Just turn left at Suez! (.... ?)

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Giovanni Acuto
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Just turn left at Suez! (.... ?)

Post by Giovanni Acuto » 18 Apr 2006 01:16

A good many people seem to think that, in the event of an Allied defeat in North Africa, the Germans would simply have cruised around through the Middle East & across the Caucasus to take the Soviets from behind, as easily as if driving along the A8 from Munich to Stuttgart.

A look at any topographical map of the region suggests this might not have been the case.

Has anyone done a real-world study of what might actually have been involved in such a manoeuvre, and of the likelihood of its success?

"Real-world" meaning a study that takes into account e.g. the amount of fuel required for AFVs, the amount of fuel required for the trucks transporting the fuel for the AFVs .... how supplies of food clothing medicine ammunition etc for the soldiers are to be maintained.... the nature of the terrain to be crossed, and the possible effect on transportation of the lack of suitable roads throughout much of the area .... I suppose the possibility of encountering resistance along the way might need to be considered ....

Just wondering.

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Michael Emrys
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Post by Michael Emrys » 18 Apr 2006 02:28

All of the following presupposes that the Axis (meaning primarily Germany) is willing and able to commit the necessary forces and matériel to make it happen, an extremely a-historical scenario in my view. But since the assumption that the Allies have been driven out of North Africa already puts us in Fantasyland, I think, we may as well proceed.

If the Axis had captured the Delta and the Canal, then presumably they could have unloaded cargoes much closer to the front than Tripoli and Benghazi were. That leaves the question of where to go after that. If they proceed up the Nile Valley (Italy's most likely preference) there were fairly good communications up to Wadi Halfa. Beyond that point, they would have preferred to bring in supply through Port Sudan, assuming its capture and that the Axis army is pressing on intent on recapturing Abyssinia and Ethiopia. But all that is unlikely at an early point in affairs as there is little or nothing of strategic interest to the Germans along that path. In the first instance, all they would have needed would be to push the Allies far enough south for them not to be an immediate threat to the Delta area and further operations.

I think their preference would have been to push across the Canal and go at first north. The initial objectives would have been Haifa and Beirut. Those would become bases for the next phase, which would be either a push east across Transjordan or across Syria (or possibly both, with one as a feint and the other as the main thrust). In any case, both lines of attack are aimed at Baghdad and then northern Iran.

As you might guess, communications across both those expanses would have been worse than primitive. Much more attractive would have been to apply pressure on Turkey to enter the war and to use Turkish rail to move and support an attack into northern Iraq from there. But Turkish communications are not so hot either and although you could support a larger force that way than across the Syrian desert, it still would not amount to much. A major investment of German manpower and matériel might have eventually improved them to the point of supporting something like a single army to attack the USSR. Hardly worth the bother. Which essentially is why the war didn't go that way.

Michael

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Post by Jon G. » 18 Apr 2006 09:09

There's a rudimentary outline of how Rommel imagined things to develop after he had pushed through at El Alamein in Jack Greene and Alessandro Massignani's Rommel's North Africa Campaign September 1940 - November 1942

According to G&M, Rommel envisioned the Gruppe Bismarck, made up of the 21st Panzer and 164th Infantry divisions to advance on Alexandria. This battle group was not expected to take Alexandria right away, but rather to nullify its usefulness as a naval base. The DAK with the 90th Light and 15th Panzer divisions would head for Cairo - again, the initial objective was not to take the city itself, but only seize bridges across the Nile. There were plans to use German paratroops (presumably the Ramcke Brigade) to take key bridges across the Nile (sort of a German Market Garden if you will) in advance of the main DAK thrust, and there were also plans to make the Axis advance on the Nile coincide with a military coup by Egyptian officers sympathetic to the Axis cause.

The Italian XX Corps (with the Trieste, Littorio and Ariete divisions) was tasked with covering either flank of the DAK's advance, and also take Kafz el Zayat, about halfway between Cairo and Alexandria.

