1

I'm going to take it as an article of faith that if one power, e.g. Britain, controlled both the Rock of Gibraltar to the north, and the Algerian coast to the south, that this country would be able to blockade the Strait of Gibraltar.

Up to the "Torch" landings, however, the ability to "control" was split, with Britain controlling the Rock of Gibraltar, and (German-controlled) Vichy France occupying the Algerian coastline.

Did that mean that neither side could blockade the Strait because it was a "push?" Or was it true that Britain was able to blockade the Strait more against the Axis than vice-versa because of her superior navy, part of which was based on the Rock of Gibraltar? (My understanding was that the Allies had pretty much smooth sailing through the Strait, while Axis ships had to "sneak" through it.)

This questions is different from the one about why the Germans didn't blockade the Straits because I wanted to explore the problems that both sides, Allied and German, had in blockading Gibraltar. I am under the impression that the Allies could establish only a "partial" blockade of Gibraltar until they could close off the southern (Algerian) shore following Torch. And likewise, that Germany and/or Italy could establish a "minimal" blockade or anti-blockade by establishing, e.g. air bases in Algeria (although they never got around to doing so).

  • 5
    the Brits had artillery in Gibraltar with enough range to cover the whole strait, so they blockade it without holding the far bank. – sdrawkcabdear Jun 14 '16 at 20:36
  • Tom, my difficulty with this question is your use of the term blockade as pertains to a sea lane/choke point. Naval parlance would tend to address local command of the sea, local sea control, and local sea denial as regarding that strategic strait. (Rather than rely on current doctrine, see Julian Corbett's treatment of that in Some Principles of Maritime Strategy. I realize this is nitpicky, and I think most folks understand what you are trying to express: none shall pass except by the leave of "X" maritime power. – KorvinStarmast Jun 21 '16 at 21:46
  • A second point is that ability to control a sea lane does not necessarily require control of the adjacent land, as a variety of close blockades by Nelsons' blockades of French ports in his day demonstrates. The possession of some land to the south of Gib Straits is irrelevant unless a capable maritime force sorties from there. Lastly, air power had the habit of influencing attempts at blockade during that war, as did submarines ... but that's not as germane to your question. – KorvinStarmast Jun 21 '16 at 21:50
  • @KorvinStarmast:That's a good point. You might want ot make your answer a comment that I can upvote. In any event, that's why I asked the question. – Tom Au Jun 21 '16 at 22:46
8

Two missing point:

The first one is that "German-controlled" Vichy France is an oversimplification.

The status after the French armistice was that France surrendered, was left as an independent state which was neutral both to the Allies and the Axis. The Germans occupied Paris and the Atlantic coast to avoid an allied invasion, but legally even the occupied zones were officially ruled from Vichy France (even if the German commanders had the last word about everything in the occupated zones).

So, France outside the occupation zone and its colonies were ruled by the Vichy government which, even if pro-German, was neutral1 and tried to get some bargaining power2. So, there was no Axis force South of the strait trying to break the British blockade or stablish their own blockade.

The second point is that the lands immediately South of the Strait were not under French control, but Spanish. Any Axis base trying to interdict pass through Gibraltar would have been way away from it.

It is also worth mentioning that the Mediterranean and North Africa were mainly "Italian fronts", Hitler did give some support to the Italians (for example the Afrika Korps) but viewed the whole theater as a distraction from the true objectives (UK and the Soviet Union).

1 After Torch and the defection of Admiral Darlan to the Allies, the Germans launched "Case Anton" and occupied the whole of France, so after that point there was no more "neutral Vichy", but the North Africa colonies were already lost.

2 For example, they had threatened to scuttle their fleet at Toulon if they were occupied. When Case Anton was launched, that was exactly what happened.

7

The Strait could and was blockaded with just Gibraltar. Their landward side was cut off by the neutral Spanish. Their seaward approaches were defended by the powerful Force H. The land across the Strait was neutral Spanish Morocco. Gibraltar was fairly secure. Once the Vichy French fleet at Mers-el-Kébir was crippled and later the Italian fleet at Taranto there was little serious threat to Gibraltar. RAF units at Gibraltar could patrol the Strait. The main threat was from German and Italian aircraft.

...but who would they be blockading?

The Allies need the Strait open to shipping to supply troops fighting in North Africa, Malta, Crete, Albania, Greece, and the Middle East. They also needed it to use the Suez Canal to shorten the supply line to the USSR via the Persian Corridor, as well as India, Burma, and the Far East. Otherwise ships had to go all the way around Africa taking far more time, exposing them to attacks, and straining the Allied worldwide refueling system.

In contrast, the Axis did not need the Strait. They had ports all across southern Europe to supply North Africa and a (theoretically) powerful Italian fleet to protect them. West Africa could be supplied from the Atlantic side via French Atlantic ports. The European Axis powers had no major military operations to supply elsewhere that the Strait would be relevant to, most of their fronts were overland with internal lines of communication and supply.

The only exception is moving warships, but even this was of limited use to the Axis. The Italian navy was never designed to leave the Mediterranean to begin with and was content to try and make the Med into an Italian lake. For example, its Littorio-class battleships had a range of about 8000 km while the comparable British King George V-class had a range of almost 30,000 km.

The German navy was primarily interested in the Battle of the Atlantic and other commerce raiding. They were only interested in moving U-Boats into the Mediterranean to disrupt Allied supply convoys, which they could do, with some safety, by remaining deeply submerged and silent and allowing the current to push them through.

After the invasion of the Soviet Union, the Black Sea became a battlefield. Using the Strait would do them no good because the neutral Turks kept the Dardanelles closed to all belligerents. Instead, Axis naval power on the Black Sea was primarily provided by Romania. Some U-boats and small craft were shipped overland, or by river, to Romania, and reassembled for use in the Black Sea.

The question of an Allied blockade at Gibraltar is moot, the Strait was of little value to the Axis. An Axis blockade would harm the Allies greatly, but they could not blockade the Strait without first neutralizing Gibraltar.

  • Yes, and plans for Germany to attack Gibraltar, Operation Felix, fell through because Franco wouldn't commit to the plan. However, the axis could make passage pretty rough, see Operation Pedestal. – AlaskaRon Jun 15 '16 at 7:30
  • 1
    @AlaskaRon the battles of operation Pedestal began once the fleet was already south of Majorca, quite far away from the straits. I would not qualify those as part of a blockade. – SJuan76 Jun 15 '16 at 10:14
  • the British did NOT ship stuff through the med tall went around Africa , a couple of high priority , high risk convoys like tiger but everything else around Africa. really basic fact about British convoys and logistics. – pugsville Jun 15 '16 at 12:31
  • 3
    @pugsville Any variation on "really basic fact" or "it's obvious" is a red flag around here. While likely more went around Africa prior to 1942 and Allied air control of the Med, plenty went through Gibraltar. How much went through Gibraltar is well off topic for this answer, could make a good question. This convoy database is a good reference, and here's a list of just the OG convoys (UK -> Gibraltar). – Schwern Jun 15 '16 at 18:02
  • everything I ave read says very very few went through the med see this site says tiger convoy( in may) was the first convoy through the med since janurary, ibiblio.org/hyperwar/UN/UK/UK-Med-II/UK-Med-2-6.html – pugsville Jun 16 '16 at 3:21

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.