Did Ribbentrop view Iraq as a last-second opportunity to deflect Hitler from a Russian campaign? Unfortunately, in probing for an answer to this question, one discovers that there is no single document which directly links the foreign minister to such an intention. By most accounts, Ribbentrop’s interest in Iraq has been regarded as ‘bizarre’ or ‘unusual.’193 This was indeed true. It is also quite correct that Ribbentrop’s character was itself very odd. However, in viewing the foreign minister’s actions in Iraq, one must wonder if there was method to his madness. Ribbentrop’s foray into Middle Eastern affairs came on the eve of Hitler’s coveted Russian campaign. Because we see close proximity between Iraq and BARBAROSSA, should we not consider the extent of Ribbentrop’s intentions during the months of April and May in 1941 as ‘bizarre,’ and as a result, worth viewing with a suspicious eye? Despite the absence of irrefutable evidence which might tie the foreign minister to what many hardline Nazis would have considered treasonous activity, an effort will be made, through a multitude of documents, and the art of deduction, to elucidate the true nature of Ribbentrop’s intentions and discover if he indeed viewed Iraq as an operation with large-scale, anti-BARBAROSSA ramifications.
Several factors will be assessed in considering surrounding Ribbentrop’s actions in Iraq: the foreign minister’s sociopolitical background, the nature of his contacts with other governments during the coup, the timing and tenor of his anti-BARBAROSSA statements, and the speed and insistence with which he handles his pro-coup campaign. Again, it is important to stress that there is no one document which explicitly ties the foreign minister’s actions to the sabotage of BARBAROSSA.194 In any case, we will endeavor with the documents that time has granted, to bring to light Ribbentrop’s policy rationale during this crucial period of the Second World War.
As his origins differed from those of most of the party’s elites, the foreign minister had to be viewed as the most unlikely of Nazis. Brought-up in reactionary surroundings, marrying into Berlin’s higher class, and vain enough to have himself adopted by an aristocratic aunt to gain the ennobling ‘von’ prefix, Ribbentrop and his association with the Nazis proved an extremely odd marriage. Furthermore, as a seller of champaign, prior to the Nazi rise to power, Ribbentrop had a weakness for pomp and a definite lust for the ‘spotlight.’ As we shall see, Ribbentrop’s duration as ‘special counsel’ and foreign minister to Hitler certainly reflected a fundamental philosophical divergence between himself and the Fuehrer’s retinue of hard-line Nazis. The following words of Paul Schwarz aptly capture the peculiar nature of the Ribbentrop-Nazi relationship:
The Nazi party is the limbo of lost and not as yet unrecovered types between
the devil of philistinism and the deep sea of the superman. The philistine is catered to by grotesquely worded laws like the Gesetz zur Wieder einfuebrung des Berufsbeamtentums, by the reintroduction of grim discipline, by glorified provincialism like “blood and soil,” peasant dances and beer. The superman, on the contrary, revels in gigantic, earthshaking plots, in an endless succession of “world historic decisions,” in displays of immoral granduer a`la Nietzsche and d`Annunzio, and in laying down the law to trembling continents. Ribbentrop is decidedly trying to sell the world the superman slant.195
Furthermore, the following character of Ribbentrop, by John Weitz, makes the man sound like anything but a Nazi: “He was a rational, conventional man of conservative background, an international businessman who cared about his own and his family’s place in German and foreign society.”196 It should then be sufficient to say that, in view of his background, Ribbentrop did have a dimension to his personality which was, in some ways, unNazi-like.
