Research on the German Armed Forces 1918-1945
The Invasion and Battle for Yugoslavia
The Luftwaffe opened the assault on Yugoslavia by conducting a saturation-type-bombing raid on the capital in the early morning hours of 6 April. Flying in relays from airfields in Austria and Romania, 150 bombers and dive-bombers protected by a heavy fighter escort participated in the attack. The initial raid was carried out at fifteen-minute intervals in three distinct waves, each lasting for approximately twenty minutes. Thus, the city was subjected to a rain of bombs for almost one-and-a-half hours. The German bombardiers directed their main effort against the center of the city, where the principal government buildings were located.
The weak Yugoslav Air Force and the inadequate flak defenses were quickly wiped out by the first wave, permitting the dive-bombers to come down to roof-top levels. Against the loss of but two German fighters, twenty Yugoslav planes were shot down and forty-four were destroyed on the ground. When the attack was over, more than 17,000 inhabitants lay dead under the debris. This devastating blow virtually destroyed all means of communication between the Yugoslav high command and the forces in the field. Although some elements of the general staff managed to escape to one of the suburbs, coordination and control of the military operations in the field were rendered impossible from the outset.
Having thus delivered the knockout blow to the enemy nerve center, the VIII.Armeekorps was able to devote its maximum effort to such targets of opportunity as Yugoslav airfields, routes of communication, and troop concentrations, and to the close support of German ground operations.
The Drive toward the Yugoslav Capital
Three separate ground forces converged on Belgrade from different directions. They were launched as follows.
Early in the morning of 8 April, the 1.Panzergrupp jumped off from its assembly area northwest of Sofiya. Crossing the frontier near Pirot, the XIV.Panzer-Korps, spearheaded by the 11.Panzer-Division, followed by the 5.Panzer-Divison, 294.Infantry-Division, and 4.Gebrigs-Divisions, advanced in a northwesterly direction toward Nis. Despite unfavorable weather, numerous road blocks, and tough resistance by the Yugoslav 5.Armee, the 11.Panzer-Division, effectively supported by strong artillery and Luftwaffe forces, quickly gained ground and broke through the enemy lines on the first day of the attack. The Yugoslav army commander ordered his forces to withdraw behind the Morava. This maneuver could not be executed in time because, as early as 9 April, the German lead tanks rumbled into Nis and immediately continued their drive toward Belgrade. From Nis northwestward the terrain became more favorable since the armored columns could follow the Morava valley all the way to the Yugoslav capital.
South of Paracin and southwest of Kragujevac, the Yugoslav 5.Armee units attempted to stem the tide of the advance but were quickly routed after some heavy fighting. More than 5,000 prisoners were taken in this one encounter.
Meanwhile, the 5.Panzer-Division became temporarily stalled along the poor roads near Pirot. After the division got rolling again, it was ordered to turn southward just below Nis and cut off the enemy forces around Leskovac. When it became apparent that the Nis front was about to collapse, the 5.Panzer-Division reverted to the direct control of Twelfth Army and joined the XL.Panzer-Korps for the Greek campaign.
On 10 April the XIV.Panzer-Korps forces were swiftly advancing through the Morava Valley in close pursuit of enemy units retreating toward their capital. On the next day the German spearheads suddenly drove into the southern wing of the withdrawing Yugoslav 6.Armee, which they overran during the early hours of 12 April. By the evening of that day the 1.Panzergrupp tanks stood less than forty miles southeast of Belgrade. The two Yugoslav armies they had encountered were in such a state of confusion that they were no longer able to make any serious attempt to delay the German thrust or cut the German lines of communications. These communication lines were extended over a distance of roughly 125 miles from the point of entry into Yugoslav territory.
