The Tripartite Pact and the Eastern Mediterranean

In a diplomatic coup, Bulgaria signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany, Italy, Japan, Slovakia, and Romania on 1 March 1941. This made seven of the eight countries bordering Jugoslavia hostile to the British. A “Grand Balkan Alliance” against Germany with Jugoslavia, Greece, and Turkey became a pipe dream of the British Foreign Office. Additionally, German troops crossed into Bulgaria the same day making the invasion of Greece a near certainty. Winston Churchill, sensitive to German propaganda and an American perception that Britain does not help her Allies, ordered three of General O’Conner’s best units from the Western Desert in North Africa to Greece: the 2nd New Zealand Division, the 6th Australian Division, and the 1st UK Armoured Brigade.

Opposite O’Conner, LtGen Erwin Rommel organized every German soldier in Africa around the newly arrived 5th Panzer Regiment and created the 5th Light “Afrika” Division, which along with picked Italian motorized and armored units, prepared for an immediate offensive.

On 1 March 1941, the 33rd Flak (anti-aircraft) Regiment unloaded on the docks of Tripoli, Libya. The 33rd was equipped with 88mm flak 18 cannons which were designed to fire at high altitude bombers, but it’s high velocity projectiles proved equally effective against Allied tanks. The 33rd would provide Rommel with a much needed advantage against the heavier Allied armor.

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