How can one then account for Ribbentrop’s association with the Nazi party? First, despite not being able to call himself an ‘old warrior’ of the NSDAP, Ribbentrop did harbor a strong distaste for the 1919 Treaty of Versailles and communism.197 Moreover, Ribbentrop’s allegiance to Hitler was, for the most part, unswerving. As John Weitz states, “From the day he met Adolf Hitler to the day he died on the gallows, even at those times when he received shabby treatment, Joachim von Ribbentrop never showed a moment of disloyalty to Adolf Hitler.” Weitz further mentions that Ribbentrop, being “the son of an officer in the Kaiser’s Army,” where “blind loyalty” was “the German officer’s religion,” “would lose his life for being unquestionably faithful to an evil man.”198 Ribbentrop was able to articulate his attraction to Hitler’s character and mission by recalling, at Nuremberg, the genesis of his most bizzare and, at the same time, slavish worship of the Fuehrer in 1932:
Adolf Hitler made a considerable impression on me even then. I noticed particularly the blue eyes in his generally dark appearance, and . . . his detached nature . . . and the manner in which he expressed his thoughts. His statements always had something final and definite about them, and appeared to come from his innermost self. I had the impression that I was facing a man who knew that he wanted and had an unshakeable will and very strong personality . . . I [was] convinced that this man, if anyone, could save Germany from the greatest distress which existed at the time.199
An additional trait to be considered while trying to explain Ribbentrop’s Nazi commitments was the foreign minister’s unmitigated ambition. From the start of his career, Ribbentrop had a great liking for the world of diplomacy--it meshed with his ostentatious and cosmopolitan lifestyle, and fed his thirst for affirmation and recognition. Through his travels and business-dealings, Ribbentrop had been able to construct a network of associations and allegiances which, recognized by Hitler, benefited his rise within the Nazi government. What was more, Ribbentrop had connections with individuals in England, the land, the land which Hitler was to covet for a future Anglo-German alliance. This combined with the smashing success of the 1935 Anglo-German Naval Agreement, put Ribbentrop at the forefront of all German diplomatic ventures. According to Michael Bloch, the success of the 1935 agreement made Ribbentrop, “a kind of mascot symbolizing Hitler’s professed desire for better Anglo-German relations.”200 Ribbentrop truly felt himself important--Hitler had given him an enormous amount of responsibility, and there is little doubt that, to Ribbentrop, he was Hitler’s most trusted advisor. Such feelings of importance and self-aggrandizement persisted through Ribbentrop’s rise to the rank of Ambassador to Great Britain in 1936, German Foreign Minister in 1938, and during the months preceding BARBAROSSA.
One should now see that Ribbentrop focused his loyalty on three primary points--his conservative past, his Fuehrer, and his ego. This obviously made for a complex character. But, it is now possible to explain how Ribbentrop, despite his strong allegiance to Hitler, did harbor the potential to show a conservative side. He also possessed an eye for those situations which were most ripe for the fattening of his ego. A most telling remnant of Ribbentrop’s reactionary past was the foreign minister’s definite appreciation for diplomacy in the mold of Bismarckian Realpolitik.
Germany’s stratagem for the military conquest of Europe came under the daunting title of Blitzkrieg. Speed, surprise, and supply were vital to the correct execution of this new style of warfare. As the summer of 1941 approached, and after impressively sweeping through the defenses of southern, northern, and western Europe, Hitler was now readied to unleash his Blitzkrieg upon the Soviet Union. The eastern campaign would afford Hitler an opportunity to address several different policy pursuits at one time. Anti-Semitism, anti-Bolshevism, anti-Slavism, and the pursuit of Lebensraum, cornerstones of Nazi party doctrine, and founded in the pages of Hitler’s 1925 work Mein Kampf, would form the basis for the massive invasion. In addition to these doctrinal concerns, Hitler ascribed a certain strategic significance to BARBAROSSA. Robbing great Britain of her “Continental Sword,” the Fuehrer was confident that London could be “forced into rapid surrender or else come to support the Reich as its ‘junior partner.’”201 The acquiescence of Great Britain to German demands, in addition to meeting strategic concerns, would also serve, as mentioned earlier, Hitler’s desire to join Germany and Great Britain at the head of an Aryan alliance.202
Therefore, BARBAROSSA represented an opportunity for Hitler, ‘in one fell swoop,’ to deal with ideological and strategic priorities. The eastern campaign further sealed the end of a conflict between camps seeking the primacy of either power or ideological politics in the guidance of Nazi foreign policy. According to Klaus Hildebrand, BARBAROSSA revealed the dissolution of a sort of ‘dual state’:
On the one hand, there was the rational power political component--though it served goals which were themselves irrational and tainted by racism. The other face of this Janus-state was the irrational racist policy which reached full fruition under the banner of [BARBAROSSA], which Hitler regarded as his personal task.203
This policy ‘stand-off’ reflected elements of the ‘old’ conservative ruling class, who aided the National Socialist party to attain power, and this same Nazi elite, who wished to replace the ‘old guard’ with the ‘biologically’ superior master race.204 In essence, BARBAROSSA secured the supremacy of racially motivated, ideology-based foreign policy, over that of traditional power politics.
