Alternate History:

Oil and Triumph of Nazi Germany

In 1945 the leader of Nazi Germany took his own life in an underground bunker surrounded by the smoldering remains of his capital city. What if Hitler had made a simple strategy change in 1941? Could the war have ended with the Axis powers ruling most of the world and America cowering on the other side of the globe?

Adolf Hitler needed oil. By 1941 the German war machine - tanks, planes and trucks - would soon grind to a stop without petroleum. Hitler and his allies controlled most of the continent of Europe along with parts of northern Africa, but no area within the influence of the Axis powers, contained enough resources of oil to meet his needs. This was a problem that Hitler needed to solve and solve soon.

In 1939 the Germans had signed the German-Soviet Non-aggression Pact with the Soviet Union. This document secretly divided most of eastern Europe between the two powers. For Hitler it removed the worry of having to fight a war on his eastern front while also waging war against England and France in the west. For the Soviet leader Stalin, it meant that he could turn all his attention to a possible attack on his easstern flank by Japan.

By 1941, however, Hitler had most of western Europe under his control. Though Hitler had access to oil in Romania and the pact with the Soviet's included a clause in which they agreed to sell him oil, Hilter knew these supplies would be insufficent to meet the German war machine's growing hunger. What Hitler wanted was the Soviet Union's extensive oil fields in the Caucaus and in June he repudiated the pack and launched an attack upon the Russians.

Operation Barbarossa

Not that a desire for oil was Hitler's only reason for wanting to start a war with Stalin. He had long looked at western Russia as prime real estate for the expansion of the German Empire. He also believed the Soviet Union was weak due to purges done by Stalin to the Red Army leaderhship in the 1930's. "We have only to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down," remarked Hitler, according to Albert Speer in his book Inside the Third Reich.

The German Military Machine was in need of oil.

The battle would be fought over ideologies and race too: Fascism against Communism and the Aryan race against the Slavic race. As Hitler put it, it would be a "war of annihilation", in which the Soviet Union was to be destroyed and the peoples of Eastern Europe and Russia would either be killed or enslaved.

On June 22, 1941, the German army attacked the Soviet Union. Hitler expected the project (designated Operation Barbarossa) to be short, with Stalin surrendering in less than a month. He misjudged the situation gravely. The action went on until the end of the war in Europe in May of 1945 and cost over 5 million casualties on the Axis side - over 80% of the German army deaths during the war. The drain of resources to the Eastern front was so great that it remains one of the prime reasons the Nazi lost the war. In the end it would be Soviet troops, not British or American, that would march into Germany and take possession of the capital, Berlin, mere hours after Hitler had committed suicide to avoid falling into Russian hands.

Operation Arab Freedom

But what if Hitler had gone a different route? What if he had put off his eastern expansionist ideas and just concerned himself with getting the oil he needed to continue the war? Some of the largest oil fields in the world are located in Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. As of the spring of 1941, these were all in Allied hands. Starting in September of 1940, however, Italy, under Hitler's fellow Axis dictator, Benito Mussolini, invaded British Egypt from Libya and Greece from Albania. Mussolini's campaigns were not totally successful and Hitler was forced to send troops to help secure those areas. While this might have been an annoyance to Hitler at the time, the conquest of Greece could have been used as a springboard for further adventures into the Middle East. If he had taken the same number of divisions he had used to invade the Soviet Union and had advanced instead into Syria or Turkey and then on into Iraq, he might have captured the petroleum facilitates with little difficulty.

A plan similar to this may passed through the Furher's mind. On May 23rd, in response to a short-lived coup of the pro-British government in Iraq, he issued Furher Directive 30: a project designed to support the "Arab Freedom Movement." If only he had gone a little further in this thinking he could have turned this into an operation that would have replaced Barbarossa.

Historian John Keegan, in his essay The Drive for the Middle East, 1941, suggests that for Hitler to attack Iraq via Syria he would have needed to employ an island-hopping strategy not unlike that used later in the war by the United States against Japan. Launched from the Italian island of Rhodes, a successful invasion of Cyprus would have left him in position to assault Syria with an amphibious force. With the French army in Syria and Lebanon numbering only 38,000 troops and lacking modern equipment or air protection, it is hard to see how they could have turned back Hitler's armies. The one difficulty with this plan would have been to assemble enough ships to move Hitler's forces around. Most of the suitable vessels in the eastern Mediterranean were already in British hands.

If enough ships could not be found, however, Hitler could have pushed his way through neutral Turkey and into the Mid-East oil fields via Istanbul. He hinted an interest in doing this in Furher Directive 32 in which he talked about assembling a force in Bulgaria powerful enough to "render Turkey politically amenable or overpower her resistance." The Turks were stouthearted fighters but lacked modern military equipment and could not have hoped to resist a Nazi onslaught for long. Once Turkey fell, the surrender would have brought Hitler's forces to the edge of the oil fields. What's more, such an attack would have left the Germans into position to take the Russian Caucaus oil fields from the South. An attack from that direction would have eliminated much of the problem of terrain that hampered Operation Barbarossa from the west. In fact, all the goals of Operation Barbarossa would have been easier to achieve if the attack had been put off for a year till Turkey had been secured and the German army could have advanced two directions - from the the south and from the west.

German Field Marshall Rommel

The Desert Fox

Another factor suggesting that an attack by German into the Mid-East in 1941 would have been successful was Field Marshall Erwin Rommell. Rommell and his 5th Light Division had been sent to Libya early in 1941 to assist the Italians who had just experienced a series of losses to the British. Rommell, nicknamed "the Desert Fox," outfought his allied opponents in North Africa despite being out numbered and ill supplied. He is generally acknowledged by historians as the best desert combat commander either side produced during the war. He was an aggressive leader who was willing to take risks if he saw a chance to exploit an enemy's weakness.

Rommell was always hampered, however, by lack of supplies and troops. In 1942, for example, Rommell and his Afrika Korps managed to clear almost all Allied resistance from North Africa all the way to Egypt, but could go no further without additional support that Hitler never sent.

One can only wonder what would have happened if Hitler had invaded through Turkey or Syria and then matched that action with the necessary support to Rommel for a march through Egypt and Saudi Arabia to join troops advancing through Turkey. With the Axis forces in this position it is easy to see a very different end to World War II. The Germans, under Rommel, could have taken most of the Middle-East and then moved on to India. Japan could have seized the Indies and linked up with Germany from the east. This would have given them control over almost all of the non-English speaking world. Britain might have held out for a time, but it seems likely that in the end the Axis Powers might have controlled much of the world with the United States isolated in the western hemisphere. Alone America might have not been able turn back the Axis powers and we might have seen an alternate world where the Swastika would fly over Washington D.C..

A Partial Bibliography

The Drive for the Middle East, 1941 by John Keegan, What If? Edited by Robert Cowley, G.P. Putnam Sons, 2001.

Triumph of the Dictators by David Fromkin, What If? Edited by Robert Cowley,G.P. Putnam Sons, 2001.

Erwin Rommel, Wikipedia,

Copyright Lee Krystek 2007. All Rights Reserved.