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What Was The Mediterranean Strategy?

After Hitler's successful defeat of France, his options were limited by continued British intransigence, as detailed in Number 12 of this series (
What Were Adolf Hitler's Major Blunders?). To review:

1. Failing to conquer GB before opening the conflict on another front. See:

2. Attacking the USSR without adequate intelligence as to her actual and potential strength.

3. Declaring war unnecessarily on the US, thus further broadening the conflict while gaining nothing in return from his Japanese 'Allies.' (Had he been able to talk the Japanese into opening a Far-East Front against the Soviets, it would have been a different story indeed.)

4. Dividing his forces in the USSR into a three-pronged thrust which failed on all three prongs. (He should instead have planned for a three-year offensive, with the objectives of each fighting year confined basically to the corresponding objectives of his initial three prongs, beginning with the Center Thrust to Moscow in the first year.)

5. Failing to foil the cross-channel invasion--the D-Day invasion of Normandy--that he knew was coming, thus bringing the two-front war home to the Reich.

Hitler's first blunder was "Failing to conquer GB before opening the conflict on another front." The reasons for this failure were detailed in
Why Did Hitler Lose The Battle of Britain? All of Hitler's subsequent defeats, and his ultimate defeat in WW2, stemmed directly from Hitler's failure to defeat the British and his decision to invade the USSR. This begs the two-part question: 1) What should Hitler have done instead, and 2) would it have been possible for him to eventually win WW2 with this alternate strategy?

While the answer to either part of the question is too much of a "What If" to be answered definitively, there was an alternative strategy that would arguably have been a much better option to choose than invading the USSR and thus opening up a two-front war. A number of Hitler's generals urged him to adopt this option, and chief among them was Hermann Goering, the head of Hitler's Luftwaffe.

I realize that
Hermann Goering is considered by most to have been an incompetent, drug-abusing, self-indulgent gadfly--and there is some truth to this view--but he was also an extremely intelligent, personable, and basically pragmatic fellow. Most of Goering's problems stemmed from his unthinking loyalty to Hitler, whom he deferred to--and toadied to--until the end. This, however, is not the topic here (and my reasoning in this regard will take some space to properly explain, and will be delineated in a future number in this series). I will just say that it is arguable that he was actually the most intellectually well-rounded and realistic of Hitler's inner circle of cronies. If Hitler had tripped over a misplaced swastika, expired, and been replaced by Goering in early 1938, there would most probably have been no WW2 or Holocaust.

Of course, this is just speculation on my part, and I can in no way prove the contention. It is a purely subjective judgement, made from weighing probabilities, and is not meant to be a statement of fact. But for the purpose of this piece it is not necessary for me to do so, as the material below is relevant to the period after the war was already underway. It is a portion of Goering's Nuremberg testimony detailing his advice to Hitler concerning Barbarossa, and is interesting in that it reveals that Goering's view of the situation was much superior to Hitler's. In fact, I would contend that had Goering's advice below been followed, the war could possibly have gone in Germany's favor. One caution: This scenario is only valid with the qualifier that one must accept the view that the USSR was not, in fact, planning to attack Germany, which is hardly a provable contention.

While there may be an element of hindsight to Goering's views, it is documented that what is related below was essentially what Goering told Hitler at the time. Again, it is my contention that Goering would have made a better war leader for Germany than Hitler, and his views on strategy detailed here tend to support this view. The numbered portions are relevant to the list of concluding points located below the material.

Goering Explains The Mediterranean Strategy:

1946 Nuremberg Tribunal: On day 82, Hermann Goering testifies on his own behalf, answering a series of leading questions posed by his defense counsel. Here, Goering defends his advocacy of the so-called Mediterranean Strategy, a proposed war plan that would possibly (so some say) have made the ultimate German defeat much more problematic.

Dr Stahmer: When were you first informed that Hitler thought a war against Russia necessary?

Goering: It was not until the late fall of 1940, in Berchtesgaden, that I was informed about the intentions of the Fuehrer to enter into, conflict with Russia under certain circumstances.

Dr Stahmer: Were you present at the conversation, which took place in Berlin in November 1940 with the Russian Foreign Minister, Molotov?