The foremost advocate of power-politics was Ribbentrop. His traditional foreign policy agenda definitely harked back to the traditions of pre-Wilhelmine Germany, and stood in total opposition to Hitler’s foreign policy Programme, which was determined by racist ideology.205 Quite simply, the Foreign Minister believed in a strong policy of conciliation towards the Soviet Union, while at the same time, he sought the diplomatic isolation of Great Britain by this power bloc. Manifestations of Ribbentrop’s efforts lay in the Anti-Comintern Pact 1936 (de facto anti-British), the Tripartite Pact of 1937, the ‘Pact of Steel’ of 1939, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939, the attempted Quadruple Alliance or “Continental Coalition.”206 Interestingly enough, one can find several occasions during Ribbentrop’s diplomatic career, and the short time after, where he compared his efforts to those of Prince Otto von Bismarck (1815-1889), the most skillful and revered of all German diplomats and a stout supporter of Russo-German detente. In particular, during the Nuremberg Trials, the foreign minister, harking back to the consummation of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, proudly stated that it “was undoubtedly an extraordinary success . . . from the point of view of Realpolitik.”207 He went to say that “The abandonment of Bismarck’s Russian policy had been the beginning of Germany’s encirclement, which led to the First World War. In the situation prevailing in 1939, the return to the old tradition constituted, from the realist point of view, a security factor of the first magnitude.”208 Ribbentrop obviously relished his ability to bring-about a union between two ideological enemies, and moreover, in what the foreign minister was to call “the spirit of Bismarck.”209 And, as it has been established that Ribbentrop was greatly effected by the First World War and its resulting events, it is possible to understand why the foreign minister coveted a Russo-German union and would do what he could to avoid the same diplomatic isolation which befell Germany in 1914-1918.210 As Ribbentrop stated in his memoirs, “This British policy of encirclement filled me with growing anxiety, and this cauchmar des coalitions, as Bismarck called it, also gave me many sleepless nights.”211
By the winter season of 1940/41, Ribbentrop, no doubt “in the spirit of Bismarck,” was well into the development of the earlier-spoken Quadruple Alliance or “Continental Coalition.” This “dream alliance” consisting of Germany, Italy, Japan, and it was hoped the Soviet Union, would be dedicated to the absorption of the British Empire.212 Ribbentrop further hoped to add both Spain and France to the massive ‘Euro-Asiatic bloc,’ intended to stretch from Gibraltar to Tokyo.213 As Ribbentrop stated in his memoirs, he presented Hitler with plans
To convert the Three-Power Pact into a Four-Power Pact including Russia. If we succeeded in this our position would be favourable, for such a combination would neutralize the U.S.A., isolate Britain and threaten her position in the Near East. Such a strong system of alliances might make it possible to end the war with Britain quickly with diplomatic means; without it this was impossible.214
In view of Hitler’s desire to complete an ‘understanding’ of sorts between Germany and Great Britain, how can one explain his foreign minster’s obvious contempt for the British Empire? Bloch submits two explanations for Ribbentrop’s enmity for Great Britain. First, save the 1935 Naval Agreement, he had been a failure, both politically and socially. Ribbentrop was made to look foolish, by not only the London press, but the highly critical and snobbish London society. In short, the experience made Ribbentrop feel both snubbed and embittered.215 Moreover, the foreign minister’s wife, Annelies, disdained the British for their snobbish posture and ridicule of her husband. One must also consider the influence of Annelies which was the greatest factor in turning Ribbentrop against England.
An event in Spain, albeit obscure, seemed to seal Ribbentrop’s turn against England. On 29 May, 1937, the battleship Deutschland, participating in the arms blockade of the Non-Intervention Committee, was attacked by Republican forces.216 The Germans, in retaliation, shelled Almeria, but were insistent on there powers making a similar demonstration off Valencia. When the plea was refused, Ribbentrop, after exchanging barbs with Lord Privy Seal, Anthiny Eden, walked out of the Non-Intervention Committee.217 Quite clearly, the die had been cast. And only a few months later, in November, Ribbentrop was to present Count Ciano with plans for the coveted transcontinental anti-British alliance.218
Despite the obvious admiration and subservience with which Ribbentrop regarded Hitler, it should be possible to conclude one thing: prior to BARBAROSSA, Ribbentrop, for multiple reasons, was willing to attempt an un-tracking of Hitler’s ideological drive to Moscow. In this particular case, the “earth-shaking plot” was an active Iraqi policy.
