Why didn't Hitler invade Middle East for resources first before invading Soviet Union?

Argyll 08/14/2017. 8 answers, 3.206 views
world-war-two 20th-century nazi-germany soviet-union middle-east

Why didn't Hitler invade Middle East for resources instead of Soviet Union? Or at least invade Middle East first to secure the resources needed for sustained military operation?

I understand Hitler had long yearned for a showndown with the Bolshevism. But considering the raw material dependency Germany had towards USSR prior to Operation Barbarossa would mean (even more) serious shortage on oil, grain, wood products and various metals -- as expensive as Soviet products may be.

How much resource production did Nazi Germany seize from western USSR? The cost of occupying conquered Soviet territory seems likely greater to me. I seriously doubt, whatever the amount is, it would cover the increased demand from military operations and lost Soviet imports otherwise. Germany may have had a stockpile of materials. But according to the linked Wikipedia article, the stockpile of oil would deplete completely by June 1941 using British estimates which was without Operation Barbarossa and rubber stockpile would expire in two months after the import through USSR is cut off. What appears to me is that Nazi Germany did not have the ability to sustain a war against USSR for more than half a year. If that is indeed true, then the resource shortage is one way to see how the Nazi leadership had no contingency for Operation Barbarossa to last for even more than half a year. It is one thing to hope for a swift victory but it is pure stupidity to expect a swift victory as a certainty.

So why then would Hitler invade USSR prior to resource security which would mean security in arm production which would result in sustained strategic military superiority? Why not invade or puppet Greece, Turkey and then through Turkey invade Middle East, securing the alluminun and other metals and the oil that Germany needed? That would also open up access to British Raj and even Singapore with all the rubber out there. (Can trade with Japan by then.) Nazi Germany did end up invading Greece after all

4 Steven Burnap 07/27/2016
You mean invade the soft underbelly?
5 Pieter Geerkens 07/27/2016
You think Hitler could get himself mired in the mountainous terrain of central Turkey and Stalin sits by and watches? Not on your life!
1 axsvl77 07/27/2016
I new a guy who lived through the war. He said when Hitler found out that the USSR had just finished a single tank factory with the same output as all of Germany, he new waiting wasn't an option. I've always wondered if this was true.
1 Neil McGuigan 08/11/2016
Southern Russia really isn't that far from Northern Iran
1 jwenting 09/28/2016
@Argyll The USSR was watching Germany like a hawk, the reverse was also true. Stalin noticed Germany increasing production of winter gear in early '41 and increased border defenses in response. Hitler saw that as the USSR gearing up for an invasion of Germany and rushed to counter that by invading the USSR before he was fully ready. At least that's what I read in a biography of Stalin and several other books about the period.

8 Answers

sdrawkcabdear 07/28/2016.

It is worth pointing out that Germany would always have been at a huge disadvantage in a war of attrition against the USSR, they have vastly fewer people, smaller industrial base and tactical depth. Even if they had the resource wealth of the whole Middle East and Africa they would have run out of men in a year or two. What mattered more was trying to catch Russia in a decisive and fast attack to force the war to end fast before a war of attrition could begin. That was the goal of Barbarossa.

A similar point is often made about Japan, they imported all their oil from the US at the Outbreak of hostilities they had one years supply stockpiled. About a year later they ran out. They Japanese Admiral Yamamoto famously said they he would run rampant for a year but would they would be defeated.

It is worth remembering that capturing a region does not automatically connect its resources to your factories. Even a successful invasion of the middle east through Turkey would create a very long and difficult logistics supply line that could be easily attacked from the north along several paths by the Russians in an eventual war or from the south and east by the British who had the dominant surface fleet and easy access to of many of those territories.

Lets examine the routes that Germany could have taken to the middle east

Amphibious landing - take off from Germany or southern occupied France and land on western coast of the middle east somewhere between Egypt and turkey. Not an option the German fleet was to weak to break out of the North Sea let alone protect a massive landing fleet.

Fight East from North Africa - Rommel and the north Africa corps did try to fight from Tunisia into Egypt but were defeated by first the British and later the Americans. In this way the Germans did try to invade the middle east and failed.

Invade from the North from East of the Black Sea - Well that would mean invading Russia so this path does not let you get to the middle east without fighting Russia first.

Invade from the north from West of the Black Sea- Well this means either mounting an amphibious crossing of the Black sea ( see the first problem) or an invasion of the Balkans then turkey. This would have been hard and numerous mountains they would cross and long distance would wreak havoc on their supply chain but it is the most feasible. The Brits would also have transferred troops from north Africa to fight there instead, Most of the middle east was easy to reach and reinforce for the British so why would they have been less defended than North Africa?

