Goering: Yugoslavia

1946 Nuremberg Tribunal: On day 82, defendant Hermann Goering is given vast latitude by the Tribunal to tell his life story. He will be at it for the next few days. No other defendant will be given so much uninterrupted time.

Dr Stahmer: What were the reasons that led to the attack on Yugoslavia?

Goering: Germany, during all the years before the beginning of the war, had the very best of relations with the Yugoslav people and the Yugoslav Government. It was part of my foreign political task to cultivate these relations especially. Since the Regent, Prince Paul, and Prime Minister Stojadinovic were personal friends of mine, I often visited the country and also spent a long vacation there. It was our intention to have not only the best economic relations by each complementing the other, but also beyond that to come to a close political understanding and friendship. This was successful to the fullest extent and found its climax in the return visit which the Regent, Prince Paul, made to Germany.

Since at the same time I also had similar friendly relations with King Boris of Bulgaria, I was able to exert a stabilizing influence here too, and at times also in regard to Italy. My intervention in behalf of Yugoslavia even caused there, for a time, a certain misapprehension where I was concerned. After the outbreak of the war everything was likewise avoided which could cause anything but friendly relations with Yugoslavia. Unfortunately Prime Minister Stojadinovic resigned, but his successor followed the same policy.

The entering into the Three-Power Pact had the purpose of maintaining Yugoslavia's neutrality under all circumstances and of not drawing her into the war. Even at the time when the pact was signed one recognized the necessity for sending troops to Romania as a precautionary measure, and also to Greece because of the English landing there or the impending English landing. In spite of that agreement it was expressly provided that no troop transports should go through Yugoslavia, so that the neutrality of that country after its entry into the Three-Power Pact would be confirmed in every way.

When Premier Cvetkovic came to power, General Simovic's [above] revolt against the government of the Prince Regent and the accession to the throne of the King, who was still a minor, followed shortly after. We very quickly learned, through our close relations with Yugoslavia, the background of General Simovic's revolt. Shortly afterwards it was confirmed that the information from Yugoslavia was correct, namely, that a strong Russian political influence existed, as well as extensive financial assistance for the undertaking on the part of England, of which we later found proof. It was clear that this venture was directed against the friendly policy of the previous Yugoslav Government toward Germany.

It must be mentioned here that in later press statements it was pointed out by the Russian side how strong their influence had been and for what purpose this undertaking had been executed. The new Yugoslav Government, quite obviously and beyond doubt, stood visibly in closest relationship with the enemies we had at that time, that is to say, England and, in this connection, with our enemy to be, Russia. The Simovic affair was definitely the final and decisive factor which dispelled the very last scruples which the Fuehrer had in regard to Russia's attitude, and caused him to take preventive measures in that direction under all circumstances.

Before this Simovic incident it is probable that, although preparations had been undertaken, doubts as to the inevitable necessity of an attack against Soviet Russia might have been pushed into the background. These clear relations between Moscow and Belgrade, however, dispelled the Fuehrer's very last doubts. At the same time it was evident that Yugoslavia, under the new government, was merely trying to gain time for massing her troops, for the very night the revolt was undertaken secret and shortly afterwards official orders for mobilization were issued to the Yugoslav Army.

In spite of the assurances that Simovic gave Berlin, that he would feel himself bound to the agreement or something like that, the maneuver could easily be seen through. The situation was now the following: Italy, our ally, had at the time attacked Greece, advancing from Albania in October or September 1940, if I remember correctly. Germany had not been informed of this venture. The Fuehrer heard of this undertaking through me on the one hand, who had by chance learned of it, and also through the Foreign Office, and he immediately rerouted his train, which was on the way from France to Berlin, in order to speak to the Duce in Florence.

The Italian Government, or Mussolini himself, saw very clearly at this moment why the Fuehrer wanted to talk to him, and as far as I remember the order to the Italian Army to march from Albania to Greece was therefore released 24 or 48 hours before originally scheduled. The fact is that the Fuehrer, in his concern to prevent under all circumstances an expansion of the conflict in the Balkans and the eastern Mediterranean, wanted to urge the Duce to forego such plans, which were not necessary, but were undertaken only for reasons of prestige.

When the meeting took place at 10 o'clock in the morning and the Fuehrer had mentioned his misgivings, Mussolini actually declared that since 6 o'clock of that morning the Italian troops had already been advancing through Greece and, in his opinion, would shortly be in Athens. The Fuehrer pointed out again that this would mean that under certain circumstances relations with Turkey would also be most seriously endangered and another theater of war would be created, since he well knew, although he did not mention it at that time, that an Italian theater of war sooner or later would mean drawing on the German ally for help. That actually was the situation at the outbreak of the attack on Yugoslavia.

Italy, stopped and thrown back, was left in a most unfavorable position strategically and tactically while still facing the Greek enemy. If only a part of the Yugoslav Army moved against the flank and the rear of the Italian Skutari position, then not only would Italy be eliminated there, but also an essential part of the Italian fighting forces would be destroyed. It was clear that the position of these Italian fighting forces would soon be hopeless, since because of the landing of British auxiliary troops in Greece it was to be expected that as soon as they came to the aid of the Greeks the Italian Army would not only be thrown out of Greece, where they were standing merely at the border, but also out of Albania; and the British troops would then be in dangerous proximity to Italy and the Balkans, which were economically of decisive importance for us.