Timed to coincide with the armored thrust of the XIV.Panzer-Korps from the southeast, the XLI.Panzer-Korps drive led across the southeastern part of the Banat and toward the Yugoslav capital. This attack was spearheaded by the Infantrie-Regiment (mot) "Gross Deutschland" closely followed by the 2.SS-Infantrie-Division. After crossing the frontier north of Vrsac, advance elements entered Pancevo on 11 April. Having meanwhile advanced to within about forty-five miles north of Belgrade, the main body of XLI.Panzer-Korps met with only isolated resistance on the following day as it rolled toward the enemy capital.
When the Luftwaffe launched its attacks on 6 April, the German 2.Armee was just beginning to assemble its attack forces along the northern Yugoslav frontier preparatory to its projected jump on 10 April. In an effort to improve their lines of departure, some of the 2.Armee units took advantage of the interim period by launching limited-objective attacks all along the frontier zone. The troop commanders had to keep their forces in check to prevent major engagements from developing prematurely, which might subsequently have impaired the army's freedom of action and jeopardize the conduct of operations.
The Army High Command was determined to seize intact the principal bridges in the XLVI.Panzer-Korps zone. Therefore, as early as 1 April, corps elements were ordered to capture the bridge at Bares and the railroad bridge about ten miles northeast of Koprivoica by a coup de Ann.
By early evening of 6 April, the lack of enemy resistance and the overall situation seemed to indicate that the Yugoslavs would not make a concerted stand along the border. The XLVI.Panzer-Korps was therefore ordered to establish bridgeheads across the Mura and Drava at Mursko Sredisce, Letenye, Zakany, and Barcs. The few local attacks carried out by the corps sufficed to create dissension in the enemy ranks. There was a high percentage of Croats in the Yugoslav Fourth Army units that were responsible for the defense of this area. Croat soldiers mutinied at several points of the Drava salient, refusing to resist the Germans whom they considered as their liberators from Serbian oppression. When strong German forces crossed the Drava bridge at Bares on the morning of 10 April and broke out of the previously established bridgeheads, the disintegration of the opposing Yugoslav forces had reached an advanced stage. Supported by strong air forces, the 8.Panzer-Division, followed by the 16.Infantry-Division (mot), launched the XLVI.Panzer-Korps thrust to Belgrade by driving southeastward between the Drava and Sava Rivers. By the evening of 10 April forward elements of the 8.Panzer-Division, having met with virtually no resistance, reached Slating despite poor roads and unfavorable weather. Enemy pockets were quickly destroyed and the division drove on in the direction of the capital via Osijok, where the roads became even worse.
That the plight of the enemy was becoming more and more desperate could be gathered from the following appeal that General Simovic broadcast to his troops: "All troops must engage the enemy wherever encountered and with every means at their disposal. Don't wait for direct orders from above but act on your own and be guided by your judgment, initiative, and conscience."
On 11 April the 8.Panzer-Division reached the Osijek region, while the 16.Infantry-Division farther back was advancing beyond Nasice. Numerous bridge demolitions and poor roads retarded the progress of both divisions, whose mission it was to attack the rear of the Yugoslav forces that faced XIV.Panzer-Korps, and to establish early contact with the 1.Panzergruppe.
At 02:30 on 12 April, the 8.Panzer-Division entered Mitrovica after two vital bridges across the Sava had been captured intact. The division continued its thrust with the main body advancing toward Lazarevac, about twenty miles south of Belgrade, which was the designated link-up point with 1.Panzergruppe.
On the afternoon of 12 April, the XLVI.Panzer-Korps received new orders. According to these, only elements of the 8.Panzer-Division were to continue their eastward drive to seize and secure the Sava bridge near the western outskirts of Belgrade. At 18:30 the main body of the division turned southeastward and moved in the direction of Valjevo to establish contact with the left wing of 1.Panzer-Gruppe southwest of Belgrade. Simultaneously, the 16.Infantry-Division (mot), which had been trailing behind the 8.Panzer-Division, turned southward, crossed the Sava, and advanced toward Zvornik. Thus both divisions were diverted from their original objective, Belgrade, in order to participate in the subsequent drive on Sarajevo.
