75 years ago, the Third Reich defeated Yugoslavia and Greece. 13 April 1941 The Nazis entered Belgrade. King Peter II and the Yugoslav government fled to Greece and then to Egypt. 17 on April 1941 in Belgrade signed an act of unconditional surrender. Yugoslavia collapsed. Almost simultaneously Greece fell. April 23 was signed by the surrender of the Greek army. On the same day, the Greek government and the king fled to Crete, and then to Egypt, under the protection of the British. 27 April Germans entered Athens. By June 1 the Nazis captured and Crete.
Hitler, remembering the experience of the First World War, feared a new landing of the British army in Thessaloniki or on the southern coast of Thrace: then the British would be in the rear of Army Group South during its advance to the east, in southern Russia. Hitler proceeded from the assumption that the British would once again try to advance into the Balkans, and remembered that the actions of the Allied armies in the Balkans at the end of World War I had substantially contributed to their victory. Therefore, as a precautionary measure, he decided to end Yugoslavia and Greece before starting action against Russia.
The invasion was supposed to be carried out by applying simultaneous strikes from the territory of Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Austria in converging directions to Skopje, Belgrade and Zagreb in order to dismember the Yugoslav army and destroy it in parts. The task was to seize primarily the southern part of Yugoslavia in order to prevent the establishment of interaction between the armies of Yugoslavia and Greece, to unite with the Italian troops in Albania and to use the southern regions of Yugoslavia as a springboard for the subsequent German-Italian attack on Greece. The German air force had to strike at Belgrade, the Serbian airfields, paralyze traffic on the railways and thereby disrupt the mobilization of the Yugoslav troops. Against Greece, it was planned to deliver the main attack in the direction of Thessaloniki, with the subsequent advancement into the area of Olympus. Italy struck from Albania.
The 2nd Weichs army, the 12th Liszt army (he also led the operations) and the 1st tank Kleist group. The 12th Army was concentrated on the territory of Bulgaria and Romania. It was significantly strengthened: its composition was brought up to 19 divisions (including 5 armored divisions). The 2nd Army, consisting of 9 divisions (including 2 Panzer), was concentrated in southeastern Austria and western Hungary. Four divisions were allocated to the reserve (including 4 tank divisions). For aviation Support was attracted by the 4th air fleet of A. Löhr and the 8th air corps, which totaled together about 1200 combat and transport aircraft. The general command of a group of German troops aimed at Yugoslavia and Greece was entrusted to Field Marshal Wilhelm Liszt.
30 March 1941, the Wehrmacht ground forces commanded the troops. The 12 Army had to attack the Strumitsa (Yugoslavia) and Thessaloniki forces, with one case strike in the direction of Skopje, Veles (Yugoslavia), and the right flank to attack the Niš-Belgrade direction. The 2 Army was tasked with mastering Zagreb and developing an offensive in the direction of Belgrade. The fighting against Yugoslavia and Greece provided for the launch of 6 on April 1941, with a massive air raid on Belgrade and an offensive by the forces of the left wing and the center of the 12 Army.
The operation of the Third Reich attracted significant Allied forces. Italy allocated 43 divisions for the invasion: 24 of them were intended for operations against Yugoslavia (9 was deployed on the Albanian-Yugoslav border, 15 in Istria and Dalmatia). The command of the Wehrmacht was generally low opinion of the combat capability of the Italian army, so only auxiliary tasks were assigned to it. At the beginning of the war, the Italian troops were to firmly hold the defense in Albania and thereby contribute to the offensive of the German 2. After the German forces were combined with the Italian forces, their joint offensive against Greece was envisaged.
Hungary, after brief doubts, also agreed to participate in the aggression against Yugoslavia. After the negotiations of General Friedrich Paulus with the head of the Hungarian general staff H. Vert, which began on March 30, an agreement was signed, according to which Hungary assigned 10 brigades (approximately 5 divisions) to aggression against Yugoslavia. Hungarian troops were to launch the 14 attack on April 1941.
Romania, the command of the Wehrmacht assigned the role of the barrier against the USSR. On the Romanian territory both ground forces and aviation were deployed, providing support for the actions of the German troops in the Balkans. The territory of Romania was used as a springboard for the German Air Force. The Bulgarian government openly entered the war was frightened. However, Sofia provided its territory for the deployment of German troops. At the request of Berlin, Bulgaria pulled the bulk of its army, reinforced by German tank units, to the borders of Turkey. These forces became the rear cover for the German troops leading the fighting in Yugoslavia and Greece.
