Balkans Campaign (World War II)
|Part of Mediterranean and Middle East Theatre of the Second World War|
German paratroopers on Crete in 1941
|Commanders and leaders|
| Wilhelm List
Maximilian von Weichs
| Milorad Petrović
Henry Maitland Wilson
The Balkans Campaign was the invasion of Greece and Yugoslavia by the Axis powers during World War II. It began with Italy's failed invasion of Greece on 28 October 1940 and ended with the capture of Crete by German and Italian forces on 1 June 1941.
Prelude — Italian invasion of Albania 
In 1919, Albania's territorial integrity was confirmed at the Paris Peace Conference after United States President Woodrow Wilson opposed a plan by the European powers to divide Albania amongst its neighbors. There were attempted backroom negotiations that ultimately failed.
However, after 1925, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini sought to dominate Albania.
On 7 April 1939, Mussolini's troops occupied Albania, overthrew Zog, and annexed the country to the Italian Empire.
Greco-Italian War 
The Greco-Italian War lasted from 28 October 1940 to 30 April 1941 and was part of World War II. Italian forces invaded Greece and made limited gains. But soon the Greeks counter-attacked and the Italians were repulsed and driven back into Albania. The Italians spent much of the winter stabilizing a line which left them in control of only about two-thirds of Albania. A much anticipated Italian offensive in March 1941 failed to make sufficient progress. Germany intervened in April and invaded Greece after a successful invasion of Yugoslavia.
Directive n. 25 
The Invasion of Yugoslavia (also known as Operation 25) began on 6 April 1941 and ended with the unconditional surrender of the Royal Yugoslav Army on 17 April. The invading Axis powers (Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Hungary, and Bulgaria) occupied and dismembered the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. By cobbling together Bosnia and Herzegovina, some parts of Croatia, and Syrmia, the "Independent State of Croatia" (Nezavisna Država Hrvatska, NDH) was created by Germany and Italy. In some of the territory of the former Kingdom of Serbia and the Banat, the German-occupied Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia, the Germans appointed a puppet government, the Government of National Salvation led by Milan Nedić. In Montenegro, a puppet "Independent State of Montenegro" was created as an Italian protectorate. However, the "protectorate" was nominally a kingdom even though Prince Michael of Montenegro never accepted the crown.
Operation Marita 
Hitler began planning to invade Greece in November 1940, after the British occupied Crete and Lemnos. He ordered the German Invasion of Greece — code-named Unternehmen Marita (Operation Marita) by Germany — on December 13, 1940 for execution in March 1941. The stated aim of the operation was to prevent the British from getting air bases within striking range of the Romanian oilfields. On April 6, 1941, the German Army invaded northern Greece, while other elements launched an attack against Yugoslavia. Breaking through the Yugoslav lines in southern Yugoslavia allowed Germany to send reinforcements to the battlefields of northern Greece. The German army out-flanked the Greek Metaxas Line fortifications and, despite the assistance provided by a British expeditionary corps, set out to capture the southern Greek cities. The Battle of Greece ended with the German entry into Athens and the capture of the Peloponnese, although about 40,000 Allied soldiers were evacuated to Crete, prompting one of the largest airborne attacks in the history of warfare: Operation Merkur, or the Battle of Crete.
Bulgarian participation in the occupation of Greece and Yugoslavia 
On April 6, 1941, despite having officially joined the Axis Powers, the Bulgarian government did not participate in the invasion of Yugoslavia and the Battle of Greece. As German, Italian, and Hungarian troops crushed Yugoslavia and Greece, the Bulgarians remained on the side-lines. The Yugoslav government surrendered on April 17. The Greek government was to hold out until April 30. On April 20, the Bulgarian Army occupied most of Western Thrace and the Greek province of Eastern Macedonia, which had been already conquered by Germany, with the goal of restoring its pre-World War I outlet to the Aegean Sea. Bulgarian troops also occupied and much of eastern Serbia, where the so-called Vardar Banovina was divided between Bulgaria and the Italians.
Operation Merkur 
On May 20, 1941, German paratroopers were dropped over the airfields of northern Crete to occupy the island. They were met by heavy resistance from Allied forces and the local Cretan population but eventually the defenders were overwhelmed by the tactically superior German forces. The British Government ordered an evacuation on May 27 and the remaining forces surrendered on June 1. However, the heavy losses incurred by the paratroopers forced the Supreme Command of the Wehrmacht to abandon large-scale airborne operations for the remainder of the war.
By June 1, 1941, all of Albania, Yugoslavia and Greece were under Axis control. Greece was placed under triple occupation, and Yugoslavia was dissolved and occupied. Germany had gained a significant strategic advantage: direct access to the Mediterranean. The Allied High Command feared that Crete and Greece would be used as "springboard" for an invasion of British Egypt or Cyprus. However, any plans for a large-scale invasion of Egypt and Palestine were abandoned when Operation Barbarossa commenced on June 22. The effect of the Balkans Campaign on the outcome of Operation Barbarossa is still debated to this day.
The Resistance 
Throughout the remainder of the war, active Yugoslav, Greek, and Albanian resistance movements forced Germany and its allies to garrison hundreds of thousands of soldiers permanently in the three countries, denying them to the other fronts. Especially in Yugoslavia after 1943, the threat of an Allied invasion and the activities of the partisans necessitated large-scale counter-insurgency operations, involving several divisions, including elite Mountain Infantry (Gebirgsjäger) units.
The Dodecanese campaign 
A brief flare-up occurred after the Italian surrender in 1943, when a race developed between the British and the Germans to secure the Italian-occupied and strategically important Dodecanese Islands. The Germans quickly succeeded in disarming the Italian garrison of Rhodes, but the British were successful in occupying the islands of Samos, Leros and Kos. However, the Germans were quickly able to launch aerial and naval attacks, and, using special forces, to occupy the islands.
End of the occupation and post war consequences 
German troops took over Italian held territory in the Balkans when Italy capitulated in September 1943. The Germans retreated from Albania and Greece in 1944. Yugoslavia was fully liberated at the end of the war in 1945. In Greece, rival factions of the resistance fought a civil war after the German departure. In Albania and Yugoslavia, the Communist resistance forces took power after the war.
See also 
Further reading 
- The German campaigns in the Balkans (Spring 1941). Historical Study. United States Army Center of Military History. 1986 . CMH Pub 104-4.
- Hubatsch, Walther. Hitlers Weisungen fuer die Kriegfuehrung 1939-1945, Weisung Nr. 20, 2nd Edition, Bernard & Graefe Verlag, 1983
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Balkans Campaign (World War II)|
- The Fate of the Jews in South-Eastern Europe During the First Years of the War on the Yad Vashem website
- Summaries 
- Timeline of the Balkans Campaign
- World War Two Online Newspaper Archives — The Invasion of the Balkans: Yugoslavia, Greece and Crete, 1940-1941
- World War II in the Balkans