Meanwhile, both the 2.Armee and the Army High Command were anxiously awaiting news of the fall of Belgrade. Of the three converging armored forces, XLI.Panzer-Korps was last reported closest to the capital, having reached Pancevo on the east bank of the Danube about ten miles east of the city. South of Belgrade resistance stiffened as the 11th Panzer Division, spearheading the 1.Panzergruppe forces, neared the capital.
The Fall of Belgrade
Since three separate attack forces were converging on Belgrade simultaneously, the Army High Command was not immediately able to determine which force was the first to reach the enemy capital. Toward early evening of 12 April, SS-Obersturmf¨hrer Klingenberg of the 2.SS-Infantry-Division (mot), finding all Danube bridges destroyed, took an SS patrol across the river in captured pneumatic rafts. The patrol entered the city unmolested, and at 17:00 hoisted the Nazi flag atop the German legation. About two hours later the mayor of Belgrade officially handed over the city to Klingenberg who was accompanied by a representative of the German Foreign Minister, previously interned by the Yugoslavs.
At 2.Armee headquarters, no word from the 8.Panzer-Division elements, which were last reported approaching the western outskirts of Belgrade, had been received for twenty-four hours. Finally, at 11:52 on 13 April the following radio message came through from the operations officer of the division: "During the night the 8.Panzer-Division drove into Belgrade, occupied the center of the city, and hoisted the Swastika flag."
However, since better communications had existed between 2.Armee and 1.Panzergruppe, the following report was received shortly before the 8.Panzer-Division message came in: "Panzergruppe von Kleist" has taken Belgrade from the south. Patrols of Infantrie-Regiment "Gross Deutschland" have entered the city from the north. With General von Kleist at the head, the 11.Panzer-Division has been rolling into the capital since 06:32."
Thus the race for Belgrade ended in a close finish with all three forces reaching their objective almost simultaneously. With the fall of the city, the First Panzer Group was transferred from the Twelfth to the Second Army. The XLVI Panzer Corps was placed under the direct command of the panzer group for the next phase of the operation - the pursuit and final destruction of the remnants of the Yugoslav Army.
Before and during the main drive on Belgrade a series of secondary attacks and small unit actions took place across the Austrian-Yugoslav frontier, where the terrain was unsuitable for motorized units. The following actions were of particular significance:
The "Fürzauber" Attacks:
Under the code designation "Feurzauber," units composed of cadre personnel and recently inducted trainees were organized into several waves of special assault troops. The elements comprising the first wave consisted of four battalion staffs commanding nine rifle companies, two mountain artillery batteries, one self-propelled medium artillery battery, two mountain engineer platoons, four antitank companies, and three signal and four bicycle platoons. Additional waves were subsequently formed, involving altogether about two-thirds of a mountain training division plus some attached specialist troops.
Originally these units were merely to reinforce the frontier guards and cover the gradually assembling Second Army forces along the southern border of Carinthia and Styria. This purely defensive mission, however, did not satisfy the aggressive commanders of the special assault units. Between 6 and 10 April, they took upon themselves to conduct numerous raids deep into enemy-held territory and to seize and hold many strong points along the border, thereby contributing to the rapid success of the offensive proper.
The first wave of assault units moved south from Graz in the direction of the Yugoslav border on 27 March. One of them, designated "Force Palten" after the captain in command, was assembled near Spielfeld during the first days of April. Its original mission was to secure the frontier and the vital bridge across the Mura near Spielfeld. However, on the evening of 5 April the force started to attack bunkers and enemy-held high ground across the frontier. By the morning of 6 April several hills had been taken, and scouting patrols probing deep into the bunker line south of Spielfeld made contact with the enemy. They determined the enemy's strength and disposition in the outpost area, and then broke contact. Most of the high ground remained in German hands as the enemy failed to counterattack. Then, toward 16:00, mountain engineers destroyed isolated enemy bunkers without any preparatory artillery fire.
