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What if Churchill never undertook the Balkans campaign?


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#1 SOAR21

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Posted 20 March 2009 - 06:47 AM

When Churchill ordered the Balkans campaign, O' Connor was in the midst of a string of successive victories, trouncing the Italians in North Africa. The Balkans campaign removed at least 50,000 of his troops, not to mention supplies, vehicles, and equipment. Losing a significant number of them in the campaign and Crete also worsened the situation.

I can't find any reason why Churchill would cancel the campaign, but that isn't my real speculation here. Assuming O' Connor had the extra troops, how far do you think he could have gotten? Would Hitler still have sent Rommel, if O' Connor seemed to leave no chance for Italian victory?

Another question, if O' Connor did not lose his troops, it is likely that he would not have lost at Tobruk and be captured. As such, how well would he perform the rest of the war, if not in the hands of the Axis? Judging by his conduct up to that point in the war, was he a promising military leader?

EDIT: I may be giving too much credit to O' Connor, and not enough to his superiors.
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#2 Lost Watchdog

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Posted 20 March 2009 - 10:16 AM

I think the British/Commonwealth forces could have rolled up the Italians before any German help came but it would have put them face-to-face with the Vichy French in Tunisia and Algeria.
Considering they fought over Lebanon/Syria, this could be a powder keg. And if Adm Darlan had gone over to the Allies earlier, De Gaulle might not been Free French leader.
Another consquence of an early end to the North Africa campaign is that the Australian and possibily New Zealand divisions could be returned to the Pacific. This might have deterred the Japanese altogether or turned the tide if the Japanese had decided to attack.
One reason I have seen cited for the Balkans campaign is that Churchill, reading Ultra intercepts, had wanted to divert the Germans to give Stalin more time to prepare. I'll leave that to the Ostfront experts
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#3 freebird

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Posted 29 June 2010 - 09:09 AM

I can't find any reason why Churchill would cancel the campaign, but that isn't my real speculation here.

Perhaps because the military chiefs were against it?

#4 von_noobie

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Posted 06 July 2012 - 01:53 PM

Well Australia would have almost single hand-idly won North Africa. Seeing as in a short space of time Australia killed, wounded and captured over 67,000 Italians for the loss of less then 1,000 men killed, wounded or captured. And that was with a single division, We had another on the way. So base on a ratio of 67 to 1 with soon to be combined force of 32,000 Aussies we could have eliminated 2,144,000 Italians... Not bad work.. I d say that would deserve a beer :P

#5 Carronade

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Posted 06 July 2012 - 07:45 PM

If they could just keep those British tanks out of the way, the Aussies would win the war!! ;)

Seriously, I agree the Empire forces would likely have wrapped up Libya pretty quickly, before the Germans could intervene effectively. Churchill planned to follow up with the invasion of French North Africa, then called Operation Gymnast. Presumably this would include both an overland attack and landings at key ports, as in Operation Torch historically. Torch benefitted from being a mainly American operation due to the animosity between the British and Vichy French, including considerable covert advance preparation by American agents working with the French leadership. Gymnast in 1941 would be more like the bitter fighting at Dakar or in Lebanon and Syria; the latter campaign, in May-June 1941, lasted five weeks and saw determined fighting by the Vichy troops despite being almost completely isolated from reinforcement or support. French North Africa would be a harder campaign, especially if the French, Germans, and Italians cooperated effectively, which luckily for the British they probably wouldn't.

#6 von_noobie

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Posted 07 July 2012 - 06:56 AM

Although i must point out one the reasons the Commonwealth forces were doing so well, the 6th division particularly is because of the kindness of the Italians, thousands of tank and vehicles and plenty of fuel to keep us moving =) Had to be the most hospitable enemy Australia faced in WWII :P

Why they went to Greece I will never now, Cant remember where I read it but there was something about Blamey (Aussie general) him self thinking the campaign was a disaster waiting to happen, And that Churchill (and another British general) tricked the Aussies and Kiwi's into going.

Battle they knew was hopeless but went any way, Dragging along there 'allies' and giving away the upper hand in NA. NA could have been over and done with in 1941, With invasion plans for Sicily set for 1942.