A closer look at the foreign minister’s conduct during the Iraqi coup can be introduced with the following excerpt from The Ribbentrop Memoirs: Throughout these [winter and spring months of 1941], I reminded Hitler of Bismarck’s Russian policy. I left no stone unturned to achieve a German- Russian alliance after all. Perhaps I would have succeeded in the end had there not been that resistance on ideological grounds which always made the conduct of a foreign policy impossible. It was these ideological considerations, coupled with Russia’s political actions, her military preparations, and lastly her demands, which painted in Hitler’s mind a picture of a monstrous danger threatening Germany. In view of this my arguments counted less and less.219
Ribbentrop’s frustrations concerning BARBAROSSA were again reflected in his dictation of the following words to his Secretary of State, Ernst von Weizsacker, on 28 April, 1941:
One can perhaps find it enticing to give the Communist system its death blow and perhaps say too that it lies in the logic of things to let the European- Asiatic continent now march forth against Anglo-Saxondom and its allies. But only one thing is decisive: whether this undertaking would hasten the fall of England . . . A German attack on Russia would only give a lift to English morale. It would be evaluated there as German doubt of the success of our war against England. We would in this fashion not only admit that the war would still last a long time, but we could in this way actually lengthen instead of shorten it.220
These are clearly the words of a frustrated man. Ribbentrop if he were to make an impression on the planning of BARBAROSSA, needed a distraction, an event which would produce immediate results, and give direct indication to how fragile the British Empire was. It is quite possible that the foreign minister, as well as others, viewed Iraq as just that opportunity.221
The first indication of Ribbentrop’s seriousness regarding Iraq was reflected by the speed and vigilance with which he pursued the matter. His sanction of “rapid and immediate” Abwehr and Foreign Office action in the Middle East should have left little doubt that the foreign minister wanted to exploit the possibilities of intervening in the region. Interestingly enough, the meeting with Woermann took place just three days after the foreign minister learned the exact date of BARBAROSSA and the nature of Hitler’s intentions on 6 April.222 Was the urgency with which Ribbentrop pursued the planning of activity in Iraq and its close proximity to his learning of the go-date for BARBAROSSA merely coincidence? Moreover, the day after Ribbentrop and Woermann met, the foreign minister took the matter directly to Hitler.
After roughly two weeks of waiting, Hitler finally answered Ribbentrop’s feeler.223 Although Hitler did approve the shipment of arms to Iraq, he was leery of the news that 14,000 British troops had disembarked at Basra with another 14,000 on the way. In fact, replying to the Foreign Office, Hitler expressed the belief that “in view of the English landings in Iraq, it was too late.”224 But, on the next day, the foreign minister, perhaps sensing the impending veto, was quick to point out that “English sources [were] spreading propaganda figures that have no relation to the facts.”225 In addition to pointing out to Hitler the impact which a pro-British Turkey might have on BARBAROSSA, Ribbentrop further directed the Fuehrer’s attention to the effects which the continuous transit of the India-based British troops might have on German operations in North Africa. Furthermore, one senses from Ribbentrop’s brief that the foreign minister was attempting to stress to Hitler that preparations for pro-Iraqi operations by German, Italian, and Vichy French forces were indeed in progress.226 Truly, by bringing light to the terminal nature of the operation, Ribbentrop perhaps believed he might have an easier time gaining Hitler’s support.
