Yugoslavia surrenders to the Axis Powers (April 17, 1941) - History Key

Yugoslavia surrenders to the Axis Powers (April 17, 1941)

The Kingdom of Yugoslavia was a state that existed during the interwar period and the first part of World War II, merged by the States of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs and with the Kingdom of Serbia. During the Second World War, Axis powers invaded the new formed kingdom leading to an unconditional surrender on April 17, 1941. The Axis invasion in Yugoslavia is known as the April War or Operation 25 (Unternehmen 25) and began on April 6, 1941.

Hitler’s self-pride starts an invasion

Germany failed to convince Yugoslavia joining the Axis Powers. However after Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary joined the Axis Powers in March, the pressure was too big for Yugoslavia’s prince and he decided to join as well. Most of the Yugoslavian population and military opposed, making the military to replace the prince with the constitutional heir. The background of the attack was probably a self-pride of Hitler, in short time he planned the invasion, postponing the attack over the Soviet Union.

Hungary was a state caught in the middle. They signed a peace treaty with Yugoslavia and also joined the Axis. Therefore, some of Hungarian politicians were in favour of supporting Hitler’s invasion while other opposed. Pal Teleki, the Prime Minister of Hungary, was aware that his country couldn’t do too much to stop the attack. He tried by ensuring that no Axis troops engaged in the invasion will move through Hungary. After he realized he couldn’t do much, Teleki committed suicide rather be a part of the invasion.

The initial attacks over Belgrade killed 17,000 civilians

Yugoslav infantry surrendering
Yugoslav infantry surrendering ©Gofferjé Leander/Bundesarchiv Bild/Image Source: Wikipedia

The Germans launched an overwhelming air attack over the Yugoslav capital, over the Yugoslav Air Force and ground attacks by from Bulgaria. Belgrade was bombed constantly for one and a half hours by drop bombers under the cover of hunting planes. The attack was concentrated in the central area of the capital, where the main governments building were located. Yugoslavian air forces and air defences were surprised by the first wave of the attack, allowing the German bombers dropping from a low height. In the first wave only two German fighter jets were destroyed, while the Yugoslavians lost 20 in battle and 44 on the ground. The air raid killed over 17,000 civilians and destroyed the whole Yugoslavian communication system. German aviation continued to destroy airports, communication routes and enemy troops and helped the Axis land army’s action.

After two days from the initial air attack, Germans attacked Yugoslavia on the ground from three directions: Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary. The German High Command was looking forward to the conquest of Belgrade. They barely faced Yugoslavian defensive, stopping them temporarily only in southern Belgrade.

An unconditional surrender probably saved thousands of lives

The Axis victory was rapid. On April 14 the Yugoslavian high command sought an armistice and authorised the army to negotiate local ceasefires. However, the Germans rejected all the terms proposed by Yugoslavs. The only way that Germans agreed was the unconditional surrender. Because the Yugoslavs were poorly trained and outnumbered, the generals, eager to secure a quick ceasefire, agreed with the terms proposed by Germans. One day later, an armistice was created based on unconditional surrender. After the armistice was created a Yugoslav delegate arrived in Belgrade in order to sign the document, but he didn’t have the authority. Finally on April 17 the Foreign Minister Aleksandar Cincar-Markovic and the General Milojko Jankovic signed the armistice and surrendered all the Yugoslavian troops.

In 11 days, German troops completed the invasion leading with the capitulation of Belgrade. German victims were extremely low compared with the Yugoslavian victims. Germans lost 558 soldiers: 151 dead, 392 injured and 15 reported missing while Yugoslavian had thousands of civilians and soldiers killed: 254,000 – 345,000 captured by Germans, 30,000 captured by Italians.

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