We all know how the Axis offensive in 1942 led to the "turning point" battle of Stalingrad and the eventual defeat of the Third Reich, and that this offensive had been launched in order to capture and hold the Caucasus.

The last bit is important. Merely capturing the Caucasus was not the aim of Operation Blau, but the acquisition of its resources (primarily oil). These resources would require infrastructure, logistics, and long-term extraction. The entire region once held, would have to have been secured against any potential offensives by the Red Army.

How did the German High Command hope to accomplish this?

Operation Blau

The Axis offensive was always going to create a massive salient, with a relatively narrow corridor of Axis control for both industrial and military transportation. The southern border of the Caucasus has a natural defensive boundary, but I don't believe that anything other than the Volga could act as a potential barrier. Was there any plans for how to defend such a large area?

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    Didn't they simply hope to knock the USSR out of the war quickly? With the USSR smashed to pieces and out of the war, there wouldn't have been as much need to defend the corridor. – Denis de Bernardy Jul 28 at 13:49
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    @DenisdeBernardy That had been the plan in 1941, but now the Caucuses plan was to be able to provide a means for the Wehrmacht to fight a longer war against the USSR. Going into the Caucuses was never going to be a knockout blow in itself, nor was it designed to be. – Stumbler Jul 28 at 14:03
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    @Stumbler - The Germans certainly deluded themselves that the Red Army was on the brink of destruction in late 1942. That might have affected their ability to recognise that their flank was overextended and overexposed, even if the initial Caucasus plan didn't rely on such quick success. – Luís Henrique Jul 28 at 14:14
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    One major goal of this offensive was to deprive the Soviets from Caucasus oil. – Alex Jul 28 at 18:42
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    @Alex: This is the point so often missed in analysis. Hitler was never going to be able to use the Caucus oil himself - but if he could deprive the Red Army of it, that would give the Wehrmacht armour an additional edge in 1943. – Pieter Geerkens Jul 29 at 19:14

Had the Germans succeeded in breaking the Red Army, they would have been able to hold on to the Caucasus. If not, the war would have been lost anyway.

From the beginning of the war in the East, German plans and strategy were clear in the regard that the Red Army had to be eliminated first (via large encirclement battles) and only after that were rapid penetrations into Soviet territory be possible. In the summer of 1941 everything did go according to these plans, or even better, as Germans managed to capture literary millions of Soviet soldiers, and practically the whole of the pre-war Red Army in the European part of the USSR was destroyed. Germans, of course, knew that the Soviets could, and would, mobilize some reserves, but their conventional thinking was that these raw troops would be even less trained and have lower morale then the already captured predecessors which, at least, had some time to be prepare for the war. In fact, the willingness of the Soviet population to continue the struggle after horrendous losses was the thing that baffled Germans the most - especially since they considered the mostly Slavic population of Soviet Union to be biologically inferior (Untermensch, Asiatic horde, slaves of Judeo-Bolsheviks etc ... ). Anyway, since the original plan for quick victory (Barbarossa) failed in 1941, the idea (and unofficial strategy) of having the "Russians bleed themselves dry" became popular among German leadership practically until the end of the war. For example, in his famous Possen speeches in October 1943, Himmler admonishes SS leadership to not lose heart due to current setbacks, because according to him Soviets are now using their last reserves and after that they would have to yield.

Now back to 1942, considering what happened before Fall Blau (Soviet failed offensive aimed at Kharkov) and immediately at the beginning (rout of Soviet forces, loss of Sevastopol) plus bloody Soviet failure at Rzhev, it was easy for Germans to again be optimistic at their outlook of the war. Simply put, the Soviets had a bit of luck in the winter of 1941, but their luck had run out, all of their counter-attacks were beaten and in the South they were decisively losing ground. Even the fact that there were fewer POWs in 1942 compared to 1941, testified in German eyes that there were no more fresh armies awaiting them further to the East.

