Only Erich Raeder, the German navy commander, saw the danger clearly enough to press repeatedly and with great conviction for another way to gain Germany’s goals

Wednesday, July 5th, 2023

When Hitler announced his “resolve to bring about the destruction of the vitality of Russia in the spring of 1941,” Bevin Alexander explains (in How Hitler Could Have Won World War II), his top army generals, along with their staffs, amassed arguments to convince him to neutralize Britain before turning on Russia:

Only Erich Raeder, the German navy commander, saw the danger clearly enough to press repeatedly and with great conviction for another way to gain Germany’s goals.


Major General Alfred Jodl, chief of operations for the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW), or armed forces supreme command, felt the same way, though less openly and less forcefully. In a June 30, 1940, memorandum Jodl wrote that if the strike across the Channel did not come off, the Mediterranean offered the best arena to defeat Britain. His recommendation was to seize Egypt and the Suez Canal. Maybe the Italians could do it alone. If not, the Germans could help.

At the time the British had only 36,000 men in Egypt, including a single incomplete armored division under the command of General Sir Archibald Wavell. Moreover, Italy’s entry into the war had closed off Britain’s supply line through the Mediterranean except by means of heavily guarded convoys. The main British route now had to go 12,000 miles around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, and up through the Red Sea.

Even if Britain devoted all its strength to building a strong army in Egypt, it would take months, perhaps a year, to do so. And Britain was not going to undertake such a task because it had to concentrate most of its efforts on defense of the homeland.

Italy, aided by Germany, could get superior forces to Italy’s colony of Libya far more quickly. At this stage, it would be relatively easy to use Luftwaffe bombers to neutralize Malta, a British possession only sixty miles south of Sicily, where aircraft, ships, and submarines constituted a major danger to Italian supply ships and reinforcements moving between Italy and Tripoli in Libya.

Hitler in his July 31 meeting did not wholly exclude a “peripheral strategy” in the Mediterranean, and Generals Walther von Brauchitsch, commander in chief of the army, and Franz Halder, chief of staff in the army high command, Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH), proposed sending panzer forces (an “expeditionary corps”) and aircraft to Libya to help the Italians, who were planning an offensive into Egypt.


But Raeder’s main argument was that the Axis should capture the Suez Canal. After Suez, German panzers could advance quickly through Palestine and Syria as far as Turkey.

“If we reach that point, Turkey will be in our power,” Raeder emphasized. “The Russian problem will then appear in a different light. It is doubtful whether an advance against Russia from the north [that is, Poland and Romania] will be necessary.”

No one realized this truth better than Winston Churchill. In a message to President Roosevelt a few months later, he asserted that if Egypt and the Middle East were lost, continuation of the war “would be a hard, long, and bleak proposition,” even if the United States entered.


Once Axis forces overran Egypt and the Suez Canal, they would close the eastern Mediterranean to the Royal Navy. The British fleet would immediately retreat into the Red Sea, because it could not be adequately supplied by convoys through the western Mediterranean. Whether or not the Germans seized Gibraltar, Britain would be strategically paralyzed.


In possession of the Middle East, all of North and West Africa, and Europe west of Russia, its armed forces virtually intact, its economy able to exploit the resources of three continents, Germany would be virtually invincible. Britain’s defiance on the periphery of Europe would become increasingly irrelevant. Germany would not have to inaugurate an all-out U-boat war against its shipping.


  1. Cassander says:

    Raeder was delusional. The Mediterranean was closed off to shipping for a while, and it didn’t cause British collapse. Longer term, the Italians had a dramatically inferior fleet to the British, even before it ran out of oil. Fighting in Africa played to Allied strengths and German weaknesses, and even if by some miracle the Germans had managed to take Suez and hold it, “all the resources” of the Middle East are useless if you can’t get those resources back to Germany, and the Germans had no means to do so.

  2. Bruce says:

    Alanbrooke shared Raeder’s view that either the Brits got a million tons a year through the Med, or they lost the war.

  3. Pseudo-Chrysostom says:

    “Fighting in Africa played to Allied strengths and German weaknesses…”

    As opposed too… fighting in Russia perhaps, which played to even greater Wilsonian strengths, and even worse German weaknesses.

