You have the timeline wrong.
Douglas Milnes
11

“You have the timeline wrong. The fighting in north Africa started in 1939”

I assumed you were talking about a German threat to Egypt and hence a possible German push through the Middle East towards the Caucuses. I thought that we both agreed that Italy was incapable of accomplishing that without a lot of German help. That had already been more than established. Therefore the timeline I was using begins in February of 1941, when the German Afrika Korps began to arrive in North Africa.

“It was not a matter of Germany diverting troops from Russia to North Africa so much as a matter of Germany putting the troops in Russia because the approach through either Turkey or Egypt was not open.”

No: That is way off. German Army Group South had been tasked with taking the Caucuses to secure the oil fields from day one. It was part of their mission to secure Southern Russia and the Black Sea ports too. Germany putting troops in Russia had been an obsession of Hitler’s since he wrote about it in Landsberg prison in 1924. It had nothing to do with Caucasian oil. That was just a bonus to be picked up on the way. Given that securing the Black Sea and the North Caucuses was a central requirement to achieve Hitler’s dream of Russian Lebensraum, there would have simply been no sense in looking for any alternative route through Egypt. It is akin to saying that the reason for the German invasion of Poland was to secure the Danzig steel yards and they might have been better off taking Sweden and coming by that route. The point it that the whole German reason for the war required those troops to be in Southern Russia and the North Caucuses anyway, oil or no oil.

“The route from Libya to the Caucasus is less than the route from Poland, and the resistance far less.”

Well you have to ship that army to North Africa first. It is easier to take an army from Poland to the Caucuses in a direct route through Ukraine; than to take them through Italy, ship them across the Mediterranean to Libya and then march them across the North African coast and up through the Middle East.

“The North African fight was not the push-over some imagine.”

I don’t imagine it was a push over at all. I just think that from a Russian or German point of view, it wasn’t all that important in the greater scheme of things. I know that Egypt and especially Suez was of vital importance to the British; a little like Crimea to the Russians; but you are projecting what was important to Britain onto German and Russian priorities. They didn’t particularly care about the future of the British Empire and they didn’t care about North Africa; which is why Berlin only sent Mussolini a handful of troops as a token.

In fact Hitler cared about the British Empire only as an ally. Prior to the war, he had viewed it as a positive force and envisioned it as an ally of Germany; albeit with Germany as the senior partner of course. It is one of the reasons he failed to do much to prevent the BEF from escaping from France. He still misguidedly believed that the British would “see sense” and accept his overtures of friendship.

And you’re right. Hitler had no sense of global balances of power outside of his own vision. That is why he misread Britain so badly. Britain had always been primarily a sea power. That was one of the miscalculations that Kaiser Wilhelm had made when he began to expand his navy. He was unwittingly threatening British interests. The only serious rival for British sea power was France; but by the late 19th century Britain and France had finally found a way to rub along without getting in each other’s way. But a third major sea power in Europe was intolerable to both. Of course that was not the only reason for WWI but it was one of them.

“(British forces were providing support to China well before open war was declared on them by Japan).”

I know that. Russia and the USA were doing the same. Even Germany provided aid to China prior to 1940. They all had their own interests in China and influence has to be paid for. When Russian forces finally ousted the Japanese from Manchuria, they were not doing it for the Chinese; nor were they doing it out of any sense of commitment to the Yalta agreement. They were doing it because it suited Moscow. So it has always been everywhere.

But we have strayed far from the point. The point was not to diminish the British war effort in North Africa; just to point out that it was really a struggle for the British to maintain their empire and for Italy to build Mussolini’s dream of one. It didn’t really have much impact on the outcome of the war between Germany and Russia which is why neither of them took much interest in it.

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