Army Group South was split into Army Group A (aimed at Caucasus) and the ill-fated Army Group B were destined to go to Stalingrad on July 23, 1942. At that point in time there were no signs that Stalingrad would be bitterly defended, in fact German troops were completing capture of Rostov and Voronezh and were starting to cross Don fairly easily, despite the river being last major obstacle before Volga. Until the end of August, Germans were hampered more by logistic problems than by Soviet resistance, and even after that they did have some success on the Caucasus front (for example capture of Novorossiysk in September).

In the Autumn of 1942, the Germans were aware that they have to stop their major offensive operations for a time being and that they would not be able to capture oilfields of Caucasus (except Maikop) that year. They did expect limited Soviet counter-attack, but again according to their wishful thinking, the Soviets were too exhausted to attempt something really dangerous. For example:

On 9 September the Eastern Intelligence Division submitted an estimate according to which the Russians seemed to have no sizeable reserves along the entire front. On the contrary, in order to form points of main effort, they had to shift units over long distances.Because of insufficient training and a shortage of equipment the troops still available and the units presently in the process of activation would probably not be ready for commitment for some time. Halder accepted this estimate and concluded that the Russians lacked strategic reserves. (The German Campaign in Russia: Planning and Operations (1940-1942), George E. Blau )

Hitler himself was somewhat apprehensive and ordered certain preparation, nevertheless all of this was of limited scope:

In his conversations with the men in his immediate entourage Hitler often revealed his concern over a major Russian offensive, perhaps a winter offensive, across one of the allied sectors along the Don in the direction of Rostov. Russian troop movements and the construction of bridges in the Italian and Romanian sectors were indications of the Soviet command's offensive intentions. Hitler ordered some newly organized Luftwaffe ground divisions moved up to strengthen the allied sectors. With these reinforcements on the line, a few German Army divisions could be transferred behind the allied positions, where they could be held in reserve during their rehabilitation. Meanwhile, he ordered the air force to bomb intensively Russian bridge sites and presumed staging areas in the forests along the northern bank of the Don. (The German Campaign in Russia: Planning and Operations (1940-1942), George E. Blau)

In the end, as we all know, the Germans completely underestimated the size and scope of the Soviet counteroffensive and the size of the Red Army itself. Considering the length of the Eastern front, Caucasus or no Caucasus, with sufficient force the Soviets were bound to find a weak spot to exploit. Historically this did happen, as Soviet counterattacks happened much more to the north-west in the area of Stalingrad. In a sense, the original German proposition (The Red Army had to be destroyed in order to defeat the Soviet Union) was true. Since Germans, despite inflicting massive casualties, never actually destroyed Red Army, the war was bound to be lost.

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    You have some blocks of text in quote markup but no sources for them are acknowledged. Where do they come from? – David Richerby Jul 29 at 9:59
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    While LangLangC's answer is excellent, I feel that the idea of continual, continued offensive (as opposed to blind optimism) is a more credible rationale. Strong offence>strong defence. It would also mimic the Axis' progress to date. So in the short term the question of defending the Caucuses doesn't arise due to the belief that there were insufficient Soviet reserves to mount a wide-scale offensives, and in the long term it wouldn't matter as the captured resources would be immediately used to fuel a new general German offensive (though owing to manpower shortages that would've be optimistic) – Stumbler Jul 29 at 14:13
  • @Stumbler A-A line (Arkhangelsk-Astrakhan) is often mentioned as a final goal of German advance in Barbarossa, along with Ural mountains. Beyond that there was little of interest for Germans. But to achieve that you would simply had to decisively defeat Red Army. – rs.29 Jul 29 at 17:22
  • @DenisdeBernardy Germans went "all in" long before Blau . Google Vernichtungskrieg, and you will realize that from the beginning this was planned as life and death struggle, and Germans accordingly deployed majority of their forces against SU . Frankly, I'm surprised that you require proof for this, it is a well known fact for even casual students of WW2. – rs.29 Jul 29 at 22:01
  • During Barbarossa they fell seriously short of "according to plan or better". "unofficial strategy 'bleeding to death'" would benefit from backup. The overarching fantasies imagined always extermination battles, repeat Hannibal, repeat Tannenberg, as military & political top brass always knew that protracted war was basically unwinnable. Switching from pincer & crush to pinch & push, ie to probing & attrition is not common knowledge? – LangLangC Jul 30 at 7:48

This is detailed in Führer directive 45.
It was incredibly easy. By just winning the war.