Goering: I personally was not present at the conversation between Hitler and Molotov. Mr. Molotov, however, also paid me a visit, and we discussed the general situation. I know, of course, about the conversation with Molotov, because the Fuehrer informed me about it in detail. It was just this conversation which very much increased the Fuehrer's suspicion that Russia was getting ready for an attack upon Germany, and this was brought out during this discussion by the remarks and demands which Mr. Molotov made.

These were, firstly, a guarantee to Bulgaria, and a pact of assistance with Bulgaria, such as Russia had made with the three Baltic states.

Secondly, it involved the complete abandonment of Finland by Germany, to such an extent that Russia, who had signed a peace with Finland a short time ago, thought herself justified in attacking Finland again in order not to have to acquiesce in the results of the previous agreements, Hango, et cetera.

Thirdly, it dealt with discussions about the Dardanelles and the Bosporus; and the fourth point was the possibility of penetration into Romania beyond Bessarabia. These were the points which were discussed with the Fuehrer. There was also a hint to the Foreign Minister about an occupation, or securing of interests, at the exit of the Baltic.

The Fuehrer viewed these demands in a different light. Although Russia might have been justified in making demands to Germany concerning Finland, he believed, that in connection with other reports which he had received about Russian preparations and deployment of troops, Russia wanted to strengthen her position in Finland, in order to outflank Germany in the north and to be in immediate proximity to the Swedish ore mines, which were of vital or at least very decisive importance to Germany in this war.

Secondly, as to the advance, as demanded, into the Romanian and Bulgarian area, the Fuehrer was not at all sure that this pressure would continue in the south, that is, the Dardanelles, or in a near-easterly direction, but rather in a westerly direction; that is to say, that here also Russia might push into the southern flank of Germany and, by getting control of the Romanian oil fields, make Germany absolutely dependent on Russia for deliveries of oil. In these demands he saw the camouflaged attempts to deploy troops and obtain troop positions against Germany. The suggestion of securing an outlet to the Baltic did not even come up for discussion, as far as Germany was concerned, at that time.

Altogether that conversation caused the Fuehrer to feel that further relations were being menaced by Russia. Already in his discussion with me the Fuehrer told me why he was thinking about anticipating the Russian drive under certain circumstances. The information about feverish work on deployment preparations in the area newly acquired by Russia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Bessarabia, made him extremely suspicious. Until then we had sometimes only 8, later 20 and 25 divisions along the entire eastern border. Further reports came that Russia might be expected to attack us from the rear as soon as Germany had gone to war in the West, either because of an invasion by Britain or because Germany on her part had decided to invade England. His arguments were strengthened even more by the fact that shortly before, contrary to anything practiced in Russia before this, engineers, and, I believe, also officers of ours, that is, Germans, were suddenly shown the tremendous Russian armament works of the aviation and tank industry (1).

These reports about the surprisingly high production capacity of these armament works further strengthened the Fuehrer's conviction. He was so firmly convinced because, he said--and this was his political reflection--if England still will not consider coming to an agreement with us, although she now stands alone against us, she must have something at the back of her mind. He had information that Prime Minister Churchill had pointed out two things to worried elements in England. First, that increased support by the United States could be expected, first of all in the technical field, that is, with respect to armaments, and then extending to other fields; and, secondly, which he considered even more probable, that Churchill had already come to an understanding with Russia (2) in that direction, and he pointed out that here sooner or later there would be a clash.

His calculations were the following: Before the United States could be ready with her armaments and the mobilization of her army, he would have to smash the Russian troop concentrations, and break down and weaken the Russian forces to such an extent by strong concentrated attacks, that they would not represent a danger in the rear if he had to enter into an English-American conflict on the Continent. These were the explanations of the Fuehrer. Then came the visit of Molotov, which I just mentioned and which enhanced this point of view considerably.

Dr Stahmer: What was your attitude toward an attack on Russia at that time?

Goering: At first I was very much surprised at the time and asked the Fuehrer to give me a few hours to state my view. It came entirely as a surprise to me. Then in the evening, after this conversation had taken place in the afternoon, I told the Fuehrer the following: I urged him most particularly not to start a war against Russia at that moment, or even a short time after; not that I was moved by considerations of international law or similar reasons; my point of view was decided by political and military reasons only.

