Balkan Jigsaw

Until recently Balkan correspondent of the London "Express,"Mr. Morrell gives his view of what is behind the Italian attack on Greece

SYDNEY MORRELL December 1 1940

Balkan Jigsaw

Until recently Balkan correspondent of the London "Express,"Mr. Morrell gives his view of what is behind the Italian attack on Greece

SYDNEY MORRELL December 1 1940

Balkan Jigsaw

Until recently Balkan correspondent of the London "Express,"Mr. Morrell gives his view of what is behind the Italian attack on Greece


SO HITLER can honor a pledge, after all, when circumstance compels him !

Greece really is to belong to Italy’s “sphere of influence’’ in the Balkans, as he promised Mussolini when the two dictators sent their foreign ministers to meet in Milan and sign the Axis military alliance in May of 1939.

Some of us who went to Milan to record that meeting for the English-speaking world, wondered just how extensive Italy’s “spheres of influence” were to be. Anti-German feeling had never been higher among the workers of northern Italy, and the Fascist Party had to send out thousands of postcards to its members in Milan, ordering them to work up a spontaneous demonstration of affection outside Von Ribbentrop's hotel. Beyond being dictator-run —government by the gangster, for the gangster—the two countries had little in common. Official communiqués, it is true, stated in diplomatic terms that Germany and Italy had divided up the Balkans, but for many months after that there were signs of Italo-German competition in the Balkans.

The Hungarians, who had been yanked willy-nilly into the antiComintern pact, tried to steer a middle course by balancing one >nd of the Axis against the other. As, t'fe war progressed and Germany grew* stronger, the Hungarians tried to lean! more and more on Italy. Then the Hungarian leaders, realizing the strength of the German army a id t he impossibility of Italian help being sent across Jugoslavia, resigned themselves to being in Germany’s sphere.

The Roumanians, who had Mr. Chamberlain’s guarantee, were away over the political and military horizon, but the Iron Guardists there were pro-German.

The hierarchy of Bulgaria was pro-German, in spite of the fact that King Boris had married an Italian princess.

The Jugoslavs, whose country was the only one which Italy could hope to claim from Germany because of its Adriatic coastline, were ready to fight for their independence, and the Serb is a very good fighter.

The Greeks, with their Mediterranean seaboard, had a British guarantee.

There seemed very little elbowroom for the Italians, although they tried hard to create a place for themselves. In the past we used to say that trade followed the flag. The motto of this century should be that political influence follows the air liner. The Italians pushed out their air lines horizontally through the Balkans, and there they crossed and competed with the German air lines coming down the map vertically from Berlin. An Italian air line from Venice non-stop to Budapest had political propaganda value, for it showed the Hungarians that Jugoslavia did not really separate them from Italy, in spite of what geography said.

Another Italian air line went from Rome to Belgrade non-stop, thence to Bucharest.

A third went from Rome to Tirana, the capital of Albania, thence to Salonika,

hence to Sofia. A fourth went to Athens, thence to the island of Rhodes.

The Axis powers were thoroughly alive to the importance of air communications. Their first act, on deciding to build political influence in a country, was to open an air line with it. The air lines I have mentioned were the life lines which connected Italy with the Balkans. Besides passengers, they carried political tracts and, on occasion, under cover of the diplomatic seal, arms and instructions for the fifth columnists.

In spite of their efforts, however, the Italians were in a weak position compared with Germany. From last year onward only force counted, and the Germans had the stronger force.

So, when the Italians began their push through the Albanian mountains into Greece at the end of October, it meant something which was just as important as the German invasion of France last spring. The two dictators had finally come to terms; they had agreed on their respective spoils in the Balkans; all that remained was to collect them before proceeding to the great offensive against the Near East.

At this stage of the war, no one can seriously deny that the Balkans are in the Axis orbit. They passed automatically into the Axis orbit when the Munich agreement over Czechoslovakia was signed. Whatever slim chance was left them was dissipated by futile bickering among themselves.

For twenty years the Balkans have simmered along in uneasy peace. There was peace because Germany was weak and because Italy did not dare challenge Western Europe alone. It was made uneasy by the two have-not countries, Hungary and Bulgaria, and all chances of Continued on f>aee 42

Balkan Jigsaw

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independent survival were finally destroyed because the Balkans were thinking in terms of racial differences and past feuds, rather than in terms of co-operation.