Details for this were variously named Fall Blau, Operation Brunswick, Operation Edelweiss

As you see, there were not very many directives, and those pertaining to this plan were – ehm – optimistic.

Basically they "hoped to achieve this" with 'go in, smash the enemy on road to Caucasus, protect the flank by smashing the Reds at Stalingrad, then go to Iraq, Iran, India…'

No problem, just do it. The German soldier does as he is ordered, and the order was 'advance and win'. That would then all be 'automatic', as the Germans thought reaching oil fields meant immediate & unlimited supply of kerosene for their war effort and no more resources for Stalin after a few Kesselschlachten exterminating 'some' Soviet armies Cannae-style.

Hitler promised that both the Romanian mountain corps and three Italian mountain divisions would be committed to reinforce Heeresgruppe A by mid-August, enabling an equally rapid thrust to seize the Caucasian mountain passes and begin clearing the Black Sea coast. Edelweiss also made extensive provision for the use of German special forces to seize or sabotage key targets and Hitler authorised Heeresgruppe A to consider using airborne troops if feasible. However, the plan did not detail how German forces would reach distant Baku or what the Luftwaffe was expected to accomplish beyond supporting the army and attacking coastal shipping. At best, Edelweiss was an unfinished sketch, vulnerable to diverging objectives, limited knowledge of the terrain and the Führer’s whimsy.
–– Robert Forczyk: "The Caucasus 1942–43. Kleist’s race for oil", Osprey: London, 2015.

However difficult to believe this may sound, but 'the grand design' really wasn't 'a grand design' – more a rough outline, for lack of detail. What will be will be.

The plan for a major offensive into the Caucasus to seize the oilfields was, to a much greater extent than the previous year's attack on the Soviet capital, Hitler's own strategic conception. Keitel, who thought the plan had considerable merit, wrote in his memoirs that the Führer 'conceived the idea entirely alone'. During the height of the winter crisis Hitler had unfairly but repeatedly cursed the General Staff for having imposed its Moscow campaign on him. Now that he had pulled Germany back from the brink of disaster he was determined to trust his instincts and order a campaign to attain his own strategic objectives (which were clearly shaped by his awareness of the Reich's economic problems). Moreover, he would no longer limit himself to issuing general instructions, but would, in his new capacity as Commander-in-Chief of the Army (since von Brauchitsch's resignation on 19 December), take complete and immediate charge of the direction of operations."
–– Joel Hayward: "Hitler's Quest for Oil: the Impact of Economic Considerations on Military Strategy, 1941–42", Journal of Strategic Studies, Vol.18, No.4 (December 1995), pp.94–135. (PDF)

It is difficult to examine German military strategy as an influence on the direction taken by German covert operations in the Persian theatre and on the Allied response to them, because there was essentially no grand strategic concept in Berlin, from the very beginning to the bitter end of the Second World War. Indeed, there was in Nazi Germany no single, central military authority that could have worked out and coordinated an overall strategy. What passed for strategy was in fact a haphazard series of empirical judgements and situational responses, either steeped in political ideology or based on nothing more than operational pragmatism on the part of Adolf Hitler, a self-appointed, dilettantist military commander, not a trained strategist. Therefore, in this context, the term strategy describes nothing grander than the planning of operations at the army, corps, and divisional levels, and might be seen by some as synonymous with the term operational strategy or even operational tactics.
–– Adrian O’Sullivan: 'Schemers and Planners' in: "Nazi Secret Warfare in Occupied Persia (Iran). The Failure of the German Intelligence Services, 1939–45", Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke, New York, 2014.