After this first advance, the slower Italian XXI Corps (with the Trento and Bologna divisions) would catch up and relieve the Bismarck group; X Corps with the Pavia, Brescia and Folgore divisions would relieve the DAK at Cairo. The Folgore were paratroopers, but apparently they were not assigned any important role in the initial thrust for the Nile. After relief at Cairo, the DAK would split in two and advance on the towns of Ismalia and Suez on the Suez Canal.

The outline of what Rommel imagined might happen after he had achieved these objectives becomes even less detailed: apparently he envisioned splitting his forces into three 'strategic' columns: one would advance up the Nile and retake Abyssinia, another column would go into Arabia and take Aden, and the final, main column would thrust into the Middle East and link with German forces in Russia (!) and a further move into India.

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Andy H
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Post by Andy H » 18 Apr 2006 12:40

in the event of an Allied defeat in North Africa
The potential portent for further Axis advances post Suez would depend on exactly when the proposed defeat of the Allies took place. The Allied OoB in the ME varied widely over the years and the possibilities to both the Allies & Axis would hinge on this aspect.

Kind Regards

Andy H

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Miha Grcar
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Post by Miha Grcar » 18 Apr 2006 13:45

If we are talking about the transfer to the East; It was allways logical for me to simply (not simple at all, but still better than anything else) transfer the German units back to Europe and send them to the Eastern Front like all other units who went there, instead of the impossible and unmanageble thrust which is rightly described as fantasy.

As was allready mentioned, even a victory in the Med had a slim chance if any...just imagine what this endevour would mean to the suply lines!

Jon, thanks for that plan, I never did really know how to imagine the thrust to Alexandria and Cairo and on to Suez.

best,
Miha

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Post by Giovanni Acuto » 18 Apr 2006 18:46

Andy H wrote:
in the event of an Allied defeat in North Africa
The potential portent for further Axis advances post Suez would depend on exactly when the proposed defeat of the Allies took place. The Allied OoB in the ME varied widely over the years and the possibilities to both the Allies & Axis would hinge on this aspect.

Kind Regards

Andy H
For purposes of this analysis let's pick the most favorable possible time for Rommel. Say he totally defeats the Eighth Army in spring/summer 1942, sends them reeling back east of the Nile, a shattered force incapable of resistance at that point.

Now - on to Azerbaijan!

:lol:

Actually, at that point Rommel would have outstripped his supply lines & had to fall back, the standard pattern for NA campaigns. But what I'm inquiring about really is the feasibility of an onward campaign ... (if anyone can suggest a way the eastward diversion - nipping across the Zagros Mountains and the deserts of Iran and Baluchistan to conquer India 8O - might have been remotely possible, I'd be very interested).

So far all the posts have been sensible and well-reasoned!

I was hoping some of the posters who have in the past suggested that once the DAK reached the Canal the Middle East/USSR/British India were Germany's for the taking would offer to support their opinions.

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Post by alf » 18 Apr 2006 23:24

I was hoping some of the posters who have in the past suggested that once the DAK reached the Canal the Middle East/USSR/British India were Germany's for the taking would offer to support their opinions.
I doubt that the DAK could do that but it may not have been operating alone. The Japanese Imperial Army was sitting in Burma poised on the eastern borders of India. So a joint Axis effort could have had major repercussions for Britian ( however unlikely that two countries who preached racial superiority would co-operate) 80% of the Imperial Japanese Army spent the war in China, so it had the troops able to be transfered quickly in 1942.

Likewise local unrest in a number of countries in the Region could have worked to Germanys favour , ie India was divided over the war and some wanted independence from Britian then. Iraq/Iran could have been wooed to be anti British at the least. Active assistence to the DAK in thos countries by locals would have eased the crossing of them.