Austria, which for years has been the economical centre of gravity for the Balkans, was partly lost because the Czech leaders hated the Hapsburgs. During the last days of Austria, we of the international press watched Chancellor Schuschnigg’s desperate attempts to obtain the blessing of Dr. Benes for a Hapsburg restoration in Austria. Prince Otto, the pretender to the Austrian throne, had announced that he was ready to return and lead his countrymen. But Benes disliked and distrusted the Hapsburgs. so he accepted Field Marshal Goering’s assurance that Germany had no demands to make on the Czechs, and he turned his back on Austria at a time when two determined Austrian regiments could have prevented the Anschluss.

Hungary’s Blunder

rT''HE Czechs were lost because of Hungarian hatred. I have not forgotten the Munich conference, but the point I wish to make here is that even though Mr. Chamberlain had set his heart on appeasement, even though the French had deserted them, the Czech army would probably still have fought if it could have been sure of a back door through which to retreat. Czecho-Slovakia’s back door led to Hungary, and Hungary’s hatred of the Czechs cannot be measured in any language but Hungarian.

There was, of course, the Little Entente —the military alliance between Czechoslovakia, Jugoslavia and Roumania. Each of these nations had a common frontier

with Hungary, and had formed the alliance because Hungary demanded from each of them large slices of territory which she was forced to yield at the end of the last war. With her eyes on these lost lands, Hungary was blinded to everything else. At the height of the Czech crisis, she offered to sign nonaggression pacts with Jugoslavia and Roumania, in order that she could he free to attack the Czechs without danger to herself. It is to the credit of Jugoslavia and Roumania that they refused. Later, faced by the German menace, Hungary made further attempts to woo Jugoslavia. But the Jugoslavs refused to betray their given word to Roumania.

The result of this was that the Hungarians sold out to Germany for the sake of regaining Transylvania. They were given the upper half, including Cluj.

But this does not put an end to the ancient hatred. It only means that from now on the Iron Guard of Roumania will try to exceed the Hungarians in their pro-German policy in order to recover the territory they were forced to cede.

The cleverness of the Germans is that by supporting the Revisionists of Hungary and the Iron Guardists of Roumania they have secured control of both countries.

In Bulgaria, the other have-not country, the Germans were also strong, but here there were limitations. The higher ranks of the Bulgarian army feared and respected the Germans for their strength. But below this crust, the vast bulk of the nation was heart and soul pro-Russian. Their language is almost the same as Russian, and the Soviet legation in Sofia is seeing to it that the racial ties are made even tighter. At the present it appears that some kind

of compromise has been reached belween Russia and Germany. The Russian attempts to reach a common frontier with Bulgaria by seizing Bessarabia and supporting Bulgarian demands for the return of Dobruja up to the mouth of the Danube, have been defeated by the German occupation of Roumania. Át the same time the Germans know that if the Bulgarians have to choose between fighting on the German side or on the Russian side, they will pick the Russians.

The formula that has been reached seems to be that Bulgaria is to belong to the economic hinterland of the Reich—she is to supply Germany with materials—but is to belong to the political hinterland of Russia.

There would be nothing in such an agreement to prevent Bulgaria seizing— or being awarded by the Axis—that portion of northeastern Greece known as Western Thrace, which stretches from the River Mesta, a few miles east of Salonika, to the Turkish frontier.

Geographically, this would give the Bulgarians—and the Russians, and the Germans—an outlet on the Aegean Sea, west of the Dardanelles. The problem which must be puzzling the Russians is that in such a case Bulgaria would probably be occupied by German troops.

Axis Aims In Balkans

FOR THE last six months the preoccupation of the Germans and Italians has been the problem of seizing the Balkans without disturbing the peace. If the British Isles had fallen, the problem would not have arisen; but as the British Isles have not fallen, the problem has become greater every week. It is not enough, for example, that Roumanian oil and agricultural products should go to Germany as fast as the Roumanians can send them. The Germans believe, and rightly so, that if they had charge of production and transport, efficiency would be increased and so would the supplies.

This meant a virtual occupation of Roumania and every other Balkan country. But an attempt to occupy Jugoslavia would have provoked resistance, which would have meant dislocation of transport. In its fight the Jugoslav army would have blown up bridges and railway lines; the whole economic life would have come to a standstill, and the Germans would have had to spend many months in reconstruction after they had conquered the country.

The problem of occupying Jugoslavia without fighting the Jugoslav army has been a very thorny one for the Axis.

This, it seems to me, is one of the main reasons for the Italian invasion of Greece. An Italian conquest of Greece would complete Axis encirclement of Jugoslavia which was begun by the Austrian Anschluss, the Italian occupation of Albania, the German occupations of Hungary and Roumania, and the arrival of German officers in Bulgaria.