1 Argyll 07/28/2016
Best answer so far. But a few things. 1) Fight East from North Africa option and analysis is anachronistic. 2) Empire of Iran among others was not a colony of Japan. Iran was in fact invaded by Soviet and UK in 1941 to prevent access to its oil fields by Germany. 3) The statement on the success of Barbarossa is dubious. I am not aware of any wide academic consensus on the state and/or success of Germany military operation during Barbarossa. David Stahel (search his lecture on Youtube) provides detailed information that states otherwise. (He seems reputable to me because the large amount of
Argyll 07/28/2016
points he described in details that I have learned from other (secondary) sources. He also briefly mentions what his primary sources are.) Rapid advance of (isolated) panzer groups and encirclement and annihilation of large quantity (but small in portion) of Soviet troops created the impression of success. But was it real strategic success? Regardless, your 80% figure is rather misleading. 80% of what?
Argyll 07/28/2016
typo. meant colony of UK
Argyll 07/28/2016
As well, regarding option amphibious landing, why would German require a massive fleet as oppose to small fleet but operating continuously over time? If Germany and Italy had the capacity to protect their convoy shipping to North Africa in Mediterranean, why not to Middle East? Is there any sources that point to heavy defense in Middle East? Because if not, a large formation is not required for amphibious invasion. Only the subsequent occupation requires continuous supply and additional troops.
pugsville 07/28/2016
Italy- tripoli mostly under axis air cover range, lack of British bases, convoys over much longer route to the levant radical different prospect. combat divisions need something like 200-300 tons of supplies per day. you need pretty continuous supply be an effective fighting force or anything after a few days of no supplies/ the royal navy had a resaonbal dominance of the italain navy. any axis invasion by sea would be intensely problematic of surviving the voyage, even without allied code breaker

Adrian Todorov 07/28/2016.

Because he wasn't a good strategic thinker and was more of an impulsive, borderline crazy, person(i even read a theory that associated his different behaviours with the use of different drugs, and frankly, it even made a little sense).

In Nazi Germany, most decisions were taken by Hitler, based on his own perceptions of reality and facts, and he rarely listened to his advisors or generals(unless they could appeal to his maniacal/ideological/political/personal side and influence it, like Goring did), regardless of their experience and prowess. He dismissed generals on a whim because they failed in a battle where a more observant person would see they made a briliant defence.

There were multiple renowned, experienced people, like:

  • Erich Raeder, Grossadmiral and in charge of the Kriegsmarine, the German Navy

  • Erwin Rommel, at the time a renowned General and a (relatively) close friend of Hitler(he got his first command, the 7th Panzer Division, due to his proximity to Hitler, and was hated for it, until he proved himself to be a great Panzer commander in the Invasion of France), who was given command of the Deutsches Afrikakorps, the German war effort in North Africa

Who advocated for a strong push in North Africa, listing the following positive sides of such a campaign:

  • control of Egypt, which would permit to close the Suez cannal to British shipping thus severely limiting their naval capabilities in the Mediterranean(bear in mind that at the time most of British supplies for this theater came from around Africa and through Suez due to the dangers of Italian and German commerce raiding) and their communications with India

  • the easy possibility to occupy the vast oil rich lands in the Middle East which were under weak colonial rule(the Levant, Iraq, even Saudi Arabia), had some German friendliness(there was even a pro-German coup d'état in Iraq, and iranians were considered to be part of the Aryan race) so realtively easy to occupy

  • in the future war with the Soviet Union, the presence of an extra front - the Caucasus region, full of Muslims[so potentially unhappy with Soviet rule] borders Iran[then known as Persia], and containing most of the Soviet oil, so extremely critical to the Soviet war effort, and, Germany had a good mountain corps, so fighting in the mountains in the Northern Caucasus woudln't have been such an obstacle to them

And the funny thing is, Rommel, with his measely 2 divisions and the almost good-for-nothing Italians, was pretty close to defeating the British in Egypt.

Just imagine what could have happened had he had the firepower and ressources he wanted.

Basically, any logical mind would say that it's worth it, but Hitler isn't known to be very logical. Yes, he was extremely intelligent, had good people skills and etc. but he did make a plethora of bad geopolitical and strategic decisions.

Logistics were going to be difficult for such a theatre, but they were going to be easier to manage than those in the North African desert on its own(with Suez and Alexandria under German control, the only western British bases were Cyprus and Malta, much easier to subdue), due to a lesser British presence and shorter shipping lanes(Taranto->Tobruk is longer and closer to a British base[Malta] than Pirea->Haifa or Varna->Trabzon).