    If no Middle East campaign possible, no war at all possible.

  4. Cassander says:

    Pseudo-Chrysostom, the Germans bet they could make it 1000 km into Russia, and they made it 950. So, yes, it played more to their strengths than the alternatives.

    But I would agree, no victory was really possible, and that the Germans on the whole did way better than anyone had a right to expect. Germany and the UK had similar pre-war GDPs, before you add in the empire and the American support, so Germany always had to punch way above its weight.

  5. Pseudo-Chrysostom says:

    Steel is cheap, blood is expensive, and dirt is worth less than both.

    The drive to Moscow was more or less irrelevant to Germany’s geostrategic interests even if it had made it, because there was nothing worth anything to Germany along that axis, but they still paid for it with things that were worth something anyways.

  6. Lucklucky says:

    “Fighting in Africa played to Allied strengths and German weaknesses, and even if by some miracle the Germans had managed to take Suez…”

    No. It is much easier to supply North Africa from Italy than Egypt from England.

    There is no miracle necessary. Put five reinforced Panzer Divisions in Libya in 1941, and Suez can be taken.

  7. Lucklucky says:

    From Tiger Convoy May 1941 to Torch November 1942, the only Allied convoys were heavily armed to Malta and at cost.

  8. Jim says:

    Pseudo-Chrysostom: “The drive to Moscow was more or less irrelevant to Germany’s geostrategic interests even if it had made it, because there was nothing worth anything to Germany along that axis…”

    At the end of the drive to Moscow were one Joseph Stalin and the vice seat of Anglo-Soviet government. Great work writing one of the dumbest things that I have ever read.

  9. Jim says:

    Fundamentally, Germans are now Anglophones because at a pivotal moment in world history gone terribly wrong, their head of state was an Anglophile.

  10. Jim says:

    And now humanity is sinking into eternal darkness…

  11. Cassander says:

    Pseudo-Chrysostom, steel is cheap, but aluminium is not. Fighting in North Africa took a large amount of three things the Axis were shortest on: fuel, planes, and pilots.

    The drive to Moscow (had it worked) eliminated a large potential enemy that the Germans couldn’t just ignore, and, in theory, brought access to exploited raw materials (principally food) with some (if not good) transport links back to Germany.

    “No. It is much easier to supply North Africa from Italy than Egypt from England.”

    Objectively, yes. but relative to the objective difficulty, the British had a lot more transport capability and resources available, so it was relatively easier for them. The German supply convoys across the Atlantic were always under heavy threat and frequently saw much of what was sent end up at the bottom of the Med.

  12. Pseudo-Chrysostom says:

    The point is that the enemy would not have actually been eliminated.

    The leadership all had plans for evacuating, and there was little to nothing the Germans could do to keep them. They only stayed once it started becoming clear that Operation Typhoon was bogging down, and momentum shifting the other way. In the end the Wehrmacht would have been left with nothing but surly muscovites and empty buildings filled with snipers and AT guns even if they succeeded, just as Napoleon found out before them.

    I repeat: no materially effective objectives along the Moscow axis.

    Even if you were demented by God to invade Russia, it still would have made more sense to just liberate the black seas and baltics regions instead, then dig in defenses in depth over winter.

    The thing to understand about Operation Barbarossa is that it succeeded. It was a massive, smashing success, involving a scale of human endeavor unprecedented by anything in all of history, and will perhaps remain unprecedented in all of history to come, until the time comes that we take our place amongst the stars and purge the filthy xenos from the galaxy. And, it lost them the war.

    How do you square that circle?

    The short answer is, logistics. Even the greatest of operational successes could not transform the fact that Germany as it existed then was not capable of digesting what it had attempted to bite off.

    For example, people in malorussia had suffered greatly from the depredations of khazarian commissars imposing bolshevik rule over ruthenia. They were ready to accept practically anyone with open arms if they had to power to win, and would end collectivization, the imposed famines that killed millions of people. They wanted their farms, their churches, their homes back.