This imagined decisiveness is illustrated in how Hitler himself presented the lack of need for 'holding the Caucasus':

Had Hitler - as mentioned - still stated on April 30, 1942 that the war could "suddenly be over" with a successful advance over the Caucasus to Iran, an expectation which he had again expressed on April 4, 1942 during the initially successful German advance over the Don in the direction of the Caucasus. The events of the next six weeks on the Russian theater of war would be decisive for the war at all, so the leadership crisis triggered by the failure of the Caucasus operation at the beginning of September had marked the turnaround that had become generally recognizable externally in the transition of the initiative to the opponents in the East. Hitler's "fanatical" determination, without even considering the possibility of a separate peace, as sounded out by Stalin, to continue the racist ideology of the extermination war in the East in undiminished severity, was reflected in his remarks on Mussert, which were characterized by primitivity and brutality. Mussert's concern to gain clarity about Germany's intentions towards the Netherlands was only mentioned in passing and in a relatively vague form. As Hitler stressed, the "Great Germanic Empire" was to be created as a "secure, firmly established construction against the future Eastern storms".
–– Andreas Hillgruber & Jürgen Förster: "Zwei neue Aufzeichnungen über "Führer"-Besprechungen aus dem Jahre 1942", Militärgeschichtliche Mitteilungen; Freiburg Bd. 0, Ausg. 1, (Jan 1, 1972): 109.

Or, as Manstein claims to remember and judges:

After removing Field-Marshal List from this appointment without valid reason, following a difference of opinion with him, Hitler had been commanding the Army Group himself as a sort of sideline - a quite impossible arrangement in the long run. More surprising still was what he had to say on this occasion in connexion with my eventual appointment as Commander-in-Chief of the Army Group. Next year, he told me, he was thinking of driving through the Caucasus to the Near East with a motorized army group! It was a measure of how unrealistically he still assessed the overall military situation and its strategic possibilities.

While Hitler may have had an eye for tactical opportunity and could quickly seize a chance when it was offered to him, he still lacked the ability to assess the prerequisites and practicability of a plan of operations. He failed to understand that the objectives and ultimate scope of an operation must be in direct proportion to the time and forces needed to carry it out — to say nothing of the possibilities of supply. He did not - or would not - realize that any long-range offensive operation calls for a steady build-up of troops over and above those committed in the original assault. All this was brought out with striking clarity in the planning and execution of the 1942 summer offensive. Another example was the fantastic idea he disclosed to me in autumn 1942 of driving through the Caucasus to the Near East and India with a motorized army group.

As in the political sphere (at all events after his successes of 1938), so in the military did Hitler lack all sense of judgement regarding what could be achieved and what could not. In autumn 1939, despite his contempt for France's powers of resistance, he had not originally recognized the possibility of attaining decisive success by a correctly planned German offensive. Yet when this success actually became his, he lost his eye for opportunity where conditions were different. What he lacked in each case was a real training in strategy and grand tactics.
–– Erich v Manstein: "Lost Victories, The War Memoirs of Hitler's Most Brilliant General" (Zenith Military Classics), 2004.

More details in
–– U.S. Department of Defense: "German Campaign in Russia: Planning and Operations (1940-1942): WW2: Strategic & Operational Planning: Directive Barbarossa, The Initial Operations, German Attack on Moscow, Offensive in the Caucasus & Battle for Stalingrad", 2018.

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    To be fair (with regards to the "just do it" criticism), a "Führerdirektive" was essentially an order to the General Staff to work out the details. Those directives were always of varying degrees of detail. Compare directive #17 ("Battle of Britain"), which was even less detailed... – DevSolar Jul 29 at 11:16
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    You answered another question with this quote. It may also be useful here?: "...Although historians agree that the offensive’s aim was control of the Caucasian oilfields, there is a widespread misconception that Baku was the main objective. German ambitions were in fact rather modest—the primary objectives were the smaller and more accessible oilfields of Maikop and Grozny. The Germans were also just as determined to deny the Soviets access to Caucasian oil by severing transit along the Volga as they were to secure the oil for themselves." – Nathan Cooper Jul 29 at 13:07

The Germans were hoping that the Caucasus offensive would cripple the Red Army.

