Most of us might have heard something about the Geo-strategic position of Turkey. She connects two continents to each other and provides a bridge between the relatively advanced Europe and the resource-rich Middle East. It is also a well known fact that Hitler attacked the Soviets to gain access to the Caucasian oil fields, in addition to his other designs.

Given that, why did Hitler not order the attack of Turkey in order to reach the oil in the Middle East? He would also have struck a mighty blow against the Allies, since most of that area was under Allied control then. Additionally, he could have seized control of the Straits which are vital for Black Sea region, putting additional pressure on Stalin.

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    The Mediterranean was actually Italy's part, their allies. They had a surprisingly tough time with Greece and the Balkans though, which weren't nearly as militarily powerful as Turkey (aka ex-Ottoman empire). Germany had to withdraw a third of its troops from the eastern front, to help the Italians out. So involuntarily, the Italians saved the day (by being very, very bad at conquering Greece). Anyway, the point is, that after having Greece they already had quite some control over the Bosporus, and they simply had not the necessity, priority or the required troops to take Turkey.
    – Matthaeus
    Commented Oct 26, 2014 at 23:15
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    It wasn't quite Greece vs Italy, though - the British had a fairly heavy presence in Greece in even the early stages of the war
    – Jon Story
    Commented Oct 31, 2014 at 0:39
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    Attacking as many countries at once as one can is a poor strategy. Hitler was not a military genius by any measure and had a fair share of delusions, but even he knew better, and made his deals with many local regimes. Beside that, geographically makes not much sense to attach the Middle East from the direction of Turkey, especially if ones army built on blitzkrieg and fast moving tank units. Hard terrain, difficult shipping and logistics if you want to pass somehow the Bosporus or land on the beaches. Northern Africa was a much better way (which failed, too).
    – Greg
    Commented May 22, 2015 at 3:39
  • @Matthaeus Surely not a third.... Commented Aug 8, 2015 at 12:28
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    The basic answer is that Turkey is a difficult (mountainous) country and not a threat. Any move into Turkey would see the British immediately help. Russia was the much bigger threat. Hitler was already "on his way" to the middle east via Africa, and then Russia. Hitler actually believed Russia would fall by the end of 1941. See my answer for more details.
    – DrZ214
    Commented Nov 2, 2016 at 12:28

11 Answers 11


Turkey, like Spain and Sweden, was a country that "served the purpose" for Germany during World War II without being attacked. Specifically, Turkey was a major supplier of chrome, a key war material, both in her own right, and through "transshipments" from modern Rhodesia and South Africa. A hostile Turkey might not have been as good a supplier of such materials.

Turkey would also have been a tough nut to crack militarily, given her hilly terrain (difficult tank country), and martial traditions, most recently displayed in World War I with a defeat of a British invasion of Gallipoli. Given the limitations of the German advance in Russia in 1941, if they had continued from the Balkans into Turkey, that might be all that they would have gotten that year, giving Russia (who was rapidly re-arming and fortifying her frontiers) another year to prepare for war.

Finally, Turkey had been an ally of Germany in World War I, and Germany had some hopes of winning her over, e.g. through a successful campaign in Russia, as she had with Hungary,and Bulgaria her other World War I allies.

As in the case of Spain and Sweden, Germany felt her interests were better served by Turkey as a benevolent "neutral," as opposed to an outright enemy.

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    (Turkey is also the biggest supplier of [Hazelnut][1]. Without hazelnut, no Nutella. No Nutella, no war. Tough nut to crack.) [1]: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hazelnut#Modern_cultivation Didn't know though, that they won against the Brits in WW1. thanks.
    – Matthaeus
    Commented Oct 26, 2014 at 23:20
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    @Matthaeus:The Turkish victory in World War I basically derailed the career of a middle-aged British naval minister named Winston Churchill. Until he made a "comeback" for the ages.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Oct 27, 2014 at 15:00
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    Saying Italy and Germany were allies in WWI makes me suspicious of the rest of the answer. Commented Oct 28, 2014 at 14:38
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    @Mr.Bultitude, they were actually friends until the war broke out. Italy remained neutral for a short time and then changed her side.
    – biri
    Commented Oct 28, 2014 at 15:40
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    Also there was the en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Germany_Turkish_Non-Aggression_Pact And if there's one thing Nazi Germany is known for it's for keeping its non-aggression pacts.
    – user45891
    Commented Oct 28, 2014 at 18:16

I've had similar questions over the years, and did some research on this. Let me admit, though, my interest comes from a different angle. I was originally thinking why didn't the USSR invade Turkey somewhere around 1939 - 1941?