Meanwhile, on 3 May, one day after the commencement of hostilities at Habbaniya, Ribbentrop again lobbied for German action in the region. The foreign minister’s plea took the following form:
If the available reports are correct regarding the relatively small forces the English have landed in Iraq so far, there would seem to be a great opportunity for establishing a base for warfare against England through an armed Iraq. A constantly expanding insurrection of the Arab world would be of the greatest help in our decisive advance toward Egypt.227
Ribbentrop sealed his brief to Hitler by adding, in handwriting, the following statement: “The figures regarding the British in Iraq show again how weak England still is today at the Suez Canal.”228 Ribbentrop was obviously insistent on the promise of a move into Mesopotamia. Such a statement intimates a campaign of large scale proportions. In fact, a few days later, in a meeting with Italian authorities, Ribbentrop, again, drew attention to the potential of a sizable operation in the Middle East through Iraq. If Ribbentrop were sincerely loyal to the policy of Hitler, why would he introduce an operation which would not only draw resources from BARBAROSSA, but also threaten the peace of the Balkans and Asia Minor which were, in Hitler’s eyes, imperative for a secure southern flank during the Russian campaign?
It would seem appropriate to draw attention to the fact that Ribbentrop was not alone in pushing action in Iraq. In fact, one can look directly to the conduct and comments of Woermann and Weizsacker, two diplomatic officials with conservative, anti-BARBAROSSA stances.229 Woermann, in particular, was integral in bringing to Ribbentrop’s attention on 7 March and 9 April, the potential of German operations in the Middle East.230 An additional supporter of greater German action in the Arab East was Grobba, Ribbentrop’s liason to Baghdad during the coup. In his memoirs, Grobba stresses Germany’s need to identify itself with Arab nationalism and its drive for independence: “In the last war, we did not take advantage of the opportunities that we had as a result of the friendly attitude of the Arabs towards us, because we did not promise the Arabs the idependence that would have beena precondition for their active rebellion.”
And although contact between the German military and the Foreign Office over the Iraqi situation appears to have been at a minimum, there were a number of officers, at this time, who, if not partial to the Arab East as an alternative to BARBAROSSA, were at least aware of the region’s great potential. Such an idea was part of a wider anti-British posture known as the ‘peripheral’ strategy.231 The foremost advocates of the ‘peripheral’ strategy were Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, the commander-in-chief of the German navy, and Hermann Goering, chief of the Luftwaffe.232 Raeder, in November of 1940, felt that a campaign against Russia should be postponed, “until after victory over Britain, since demands of German forces would be too great, and an end to hostilities could not not be foreseen . . . Russia, on her part, will not attempt to attack in the next few years.”233 The naval staff further believed that operations in the Eastern Mediterranean could prove “decisive . . . for the outcome of the war.”234 Five months later, on 30 May, Raeder, with the endorsement of the Italian premiere, Benito Mussolini, went on to stress that the “Duce demanded urgently decisive offensive off Egypt Suez for Fall of 1941; 12 divisions needed for that. This stroke would be more deadly to the British Empire than the capture of London; Chief, Naval Operations agrees completely . . .”235 An additional document which reflects the attitude of the German Navy, in particular, Admiral Kurt Assmann, was made known in a briefing with Hitler on 6 June. Assmann’s memorandum, outlining an alternative to BARBAROSSA, reads as follows:
The British power position in the eastern Mediterranean is under the severest pressure as a result of the Balkan campaign and the occupation of Crete, but it is . . . not yet broken. All the signs indicate, moreover, that the British are in no way inclined to give up their position in the eastern Mediterranean. On the contrary, England appears determined to maintain her position in this area by every means. This is based, as in all areas of decisive importance for the British Empire, upon the exercise of control of the sea by the British battle fleet . . . It alone is in the position to protect the maritime lines of communication which are essential for the control of the eastern Mediterranean position and to secure the power political influence in Egypt, Palestine, Iraq and to a considerable extent in Turkey, with its ramifications in the African, Indian and even the Far Eastern regions. Upon its shoulders, too, rests the prestige of the British Empire in the eastern Mediterranean. As always, therefore, it remains the aim of German-Italian strategy to destroy the British fleet as the controlling factor, to drive it out of the eastern Med- iterranean and to eliminate its bases and operational possibilities in the Mediterranean.
Assmann then adds the caveat, that “in spite of other considerable demands upon German armed forces (BARBAROSSA), all current problems in the area must be tackled and all operational possibilities at present available unconditionally utilized in order to be able to exploit the full considerable successes recently obtained in the Mediterranean at a time when the help of the United States to England has yet to reach decisive proportions.”236
While viewing Assmann’s and Raeder’s statements with a critical eye, we must realize that, especially at this time of the war, the German Navy felt itself underused.237 In light of this, the Naval Staff’s words may have amounted to nothing more than an attempt at lobbying. After all, it is difficult to imagine the Navy doing much in the way of aiding a largely ground-oriented campaign in BARBAROSSA. But, the fact remains that, despite its rationale, the German Navy, near the time of the Iraqi coup, was partial to anti-British action in the eastern Mediterranean.