The coordination of the actions of the states whose armed forces opposed Greece and Yugoslavia was carried out in accordance with the directive No. 3 “Cooperation with the Allies in the Balkans” signed by Hitler on 1941 on April 26. Thus, for the aggression in the Balkans, the Third Reich with the Allies allocated over 80 divisions (of which German 32, more Italian 40 and the rest - Hungarian), more than 2 thousand aircraft and up to 2 thousand tanks.
Defense status of Yugoslavia
While Yugoslavia was threatened with a military invasion, Belgrade was slow to take decisive measures to mobilize the country. The operational plans developed by the Yugoslav General Staff lagged behind the rapidly changing environment. The last military plan “R-41 plan”, developed in February 1941, envisaged the defense of the border more than 3 thousand kilometers and the organization of an offensive operation against the Italian troops in Albania in cooperation with the Greeks. If necessary, a general retreat to the south, to Greece, was envisaged in order to organize here defense along the lines of the Thessaloniki front during the First World War. The offensive in Albania was aimed at strengthening the strategic defense and ensuring the withdrawal of the main forces in a southerly direction. However, after the appearance of the German army in Bulgaria in March 1941, this plan no longer corresponded to the strategic situation. Now the Yugoslav army could not retreat to Salonika.
After the coup d'état, the danger of the German invasion increased sharply and the Yugoslav General Staff offered to immediately begin mobilization. However, the government rejected this sensible proposal, citing the need to continue negotiations with Germany. Belgrade was still hoping to maintain neutrality and peace with Berlin. Only 30 March 1941 was announced that the first day of the hidden mobilization will be 3 April. As a result, 7 days were lost, during which the Yugoslav command could complete the mobilization and strategic deployment of troops. This led to the fact that the war found the Yugoslav army in the stage of strategic deployment. None of the headquarters (from the headquarters of the division to the headquarters of the High Command) completed the mobilization. In the same condition was the majority of the formations and units of all the armed forces.
The ground forces of Yugoslavia consisted of three groups of the army and the Primorsky army district, guarding the coast. The troops of the 5 and 3 armies, which were part of the 3 army group, deployed along the northern border of Albania. Between the Iron Gates and the River Drava were the troops of the 2 group of armies - 6-I, 1-I and 2-i armies. Further to the west, the 1 group of armies was deployed, which included the 4 and 7 armies.
The number of the Yugoslav army to the start of hostilities is determined in 1,2 million. The existing 28 infantry and 3 cavalry divisions, 32 individual regiments were not fully mobilized (had 70-90% of wartime staff). Only 11 divisions were located in those areas where they had to be on the defensive plan. The Yugoslav army was technically poorly equipped. The artillery park consisted of obsolete samples and mounted on horseback. There was a shortage of anti-aircraft and anti-tank guns. Mechanization of the army was in the initial stage. There were no motorized units, tank units were represented only by two battalions. In the army there were only 110 obsolete tanks. Aviation had 416 aircraft of French, Italian, English and German production, but only half met modern requirements. Weak was the engineering support of troops and communications.
Yugoslav intelligence fairly timely provided the government and command with information about the threat of enemy invasion, plans and terms of aggression, the concentration and direction of actions of German troops. However, the Yugoslav military-political leadership reacted to this information with a great delay. The General Staff only sent the army commander on March 31 and fleet directives requiring the implementation of the R-41 plan. On April 4, additional instructions were sent to the commanders to pull the troops to the borders.
Thus, by the beginning of the war, the Yugoslav armed forces did not complete the mobilization, deployment, the country's defense plan did not correspond to the real situation. The army was technically poorly equipped. There was a strong “fifth column” in the rear (Croatian nationalists, etc.). The military-political leadership was indecisive and was not determined to fight to the end.
The Greek army was also in a difficult situation. The war with Italy depleted the country's strategic reserves. The bulk of the Greek army was shackled by Italy: 15 infantry divisions - the army "Epirus" and "Western Macedonia", were located on the Italian-Greek front in Albania. The appearance of German troops in Bulgaria and their entry into the Greek border in March 1941 put the Greek command in front of the difficult task of organizing defense in a new direction. At first, the entire 6 divisions could be transferred to the border with Bulgaria.