On 8 April, Captain Palten decided to personally lead a group of his raiders toward Maribor. He undertook this mission against orders from higher headquarters and despite the fact that virtually all bridges along the route of advance had been blown. Since there was hardly any enemy interference, troops and equipment could be ferried across the Pesnica stream on pneumatic rafts. The vehicles had to be left behind, and the men were forced to carry their equipment the rest of the way.
After forming raiding parties on the south bank of the stream, Captain Palten continued to move southward. During the evening he entered Maribor at the head of his force and occupied the town without opposition. Much to their disappointment, the raiders were ordered to withdraw to the Spielfeld area, where they had to sit out the remainder of the Yugoslav campaign performing guard duty at the border. Losses incurred by Force Palten were one killed and two wounded, while they captured more than 100 prisoners and much booty.
On 6 April the LI Corps crossed the Yugoslav border at Murk and Radkersburg and seized both bridges across the Drava intact. During these probing attacks the 132d Infantry Division occupied the Sejanska stream and the 183d Infantry Division took 300 prisoners. A bicycle detachment of the latter entered Murska Sobota without encountering resistance. Since the Yugoslavs were giving ground all along the line, the corps wanted to exploit the situation. The Second Army, however, felt compelled to order both divisions to hold in place and consolidate their newly won bridgeheads. The two divisions would have to wait until their remaining elements had detrained in the assembly areas.
During the following three days the LI Corps expanded its bridgeheads, the 132d Infantry Division occupying Maribor and the 183d probing beyond Murska Sobota. Air reconnaissance reports indicated that the Yugoslav Seventh Army forces employed in this sector were withdrawing southward along the narrow mountain roads leading to Zagreb. Apparently only a thin security screen had been left in place to maintain contact with the German forces in the bridgeheads.
The Second Army thereupon ordered LI Corps to form flying columns composed of motorized elements and pursue the retreating Yugoslav forces in the direction of Zagreb. On 10 April cold winds and intermittent snowstorms hampered the movements of the advancing Germans, and floodwaters interrupted the crossings at Maribor during the day. After regrouping its forces south of the Drava the LI Corps resumed its advance toward Zagreb at 06:00 on 11 April. Plodding through difficult terrain during the afternoon, forward elements reached the southern exit of the mountain range northwest of the city by evening. A bicycle troop of the 183d Division wheeling eastward had, meanwhile, taken Varazdin, where it captured a Serb brigade, including its commanding general.
XLIX Mountain Corps:
On 6 April, while the 1st Mountain Division was still on the approach march, the 538th Frontier Guard Division, stationed along the northwestern part of the Slovenian border, succeeded in seizing important mountain passes, hills, and tunnels in Yugoslav territory. During the night of 9-10 April the combat elements of the 1st Mountain Division, which had detrained only a few hours earlier, began to cross the frontier near Bleiburg. Advancing in the general direction of Celje the division spearheads stood about twelve miles northwest of the town by nightfall. After exhausting marches and some hard fighting the 1st Mountain Division took Celje on 11 April. Emissaries of the newly formed Slovenian Government asked the corps commander for a cease-fire. In anticipation of just such developments, Hitler had previously authorized field commanders to accept the surrender of individual units.
Early on the morning of 10 April, with dive-bombers clearing the route of advance, the 14.Panzer-Division of XLVI.Panzer-Korps, split into two armored forces, broke out of the Drava bridgehead and advanced southwestward toward Zagreb, the state capital of Croatia. This attack preceded the XLVI.Panzer.Korps main attack toward Belgrade and was intended as a diversion.
Although large enemy concentrations had been spotted in front of the division, air reconnaissance revealed that these forces were rapidly withdrawing westward toward Zagreb. Though fierce at first, enemy resistance soon crumbled as German tanks came closer to their objective. However, extremely cold weather and snow-covered roads hampered progress to some degree. By 1930 on 10 April the lead tanks of the 14.Panzer-Division reached the outskirts of Zagreb, after having covered a distance of almost 100 miles in one day.