But I will try to answer your question about why Germany didn't do it.

There's a phrase I know that goes something like this: Good generals study tactics, but really good generals study logistics. So let's have a look at a topographical map of Turkey (click for higher resolution):

enter image description here

As you can see, it's very mountainous. In that respect, it's similar to Afghanistan. A war here would be very different from the war in flat East Europe. That does not mean it's impossible, but it would take a lot longer than normal.

Turkey's area is about 783 thousand square kilometers (303 thousand square miles). This would actually be the 2nd largest country in Europe, if you considered all of Turkey to be part of Europe. (The largest, of course, is Russia---even if you only consider EuroRussia.)

Population of Turkey in 1940: 17.8 million. From this we can estimate that the number of males aged 15 to 35 is about 2.37 million.

From the mountainous regions, you would think logistics would be a nightmare too. However, the immediate question is, were there any railways in Turkey around 1940?

And the answer is yes. I found a great site, trainsofturkey.com, that has a lot of historical info on this.

First the 1914 map:

enter image description here

This is actually not too bad. If you can blockade the coasts and use the pink railway, you could surround practically the whole country.

From some more data and maps on that site, especially this table, I was able to construct a map to show what railways existed in 1941:

enter image description here

Dark Red lines I confirmed existed by 1941. Bright Red lines I could not confirm exist by 1941. Even so, you can see that there is a decent network of railways throughout most of Turkey.

Unfortunately, I could not find any data about which lines, if any, were double-track (2 lanes dedicated for 2 directions). I could not find what gauge these railways are, but I think they're almost certainly the "Standard Gauge" (1435 mm) used by Britain, France, Germany, and many other places. But probably, the tan line in the northeast is Russian Gauge (1524 mm).

The point of those rail maps is to show that, theoretically, logistics is not as bad as it might seem from the topological map. This is of course contigent on having access to those railways, the rolling stock, and not being interfered with by the British Navy, for example. We'll get to those again soon.

We also need to know the state of Turkey's military at this time. For this I rely on Wikipedia's Military History of Turkey. It does not appear comparable to Germany's military, nor to Russia's military for that matter.

Finally, we need to know Turkey's economic role in the war. AFAIK, the only economic product of importance was Chromium. Chrome is an important alloy for stainless steel. Without it, your steel would rust. I could not find maps of historical chrome mines in Turkey, so I don't know exactly where those mines were located.

So the most logical invasion plan would probably go something like this:

  • Invade Thrace (European Turkey, west of the Bosphorus) to set up airbases and control the Bosphorus Strait.

  • Blockade and bombard the coastal cities and towns. This would require sea power, which Germany didn't have in this part of the world. Britain had almost all the sea power in the European Theater, and note that Cyprus has a major British Naval Base right next door.

  • Alternatively, use air power to bomb the coastal cities/towns and ports. This is no small matter. Assuming your airbases are only in Greece, Bulgaria, and Crete, the distances involved probably mean that only the west half of the coast is feasible to bomb.

  • Anyway, somehow clear a beachead and get access to at least one railway, I would guess at Istanbul or Samsum. Then import rolling stock to move your army into the interior. If Germany could get access to a railway, this is feasible. Germany could certainly produce its own rolling stock (train engines, train cars, etc.), and there appears to be a rail connection to Istanbul from Greece or Bulgaria.

  • Fight your way in along the railways. Set up army bases and airbases along the railways. Even if the railways are one lane only, I believe this is feasible. I'm pretty sure the Russian Civil War, at least, saw some heavy fighting on single-lane tracks with armored train cars. Another matter is sabatoge (blowing up tracks or trains). From what I've read, however, track can be repaired in less than a day when you're prepared for it (bring repair equipment on your train), and clearing a wreck takes maybe a day too. I believe Russian practice in WW2 was to put a dummy car at the front of a train to take the brunt of any mines anyway.

