After the cancellation of Operation Sea Lion raised the question of how to defeat the British if invasion was not possible. Hitler met with Mussolini at the Brenner Pass (October 4). The two discussed how to best defeat the British. The outcome was a plan to redraw the map of the Mediterranean. Italy would get Tunisia, Corsica, and Nice. (Corsica and Nice had been Italian in the 19th century.) Spain would get French North Africa. France would be compensated with British West Africa. (Hitler was very good at achieving his goals by offering up other people's territory.) Mussolini had the previous month invaded Egypt from Libya and this effort to seize Suez backed by the powerful Italian fleet still had prospects for success. Admiral Raeder strongly recommened an offensive to seize Gibrralter which would have made Royal Navy operations in the Mediterranean untenable. Hitler traveled to the French-Spanish border on his official train Amerika and met with Franco at Hendaye (October 23). He wanted to draw Spain into the War. What transpired was one of the most celebrated meetings of the War. Hitler who had in large measure enabled Franco to prevail in the Spanish Civil War, expected a grateful Franco to willingly aggree to cooperate in the NAZI war effort. Instead he found a not particularly grateful Franco who had significant doubts about going to war with the British. Franco had been warned by of all people Admiral Canaris (commander of the Abwehr) that Hitler was focused on the Soviet Union and that German military operaions against Spasin were unlikely. Backed up by Foreign Minister Serrano Suñer, Franco stonwalled Hitler. The Führer was furious. He told intimates that he would have rather had four teeth pulled. Hitler and Franco would never meet again. Despite the rebuff, Hitler still believed that Franco could be persuaded. He ordered OKW to prepare plans to seize Gibraltar--Opperation Felix
The Mediterranean was at the onset of World War II far away from the fighting. first in Poland and then in Scandanavia (Denmark and Norway). Not only was it far away from the fighting, but it was essentilly an Allied Lake. Britain controlled both entrances (Suez abd Gibraltar) as well as Gibraltar and French bases invluding North Agrican bases like Iran. And the Brutish and French navies outgunned the Italiam fleet. This was strategically imortnt because ot was the primary sea link to most of the Empire, especially India.
Gibraltar guards the Atlantic entrance to the Meduterranean. It became the Gates of Hercules in ancint tims. It was where Tariq landed to begin the Muslim conquest of the Ineraian Peninsula. Tariq's Rock becane Gibraltar. The first fortifications were buolt by the Spanish Muslims (11th century). Permanent British possession began during the War of the Soanish Succession (1704). From that point on there was a seies of firtifying what became known as the Rock. The 18th century saw three sieges including the most severe, known as the Great Siege expeienced during the American Revolution (1779-1783). Gibraltar during World War II was key support poinrt for supply convoys and naval staging base. The British built a warren of secret tunnels and powerful artillery positions. The Second World War presented a huge challenge to Gibraltar's defences as a result of the development of air power. The British thus began modrnizing the degenses, installing estensive anti-aircraft positions, many replacing older gun emplcements. By March 1941 there were twenty-eight 3.7-inch guns and twenty-two (and eventually forty-eight) Bofors guns, plus two pom-pom guns. Searchlights were installed to aid nightime firing. By 1942 there were twenty-four located around Gibraltar – and rocket projectors, an early though rather ineffectual form of anti-aircraft missiles, were also installed. Bunkers and pillboxes were built to guard against amphibious landings, especially on the eastern side and anti-tank guns, ditches and obstacles were installed facing the isthmus to guard against a land attack. While a formidable position, the British understood that the garrison could notresist a drermined land attack, especially if the Germans were involved.
The Fall of France radically changed the military equation in the Mediterrabean. With Italy's entry into the War, without the French fleet, the British Mediterrean Squadron was badly out-gunned by the Italian fleet. And the need to protect the Atlantic convoys from U-boats made it ijpossible to strebgthen the Atantic Squadron. It was a critical point in the War for Britain. Italy threanted Suez from Libya. Spain while still neutral had close relations with thevGermans and was ahtrwat tgo Gibraltar. And the Italians threatebed to seize Malta as well to fominatec the central Mediterranean. One of Churchill's critical decisions at this juncture was agaunst all advise to hold Malta.