As a source of supplies, Greece is the least important country in the Balkans. Dislocation of communications, which are scanty, could soon be repaired. Moreover, an Italian conquest is needed at home as a psychological fillip for the Italian people.

For the purpose of this article, I doubt that the Greeks can ultimately defeat the invasion in the north. Hitler and Mussolini take very few risks, and for this new Axis campaign the conquest of Greece is a vital necessity. If it should fail, the whole ground will be swept from beneath the feet of the Germans and Italians in the rest of the Balkans. The way to the Near East would not only be blocked, but the Axis would find themselves on the defensive in the Balkans.

Italy’s plan to drive through Northern Greece was aimed so that she could join hands with Germany in an attack on Turkey. Once the Italians have conquered Northern Greece, it is fairly certain that they will cede Western Thrace to the Bulgarians. This territory was taken away from Bulgaria at the end of the last war. It was placed under the protection

of the four Great Powers—Britain, France, Italy and Japan—and, in 1919. transferred to Greece for a period of twenty years.

Last year, however, at the end of this period, the Greek premier, John Metaxas, said that Greece had no intention of handing over Greek territory to anyone. There was justification for this— on racial grounds—as the Bulgarian population of Western Thrace had been repatriated to Bulgaria in a general exchange of populations. The Bulgarians retorted that they weren’t claiming Greek territory; all they wanted was Western Thrace, which, they said, was preponderantly Bulgarian in its history.

When I was in Bulgaria during the summer, the Bulgarians were confident that Italy would press for the transfer of Western Thrace back to Bulgaria, and that Japan would support Italy. Under present conditions, the French Government would also give its support to any action of this kind.

With Northern Greece in their hands, the Axis would be able to build sea bases from which they could control the Dardanelles. Salonika, tucked away in the northern Aegean, is a good port. In Western Thrace, also, there are many )X)ssibilities. Although the port of Alexandroupolis, directly north of the Dardanelles, is unsuitable for development into a modern seajxirt, owing to the shallow waters, the port of Lagos, a few miles to the west, is almost ideal for the Axis. It has water deep enough for heavy ships, and work has been under way for some time on the construction of a railway line up to the Bulgarian frontier, about forty miles away. From here, the railway line could be continued to Mastanli in southern Bulgaria, from where a modern railway line runs directly to Rustchuk, the Bulgarian port on the Danube. This is the longest direct railway line in Bulgaria, and its military importance for a drive against Turkey is obvious.

Furthermore, when this stage is reached, Jugoslavia will he in a hojxdess position, with no possible line of retreat for her army as in the last war, when, with the Germans driving southward and the Bulgarians coming in against them from the side, they were still able to make their way across Albania to Corfu.


T HAVE left discussion of Jugoslavia to

the last because the Axis have also decided to leave solution of this country until their position throughout the rest of the Balkans has been consolidated. Up to the present, the Germans and Italians have contented themselves with establishing their fifth column throughout the country and intriguing among the discontented sections—the Slovenes and Croats in the north. Slovenia and Croatia were provinces of the old Austro-Hungarian empire, and their inhabitants. Slavs, rebelled against rule from Vienna and Budapest. The Croats, however, are probably the most difficult people in Europe to rule, and it has been fairly easy for the Italians and Germans to intrigue among them and provoke discontent against rule from Belgrade.

The assassin of King Alexander, for example, was a Croat named Pavlitch, who is at present in Turin in northern Italy, from where he is directing a revolutionary organization inside Croatia itself. The line adopted is that Croatia should be a separate nation. As it is. the Croats have been given a very wide degree of selfgovernment extending to everything except national defense and foreign policy, which is still directed centrally from Belgrade.

The Croat extremists, in spite of the lesson of Slovakia which became a separate state only to become the puppet of Germany, still believe that a Republic of Croatia is a possibility. This does not by any means apply to the majority of the Croats, but the extremist minority is being supported by the Axis, and the Jugoslav frontier police in the north have

waylaid several lorries containing arms and uniforms smuggled across the German border.

In Slovenia the Italians are using the Roman Catholic religion to detach the devout Slovenes from the rest of the country. The argument used here is that the break-up of Jugoslavia is only a matter of time and that the Slovenes, as Roman Catholics, should attach themselves to Rome.

The fifth column in Jugoslavia is enormous. Almost every paper in the Reich, from the largest down to the smallest news-sheet has a “special correspondent” in the country. Not, as is the normal practice with newspapers, in the capital. The correspondent of the Kölnischer Zeitung, for example, has his headquarters at the little town of Vrsac near the Roumanian frontier, and other so-called German journalists are scattered throughout the countryside at places which are strategically important.