The arrival of the British Expeditionary Corps from Egypt by the end of March, which had two infantry divisions (the New Zealand 2 Division, the Australian 6 Division), the British 1 Armored Brigade and nine air squadrons, could not significantly change the situation. These forces were not enough to seriously change the strategic situation.
Given the new situation, the Greek command hastily formed two new armies: "Eastern Macedonia" (three infantry divisions and one infantry brigade), which relied on the strengthening of the Metaxas line along the border with Bulgaria; "Central Macedonia" (three infantry divisions and the English Expeditionary Force), which, using a mountain range, occupied the defense from Olympus to Kaimakchalan. However, these armies did not have operational-tactical communications and could be easily cut off both from each other and from troops concentrated on the Albanian front. The Greek command did not have strategic reserves to close the possible gap. Now the Greeks were waiting for strikes from Albania and Bulgaria, and did not assume that the enemy would act through the territory of Yugoslavia.
In addition, there was a split in the Greek military-political leadership. The threat of a German attack intensified defeatism among the Greek generals. At the beginning of March 1941, the command of the army "Epirus" brought to the attention of the government that it considers the war with the Germans unpromising, and demanded to begin diplomatic negotiations with Germany. In response, the government changed the leadership of the Epirus army, appointed a new army commander and new corps commanders. However, these measures did not succeed in achieving a change in the moods of the top commanders of the Greek army.
It is also worth noting that it was not possible to achieve organization of interaction between the armed forces of Yugoslavia, Greece and England. Britain was not going to provide significant assistance to Greece and Yugoslavia. March 31 - April 3 held talks with the military leadership of Greece, Yugoslavia and England. However, due to the fear of the Yugoslav and Greek authorities, it was not possible to aggravate relations with Germany and limited assistance from England to the agreement on the interaction of the Yugoslav army with the Greek-British forces.
Messerschmitt Bf.109E-7 fighters from the 10 squadron of the 27 th Luftwaffe squadron and Messerschmitt Bf.108B "Typhoon" connected aircraft at the airfield during the Balkan campaign
German Junkers U-87 dive bomber from the 2 group of the 1 th dive bomber squadron flying accompanied by the Italian fighter Fiat G.50 "Freccia"
Invasion. Defeat of Yugoslavia
The invasion of Yugoslavia and Greece by the German forces on the night of April 6 was carried out according to the scheme they used in the 1939 and 1940 campaigns. The main forces of the 4 air fleet suddenly attacked airfields in the areas of Skopje, Kumanovo, Niš, Zagreb, Ljubljana. A massive air strike was inflicted on Belgrade. The main goal was the center of the city, where the most important state institutions were located. German aviation bombed communications centers, railways and communications. The tank and infantry divisions of the 12 of the German army simultaneously crossed the Bulgarian-Yugoslav border in three sectors.
The Yugoslav military-political leadership had to immediately make the main decision: either to defend the whole country, or to retreat to the south, to the mountains, with the prospect of retreat to Greece. The second option was more profitable from a military-strategic point of view, but it was hard to accept from the political and moral side. During the retreat, we would have to leave Croatia and Slovenia, Belgrade and other important centers, so the Yugoslavs accepted the first option. Given the situation, it was a losing option.
The fighting against Yugoslavia took place in two stages. The task of the Wehrmacht at the first stage was to split the 3 th Yugoslav army within two days and to ensure the freedom of the operational maneuver for the troops that acted against Greece. Therefore, initially the main hostilities unfolded in Macedonia. The 40 th mechanized corps of the 12 th army launched a rapid offensive in two directions: two divisions on Kumanovo, Skopje, and one division on Shtip, Veles. At the same time, the 2-I tank division of the 18 corps was advancing along the Strummilitsa river valley in order to bypass the north of Lake Dojran and reach the rear of the Greek fortified line.
German troops in Macedonia did not have a numerical advantage over the Yugoslav ones. But they had complete superiority in armored vehicles and aircraft. 500 German tanks could oppose only about 30 anti-tank guns. Air cover was practically absent. German aviation dominated the air and actively supported the advancing ground forces. Not surprisingly, already during the first day of the offensive, the Germans advanced 30-50 km. Despite the stubborn resistance of some parts, by the end of the second day of the war, the Yugoslav troops in Macedonia were defeated. 7 April, the Nazis captured Skopje and Shtip.