Edited as per the comments to better link the two parts of the response and add more detail.

pugsville 07/27/2016
but 1but British shipping do not go through the cannal, 2 how do you get the oil back and 3/ how many divines do you think could be supported through turkey to the Caucasus mot enough. logistics matter.
Adrian Todorov 07/27/2016
@pugsville of course logistics matter. Supply through the Balkans and Turkey(which i didn't speak about, but in a scenario where Germany controlled the Balkans and the Middle East, either directly or through Allies, Turkey would have been isolated and would have had no choice but to comply with German demands, like let us have access through you for supplies and movement of troops) was going to be much better than supply through shipping in the Mediterranean with hostile British in it in control of Suez.
pugsville 07/27/2016
turkish co-opertaion or not the railways was very poor, using the Caucasus region as a font against the soviet union, requires the troops to supplied, the logistical infrastructure was very poor (railways) that only a small force could be supported, thus the Caucasus region could not support a signifiant force
Adrian Todorov 07/27/2016
@pugsville Railways, altough poor, aren't the only choice. Shipping throught the Black sea to Trabzon, and then the distance overland to Northen Turkey/Northern Iran isn't huge, and in the case of congestion of routes, there are plenty of ports in the Levant that can be used as alternative inputs to be transferred overland, as well as Batumi as soon as it was captured. Not to mention that if Germany had control over the Middle East, they would have immediately started to improve the infrastructure, railways included. Again, much easier to supply than Northern Africa on its own.
pugsville 07/27/2016
building railways a years long project,shipping could only supply a narrow coastal plain, communications and transport laterally in the Caucasus extremely difficult, the there is the lack of shipping, and capacity. Ports in the levant could only been done by gaining control of Vichy colonies, tearing up the treaty with Vichy France would have consequences, turkey could fight, Yugoslavia and Greece did and turkey would be a much harder nut to crack. treason to any all is a vast distance there are no railways, and supply by truck problemtic

pugsville 07/27/2016.

1/ Hitler wanted to invade the soviet union and he was not a think things through throughly and take his time sort of guy,he lacked patience

2/he underestimated the difficulties in invading the soviet union and he believed the whole rotten structure would collapse.

3/Nazi Germany, it's Government, the army were run by 'yes men' no one was really going to bring Hitler up short with cold hard facts.

4/ it would not have worked. why? Logistics. It's a very long way to the Oil, it's very hard to get to and get it back somewhere useful. there was not enough naval resources to do it by sea, the royal navy from a vast number of suitable bases would easily interdict any such attempt. the railways did not exists and it would take years to build the railways. only a very very small force could be supplied entirely by road and not that far, the germans were incapable of projecting a large military force into the middle east and logistically supplying it.

pugsville 07/27/2016
the entire red army was not deployed on the border, nor was sizing the red army as prisoners a goal. almost all the 3 million prisoners taken in the first 6 months died from starvation, the assumption was it would be a short war,only after in 1942 were Russian pows used as labour. i
KorvinStarmast 07/27/2016
Your point number 4 is the most important part of this answer. Germany was not a maritime nation. The transport route from ME to Germany was going to be maritime.
1 Steven Burnap 07/28/2016
Also, the plains of Western Russia are ideal terrain for a highly mobile blitzkrieg attack. The mountains of Turkey are very much not.
Argyll 07/28/2016
Regarding 4th point, Middle East back then was not a major oil producer (don't have link atm) but did produce oil. But it is not only the oil. I listed some resources that Germany would have been able to grab along the way to Sinai and/or British Raj. If Hitler had chosen to go to Middle East first war with Soviet Union later, until the war, he wouldn't have been short of oil due to Soviet imports. If you are worry about distance, don't worry about it. Long distance trade was common back then. For example, some Soviet imports were brought in all the way from Far East on land. That is far.
Argyll 07/28/2016
@StevenBurnap: You may be right about the Bulkan mountains which Germany would also have to pass through. But Blitzkrieg matters little with the level of military readiness of Turkey/Middle Eastern states. Also Western Russia is far from "ideal" with total lack of infrastructure and local resources for supply. Blitzkrieg is not only about infiltration by cross country driving of tanks. It is also about the truck columns of infantry and supplies that follow. In Barbarossa, the trucks didn't quite follow due to the bad roads and difficult terrain off road. And then there is the rain season.

Santiago 08/02/2016.