By means of the Simovic revolt and the mobilization of Yugoslavia the elimination of the Italian Balkan armies would have been achieved. Only the quickest action could prevent a two-fold danger: first, a catastrophe befalling our Italian ally; and second, a British foothold in the Balkans, which would be detrimental to a future vantage point in the conflict with Russia. The German troops which were on the march for "Operation Marita," Greece, which were to march against Greece in order to throw back into the Mediterranean those British divisions which had landed, and to relieve the rear of the Italian ally, were turned with the spearhead to the right, and with accelerated, short-notice preparations for attack, they were thrown into the flank of the massed Yugoslav troops.

The Air Force was called from its airfields in Germany within a very short time and assembled at the airfields in the southeast area, which was easily possible, and was also used to support the attack. Only by such quick action, and due to the fact that the basic conditions had been provided by Operation Marita, was Germany able to stave off an extraordinary danger to her entire position in the Balkans and in the southeast area at that moment. Politically and from a military point of view it would have been a crime against the State as far as the vital German interests were concerned, if in that case the Fuehrer had not acted as he did.

Dr Stahmer: What targets did the Air Force attack in Yugoslavia first?

Goering: I have just explained the very particular situation of the German Armed Forces at the outbreak of this war and the problems which had to be solved with extraordinary speed and the likewise extraordinary results which had to be attained in order to carry out their original task, which was the piercing of--I do not remember the name now--the Metaxas line in northern Greece before English troops, which had already landed near Athens, could come to the support of the Greek garrisons along the Metaxas line. Therefore there was first of all an order for a concentrated smaller part of the German forces to penetrate that line, while the other part, as planned, had to throw itself upon the Yugoslav Army and, here too with insufficient forces in the shortest possible time, had to eliminate this army. That was a necessary condition for the success of the whole thing.. Otherwise not only would the Italian Army surely be destroyed, but the German Army, thus divided, with a part of its forces advancing in Yugoslavia--the Bulgarian support came much later--another part breaking through the strong Metaxas Line in time to prevent the English deployment there, might get itself into a very difficult and critical, and perhaps disastrous military position.

Therefore the Air Force had, in this case, to be employed with the greatest effect, in order that the Yugoslav action of deployment against Germany and her ally should be stopped as quickly as possible. Therefore there was first of all an order for a concentrated attack upon the Yugoslav Ministry of War in Belgrade, and secondly, upon the railroad station, which in Belgrade particularly, in view of the small number of Yugoslavian railroad lines, was a special deployment junction. Then there were several other rather important centers, the General Staff building, et cetera, included in the order because, at that time, the political and military headquarters were still located in Belgrade. Everything was still concentrated there, and the bombing of that nerve center at the very beginning would have an extraordinary paralyzing effect on the further deployment of the resistance.

A warning to Yugoslavia was not necessary for the following reasons. Strictly speaking the objection might be raised that we did not send a declaration of war or a warning. Actually, however, none of the leading men in Yugoslavia had the least doubt but that Germany would attack. That was recognized, for they had feverishly busied themselves with deployment, and not only with mobilization. Moreover the attacks of the German Army were made before the bombing of Belgrade. But even assuming that the Air Force had made the first attack and only then the Army--that is, without warning--Yugoslavia's actions and the extraordinary danger of the military situation would have demanded that. We were already in the midst of the most severe battle. It was a question of securing the Balkans on both sides and holding them firmly. The targets--and I emphasize this once more--were, as I remember exactly, the Ministry of War, the railroad station, the General Staff building, and one or two other ministries. The city, of course, since these buildings were spread about within the city, was also affected by the bombardment.

1946 Nuremberg Tribunal: On day 87, Hermann Goering's cross-examination by the prosecution continues.

Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe: Now I want to ask you quite shortly again about Yugoslavia. You remember that you have told us in your evidence in chief that Germany before the war, before the beginning of the war, had the very best relations with the Yugoslav people, and that you yourself had contributed to it. I am putting it quite shortly.

Goering: That is correct.

Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe: And that was emphasized, if you will remember, on the first of June 1939 by a speech of Hitler at a dinner with Prince Paul.

Goering: Yes.

Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe: Now, 80 days after that, on the 12th of August 1939, the Defendant Ribbentrop, Hitler, and Ciano had a meeting, and just let me recall to you what Hitler said at that meeting to Count Ciano. "Generally speaking..."

Goering: I beg your pardon, what is the number of the document?

Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe: I am sorry, it was my fault--Document Number TC-77, Exhibit Number GB-48. It is the memorandum of a conversation between Hitler, Ribbentrop, and Ciano at Obersalzberg on the 12th of August.

Goering: I merely wanted to know if this was from Ciano's diary? That is important for me.

Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe: Oh no, not from Ciano's diary, it is a memorandum. This is the official report.