  • Preferably, invade the valleys around Adana and Iskendrun to get access to the relatively flat lands on the Syrian Border. This will cut off access routes. Remember, Syria became part of Vichy France but then was retaken by the allies in summer of 1941, along with Iraq right before it.

So why didn't Germany do this?

  • In some sense, they were alreadying trying to access the Middle East or Transcaucasus, but through Africa, presumably because the terrain was easier.

  • Turkey was a neutral supplier of Chrome and historically had good relations with Germany (like in WW1). Keep in mind that Spain, Portugal, and Sweden were also neutral suppliers of critical materials. If Germany invaded Turkey, those others would get pretty nervous and may have more incentive to join the Allies.

  • Something else to note: The Molotov-Ribbentropt Pact agreed that the USSR would annex all of Finland, even though Finland had important nickel mines. This shows that Germany was willing to allow important resources in future enemy hands, so by that reasoning, they should be perfectly willig to allow important resources in neutral hands too.

  • Russia was the bigger threat---much, much bigger---and conquering it would give Germany a lot more than Chrome. In fact, we should look at the order of conquest that Hitler did, or tried to do: Poland, Denmark and Norway, France and Benelux, Britain, Southeast Europe, Russia, The End. Most of those were real threats. Turkey was not a threat.

  • If Germany invaded Turkey, Britain would almost certainly ship in war supplies. Turkey would almost certainly allow British troops to come and help them defend. This would probably include aircraft too, and the Battle of Britain and the Blitz were aerial defeats of the Luftwaffe by the Royal Air Force. Britain' Navy would almost certainly secure most of the coast, with the exception of the Black Sea. Britain could resupply Turkey indefinitely as long as Convoys kept coming from America and Canada.

  • When Germany conquered the Balkan Peninsula, it was a very bloody victory. The British were helping Greece at the time, ensuring large casualties for the Germans. They could expect more of the same if they tried it in Turkey.

  • When USSR invaded Finland in 1939, they did not succeed. This made Finland lean towards the Axis, and they allowed Nazi troops into Finland. Hitler probably did not want to risk such a thing happening in reverse in Turkey.

So to sum up: Invading Turkey could only be realistically considered if Germany could somehow do it "one at a time" like they did with Czechoslovakia and Poland. Even then it would have cost a lot of casualities and time. By 1940, the gig was up and Britain was at war with Germany.

The bigger threat was Russia, and Hitler actually believed Russia would die by the end of 1941, giving him access to oil in the transcaucasus. No need to go after non-threats unless somehow you knew they were about to side with the allies. Turkey was pretty committed to neutrality, and German intelligence probably knew this.

Disclaimer: I am not an expert in war or geopolitics. But I have read a lot about Germany and Russia in WW2, and their decision-making.

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    "The order of conquest" as intended by the Germans most definitely did not include Britain. There was not even talk of an invasion of the British isles before Raeder brought it up in May 1940. That Britain and France declared war over Poland was very much an inconvenience to the strategic plans. There was no plan to conquer all of Europe. There was a plan to conquer (major parts of) Russia, and whatever was necessary to get there.
    – DevSolar
    Commented Apr 5, 2017 at 12:50
  • @DevSolar As originally intended, no. In the revised plan, yes. I only stated the order of attempted conquests as they played out in reality, and said nothing of what was originally intended or revised.
    – DrZ214
    Commented Apr 5, 2017 at 21:48

Reaching the Middle eastern Oilfields which are on the Persian Gulf is a lot harder than it looks, and getting the Oil back even harder. The railways don't go all the way and the Turkish railways were pretty low volume. Shipping just forget that the Axis dint have the tankers and RN would just sink them (too many bases not enough escorts). To rail the Oil back to Germany, the problems are no rails and the years it would take to build them, and the lack of rolling stock and the years it would take it build them. Going for the middle eastern oil would require years of investment before any return would be realised. Berlin Moscow 1836km, Berlin Stalingrad 2783km, Berlin to Baku 3066km, Berlin Basrah 3709km.

Turkey has a large badly equipped army. Given large Allied support the campaign could drag on for quite some time, the Turks are pretty stubborn and can't see them rolling over just because the Germans captured Istanbul and Ankara, the country is pretty hard work logistically and the Germans would struggle to get their power to ground (they have a large army but only a small force cane supplied and maintained in turkey)

The Logistics are much more difficult than first appears.