First, at all times since the seizure of power I, perhaps of all the leading men in Germany, was the only one who always considered conflict with Russia as a threatening menace to Germany. I knew--and many others with me--that for over 10 years an exceedingly strong rearmament and training program had been in effect in Russia, that the standard of living had been lowered in all other fields in favor of one single tremendous rearmament. The deliveries made by German industry and examination of the deliveries made by the American, British, and other industries always showed clearly that they consisted only of such machines as were directly or immediately necessary for a gigantic industrial rearmament program. One could thereby estimate the speed and the size of the Russian rearmament.

If Germany had now developed in the way of communism, then of course the Russian rearmament, in my opinion, would have been directed against other danger. But since we had come to power, the inner political and ideological contrast naturally played, in my opinion, a menacing part. I have come to understand that such contrasts do not necessarily have to lead to conflicts between countries, because the political interests of nation and state will always be stronger and greater than all ideological contrasts or agreements. But here also I saw a menace, because what did this tremendous Russian rearmament signify at a time when Germany before the seizure of power, was impotent? I now told the Fuehrer that in spite of this basic attitude I always feared this danger from Russia and had always recognized it, but that I was asking him rather to leave this danger in abeyance and, if at all possible, to direct Russia's interests against England.

And indeed I said to him: "'We are at present fighting against one of the greatest world powers, the British Empire. If you, my Fuehrer, are not of exactly the same opinion, then I have to contradict you, because I am definitely of the opinion that sooner or later the second great world power, the United States, will march against us. This will not depend on the election of President Roosevelt; the other candidate will also not be able to prevent this. Then we shall be at war against two of the largest world powers. It was your masterstroke at the beginning of the war to make possible a one-front war; you have always pointed that out in your Kampf. In the case of a clash with Russia at this time, the third great world power would be thrown into the struggle against Germany. We would again stand alone, against practically the entire world; the other nations do not count. And again we would have two fronts."

And he replied, "I fully appreciate your arguments. I appreciate the Russian menace more than anybody else, but if we should succeed in executing our plans as prepared in the fight against the British Empire, and if these were only half-way successful, Russia would not launch her attack. Only if we should become deeply involved in a serious conflict in the West would I be of your opinion, that the Russian menace would increase enormously."

I was even of the opinion that the quick assent of the Russians to the settlement of the Polish crisis was given in order that Germany, free from that side, would be all the more likely to get into this conflict, because the German-French-British conflict would come about thereby, and it would be entirely understandable, as far as Russian interests were concerned, to bring about this conflict and come out of it as well as before. I furthermore told the Fuehrer that, according to my reports and evidence, Russian rearmament would reach its climax in the year 1942-43, or perhaps even in 1944. Before then we should, however, succeed, if not in achieving a peace by victory on our part, at least in coming to an arrangement with England. This, however, would be possible only if decisive successes were achieved against England.

At that time the German Air Force with all its weight was being employed in the attack on England. If now a new front should be formed for an attack on Russia, a considerable part of these air forces, more than half, two-thirds, would have to be diverted to the East. For practical purposes an energetic air attack on England would thereby cease. All the sacrifices up to that time would be in vain; England would be given a chance to reorganize and build up her shattered aircraft industry undisturbed (3).

Much more decisive than these considerations was the fact that with a deployment of that kind against Russia, my plan, which I had submitted to the Fuehrer, to attack England at Gibraltar and Suez, would have to be dropped more or less finally. The attack on Gibraltar was so methodically prepared by the Air Force that, according to all human expectations, there could be no failure. The British air force stationed there on the small airfield north of the Rock of Gibraltar was of no importance. The attack of my paratroopers on the Rock would have been a success.

The simultaneous occupation of the other side, the African side, and a subsequent march on Casablanca and Dakar would at least have been a safeguard against America's intervention--a campaign, such as later took place in North Africa. To what extent beyond this, by agreement, the Cape Verde Islands could still be used, was an open question. It is obvious what it would have meant to be established with aircraft and submarines at North African bases and to attack all the convoys coming up from Capetown and South America from such favorable positions. Even if the Mediterranean had been closed in the west, it would not have been difficult, by pushing across Tripoli, to bring the Suez project to a conclusion, the time and success of which could be calculated in advance.