#7 Carronade

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Posted 09 July 2012 - 07:43 PM

As Churchill describes it in The Second World War, his aim was to open up an anti-Axis front in the Balkans including Greece, Yugoslavia, and Turkey; getting Turkey into the war was a particular obsession of his. Not so clear is why these nations, who were often at enmity with each other, would wish to involve themselves in Churchill's grand design, especially with the likelihood of it ending as it did. Churchill estimated that they could put as many as seventy divisions into the field, to which he proposed to add four, two Australian, one New Zealand, and a British armoured brigade which might eventually be built up to a full division; also a Polish brigade.

Greece had been invaded by Italy, but they were holding their own and even pressing the Italians back into Albania. Prime Minister Metaxas resisted Churchill's offers of aid, probably recognizing the likely German response, and it was only after his death that the Greeks relented and allowed the British to "rescue" them. Hitler, incidentally, was perfectly justified in considering the entry of belligerent troops into Greece as a hostile act, rather an unusual position for him.

#8 von_noobie

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Posted 09 July 2012 - 10:48 PM

True, Then again if he had held off his invasion of Norway until the British started he would have been justified sending troops to help Norway and Sweden, Wouldn't have to have dealt with those pesky partisans.

The way I see it Churchill made the same mistake Hitler did, Start up a whole new front while one still isn't finished (although at rate they were going NA could have been well and truly over by end of the year.)

#9 scipio

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Posted 09 July 2012 - 11:10 PM

A bit of cold water - O'Connor had just 43 tanks (of which a sizeable number were Italian) left running by the time he reached El Agheila - the troops wer totally exhausted. Rommel had started to arrive and his Reconnaissance was already probing into Commonwealth positions.

BTW 1st Cheshire battalion (specialist Machine Gun Battalion) had been supporting 6th Austalians giving suppressing fire, indirect and direct Machine gun fire throughout the 20 mile hike taking Tobruk and elsewhere - unlike the Australians they had a well over 100 pounds of MMG and ammo to carry. The Infantry Tanks of the British were the stars of breaking into the Italian Fortified positions without which the Infantry - even the best (as the Australians were ) would have been dead meat - to say nothing of the British Artillery which maintained the excellence attained in the previous War - the only arm that Rommel admitted he feared on the Commonwealth side.

I don't think that there was any possibility of taking Tripolitanian once the DAK arrived.

#10 Fred Wilson

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Posted 10 July 2012 - 12:43 AM

You are ignoring the big picture. Strategy.
German forces sent to relieve the Italians forced the delay of the Eastern Front.
Without the Balkans campaign, the Axis may well have, with a much earlier and robust start to the campaign:
a) wiped up the Soviets in short order and
B) WON THE WAR.

On-Line Book by: Major General A. C. SMITH, USA - Chief, Military History
Introduction: The German Campaigns in the Balkans

See also:
The Levant and the Balkans WWII: GREECE CAMPAIGN (APRIL 1941)
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Edited by Fred Wilson, 10 July 2012 - 01:07 AM.

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#11 von_noobie

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Posted 10 July 2012 - 02:22 AM

scipio, At the same time Rommel was starting to arrive so were more fresh units including the Australian 9th division. But to be fair there were also several other factors that hampered the chance of success in 1941, Such as Archibald Wavell ordering the forces to stop and rest for a whole 2 weeks at a time when the enemy was in full retreat and completely demoralized. But as for there small numbers, As the Australians had shown and as many would show through out the war, Tanks don't always mean the difference between success and failure. A determined resistancewith the fielding of there artillary and the large amount of Italian artillery captured by the Aussies could very well force Rommel into a stalemate or even better retreat.

And sorry if came across that way, But I have nothing but respect for the British troops that worked side by side with us supporting us. British brains and Industry mixed with Aussie stubbornness makes for a deadly force =).

Fred Wilson, While it was delayed by a month at best, I don't see us being able to say if it was the single cause for the German failure to defeat the Soviets. Shifting targets, long supply lines, difference in track gauge between Europe and the USSR. There is a log list of reasons why the campaign failed, Maybe if the roads and railway system was to the standard of Europe with the same gauge then it could have succeeded but other wise I think it would have turned out the same.

I have seen arguments that some of the Panzers were not ready for that start of Barbarossa because they were under going refit from the Greek campaign, By this argument considering the vastly smaller less intensive use that if they had been available for the Russian campaign from the start that many of them would have suffered mechanically long before they reached Moscow.

#12 Carronade

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Posted 10 July 2012 - 03:32 PM

Churchill's instinct was to do anything that would complicate matters for the Germans; as he himself wrote, that was more of a concern than the impact on the nations or peoples involved.