    The unwillingness of NSDAP officialdom to return the rights of property back to people, and facilitate security of the same, meant that it didn’t matter how much territory they gained, they gained no material benefit from it. No grain grew, no factories worked, no mines excavated, no railways repaired, no trucks delivered. Only ever longer, every more thinned out, ever more difficult problems of supply.

    The Prussian System of military tradition worked perfectly; but the enlightenment system of society run by management of ‘expert class’ was a complete failure; and it was this that was always a fatal Achilles Heel in the geopolitical prospects of Germany, circa 1935.

  13. Jim says:

    Is there any example of a modern state surviving the capitulation and occupation of its capital city?

  14. Pseudo-Chrysostom says:

    The United States of America.

  15. Jim says:

    That’s a clever answer, Pseudo-Chrysostom, but it has some problems:

    * “Capitulation and occupation.” The Cities of Washington and Georgetown weren’t captured and occupied, only sacked. Herr Hitler in Paris is capture and occupation; a Red general in the Federal district for twenty-six hours is inland piracy.

    * “Capital city.” The United States were the least centralized “state” in history, a federal republic with such a weak centrality of power that certain of the constituents thereof could trivially declare their own grouping fifty years later. The United States wasn’t always a towering, flame-breathing monster; long, long ago, it began life as the tiniest of tiny tadpoles. How regrettable that it was forced to grow when the South threw back in with the City of London.

    * “Modern state.” No preindustrial, prebureaucratic state was “modern” by any reasonable construction. (Just think that there were once prebureaucratic states.)

    Have you any better examples, Southron?

  16. Pseudo-Chrysostom says:

    “Herr Hitler in Paris is capture and occupation; a Red general in the Federal district for twenty-six hours is inland piracy.”

    Rather, you have illustrated exactly the point.

    Most states are not eight million six hundred forty nine thousand five hundred and thirty eight square miles in area (one sixth of the total earth’s land mass, for anyone keeping score).

    Occupying Moscow would have been pointless for the same reason that occupying Washington was pointless; anything and anyone of any importance was already long gone, and the enemy armies still at large and on the field. Nothing more than a useless empty gesture.

    The Wehrmacht rolling into Paris is practically an afterthought, because the very act of rolling into Paris meant that the French army had already been substantially eliminated as a factor before then – something which was absolutely not the case with the Soviet Union.

    An encirclement operation in Poland or France carries the day, because the operational depth of the front line theater is effectively close to the operational depth of the entire country – something which was absolutely not the case with the Soviet Union.

    Russia is an exception to many things which have applied to other countries over the course history. Which is why many don’t really understand it either.

    The intuitions, rules of thumb, uncritical modes of thought, which look like they fit a pattern when applied to other countries, shockingly fall apart when applied to Russia. They cannot exactly wrap their minds around the scales involved, what they mean, what they entail.

    What is it that you are thinking of when you think of war? This is not some game of stratego where pieces sit on a board waiting for you to come along and knock them over, it is reality. And in reality, there is no rule saying your counterparts can’t move anywhere if you don’t stop them. They already moved factories past the Urals. Moving a staff car in the middle of the night is nothing. If the men in the Stavka on that month of November, 1941, were stupid enough to sit around like pieces on a board waiting for someone to come knock them over, they would have been stupid enough that there would be no Soviet Union as a serious peer power in the first place.

    There was never a shortage of operational depth. There was more operational depth than anywhere else on earth. They were more than prepared to move anywhere necessary, as far as necessary. The Ural Mountains themselves would make the new line, if necessary. And beyond, if necessary.

    Capitulation? Final victory? Unconditional surrender? This was never a possibility. Not on the battlefield alone, not by one campaign alone. The fighting would never end.

    And in the cold tally of churning blood, Germany had far less to give.

    Do you know why OKW was reasonably confident they could succeed where everyone else in history before them had failed? Their analytical assessment before the war was the Soviet union would be able to reconstitute 40 new fresh divisions from reserves. That the 3 million or so odd men in 170 or so odd divisions making up their standing army at the front also represented the bulk of their total military capacity. All they had to do was trap and dissolve it, and the war would already be over in a matter of weeks, just like it was with Poland and France. They could succeed where Napoleon had failed, they just needed to make sure the enemy forces did not escape.