Simplified answer.

  1. Before WWII Hitler wanted the United Kingdom as an ally, so he didn't like the idea of taking british colonies. In fact, he respected french colonies.
  2. The purpose of attacking the Soviet Union was to take territory for colonization, not only resources. Actually, the need of resources came later, when they were scarce due to war.
  3. Only the defeat of Italy in Africa and Greece moved german troops to those places. Without these interventions Germany wouldn't have had troops neither in the Balcans or Africa.

Summary: Hitler's original plan never included Middle East. The course of war might forced him to change his plans, but the basic ideas was always Russia.

Michael 07/28/2016.

Churchill mentioned in his "World War II" that British were very concerned that Germans could invade Syria and move eastward to get to oil rich regions, perhaps as far as Iran. Because of that British kept substantial forces there that were idle while the war right around the corner in North Africa were going back-and-forth like a pendulum. British even kept an entire division in Cyprus to prevent Germans from invading it much as they invaded Crete and making Cyprus one of the stepping stones toward Syria.

These concerned have never materialized. Churchill mentioned several possible reasons. One reason was the German Pyrrhic victory in Crete, where their best parachute division got mauled to such extent that it couldn't be used again with the same vigor; Churchill speculates that if not for Crete Goering division could have been dropped directly on Damascus where British didn't have sufficient troops for any kind of defense.

Another reason was British naval control over Eastern Mediterranean, which already almost led to capture of a German mountain division that got scattered on its way to invade Crete by sea, which caused Germans to rely solely on Goering parachute division for that purpose. With the naval invasion proven impossible against British Mediterranean navy and parachute invasion resources spent almost completely on Crete and strong British army presence all along Levant coast from Cyprus to Egypt Germans just didn't have enough resource to strike though toward Middle Eastern oil production.

Finally, Churchill mentions German shift of focus toward Russia as the third reason why the invasion why the German invasion of Levant never materialized. Perhaps Hitler was more confident in his army getting to the oil of Caucasus than in his marines getting to the oil of the Middle East.

Argyll 09/29/2016
Good point about the military opposition the Allies would provide!

DevSolar 04/13/2017.

The German military -- and indeed large parts of its economy -- were built up through short-term financial schemes.

By the time the military was ready to attack on any front, those schemes were about to run out. Going to war, putting banks under direct control of the government etc. was the only way to keep the whole economy from collapsing.

At the same time, Germany could not (yet) go for all-out wartime production. For one they were still hoping to keep the western powers appeased, for another they needed the support by the populace.

From a certain point onward, Germany -- being heavily outnumbered in manpower, resources, and production capacity even if considering only Russia as an opponent -- had only that one chance, going to war, and winning it within one year, two at the most, through surprise and "Blitzkrieg" tactics (or "shock and awe" as we would call it today).

Anything longer than that would mean a war of attrition, which Germany had no hope of winning -- even if resources were captured elsewhere in the meantime, and even with the whole economy geared toward weapon manufacture. (Which it historically did not do until 1942/43, when the chances at winning the war -- as opposed to prolonging it -- were already gone.)

At the same time, Russia was gaining strength after Stalin's purges, and became a stronger enemy by the month.

Taking a detour through the middle east would have gained little, and given away the only chance Germany had at coming out on top -- surprising and crushing Russia in one fell stroke.

Wikipedia: Economy of Nazi Germany. (The German article seems to be even better.)

Argyll 07/28/2016
Interesting argument on the fragility of Reich economy. The linked question only touches on the Reinhardt Programs and Mefo bill. Do you have any data or references that better describes the fragility of the economy? The relevance of the argument that Soviet Russian was getting better is intrinsically related to the imminent collapse of Reich economy too. Without a collapse, Germany could also seek to grow its capacity. While Soviet Union had more raw resource, Germany had more industrial capacity. The lack of either can be just as bottlenecking.
DevSolar 07/28/2016
@Argyll: None that I could quote ad-hoc. It's a recurring theme in history books that cover the German economy etc., but I am a layman in these things, not a librarian.
Argyll 07/28/2016
The problem is recurring themes in history books are not always accurate and in some cases they are not even close to be correct. Book authors learn from each other and sometimes in effect copy incorrect ideas without primary research. It is quite a technical proposition to predict imminent collapse of the then Reich economy. I don't think any "history" book can be given too much credit. The impression of an imminent collapse in Nazi leadership's minds though could be a less technical topic. And impression could have the same effect.
Argyll 07/28/2016
Again, I wouldn't trust "history books" that don't cite or at least describe their primary sources.
DevSolar 07/28/2016
@Argyll: The point is that I have read these things over a span of about three decades, two thirds of those books were lend from the public library, and I am right now not prepared to sift through the other third. Take it as an interesting starting point for your own research. ;-)

wawa 09/28/2016.

