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Instead of splitting his invasion force into three groups, it appears to be more sensible to focus on taking over the Caucasus region first.

At the time, Baku, a Caucasus oil metropolis accounted for 80% of all Soviet production. Considering that the Soviets most likely would have suffered serious shortages without Baku oil, it appears sensible to capture the Caucasus and then wait for chronic oil shortages to affect the Soviets before advancing.

Furthermore, diversification of sources of oil appears important considering that Hitler was very concerned about the possibility of the Soviets devastating his Rumanian oil fields (which contributed 94% of Germany's oil in 1940).

I understand that many argue that Hitler's hubris was a factor, but are there any other reasons?

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An interesting perspective. Mostly I see Hitler's prioritizing of strategic resources as objectives over political objectives argued as a weakness, not a strength. –  T.E.D. Oct 23 '13 at 20:44
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@T.E.D.:Hitler could have co-ordinated his tactics with politics by claiming to "liberate" the Soviet Republics (SRs),(setting up puppet governments, refraining from atrocities etc.). Basically a chain of tributary buffer states in the Baltics, Belarus, Ukraine, Caucasus. Once done, there could be a logical end of the war: Germany lays off "Russia" in exchange for the latter's recognition of the "independence" of the SRs. –  Tom Au Oct 24 '13 at 12:44

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

There were TWO major plans subsumed under Operation Barbarossa. The plan for 1942 was called Fall Blau (Case Blue) and called for an emphasis on attacking the Caucasus, per the question. The basic reason it was abandoned was that it was the "backup" plan. The original (1941) objectives of Barbarossa was the so-called A-A or Archangel-Astrakan line. Elements of the earlier A-A plan eventually got mixed up in the 1942 Fall Blau.

After the initial failure to capture Moscow in 1941 (and the unsuccessful Soviet counterattacks around Kharkov in May, 1942), Hitler decided to shift the emphasis of the offensive south, toward the Caucasus. But once the Germans began enjoying successes, he diluted the Fall Blau plan by reinstating elemenets of the A-A plan.

Early In July, Sevastopol on the Black Sea finally surrendered to General von Manstein's 11th Army after a 9 month siege punctuated by unsuccessful Soviet counterattacks from the Kerch Strait. Hitler decided to move both Manstein and the 11th Army north to try to take Leningrad, thereby a allowing a resumption of the northern prong of the attack toward Archangel. The earlier planning for Fall Blau had the 11th Army joining the attack on the Caucasus.

The original plan for Fall Blau had German detachments going up to, but not into, the cities of Vornezeh on the Don, and Stalingrad on the Volga. The plan was to remain on the defensive outside these cities with (eastern) flank guards. and have a south facing thrust to the Caucasus.

The unexpected capture of Voronezh and 6th Army's rapid progress along the Don lulled Hitler into thinking that Stalingrad (the namesake city of the Soviet dictator) could also be captured. So instead of keeping Paulus' 6th Army on the defensive, it was posted on the offensive, with Herman Hoth's 4th Army (originally slated for the Caucasus) in support of the attack on Stalingrad. The diversion of this and the 11th Army cut the strength of the Caucasus attack force (two armies) by about half.

One lure of Stalingrad was that it was on the Volga River, the intended eastern boundary of the A-A line. If the city had been captured in September, the German could have proceeded down-river to capture Astrakhan, establishing the southern portion of the A-A line. Then the plan for 1943 might be to advance up the Volga behind Moscow (in the south), while capturing Leningrad and Archangel the same year, followed by a gigantic pincers encirclement of Moscow in 1944.

But rationally, Hitler should have gone for the (almost) "sure thing" in the Caucasus, instead of gambling on knockout blows at Stalingrad and Leningrad that failed. But that's another story.

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Good answer, +1. One fly in the ointment, though: the phrase about shortenng the war by a year is very jarring - could you please remove it? –  Felix Goldberg Oct 24 '13 at 0:45
    
@FelixGoldberg: Removed. –  Tom Au Oct 24 '13 at 0:48
    
Thanks & keep up the good work. –  Felix Goldberg Oct 24 '13 at 0:49
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Fantastic answer - any references/citations for those of us who want to pursue the issue more deeply? –  Mark C. Wallace Oct 24 '13 at 12:52
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@MarkC.Wallace: I was "weaned' on William L. Shirer's "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. For a more modern text, I recommend amazon.com/War-To-Be-Won-Fighting/dp/0674006801. One warning, some of the work is "original," (the interpretations, not the compilation of facts). Professor Murray said as much in his initial review of my (unpublished) "Axis Overstretch" book. –  Tom Au Oct 24 '13 at 21:06

Barbarossa was planned while Brauchitsch was the Commander of Heer (Army), so Hitler did not have as much input in the planning as is often perceived. The main idea of the operation was destruction of the Red Army at the border blitzkrieg and a swift occupation of the European Russia until the AA-line (Archangelsk-Astrakhan). Therefore the 3-pronged offensive:

  1. Leningrad - to secure the Baltic sea and thus the Swedish iron ore supplies (also, Leningrad housed 14% of the soviet military industry),
  2. Moscow - the main political, population, industrial, and transportation hub, and
  3. Ukraine - the bread basket (in addition to its industrial production)

Soviet Union was expected to collapse soon politically, so economic warfare (depriving it of the oil &c) was not deemed as important as taking the population and transportation centers.

When Barbarossa's failure became obvious on December 5, 1941, Hitler took over the command of Heer and the war strategy turned towards economic objectives rather than purely military ones, so 1942 offensive went towards Caucasus and oil.

PS. Hitler's "Grand Strategy" of 1942 included List (North Caucasus) meeting Rommel (North Africa) in Palestine and sending mobile troops to India to finally knock out Britain.

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I changed your last link to one that discusses a possible linkup between List and Rommel in the Middle East. That is an Allied "disaster scenario" that too few war accounts discuss, IMHO. See my answer to this question: history.stackexchange.com/questions/1593/… –  Tom Au Jan 10 at 20:54

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