The Baku, Grozny, and Maikop oilfields together produced 86 percent of Russia's oil; Baku by itself, 72 percent. So the German plan was to capture these oilfields.

They captured Maikop and came close to capturing Grozny, but the path from Grozny to Baku was some 300 miles of mountains. (Further north, the Germans made progress by weaving "in and out" of mountains.)

The Germans might have done better to interdict the flow of Russian oil, by having Army group A advance to Astrakhan on the Caspian Sea, (and the lower Volga river between that city and Stalingrad.) That would have cut off the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea from the rest of Russia as far west as the Volga, and seriously impeded any flow even on the eastern side of the Caspian Sea. Perhaps the Russians would have to re-route their Baku oil through Iran and Turkestan, with little water transport along the way.

In any event, the two German Army Groups, B at Stalingrad and A at Astrakhan would have been mutually supporting.

Capturing and holding the resources of the Caucasus might have been too much to ask (initially). By denying those resources to the Russians, the Germans would probably have weakened them more than they would have been weakened themselves. Then it might have been possible to capture and hold those resources from a weakened Russia.

  • I don't see how capturing Astrakhan would be enough to force land transport of oil via Iran. The Caspian is landlocked so there's no way to bring in any naval assets: they'd have to be transported over land or built in situ. – David Richerby Jul 29 at 10:07
  • The Volga-Don Canal provides a link to the Black Sea and allows decently large ships to pass, but it didn't open until 1952. – David Richerby Jul 29 at 12:24
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    @DavidRicherby: The main transport route from the Baku at the time was via Caspian Sea to Astrakhan on the Volga, and from there up the Volga, past Stalingrad, etc. If the Germans held the stretch of the Volga from Stalingrad to Astrakhan, that would break that main route. – Tom Au Jul 29 at 17:37

Not really important to hold. All the Soviet refineries were there. So it would slow down the war on both sides if those were lost.

Oil was only a minor problem, the real issue was climate. Germans were suffering various diseases;

According to archive documents, about 50 percent of German prisoners, who were taken captive after the battle of Stalingrad, were suffering from classic symptoms of tularemia. Читайте больше на http://www.pravdareport.com/history/7701-tularemia/

So there were many reasons, logistics, diseases climate, and it wasn't in any way useful for Germany to occupy the territory. That's why there was no plan. At best it could destroy the infrastructure and slow down the Soviets.

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    classic disinformation from Pravda. The Soviets didn't just develop tularemia into a biological warfare agent, they created hybrids between it and bubonic plague which are far hardier and far more deadly than either on its own. This did not however happen until the 1980s (when officially the USSR had stopped their biowar program, which is almost certainly still going on in Russia to this day). – jwenting Jul 30 at 4:29
  • Re " Not really important to hold. All the Soviet refineries were there. So it would slow down the war on both sides if those were lost. Oil was only a minor problem, the real issue was climate." -> climate didn't help. Any suggestion that "oil wasn't a problem" should make you terminally wary of the source. – Russell McMahon Jul 30 at 12:19

Once the Battle of Britain was lost and Germany failed to invade Britain the war was destined to be lost. The preconditions for Germany to win WW2 were Destroy the Royal Navy Take Gibraltar Take Malta Take North Africa Take the Middle East including Iraq and Iran Launch simultaneous attacks on USSR from the west and south and have Japan attack USSR from the east and avoid conflict with USA

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    I don't think that this really answers the question that was asked. It also depends heavily on hindsight and lacks citations. – Steve Bird Jul 30 at 6:34
  • You could leave off some of those but "Not have the US eneter the war" needs adding ! :-) – Russell McMahon Jul 30 at 12:21

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