  • The railways don't go all the way and the Turkish railways were pretty low volume. ... the problems are no rails and the years it would take to build them, and the lack of rolling stock and the years it would take it build them. This is not quite accurate. Turkey in 1941 actually had a fairly decent rail network across most of the country. See my answer for maps and citations. Germany could produce its own rolling stock or just transfer some (if it was important enough to invade, they could probably spare a few train engines and cars).
    – DrZ214
    Commented Oct 31, 2016 at 8:32
  • Turkish railways were primitive , low volume, low load , nor complete, single tracked almost everywhere, and mountainous country where building more bridges and grading would be difficult. The germans were extremely short of rolling stock. The Turkish railway network also connect totes German through the Balkan railway system which is not good either.
    – pugsville
    Commented Oct 31, 2016 at 11:42

Hitler wasn't interested in Turkey in itself, but let's analyse this option as a means to an end.

Hitler went to war as he wanted "Lebensraum" for his people, literally, "living room" and for that he needed Russia, specifically the Ukraine and European Russia.

Turkey did not offer this, it's a difficult country to move around with poor (at the time) infrastructure and logistics.

However, it could offer some options for getting to the Middle East and the oil rich Caucuses.

The trouble is that with the relatively strong (compared to Greece and Yugoslavia) Turkish armed forces, coupled with poor road and rail links, it would have taken the Germans a long time and a lot of their firepower to prevail. This would have given the Russians more time to modernise and prepare for the inevitable German invasion so it was never a viable option, although I am sure Hitler would have considered it.

If you look at it on a cost to benefit analysis then it's simply not worthwhile. Also Germany wasn't having problems with oil at this stage of the war (1940-1941), shortages only became a pressing issue from 1942 onwards and not critical until 1943 or even 1944. Once the invasion of Russia had been launched Germany didn't have the chance or the forces spare to invade anyone else, they had their hands full!

In my opinion an invasion of Turkey would have put Barbarossa back until 1942 at least and tied down a lot of German forces after that as there would have likely been a lot of partisan/guerilla forces continuing to fight even after Turkey officially surrendered. Invading Russia in 1942 would have been harder than in 1941 with all those extra T-34s for a start!

  • The trouble is that with the relatively strong (compared to Greece and Yugoslavia) Turkish armed forces, coupled with poor road and rail links... I don't think this is correct. From what I've ready, Turkey's military was not that great, and Turkey actually had a decent rail network across much of the country. See my answer for maps. But with all those mountains plus British aid, it certainly would have cost a lot of time and casualties.
    – DrZ214
    Commented Oct 31, 2016 at 8:29
  • The info I have seen online gives 16 Greek divisions ww2-weapons.com/greek-armed-forces vs 47 Turkish divisions (in 1941) en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turkish_Army_order_of_battle_in_1941 - but it doesn't give any idea as to how modernised these were. Yugoslavia had 31 divisions but a lot of these weren't fully mobilised when they were invaded. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Yugoslav_Army
    – davidjwest
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 12:28

Had Hitler's plan to conquer both the Caucasus (part of Operation Barbarossa) and British-occupied Palestine (through Rommel) worked, Germany's intent was to link up both forces through Turkey. If Turkey would not have given its consent to German troop movements across its territory, then probably Germany would have attacked Turkey. Both German campaigns failed however; the Caucasus wasn't conquered and Rommel was stopped by the British at El Alamein.

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    If they were able to do the first two steps, there would be no need to have the two link up over a thousand miles or so of trackless mountains and deserts. Looks good when drawing bold arrows on a map, but makes no sense in the real world.
    – Oldcat
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 22:56
  • It is the shorter way than to go around counter-clockwise a few thousand kilometers to move something from the Caucasus to the Eastern Mediterranean, like troops or supplies or whatever.
    – jjack
    Commented May 22, 2015 at 10:06
  • shorter in miles, not likely shorter in time, which is what matters.
    – Oldcat
    Commented May 22, 2015 at 17:21
  • Did you check on the respective distances? And Germany would not have had much technical trouble building a railroad through Turkey to make the link.
    – jjack
    Commented May 22, 2015 at 17:45
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    Distance doesn't matter much when the 'short' way is over a major mountain range, across the worst terrain in Europe, and then over major deserts - all without any roads to speak of. Germany had its hands full rebuilding all the rail lines in the USSR, since they couldn't use them until they had been set to the with that German locomotives could fit on. Armenia is where armies go to die...even in WWI.
    – Oldcat
    Commented May 22, 2015 at 17:50

