Why could the Germans not see the war in Africa as anything more than a sideshow?

Keep the Awesomeness Going!



As the same reason that they took on Russia:

  1. Missing and/or unrealstic strategic objectives
  2. Objectives not possible with logistic available

I think Yamamoto https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Isoroku_Yamamotoput the most precise words on it, as explained in the movie Isoruku https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isoroku_(film)

In the first six to twelve months of a war with the United States and Great Britain I will run wild and win victory upon victory. But then, if the war continues after that, I have no expectation of success.

I guess some German generals, perhaps including Rommel, had the same view, though they could not say that in public. But like with Patton, the war itselfes was what they wated to do. Hitler himself was just to insane thinking to care about the overall picture


Because they were supposed to be aiding the Italians, but then it became German led. Also the Eastern Front existed with millions of Soviet troops.


One, Soviet union had a vast number of resources ,oil and people and soviets were Germany’s ideological enemy. So if I am megalomaniac guy who hasn’t lost a single war yet, where would I go? Africa where I have to go through the sea through British naval superiority or to my ideological enemy where I am sure I can win. Of course my ideological enemy and Africa can have have a token force sent to it to delay my inferior enemies.

Which is why Africa was a sideshow to the mainshow, the glorious invasion of Soviet Union (talking from the perspective of the megalomaniac).


The curious part about this is the ideology vs practical objectives. You want oil, and lots of it- most of that is in massive amounts is roughly all in the same part of the world. What is easier- invading through Russia or through Egypt?

IF (and note that it’s a BIG IF) that was the real goal, giving Rommel his needs would have resulted in a pretty strong oil source faster and easier than doing it through the Soviet Union. And probably with a lot less damage to the oil infrastructure- I don’t see the Brits being able to completely destroy the systems, especially since they were not exactly welcome in the middle East as well.

Alas, logic and reason seem to be the first off the table in war as ideology and hubris quickly take over.


The trouble with seeing the Middle East as a source of oil is that it wasn’t. The major oil fields were still undiscovered. The only major oil producer was Persia ( soon to be Iran). While this would have helped, getting the oil from Persia to Germany would have been incredibly difficult.

If they had had a comprehensive strategy to turn the Mediterranean into “a German Lake” and taken the entire Middle East, they could have done so but it would have taken enough of their strength that invading Russia in 41 was out of the question. They would have needed a larger Air Force to force Britain out of the Med and probably invade through Africa and Greece. Long term that makes a great empire but it probably makes Stalin paranoid as hell and might trigger a war with Russia.

So, in my opinion, taking the resources of the Middle East probably has to come after the Soviet question is solved.


Hitler was already committed to an invasion of the SU from the West when the Italian collapse in North Africa happened. Hitler’s fixation on defeating the Bolsheviks prevented him from appreciating the possibilities of a Middle East strategy.
Perhaps he was so certain of victory over the SU that the option was dismissed.
Thankfully nobody pointed out the strategic possibilities of taking the Middle East and then invading the SU from both the West and the South; or if they did Hitler was too impatient.
Does anyone know if this option was even discussed at OKW?


Hang on: what about the other Soviet unions. And can there be a union of only one? Or should it be one Soviet State in the union? I am confused.


“Why could the Germans not see the war in Africa as anything more than a sideshow?”

Well North Africa is described a lot as a “sideshow” for Germany in view of the massive casualties in the Soviet Union vs those in North Africa but was it really throughout the war.

For one Italy was already in Africa at the start of the war and those were for the Axis, not much later Vichy France added to the Axis territory.

As for goals: Mussolini wanted to turn the Med into a Roman lake such as the Romans did, Germany also wanted to go to Palestine to slaughter the fleeing Jews AND fight the British Empire.

For the Royal Navy operations like supplying Malta were very costly because of the nearby Axis territories. After mid 1943 the Allied Navies gained superiority and the Axis had no way of going back to Africa. The only possible route was through its old WW1 Ally Turkey (The Ottomans of course). However Turkey had no appetite of getting into that mess again.

But there is more, with Africa secured the Allies could invade Europe from the South as well with operation Dragoon against Southern France being the most succesfull one. Moreover The Axis could be bombed from the South.

So I think it is hard to see North Africa (and the other Vichy colonies) as a “sideshow”. Especially not until Barbarossa. North Africa had more worth than just a ginormous sandbox/ :wink:

Obviously were it went wrong for the Axis that Rommel went for offensive with very limited logistics and thus wasted planes and resources. A lot of transports were destroyed in our timeline, I Suspect they could have been used somewhere else as well in the very near future (in the TG timeline).

So feel free to disagree or convince me otherwise but to me North Africa was more than just a side show, it was very important but badly managed by Germany as it didn’t prioritize enough.


The Germans were never in a position before December, 1942 to intervene on a massive scale into North Africa. Their hands are tied by the armistice with France and logistics in Libya.

