Belgrade, Yugoslavia · April 6, 1941

At the tail end of February 1941 British Commonwealth forces from Nigeria captured Moga­dishu, capital of Ital­ian Somali­land (part of today’s Somalia), after Benito Mussolini’s armies had aban­doned any pre­tense of defending their East Afri­can colony. The Ital­ian colony in the Horn of Africa had threa­tened the south­ern en­trance to the Suez Canal in Egypt, the Middle Eastern oil fields, and the Brit­ish sea route to India. On this date in 1941, two days after it was aban­doned by the Ital­ians, Addis Ababa, the Ethio­pian capi­tal, was occu­pied by Com­mon­wealth troops from South Africa—the first nation­al capi­tal lib­er­ated from the Axis. Ital­ian forces capitu­lated in Eri­trea on the Red Sea in a sep­a­rate cam­paign later that month. Mopping up oper­a­tions con­tinued until Novem­ber 1941, when all of Ital­ian East Africa fell under Allied control. Mean­while in Europe, the Bal­kans weighed heav­ily on the minds of Mus­so­li­ni and his Axis part­ner, Adolf Hitler. Il Duce’s armies, having in­vaded Greece from Ital­ian-held Alba­nia in late Octo­ber 1940, were faring poorly against Greek forces. Should Italy fail after Hitler had rushed 50,000 Ger­man troops to bol­ster Italy’s posi­tion in the Bal­kans, the Greeks might per­mit Great Brit­ain to base troops on their soil—already 60,000 Brit­ish and Com­mon­wealth troops had rushed to Greece’s aid—there­by poten­tially com­pli­cating Opera­tion Barba­rossa, Hitler’s colos­sal sum­mer cam­paign against the Soviet Union. So against the back­drop of Axis losses in East Africa, Axis armies from Hun­gary, Roma­nia, and Bul­garia, spear­headed by 33 Ger­man divisions and supported by 1,200 planes of the Luft­waffe, swept across the frontier into Yugo­sla­via and Greece on April 6, 1941, bringing both nations into the Axis orbit and forcing Allied troops into a painful Dunkirk-like evacu­ation of the Greek main­land. By April 29, 1941, the Allied pre­sence was gone. North of Greece, por­tions of Yugo­sla­via were placed under Axis occu­pa­tion, an­nexed by Italy (cen­tral Dal­ma­tia and part of Slo­ve­nia), or formed into a new Fascist state, Croatia. Three and a half years later, in Octo­ber 1944, the Ger­mans were forced to aban­don Greece, the same month they aban­doned Yugo­sla­via. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of Greeks died during the Nazi years along with a mil­lion Yugo­slavs, although most of the latter died at the hands of rival partisan groups.

[amazon_carousel widget_type=”ASINList” width=”600″ height=”200″ title=”Recommended Reading” market_place=”US” shuffle_products=”False” show_border=”False” asin=”098165259X,1781592489,1781591814,193627406X,1932455191,1855324733,1889247014,0300089236,0231700504,0982373430″ /]

Scenes from the German Balkans Campaign, April 1941

Yugoslav infantry unit surrenders, 1941Damage to Yugoslavia's royal palace

Left: Starting on April 6, 1941, Axis armies invaded Yugo­sla­via from all sides. This photo shows a Yugo­slav infan­try unit sur­ren­dering on the first day of war.

Right: Operation Punishment was the code name for the Ger­man bombing of Bel­grade, Yugo­sla­via’s capital, which began on April 6, 1941 (Palm Sun­day), and con­tinued through April 10. Among the main tar­gets of the Luft­waffe was the Yugo­slav royal palace of King Peter II in down­town Belgrade.

Damaged Belgrade street, 1941German armored cars enter Greece, 1941

Left: A street damaged by the Luftwaffe’s bombing of Bel­grade, April 1941. Ger­man Field Marshal Paul von Kleist said during the post­war Nurem­berg Trials: “The air raid on Bel­grade in 1941 had a pri­marily poli­tical-ter­rorist char­acter and had nothing to do with the war. That air bombing was a matter of Hitler’s vanity, his per­son­al re­venge,” on the Yugo­slav offi­cers who over­threw Yugo­slavia’s pro-Axis regent, Prince Paul.

Right: Armored cars of the 1st SS Division Leib­standarte SS Adolf Hitler advance into Greece, April 1941.

German artillery in Greece, 1941Bomb damage to Piraeus, April 6, 1941

Left: German artillery firing during the advance into Greece, April 1941.

Right: Damage from the German bombing of Piraeus, Athens’ har­bor, on April 6, 1941. During the bombing, a ship carrying nitro­gly­cerin was hit, causing a huge explosion.

Yugoslavia During and After World War II