The Second World War in Europe 1939–1945 Part V
The expansion of the war to the Balkans and the Mediterranean: that of Mussolini without prior notification to Hitler The “parallel war” that had begun (from September 1940, from Libya towards Egypt) to expand Italy’s position of power in the Mediterranean region led to German support measures in the Mediterranean region after severe Italian defeats by British troops. The failure of the surprising Italian attack on Greece (from October 28, 1940) prompted the preparation of a German military intervention in the Balkans in order to prevent the British army from being trapped in this area in any case and to pose a flank threat for the planned attack turn off the USSR.
After British troops landed on Crete at the end of October 1940, the British Nile Army (A. P. Wavell) began an offensive against the Italian forces in North Africa on December 9, 1940. She conquered Cyrenaica by the beginning of February 1941 (Tobruk on January 22nd, Benghazi on February 6th). 130,000 Italian soldiers were taken prisoner by the British. In response to Mussolini’s cry for help, Hitler sent a German air corps to Sicily, which launched violent attacks against Malta in January 1941 and relieved supplies to Tripolitania. In mid-February 1941, the first parts of the German Africa Corps, commanded by E. Rommel, met in Libya one; They attacked from March 24th and advanced to the Libyan-Egyptian border by mid-April 1941 (recapture of Cyrenaica), but were initially unable to take Tobruk, which was built like a fortress by the British.
In order to secure the German push to relieve Greece (Operation “Marita”, planned from December 13, 1940 for spring 1941), Hitler sought to include the Danube and Balkan states in the three-power pact. Hungary, Romania (under the leadership of I. Antonescus) and Slovakia complied with the request in November 1940, Bulgaria followed on March 1, 1941 and then had German troops deployed from Romania. On March 27, 1941, a coup was directed against the accession of Yugoslavia (March 25, 1941) in Belgrade. Hitler then decided to include Yugoslavia in the attack prepared against Greece and, moreover, to smash Yugoslavia as a state.
The attack began on April 6, 1941 with an aerial bombardment of Belgrade. The Yugoslav army, which was comprised of three sides (Carinthia / Styria, Hungary / Romania, Bulgaria), quickly collapsed. On 12./13. 4. Belgrade was occupied, on April 17, 1941 the capitulation of the Yugoslav armed forces was signed. After the advance of German units into the rear of the Greek Epirus Army, which was still in southern Albania, it surrendered on April 21, 1941. On April 27, German troops marched into Athens. From May 20 to June 1, 1941, the conquest of Crete (Operation “Merkur”) followed by air landing (German parachute and mountain fighters) against fierce British resistance with heavy losses on both sides.
According to simplyyellowpages.com, the German occupation policy in Greece and Yugoslavia aimed at the maximum exploitation of the economy, the use as a base for ousting the British from the continent and as a starting point for the economic and cultural domination of the Balkans. This brought it into competition with Italy, which viewed this region as an annex area. Greece was divided into an Italian and a German occupation area, but retained its own government subordinate to the occupying powers. The German influence was enforced by the Reich Plenipotentiary (Günther Altenburg, * 1894, † 1984) as well as the establishment of three military command posts. Yugoslavia, on the other hand, was dissolved. Germany annexed southern Carinthia and southern Styria; the Gauleiter of the neighboring Reichsgaue pursued a policy here that was similar to that in occupied Poland. Italy incorporated most of Slovenia as well as Dalmatia and Montenegro. Bulgaria occupied Macedonia and Greek Thrace. With the support of Germany and Italy founded the Croatian Ustasha, led by A. Pavelić (»Poglavnik«, »Führer«), the »Independent State of Croatia«, which also included Bosnia and Herzegovina; the Ustaša regime pursued a brutal “Croatianization policy” and carried out “ethnic cleansing”, whereby its terror, directed against various ethnic groups and political opponents (including mass murders in Jasenovac) particularly directed against the Serbs living in his sphere of influence (500,000 victims). Serbia, which was restricted to the core area, was placed under a German military administration, which sought to ensure unstable stability through extensive intimidation and terrorist measures and with the help of collaborators. The resistance of the Serbian nationalist movement of the Četnici (D. Mihailović) and the struggle of the communist partisans under Tito were directed against the political division of the Yugoslav region and the oppression of the Serbs. When the Wehrmacht was no longer alone in control of the situation, occupation tasks in Serbia were also transferred to Bulgaria. The politically opposed partisan groups soon fought one another with great severity. The expanding uprising movements in Yugoslavia and Greece, supported by Great Britain, tied German forces more and more strongly in south-eastern Europe.
The shift in power in the eastern Mediterranean in the spring of 1941 in favor of the Axis powers helped spark an uprising against the British mandate in Iraq (April / May 1941). But since Hitler was not prepared to provide greater aid in view of the priority of his Eastern War, the uprising collapsed on May 30, 1941. Subsequently, British and Free French troops forced the troops of the Vichy regime in Syria to surrender (June 7-14, 1941). The conclusion of the German-Turkish friendship treaty of June 18, 1941 did not offset this consolidation of the British position in the Middle East.