The premise of Barbarossa succeeding without the Balkan diversion pertains basically to the idea of winning the Russian campaign in 1941, if they had had a couple more weeks of fighting weather, a few more panzers in better condition, etc. It's commonly speculated that this might be achieved by capturing Moscow, which I think they had a chance of doing anyway (not to restart that debate), but while that would have been a fine conclusion to the 1941 campaign, it would not automatically win the war. The longer the Russian war goes on, the less noticeable the impact of the Balkan campaign would be.

While the extra time would benefit the entire campaign, material impact would be mainly on units of Army Group South such as von Kliest's panzer group, many of whose tanks had to travel as far as the Peloponnese and back on their own tracks.

Not losing all those Ju-52 transport planes in Crete might have helped logistics in Russia; IMO that could be more significant than potential paratroop operations.

On reflection I have to agree with scipio that we can't assume a quick conquest of the rest of Libya. Rommel's initial reconnaissance and anti-tank units arrived in Tripoli as early as February 14, and a panzer regiment March 8-10, and the Italians were building up forces and preparing defenses as well. On the other hand I think the British would have had better prospects for holding Cyrenaica without the reallocation of forces and logistic support to Greece, and air bases there could support Malta and threaten Axis sea lines of communication. Overall British prospects in North Africa would be improved even if it wasn't a pushover.

#13 Carronade

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Posted 10 July 2012 - 03:47 PM

Then again if he had held off his invasion of Norway until the British started he would have been justified sending troops to help Norway and Sweden, Wouldn't have to have dealt with those pesky partisans.

It's tempting to think life would work that neatly - whoever sets foot in Norway is automatically the "bad guy", and the population sides with whoever throws them out. It might work that way in a war game, but real people can be a bit trickier.

The British Plan R-4 actually called for landing troops in Norwegian ports after some German action or credible threat - although this would have been provoked by the Royal Navy mining Norwegian waters (Operation Wilfred). The hope was that there would be little or no resistance; they did not intend and were not prepared to fight their way ashore against opposition. I'm not sure how reaslitic that was, but if it could be achieved, the Germans would still be the ones initiating major combat. Quite likely they would also do most of the damage and end up occupying the country, which would still engender resentment and resistance.

p.s. it occurs to me that this is somewhat analogous to the situation in Greece, with the qualification that Norway had not been invaded by an ally of Germany. The British landed, ostensibly for the purpose of protecting the county although it was also part of their overall strategy, the Germans invaded and conquered, and the onus was on them.

Edited by Carronade, 10 July 2012 - 03:58 PM.


#14 steverodgers801

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Posted 10 July 2012 - 07:26 PM

The weather prevented the original start day of May so the invasion had nothing to do with it. The most important thing would have been the British may have captured Tunisia.

#15 Carronade

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Posted 11 July 2012 - 01:20 PM

Yes and no. The rains would have kept them from making the May 15 date regardless, but the link Fred provided notes flood conditions lasting "As late as the beginning of June" so Barbarossa might have kicked off a week or two earlier if the troops had been ready to go.

We also see "On 7 April Field Marshal von Brauchitsch issued an order in which he explained that Operation 25 necessitated changes in the preparations for the Russian campaign postponing it between four and six weeks. The new target date was to be 22 June.", that is, the June 22 date was set before anyone knew precisely when the rainy season would end.

Without the Balkan operations, it might have been similar to Eisenhower setting the final date for D-Day: everything ready to go, watching the weather. The German may have been thinking along those lines anyway. "15 May was the earliest possible date for the start of the invasion of Russia." doesn't read like a hard date, and it had been set several months ahead of time, long before they could know exactly when the rains would let up that year. Perhaps the intention was to be ready by May 15, in case the weather permitted them to go.

#16 lwd

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Posted 11 July 2012 - 05:00 PM

Yes and no. The rains would have kept them from making the May 15 date regardless, but the link Fred provided notes flood conditions lasting "As late as the beginning of June" so Barbarossa might have kicked off a week or two earlier if the troops had been ready to go. ...

Once "flood conditions" no longer apply you still need a while (week or two) for the ground to dry out or you convert it to mud rather easily. The Germans also had little intel from what I've read of exactly what the ground conditions were very far from the border.

#17 von_noobie

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Posted 13 July 2012 - 10:08 AM

Well if I understand it correctly, The weather cleared up around May 15th? So allowing half a month for ground to harden would allow them an extra 2 weeks, Not that I think this would make much difference.

