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To Greece

Increased Confidence after the coup d'état in Yugoslavia

page 115

Increased Confidence after the coup d'état in Yugoslavia

As it was, the Allied cause was not without its supporters in the Balkans. As a result of an appeal to the Prince Regent, a Yugoslav staff officer visited Athens on 8 March to make inquiries about the assistance his Government might expect if it were to oppose Germany. At Cyprus on 18 March Mr Eden persuaded the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs that Turkey must ask Yugoslavia to arrange for common action should Salonika be attacked through Bulgaria. The barometer certainly dropped on 25 March when Yugoslavia officially adhered to the Tripartite Pact,1 but it rose sharply on 27 March when a group of army officers overthrew the Cvetkovic Government and released the national enthusiasm of the Serbs.

For Mr Churchill this was proof that his policy could get results. Hitler had been flouted; it might still be possible to prevent the Balkan states falling piecemeal into Hitler's power. The President of Turkey was told that ‘Surely now is the time to make a common front which Germany will hardly dare assail.’ At Malta, Mr Eden, then on his way home, received a similar cable and returned to Athens. From there Sir John Dill on 31 March–1 April visited Belgrade and met, secretly, certain members of the new Yugoslav Government. In their opinion Hitler, who was furious at the coup d'état, would attack Yugoslavia and not Greece; in fact they wanted to know if Greece would support Yugoslavia should Germany attack her. Nevertheless, they were not prepared to take the initiative against Germany, for the Croats and Slovenes were restless and the country not yet prepared for war. Their policy was to gain time for mobilisation and concentration. Had they known that Hitler had already decided to destroy Yugoslavia ‘militarily and as a national unit’, they might have been more willing to take immediate action. However, they did agree to staff talks,2 which took place at Florina on 3 April, to arrange for common action should Germany attack Yugoslavia and Salonika.

1 When the news was received in Athens the Greeks at last wished to withdraw the three divisions from Macedonia to the Aliakmon line; plans were drawn up and General Wilson agreed to provide fifty motor vehicles. But the King of Greece thought that the move would be ‘politically very difficult’. So on the night of 26 March the move was postponed.—British Historical Section, Cabinet Office.

2 See pp. 1312.