Apparently the German army made plans (or considered trying) to at least base armies in Anatolia (roughly Asian Turkey) and move into the Middle East. However, the idea was to do so after Russia was defeated, and we know how well that went. The purpose was to (some extent) get Iranian oil, but more importantly to harass the British Empire where it was accessible from land. (A previous move in this direction was made earlier, when there was a German-inspired revolt in British Iraq and an attempt to hold Vichy Syria for the Reich, but these both failed). I can't tell if the German army would be 'allowed' into Turkey or just would move there. Here's a quote, from The Wages of Destruction, the Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy (Adam Tooze), p. 441.

As far as the German army was concerned, the chief priorities were tanks and explosives. Despite the enormous scale of operation Barbarossa, the German army shared the view that the ultimate military enemies of the Third Reich were Britain and the United States. Furthermore, the army anticipated that after victory in the East it would struggle to assert itself against the rival claims of the Luftwaffe and the navy. As an alternative to the air and naval war, the army's staff therefore devised a variety of operations through which it might strike at the British Empire in Western Asia. Once the Soviet Union had been defeated, powerful armored columns would be launched into the Middle East and northern India from bases in Libya, Anatolia and the Caucasus. To deliver this death blow, the Generals dreamed of a vast fleet of 36 Panzer divisions, 15,000 strong. An internal planning document produced by the army in May 1941 called for the production of almost 40,000 tanks and 130,000 half-tracks over the next three years. These schemes for a Eurasian war on a scale not seen since Alexander the Great have generally been dismissed as little more than thought-experiments. In fact, however, tank production by the end of the war comfortably exceeded the quantities specified in the army's Mesopotamian fantasy. And this increase in production was only possible because the army's post-Barbarossa planning did not remain on paper. In 1941 hundreds of millions of Reichsmarks were invested in the tank industry. In Kassel, Henschel & Sohn added almost a hundred thousand square meters of new floor space. A gigantic new plant, the Nibelungen works, was opened an Sankt Valentin, Austria, and two new factories - Vomag at Plauen and the Maschinenfabrik Niedersachsen - were converted to tank production. The year 1941 also saw an important shift in technological terms. Germany finally abandoned large-scale production of obsolete light tanks and concentrated all available energies on the medium tank designs that were to see the Wehrmacht through to the summer of 1943...


2 Reasons: 1. Had to do with the early attitude of the Nazis towards moving the German Jews to Palestina. A friendly Turkey would serve the purpose as a large guardian state to keep Palestina in check.

2. Turkey was a muslim state and Hitler sought to galvanize the muslim world against the Jews - the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem would become one of Hitler's greatest allies in the region.

There is also a third, unconfirmed reason: Hitler, having been a soldier in WW1, still saw Turkey as a potential ally as they had been previously. But since the Turkish army was pretty much in a useless state, he abandoned the ally-idea swiftly into the war and maintained only his own fond memories. By the time he would have considered invading Turkey as the Italians were useless, he had already become too entangled in the Soviet Union.


An interesting fact was that Turkey actually proposed a tripartite alliance against German expansin at Balkans between Turkey, the USSR and Britain. They proposed to attack Germany in case they invaded Romania.

But after Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was concluded such alliance became infeasible. The British proposed Turkey to make a bilateral treaty but Turkey replied that without USSR such alliance is worthless.

Germany on the other hand strived to win Turkey in their alliance and exerted considerable pressure on her. For instance, they refused to ship the weapons purchased by Turkey from German plants and to return the paid money. As a result, Turkey was quite outraged, and the British shipped similar weapons to Turkey for free.

