antonescu visited Berlin, personally met with the Fuhrer. Antonescu liked Hitler. He liked the clever politician more than the radical legionnaires. He has already cut out similar ones (attack aircraft) in Germany - "Night of the Long Knives". The Romanian general showed full readiness for obedience, signed an agreement on economic cooperation for 10 years. Romania became a raw material appendage of the Reich.
On January 19, 1941, the Romanian radicals started an open mutiny. They hoped that the Germans would support them. But the attention of the legionnaires was focused on the Jews, mass pogroms and murders began. The most massive clashes took place in Bucharest. At this time, the government mobilized the police, the army, and street fighting began. Berlin officially supported Antonescu. The Romanian troops were reinforced by the Germans. On January 23, the mutiny was suppressed. Hundreds of people were killed and thousands were arrested. The guard was dispersed and banned. Sima with a group of legionnaires fled to Germany, then to Italy.
As a result, Antonescu received a government and parliament under his control. The young King Mihai was actually a puppet. The new ruler of the country declared himself a marshal and conductor (translated as "leader", that is, Duce, Fuhrer).
Antonescu and Sima in October 1940
Hitler and Antonescu. 1941 g.
Coup in Yugoslavia
The Germans did not have any problems with Bulgaria. Tsar Boris liked the German victories. In February 1941, German troops entered Bulgaria. Even earlier, the Reich was able to use the roads, airports and ports of Bulgaria. The country began to build a new network of airfields. Bulgaria refused to fight against Greece and Yugoslavia, but agreed to use its territory as a springboard for the German army and to occupy the border areas with its own forces. On March 1, 1941, Sofia joined the Berlin Pact.
Hungary itself was eager to fight. The Hungarians liked the fact that in alliance with the Germans they had already received a part of Slovakia, Subcarpathia and Northern Transylvania. They got a taste and wanted more. Only the Prime Minister of Teleki insisted that one should be friends with the Germans, but it was also impossible to break with England, and even more so to enter the war. In addition, in 1940 Hungary signed an "eternal friendship" agreement with Yugoslavia. But Teleki was left completely alone. He was pecked at in government, parliament and society. Teleki committed suicide. On March 30, 1941, the Chief of the Hungarian General Staff Werth and the German General Paulus signed an agreement that Hungary would send 10 infantry and motorized brigades (about 5 divisions) for joint participation in the war against Yugoslavia.
The delegation of the Bulgarian city solemnly greets the German officer. The photo was taken during the entry of German troops into Bulgaria for the subsequent attack from its territory on Yugoslavia and Greece. March 1941
Hungarian units in the Yugoslav city of Sombor. In the center is a Swiss-made Solothurn S20-18 100mm anti-tank rifle. The soldiers are armed with various types of rifles, including the Mannlicher M95 / 31 and the Solothurn 31M (MG30) machine guns. April 21, 1941
In Yugoslavia, the mood in the ruling circles was contradictory.
On the one hand, the Serbs remembered the horrors of the Austro-German occupation of 1915. Traditional sympathies for Russia and France remained. Britain and the United States tried to persuade Belgrade to their side.
On the other hand, in Belgrade they understood that the power was on the side of the Reich, a direct conflict would lead to a new catastrophe. Britain's help is questionable. German diplomats diligently processed the government of Prime Minister Cvetkovic and Prince Regent Paul - he occupied the throne on behalf of the minor prince Peter. They promised to hand over Thessaloniki to Yugoslavia.
The military-political leadership of Yugoslavia, realizing the impossibility of resisting Germany, on March 25, 1941 joined the Berlin Pact (the Vienna Protocol was signed). The Germans promised to preserve the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country and did not even demand the transit of troops through Yugoslavia. Belgrade did not participate in the military operations of the Axis countries. After the victory over Greece, the Germans offered to reward Yugoslavia. However, the Tsvetkovich cabinet conducted these negotiations in deep secrecy from the public, where anti-German sentiments prevailed. The delegation from Belgrade to Vienna traveled in secret. It was hoped that the people, faced with the fact, would accept this agreement.
Did not work out. As soon as people knew that their country had joined the Berlin-Rome-Tokyo alliance, Yugoslavia began to boil. People took to the streets of cities with slogans: "Better war than a pact", "Better to die than become a slave." In 400 thousand Belgrade 80 thousand people took to the streets. Only Croatian nationalists were in favor of an alliance with Hitler. A group of military, taking advantage of the riots, staged a coup. On March 27, 1941, Prince Pavel and Cvetkovic were removed from power. The new government was headed by General Dusan Simovic - General aviation and the former chief of the General Staff, who was removed from office for anti-German stance. The 17-year-old prince Peter was proclaimed king.
It is still unknown who played a key role in these events. Whether the coup was spontaneous or not. It is possible that the British agents played their role, taking advantage of the discontent of the masses or secret circles and lodges (masons), which made Serbia a "powder keg" before the outbreak of the First World War. One thing is for sure - the new government has behaved very insecure and inconsistent. Belgrade tried to show "flexibility". They tried to calm the Germans. It was reported that the Vienna Protocol was in force, but it was never ratified. They offered to conclude a non-aggression pact. At the same time, we intensified contacts with Greece and Britain. They began to seek friendship and protection from the Russians. They offered Moscow to conclude a treaty of friendship and alliance. On April 5, the corresponding agreement was signed. Obviously, such a game was in the interests of London. Another reason was created to play off the Germans and the Russians, as in 1914.
However, Hitler did not believe the statements of loyalty of the Serbs. The enraged Fuhrer called the coup a "betrayal" and decided that the new government of Yugoslavia would not be obedient anyway. Not now, so later he will switch to the side of the enemies. And soon the war with the Russians. Therefore, it is better to solve the problem immediately. On March 27, the Wehrmacht was tasked with complementing the operation against Greece with the operation "Punishment" against Yugoslavia.
The operation was scheduled for April 6, 1941. In southern Austria and Hungary, von Weichs's 2nd Army (4 corps, including the 46th motorized corps) was concentrated for an attack on Yugoslavia. The 12th Army of List and the 1st Panzer Group of Kleist (3 corps, including the 40th motorized) were deployed on the territory of Bulgaria and Romania. Italy allocated for the war with Yugoslavia the 2nd Army of General Ambrosio (5 corps, including motorized and cavalry). The Italians dealt their main blow along the Dalmatian coast. Hungary fielded up to 5 divisions.
Belgrade residents protesting after Yugoslavia's accession to the Axis
Belgrade residents welcome the military coup on March 27, 1941.
Renault R35 tank on the streets of Belgrade on the day of the military coup on March 27, 1941. The inscription on the tank: "For the King and the Fatherland"
To be continued ...