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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

How Hitler Lost the War


You will forgive me, I hope, for yet another post on the Second Word War. Yes, I know it's over. But for my generation, the Baby Boomers, the Second Word War was like a creation myth. With Hitler as Satan and Churchill as St. Michael the Archangel.

This blog has argued in the past that Hitler could not, as some have suggested, have won the war had he concentrated his forces in North Africa to take out the British Empire—grabbing the Suez Canal and the British oilfields in Iraq by land. This would have left Hitler's supply lines too long and too exposed to attack by a sea power. He never could have made it.

Unless... with diplomacy, there could have been a way. Briefly, after the blitzkrieg had taken out France in the Spring of 1940. Imagine if Hitler had persuaded Spain and Turkey to join the Axis at that point, as he had persuaded Italy. Why not? Both had governments that were ideologically at least semi-Fascist. Turkey had been at Germany's side in the first war, had historic German sympathies and a desire for a counterbalance to neighbouring Russia. Spain wanted Gibraltar; Turkey had every reason to seek recovery of those Iraqi oilfields, taken from her in the first war.

Hypothetical map of Axis in 1940. Red: full Axis members. Pink: Axis influence or control.


Suez is gravy. If, on its own or with the help of German troops, Spain had managed to take Gibraltar by land or air, the British Navy would have been cut off from the Mediterranean on the west side. Malta would then have been a bit of a sitting duck in its turn. This might have been enough, combined with Italian naval strength, to have made it feasible to supply German troops from Libya as far as the Suez canal—cutting off Britain's other entrance, and turning the Mediterranean into a safe, sealed Axis lake. No danger to Axis supply lines running though it. In the meantime, a problem for Britain maintaining its supply lines east of Aden. Had Hitler been able to convince Petain too to join the fight, the weight of the Vichy French Navy, along with Italy's and Spain's, could have made the matter certain. The Med could have become a wolf pen for forays into the Atlantic. No North African landings.

In the meantime, with Turkey in the war, there would not even be a need for Germany to throw long supply lines along the North African coast in order to capture the Royal Navy's oil supply, and take it for itself. Iraq could be taken from Turkey by land, coming down from the north. With an important German presence there, Iran could probably also have been held in the Axis camp.

It seems to me this could very well have knocked Britain out of the war. If not, it would have weakened her so much she might no longer have been a major military factor.

And not just Britain. If Hitler had still felt it necessary to invade Russia, he would then have had a considerable advantage—instead of having to drive thousands of miles into Russia to reach the Russian oilfields in the Caucasus, Germany and Turkey would have had to fight a much shorter distance north—the Turkish-Russian border is already almost on the Caucasus. In fact, with Iran in the equation, the Axis lines start out already well to the east of Stalingrad. Turkey, stripped in the past of a good deal of territory by Russia, would probably be delighted to cooperate. Together with a drive east from the German border, this could have been a pincer movement, as if Hitler's first year and second-year Russian offensives occurred together. Meantime, with Iran holding for the Axis, Russia would have been cut off from much of its supply from the Western Allies, if they still counted.

Add to that the potential for Japan to attack from the East, far more tempting to Japan in this scenario—it seems an incredible failure of German diplomacy that Japan did not join in the attack on Russia. Surely there is a good chance this would have made the difference in that campaign, and sealed Stalin's fate.

Why did this not happen? I have heard it suggested that Hitler did not really try hard to gain more support from Spain or Japan or Vichy—though he did try. The theory is that he was confident Germany could do it on its own, and did not want to strengthen any other powers on Germany's dime. But if so, this seems to be a departure from his attitude up to this point: he showed a deep concern for diplomatic manoeuvre in gaining Italy's support, and in achieving the pact with Stalin.

It may have been overconfidence; it may have been chickens coming home to roost. How reliable was a pact with Hitler going to seem after Munich?

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