In some instances Croat troops refused to fight, abandoned their weapons, deserted their positions, and either surrendered or simply went home. One German regiment surprised an enemy unit which was still in garrison and not yet fully mobilized. A regimental officers' party just in progress was interrupted only long enough to consummate a quick surrender, whereupon the festivities continued as though nothing unusual had happened.
So rapid was the advance of the division that its radio communications with corps and army were temporarily interrupted. Reconnaissance aircraft had to be dispatched to ascertain its exact location and chart its progress. When the 14.Panzer Division entered Zagreb from the northeast, a wildly cheering pro-German populace welcomed it. During the drive on the city more than 15,000 prisoners were taken. Among the 300 officers were twenty-two generals, including the commanders of First Army Group and Seventh Army.
On 11 April the newly formed Croatian Government called on its nationals to cease fighting and requested that the Yugoslav Army immediately release them. During the evening hours the first LI Corps elements entered Zagreb from the north and relieved the 14.Panzer-Division.
Italian and Hungarian Operations
The favorable course of the military events along its front led the German Second Army to offer its assistance to the Italian Second Army assembling along Yugoslavia's western border. On the early morning of 11 April the Germans were informed that the Italian V, VI, and XI Corps would be ready to attack toward 1200. To speed up the Italian advance and consummate the encirclement of the Yugoslav Seventh Army forces in the Ljubljana Basin, the German XLIX.Gebrigs.Korps was to conduct the diversionary attacks in the north while 14.Panzer-Division forces were to cut the enemy's route of withdrawal. As a preparatory step the German Fourth Air Force attacked Yugoslav columns and troop concentrations in the Ljubljana area. When the Italian forces finally jumped off, they encountered little resistance from the Yugoslavs, who were attempting to withdraw southeastward. A great number of prisoners and much booty were captured as entire divisions surrendered. About 30,000 Yugoslav troops concentrated near Delnice were waiting to surrender to the Italians who were moving southeastward in the direction of the Dalmatian coast.
On 12 April elements of the 14.Panzer-Division linked up with the Italians at Vrbovsk. The line Novo Mesto-Slunj-Bihac-Livno was designated as the boundary between the German and Italian Second Armies south of the Sava. Occupation of the territory west of this line was assigned to the Italians. However, for the time being the German units on the extreme right wing of XLIX.Gebrigs.Korps were authorized to operate in the Italian zone.
Upon moving its command post to Maribor on 11 April, the German Second Army headquarters received a message from the Hungarian Third Army by which it was notified that Hungarian troops were crossing the Yugoslav frontier north of Osijek and near Subotica. On the next day the Hungarians pursued the retreating Yugoslav First Army and occupied the area between the Danube and Tisza Rivers, meeting virtually no resistance.
The Final Drive on Sarajevo
After the collapse of the border defense system and the fall of Belgrade the Yugoslav Army leaders had hoped to withdraw to the mountain redoubt in the interior of Serbia, where they intended to offer prolonged resistance. Fully aware of the Yugoslav intentions, General von Weichs, the Second Army commander, decided to launch and maintain a vigorous pursuit of the enemy forces withdrawing in the general direction of Sarajevo. Speed was now of the essence since the German Army High Command intended to pull out and redeploy as soon as practicable the motorized and armored divisions that had to be refitted for the Russian campaign.
As early as 12 April both the XLIX.Armeekorps and LI.Armeekorps had closed up and regrouped their forces along the Sava River. Sarajevo, located in the heart of Yugoslavia, was to be the focal point upon which the German forces were to converge. Accordingly, Second Army reorganized its forces into two separate pursuit groups. Under the command of the recently arrived LII Infantry Corps headquarters, the western group consisted of four infantry divisions under the XLIX.Korps and LI.Korps as well as the 14.Panzer-Division, the formation that was to spearhead the drive on Sarajevo from the west. The eastern pursuit force, under the command of the First Panzer Group, was composed of six divisions, with the 8.Panzer-Division leading the drive toward Sarajevo from the east. The Fourth Air Force, continuing to operate in support of the ground operations, was ordered to neutralize the anticipated enemy troop concentrations in the Mostar-Sarajevo sector.