    And you want to know something? They pulled it off.

    The Prussian tradition of freehold, delegating broad plenary authority to whichever officer is closest to the action at any given point, served them well. Between artillery pounding at the front, and panzer elements doing thunder runs blocking from the rear, the more sclerotic Red Army as it existed at the time was completely trapped by the German infiltrations, and systematically dissolved by bombardment into cauldrons. Barely a fraction of the standing forces managed to escape. Hundreds of thousands of casualties. Millions of surrendered prisoners. Tens of thousands of tons of equipment. Tanks, aeroplanes, trucks, howitzers.

    The Wehrmacht did exactly what it hoped and dreamed of when setting out so to do. In a matter of weeks, the multi-million man strong Red Army that Stalin had created to oppose Germany effectively ceased to exist. It was a triumph and vindication of decades of studying the facts of war, the culmination of centuries of martial tradition adapted to the experience of war. An spectacularly astounding success unmatched by anything else in military history.

    And… it availed them nothing.

    The war mysteriously refused to end. Like it had ended every time up to there before.

    The rules of thumb that naively fit the patterns of other countries, fell apart when applied to Russia.

    They did not suitably appreciate, perhaps due to modernist blinkers of their own, the fact that the bolshevik revolution, like the masonic revolution in France before it, was a mass movement (ie, a demotist coded ideographic complex). And if there is one thing mass movements are good at, it is impressing masses into doing the bidding of the wordspeakers.

    Said mass might not have good training; it might not have good equipment; it might not have good leadership; but it will be *there*.

    The bolsheviks theretofore had expended every effort to create an environment where any possibility of any people organizing to challenge them was nipped in the bud. This of course had the ‘side’effect of any organized action for any useful purpose in general being extremely dissipated. But the upshot is this: as long as there were people that existed in the Soviet Union, there would be people showing up at the front lines to fight the Wehrmacht.

    Soviet leadership did not reconstitute 40 divisions, they reconstituted *800* divisions.

    When their standing army effectively disappeared, they simply *created a new army*.

    And when the Heer pulled off a repeat performance with the sickle cut at Kiev, they simply *did it again*.

    The German army kept winning operational victories; but they were also winning themselves to death.

    There was never any chance it would not become a war of attrition.

    Symbols matter. There is great power in symbology. But there is no power in empty symbols. Chasing after empty gestures is not war strategy, it is cargo-cult thinking masquerading as war strategy. Something that Hitler himself understood. “Moscow is of no great importance”. These are words that he himself would say. The generals that wanted to drive on Moscow, were undoubtedly in the wrong.

    Unlike Genghis Khan before him, and Uncle Adolf after him, Citizen Bonaparte actually did succeed in taking Moscow – and, it was nothing more than a sign post on the u-turn of denoument he was already walking down.

    He tried so hard, and got so far, but in the end, it didn’t even matter.

    No materially effective objectives along the Moscow axis.

  17. Jim says:

    Pseudo-Chrysostom, you are such a lightweight.

    My level of interest in this subject is low, but I’ve gone through the trouble of compiling some facts for you with which to demonstrate the vast difference between Washington, D.C. in 1814 and Moscow in 1941. Most are pulled from Wikipedia and may significantly understate the real situation.

    Washington circa 1814 was populated by about fifteen thousand; Moscow circa 1941 was populated by about four million. In other words, Moscow was hundreds of times bigger.

    Washington circa 1814 was preindustrial, with no infrastructure to speak of, with some very nice buildings but otherwise to modern eyes analogous with a farm town; Moscow circa 1941 was and is at the highly urban epicenter of an industrial superpower. I don’t have ready access to the Soviet Union’s geographical distribution of manufacturing power, but it stands to reason that it followed population density. (Here’s a map of the Union’s population density: Notice how the vast majority of the population were and are concentrated to the east of the Urals.

    Washington circa 1814 predated the invention of the train itself; Moscow circa 1941 was the center of the Soviet Union’s railway system, which tied all industry together. And lest you denigrate the all-importance of Soviet Railways, consider that the United States Army Corps were deployed specifically to secure the Trans-Siberian Railway for the Red Russians from the White Russians.

