Introduction European Powers to 1939 The Coup British Operations Overview of the British Campaign German Operations Overview of German Operations Conclusion Bibliography

Arab nationalismís general impotence, Germanyís, or perhaps more appropriately, Hitlerís disinterest, and Great Britainís necessity to act, comprised the formula of the Rashid Ali coupís outcome. As a prism of history, the coup exposed several traits which were to predominate Axis and Ally policy for the duration of the war: Germanyís future was to be guided or misguided by the instinct-driven will of Hitler which found culmination in the Fuehrerís race war, BARBAROSSA; conversely, despite further hardships (Dieppe, Singapore, 1942), Great Britain found itself bolstered by American and Russian allies which enabled her to not only maintain its empire, but liberate Europe from Nazism.

It is most probable that if Hitler, during the spring and summer of 1941, had decided to move into the Middle East that he would have been able to take the region in a matter of months. In fact, the force needed, perhaps twenty to thirty divisions (armored and infantry), would have amounted to one-sixth of that assembled for BARBAROSSA.260 This would have enabled Hitler to knock an already crippled England out of the war, while still being able to defend the eastern frontiers from the Soviet Union should it choose to breach the Nazi-Soviet Pact. This, for many reasons, would have seemed the rational thing to do. However, when we speak of Hitlerian foreign policy, we are not dealing with what is rational but rather what is consistent with racial theory and instinct. The Arab East, during the time of the Baghdad coup, was highly susceptible to attack. If taken, it would have yielded an unquestionable number of strategic advantages. But, despite the fact that many leading Germans, including Ribbentrop, Goehring, Raeder, and Assmann, coveted the idea of such a campaign, it was the will of Hitler which finally prevailed.

As for the British, they possessed, at this time of the war, very little of what the Germans did. Berlin, had in its grasp, impressive weaponry, a wave of momentum from the many victories it had claimed over the previous two years, and the luxury of choice; Great Britain and the Soviet Union were staggered by Germanyís European successes--Berlin was certainly in a position of dictating policy to London and Moscow rather than the other way around. The Germans, even after the Battle of Britain, had options: It could invade Russia, storm Gibraltar, or, in the eyes of many British experts as the most obvious thing to do, initiate a pincer drive on Suez, and bring about the British Empireís death Knell. However, after months of shirking opportunity, Hitler finally chose to move east. Aptly enough, Kennedy, mentions that ďIf the Germans had concentrated on the Middle East for the next few months, it is very doubtful whether we could have held it. But Hitler, with his Russian plans, was about to come to our aid, as he often did at critical moments of the war.Ē261

What London did possess, however, was the Middle East and its two most vital commodities: the Suez Canal and massive oil stocks. In other words, Great Britainís options were scaled-down to simply defending and keeping what was herís. Of course, it was the Baghdad coup which prompted London to view the great significance of the region with a more serious eye. And, knowing what it did at the time of the coup, in as far as German intentions were concerned, Whitehall was wise to the fact that it could not afford to be tentative, and its effort in Iraq reflected this attitude.

Knowing that a German concentration of forces in the Middle East would have probably resulted in an Axis victory, it is easy to understand why German policy in the Eastern Mediterranean in the spring of 1941 is worthy of so much criticism. Assuming that Hitler had been dissuaded from BARBAROSSA, and, as a result, opted for a drive into the Arab East, what might have Germany gained? The most obvious advantage to be gained by an Axis move into the Arab East would have been the enormous amount of oil to be had through the occupations of both Iraq and Persia. Germany would have also been in an excellent position to flank, and, as a result, threaten Soviet oil fields in the Caucasus. Of course, when we speak of oil, we are immediately exposing perhaps the greatest ĎAchillesí Heelí of the Axis side. Italyís ability to participate in Axis operations had been severely curtailed after its navyís oil stocks ran out in June of 1941.262 And, as early as February of 1941, the Italians were requesting some 574,000 tons of oil in ďsupplementary requirement for the first half of the year 1941.Ē263 As the Italian Navy held a crucial role in the Axis attempt to neutralize the predominance of the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean, we can then assume that the presence of new reserves would have eased the great strain strapping Axis supply lines at this time. One might further conclude that the extra oil lifted from the Middle East would have afforded Hitler the enormous versatility and energy needed for a Russian campaign, assuming that he would have eventually gotten around to one. Furthermore, in view of the Suez Canalís significance, one can infer that an effective German pincer would, at the very least, hindered the flow of communications and supplies from the east to the west. Woermann, in a March XX memorandum believed that the Great Britain possessed a total of three million military personnel in India.264 In short, a closure of the Canal would have severely handicapped Great Britainís ability to shuttle men and material from theater to theater. So, needless to say, an exploitation of the Baghdad coup would have most likely changed the face of the war. A Middle Eastern campaign would have afforded the Axis massive stocks of oil which would have revitalized the needed Italian Navy, and provided fuel for future Axis campaigns, of particular note, BARBAROSSA. Not to mention, Axis victory in the Arab East would have isolated British possessions in East India, Singapore and East and South Africa.

Despite the notion that Axis success in the Middle East would have been probable, the potential problems accompanying such a campaign are obvious. First, Turkey, a vital land-link into the Levant and Mesopotamia, persisted to remain attached to Great Britain in the Sabadad Pact of October 1939, a treaty which despite its questionable integrity, the Germans believed to be ďa very real threat.Ē265 The nature of the mutual assistance treaty, for much of the war, was hindered by Turkeyís great desire to remain neutral. Moreover, Field Marshall Kurt von Brauchtisch, Commander-in-Chief of the German Army, felt that the OKW had no evidence to support the assumption that the Turks would not fight back if attacked. With this in mind, Brauchtisch believed that nothing short of five armored divisions, three motorized divisions and twelve infantry divisions would be needed to secure Turkey and could not be mounted until 1942.266

Second, Germany, while moving south would have to keep in close consideration, the territorial sensitivities of the Soviet Unionís Josef Stalin. As stated, a Middle Eastern campaign would have not only put into jeopardy the Soviet Unionís southern flank, but it also would have threatened Russian oil reserves in the Caucasus. It was, after all, in November of 1940 that Ribbentrop had guaranteed to Molotov a free Soviet hand in the Persian Gulf.267 Invading the Arab East would have presumably signaled an end to such good will, and, by virtue of this, a prima facie break in Russo-German relations. One can conject that, in Hitlerís eyes, the resulting tension of a campaign would have sullied the largely amicable nature of Russo-German relations, something which Hitler viewed desirable prior to an attack on the Soviet Union.

Lastly, although it is easy to assume German victory in the Arab East an almost certainy, we cannot assume that the massive booty of oil which would have accompanied such a victory would have been an easy move from the Middle East to Axis forces in Europe or Northern Africa. Of particular consideration for the Germans would have been the large possibility that the English possessed a contingency plan providing for the capping or destruction of the regionís most crucial oil wells and pipelines, lest they be utilized by the Axis.268 We do know that the British War Cabinet did consider a contingency plan for the demolition of the Caucaus oil fields a must, especially in the first months of BARBAROSSA.269

Top of Page


Last updated August 9, 2001. Please send comments, questions, and reports of problems to jcscott@saclink.csus.edu. Composed by: James C. Scott, CSUS Reference Librarian. Copyright ©: 2001.