An additional advocate of a distinct anti-British policy was Hermann Goerring. During testimony at Nuremberg, the former Chief of the Luftwaffe believed that prior to a move on the Soviet Union, Germany should have “attack[ed] England at Gibraltar and Suez.” He went on to stress that “the exclusion of the Mediterranean as a theater of war, the key point Gibraltar-North Africa down to Dakar-Suez, and possibly extended further south, would have required only a few forces, a number of divisions on the one side and a number of divisions on the other, to eliminate the entire insecurity of the long Italian coast line against the possibility of attack.” Goerring concluded his views on a Mediterranean campaign, in lieu of an eastern one, by stating that he “urged him (Hitler) to put these decisive considerations in the foreground and only after the conclusion of such an undertaking to examine further the military and political situation with regard to Russia.”238
Finally, one of the few contacts between the Foreign Office and the High Command of the German Army (OKW) supplies further evidence to the German military’s interest in a Middle Eastern campaign. Speaking in response to a 4 February Woermann memo “regarding arms deliveries to Iraq and the associated Arab questions,” the OKW, just the next day, “presented a summary of its wishes . . . regarding a strengthening of German activity in the Arab countries.”239 The OKW memo starts off by calling for a reexamination of Italy’s freedom of action in the region, and as a result, making a move to re-direct “political activity in the Middle East from Germany and to take quick and vigorous action in this matter.” The memo goes on to stress the importance of the German “recognition of the independence of Arabia as a war aim of the Axis. We are in a favorable position in so far as we need not promise the Arabs a merely ‘tolerable’ solution of the Jewish question in Palestine but can with a good conscience make the Arabs any concession in this field.”240 As can be seen, the OKW’s words amount to nothing close to a detraction of BARBAROSSA. But, it is important that the branch, although not proposing an alternative to the East, was recognizing the Arab East’s needs and potential. So, if Hitler could not give any sizable endorsement to action in the eastern Mediterranean and the Arab East, leading figures in the German Navy, Air Force, and Army surely could.
Coming back to Ribbentrop, one might further conclude that the opportunity of including France in the Iraqi operation excited the foreign minister. Of course, Ribbentrop was quite fond of developing a “Continental Coalition.” Might he have viewed Iraq as an opportunity to resurrect the attempted alliance which had been scuttled back in late 1940? Hitler had turned away from closer relations between Vichy and Germany after Marshal Petain’s dismissal of the pro-Axis Pierre Laval.241 Such a change in French leadership led to the opening of communications between the collaborationist government and both American and English governments. There were obvious tensions between Berlin and Vichy, but the chance of creating a joint Franco-German alliance made Ribbentrop believe that the French might “be prevailed upon . . . to declare war against England, to make the French navy available to us for the fight against England, and to give bases . . .”242 Much to the foreign minister’s delight, a deal was struck by 8 May which affirmed the conditions for Franco-German collaboration during the coup. And, as stated earlier, the first flow of Vichy supplies crossed the Iraqi border on 13 May.
While meeting with Italian premier Benito Mussolini on 13 May, Ribbentrop took the opportunity to discuss the Iraqi situation. The foreign minister, thinking quite independently from Hitler voiced the following idea to the Duce: “if a sizable arms shipment reached Iraq, airborne troops could then be brought into the area, which could then with the material on hand advance against the English and from Iraq, in certain circumstances, they could attack Egypt from the east.”243
As Mussolini favored such a plan, he found Ribbentrop’s proposal worthy of consideration: “Iraq had to be helped in any case . . . for in this way a new front would be opened up against the English and a revolt not only of the Arabs, but also of a great number of Mohammedans would be started.”244 What is more, Mussolini was particularly convinced of the notion that “The possessions of this center of the British Empire with its oil wells might have an even more profound impact upon the British world position than a landing in the British Isles themselves.”245
The Italian leader, when meeting with Ribbentrop, was not aware of the 22 June date for BARBAROSSA, a campaign which, on several occasions, Mussolini had admonished Hitler against waging.246 As far as Hitler’s opinion of a pincer move on Egypt was concerned, he, on 20 April, while meeting with Count Ciano at Munchenkirchen, quickly put to rest any idea of initiating an operation through Turkey and the Palestinian Coast on Egypt: “The possibility of attempting the operation by force can be ruled out. Independently of Turkish resistance, which would be considerable, the distance would make any military operation uncertain and dangerous.”247 Of course, in view of the mammoth geographic commitment demanded by BARBAROSSA, the question of distance should not have been an issue for Hitler in grounding a move on Suez through Turkey. In any case, Hitler was resolved to move east, and the acute British fear of a pincer move was uncalled for.