Thus, the control of the Yugoslav troops in the south of the country was disrupted. Cutting the main communications between Yugoslavia and Greece, the Germans thwarted the main strategic plan of the Yugoslav plan - the withdrawal of troops to the south in order to connect with the Greeks and the British. Already, the Wehrmacht reached 10 on April in Albania, creating the conditions for the final defeat of Yugoslavia and the turn of some forces against Greece. The isolation of Yugoslavia from Greece was a major success of the German command. In addition, now the offensive of the Yugoslav troops against the Italians of Albania has become meaningless.
Tankmen 11-th tank division of the Wehrmacht on vacation
Parts of the 14 th motorized corps in the Serbian city of Niš
During this phase, the 2-I German army completed the deployment and was limited to conducting small-scale hostilities. The 8 of April from the area west of Sofia in the direction of Nis was attacked by the 1-I tank group (5 divisions - 2 tank, 1 motorized, 1 mountain and 1 infantry). The 5 th Yugoslav Army held the defense in this sector as part of the 5 divisions, which were stretched along the 400-kilometer front along the border with Bulgaria. Reserves of the Yugoslav command was not. In fact, the strike of the whole German tank group fell on one Yugoslav division. It is clear that the Yugoslavs had no chance to resist. The Yugoslav division was defeated and the German troops almost quietly rushed inland. The German mechanized forces advanced in three days almost 200 km and captured Nis, Aleksinats, Parachin and Yagodina. After the capture of Nis, the 11-I tank division went to Belgrade, and the 5-I tank moved in the direction of Greece. Thus, German troops broke through the front, cut off the 5 th Yugoslav army, went to the rear of the 6 army and created a threat to Belgrade from the south.
At the same time, the “fifth column” and the defeatists became more active in Yugoslavia. Croatian nationalists stood out in particular. At the end of March 1941, an authorized SS standardtandführer Wesenmeier arrived in Yugoslavia. Under his dictation, one of the leaders of the Croatian Nazis (Ustashe) Kvaternik wrote a declaration on the creation of an "independent state of Croatia." On April 10, when German tanks rushed to Zagreb, the nationalists developed fierce propaganda, demanding "independence." The Croatian Peasant Party and its leader Machek appealed to the Croatian people to submit to the “new government”. It was a direct betrayal of the country.
The activity of the top of the Slovenian clerical party in Drava banovina (Slovenia) was a traitorous one. Under the leadership of the ban (governor) 6 April, a national council was organized here, which included representatives of Slovenian parties. The Council planned to surrender Slovenia without a fight. The Slovenian Legion, established in Slovenia, began to disarm the Yugoslav army. On April 9, the Yugoslav High Command ordered the arrest of this “government”. However, the Chief of Staff of the 1 Army Group, General Rupnik, did not comply.
The betrayal of the leaders of the Croatian and Slovenian parties demoralized the command of the 1 and 2 groups of armies that operated in the western regions of Yugoslavia. Many units and units lost their combat capability, especially in the 4 and 2 armies. Moreover, in the Yugoslav army, clashes began between Croat servicemen and Serb soldiers. The link of the Yugoslav High Command with the troops of the 1 group was interrupted. Thus, the betrayal of the nationalist and defeatist circles facilitated the capture of the northwestern part of Yugoslavia by the Germans.
On April 10, having completed concentration, and having waited for the Yugoslav army to lose its ability to retreat to the south, the main forces of the 2 German army launched an offensive. The second stage of the Yugoslav operation began, the goal of which was the complete capture of Yugoslavia and the unification with the Italian army. By the end of April 10, German troops captured Zagreb - one of the most important political and economic centers of the country. After five days of fighting, the resistance of the Yugoslav troops in the territory of Croatia and Slovenia was broken. 1-I army group has ceased to exist. A number of units and formations of the 2 group of armies and the Primorsky army district disintegrated without engaging in combat. On the evening of April 10, the Yugoslav High Command issued a directive on the retreat of troops to Southern Serbia, Herzegovina and Montenegro to occupy all-round defense there. Since that time, the centralized command of the troops almost collapsed. The army was demoralized, many soldiers simply fled to their homes.
April 11 German troops, continuing a rapid offensive on all fronts, joined the Italians in southern Serbia. At the same time, the Hungarian troops launched an offensive. The governor of Hungary, Horthy, declared that Yugoslavia, after the formation of an “independent Croatia,” split into two parts. He justified the entry of Hungary into the war by the need to protect the Hungarian population in Vojvodina. 12 April Italian troops captured Ljubljana, Debar and Ohrid. April 13 German troops, without meeting resistance, entered Belgrade, and the Hungarian - in Novi Sad. The forces of both German assault forces, advancing from the southeast and northwest, united in the Belgrade area.