#18 firstnorth

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Posted 13 July 2012 - 05:13 PM

Well if I understand it correctly, The weather cleared up around May 15th? So allowing half a month for ground to harden would allow them an extra 2 weeks, Not that I think this would make much difference.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
A lot of German accounts were 're written' during the Adenhaur era, prob. the most successfull marketing campaign of the1950's- 60s.
The 'logical' decision' was to delay Barbarossa one year,& bulild up your stocks of arms, transport food & fuel of railway re fab tracks, rail workers ( tons of Jews & Poles available!), build up your forces- then attack early in the spring of 1942- or 1943- 'first dry april'.
Nazi ideology made this impossible. So the Alt. story kicks in.
OPeration Marita crippled Barbarossa to the 'death point'.

If 'Der Alt' & Grobke replaced AH in 1938-39, we would all speak German....http://en.wikipedia....iki/Hans_Globke
http://en.wikipedia....Konrad_Adenauer

Edited by firstnorth, 13 July 2012 - 05:31 PM.


#19 Carronade

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Posted 13 July 2012 - 05:49 PM

Waiting until 1942 would also benefit the Soviets, as much or more than the Germans. In 1941 the Soviet military was still recovering from the purges. One effect of purging Tukhachevsky had been the purging of his mechanized warfare doctrines, which Stalin had only belatedly decided to revert to after seeing the success of the German Panzers. The Red Army's armored and motorized forces were being completely reorganized in spring 1941; most of the approximately thirty mechanized corps had only been established from March through May. They were also in the process of revising their equipment; the new T-34s and KVs were just beginning to reach the troops. The Russian mechanized force would have been infinitely more capable a year later.

Similarly in the air, the majority of Soviet fighters in 1941 were the obsolescent I-16s and the thoroughly obsolete I-15/153 biplanes. A new generation of inline-engined monoplanes comparable to western types were just being introduced: MiG-3, LaGG-3, Yak-1; these would comprise most of the fighter force by 1942. The Il-2 Sturmovik ground attack aircraft was also just entering mass production.

The Red Army was absorbing the lessons of the Winter War and the successful campaign against the Japanese. A new generation of officers would have had another year to learn their trade.

#20 firstnorth

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Posted 13 July 2012 - 06:09 PM

Well, Carronade, what I am presenting is 'my view, or vision' nothing less but nothing more.
A rational ideology would have realised that the Stalin era was a passing phenomenom, & his dysfunctional regime was a usefull supply base. The Soviets were happily providing everything from Grain to oil to rubber in exchange for German advanced goods. The 'Rapalllo agreement ' made large.

#21 firstnorth

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Posted 13 July 2012 - 06:13 PM

Lenin had five short years to implement his vision. At some point , your 'young generation of officers' would have overthrown the Stalin regime. Nazi Germany 'made' Josef Stalin.

#22 firstnorth

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Posted 13 July 2012 - 07:37 PM

so, the Autralian & NZ troops in Greece & Crete did not 'die in Vain'. Moscow in 1941 was a 'close run game'

#23 TiredOldSoldier

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Posted 14 July 2012 - 09:28 AM

Getting to Tripoli is no given, the Commonwealth forces would be facing the same logistics situation the had after Crusader, there are no usable railways West of the border, IMO the axis could reinforce in Tripolitania a lot faster than the allies could. Don't forget that after Beda Fomm they till had to face the 4 division army that was originally guarding the Tunisian border. If the Italians don't deploy again as non supporting camps it's a pretty tough nut to crack with the available forces.
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Truth is the first victim of conflict

#24 von_noobie

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Posted 14 July 2012 - 10:27 AM

While it's not a given, it's not impossible.. The Aussies only got as far as they did through use of all that Italian equipment they handed over to us with so little trouble.

And seeing as many thought it was an impossible mission from the get go.. It made no sense for them to go.. They could just as well have diverted Axis force by securing Libya which would open up the threat of Invasion in Italy.

#25 firstnorth

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Posted 14 July 2012 - 01:18 PM

While it's not a given, it's not impossible.. The Aussies only got as far as they did through use of all that Italian equipment they handed over to us with so little trouble.

And seeing as many thought it was an impossible mission from the get go.. It made no sense for them to go.. They could just as well have diverted Axis force by securing Libya which would open up the threat of Invasion in Italy.

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Excellent point. Re-enforcement of Crete would have made both campaigns possible. The battl;e for Crete could have been turned into a killing zone




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