A look at the memoirs of the German Ambassador to Turkey, Franz von Papen, not only lends further evidence to the seriousness of Ribbentrop, but exposes the distance which existed between the policy attitudes of the foreign minister and Hitler . Papen mentions the foreign minister’s strong insistence that the German ambassador do what he could to loosen Turkey’s regulation of war material traveling through its borders: “Ribbentrop was bombarding me with telegrams, insisting that I get the Turks to permit the passage of every sort of war material. Naturally, they declined, although they did allow the transport of petrol, which could not be defined exclusively as war material. I tried to get Ribbentrop to appreciate the Turkish position and disregarded his insistent demands to seek interviews with M. Saracoglu.”248 When we compare the aggressive attitude of Ribbentrop relating to Turkey with that of Hitler’s stark desinterresement, evident is a wide divergence in what each man had intended for Turkey’s role in the Axis cause.
It is also true that Hitler did not favor any act which might threaten the stability of the British Empire.249 As he was to say in 1931, “We have no intention of destroying the British Empire. We have no objection to His Majesty’s flag flying over Suez, Singapore, and Hong Kong.”250 A more timely comment by General Franz von Halder, the Chief of the Army General Staff, on 21 May, 1940, noted what Hitler envisaged for Great Britain by stating that “We are seeking contact with Britain on the basis of partitioning the world.”251 Interestingly enough, an additional reason for Hitler’s indifference to Iraq rests within his aversion to conducting policy in concert with non-Aryan peoples. In Mein Kampf, Hitler believed that “As a folkish man, who appraises the value of men on a racial basis, I am prevented by mere knowledge of the racial inferiority of these so-called ‘oppressed nations’ from linking the destiny of my own with theirs.”252 Just months after the coup’s failure, and after the Japanese capture of Singapore, Hitler, in early 1942, predicted the loss of the Aryan influence in Australia and the Far East, and stated that impending rush of Japanese victories would mean “the loss of a whole continent, and one might regret it, for it’s the white race which is the loser.”253 Hitler’s Minister of Information, Josef Goebbels, on 10 May, added to Hitler’s Iraqi commitment by stating: “The Fuehrer does not think much of the Arab’s fighting capacity, and rightly so. They are not attuned to modern weaponry; they have neither the nerves nor the intelligence to use it.”254 Grobba, in his memoirs, also cites both racial and strategic concerns in Hitler’s desinteressement in the Arab East.255 In consistency with Hitler’s policy of Englandpolitik, Grobba believed that the Fuehrer saw Germany’s strategic interests better served through a policy which was non-threatening to Great Britain’s imperial position in the Middle East. Moreover, Grobba felt that the emergence of Vichy France as a prespective Axis partner further pushed Hitler away from supporting any anti-imperial insurrection. As far as race was concerned in influencing Hitlerian policy in the region, Grobba disdained Hitler by referring to him as “preacher of the superiority of the Aryan race who did not want to see that the Semitic Arabs could be a very valuable source of support for us.”
In any event, it is quite interesting that in a matter of days, Ribbentrop had made considerable contact with two prospective members of the proposed “Continental Coalition,” the foreign minister’s most formidable alternative to a campaign against the Soviet Union. Again, because of this, one should not underrate the significance of Ribbentrop’s attempt to bring these government’s together into an anti-British operation, the only time during the war that such would be accomplished.
