Hitler Prepares His Plans
Hitler Prepares His Plans
IN November 1940 Hitler had told Mussolini that without safeguards from Yugoslavia no successful operation was possible in the Balkans. Months had therefore been spent trying to persuade her to join the Tripartite Alliance. Although Yugoslavia declined his ‘invitations’, Hitler remained confident that he could control the situation. On 13 December he issued his directions for the occupation of northern Greece; on 22 March 1941, as a result of British support to Greece, he had to order the occupation of the whole country. And, as a reward for his persistence, Yugoslavia, on 25 March, adhered to the Tripartite Pact.
The overthrow of the Yugoslav Government by a military coup d'état on 27 March was therefore a threat to German security in the Balkans. Mr. Churchill had visions1 of a Balkan front and General Papagos suggested2 that the British should move forward from the Aliakmon to the Metaxas line.
To Hitler it was a complete surprise: ‘The Yugoslav coup came suddenly out of the blue. When the news was brought to me on the morning of the 27th I thought it was a joke.’3 Well aware that the British position was now stronger he acted swiftly, determined that there should be no threats to his flank and rear when he attacked either Greece or Russia. The German High Command was hurriedly assembled and told that Yugoslavia must be destroyed ‘militarily and as a national unit.’4 She had to be attacked with such ‘unmerciful harshness’ and such ‘lightning-like’ speed that Turkey would remain inactive and the way be cleared in the southern provinces for an additional thrust into Greece which, like Yugoslavia, had to be overwhelmed in the shortest possible time.
3 Churchill, Vol. III, p. 144.
That night, 27–28 March, the orders for the campaign in Yugoslavia were drawn up and changes made in the plans for the attack upon Greece. On 6 April both Greece and Yugoslavia would be attacked. In the north-west the Italian Second Army could at least cover the border of Italy and Yugoslavia. Second Army (Field Marshal Weichs) would strike south from Austria into Yugoslavia. The Hungarians would move in to occupy the Banat, their ‘lost province’ to the north-west of Belgrade.
Twelfth Army2 (Field Marshal List), which was now assembled in Rumania and Bulgaria, would attack both Greece and Yugoslavia. Thirtieth Corps3 would deal with the Greek divisions in eastern Macedonia. Eighteenth Corps4 would attack the Metaxas line, one force clearing the Rupel Pass and another entering Yugoslavia by the Strumitsa Pass and then turning swiftly south past Lake Doiran. They would then cross the Macedonian Plain, taking Salonika and threatening the Aliakmon line.
1 N.D. 1746 PS.
2 Two panzer, one motorised, one mountain and six infantry divisions.
3 164 Inf Div, 50 Inf Div.
4 2 Pz Div, 2 Mtn Div, 6 Mtn Div, 72 Inf Div, 125 Inf Div, 12 Army flak, artillery and engineer formations.
5 SS Div Reich, Inf Regt ‘Grossdeutschland’, Brigade ‘Hermann Goering’.
6 HQ Staff, XI and XIV Corps, 5 Pz Div, 11 Pz Div, 60 Mot Div, 4 Mtn Div, 198 Inf Div.
7 9 Pz Div, SS ‘Adolf Hitler’ Div, 73 Inf Div.