    Incidentally, according to Wikipedia, the Soviet Union’s material production (what economists today would call “real economy”) multiplied dozens to hundreds of times in just ten years between 1927 and 1937. (Including electricity utilization: That’s shockingly impressive. Evidently the economic malaise set in somewhat later, after the war had been won and Stalin purely coincidentally croaked.

    There is a reason that every war without exception concentrates on capture of cities, and it’s the same reason that the Bolsheviks captured the Winter Palace, and the same reason that the second world war against Germany ended at the moment of the Red Army’s capture of the Führerbunker, and the same reason that many of the American Election-Fraud Protestants remain incarcerated over two years later: because physical control of the throne room means and results in physical control of the castle, physical control of the castle means and results in physical control of the fortified castle city, and physical control of the fortified castle city means and results in physical control of the territory. The king is he who sits on the throne.

    And had Herr Hitler known the importance of Moscow, the immense gravity of it, as his generals had known it, perhaps Germany et al. would not now be drowning under a wine-dark flood of fictitious debts, coloreds, fats, trannies, and olds.

  18. Pseudo-Chrysostom says:

    >physical control of the throne room means and results in physical control of the castle, physical control of the castle means and results in physical control of the fortified castle city, and physical control of the fortified castle city means and results in physical control of the territory. The king is he who sits on the throne.

    Good job exposing yourself as a wordcel cargo cultist with no grasp of reality.

  19. Jim says:

    Man loses contest of wits, calls opponent witless: a tale as old as time.

  20. Jim says:

    Correction to big post: to the west of the Urals, not to the east.

  21. Jim says:

    I would appreciate a spot-edit to that effect, I.

  22. Pseudo-Chrysostom says:

    You didn’t even respond to anything that was actually said. This was never a contest, let alone a dialogue.

  23. Jim says:

    In my first reply, I hinted at everything I’ve said since with “modern state”.

    In my second reply, I elaborated further with “preindustrial, prebureaucratic state”.

    In my third reply, I more or less came right out and said “a Soviet Union less Moscow would be a vastly reduced third-tier rump state at best”.

    You’ve produced some very poetic language—e.g., “Between artillery pounding at the front, and panzer elements doing thunder runs blocking from the rear, the more sclerotic Red Army as it existed at the time was completely trapped by the German infiltrations, and systematically dissolved by bombardment into cauldrons.”—but completely, frivolously denied the unavoidable role of space, especially ownership of space, especially sovereign ownership of space, in the establishment and maintenance of sovereignty.

    Your central point, that ”[o]ccupying Moscow would have been pointless for the same reason that occupying Washington was pointless; anything and anyone of any importance was already long gone, and the enemy armies still at large and on the field,” is profoundly unresponsive to my plain observation that armies between 1939 and 1945 (and since) were (and are) fundamentally rate-limited by their sovereign’s manufacturing and coordinating capacity, and that had Moscow been taken the Bolsheviks’ manufacturing and coordinating capacity would have dropped off a fucking cliff.

    I repeat: Moscow in 1941 was the absolute epicenter of Bolshevik power, whereas no meaningful locus of domestic sovereignty was in Washington in 1814.

    In the event that you want me to respond again, include a short analysis showing that you understand the military significance of Soviet Railways and Moscow; otherwise, I will simply ignore you. (I’ve given you a massive hint with my observation that the United States Army Corps were sent in to secure, of all things, the Trans-Siberian Railway to the favor of the Bolsheviks. Don’t let me down, Chrys.)

  24. Pseudo-Chrysostom says:

    The factor missing from this analysis is the fact that the soviet economy was never sufficient for the soviet war effort in the first place.

    As bad as the NSDAP’s logistical problems could get, the bolsheviks were even worse. Almost half by gross tonnage alone of soviet materiel were foreign inputs – which is to say, American inputs. And the specific *contents* of those inputs were of course even more significant.

    The trucks that soviet supply and delivery infrastructure depended on were all Made In America; the refined fuels that soviet planes flew on were Made In America; engine blocks, finished metallurgical alloy stock, stamped parts, and other more technical components that occupy less relative volume but have outsize dependencies. The bulk of nominal soviet industrial capacity in all the cities overrun theretofore, most significantly that in Malorussia, was already nominally behind German lines before the mere lines on the map started going backwards; made little difference in the end.