The French start off the war with the world’s fourth largest navy. Even though the French army was defeated and the Germans hold 1.5 million POWs, the French navy was still intact. The nightmare scenario for the Germans was the French navy would grab every warm body capable of lifting a rifle in Marseilles and Toulon; toss them aboard the ships; and then sail off to North Africa to rejoin the Allies and reenter the war. So, the Germans and the Italians do not want to violate the armistice so they can’t use the ports of Tunis and Bizerte in Tunisia to supply their forces in North Africa. You are going to see in future episodes what happens when the Germans and Italians do get access to Tunis and Bizerte which are considerably larger than Tripoli, Libya.

The Germans are stuck with only the port of Tripoli, Libya to bring in and supply their soldiers. Tripoli only has the capacity to offload 5 merchant ships or 4 troop ships at the same time with a maximum offload of 5000 tons of supplies per day. After the British Desert Force shatters the Italian 10th Army in eastern Libya; General of Panzer Troops von Thoma was sent to Libya in October, 1940 to survey the situation. He correctly concluded that the port of Tripoli only had the capacity to supply a maximum of 5 German divisions in addition to the Italian 5th Army. A German motorized or panzer division needed an average of 370 tons of food, water, ammunition, diesel, oil, medicine etc. per day for supply for combat operations.

General von Thoma recommended two options. Option one was brining in 5 German panzer and motorized infantry divisions to Tripoli to do a suicidal mad dash to the Suez Canal with the vain hope that they could defeat the British Army before the logistics collapsed. Option two was to write off Libya as a lost cause.

Adolf Hitler went with option three which was Operation Sunflower with General Rommel and the Afrika Corps. As you have so far from previous episodes, the Germans had a difficult time supplying the 15th Panzer, 21st Panzer, and (90th) Afrika Divisions. By the time of the 2nd Battle of El Alamein, the Germans had added the 164th Light Division and the (288th) Parachute Brigade Ramcke by flying the men into Libya from Greece without their vehicles and most of their heavy equipment.

The Germans and Italians had captured both Benghazi and Tobruk by the time of the 2nd Battle of El Alamein. Benghazi only had the capacity of handling 3 3500-ton merchant ships or oil tankers at the same time with the average offloading of only 1000 tons of supplies per day. Even though Tobruk was a larger port that could handle nearly the combined capacity of both Benghazi and Tripoli, Tobruk was badly hit by repeated Luftwaffe, RAF, and Aeronautica Militare raids so they could only offload one or two ships at a time. Tobruk was virtually unusable by the time of the 2nd Battle of Alamein.

The difficulty in supplying the German and Italian forces was not the fault of the Italian Navy. Unlike every other nation in World War, the Italian Navy started with merchant convoys for protection from air and naval attack from the first day of the war. The Italian Navy would successfully protect and help to deliver 189,088 men (91%) and 2,406,615 tons (86%) of fuel and supplies to North Africa. The fundamental problem for the Germans and Italians was that they did not have enough wharfs, piers, and deep-water ports to supply their armies.


Great points, thanks. I wonder if Germany and notably Italy :it: which “owned” Colonies ever bothered to really improve the ports. They had years to improve logistics. They Allies had to built up logistics as well, did Italy ever have a descent port building plan during its Colonial rule?


In 1940, Guderian, in his memoirs, said he wanted 6 panzer divisions in Africa. In 1940 it would have worked. By 1941, there were not 6 available Panzer divisions and the the logistics were to constrained to supply what they.

Sideshow or not, I don’t think Germany had the resources to do more in Africa and invade Russia.


The Italians invested heavily into their colonies including port facilities before World War 2. The vast ammount of the money went into Massawa and Assab in Eritria and Mogadishu and Kismayu in Somalia for the invasion and annexation of Abbyssinia. These ports now have the British flag flying over them.

Mussolini’s decision to declare war was a spur of the moment decision with no preparation made before hand. An example of Mussolini’s genuis was with the Italian merchant fleet. The Italians had the 5th largest merchant fleet in the world at the beginning of World War 2 but 218 merchant ships (1,215,000 tons) was outside the Mediterranean Sea when Mussolini declared war. So 35% of the Italian merchant was lost without a shot being fired with the vast majority being seized when neutral nations joined the war on the Allied side.


It should be One, Soviet Union. It is a bad typo on my part. Sorry. I do a lot of typos… so correct it mentally as you see fit.


