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Foreign News: The Hour in the Balkans

3 minute read

Out of the Balkan lather of ethno-pathology two facts bristled last week: the turmoil in Bulgaria and Rumania approached open insurrection; German activity in the Danube Valley was concerned with more than the recruiting of new divisions for the Russian front.

In an attempt to stem the rising tide of revolt, Adolf Hitler ordered a Balkan conference. Hitler, Mussolini, Admiral Horthy of Hungary, King Boris of Bulgaria and Premier General Ion Antonescu of Rumania were to meet in Vienna to try to straighten out the New Order in Southern Europe.

Hitler wanted: 1) five additional Rumanian divisions to join the 16 already active on the Russian front; 2) more Hungarian troops for Russia; 3) a Bulgarian declaration of war against the Soviet Union; 4) a speedy end to the Yugoslav guerrillas; 5) cessation of inner Balkan disputes and concentration on fighting Bolshevism; 6) continued shipments of Balkan agricultural products to Germany.

The Luftwaffe’s Colonel General Alexander Löhr, Reich Minister of Economics Walther Funk and German Ambassador in Ankara Franz von Papen had flown to the Balkans to see what they could do. Reports came back that the Balkan nations had far too many troops concentrated on each other’s frontiers. And they found other things not to their liking:

In Rumania Premier Antonescu had dismissed 15 generals, arrested several opposition leaders including Peasant Leader Ion Mihalache.

In Bulgaria underground organizations were stirring the pro-Russian peasantry to open revolt, to overthrow the regime and force King Boris to sign a pact with Russia.

In Hungary National Defense Minister General Karl Bartha de Dalnokfalya resigned rather than send more Hungarian troops to Russia.

One possible solution for all Hitler’s Balkan headaches might be German occupation of the entire area and a push toward the Middle East through Turkey. Colonel General Löhr, newly appointed Luftwaffe commander for the Balkans, was one of Hitler’s best. He it was who led the famed Coventry raid in 1940. Commanding Germany’s Fourth Air Fleet, he had maintained supremacy of the air over Stalingrad for a month. When winter froze the Russian front the Fourth Air Fleet might follow its commander to the Balkans, where it probably could cause a great deal of trouble to any plans the British might have for the region.

Said Anthony Eden, the entire Balkans would burst into revolt “at the appointed hour.” In Sofia cellars and in Serbian mountain passes many wondered who would appoint the hour, and when it would come.

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