On the afternoon of 13 April 2.Armee moved its command post to Zagreb to facilitate communication with the two pursuit groups and direct the mopping-up phase of the campaign from this central location. The boundary between the German 2.Armee and 12.Armee was the line extending laterally across Yugoslavia from Sofiya via Prizren up to and along the northern border of Albania.
By the evening of 13 April there was no longer any semblance of enemy resistance in front of XLIX.Armeekorps and LI.Armeekorps. The main body of the German forces reached the Kupa River and some elements were quickly put across. The 14.Panzer-Division, meanwhile, sped southeastward toward Sarajevo. As the division approached its objective, reports began to circulate that open hostilities had broken out between Serbs and Croats in Mostar. German planes were quickly diverted to this area where they blasted Serb troop concentrations for three hours. By 14 April the fighting between the Serb and Croat factions had gained momentum and had spread throughout Dalmatia. On that day the 14.Panzer-Division reached Jajce, approximately fifty miles northwest of Sarajevo, while forward elements of the LI.Korps, attempting to keep up with the armor, arrived at the Una after strenuous marches and established several bridgeheads across the stream.
In the zone of the eastern group, one armored division combed out the sector south of Belgrade, while two infantry divisions cleared the industrial region in and around Nis. The 8.Panzer-Division led the way southwestward toward Sarajevo, closely followed by two motorized infantry divisions which were driving hard toward the heart of Yugoslavia, one via Zvornik, the other from Uzice. Among the vast amount of booty were seventy-five enemy aircraft still intact on the ground. During the operations on 14 and 15 April, prisoners were taken by the thousands. North of Nis the Germans captured 7,000; in and around Uzice, 40,000; around Zvornik 30,000 more; and in Doboj another 6,000.
On 15 April both pursuit groups of Second Army closed in on Sarajevo. As two panzer divisions entered the city simultaneously from. west and east, the Yugoslav Second Army, whose headquarters was in Sarajevo, capitulated. Leaving only security detachments in the city to await the arrival of the infantry forces, both divisions continued to race southward in close pursuit of fleeing enemy remnants.
In view of the hopelessness of the situation, the Yugoslav command decided to ask for an armistice and authorized the commanders of the various army groups and armies to dispatch truce negotiators to the German command post within their respective sectors. However, those from Yugoslav Second and Fifth Armies who asked for separate cease-fire agreements on 14 April were turned back by the German commanders because by that time only the unconditional surrender of the entire Yugoslav Army could be considered as a basis for negotiations.
Late on the evening of 14 April, a representative of the Yugoslav Government approached the 1.Panzergruppe headquarters and asked General van Kleist for an immediate cease-fire. When the Army High Command was advised of this turn of events, it designated the 2.Armee commander, General von Weichs, to conduct the negotiations in Belgrade.
During the afternoon of the following day von Weichs and his staff arrived in Belgrade and drew up the German conditions for an armistice based on the unconditional surrender of all Yugoslav forces. The next day a Yugoslav emissary arrived in the capital, but it turned out that he did not have sufficient authority to negotiate or sign the surrender. Therefore, a draft of the agreement was handed to him with the request that competent plenipotentiaries be sent to Belgrade without delay in order to avoid unnecessary bloodshed. To expedite matters, a plane was placed at his disposal.
The armistice was concluded and signed on 17 April. (General von Weichs) signed for the Germans, with the Italian military attache in Belgrade acting on behalf of his country. A Hungarian liaison officer who, however, did not sign the document since Hungary was technically "not at war with Yugoslavia." Foreign Minister Cincar-Marcovic and General Milojko Yankovic signed for the Yugoslavs. The armistice became effective at 12:00 on 18 April 1941, twelve days after the initial German attack was launched.
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