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When Greece was attacked by Italy on 28 October 1940, it did not request any assistance from Great Britain, for fear of giving Hitler an excuse for German intervention. Nevertheless, the British occupied Crete and Limnos three days later, thereby improving their strategic position in the eastern Mediterranean. Since Hitler believed that this move brought the Romanian oil fields within British bombing range, he decided to transfer additional antiaircraft, fighter, and fighter-bomber units to Romania to protect the German oil resources.
When the German threat began to take more definite shape during the winter of 1940 – 41, the Greek Government decided to accept the British offer to send air force units to northern Greece to strengthen the defense of Salonika. Early in March 1941, the British sent an expeditionary corps of some 53,000 troops into Greece in an attempt to support their allies against the impending German invasion.
However, before Germany could think of starting military operations in the Balkans, it had to secure its lines of communication. For this purpose it had to obtain firm political control over Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria, and to wrest some Important concessions and assurances from Turkey and Yugoslavia.
Chapter 2. Germany’s Satellites in the Balkans.
The strong German forces needed for the attack on Greece could be assembled in Romania only after the Hungarian Government had granted them free passage through that country. The first step in that direction was to obtain Hungary’s adherence to the Tripartite Pact. On 20 November Hungarian Premier Teleki signed the pact in Berchtesgaden, and Hitler mentioned on that occasion that he intended to assist the Italians in Greece, thus preparing the way for later demands he intended to make on Hungary.
During the second part of October 1940 General Antonescu made urgent requests to speed up the reinforcement of the German military mission in Romania. He explained these requests by pointing out the danger of a Russian attack on Romania. By mid-November the 13th Motorized Infantry Division (reinforced by the 4th Panzer Regiment), engineer and signal troops, six fighter and two reconnaissance squadrons, and some antiaircraft units had arrived in Romania. On the occasion of Romania’s adherence to the Tripartite Fact, which took place on 23 November, Hitler informed Antonescu of his plans against Greece. Romania would not be required to lend active assistance in the attack on Greece, but v/as to permit the assembly of German forces in its territory.
Meanwhile, the German Army General Staff had initiated the preparations for Operations MARITA and BARBAR0SSA and had drawn up the schedule for the concentration of forces and the plan of operation. On 5 December these plans were submitted to Hitler with the observation that it would not be possible to start MARITA before the snow had melted at the beginning of March. The completed plan would have to be drawn up by the middle of December since the assembly would require seventy-eight days. No definite estimate of the duration of the campaign could be given, but it would be safe to assume that it would last three to four weeks. Since redeployment of troops would require four additional weeks and their rehabilitation would add a further delays the units participating in the Balkan campaign would not be available for Operation BARBAROSSA before mid-May 1941.
Hitler believed that up to this time the threat of German retaliation had had the effect of preventing British air attacks on the Romanian oil fields from Greek territory and that probably no attacks would take place during the next months. Nevertheless, Germany would have to settle the Greek problem once and for all, unless Greece took the initiative to end the conflict with Italy and force the British to withdraw from its territory. In that event, German intervention would prove unnecessary since the issue of European hegemony would not be decided in Greece. The assembly of forces for Operation MARITA was therefore an absolute necessity and the preparations for the campaign had to be pushed so that the offensive could be launched by the beginning of March 1941.
In the meantime, late in December, the first attack echelon of the Twelfth Army, which was to be in charge of the ground forces during iteration MARITA, entrained for Romania. The heavy bridge equipment needed for crossing the Danube was shipped on the very first trains, so that it could be unloaded at the Danube wharfs by 3 January. The engineer units needed for the bridging operation had been transported to Romania during the second half of December, together with the 16th Panzer Division, They were to prepare the construction of bridges along the Danube as soon as the equipment arrived. Heavy snowfall disrupted the rail movement, and snowdrifts caused additional delays during January. Internal uprisings, which took place in Bucharest and other Romanian cities during the second half of January, were quickly suppressed by General Antonescu and therefore did not interfere with German preparations. By the end of January the Twelfth Army and First Panzer Group headquarters, three corps headquarters with corps and GHQ troops, and two panzer and two infantry divisions had arrived in Romania in full strength. In conformity with Bulgaria’s request, the two panzer divisions were stationed in and around Cernavoda in northern Dobrudja, while the two infantry divisions were assembled in the Craiova – Giurgiu area in southern Romania.