That leaves how would Britian counter losing the Eastern half of the Med? Malta would fall through lack of supplies leaving Gibralter at the west ( with a real chance Franco might finally act)

For Britian, to supply and rebuild an Army on the far side of the world would have been daunting, Australia was a reliable ally but it's focus from 1942-1943 was its own survival from a Japanese threat to its North and troops couldn't be spared.

I don't think the DAK had the support or capacity to actually link with the Japanese but the threat may have had a domino effect. Then of course there is the morale factor for Britian, another huge loss may have been devasting. 1942, saw the fall of Singapore, the Channel Dash, the fall of Tobruk, a long litany of defeats. Stalingrad would have become even more important as a morale booster.

As to going North? the SS would have arrived in strength in Palestine and continued its work of extermination of the Jews. After all some SS did go to Libya to start "processing" its Jewish population whilst Rommel was in command.

Turkey may have decided to come into the war finally and threatened Southern Russia, there is a lot of maybes.

But the likelhood of the Axis winning was lost when Rommel argued against taking Malta after the Fall of Tobruk, so its a "what if" scenario

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Post by Brian Ross » 19 Apr 2006 00:06

Its interesting that everybody has only considered the land implications of such a victory for the Axis forces. Once the Royal Navy had been expelled from the Mediterranean, the Axis would have had basically a pretty much free reign there. The result would have been Turkey either joining the Axis or at least openning the Dardanelles to Axis shipping with the result that they would have had a much easier supply. This would have influenced the thrust into the Cacauses, even if they had not attempted an attack through Northern Iraq. If the Italian Navy had been allowed through the Dardanelles, then a thrust along the Black Sea coast to Georgia and from there to Azerbajan would have perhaps eventuated.

In the Middle East, I would see a much greater objective than any attack on the fUSSR's southern flank - cutting off their source of supply through the Iranian railway from the Gulf. This was a major resupply artery for the Russians. Stop it and their southern Front would have in all likelihood collapsed. Coupled with the above, and its define lose for the Russians IMHO. Crossing transjordan would have been hard, crossing Syria would have been difficult, neither would have been impossible. It all depends upon how much MT the Axis could have captured in Egypt, I think. Another goal of such an attack would be to cut off the Commonwealth from the Persian oilfields. While the UK's main source of oil was in the Western hemisphere during the war, the other nations of the Empire in the far East were highly dependent, as was the Middle East, on Persian oil supplies.

While there was little co-ordination with the Japanese, it does open interesting possibilities of a joint thrust against India but I suspect that would have been a nation too far for the IJA based in Burma. Perhaps the seizure of Ceylon would have been more likely, as part of a sustained IJN thrust into the Indian Ocean?

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Post by Andy H » 19 Apr 2006 14:24

Its interesting that everybody has only considered the land implications of such a victory for the Axis forces. Once the Royal Navy had been expelled from the Mediterranean
The loss of Egypt doesn't equate to the loss of the RN, though obviously re-inforcements wouldn't be forthcoming.

Regards

Andy H

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Brian Ross
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Post by Brian Ross » 20 Apr 2006 00:25

Andy H wrote:
Its interesting that everybody has only considered the land implications of such a victory for the Axis forces. Once the Royal Navy had been expelled from the Mediterranean
The loss of Egypt doesn't equate to the loss of the RN, though obviously re-inforcements wouldn't be forthcoming.

Regards

Andy H
The loss of Egypt means the loss of the RN's major fleet base and harbour in the Eastern Mediteranean. Further, it would mean the loss of the Canal, which would in turn make the fate of any RN ships which remain in the Med. very precarious. No Fleet commander would waste a valuable resource like his warships in a landlocked sea where the enemy controlled 90% of the coast surrounding it (or if Turkey goes over to the Axis, 100%).