Hitler after the fall of France had expected the British to cave to his will. They did not. Churchill was a far cry from Cgamberlain. This was followed by Battle of Britain to force the British to make peace. The Germans were confident that the vaunted Luftwaffe would quickly establish air superiority in the skies over southern England. The Germans gave the cross-Channel invasion the code name Opration Sea Lion. Historians debate the German intentions. Some believe that Hitler was just attempting to cow the British. he Germans asembled 2,000 vessels for the invasion. Most were river barges, hastily converted for a beach landing by having the bows cut off and and landing ramp installed. The unexpected failure of the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain was Hitler's first defeat. And it proved tibbe a failure of technology. Without control of the air over the Channel and southern England, Operation Sea Lion was impossible. The cancellation of Operation Sea Lion raised the question of how to defeat the British if invasion was not possible.
Hitler met with Mussolini at the Brenner Pass (October 4). The two discussed how to best defeat the British. The outcome was a plan to redraw the map of the Mediterranean. Italy would get Tunisia, Corsica, and Nice. (Corsica and Nice had been Italian in the 19th century.) Spain would get French North Africa. France would be compensated with British West Africa. (Hitler was very good at achieving his goals by offering up other people's territory.) One of Hitler;s problensxwsthat Spain, Grance, and Italy all had ovrlapping territorial goals. Thus to get the cooperation of one, he woukd have to aleinate one of the others. This came to a head as he sought toi draw Vichy and Spain intgo the Axus and the War.
Mussolini had the previous month invaded Egypt from Libya with a huge army and this effort to seize Suez backed by the powerful Italian fleet still had every prospect for success. The Italians on land and sea outnumbered nd outgunned the British. Mussolini aspired to the same stunning victories as the the Germans.
Hitler after the failure to break Britain, increasingly began to think about the East and what he had always wanted, ti destroy the Soviet Uniion and seize Lebensraum. Many German commandrs were wary of this massive undrtaking, even after the dizzing successes in the West. Some of the finest German military minds advocated a Mediterranean strategyas an alternative to attacking the Soviet Union. Admiral Raeder and Generals Halder and Brauchitsch promoted the idea of defeating the British first by attacking positions in the Meditrranean beginning with Gibrralter. This would have made Royal Navy operations in the Mediterranean untenable. The Germans then could have conducted an offensive in North Africa on into the Middle East. Given the limited British forces deployed there, this strategy could have been launched with amall fraction of the available German force and the force that woyld be assembled for Barbarossa. Rommel had almost seized Suez with a very small force and primarily because the Royal Navy and Malta-based aircraft interduicted his supplies. Without Gibraltar and Malta the supplies would have been delivered. This would have allowed the Germans to take Suez and then move into Iraq and Iran with the oil resources the German war economy so vitally needed.
Hitler traveled to the French-Spanish border on his official train Amerika and met with Franco at Hendaye (October 23). He wanted to draw Spain into the War. What transpired was one of the most celebrated meetings of the War. Hitler who had in large measure enabled Franco to prevail in the Spanish Civil War, expected a grateful Franco to willingly aggree to cooperate in the NAZI war effort. Instead he found a not particularly grateful Franco who not only had significant doubts about going to war with the British, but wisely realized that if he allow Geerman forces into Spain, it could be difficult getting them to leave. Franco had been warned by of all people Admiral Canaris (commander of the Abwehr) that Hitler was focused on the Soviet Union and that German military operaions against Spain were unlikely. Franco had a personal rltionship with Canaris, developed during the Civil War. Backed up by Foreign Minister Serrano Suñer, Franco stonewalled Hitler. The Führer was furious. This was not how he had come to expect to be treated. He lster told intimates that he would have rather had four teeth pulled than negotite further with Franco. An Hitler and Franco would never meet again. Hitler went on the meet with Marshall Petain and Mussolini, meetings that would also prove frustating.
Despite the rebuff, Hitler still believed that Franco could be persuaded. He ordered OKW to prepare plans to seize Gibraltar--Opperation Felix
After the War, Erich Marshall Göring in U.S. Army custody provided this assessment during an interogation session. He was asked about Dakar. " In 1940 we had a plan to seize all North Africa from Dakar to Alexandria, and with it the Atlantic islands for U-boat bases. This would have cut off many of Britain’s shipping lanes. At the same time, any resistance movement in North Africa could be crushed. Then, taking Gibraltar and Suez would merely be a question of time, and nobody could have interfered in the Mediterranean. But Hitler would not make concessions to Spain in Morocco, on account of France. Spain had no objections to the campaign; in fact, the Spaniards were ready for it.