Despite his concessions to Ribbentrop and the tardy Directive No. 30, Hitler was not prepared to make use of the Iraqi coup. Perhaps Ribbentrop should have seen the proverbial ‘writing on the wall’ when Hitler sent his only qualified airborne force, on 20 May, to take the British occupied island of Crete, a significant accomplishment for the protection of the ‘soft underbelly’ of Hitler’s Festung Europa.
What was Ribbentrop thinking? From every indication it appeared in the spring of 1941 that Hitler was more than bent on moving east. But, for the reasons we have cited, the foreign minister endeavored to press on and produce a sizable operation in the Middle East. If we assume that Ribbentrop was even vaguely interested in BARBAROSSA, would he have persisted to sanction actions which were clearly ‘pro-periphery,’ and, as a result, anti-BARBAROSSA? In short, although it would seem doubtful to be wholly convinced of Ribbentrop’s attempted sabotage of BARBAROSSA, would it not seem even more careless to assume, despite the foreign minister’s actions to the contrary, that he was fully sold on the Russian invasion? Ribbentrop was a high-level Nazi official, whose intentions in Iraq ran contrary to those of Hitler, in this case, an invasion of the non-Aryan peoples of the east. What is more, the documents tell us that Ribbentrop’s intentions in the Middle East were not on a small scale. Would anyone in Berlin, in this case, be amenable to the launching of two major operations, each with separate intentions: one to hasten the destruction of the British Empire, and the other to force its peaceful capitulation? Granted, it has been established that it was intended, after the defeat of Russia, that German forces would indeed move into the Middle East. But, this was most likely contingent upon, again, the British Empire capitulating and becoming the Reich’s ‘junior partner.’256
After the 30 May armistice in Baghdad, Germany was to cease further activity in Iraq. Furthermore, Ribbentrop endorsed BARBAROSSA. Despite this, an interesting epilogue to the Iraq venture, giving further indication to the anti-BARBAROSSA inclinations of Ribbentrop and others within the Foreign Office, came in Hitler’s eventual exclusion of the ministry from participating in the governance of occupied Russian territory.257 Of particular note, the man chosen to head such a task was Alfred Rosenberg, an extreme Nazi ideologue and enemy of Ribbentrop. It is also telling that, in roughly a two week period, Hitler went from referring to Ribbentrop as ‘the next Bismarck,’ as he did at the time of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August, 1939, to viewing the foreign minister and his diplomatic retinue as nothing more than a group of “sluts.”258 So, with the failure of Ribbentrop’s Iraq policy, and the onset of BARBAROSSA, the inevitable and tragic philosophical split of German foreign policy was complete--ideology had indeed won the day over Ribbentrop’s twentieth century version of Realpolitik. Hurt, isolated, and even perhaps a bit angered, the foreign minister’s frustrations during and after the Russian campaign are most aptly expressed in the following words from his memoirs:
I do not know who at that time persistently influenced Hitler against me and the Foreign Office, but it is a fact that after the beginning of the Russian war Hitler told Reich Minister Lammers that there was a war in the East, and in war the Foreign Office served no purpose until the moment of the conclusion of peace. This remark shows Hitler’s attitude to the Foreign Office as a government department; he rejected, perhaps even hated it, and I was never able to alter his attitude. I need not explain how difficult this often made things for me.259
The question most germane to Ribbentrop’s intent during the spring of 1941,
was whether or not the foreign minister’s actions, on the eve of BARBAROSSA,
were compatible with what Hitler would have viewed as acceptable Nazi diplomatic
behavior prior to a major offensive? Vigorous pre-coup diplomatic activity
within the Foreign Office, substantial contact with proposed members of the
“Continental Coalition,” the foreign minister’s anti-BARBAROSSA sentiment, and
the ‘tenor and timing’ of the Foreign Office’s conduct seem to indicate anything
but an affirmative answer. Ribbentrop reveled in his diplomatic victory of
August 1939. He had accomplished what many viewed as the impossible. For a
moment in time, Ribbentrop was, at least to himself, a diplomat of Bismarckian
dimension. The Nazi-Soviet pact suited his fickle, egotistical, and reactionary
past. With this in mind, and considering his pre-BARBAROSSA actions, it simply
does not seem possible that Ribbentrop would allow Hitler to fritter away the
crowning achievement of his life without a fight. By many indications, Iraq
could have been that fight.