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Michael Emrys
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Post by Michael Emrys » 20 Apr 2006 04:17

Brian Ross wrote:Its interesting that everybody has only considered the land implications of such a victory for the Axis forces. Once the Royal Navy had been expelled from the Mediterranean, the Axis would have had basically a pretty much free reign there.
That was assumed in the scenario I described. If the RN was still extant in the Eastern Med, then Axis supply via Alexandria, Haifa, or Beirut would become problematical, to say the least! Furthermore, supplying via Port Sudan would be tricky and dangerous if the RN (including subs) and/or the RAF were operational in the Red Sea area.

Michael

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Andy H
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Post by Andy H » 20 Apr 2006 12:52

Brian Ross wrote:
Andy H wrote:
Its interesting that everybody has only considered the land implications of such a victory for the Axis forces. Once the Royal Navy had been expelled from the Mediterranean
The loss of Egypt doesn't equate to the loss of the RN, though obviously re-inforcements wouldn't be forthcoming.

Regards

Andy H
The loss of Egypt means the loss of the RN's major fleet base and harbour in the Eastern Mediteranean. Further, it would mean the loss of the Canal, which would in turn make the fate of any RN ships which remain in the Med. very precarious. No Fleet commander would waste a valuable resource like his warships in a landlocked sea where the enemy controlled 90% of the coast surrounding it (or if Turkey goes over to the Axis, 100%).
Hi Brian

I agree that the loss of the major fleet base would be a blow but the RN could still operate from other bases in the Eastern Med. Cruisers, Destroyers and Submarines even without major assets such as BB's & AC's would still cause the Axis naval forces a problem. Also one would expect that the major naval docks & facilities in Egypt would be made unusable for sometime, and thus the Axis naval assets would still be operating from bases further west.

Kind Regards

Andy H

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Michael Emrys
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Post by Michael Emrys » 21 Apr 2006 02:03

Andy H wrote:I agree that the loss of the major fleet base would be a blow but the RN could still operate from other bases in the Eastern Med. Cruisers, Destroyers and Submarines even without major assets such as BB's & AC's would still cause the Axis naval forces a problem.
But, Andy, if the Suez is captured, how would naval forces in the Eastern Med be supplied? How long would they last without air cover? If they have air cover, how will it be supplied?

I think you might have continued to operate submarines from Malta for a while, but eventually, even they would have had to withdraw to Gibraltar. Everything else in the Med would have gone to Aden before Alex and Suez could have been lost.

Michael

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Post by Tim Smith » 25 Apr 2006 14:28

I agree, the idea of Rommel linking up with the German army in the Caucasus is a pipe-dream. The DAK and Italians would have more than enough trouble coping with the substantial remaining British forces in Africa and the Middle East, would be spread VERY thin indeed, and would have no forces to spare to attack the Caucasus.

The ideal time for an Axis conquest of Egypt is December 1941, just as Japan enters the war. The combined shock of that and the need to divert resources to India would put the British under huge pressure and divide their effort.

To achieve that, Rommel would need to capture Tobruk by the end of June 1941, after decisively defeating the British Eighth Army in Battleaxe. Then Rommel would need to pursue the British to Mersa Matruh, and win again there in August 1941. Finally the DAK would advance to El Alamein, and destroy the Eighth Army there in November 1941.

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Post by fredleander » 25 Apr 2006 15:02

As soon as Alexandria/Suez was conquered Rommel's supply situation would actually be bettered. Depending on the damages done before a British withdrawal. I do not see that RN units could operate in the Eastern Med in such a situation, considering the strong LW/RA presence. On the other hand, Malta's situation would deteriorate. Turkey might join the Axis - even the French and Spanish attitude might change to the degree that the Germans could get to use their bases for an attack on Gibraltar. The Syrian ports could be used by the Germans. After all, they were allowed to land in Syria for refuelling on their way to Iraq.

With the Suez canal operative (somewhat unlikely for some time) German forces could use ship's transport to Persia, instead of having to traverse the desert. Which the RN certainly would try to hinder. Their capability for this would depend on the situation farther East.

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