So far, the Jugoslav press, which was preponderantly pro-British before the war, has been disciplined by threats to cut off supplies of paper from Norway. The pro-German foreign minister, Cinzar Markovitch, who used to be Jugoslav Minister in Berlin and who was given his cabinet post as a sop to the Germans, has now become the most important man in the cabinet.

It is true that the ex-premier and would-be dictator, Milan Stojadinovitch, who is an out-and-out. Nazi, is still under house arrest; but this is only because there is a life-and-death quarrel between him and the present premier, Dragisha Zwetkovitch. Once the Germans feel their footing in Jugoslavia is sufficiently secure, they can be relied upon to demand his release.

With that done, it would be easy for the Germans to obtain a policy of complete co-operation from the Jugoslavs as they have done with Roumania, or. alternatively, to demand the demobilization of the Jugoslav army on the probable excuse of releasing peasants for work on the land.

The Jugoslavs, of course, were able to foresee these developments and made frantic attempts to obtain the support of Russia—that Uncle Nikolas of all the Slavs, who came to their help in 1914 and who remains Uncle Nikolas whatever the color of his flag. Early this year, Prince Paul, the Regent of Jugoslavia, gave his consent to official recognition of the Soviet regime, and trade relations were opened up with Russia, using the Danube as the main method of communications. This outlet, a life line in the eyes of the Serbs, was stopped up when the German army occupied Roumania during the summer.

And although Russia would not welcome a German army of occupation inside Jugoslavia, although she would strongly resent it. it is hard to see what she could do to prevent it. If she did not pursue her ¡x)licy of seizing the Danube delta, which was right on her front doorstep, it is hardly likely that she will go to war with Germany to defend Jugoslavia, or even attempt to send help to Jugoslavia across territory under German control. The chances of Jugoslav survival grow slimmer with every yard that the Italians advance across northern Greece toward Salonika. Now is the time for the Jugoslavs to fight, or never at all. But their leaders have grown soft with twenty years of easy living. A new wealthied middle class has grown up whose only ambition is to keep what it has at all costs, and which does not realize that what is at stake is not merely private possessions or national territory, but the whole way of living affecting every individual. And this is the story of the whole Balkans and most of the rest of Europe.

With the Balkans thoroughly in their hands, the Axis would be well placed to resist the British blockade for some years to come. The question of food supplies is in direct ratio to the amount of food they can l(K>t from the territories under their control without running the risk of

revolts. In war materials they would ] probably have a sufficiency of nonferrous metals, with the exception of nickel, which they will have to obtain from the Petsamo mines in northern Finland.

They have fairly large supplies of oil—

1.000. 000 tons yearly from the Polish ] oil fields, most of which, however, are now 1 in Russian hands; 6,000,000 tons yearly i from the Roumanian oil fields round ¡

Ploesti; and synthetic oil factories in Germany were said to be producing 4,500,-o

000 tons yearly at the outbreak of war. New oil fields were also being exploited in : western and southwestern Hungary, although the output here is limited at present.

But in Roumania the Germans will be able to shoot production up to about

12.000. 000 tons yearly by using wells which were closed down in peacetime as unprofitable. By mobilizing Roumanian labor, the Germans will be able to develop these wells.

This gives Germany and Italy a maximum oil supply of about 17,000,000 tons yearly, which is probably enough for patrolling Europe and for their air war against the British Isles. It will not be enough, however, when the British army is strong enough to undertake a continental campaign and when the war passes once more into a series cf battles between huge mechanized armies. Hence the Axis drive toward the oil fields of the Near East; and hence the military preparations which

Russia is pushing through to protect her own oil fields in the foothills of the Caucasus between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.

It is much too early to say that this new offensive is one of desperation. Hitler and Mussolini are still driving ahead to win the war; not until they have failed in that, will they strive to make it a war of attrition and stalemate. The Greeks may defeat the Italians, or hold out long enough to encourage resistance elsewhere in the Balkans. The Jugoslavs may, at the last moment, force their government to help the Greeks. They may, but almost certainly they will not.

At present our wisest plan is to regard the Balkans as lost to us and to prevent the Italians from establishing themselves in southern Greece and the Greek islands; and to reserve our main help on land for the Tîirks.

I left Turkey this summer with the firm conviction that the Turks will fight if they are attacked, whether they have Russian support or otherwise, although there was reason to believe that they would have Russia’s blessing. The Russians must know that if the Turks fight and are able with British help to hold up the Axis advance, Germany and Italy will inevitably be diverted toward the Russian Ukraine to obtain the supplies they need for a large-scale land war.

In other words, every day brings nearer to the Kremlin the choice of sides.