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In 1942, Germany adopted Fall Blau, a plan for a southward push in the Soviet Union toward the Caucasus, and the borders of Turkey and Iran. (Stalingrad was added to the plan later.)

Decrypts by "Ultra" ("Marching Orders" p.64) quoted Japan's Foreign Minister Togo as saying "Germany has put her all in the mortal battle with Russia. Her success or failure will determine the attitude and relations with all the neutral countries." Togo was referring to countries like Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, and even Egypt (technically "independent," but a de facto British protectorate).

The Japanese then speculate that with the "neutrals" and the non-Russian Soviet Union under their belt, the Axis could make peace with "Russia," and limit the war to one against Britain and the United States.

Question:

Did other diplomats and politicians contemporaneously, or historians retroactively, make the case that the prioritization of "economic" rather than "political" objectives in the Soviet Union (such as Moscow), was actually aimed at winning over neutral nations in the Mediterranean region?

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    If Germany reached Baku it faced significantly higher chances of winning the war. A neutral nation (Turkey) previously sitting on a fence would join the bandwagon and side with the winner. That's domino effect in action. Doubt that Franco would have been impressed enough to join the Axis, though. TLDR: diplomatic victory was a probable consequence but not the main driving motive of Fall Blau. – Deer Hunter Nov 17 '15 at 21:00
  • Distinction must be made between Braunschweig (ex-Fall Blau), Blücher, and Edelweiß. Strictly speaking, it was Edelweiß that was aimed at Baku. – Deer Hunter Nov 17 '15 at 21:51
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    @DeerHunter: In 1942, there were four "regions" up for grabs: the "Mediterranean," as I defined it, "Chindia" (free China and India), the rest of European Russia, and the British Isles. If the Axis had captured one or two of these regions, they might have gotten a negotiated peace; if three or all four, they might have won outright. – Tom Au Nov 17 '15 at 22:16
  • @DeerHunter: As I remember, Bluecher was also aimed at the Caucasus from Sevastopol and Kerch, that is. In theory, it was supposed to support the main effort, Edelweiss, to Baku. But it never took place because Manstein's 11th army was transferred to Leningrad. – Tom Au Nov 18 '15 at 15:21
  • @DeerHunter: No problem. I basically edited my question to fit your answer. – Tom Au Nov 19 '15 at 16:22
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Let's address the question based on literal reading of the primary source - Weisung Nr.41 (in English)

As soon as the weather and the state of the terrain allows, we must seize the initiative again, and through the superiority of German leadership and the German soldier force our will upon the enemy.

Our aim is to wipe out the entire defence potential remaining to the Soviets, and to cut them off, as far as possible, from their most important centres of war industry.

Notes:

  1. Wiping out means eliminating Red Army's manpower akin to what was done in 1941 (Kiew, Wyasma).

  2. Cutting off from war industry in the context of Fall Blau means primarily attacking Maikop, Grozny, and Baku as oil sources (Rostow and Stalingrad were not really unique as industry centers), and cutting Russian lines of communications at Stalingrad.

First, therefore, all available forces will be concentrated on the main operations in the southern sector, with the aim of destroying the enemy before the Don River, in order to secure the Caucasian oilfields and the passes through the Caucasus Mountains themselves.

...

Should opportunities arise during these operations, particularly by the capture of undemolished bridges, to establish bridgeheads to the east or south of the Don River, advantage will be taken of them. In any event, every effort will be made to reach Stalingrad itself, or at least to bring the city under fire from heavy artillery so that it may no longer be of any use as an industrial or communications centre.


It is obvious that the logic of the document taken literally is quite sound:

  1. Destroy Red Army reserves.
  2. After resistance is broken, grab critical military-economical (kriegswirtschaftlichen) resources and deny their use to the enemy.
  3. Watch what happens.

No. 3 includes numerous possibilities:

  • petering out of Russian war effort due to lack of oil;
  • cutting Russians off from the overland resupply route;
  • gathering enough forces for an attack up the Wolga river;
  • getting airfields within range of Russian industry centers in the Urals;
  • negotiating a peace with Stalin;
  • Turkey entering the war;
  • Japan overcoming its fear of fighting Russians;
  • positioning forces for a dash to the Persian Gulf to grab British oil supply centers.