On April 13, a meeting of the Yugoslav government was held in Pale, near Sarajevo, at which it was decided to request an armistice from Germany and Italy. On the same day, the Yugoslav government ordered the army to lay down weapon. King Peter II and his ministers left the country, having flown to Egypt, and from there to Egypt. 17 April 1941. Former Foreign Minister A. Tsintsar-Markovic and General R. Jankovic signed an act of unconditional surrender to the Yugoslav Army. In accordance with the document, all military personnel of the Yugoslav army who continued to resist after 12 hours 18 on April 1941, were subject to the death penalty. On the same day, the Italian troops took Dubrovnik.
Two Italian officers inspect captured Yugoslav 47-mm guns of Czech production. In the center of the photo is Brandt's 81-mm mortars
Italian soldiers armed with 6,5-mm carbines Moschetto per Cavalleria M1891 (Carcano) in truck during the parade in Belgrade
Italian soldiers in the Italian city
Column of the Italian Bersaliers in the street of the Yugoslav city
Yugoslav government 18 April 1941 moved from Athens to the Middle East, and later moved from Cairo to London. 15 April 1941, when the king fled the country, at a meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (CPU) in Zagreb, a decision was made to prepare an armed uprising and start a guerrilla war. A Military Committee was formed, headed by the Secretary General of the CPU, Josip Broz Tito. The communists called to fight not only with the German occupiers, but also with the Croatian fascists.
During the campaign, German troops lost 151 troops to the dead, 14 missing, 392 wounded. Losses of Italian troops - 3324 people killed and wounded. Hungarian losses - 120 killed, 223 injured and 13 missing. Losses of the Yugoslav army - about 5 thousand people killed. During the fighting, German troops captured 225,5 thousand Yugoslav soldiers, after the surrender, the total number of capitulations, captured and surrendered to Germans by Yugoslav soldiers increased to 345 thousand. 30 thousand more. Yugoslav soldiers were captured by Italian troops. As a result, the total number of captured Yugoslav soldiers amounted to 375 thousand people. A significant number of them — the Germans living in Yugoslavia — Volksdeutsche, Hungarians, Croats, and Macedonians — were released some time later.
21-22 April 1941. At a meeting of the foreign ministers of Germany and Italy in Vienna, the partition of Yugoslavia was carried out. Following the decision of the representatives of Germany, Italy, Bulgaria and Hungary, Yugoslavia ceased to exist. Three state protectorates were formed on the site of the kingdom: Independent State of Croatia, Nedichevo Serbia and the Kingdom of Montenegro. De facto, the power in these protectorates belonged to the protesters of the countries of the axis bloc: Germany, Italy, Hungary and Bulgaria. The independent state of Croatia (NGH) was under the occupation of German and Italian troops. At the same time, the NGH territory was divided in half into German (northeastern) and Italian (south-western) spheres of military control.
Italy received significant territory. Italians got the province of Ljubljana. A significant part of the Yugoslav coast became part of the governorship of Dalmatia established on the basis of the Italian province of Zara, which included the lands of Dalmatia, the coast of the Adriatic Sea and the Bay of Kotor. Croatia ceded Italy a number of islands. Italy also captured Montenegro, most of Kosovo and Metohija and the western regions of Vardar Macedonia.
Germany established its control over the overwhelming part of Serbia proper, with the addition of certain areas in the north of Kosovo and Metohija, rich in deposits of zinc and tin, and over the Yugoslav Banat, which constituted the eastern half of Vojvodina. The remaining territories of Serbia were transformed into a puppet state of Serbia, led by the former general of the royal army, Milan Nedić (Nedichevo Serbia). Germany also included in its administrative system the northern (most) part of Slovenia, mainly the Upper and Lower Styria, with the addition of certain adjacent areas.
The north-western part of Vojvodina (Backa and Baranja), the adjacent region of Slavonia north of Osijek, as well as the overwhelming part of Prekmurje, were ceded to Hungary. It was also established the Hungarian occupation administration in Medzhumurye. Bulgaria received most of Vardar Macedonia, as well as some areas in the south-east of Serbia proper and in Kosovo and Metohija.
A column of Yugoslav prisoners on a march along a mountain road