    I repeat; the rules of thumb that may apply to a country the size of New York State fall apart when applied to a country the size of the Soviet Union. An entity the size of the Soviet Union cannot be defeated in a single campaign on a single battlefield, no matter how successful. Operation Barbarossa was the most successful offensive that could have possibly happened in reality; and it didn’t end the war.

    And the thing to understand about launching offensives on defended positions is that they are costly even when they succeed.

    By the time the Heer managed to claw all the way to the outskirts of Moscow, they were already long past the point they should have stopped to dig in and solidify their position, in order to get their logistical situation in order.

    They sought to create a perfect battle to win the war. And they won the perfect battle. Yet the war didn’t end. What then? What do you do when you reach the end of your roadmap yet find you haven’t actually reached your destination?

    So, they tried to create the perfect battle again. And again. And again. Failure of the formula to achieve the expected results was dealt with by returning to the same trick, and not by reconsidering the strategic presumptions that implied the sovereign sufficiency of the trick.

    Based on these presumptions, they did not plan for a long war – a long war was the one thing they all told each other they wanted to avoid – yet they got one anyways. When the last knockout blow does not deliver a knock out, they do not wait to leap into swinging the next knockout blow. The lines of supply get stretched thinner and thinner. The men grow fatigued. The gas runs out. The shells run out. The replacement parts run out. Equipment exists on paper, but you are lucky if even half of it is operational.

    Everything runs short, and there are no roads or rails made to replace them. And there are no people to work them. Territorial gains did not make the (national) socialist’s logistical problems easier, they made them even harder. The occupants alternate between a majority of shiftless indifference and a minority of active partisanship. No useful activity takes place in any case. They expected liberation from the (international) socialists, but what they got instead was management from (national) socialists that was hardly distinguishable from the (international) socialists. This was a pervasive problem everywhere they went in the mid twentieth century misadventure, though of course in some they were better than others (little Belgium alone produced more surplus capital than all the cities and peoples and territories nominally occupied in the east combined).

    By continually throwing themselves forwards operation after operation, almost as if attempting to defy fate itself, the Heer strung itself out into the most vulnerable position possible, flat empty and out of position, serving their chins up on a platter to the soviets for a knockdown counterblow.

    All wars turn into long wars. The Leader, and with a lesser share of responsibility those advising him, unfortunately neglected taking the more strategic lines of approach – taking the Middle East and North Africa, linking up with Japan, and if or when the SU engaged in hostilities, if would be they who would be the aggressors throwing men and materiel into DiD meatgrinders, while soviet convoys would be cut off between Norway to the west and Japan to the east – mistakenly thinking instead that the soviets could be ‘knocked out’ quickly via a direct operation. This could never have been a matter of one campaign in one battlefield, but many campaigns in many battlefields – and the null campaigns of no battlefields at all.

    Even the simplest man in Germany at the time could intuit that a long war of attrition would be a difficult situation for Germany, as it had already proven to be before; between maritime powers like Great Britain on one hand, and continental empires like the Soviet Union on the other, and parties that were a little bit of both like the USSA. But somehow, the imputation of a desire to avoid long wars of attrition, was somehow psychologically transmuted into the idea that the possibility could somehow be obviated and ignored altogether, somehow. That both A, you would not make plans for an extended war against an extended list of enemies, yet also B, it would go without saying that every body in the world would be against Germany. If both these things are the case then you’re already doomed. You makes plans contingent on dealing with one or the other or ideally both. It was as if men thought the level of geopolitical realities could have been ignored altogether with sufficient elan on a field of battle. And at this point we start crossing into the realm where one might only say that this is emblematic of spiritual differences between the different teutonic clades more than anything else; the ontological alleyways they inevitably tend to fall down into.

  25. Jim says:

    Everyone else I exhort to take a few minutes out of your busy day and read this essay in which no less an institution than the National Archives more or less just comes right out and admits that the United States Army Corps decided the Russian Revolution to the favor of the Bolsheviks.

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