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Meanwhile, the Luftwaffe was to assist the Italians in stabilizing the precarious situation on the Albanian front. This was to be accomplished by airlifting approximately 30,000 Italian troops and great quantities of equipment and supplies from the Italian mainland to Albania.
Even though Hitler had decided to attack Greece, he wanted to tread softly in the Balkans so as not to expand the conflict during the winter. If Turkey entered into the war against Germany, the chances for a successful invasion of Russia would diminish because of the diversion of forces such a new conflict would involve. Moreover, at the beginning of December 1940 the British launched on offensive from Egypt and drove the Italians back to the west. Toward the end of the month the situation of the Italians in Libya grew: more and more critical. By January 19A1 their forces in North Africa were in imminent danger of being completely annihilated. If that happened, Italy with its indefensible coast line would be exposed to an enemy invasion. To avoid such disastrous developments, German air units under the command of X Air Corps were transferred to Sicily, and the movement of German Army elements to Tripoli via Italy was begun immediately. In February the first small contingents of German ground troops arrived in North Africa, and the critical situation was soon alleviated, The first German troops to arrive were elements of a panzer division under the command of General Erwin Rommel. Hitler ordered these forces to protect Tripoli by a series of limited-objective attacks thus relieving the pressure on the Italian troops. The political objective of this military intervention was to prevent Italy’s internal collapse which would almost certainly result from the loss of her African possessions.
Following the conclusion of the Russo-German alliance in August 1939, Hitler’s policy was to try to divert Russian expansionist ambitions. He wanted to interest the Soviet rulers in a southeastward drive to the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea. However, there were many indications that the Russians were more interested in the Dardanelles and the Danube delta, where their political and military aspirations clashed with German economic interests. Hitler felt that the Soviet Union would take advantage of the diversion of strong German forces into distant Mediterranean areas by exerting political pressure on some of the Balkan countries.
After having forced Romania to cede Bessarabia and northern Bukovina in June 1940, the Soviet Union established itself at the mouth of the Danube, Germany’s principal supply line from the east, and intensified its political activities in the Balkans, particularly in Bulgaria. By the autumn of 1940 Russo-German relations had deteriorated considerably as the result of the Vienna Award, the presence of the German military mission in Romania, and the question of threatened Soviet domination of the Danube.
These problems, as well as the entire question of the future relationship between Germany and the Soviet Union, were to be the subject of discussions between Molotov and the German political leaders during the former’s visit to Berlin on 12 – 13 November 1940. All areas of disagreement were to be covered during these discussions and, if possible, the foundations for a common policy wore to be laid at the same time. It is interesting to note that German planning for the invasion of the USSR was already well advanced. A tentative plan for the Russian campaign had been submitted on 5 August and Directive No. 21 for Operation BARBAROSSA, which was issued on 18 December, was being drafted by the Army General Staff. Directive No. 18, issued on the day of Molotov’s arrival in the German capital, stipulated that preparations for Operation BARBAROSSA were to be continued regardless of the outcome of the conversations.
During his conversations with Hitler, Molotov stated that, as a Black Sea power, the Soviet Union was interested in a number of Balkan countries. He asked Hitler whether the German-Italian guarantee to Romania could not be revoked because, in his opinion, it was directed against the Soviet Union. Hitler refused to give way on this question and did not commit himself on the subject of a Russian guarantee for Bulgaria, by which Molotov intended to re-establish the balance of power in the Balkans. Nor was Hitler prepared to help the Soviet Union to arrive at an agreement with Turkey regarding the settlement of the Dardanelles question. The conversations ended in a deadlock.
During the spring of 1940 Hitler was greatly concerned over the possibility of British intervention in the Balkans. Had not Britain and France tried to establish a solid political and military front in the Balkans by concluding a series of agreements with Turkey, by trying to draw Yugoslavia into their orbit, and by consolidating their position in the Aegean? Germany’s first countermeasures came in May and June 1940, when Romania was induced to repudiate the Anglo-French territorial guarantee after it had been pressured into signing a pact which stipulated that the Romanians would step up their oil production and would make maximum deliveries to the Axis Powers, British personnel supervising the operation of the oil fields were dismissed during the month of July. After the Vienna award of August 1940, Romania intended to break off diplomatic relations with Britain, but after consultation with Berlin this action was postponed because of the potential danger of British air attacks on the oil fields.
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