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    Turkey actually proposed a tripartite alliance against German expansin at Balkans between Turkey, the USSR and Britain. They proposed to attack Germany in case they invaded Romania. Can you link to a source? The British proposed Turkey to make a bilateral treaty but Turkey replied that without USSR such alliance is worthless. Can you link to a source for that too? I want to read more about those negotiations, especially what time they took place.
    – DrZ214
    Commented Oct 31, 2016 at 6:17

I don't mean to contradict any of the existing answers to this question or to offer a comprehensive answer myself. Military and logistical issues would have certainly been factors, just like the Italians' failures in Greece and the Balkans and Germany's need to devote resources to those areas to back up the Italian troops.

But I think Hitler's own personal interest in Kemal Ataturk is important to consider. Maybe it's not a bad analogy to say that Hitler considered Ataturk a sort of Turkish kindred spirit in that he wanted to reform and modernize his own nation, once a formerly great empire that had recently been defeated and minimized, rebuilding it in his own image. This is basically what Hitler was attempting in Germany.

One reason the Germans didn't try to go through Turkey could be Hitler's interest in Ataturk.

See the description of this book: http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674368378


Hitler actually wanted his generals to attack and capture Turkey but his generals changed his mind. They could capture Istanbul but that's it...if German army entered Anatolia, they would be annihilated in a matter of weeks. Turks proved how they fight by beating England and France in Dardanelles. after 8 months of fierce fighting, Brits had to run away leaving 125.000 dead soldiers behind.

For details; Wikipedia - Gallipoli Campaign

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    Do you have any evidence for this? You could just as easily look at the Battle of Megiddo and conclude that the Turks didn't stand a chance.
    – Mark
    Commented May 10, 2015 at 0:03
  • Of course, a year or so after Gallipoli, Lawrence and Allenby bounced the Turks right out of the Mideast and the Levant without breaking a sweat.
    – Oldcat
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 22:58
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    The Allied dead toll is more like ~55k, with British deaths being only a component.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Aug 8, 2015 at 6:00

The simple answer is that while Hitler had some talents in public speaking and human manipulation, he was not very bright. There is overwhelming evidence that shows he underestimated Russian military capabilities and thought it would be easy to get to the oil fields in Baku. If he would have known it was going to be nearly as difficult as it was I am sure he and his military planners would have chosen to invaded Turkey for the simple reasons that once Turkey was conquered Baku would be in immediate striking distance over the Turkish border, air support and supplies lines would be much closer and invading Turkey could have been done without directly provoke Russia until he was finally ready to strike out toward Baku. I think it is with the benefit of history that many tacticians would see Turkey as the best choice today. History also shows that no agreement or pact was responsible for Hitler's failure to invade Turkey because Hitler did not care about these: he had one with Russia and what happened?

The evidence that Hitler was not bright and delusional is clear when you look at the contradictions in his own "aryan" measures. There is considerable evidence that Slavs are descendants of viking traders that created trade routes into the western Russian river networks. The circumstantial evidence this is true is literally written all over the faces of vast numbers of Russians and other Slavs: Many are blonde haired and blue eyed. I think the bizarre thing about Hitler's ethnics opinions is that the Slavs, who have large numbers of people that fit Hitler's Aryan physical guidelines, were considered inferior and not Aryan, but dark complexioned people like those in southern Italy (who have Africa Moor blood in them) ARE Aryan. This is just one example of how Hitler's thinking was illogical even for a bigot. It seems pretty clear that if Hitler was smart enough to see that Slavs are the same degree away from his perfect Aryan and a German is and he would have allowed the Ukrainians (especially) to have their own country (under gentle German control, similar to Norway) that the Ukrainian would have fought with Germany against Russia and Germany would had a significantly increased chance of defeating Russia. Hell, if Stalin was in Hitler's place he would have given Ukraine independence, had them help him beat Stalin, THEN killed all the Ukrainian and took their land. This shows Hitler was not even good at treachery!

There is so much wrong with the above post: Russian did not invade Finland because it was a tradition to do so. They did it because they were interested in the nickel rich area they eventually took over. Also, Finnish is in the "Urgic" language branch with Hungarian, so is not a single unrelated language like Basque.

Hitler invaded the Ukraine instead of Spain not only because it has been known for centuries as some of the most coveted and rich farm land in Europe, but also because it was relatively sparsely inhabited, vast, and uniquely unexploited/uncultivated.

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