First of all you should understand Hitler and Nazi ideology’s mentaility and perspective. Their vision of geopolitical conquest had always been limited to Eurasian landmass (Europe and Asia or west of Asia , west of of Urals and Caucaus) The reason is ultra Geman nationalist propaganda bias and appeal since World War I when Germans invaded , defeated Russia and occupied Ukraine , Baltics and even entered Caucaus , all these territories Hitler and ultra German nationalism considered theirs but robbed out of their “just spoils” after WWI at Paris Peace Conferance. Their vision had been limited with Eurasia. At the other hand Mediterranean , Africa and Middle East were beyond their comprehension ,vision and education therefore not their priorty , they were too ignorant to see vast potential of Mediterranean and ME Theater when they were committed to reconquest of Russian territories to exploit for most of their adult lives. Not to mention Soviet Union as main industrialised Communist state of world , was considerd as main ideoplogical enemy to be destroyed utterly by Hitler and Nazis. Just their presence angered Hitler since he believed Communism (or Judeo Bolshevist as he called them adding his anti semitism against Eastern Europe and Russia) was the mortal enemy to be fought otherwise it would destroy Third Reich. Considered to ideological and geopolitical priorties and goals like that , Mediterranean and Africa , Middle East were trivial for Germans. From their perspective ,Mussolini and Fascist Italy could have them.

When Italian campaign efforts collapsed in Africa and Balkans in 1940-41 Hitler actually reluctantly send only two divisions (later increased four then eight divisions) to form Afrika Korps in order to prop up Italian military that seemed like to collapse in Libya in 1941 , not because a giant strategic vision or maneuver. He was reluctant to commit any more forces in Mediterranean and therefore divide main mass of German Army on the eve of Operation Barbarossa (which had been his life long goal for 20 years) Italian ports in Libya were too insufficient in unloading capacity , Italian merchant marine was too limited for giant Axis ambitions in Mediterranean like that especially after Italy’s entry of war in 1940 and closure of Gibraltar and Red Sea by British (that led isolation of at least %30 of Italian cargo ships out of Mediterranean later to be captured later by Allies) and Italian merchant marine was being destroyed day by day by Royal Navy and RAF without any new shipping construction to replace shipping losses in Meditarranean. And Italian Navy , despite having very good capital ships and escorts etc and well trained officers , lacked fuel and had been over cautious in engaging Royal Navy Mediterranean Fleet. Under these conditions it made sense Hitler and OKW did not consider Africa nothing but a distraction front ,not worth to waste any more resources since logistical infrastructure of Axis in Mediterranean and North Africa was no way sufficient for any vast goals like capturing Suez ,Middle East (therefore unlike “What If” questions of post war revisionists , Germans could not afford to send any more divisions and reinforcements to North Africa since Rommel could barely feed existing ones , he kept Panzer Army moving especially by capturing Brittish supply depots intact initially due to incompatence of initial British generals like Ritchie and Auchinleck. It was Rommel in a mad dash for glory recklessly several times who attacked , maneuvered , wasting already thin Axis supply build up (which was shipped by Italian merchant mariner and Italian Navy with difficulty) recklessly and meanwhile made headlines since it looked good and romantic in propaganda theme of German Propaganda Ministry and tying down British resources initially in Western Desert. Once Rommel over extended Panzer Army into Egypt and let it destroyed in Second Battle of Alamein in 1942 by vastly more talented Montgomery (due to Rommel’s mistake of entrenching Panzer Army at Alamein line at he end of a 2.000 km long supply line from Tripoli via coastal road Via Balbia which was under constant RAF air attacks and SAS raids ) , it became clear that “Amateurs deal with tactics , the professionals deal with logistics”


WOW, what intersting and wise words from @macdurm and @merdiolu among others. I learned a lot. Never thought much about the role of the French Navy in North Africa


This is probably the best quote ever, but it is ok to deal with tactics at amateur level as logistics is wildly complex and creates tons of calculation work and an awful load of non-fun jobs for amateurs. The Bring Your Own Harbours of Normandy (spoiler) is another brilliant weapon of war which doesn’t seem to get the credit it should!

Edit, here is the PDF of one of my favorite books I used for school (AMU):

It is a jewel on logistics in World War 2 from moving stuff to improving work processes to make things in less time. The massive shortage of labour and the need to win the war led to a gargantuan logistical effort in every Army. The British Empire was a big producers as well.
Logistics in World War II: Final Report of the Army Service Forces: A Report to the Under Secretary of War and the Chief of Staff by the Director of the Service, Supply, and Procurment Division, War Department General Staff


Hitler had the hope on Turkey’s invasion from South to SU after his success in Stalingrad. The same like Japan’s invasion “Siberia” from the East. A lot of Soviet troops were in Far East because of that expectation, my Grandfather was near Amur river in “full readiness”


For Mussolini better was not to send troops into Soviet Union to the our endless freeze stepp and leave them in Africa.


Turkey had no shape to enter war. in 1942. The wounds of World War I had been still too fresh (I am Turkish by the way) and there had been no transport insfrastructure in Eastern Anatolia and Caucaus frontier in terms of modern motorised metallic road / railway communication era and there had been no motorised transport vehicle enough in Turkey back then