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Thread: Hitler’s Strategic Blunder: The Detour to Invade Yugoslavia in 1941

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    Hitler’s Strategic Blunder: The Detour to Invade Yugoslavia in 1941

    Yugoslav partisans

    Hitler's detour to invade Yugoslavia put him behind schedule for Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941.

    When 1941 began, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler was reaching the peak of his authority in Europe. Only Great Britain opposed him. Because he believed that country was too weak to be a direct threat, he felt free to shelve Operation Sealion, the invasion of England, and direct his attention east. On Dec. 18, 1940, he issued Directive No. 21, better known as Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union. The plan called for the invasion to commence on May 15, 1941. Instead, the invasion was launched six weeks later, on June 22 – a delay that ultimately proved fatal.

    There were two reasons for that delay. The more famous is Operation Marita, Germany’s invasion of Greece to rescue the failing Italian invasion of that country. Though Marita did have an impact on Barbarossa because of its use of armor, it was not as great as is generally assumed. In fact, Hitler had from the outset factored in German army assistance to Italy. As Barbarossa called for simultaneous attacks from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south, Hitler secured alliance treaties with Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria that in addition to letting him position troops for Barbarossa, allowed him to transport troops for Marita. Yugoslavia, though neutral, was an important holdout regarding the latter.

    It is Hitler’s diplomatic failure with Yugoslavia, which resulted in Operation 25 – the invasion of Yugoslavia on April 6, 1941 – that is less recognized for its impact on Barbarossa. Though a relatively small German army was deployed in Operation 25 and the subsequent Greek campaign, it contained a disproportionate number of tanks. As Ewald von Kleist, who would lead a panzer army in Barbarossa, later said, “The bulk of the tanks that came under me for the offensive against the Russian front in Southern Poland had taken part in the Balkan offensive, and needed overhaul, while their crews needed a rest.”



    German Pzkw III tanks in Yugoslavia. Hitler's insistence on an armored blitzkrieg meant that armored units were in poor materiel condition when they began Operation Barbarossa weeks later.

    So, why did Hitler reroute vital panzer units assigned to Barbarossa for a strategic sideshow instead of securing a diplomatic solution? The truth was, he had reached a diplomatic agreement with the Yugoslavian government – and it blew up in his face.

    At the time Yugoslavia was a monarchy ruled by the regent Prince Paul on behalf of the young King Peter II. Despite overwhelming popular support to remain neutral, with neighboring Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria already in the German camp, Prince Paul felt he could no longer hold out. A secret meeting between Hitler and the prince was held in Germany on March 4-5, 1941, and a deal was struck. On March 25, the Yugoslav premier and foreign minister secretly arrived in Vienna and signed the treaty.

    When Yugoslavia’s nonaggression treaty with Germany was announced the next day in the Yugoslav capital of Belgrade, Prince Paul and the government were promptly overthrown in a popular uprising led by a number of Yugoslav Air Force officers with the support of the Yugoslav Army. On March 27, King Peter II was officially installed as king, ending the regency.

    Hitler, meanwhile, was congratulating himself over his diplomatic victory with the Yugoslavs. Then, at five minutes before noon on the 27th, as he was readying himself to meet the Japanese foreign minister, he received a telegram from Belgrade informing him that the ministers who had signed the treaty had been jailed and a new government had been installed. At first Hitler thought the telegram was a joke. His disbelief quickly changed into what was later called “one of the wildest rages” of Hitler’s life.

    The meeting with the Japanese foreign minister was postponed. Hitler called for a conference with his top military leaders and Foreign Minister Joachim Ribbentrop – one ordered so hastily that some arrived late. Shouting that he had been “personally insulted,” Hitler demanded that Yugoslavia be crushed with “unmerciful harshness and that the military destruction be done in Blitzkrieg style.” As for Barbarossa, he announced: “The beginning of the Barbarossa operation will have to be postponed up to four weeks.” It was a passage underlined in the top-secret notes taken of the meeting.

    Historian William L. Shirer wrote, “This postponement of the attack on Russia in order that the Nazi warlord might vent his personal spite against a small Balkan country which had dared to defy him was probably the most catastrophic single decision in Hitler’s career.”
    Source http://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/hitlers-strategic-blunder/

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    Hitler would postpone his invasion on Russia anyway, becouse in april, terrain in Byelorussia and Ukraine was still muddy and would halt any rapid panzer offensive (german tanks drowning in mud etc.). June was perfect moment for Barbarossa becouse then summer began and terrain was solid enough for large motorised columns. Even on jewpedia they say late Barbarossa was better option for Germany (as most military experts).

    Hitler made mistake later when he dispersed forces too thinly and in effect didn't take Leningrad and Moscow.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Schattenjäger View Post
    Yeah that's all bullshit. Hitler would postpone his invasion on Russia anyway, becouse in april, terrain in Byelorussia and Ukraine was still muddy and would halt any rapid panzer offensive (german tanks drowning in mud etc.). June was perfect moment for Barbarossa becouse then summer began and terrain was solid enough for large motorised columns. Even on jewpedia they say late Barbarossa was better option for Germany (as most military experts).

    Hitler made mistake later when he dispersed forces too thinly and in effect didn't take Leningrad and Moscow.

    The Germans had very good information on Soviet economic activity. Hitler knew, for example, that the Soviets in 1941 were already out-producing the Germans in tanks, and they were either catching up, or surpassing the Germans in many other areas. Looking 5 years down the road, Hitler must have foreseen a power-stalemate with Russia. At worst, Hitler might've had to face an evenly-matched war of attrition which the Russians would probably win eventually, or, at best, a kind of cold war.


