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.


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?

  • 3
    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. Commented Nov 17, 2015 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. Commented Nov 17, 2015 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
    Commented Nov 17, 2015 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
    Commented Nov 18, 2015 at 15:21
  • @DeerHunter: No problem. I basically edited my question to fit your answer.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 16:22

3 Answers 3


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.


  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
    Commented Nov 18, 2015 at 18:08
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    @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. Commented Nov 18, 2015 at 18:44

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.


  • Ah. Supplying DAK in the Middle East would have been absolutely easy, wouldn't it? Commented Nov 18, 2015 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
    Commented Nov 18, 2015 at 20:38

The supplement to Hitler's Fuhrer Directive 33, Fuhrer Directive 33a, issued on 23 Jul 1941, stated:

"The enemy forces which are still west of the Dnieper must be decisively defeated and dispersed. As soon as the state of operations and supplies allows, First and Second Panzer Groups will be concentrated under command of Fourth Panzer Army and, with the support of infantry and mounted divisions, will occupy the Kharkov industrial area and thrust forward across the Don to Caucasia."

So German plans for operations in the Caucasus and Middle East clearly predate Japan's entry into the war, but there can be no doubt that in addition to the obvious economic importance of the move, there was anticipation of diplomatic benefits as well. After Japan's entry into the war Hitler saw this strategy as one which was in accord with his ideas for greater co-operation between the Axis powers.

Map from 'War Maps: Great Land, Sea, and Air Battles of World War II', S. Goodenough enter image description here

On 3 January 1942, Hitler met the Japanese ambassador, Oshima, to discuss his future plans and co-operation between the two powers. Specific links were made between the intended German strategy and possible political ramifications in the Arab world, as well as broader mention of shared German and Japanese strategic interests in the fate of Russia and India. A German observer of Hitler's meeting with Oshima noted:

...For the time being he did not intend to carry out any more attacks in the centre of the front. His goal was an offensive on the southern front. Picking up the thread of his argument again, the Fuhrer declared that he was determined to take up once again the offensive in the direction of the Caucasus as soon as the weather was favourable. The thrust in this direction was the most important one: we must get to the oil and to Iran and Iraq. Once we were there, he hoped that we could get help to unleash the freedon movement of the Arab world. Naturally, in addition, he would do everything possible to destroy Moscow and Leningrad.

...All of us and Japan as well were engaged in a joint life and death struggle and so it was vital that we share our military experience. ...[Hitler then] emphasized that it was probably the first time in history that two such powerful military powers, which were so far apart from one another, stood together in battle. Provided their military operations were co-ordinated, this offered the possibility of creating leverage in the conduct of the war which must have enormous effects on the enemy, since they would be thereby compelled continually to shift their centres of gravity and in this way would hopelessly fritter away their forces. He did not believe the United States would have the courage to conduct offensive operations in the East Asian sphere... the Fuhrer continued "if England loses in India a world will collapse. India is the cornerstone of the English Empire. England acquired all its wealth from India".

...The Fuhrer is of the opinion that England can be destroyed. He is not sure yet how the USA can be defeated. The South American states would, in his opinion gradually move away from the United States. In reply to a comment by the Foreign Minister [Ribbentrop] that Japan might be in a position to attack Russia in May, the Fuhrer said that the most important thing from Germany's point of view was that Japan was not defeated by the Anglo-Saxon powers. It must not prematurely dissipate its forces. For us too England was the main enemy. We would certainly not be defeated by Russia. He pointed out to Oshima the long-term danger of the United States and England establishing themselves in a big way on the Australian continent. Oshima is of the same opinion and convinced that Japan would soon secure bases in Australia. In addition, it was obvious that Japan must one day beat Russia, for otherwise the new order in East Asia would be impossible. At the moment, she was still heavily committed with her troops in China. However, he was convinced that the Chungking government would get progressively weaker in the coming months and then Japan would be in a position to withdraw troops from China.

Roosevelt's greatest mistake was to impose sanctions on Japan without at the same time being sufficiently well-armed. This was a really crazy policy. The Fuhrer was of the same opinion and said that if one did not want to wait until one's throat was cut one simply must strike first and Japan had correctly recognized that and done it. The Fuhrer is of the opinion that it is extremely important for Japan and Germany to exchange their military inventions. Germany has no interest in East Asia and Japan none in Europe and Africa...

On 18 January 1942, the diplomatic agreement between the Axis powers of 11 December 1941 was supplemented by a military one. According to this, the world was divided into two zones of military operations along the line of 70 degrees longitude, with Japan being responsible for the area east of the line, and Germany and Italy for that west of it.

Source: Nazism 1919-1945: vol.3: Foreign Policy, War and Racial Extermination (A Documentary Reader), edited by J. Noakes and G. Pridham (1997)

  • Note the response by Hitler to Ribbentrop above: "We would certainly not be defeated by Russia." Yet this is exactly what happened with the aid of Lend Lease and the mere threat of invasion in France. Army Group Centre was being destroyed even as the Allies consolidated their beachhead in Normandy. Commented Feb 1, 2020 at 9:13
  • @PieterGeerkens Yes, there seems to be a lot of bluff and bluster from both sides in the conversation, but it does give some idea of where their heads were at, which is quite interesting. I get the distinct impression that Hitler wanted the Japanese to fully appreciate his motives for declaring war on the USA and hopefully to respond with some similarly self-interested help from Japan against the USSR. All in vain. Commented Feb 1, 2020 at 9:43
  • Thus I reiterate that at the Grand Strategic level, and occasionally at the Strategic level, none of the Axis powers ever had a plan - all they had was a wish list. Somehow the U.S.S.R. would be unable to build tanks, and somehow the U.S. would be unable to build carriers, and somehow the U.K. would lose heart and surrender, and somehow Franco would lose his mind and not only take Gibraltar but gift it to the Germans or Italians. None of these wises had the slightest hope of becoming reality after Dec. '41. Commented Feb 1, 2020 at 9:51
  • @PieterGeerkens Hitler conceding, less than a month after having declared war on the USA, that he had no idea "yet" how he was going to beat them does tend to support your argument, although I'm not sure whether this is not the natural state for every country who find themselves in a losing position in a war. The only way forward from that situation is to keep fighting and hope for a miracle, or surrender... Planning a methodical path to victory is the luxury of the winning side. Commented Feb 1, 2020 at 11:33
  • Are you putting the cart before the horse? Doesn't a side become the winning side by plotting a methodical path to victory? That at no point in the war did either Germany or Japan have such a plan really was the guarantee of their loss. Commented Feb 1, 2020 at 11:47

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