Well I guess you should see your question in a bigger context. Hitlers aim was to lead Germany to a dominant major power (maybe THE dominant major power) of Europe (maybe the world). In his opinion for this you need the right nation (--> "Arier") and enough land (-->"Erweiterung des Lebensraums"). Furthermore he believed that this "land" should be connected. In his opinion a colonial nation (like the British would not match). So his main 'threat' was Russia and at the same time Russia was his best price (enough land who could conquer for his own).

His first war action (invasion of Poland) was a gamble. How would the allies react? Luckily for him the allied did nothing (okay they declared war but France didn't invade Germany - there were reasons for this, but I guess it should be another topic).

After the success over France (France count as the strongest land force at this time) and the successful "Blitzkrieg" doctrine no-one had any doubt about a successful campaign against Russia. So in my honest opinion after the failure of operation Barbarossa the war for Germany was lost.

You see the Germans never had consider about resources because they never planned a long ongoing war against one nation. They always tried to defeat single nations with their "Blitzkrieg" tactic and took them out of the war (Poland, Denmark and Norway, the Benelux and France, Yugoslavia and Greece).

So the main goal was to attack Russia and the "strategic" calculation was to defeat them quickly and sadly for the Nazis but good for all others, they never wasted their time for a plan B - as you did (get enough resources elsewhere to be prepared if the main battle plan fails).

1 Mark C. Wallace 09/28/2016
This answer would be improved by sources.
Argyll 09/29/2016
It is interesting to relate to Hitler's ideological view, which was espoused by many in Germany at the time. However, it is incorrect to say the Germans never considered resources. There are numerous indicators to the far contrary, including records of talks by Nazi officials up to Hitler himself. I'll pick an easy examples to start off. The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact and the trade agreements in its core, under which Nazi Germany acquired a large amount of raw resources from USSR. Had the Germans not "considered" resources, they would not be able to produce their tanks and run their Blitzkrieg
Argyll 09/29/2016
simple as that. And the reality was easy for everyone to grasp. The other thing is "Blitzkrieg" was a term coined by a journalist to describe the field tactic by Nazi German army which involved concentrated armored or combined-arm breakthrough, infiltration and subsequent exploit, coordinated with artillery close air support. The word "Blitz" described the overwhelming nature at tactical level more than the your interpretation on speed at a strategic level, which I understand may be shared by many but is an added interpretation.
Argyll 09/29/2016
Long and short war is not a matter of tactical style. The length of the war is determined by the time required to achieve the strategic initiatives necessary to defeat an enemy. It is backward to say Nazi Germany didn't consider resources because Blitzkrieg meant Nazi Germany didn't need to plan for long war. Rather, the scarcity of resources before Operation Barbarossa forced Germany to only consider a brief war within the same year as the only viable option -- which was estimated to be impossible by some army officials but tried anyway.
Argyll 09/29/2016
meant to make the edit: estimated to be probably impossible by army officials such as the Quartermaster General Eduard Wagner but tried anyway.

M. Petersen 08/03/2016.

After the winter war against finnland no one thought that that the soviets could win against germany, even the allies were sure that the weeks would be other within weeks. Also you have to keep in mind 2 thinks russia will get stronger per day and also has a ideology which wants to capture the world and the supply situation would have been a lot better if italy would have attacked greece bc germany could have started the war early and would not have been stuck in the russian winter than.

1 Mark C. Wallace 08/03/2016
Sources would improve this answer.
1 M. Petersen 08/03/2016
I will add them when I get home currently writing from work
Argyll 09/29/2016
The perspective on German evaluation of Soviet capacity is interesting. Would love to see some sources. As for the idea of strike because Soviet was "getting better per day", I would suggest that a rational player would not weigh much on the idea because Nazi Germany could also get better per day. The alternative scenario of invading Middle East before USSR (instead after) could have helped Nazi to keep up.
Argyll 09/29/2016
I also wouldn't put the Russian winter as any surprising external factor that ruined Operation Barbarossa by a stroke of luck. The Germans did not just run out of time before the winter. They ran out of capacity to continue. One way to appreciate this is to look up exactly how close German army got to Moscow (40 kil away by my memory from reading) and in what shape (e.g. if they even have more than single-digit number of tanks at the front.).

Related questions

Hot questions


Popular Tags