    Taking all of this into account, if Hitler wanted to be master of Europe, he had to hit Russia when he did, or else miss losing his last opportunity to do so. So, IMO, the decision to invade Russia was not stupid, the decision to try to dominate Europe was.


    I agree, the invasion ultimately fails IMO because of Hitler's meddling in how it was carried out. The Germans should have gone straight for Moscow and they should have bypassed Stalingrad.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Hersir
    The Germans should have gone straight for Moscow and they should have bypassed Stalingrad.
    IMO, this is correct. Stalingrad was of course a major error.
    Between the devil and the deep blue sea.

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    Taking down Moscow wouldn't change much for the partisan fighting style of the soviets. Taking Stalingrad was far more important as for it's position relative to the Russian oil reserve position.
    Fighting in Yugoslavia lasted the whole war and it did make a lot of damage to the initial plans as it did cost a lot of troops and materiel.

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    Didn't Mussolini's ill-fated invasion of Greece delay Barbarossa? The Germans had to go and bail him out didn't they, diverting troops into the Balkans, and the resistance of the Greeks lasted for some time even after German intervention (April '41).

    I can't help feeling that Germany would have fared better without Italy as an ally at all!!!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Godwinson View Post
    I can't help feeling that Germany would have fared better without Italy as an ally at all!!!
    Both Italy and Japan caused problems to Germany that eventually led to it's demise. First it's Italy's bad campaign in Africa, then it's Japanese assault on Perl Harbor with the most stupid decision to retreat after the attack and not finish off and occupy Hawaii.
    So if Italians lead a good campaign in Africa, Germany would have more power for Barbarossa. And also if Japan managed to occupy Hawaii, blow the Panama canal and start attacks on US mainland it would render US role in Europe impossible and so the Red Army would meet it's demise.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Hersir View Post
    The Germans had very good information on Soviet economic activity. Hitler knew, for example, that the Soviets in 1941 were already out-producing the Germans in tanks, and they were either catching up, or surpassing the Germans in many other areas. Looking 5 years down the road, Hitler must have foreseen a power-stalemate with Russia.
    Perhaps, but the invasion of the USSR could've been postphoned for one year. In the meantime the Germans should've strengthened their position in the Middle East and occupied themselves with influencing Turkey.

    Russia's position would've improved by may 1942 as well, of course - but I think taking that risk would have been worth it. Imagine the Baku oil fields being in German hands by july 1941, something they never achieved in four years of war with the USSR. It changes the whole picture.

    I agree, the invasion ultimately fails IMO because of Hitler's meddling in how it was carried out. The Germans should have gone straight for Moscow and they should have bypassed Stalingrad.
    Victory could only have been achieved by undermining the willpower of the Russian leadership, the military effort would never have sufficed, in contrast with Fall Gelb. However, Stalin tried to broker a peace with the Germans as early as july 1941, he lost his nerve ... and Germany could've achieved a sizable victory by making a deal with the Russians, somewhere between july and november 1941.

    Attacking the USSR along three different routes was not the best option. One major attack in the direction of Moscow and a minor action in the Ukraine made more sense - while forgetting about Leningrad. And if Operation Barbarossa would've been postphoned to 1942, another minor attack in the Caucasus could've supported the main assault force advancing on Moscow a great deal.

    However, the problem Germany faced at Stalingrad in 1942 would've occured anyway, around Moscow or anywhere else where the Germans sought to concentrate forces for a decisive battle. The Soviets held a numerical superiority, and the Wehrmacht's flank's were destined to be vulnerable if the Germans wanted to attack in a particular direction - and this problem could only grow in scope after the initial surprise of Operation Barbarossa wore off ...

    I don't doubt the Germans and their allies could've captured Moscow temporarily, but then this city would've played Stalingrad's role, if the Germans didn't utilize their conquest of Moscow during peace negotiations.

    Although there's always the possibility of Red Army soldiers surrendering throughout the war on the same levels as in june-september 1941, if Hitler would've been more tactful with the local Slav population, that should've brought Stalin to his knees as well.
    “Remember that all worlds draw to an end and that noble death is a treasure which no-one is too poor to buy.” - C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle

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    Hitler and/or his Generals made a lot of mistakes. Not capturing or wiping out the BEF on the beaches of Dunkirk instead of letting them escape, diverting the bombing of RAF airfields to the cities during the Battle of Britain allowed the Brits to reorganize their Air Force which was on the brink of non existence.

    As already mentioned Italian allies (they were reluctant soldiers) and the Japanese advancing to quickly for their supply lines and then attacking the sleeping giant (U.S.A) without invading Hawaii didn't help us at all.
    I grew up on a belief of honour, courage and the old world values. The world isn't about that anymore, preferring to die a slow death of fast food and cheap thrills.

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    No doubt Germany's invasion of Russia could have taken a favorable turn if he had started Barbarossa a month earlier, and I don't think scrapping the invasion of the Red Beast would have benefited Germany at all as, stated earlier, implications of Cold War and quagmire battles were likely to result. War with the Bolsheviks was inevitable.

    I'm still convinced however, Germany in WWII, like WWI with the Austro-Hungarians, was shackled to a corpse, that corpse this time being Italy.
    That, I believe was his biggest blunder. Never-mind any ill-fated battle.

    The roots go down to an overrating of Fascism. Blind to all disillusioning experiences of the First World War, Hitler seemed convinced, at least until 1943, that the will of Mussolini had made over the Italian people, had lifted them to a new level.” – Alfred Rosenberg

    What have we learned? Germanics are at battle with eachother while Deutschland placed it's trust in the hands of fickle Romans. Thus, a Pan-Germanic Union should be in order so a crisis as such could be averted

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