Generally speaking, the best thing to happen would be for uncertain neutrals to be liquidated one after the other. This process could be carried out more easily if on every occasion one partner of the Axis covered the other while it was dealing with an uncertain neutral. Italy might well regard Yugoslavia as a neutral of this kind."

That was rather inconsistent with your statement as to the good intentions towards Yugoslavia, and the Fuehrer's statement to Prince Paul, wasn't it?

Goering: I should like to read that through carefully once more and see in what connection that statement was made. As it is presented now it certainly would not fit in with that.

Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe: You know I do not want to stop you unnecessarily in any way, but that document has been read at least twice during the Trial and any further matter perhaps you will consider. But you will agree, unless I have wrenched it out of its context--and I hope I have not--that is quite inconsistent with friendly intentions, is it not?

Goering: As I said, it does not fit in with that.

Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe: Now, it was 56 days after that, on the 6th of October, Hitler gave an assurance to Yugoslavia and he said: "Immediately after the completion of the Anschluss I informed Yugoslavia that from now on the frontier with this country would also be an unalterable one and that we only desired to live in peace and friendship with her." And then again in March 1941, on the entry of the Tripartite Pact, the German Government announced that it confirmed its determination to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Yugoslavia at all times. Now, after that of course, as I have always said when you dealt with this, there was the Simovic Putsch in Yugoslavia. But I think you said quite frankly in your evidence, that Hitler and yourself never took the trouble, or thought of taking the trouble, of inquiring whether the Simovic Government would preserve its neutrality or not. That is right, is it not?

Goering: I did not say that. We were convinced that they were using these declarations to mislead. We knew that this Putsch was first of all directed from Moscow, and, as we learned later, that it had been financially supported to a considerable extent by Britain. From that we recognized the hostile intentions as shown by the mobilization of the Yugoslav Army, which made the matter quite clear, and we did not want to be deceived by the Simovic declarations.

Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe: Well, I would like to say one word about the mobilization in a moment. But on the 27th of March, that was 2 days after the signing of the pact I have just referred to, there was a conference in Berlin of Hitler with the German High Command, at which you were present, and do you remember the Fuehrer saying:

The Fuehrer is determined, without waiting for possible loyalty declarations of the new government, to make all preparations to destroy Yugoslavia militarily and as a national unit. No diplomatic inquiries will be made nor ultimatums presented. Assurances of the Yugoslav Government, which cannot be trusted anyhow in the future, will be taken note of. The attack will start as soon as means and troops suitable for it are ready. Politically it is especially important that the blow against Yugoslavia is carried out with unmerciful harshness and that the military destruction is effected in a lightning-like undertaking. The plan is on the assumption that we speed up schedules of all preparations and use such strong forces that the Yugoslav collapse will take place within the shortest possible time."

It was not a very friendly intention toward Yugoslavia to have no diplomatic negotiations, not give them the chance of assurance or coming to terms with you, and to strike with unmerciful harshness, was it?

Goering: I have just said that after the Simovic Putsch the situation was completely clear to us, and declarations of neutrality on the part of Yugoslavia could be regarded as only camouflage and deception in order to gain time. After the Putsch, Yugoslavia definitely formed part of the enemy front, and it was therefore for us also to carry out deceptive moves and attack as quickly as possible, since our forces at that time were relatively weak.

Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe: You realized, of course, that you said that General Simovic was inspired by Moscow. I am not going to argue that point with you at all. But I do point out to you that this was 3 months before you were at war with the Soviet Union. You realize that, do you?

Goering: Yes, that is correct. It was precisely the Simovic Putsch which removed the Fuehrer's last doubts that Russia's attitude towards Germany had become hostile. This Putsch was the very reason which caused him to decide to take quickest possible counter measures against this danger. Secondly ...

Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe: Just one moment. Do you know that it appears in the documents quite clearly, that the attack on the Soviet Union was postponed for 6 weeks because of this trouble in the Balkans? That is quite inconsistent with what you are saying now, isn't it?

Goering: No. If you will read again my statement on that point, you will see I said that a number of moves on the part of Russia caused the Fuehrer to order preparations for invasion, but that he still withheld the final decision on invasion, and that after the Simovic Putsch this decision was made. From the strategic situation it follows that the military execution of this political decision was delayed by the Yugoslavian campaign.

Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe: I want to ask you one other point about Yugoslavia. You remember your evidence that the attack on Belgrade was due to the fact that the war office and a number of other important military organizations were located there. I am trying to summarize it, but that was the effect of your evidence, was it not?

Goering: Yes.

Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe: Now, do you remember how it was put in Hitler's order which I have just been reading to you:

The main task of the Air Force is to start as early as possible with the destruction of the Yugoslavian Air Force ground installations... [Now, I ask you to note the next word 'and'] "...and to destroy the capital of Belgrade in attacks by waves. Besides the Air Force has to support the Army."

I put it to you that that order makes it clear that the attack on Belgrade was just another of your exhibitions of terror attacks in order to attempt to subdue a population that would have difficulty in resisting them.

Goering: No, that is not correct. The population of Belgrade did defend itself. Belgrade was far more a center of military installations than the capital of any other country; and I would like to draw your attention to this.
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