The exclusion of the Mediterranean as a theater of war, the key point Gibraltar--North Africa down to Dakar--Suez, and possibly extended further south, would have required only a few forces, a number of divisions on the one side and a number of divisions on the other, to eliminate the entire insecurity of the long Italian coast line against the possibility of attack. I urged him to put these decisive considerations in the foreground and only after the conclusion of such an undertaking to examine further the military and political situation with regard to Russia. For, if these conditions were brought about, we would be in a favorable position (4) in the case of an intervention by the United States, a flanking position.

I explained to him all these reasons in great detail and pointed out to him again and again that here we would be giving up something relatively secure for something still insecure, and that, after securing such a position, there would be much more of a prospect of coming, under certain circumstances, to an arrangement with England at a time when the two, both armed, would be standing opposite each other, the one on this, the other on that side of the Channel. These were my reasons for delaying the date, and I also told him that increased successes in this direction might enable us to steer Russian preparations politically, where possible, into other channels, against our enemies of the moment. I emphasize, however, that the Fuehrer, restrained by considerations of caution, at first made only general preparations and was going to hold in reserve, as he told me at the time, the actual attack; and the final decision was not taken until after the Simovic revolt in Yugoslavia.

1. This makes more sense when viewed as a tactic by Stalin to forestall a possible attack by the Germans based on a dangerously faulty view of Soviet capabilities. Stalin knew that his own armament industry was vast and fully functioning, and wanted Hitler to know this as well. What makes this interesting is:

A. Had Stalin actually had a preemptive attack on Germany in mind, he would not have revealed the extent of his armament industry beforehand, but would have kept the "tremendous Russian armament works of the aviation and tank industry" a secret.

B. Stalin showed his cards in this regard to deter Hitler from making the very mistake he did, indeed, make; attacking a heavily armed USSR under the false assumption that the Soviets were weak. If the old adage, that the best way to prevent an attack is to have a strong military capability, is to prove effective as a deterrent, the other side must be aware of said capability. This is why Stalin showed this capability to the Germans. It is a bit illogical that Hitler instead assumed that this revelation proved that Stalin had aggressive intent.

C. Hitler is supposed to have lamented--after his attack on the Soviets had bogged down--that had he known how many tanks they had, he'd have thought twice about attacking. This knowledge of "the tremendous Russian armament works of the aviation and tank industry" thus revealed makes this remark by Hitler seem disingenuous after the fact. A competent leader is supposed to "think twice." That is his job.

2. As a rational for attacking the USSR, this one is at least reasonable, but Hitler could offer no evidence that such an "understanding" had in fact been reached. Thus, it was Hitler's 'intuition' that told him to initiate Barbarossa, not any actionable intelligence. Yet another error in judgement by the `great' leader.

3. This point by Goering is hard to refute. By shifting the focus of his military endeavors to a second front, Hitler's allowed GB to catch its breath. This mistake would lead directly to D-Day.

4. Again, this makes perfect sense. Had the Mediterranean Strategy been successfully waged, the "exclusion of the Mediterranean as a theater of war" would have put GB in a desperate situation. The Mediterranean would have been an Axis lake; GB would have been forced to take the long route around Africa in the face of concentrated U-boat packs; the North Africa Campaign would have never been mounted; Italy--the 'soft underbelly'--would have been protected from Allied attacks; and Hitler would have gained the oil resources of the Middle East. This may well have been enough to gain "an arrangement with England," because the only successes GB achieved before D-Day were gained in the Mediterranean Theater.

Without these few successes, the British public may well have been more inclined to reach an accommodation with Hitler because Churchill would have had nothing by which to convince them that there was any hope whatsoever that they could prevail. It was only the rare successes that enabled Churchill to keep British morale high enough to stay in the fight. Without them, it is very problematic that they'd have continued to hold out suffering defeat after defeat without end, with only Churchill's rhetoric to sustain them. Even the indomitable British could not have been expected to keep a 'stiff upper lip' in the face of a total lack of success stretching over some years.

Conclusion: Yes, the above is all speculation, and thus is hardly provable in any respect. However, the preponderance of probabilities would suggest that The Mediterranean Strategy would most likely have been a superior strategy compared to Barbarossa.
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