The key point here is that it was not possible to predict any of these eventualities with any military-grade certainty. It wasn't even necessary to do so - the victory in the South opened up German decision space immensely and put the Allies into a tight spot.


After the question was edited I went back to another primary source (Franz Halder's war journal), namely his rendition of main points of Hitler's speech at March 28, 1942 planning meeting (not verbatim):

  • Fears of Allied landings from Norway down to the Maghreb
  • War on Allied merchant tonnage
  • Problems with resupplying the DAK. Suppression of Malta
  • Fate of the war is decided in the East
  • Japanese plans: Ceylon, Australia. Will enter war against Russians if there are enough planes
  • ... end goal: closing the Black Sea, line Batum-Baku.

I'd say the part of Japan (this was pre-Midway, pre-Coral Sea!) was much larger in Hitler's plans than that of Turkey. There are no other Mediterranean powers of note (if one nods at Spain and Portugal, oh puhhlease - after Adm.Canaris' shenanigans there was no way for Franco to join the fray).

  • Great comment about "decision space." Some frightening possibilities: 1) Germany gets all (or most) of the "Med." 2a) Germany gets European Russia or 2b) After Germany gets the Med and consolidates the non-Russian Soviet Union, "Russia" is forced to make peace. 3) Germany heads for Iran and India, and a link-up with the Japanese, forcing "free China" to surrender. Give the Anglo-Americans victories at "Torch" and in the battle of the Atlantic, and you have North America, South America, the UK, Africa, and Australia-New Zealand alone against the Axis., – Tom Au Nov 18 '15 at 18:08
  • @TomAu - a linkup with the Japanese was impossible without Bose succeeding in India and rebuilding war industry in occupied Ukraine. The distance from the railhead was too large otherwise. – Deer Hunter Nov 18 '15 at 18:44
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While it certainly would be a pleasant side effect for Germany, I haven't seen suggestion that prioritizing the invasion of the Caucuses' primary mission was to win over neutrals.

It's a bit absurd that so much effort and manpower would be put towards wooing nations that could have been conquered or coerced with a fraction of the effort. You don't invade one of the largest and most powerful nations on Earth to win over a few neutrals. Germany had a much better opportunity to sway Middle Eastern neutrals. They ignored it.

The Axis already had an opportunity to win over the Mediterranean and Middle East through the North Africa campaign. But Hitler viewed the Mediterranean as an Italian side show. He was focused on his perceived ideological opponent, the Soviet Union. Instead, North Africa could have been the gateway to Middle Eastern and Soviet oil.

This is evidenced by their lackluster support for the North Africa campaign. The Deutsches Afrikakorps (DAK) only ever consisted of two or three German divisions compared to the 150 committed to Operation Barbarossa. When the DAK was sent to Africa, Germany was already secretly planning their invasion of the USSR.

After the fall of Greece, and the diversion of British forces there, Egypt was open to a German invasion. If Germany had given North Africa higher priority then Malta would have been invaded or suppressed to secure their supply lines. Sending and supplying even a single extra Panzer division would have turned the tide. The DAK, now well supplied and reinforced, could have invaded Egypt, captured the Suez Canal and pressed into the Middle East. The combination of the DAK, support from Vichy colonies, and an Iraqi revolt would likely have allowed Germany to conquer British territory there.

Neutral Turkey would now be caught between Axis controlled Greece, Bulgaria, and Iraq; Vichy Syria; an Axis leaning Iran; and the Soviet Union. With no hope of Allied help, and after seeing where Allied assistance got Greece, they could have joined the Axis or Germany could violate their neutrality to invade the Caucuses by a more direct route.

Sources

  • Ah. Supplying DAK in the Middle East would have been absolutely easy, wouldn't it? – Deer Hunter Nov 18 '15 at 8:51
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    @DeerHunter We could argue that, but this answer has already drifted into alternate history enough. Your answer citing the original order is great. – Schwern Nov 18 '15 at 20:38

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