Hitler and [Joachim von] Ribbentrop met [Francisco] Franco and [Ramón Serrano] Suñer [Franco’s chief negotiator] at Hendaye [France] in September or October 1940. Unfortunately, I was not along. [Benito] Mussolini was jealous and feared having the Germans in the Mediterranean. By that time, it was 1941 and the Russian danger in Hitler’s mind excluded all other considerations. Lack of shipping had prevented us from invading England, but, before the difficulties with Russia, we could have carried out the Gibraltar Plan, with 20 divisions in West Africa, 10 in North Africa and 20 against the Suez Canal, still leaving 100 divisions in France. The entire Italian army, which was unfit for a major war, could have been used for occupation forces. The loss of Gibraltar might have induced England to sue for peace. Failure to carry out the plan was one of the major mistakes of the war.
The plan was originally mine. Hitler had similar ideas and everyone was enthusiastic about it. The navy was in favor of the plans, as it would have given the navy better bases. Instead of being cooped up in Biscay and Bordeaux, it could have had U-boat bases much farther out in Spain and the Atlantic islands. If the campaign succeeded, I personally wanted to attack the Azores to secure U-boat bases there, which would have crippled British sea lanes. The main task in taking Gibraltar would have fallen to the Luftwaffe. Paratroopers would have had to be dropped. So I was chiefly concerned, and I would have very eagerly carried out the operation. The Luftwaffe had many officers who had participated in the war in Spain a year and a half before and knew the people and the country.
Even if Gibraltar had not been taken, we could have Algeciras [as a base of operations], and with 800mm siege mortars could have smashed the soft stone of Gibraltar and taken the base. There was only one unprotected airfield on the Rock. In 24 hours the Royal Air Force would have been forced off the Rock, and we could have battered it to pieces. This was a real task and we were eager to accomplish it. Ships would have been sunk by mines and no mine sweepers could have operated. " He then explained that the Barbarossa Planning dominated Hitler's thinking, although he blammd it all on Soviet actions and demands. Actually Hitler had already set Barbarossa planning iun motion. It was tge central thesis of MJein nKampf in which he descibes the German peopke's need for Lebenstraum (living spavce) in theEast meaning the Sibiet Union. [Hitler] Göring was referring to the Berlin talks with Foreign Minister Molotov in Berlin. (Novemnber 1940. Göring added, "The plan called for securing all of North Africa, so that there would be no possible chance of any enemy penetrating to the Mediterranean. Such a possibility had to be excluded under all circumstances. Dakar was about the southwestern extremity. We would not have gone as far south as Freetown, for example. It would have taken much too long for anyone to attack across the desert with neither roads nor water supply adequate for the purpose. There was, therefore, no real danger to the Mediterranean from that far south. We would have taken Cyprus, too. I would have taken it right after we took Crete. We could also have taken Malta easily. Then the Atlantic islands would have been further protection for the coast of Africa. But fear of Russia stopped us. We had only eight divisions on the whole Russian frontier at the time." [Göring]
Hitler was not much interested in the debates his generals were conducting. He seems to hsve decided at a very early point after the fall of France that the next step would be the invasion of the Soviet Union. One historian writes, "Hitler decided in July 1940 to invade Russia the following Spring .... He spurned the Mediterranean option and an attack on his supposed racial cousins for the instabnt gratification of attacking those he viociferously bekieved to be his racial and political enemies." [Roberts] Hitler might have conutenanced a small cmpaign to seize Gibraltar if Franco consented. Without Franco's consent, the Germans would have had to conduct a major campaign. Hitler had cionsuistently insisted that he would never commit the World war I mistake of a two-front war. Suddenly he convinced himself that the Wehrmcht could destrioy the Red Army in a powerful short summer campaign. And with the Soviet Union destroyed, the British would be forced to make peace.
The NAZIs pushed Franco to activate the German-designed Operation Felix (February 1941). Franco was, however, disatisfied with the enducements Hitler offered. While anxious to reclaim Gibraltar, Hitler offered little else and Franco correctly assessed the dangers of entering the War with Britain still undefeated. The Royal Navy did not threatebn German. Spain as a peninsular country was very much exposed to British naval power. Spanish officials told the NAZIs that their forces were not yet prepared to participate in Operation Felix.
Göring, Herman. In Gilberto Villahermosa. World War II Magazine (September 2006). Göring was interogated immeduiately after the War in Prisoner of War Camp No. 32 (July 25, 1945). Major Kenneth W. Hechler of the U.S. Army Europe’s Historical Division asked the questions. Captain Herbert R. Sensenig served as the translator.
Hitler, Adolf. Roberts, Andrew. The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War.
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Created: 8:36 AM 6/29/2011
Last edited: 7:17 PM 8/4/2018
Roberts, Andrew. The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War.
Navigate the CIH World Wr II Section: