Parvin Darabadi, D.Sc. (Hist.), professor at Baku State University (Baku, Azerbaijan).



The author has chosen a geohistorical approach for looking at the main events which were part of the Great Game in the Caucasus and the Caspian on the eve of and during World War II. He describes such key elements as the secret maneuvering in the Caucasus between the wars; the British-French military-strategic plans in the Caucasus during the Phony War of 1939-1940; Germany’s attempts to make a “geostrategic breakthrough” in the Caucasus in 1941-1943, as well as the “cold” continuation of geostrategic rivalry between the Soviet Union and the West in the Caucasus and the Caspian immediately after World War II.


The second quarter of the 20th century was marked by acute geopolitical rivalry in the Caucasus, one of the world’s key geostrategic and geoeconomic regions. It was, in fact, a logical continuation of the long geohistorical process that had been unfolding for two hundred years across Central Eurasia, a vast and very important region. It is not by chance that classic of German geopolitics Karl Haushoffer marked the Caucasus on the world map as “a zone of hostilities on the borders of the two continents.”1

Undercover Operations in the Caucasus between the Wars

The region’s Sovietization in the early 1920s considerably increased the geopolitical importance of the Caspian and especially the Caucasus, the giant natural bridge between Europe and Asia, for the Western powers. It was then that many of them (and Eastern countries as well) betrayed their great interest in the area, and Baku oil in particular. In this way the Caspian and the Caucasus became objects of the Great Geostrategic Game resumed between the wars. It was then that the general staffs of all the leading Western powers set themselves the task of rending the oil-rich Caucasian areas from the Soviet Union to set up an independent oil-producing state.

In the 1930s, Poland became very involved in the Caucasus: in the mid-1920s, its special services, the 2nd Department of the General Staff in particular, established contacts with the leaders of the Caucasian émigrés who settled in Turkey. The Polish General Staff planned that as soon as Germany attacked the Soviet Union, Poland would move ahead to support the guerrillas, who, it was believed, would immediately start operating in the Caucasus.2

Japanese intelligence did not trail far behind: together with the Cabinet’s plans for Turkestan, Yakutia, and Mongolia, it entertained certain ideas in relation to the Caucasus. Late in the 1930s, it increased its involvement in the Soviet Union’s south using the territories of Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan as footholds. Like their Polish colleagues, the Japanese agents developed good contacts among the Caucasian émigrés to use them, when the time came, for carrying out acts of subversion, brainwashing the Soviet people, and knocking together guerilla units in the event of war. The Japanese were especially interested in subversive activities at the Grozny and Baku oil fields, oil storage reservoirs, and refineries; they also investigated the possibility of preventing fuel transportation via the Caspian to the mouth of the Volga. The Japanese did not spare words to explain to their Caucasian émigré contacts that a well-prepared uprising in the Caucasus would lead to the establishment of a Caucasian government that Japan and Germany were prepared to immediately recognize.3

Fascist Italy was also interested in the Caucasus; it followed the well-trodden road of establishing contacts with the Caucasian émigrés; its special services were busy gathering information about the situation in the Soviet Transcaucasus; they wanted to know whether it would be possible to supply Caucasian insurgents with weapons, ammunition, and uniforms; they went as far as investigating the possibility of moving Italian regular units to the Soviet border with Iran and Turkey under the guise of agricultural workers and lumbermen.4

Turkey never abandoned its strategic interests in the Caucasus, which went back many centuries; in the 1920s, the Western countries, in turn, approved its Caucasian plans. The French ambassador in Ankara reported to his foreign ministry that due to its geographic location, ethnic and religious kinship, and its former presence in the region, Turkey was the right country to help reorganize the Caucasus. The French diplomat was convinced that Turkish domination (which was expected to replace Soviet power) would have been obvious progress and would have promoted Western interests in the Caucasus. The British government seemed to be of the same opinion: at least it did not object to Turkey’s future presence in Ajaria, part of Armenia, and Azerbaijan (as far as the Kura River). Had this happened, the Turkish government could have expected loans to develop the newly acquired territories.5 It was believed that if Turkey entered the Caucasus, Azerbaijan would rise against Soviet power and the armed uprising might spread to Central Asia.

In the summer of 1932, the Turkish General Headquarters (the military intelligence department) deemed it necessary to extend technical assistance to the Caucasian émigrés engaged in setting military-reconnaissance points along the Soviet border.6

Late in July 1941, that is, after the German invasion of the Soviet Union, a resident of the People’s Commissariat for State Security in Turkey informed the Center that the Turkish government, wishing to keep its plans and interests in the Caucasus secret, was instructing the corresponding services “to prevent all sorts of legal activities of the émigrés and avoid any actions that could be interpreted as hostile to the Soviet Union.”7 The Turkish leaders were obviously reluctant to worsen good-neighborly relations with Moscow before it was necessary, particularly since the Soviet Union supported Turkey’s new image and its leader Mustafa Kemal Atatürk whenever the going got tough. Hasty and risky moves were unwise. At the same time, Turkish Ambassador to Persia Shevket told M.E. Rasul Zade of his country’s strategic plans regarding the Soviet Union in very clear terms: “Turkey wants to preserve a buffer of Caucasian republics between itself and Russia. Russia beyond the Terek and Derbent is what defines our policy.”8

The West intended to use the Cossacks’ traditional hostility toward the Center in its struggle for the Caucasus. This sheds new light on the meeting between Colonel Lawrence of Arabia (who was engaged in gathering intelligence about the Soviet Union while in Peshawar and Karachi in 1925-1929) and Major-General I. Bykadorov, leader of the Free Cossacks, who promoted the idea of an independent state on the Don, so-called Cossackia. The British agent suggested that the British establish their protectorate over the Transcaucasus, Daghestan, Abkhazia, and the Northern Caucasus, while the old territory of the Don, Kuban, Kalmykia, Stavropol area, the Terek shores, the Crimea, the Lower Volga, and the Orenburg area could be united into a state of “new Cossacks” allied with Britain.9 The ambitious project was abandoned when the British colonel died in a road accident in May 1935.

Britain expected to pave its way to the Persian Gulf, Iraq, and the Iranian oil fields by gaining control over the Caucasus.

The British-French Military-Strategic Plans in the Caucasus during the Phony War

The battle of giants, as World War II can aptly be described, increased the value of the Caspian and the Caucasus (the Baku oil-producing area in the first place) for both sides—the Axis Powers and Britain and France, the Axis’ main adversaries. Military-strategic considerations were inseparable from military-economic reasons: the unfolding “war of engines” suggested that the sides, primarily Germany, should strive for control over the Soviet oil-producing areas. Baku was the obvious target: it produced two-thirds of Soviet oil. Its high grade made it even more attractive to the warring sides, who needed fuel for their armored and aviation units. While Germany wanted to capture the Baku, Grozny, and Maykop oil fields intact, Britain and France were set on preventing this.

After signing the agreements of 23 August and 30 September 1939 with Germany, the Soviet Union began supplying it with large amounts of oil and petroleum products, while France and Britain, in turn, tried to neutralize the strategic effects of the countries’ economic cooperation. According to the Eastern Europe and Russia Today journal (Vol. 3, No. 1, Spring 1939), Britain had its own ideas about the future geopolitical developments in the Caspian region and the Caucasus: those who would come to power in the Caucasian Isthmus would be able to close the Volga River leading to Central Russia, thus gaining control over the truncated territory of what was Greater Russia. By the same token, this power would gain good access to the Persian Gulf, Iraq, and Iranian oil fields. None of the great powers could afford the luxury of a new world power entrenching itself on the Caucasian Isthmus. The article said, in part, that a union of states (Georgia, Armenia, and Daghestan), set up and properly recognized, would have played into the hands of all the interested powers, that is, Turkey, Iran, Britain, and Ukraine, as well as the Axis Powers and truncated Greater Russia. The Caucasian Union of States, said the document, could have been neutralized by reaching an agreement among the interested powers, both great and small.10 By way of comment on the British train of thought, Alfred Rosenberg, the future Reich minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories, concluded that the British would prefer to divide the Caucasus if the Soviet Union fell apart, rather than letting any of the powers (particularly Germany) entrench itself there.11 The fact that Azerbaijan was left outside the planned Caucasian Union says that the British were nurturing their own plans regarding it and its oil.

Alfred Rosenberg believed that Germany should seek a stronger position in the region “to ensure security for continental Europe.”12 “Its access to the oil sources will make Germany and the whole of Europe independent of any future coalition of maritime powers.” He went on to say: “Political and military domination in the Caucasus and its southern neighbors is the final aim of German politics.”13 Rosenberg spoke a lot about the Caucasus’ geopolitical importance and concluded: “The Caucasian task is a political task first and foremost. It means extension of continental Europe led by Germany from the Caucasian Isthmus to the Middle East.”14 This means that the Caucasus was seen as a foothold for making a geopolitical leap to the Middle East.

Classified documents of the French General Staff the Germans captured in Paris in June 1940 and deliberately published revealed the fact that, engaged in war preparations against the Soviet Union in 1939-1940, France and Britain were planning an invasion of the Caucasus and occupation of the Baku oil fields. The Abwehr undoubtedly received the relevant intelligence.15 This is confirmed by what F. Halder, Chief of General Staff (OKH), wrote in his diary on 6 March, 1940: “We should transfer our intelligence to the Russians about the accumulation of forces (of Western powers) in the Middle East.”16

The military-political circles of Britain and France were prepared to bomb Baku or even capture it because, under the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact of 23 August, 1939 and the German-Soviet Boundary and Friendship Treaty of 28 September of the same year, the Soviet Union was supplying Germany with oil, the “blood of the war.” In his report of 22 February, 1940, General Maurice Gustave Gamelin, the French commander-in-chief, informed Prime Minister Édouard Daladier that Baku was supplying 75 percent of Soviet oil and, if deprived of it, “the Soviets will find themselves in a crisis.”17 Another document drawn by the French General Staff in March of the same year said: “The Russian economy depends on Caucasian oil. This is its weakest point. Its armed forces and agriculture depend on it entirely.”18 General Charles de Gaulle wrote in his War Memoirs: “Certain circles took Stalin for the enemy not Hitler. They were more concerned about striking at Russia either by coming to the aid of Finland, or bombing Baku, or landing in Istanbul rather than with the question of how Germany could be defeated.”19

As early as October 1939, American Ambassador to Paris William Bullitt informed Washington that the possibility of “bombing and destroying Baku” was discussed in Paris.20 Y.K. Karaosmanoglu, the wartime Turkish ambassador to Switzerland, reported to Ankara: “Every time I meet the French ambassador he says to me: ‘Your army is 25-30 divisions strong. Our Middle Eastern army is 500 thousand-strong. Add to this the strength of the allied fleets. If we capture Russia’s oil region (Baku.—P.D.) in five or ten days, we shall leave the Red Army’s motorized units without fuel.’”21 French generals believed that this operation would not merely undermine the Soviet Union’s economic might—it would “bring down the Soviet regime.”22 Turkey, in turn, as French Ambassador René Massigli informed Prime Minister Daladier “would take pleasure in participating in an allied attack on Baku via Iran.”23 Germany’s stronger influence in Iran made the plan unrealizable.

Meanwhile, in the early 1940s having established “cordial relations” with the Italians along the border of their colonial possessions with Ethiopia the British-French command began building up forces at the strategic approaches to the Soviet Caucasus.24 On 19 January, 1940, Prime Minister Daladier who, according to William Bullitt was convinced that bombing Baku was “the most effective way of crippling the Soviet Union,” issued a written order to General Gamelin and Admiral of the Fleet François Darlan to draw up a plan of “invasion of the Caucasus” and “destruction of Russia’s oil production.” The prime minister offered three ways of attacking the Soviet Union from the south: (1) military operations in the Black Sea; (2) invasion of the Caucasus; and (3) a possible Muslim uprising in the Caucasus.25

In the report General Gamelin presented to Daladier and then Paul Reynaud, who replaced Édouard Daladier as prime minister, he pointed out: “Military actions against the Caucasian oil fields should be aimed at the most vulnerable spots of the local oil industry. They are industrial centers and places where oil is stored or accumulated for transportation. There are three of them: Baku, Grozny-Maykop, and Batumi. Grozny-Maykop is situated on the northern slope of the Caucasian Mountain Range and is too remote to become a target of armed attacks or even bombing. Baku and Batumi are left as the two potential targets.”26

On the strength of the information supplied by Franz von Papen, the German ambassador to Turkey, the German diplomatic circles believed that “France wanted to help Finland (involved in the war with the Soviet Union.—P.D.) by attacking Baku.” Judging by what General Halder wrote in his diary on 26 February, 1940, the German General Staff had strong doubts about this.27

Meanwhile, General Bergeret of the French Air Force familiarized Captain P. Stelan, who was dispatched to Finland, with the map of the planned operation and informed him that the offensive on Baku would be launched from the Middle East and would develop northwards “to meet the armies pressing in from Scandinavia and Finland toward Moscow.”28 To carry out invasion of the Caucasus and deliver strikes on Baku’s oil-rich areas, the French concentrated a 150 thousand-strong army with over 100 aircraft in Syria. In view of the large distance of 500 km that separated Baku and the Turkish border and the considerable difficulties of carrying out a land offensive from Turkey, the French General Staff selected northwestern Iran, that is, Southern Azerbaijan, as the operation’s most suitable starting point.29

This could not be implemented, however, without Iran’s agreement. A country that pursued a pro-German policy could hardly accept the plan. There was another difficulty: the allies had to move large numbers of troops to the line of attack. After a while it was decided to deliver air strikes on Baku from the air bases in Turkey (Diyarbakir-Van-Erzurum), or in Syria and Iraq.30

The French expected Turkey to be actively involved in the “Caucasian operation.” On 12 March, 1940, General Gamelin wrote in his directive addressed to General Maxime Weygand: “The British should command the action in the Middle East; the Turks will command the Caucasian operation. The latter will be carried out by the Turkish armed forces together with aviation and probably the allies’ special units. To discuss this you can contact Marshal Çakmak and take part in the preparations for the Middle Eastern action. I have sent you a courier with details about the Caucasian operation.”31 General Weygand had a plan of his own, according to which (he claimed) he could occupy the Caucasus with additional forces and two hundred planes and would penetrate Russia like “a hot knife into butter.”32

Impressed with Germany’s military achievements and because of the end of the Soviet-Finnish war, Turkey and Iran switched to a wait-and-see policy and maneuvers between the sides.

At the same time there was no agreement among the top French brass about military operations far removed from Western Europe, the main theater of war. While General Junot, assistant to General Weygand, French commander-in-chief in the Middle East, said to Air Minister André Laurent-Eynac: “I need aviation. Give it to me: the outcome of the war will be decided in the Caucasus, not on the Western Front… We shall not fight in the West, we shall fight in the Caucasus,”33 General de Gaulle was convinced that the allies should concentrate their forces on the Western Front, where France’s future was being decided. In 1940, however, those who supported the Phony War and the war in the East prevailed.

Britain nurtured more or less similar plans; earlier, in 1918-1919, it had already played a great role in the military-political events in the Southern Caucasus and the Caspian. British Ambassador to Moscow R. Stafford Cripps believed that had his country destroyed the Baku oil industry, it would have delivered a “crippling blow” to the Soviet Union, because, he argued, “economically, Russia greatly depends on oil deliveries from Baku to wage the war. The area is within the reach of long-range bombers based in Iran.”34 F. MacLean of the U.K. Foreign Office, who specialized in the Soviet Union, was convinced that British and French aviation “could seriously damage the oil fields and refineries in Baku and the Northern Caucasus, the oil pumping stations in Batumi and Baku, and the oil pipeline between them.”35

By the end of October 1939, Minister for Coordination of Defense Lord Chatfield sent a governmental report to the Committee of Heads of Staff about vulnerability of Russia’s oil-producing regions which said, in part, that there were three major oil-producing centers in the Soviet Union: Baku, Grozny, and Maykop. If they were destroyed, the report said, which could be easily done since all of them were of the spouting type, not only Russia, but any of its allies that depended on it for its oil, would be deprived of it.36 The report contained a list of the best bases for bombers planning to bomb the Caucasian oil-producing regions and indicated the distances.

Iran (Igdir, separated from Baku by about 144 miles, and Ardebil, by 168 miles) and Turkey (Kars, by 260 miles, and Igdyr, by 312 miles) were believed to be best choice. Grozny could be easily reached from Iran (Iranbidi was 336 miles away) and from Turkey (Kars was 235 miles away); Maykop could best be attacked from Iran (Iranbidi was 516 miles away) and from Turkey (Trabzon was 255 miles away). The authors were fully convinced that the destroyed Caucasian oil fields would “deprive the potential enemy of the carburetor that fed the mechanism.”37

In its telegram to British Ambassador to Ankara Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen, the Foreign Office informed him that “it was discussing an attack on Baku as part of the general strategic and political plan. If realized, the attack would mean war with the Soviet Union.”38 The Headquarters of the British RAF believed that three wings of bombers, operating for six weeks to three months, would be enough to destroy the oil industry.39 Large-scale maps of the largest oil-producing centers of the Caucasus and Soviet ports were produced; attack targets were marked on them together with the number of bombs to be dropped on each of the targets and the schedule of aircraft sorties.40

Generals Wavell, Weygand, and Gamelin were busy drawing up plans of invasion from the south, from Iran among other places; they included Iranian armed forces into their plans of action against the Red Army.41

On 7 March, 1940, Commander of the British Air Force in the Middle East Air Marshal Mitchell met General Weygand, commander of the French army in Syria, in Beirut on his way to Ankara. He informed him, among other things, that London had instructed him to get ready for a possible bombardment of the Baku oil fields and the Batumi refineries. He added that he intended to ask Turkish Commander-in-Chief Marshal Çakmak for permission to reconnoiter the Diyarbakir-Erzurum-Kars-Lake Van area to identify transient airdromes.42 In his report On the Conduct of War dated 16 March, 1940, General Gamelin, in turn, pointed out that the French troops could rely on the Turkish troops operating in the Southern Caucasus, while Great Britain could have shouldered the initiative to use Iranian territory for land operations in the south of the U.S.S.R.43

The French government entrusted General Weygand with conducting negotiations about the British-French military operations in the Caucasus with Marshal Çakmak, head of General Staff of the Turkish Army, who, as General Weygand put it in his memoirs, “did not reject any of the hypotheses.”44

Turkey, however, showed a lot of caution and no desire to openly support the British-French plans to attack the Soviet Union. Under the October 1939 British-French-Turkish treaty, Turkey was not bound by joint military-political obligations to act in a way that might draw it into an armed conflict with the U.S.S.R. as a result or as a repercussion of such action.45 The French ambassador to Ankara, however, informed his government that he did not expect any objections from the Turkish side to the war preparations against the Soviet Union.46

By the spring of 1940, Britain and France came forward with two detailed and very similar plans for the future war in the Caucasus—MA-6 by the former and RIP by the latter. The military command of both countries agreed that 90-100 aircraft (5 groups of American Glenn Martins and four groups of British Blackheim bombers) would be enough to deliver the air strikes on the Caucasian oil fields. The aviation was expected to operate during the daytime and at night at different heights. Everything was planned ahead: 15 days to destroy Baku, 12 days for Grozny, and 36 hours for Batumi. The MA-6 authors, ardent supporters of Italian General Douhet’s aerial warfare doctrine, predicted that, if successful, the operation “might determine the course of war.”47

It should be said that the allies went ahead with their war preparations even after the end of the Soviet-Finnish war. The British Cabinet spent 12 March, 1940, the day the warring sides signed the peace agreement, discussing the report of the heads of staff about possible repercussions of the war against the Soviet Union. The British ambassador to Turkey was informed by a ciphered telegram that “we are discussing a possible attack on Baku and a war with the Soviet Union as part of our strategy and policy.”48

War preparations were in full swing: on 20 March, 1940, the British and French commanders met in Aleppo (Syria) and confirmed that by June 1940 twenty airdromes of the first category would be ready. On 17 April, General Weygand informed General Gamelin that by late June-early July 1940 the allies would be prepared to deliver air strikes on the Caucasus.49 General Weygand was to coordinate preparations with General Wavell, commander-in-chief of the British troops in the Middle East, and Admiral Cunningham, commander-in-chief of the British Mediterranean Fleet.

On 27 March, 1940, First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, when speaking at a sitting of the War Committee, described the Baku oil fields from the military-economic point of view. At the same time, both Churchill and prime Minister Chamberlain were convinced that instead of bombing Baku a submarine operation should be launched in the Black Sea to undermine oil transportation from the Soviet ports.50 The next day, the Supreme War Council, a joint British-French structure, discussed the Caucasian operation, which would primarily involve aviation and the fleet.51 This meant that the Caucasus would be attacked from the west and the south by aviation and the navy. In April 1940, the Ministry of Aviation, on instructions from the Cabinet, drew up a plan of surprise and massive bomb strikes on Baku, Batumi, Tuapse, and Grozny.52

The Soviet military command, which was kept informed by its intelligence and by “friendly” Germany, which had its own plans for the Caucasus and Baku, took countermeasures. In 1940, the 3rd air defense corps stationed in the Baku oil-producing area received recruitments in the form of the newly-arrived 27th air division of the High Command Reserve. Here are the tell-tale figures: while at that time Berlin was covered by 261 guns of 88 mm and larger caliber, Baku had 420 guns of medium caliber.53

Meanwhile the April 1940 Blitzkrieg in Denmark and Norway and the May-June powerful offensive of the German army on the Western Front, which forced France to capitulate and the allied expeditionary course to pull out in haste from Dunkirk, shelved the allies’ Caucasian plans. Under the treaty between Berlin and the Vichy government, General Weygand’s Middle Eastern army was neutralized.

When appraising the military-strategic plans of Britain and France in the Caucasus in 1939-1940, we tend to agree with British military historian B.H. Liddell-Hart, who described them as a conglomerate of fantasy and idle dreams of the allied leaders, who remained in the world of their illusions until shaken into reality by Hitler’s onslaught54 in May 1940 in Western Europe that brought France down and threatened Britain.

Germany’s Geostrategic Dash to the Caucasus: Plans and Results

The Caucasus was Nazi Germany’s geopolitical priority in World War II. Having captured it, Germany would have been able to go ahead with its military strategic plans that included control over the Persian-Arab expanse in the Near and Middle East as a step toward world domination. On 13 July, 1941 (three weeks after the Eastern campaign unfolded), Heinrich Himmler, speaking in Stettin in front of the Replacements of Kampfgruppe Nord, described the war as a struggle “against the same under man [Untermensch] and the same lower races that in the past were known as the Huns, later, one thousand years ago, during the times of the Holy Roman Empire of the German nation and of King Otto the Great came from the East as Magyars, and later still as the Mongols led by Genghis Khan. Today the Russians with their political declarations of Bolshevism play the role of the same barbarians.”55[55] The German political leaders and OKW commanders planned that their southeastern campaign would proceed in three stages, each requiring special measures to be applied to the region’s states (Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan), pressure on the Eastern Front, and subversion in the enemy rear to destabilize the situation in the future theater of war.

The Caucasus should have been captured at the first stage, while Central Asia was expected to fall at the second stage to open the road to India, the target of the third stage. This would have brought the German army to Burma to join the Japanese army; these moves would have allowed Germany to establish its control over a larger part of the Eurasian geopolitical expanse.

In Northern Africa Germany planned a dash across the Suez: Field-Marshal Rommel together with his Afrika Korps was expected to break into Syria and Iraq to complete the first stage to unite the Caucasian and Libyan fronts.

The Caucasus, and Baku in particular, was the main geopolitical aim of Nazi Germany: the most destructive war in the history of mankind demanded a lot of oil, the “blood of war,” which accounts for the military-strategic importance of the Caucasus and the Baku oil region for both sides. No wonder those wishing to join the SS Junker School in Braunschweig had to answer several questions, including: “Where is the city of Baku situated and what is its role in the Soviet economy?”56

Baku oil would have allowed the Germans to keep the motorized units of the Wehrmacht, SS, and the Luftwaffe supplied with fuel; they would have been able to move into the Near and Middle East and reach India. Hitler said more than once that without the Caucasian oil the war would be lost.

In November 1940, the Economics and Armaments Branch of OKW began drafting its plan for using, from the very first days of the war against the Soviet Union, its economic resources for military aims. The Caucasian oil region received a lot of attention: it and the Volga delta were two major targets of the future Eastern campaign.57

These targets were included in Plan Barbarossa: on 4 May, 1941 deputy commander of Operations Staff of OKW General Walter Warlimont stressed that the High Command of the Armed Forces was especially interested in the Baku oil region and pointed out that Germany could have covered its needs for oil only with Caucasian oil.58 The same day, Hitler approved the Plan of the Defense of the Country Staff of OKW for Capturing the Caucasian Oil-Rich Areas.59

Back in the spring of 1941 the Westphalen Headquarters was set up within the Economic Oldenburg Headquarters to organize oil production at the Baku oil fields.60 On 16 July, 1941, when the war against the Soviet Union had already begun, a conference at Führer’s headquarters decided that the Baku area should become a German concession.61

According to Alfred Rosenberg, one of the main Nazi ideologists, “the country’s [the Caucasus’] mountainous nature disunited the people… none of the Caucasian nationalities had enough strength to ensure its continued independent existence. Peaceful work and political balance are possible only under the patronage of a strong and great power.”62[62]

The Germans counted on the region’s ethnic diversity. As Göring pointed out in his Green Folder, “the contradictions between the natives (Georgians, Armenians, Tartars [by whom he meant the Azeris.—P.D.] etc.) and the Russians should serve our interests.”63[63] The Germans were prepared to lay the “Islamic card” on the table. According to SS-Sturmbannführer Meyer, a German resident in Iran, the Islamic factor could be used against the allies. He suggested that an “Iranian Islamic Committee be set up to maintain contacts with similar movements in Iraq and Palestine, and then in Afghanistan, Egypt, Syria, India, and South Russia. A well organized movement with the right to issue orders on the strength of religious postulates would make it easier to start a jihad.”64[64]

On 3 June, 1943, a meeting at Hitler’s mountain residence discussed the problem of enlisting deserters and pows in special units. General Field-Marshal Keitel, Lieutenant-General Schmundt, General Zeitzler, and Colonel Scherf heard Hitler to say: “If Germany becomes successfully entrenched in the Caucasus, it will be able to form units not from Georgians, but from the smaller Turkic peoples.” Keitel offered his own comment: “They will be an exception to the above rule since they are the most vehement enemies of Bolshevism. This goes without saying. These are Turkic legions. I can merely repeat what we discussed last year, in early September, that the native units were much superior to others when fighting the bands (partisans.—P.D.)”65 On the whole, at that time Hitler was against setting up strong and battle-worthy units out of the occupied populations.

Simultaneously, starting in the spring of 1940, the Germans were engaged in neutralizing the British-French threat to Baku and the Caucasus. Captain Lewerkün, agent of Admiral Canaris, chief of the Abwehr, who came to Iran in March 1940 as the German consul in Tabriz, kept his chief posted about the situation. Information provided by the ramified intelligence network in Iran supplied the General Staff with food for thought about the “military-geographic Syria-Baku line;” while the Abwehr’s second department (sabotage and acts of subversion) was instructed to draft a plan for destroying the Baku oilfields in case of a threat from the allies.66

The German invasion of Turkey, the Gertrude Plan, scheduled for early 1941 was intended as a preventive measure against possible British infiltration and a flank strike from the northwest in support of the Italian-German troops in Northern Africa intended to create a toehold for the later offensive at the Iraqi and Baku oil fields. The OKW strategy described in Directive No. 30 (the Middle East) issued on 23 May, 1941 received more detailed exposition in Directive No. 32 (Preparations for the Post-Barbarossa Period) of 11 June, 1941. Point 2 of Directive No. 32 pointed out that “continued struggle against the British positions in the Mediterranean and the Middle East through a ‘concentric offensive’ would be carried out from Libya via Egypt, from Bulgaria via Turkey and, depending on the situation, to the Transcaucasus via Iran.” The same document said further: “We should close pincers on the British positions in the Suez acting through Northern Africa, the Caucasus, and Syria.”67 This means that the Germans planned to capture the Caucasus and reach the oil fields of the Middle East by the end of 1941 to set up an oil corridor of sorts between Baku and the Persian Gulf.

In his memoirs Europe’s “most dangerous man” Otto Skorzeny wrote: “In late November 1941, the Red Orchestra informed the Soviet Headquarters that an offensive in the general direction of the Caucasus had been scheduled for the spring of 1942 with the aim of capturing the oilfields between Batumi on the Black Sea shore and Baku on the Caspian coast.” Later, the well-informed Red Orchestra agents informed Moscow that Plan 111 (later Plan Blau), under which the Caucasus should have been captured in November, was postponed until the spring of 1942.68

Reza Shah, who sided with the Germans (Nazi propagandists made much of the “natural affinity” of the two nations: they derived the term “Aryan” and “Iran” from the common root), hoped to move into the areas of the Transcaucasus and Central Asia his ancestors had lost long ago. Iranian troops were concentrated on the Soviet border; training was going ahead while the Caspian coast received new ports, some of the old ports were hastily modernized (Pahlavi, Noshahr, and Bandar Shah).69

The German espionage network in Iran, which was planning several large-scale subversive acts in the Caucasus, stepped up its activities. By the summer of 1941, several espionage and subversive groups of the SD and Abwehr had already been brought to Iran. “We kept postponing attacks on some of the main points of the Baku oilfields for the same reasons—shortage of equipment and transport, in the first place,”70 complained Otto Skorzeny in his memoirs. In turn, Ambassador of Germany to Iran Brigadenführer-SS Ettel promised Reza Shah that Germany would extend military assistance to his country and asked for permission to deploy German aviation in Iran.71 On the whole, the Germans needed Iran, first as a foothold for their offensive against the Caucasus; and second, they hoped to disrupt the British communication lines that connected India with Australia and the Far East. Control over the “oil triangle” (Iraq-Baku-Iran) would have moved Germany to second place in the world after the United States, the leading oil power.

The British were concerned with their positions in the south of Iran, especially with the oilfields of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. The British military had every reason to expect that the Germans might break into Iraq and Turkey, thus endangering the British communication lines and colonial possessions in the Near and Middle East. London feared that through Iran Germany might penetrate India and other Asian countries in the sphere of British influence.72 The operation in Anatolia was not carried out merely because on the eve of the war in the East the Germans did not have enough troops.73

The Baku factor was invariably present in Germany’s war plans in the East. As early as the summer of 1940, the Germans planned to crown their capture of the central areas of the Soviet Union with a “limited operation to capture the Baku area.”74

In his directive of 21 August, 1941 to the OKH, Hitler pointed out that it was critically important to capture the Crimea and Donbass at the very early stages of the war and enter the Caucasus. In his explanatory notes, the Führer specified: “For political considerations it is necessary to reach the areas from which Russia receives oil as soon as possible. This should be done not only to deprive it of oil—it is even more important to give Iran the hope of prompt practical German help if it has to resist the threat from the Russians and the British.”75 The OKH planned to capture the Caucasian oilfields, including Baku, early in November 1941, as soon as Moscow was taken.76 Land forces supported by airborne groups had to carry out the operation; no bombing was planned to spare the oil-producing equipment. It was planned, in particular, to drop “one of the airborne units to organize a surprise attack on the oil area to the northwest of Baku before the retreating enemy had destroyed it.”77 Bomb strikes on the oilfields were banned: it was decided to concentrate on the destruction of railways and naval transportation routes in the Caspian; the use of aviation was limited to planting mines in the Astrakhan roadstead and to rare reconnaissance flights in the Baku area.

In the summer of 1941, the southern borders of the Soviet Union (the Baku oil and industrial region in particular) were threatened by Iran: by that time the German “fifth column” was strong enough to plan large-scale subversive acts in the Transcaucasus.

Simultaneously, the Iranian leaders were discussing an invasion of the Caucasus to meet the “victorious German army” halfway. In July and August hundreds of Germany officers in civilian clothes were sent to Iran; early in August 1941 Admiral Canaris secretly visited the country.78 In the north, the SD and Abwehr were busy knocking together espionage-and-subversive groups to be sent to the Baku oil region and Turkmenistan.

The Soviet Union and Britain acted faster. In full accordance with Art 6 of the Soviet-Iranian Treaty of 26 February, 1921, the Soviet Union moved troops of the 44th and 47th armies into Iranian Azerbaijan on 25 August; two days later, on 27 August units of the 53rd Separate Central Asian Army crossed the 1,000 km-long stretch of the border between the Caspian and Zulfugar. Soviet gunboats entered the ports of Pahlavi, Noshahr, and Bandar Shah to land Soviet troops.

Simultaneously the British moved their troops from the southwest. The British leaders had every reason to be concerned about the German intrigues in Iran that threatened the U.K.’s vital interests in India and the Arab East, as well as the Iranian oilfields. The British and Soviet troops moved in two columns: from Basra to Abadan and the Ahvas oil fields and from Baghdad to the Zaneken oil fields and up to the north. Late in August the Soviet and British troops met in the Sanandaj and Qazvin areas.79 Later, toward the end of 1942, American troops entered Iran.

The British command was very conscious of the threat of a German breakthrough via the Caucasus and Turkey to Iran, Iraq, and even further; this would have endangered the British communication lines and the British colonial possessions in the Near and Middle East. To avert these developments, British General Slim tried to convince the Soviet commanders to set up joint defenses in case of a possible German invasion through the Caucasus and Anatolia.80 This and the statement of General Wavell about Britain’s readiness to move its troops into the Transcaucasus were politely yet firmly declined.81

On the whole, the fact that Soviet and British troops entered Iran was of great military and strategic importance for the anti-Hitler coalition. In his personal letter to Stalin dated 30 August, 1941, Churchill wrote: “The news that the Persians have decided to cease resistance is most welcome. Even more than safeguarding the oil-fields, our object in entering Persia has been to get another through route to you which cannot be cut.” He invited the Soviet Union to pool forces to “develop the railway from the Persian Gulf to the Caspian and make sure that it runs smoothly with reinforcements of railway material from India.”82

On 19 September, in another letter to Stalin, Winston Churchill confirmed that “I attach great importance to the opening of the through route from the Persian Gulf to the Caspian.”83

Later, in a letter of 12 October, 1941, he deemed it necessary to explain why his country had occupied Iran: “first, as a barrier against German penetration eastwards, and secondly as a through route for supplies to the Caspian basin.”84

The Iranian operation was of great military and strategic importance for the Soviet Union: its southern borders were no longer threatened; from that time on, Iranian territory was used to deliver strategic materials from the West to the U.S.S.R. The British-Soviet-Iranian treaty of 29 January, 1942 guaranteed that the railways and highways could be used for transporting important materials from the allied countries to the Soviet Union. Beginning in late 1941 tens of thousands of tons of all sorts of materials from the United States, Britain, Canada, Southeast Asia, and Australia reached the Soviet Union across the Persian Gulf, Iran, and the Caspian. During the war, a total of 3 million tons of strategic materials (23.8 percent of the total amount of military supplies from America, Britain, and Canada the Soviet Union received under the lend-lease program) were moved through Iran.85

More than that: the Iranian operation upset the German plan of delivering a strike across Iran to meet the group of armies that began their offensive toward the Caucasus in the summer of 1942. The German command was fully aware of the implications. Franz Halder wrote in his Diary: “Having established ties with Russia across Iran our enemies will urge it to resist so as to keep the German armed forces away from the Caucasian oilfields.”86 The Germans feared, with good reason, that Britain would use Iran as a springboard for air raids on the Caucasian oilfields.87

It was in the latter half of 1942, during the long and bloody battle for the Caucasus, that this area became the scene of important events. According to Lieutenant-General Fritz Bayerlein, chief of staff of Field-Marshal Rommel’s Afrika Korps, the German high command planned a large-scale pincer operation in the summer campaign of 1942 that would involve two German armies moving across the Caucasus in the south and from the Western Desert across the Suez in the north to capture the oil-rich areas of the Middle East, including Baku.88

The German Plan On Transformation of the Caucasus which Alfred Rosenberg signed on 27 July, 1942, that is, three days after Army Group A invaded the Caucasus referred to the British point of view according to which the Caucasian zone was much more important than the whole of Ukraine.89

Later, on 16 April, 1943, when Germany had already been defeated on the Volga and in the Caucasus, Hitler told Admiral Horthy, dictator of Hungary: “We planned (during the campaign in the summer of 1942.—P.D.) to cross the Caucasus into Mesopotamia and close the Volga.”90

Earlier, in January-February 1942 when the German-Italian group of troops was pressing ahead in Northern Africa, Rommel, together with Admiral Räder, tried to convince the OKW that, if strengthened, his Korps would be able to push through Egypt to the Mesopotamian oilfields and move further to the Caucasus. Berlin showed no enthusiasm probably because of the heavy losses near Moscow.91

In the summer of 1942, the Germans regarded a breakthrough to the Caucasus as their main strategic aim in the south. Under Operation Braunschweig (until 30 June, 1942 it was Operation Blau drafted in April 1942), it was planned to destroy the Soviet troops to the west of the Don, capture the oil-rich areas of the Caucasus, and cross the Caucasian Mountain Range to reach the Near and Middle East. The Germans’ victories on the Don, which promptly moved them to the Caucasian foothills, allowed the OKW to launch Operation Edelweiss (Directive No. 45 dated 23 July, 1942, On Continuation of the Operation Braunschweig). Operation Edelweiss presupposed that having captured the Caucasus and its oil-rich areas, Germany should draw Turkey into the war against the Soviet Union, destroy the Soviet Black Sea Navy to establish German domination, and invade the Middle East. This would have allowed Germany to move against the British Eastern colonies, particularly India.92

The German army group in the Caucasus, the motorized and panzer units in particular, was ordered “to use part of the armed forces to capture the Grozny area and block the Military-Ossetian and Military-Georgian highways, preferably at the passes, and to capture Baku by delivering the final blow along the Caspian coast.”93 The document also emphasized the need to use an adequate armed force to cooperate with the troops delivering the blow on Baku through Grozny. “Because of the decisive importance of the Caucasian oil industry for the continuation of the war,” said the document, “air raids on the oilfields and large oil reservoirs, as well as on the large transshipment ports on the Black Sea should be permitted only in cases absolutely indispensable for land operations. To deprive the enemy of Caucasian oil, however, the railways used for oil deliveries should be destroyed in the shortest time possible, while the naval delivery routes on the Caspian should be disrupted.”94

The Germans were obviously aware of the region’s geostrategic importance: the Caucasian territory was used for communications of greatest military-strategic importance in the system of international supply lines from the East to the West and from the North to the South.

In July 1942, the Germans planned a special paratroop operation code-named Shamil to capture the North Caucasian oilfields and oil refineries in Grozny and Maykop.95

The grandiose Stalingrad Battle that unfolded in the summer and fall of 1942 forced the Germans to relax their attack on the Caucasus; large units from Army Group A (the 51st Army Corps and 4th Panzer Army) were moved to Stalingrad since, as General Alfred Jodl, put it, “the future of the Caucasus will be decided at Stalingrad.”96 This contradicted the earlier opinion: according to Deputy Head of Operations Staff Walter Warlimont, “the Caucasus was declared to be the main aim of the offensive in the south of the Soviet-German front.”97

By way of comment on Hitler’s intentions in the Stalingrad operation, Head of the OKH Colonel-General Kurt Zeitzler pointed out: “If the German army had forced the Volga at Stalingrad and blocked the Russians’ main communication line that connected the north and the south and if Germany had gained access to Caucasian oil to meet its wartime requirements, the situation in the East would have been radically changed and we could have more hope of a favorable outcome to the war.”98 In his memoirs, the German general explained Hitler’s initial intentions: “Having achieved these aims he intended to dispatch highly mobile units to India via the Caucasus or by any other means.”99 If the Caucasus was captured the OKW would be able to carry out Operation Bayadere, that is, invasion of India, the largest British colony, across Afghanistan. If Tbilisi had fallen, pro-fascist cabinets of “new” Iran, Iraq, and Syria would have been proclaimed there.100

In the summer of 1942, representatives of Germany and Japan were busy compiling a plan for a Japanese offensive from Burma to meet the Germans pressing from the Caucasus to India.101 In January 1942, 100 German secret Abwehr agents were sent to Iran to cross into Baluchistan and reach India where, together with the local fascist supporters (a large group of 5,500) they were to organize acts of subversion and a large-scale anti-British revolt as part of Operation Bayadere synchronized with the German breakthrough across the Caucasus to the Middle East.102 In September 1942, euphoric Germans “looked forward to new victories to the south of the Caucasus” and even set up the post of “a Reich Commissar for foreign policy issues under the Wehrmacht Supreme Commander in the Persian-Arab expanse.”103

Under Operation Edelweiss, the best panzer and motorized units, as well as alpine-and-chasseur troops of Army Group A (with a total numerical strength of over 450,000 soldiers and officers under one of Germany’s best commanders Colonel-General Ewald von Kleist) were expected to capture Grozny by 17 September and reach Baku along the western Caspian coast by 25 September, 1942.104 Simultaneously German panzer and alpine-chasseur units, as well as Rumanian mountain rifle divisions, were ordered to move along the Black Sea coast to capture Sukhumi, Zugdidi, and Tbilisi. After that the 3rd Rumanian army was to remain in the Caucasus for protection and garrison service, while the Germans were to press on further to Iran, Iraq, and Southeast Asia.105

In July 1942, Army Group A launched Operation Edelweiss. By 1 August, 1942, the 1st German Panzer Army approached Maykop; the war diary registered this as “the first step toward the great aim.” Here is another entry for the same day: “The army is looking at the oil-rich areas of Grozny.”106 Copies of a Reference Book and Guide for the Caucasus published in 1942 in Leipzig were distributed among the staffs and officers of formations and units of Army Group A. The appendix enumerated the main German targets: “Baku, oil gushers; Grozny, the world’s best gasoline; Kabarda, molybdenum; North Ossetia, zinc; and Zangezur, copper.”107

The OKH General Staff planned to send all the available forces of the 5th Army Corps into the opening and move them toward the Caspian littoral areas, Daghestan and Azerbaijan. On 5 August, the units of Special Staff F were moved from the Suoni Cape (in Southern Greece) to Bulgaria and then to Rumania. On 20 August, the units were transformed into a Special Motorized Corps F under General of Aviation Felmy; he also had the Arab Legion under his command. It was expected that after the units of Army Group A captured Tbilisi the units of Special Staff F would be moved by rail via Rostov-on-Don to the Caucasus for a continued advance on Western Iran-Iraq in order to finally reach the Persian Gulf and Basra. In full accordance with the German “big pincers” strategy, after capturing the Caucasus, Corps F was to move on to the Middle East to meet Rommel’s troops which by that time should have captured the Suez.108 The OKW formulated a dual task for Corps F: (1) secretly follow Army Group A to Iran via two roads (depending on the operational situation), either through Baku or along the Military-Georgian Road; (2) in the event of stubborn Soviet resistance, help the 1st Panzer Army fighting its way to Baku. Corps F was deployed in the vicinity of Budennovsk; on 15 October, 1942, it fought its first battle in the Achikulak area.109

By early November 1942, the Germans had captured several areas in North Ossetia, paying a high price in lives and equipment. They were stopped at the city of Ordzhonikidze and failed to consolidate on the Terek River despite Hitler’s order that described the river as the most convenient winter barrier. The order said: “Consolidate there at all costs for the final conquer of the Caucasus in the spring of 1943.”110

On 6-12 November, 1942, in the Gizel area where the 1st Panzer Army sustained huge losses in lives and military equipment, the Soviet command snatched the strategic initiative in the Caucasus.111

The Germans never reached Sukhumi; the German alpine and chasseur units, however, reached the southern slopes of the Northern Caucasus and even hoisted the Reich flag on the Aryan Holy Mount Elbrus; however, they failed to negotiate the passes beyond which lay the Black Sea. The troops that moved along the North Caucasian Black Sea coast were stopped outside Tuapse.

In his most secret and personal message dated 30 September, 1942, Winston Churchill informed Stalin that according to British intelligence the Germans, sure of their final success, had “already appointed an admiral to take charge of naval operations in the Caspian.” The British prime minister also wrote that the Germans had “selected Makhachkala as their main naval base. About twenty craft, including Italian submarines, Italian torpedo boats and minesweepers, are to be transported by rail from Mariupol to the Caspian.”112 Under Directive No. 54 of 23 July, 1942 On Continuation of Operation Braunschweig the German Navy was expected not only to fight the Soviet Black Sea fleet on the Caucasian coast, but also take all the necessary measures to use the “light ships of the Navy to operate along the enemy’s sea supply lines (oil transport and communications with the Anglo-Saxons in Iran)” in the Caspian Sea.113 These measures together with the blocked naval Astrakhan-Baku routes would have undermined city defenses and disrupted oil and oil-products deliveries from Baku to Astrakhan and Krasnovodsk, something that the Luftwaffe bombers could not achieve because of the fairly effective Soviet air defenses and the Caspian flotilla.

The Soviet allies were very concerned about the prospect of German occupation of the Caucasus and Baku oil-industrial area. Back in the fall of 1941, they planned to set up a special expeditionary corps by combining the 18th and 50th British divisions to be moved with air support by early January 1942 to Baku.114 Winston Churchill pointed out in his memo addressed to the Chiefs of Staff that he could see no reason for the talk that the Russians would destroy their oilfields. They said nothing of the kind and treated with suspicion those who dared to ask them about it.115 If worst came to worst Britain could bomb the Baku oilfields and try to set them on fire, wrote the British prime minister.116 The Allies suggested that they would dispatch a group of demolition experts to Baku.117

On 3 March, 1942, the Anglo-American Joint Chiefs of Staff, which met to discuss only one issue, the defense of the Caucasus, concluded that the Germans might try to capture the Caucasus and decided to draft, after consultations with the British joint planning body, a memo for the U.S. president to inform him about possible repercussions of the German capture of the Caucasus and the measures to be taken against the Germans’ wider aggression.118

In the summer and fall of 1942, at the height of the Battle of the Caucasus, America and Britain, worried over the German pressure on the Baku and Tbilisi directions, offered Stalin their help.

In the critical situation on the Soviet-German front that had taken shape by the summer of 1942, the Soviet allies (America and Britain) pooled forces to create a plan codenamed Velvet, under which 20 American and British squadrons should have been used to defend the Caucasus and the Caspian. The old plan of dispatching one of the allies’ armies (the 10th British Army) to the Caucasus was revived.119 At approximately the same time in Moscow, Churchill told Stalin that British squadrons would be sent to the Caucasus and the Caspian area depending on the situation in Egypt, where the British were waging heavy battles against the German and Italian troops at El Alamein.120

“Uncle Joe,” who never fully trusted his allies, was very diplomatic when declining the offer. On 18 December, 1942, in his letter to U.S. President Roosevelt, he pointed out that the Anglo-American squadrons with crews “are no longer needed in Transcaucasia.”121 The future of Baku and the region was decided between 25 July, 1942 and 3 January, 1943 in fierce defensive battles in the Caucasian mountains. Late in November 1942, when the Stalingrad Battle was at its height, Churchill admitted in one of his letters to Stalin that the Soviet troops had successfully defended the “main oil supplies in the Caucasus.”122 The German troops never moved beyond Mozdok in the direction of Baku.

On 3 January, 1943, the Soviet troops began their offensive from the line of the lower reaches of the Terek and the foothills of the western part of the Main Caucasian Mountain Range; the Northern Caucasus was completely liberated on 9 October, 1943—Operation Edelweiss ended in a catastrophe.

Regular army units staffed with members of the Caucasian nations fought in the Battle of Caucasus as part of the Soviet Armed Forces; this fact was not only of great moral and political importance, it was a great military strategic factor. Besides 11 divisions staffed with representatives of all the Caucasian nations, there were 5 Azeri, 4 Georgian, and 3Armenian divisions fighting side by side with Daghestanian, Chechen-Ingush, Osset, Kalmykian and Kabardino-Balkarian divisions, brigades, regiments, and squadrons in the Caucasus which guarded the state border with Turkey and Iran. This gave the Supreme Command a chance to send more forces to Stalingrad to accelerate the encirclement and defeat the 300 thousand-strong group of General Field Marshal Paulus. On the whole, the Caucasus made a significant contribution to the world community’s concerted efforts to rout the “brown plague” of the 20th century during World War II.

The failure of the German dash to the Caucasus and the routing of the 6th Army of Paulus at Stalingrad could not but affect wartime Turkish-German relations.

The Turkish leaders hoped that the German victory in the war against the Soviet Union would allow them to realize the idea of Great Turkey covering at least half of Soviet territory (the Caucasus and the Crimea, as well as the Volga area up to Kazan, Central Asia, and even part of Siberia). When talking to senior official of the Foreign Ministry of Germany von Hentig Harun, trusted envoy of Marshal Çakmak, said that the Turkish government saw its main objective of the coming offensive in the Caucasus as “setting up a federative state similar to Bismarck’s empire” that would include “besides Anatolia, also the Caucasus and the Turkic peoples to the east of the Volga.”123

In June 1942, Marshal Çakmak believed that his country would enter the war; in the fall of the same year, martial law was introduced and mobilization carried out in the vilayets bordering on the Caucasus. Turkey planned to declare war on the Soviet Union in November 1942 as soon as Berlin announced that Stalingrad had fallen. An agreement had been reached with Germany that Turkey would be pressing toward the Caucasus via the Iranian highlands in the general direction of Baku. The Turks were convinced that the British in Iran would be an easy prey.124 After succeeding, Turkey planned to set up a Caucasian state under its own aegis and German protectorate. Franz von Papen, German Ambassador to Istanbul, informed Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop: “As for the Eastern Turkic peoples, besides Azerbaijan, that is, the Volga Turks, Tartars, Turkmen, etc., today the Turkish political circles intend to unite these Turks into their own and seemingly independent East Turkic state in which the Western Turks will play the decisive political and cultural role of ‘advisors’.”125

When the Wehrmacht was readying for the attack on the Northern Caucasus, Turkish operations in the Southern Caucasus could have created serious, if not catastrophic, results on the southern flank of the Soviet-German front. Moscow knew about the Turkish plans to capture the strategically important positions in the region if the Germans captured the Caucasus.

The Turkish leaders pinned their greatest hopes on the future territorial acquisitions that would have been possible had the Germans won the Battle of Stalingrad and occupied the Caucasus. Their defeats at Stalingrad and in the Northern Caucasus, as well as in Northern Africa, somewhat shattered Turkey’s German bias. In his report to Berlin, German military and air attaché in Turkey Major-General Rohde summarized his talk with second-in-command of Turkey’s General Staff Colonel-General Asim Gündüz, which took place on 1 December, 1942, and his impressions about the prevailing sentiments among Turkey’s top military: “Acting contrary to the main rules of classical strategy, the German General Staff did not bother to set up the necessary centers of gravity on the vitally important stretches of the theaters of war. According to Turkey’s General Staff, Stalingrad, which had probably immobilized too large German forces for far too long, was not a strategic aim. Due to the fact that too many available resources were used there, the Caucasian front was left without enough forces and therefore had to halt its offensive. The Germans failed to capture the ‘Egypt’ position of immense importance for the future of the Axis and were defeated by the assaulting Brits since the aviation necessary for achieving success had evidently also been drawn away by the Eastern Front.”126

On the whole, Turkey maintained neutrality until it became abundantly clear that Germany would soon be defeated. In February 1945, it declared war on Germany and Japan.

The Soviet victories at Stalingrad and the Caucasus of the late 1942-early 1943 and Nazi Germany’s catastrophic defeats on the Eastern and Western fronts and the routing of militarist Japan in the Asian-Pacific region by the Allies’ forces (the U.S.S.R., U.S., and U.K.) put an end to another “geopolitical game” played in the course of the bloodiest war. The Caucasus and the Caspian region received another fifty-year respite, which was cut short by the grandiose geopolitical upheavals of the late 20th-early 21st centuries.

The “Cold” Continuation of Soviet-Western Geostrategic Rivalry in the First Postwar Years

The Caspian, which remained a geopolitical target of the rivaling great powers throughout the first half of the 20th century, remained within the Soviet zone of influence after fierce military and political struggle during the two world wars. The West failed to consolidate in this geostrategically important region of Central Eurasia.

At the same time, the Soviet Union’s efforts of the latter half of the 1940s to extend its spheres of influence in the Middle East by playing the Kurdish and South-Azeri cards fell through. Had it succeeded, it would have spread its geopolitical influence to Iran and the Middle East; and its potential access to the Black Sea straits (Bosporus and Dardanelles) would have become much more real. The Soviet Union’s military-political domination in Iran would have brought it to the Indian Ocean with far-reaching geopolitical repercussions. By that time, Britain was no longer able to defend its colonial possessions in Hindustan.

Late in 1946, Iran, aided by the West, mainly America, suppressed the national movements in Southern Azerbaijan and Iranian Kurdistan headed by Mir Ja’far Pishevari and Mustafa Barzani, respectively.

Let’s have a look at the oil dimensions of Soviet-Iranian relations, namely, the oil concession the Soviet Union received in Northern Iran on conditions analogous to the British concession in Southern Iran. Those who say that Iran deceived its northern neighbor by refusing, in mid-1947, to ratify the Soviet-Iranian Agreement on a Joint Soviet-Iranian Society for Prospecting and Exploiting Oilfields in Northern Iran for 50 Years starting on 4 April, 1946 are wrong. In fact, the situation was created by the fact that the Soviet Union could no longer expand its influence in Iran, which opted for the West, the influence of which (the United States in particular) was preserved until the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

Iran’s choice was suggested by America’s monopoly on nuclear weapons; it warned the Iranian leaders that it would use them if the Soviet Union violated Iran’s territorial integrity.127 This is confirmed by the telephone conversation between Stalin and then leader of Soviet Azerbaijan M. Bagirov on the eve of the Soviet troops’ pull out of Southern Azerbaijan. Stalin cut short Bagirov’s insistent request not to do this with: “We can’t start another world war.”128 It was at that time, 5 March, 1946, when the crisis around Iran had reached its height, that Winston Churchill delivered his famous Fulton speech, the manifesto of the already real Cold War. On 24 March, 1946, it was officially announced that the Soviet Union would withdraw its troops from Iran; the process was completed by 9 May.

On the whole, according to Iranian Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, “the Cold War, in fact, began in Iran”129 One can say that this process could have begun in Greece or in China or in any other hot spot on the planet divided into two opposing sociopolitical systems: Western democracy and Eastern communism.

At the same time we can say that the Iranian crisis of 1945-1946 caused irreversible geopolitical changes in the Near and Middle East by considerably strengthening America’s position there.


Another historical pause in the struggle for domination in the Caucasus and the Caspian followed World War II; it was cut short by the well-known events of the early 1990s. The emergence of independent Caspian littoral states (Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan), the steadily growing Western influence in some of the regions of Central Eurasia, and the involvement of some of the large Asian states in the Great Geostrategic Game, as well as the stronger Russian factor there added a new geopolitical dimension to the traditional international rivalry.

1 K. Haushoffer, O geopolitike, Mysl Publishers, Moscow, 2001, p. 128. Back to text
2 See: L.F. Sotskov, Neizvestniy separatism. Iz sekretnykh dos’e razvedki, Ripol Klassik, Moscow, 2003, pp. 16-17, 82. Back to text
3 See: Ibid., pp. 98, 104, 132. Back to text
4 See: Ibid., p. 146. Back to text
5 See: Ibid., p. 32. Back to text
6 See: Ibid., pp. 23-24. Back to text
7 Ibid., p. 13. Back to text
8 Ibid., p. 105. Back to text
9 See: Ibid., p. 62. Back to text
10 See: “‘Kavkazskaia papka’ Alfreda Rozenberga,” Vozrozhdenie—XXI vek (Baku), No. 10, 1998, p. 64. Back to text
11 See: Ibidem. Back to text
12 Ibidem. Back to text
13 Ibidem. Back to text
14 Ibid., p. 67. Back to text
15 See: F. Halder, Voenny dnevnik, Vol. 1, Moscow, 1968, p. 307. Back to text
16 Ibid., p. 306. Back to text
17 V. Agaev, “Bakinskaia neft v planakh zapadnykh derzhav,” Gün-Ay (Baku), 19 April, 1995. Back to text
18 Ibidem. Back to text
19 Ch. De Gaulle, Voennye memuary, Moscow, 1957, p. 61. Back to text
20 V. Agaev, op. cit. Back to text
21 Kh.M. Ibrahimbeyli, Krakh “Edelweisa” i Blizhniy Vostok, Nauka Publishers, Moscow, 1977, p. 24. Back to text
22 E.B. Cherniak, Zhandarmy istorii, Moscow, 1969, pp. 432-433. Back to text
23 Istoria Azerbaidzhana, Vol. 3, Part II, Baku, 1963, pp. 31-32. Back to text
24 See: Vooruzhennaia bor’ba narodov Afriki za svobodu i nezavisimost, Nauka Publishers, Moscow, 1974, p. 106. Back to text
25 See: Sovremennye mezhdunarodnye otnoshenia i vneshniaia politika Sovetskogo Soiuza, Moscow, 1974, p. 56; Kh.M. Ibrahimbeyli, op. cit., p. 28. Back to text
26 Ibidem. Back to text
27 F. Halder, op. cit., p. 293. Back to text
28 Istoria vtoroy mirovoy voyny, Vol. 3, Voennoe izdatel’stvo, Moscow, 1974, p. 46. Back to text
29 See: Kh.M. Ibrahimbeyli, op. cit., pp. 28-29. Back to text
30 See: Ibid., p. 29. Back to text
31 J. Baumier, Ot Gitlera do Trumena, Moscow, 1951, pp. 55-56. Back to text
32 Ibidem. Back to text
33 A.M. Nekrich, Vneshniaia politika Anglii. 1939-1941, Moscow, 1963, p. 185. Back to text
34 V. Agaev, op. cit. Back to text
35 Ibidem. Back to text
36 See: Istoria vtoroy mirovoy voyny, Vol. 3, p. 45. Back to text
37 Ibidem. Back to text
38 Kh.M. Ibrahimbeyli, op. cit., p. 29. Back to text
39 See: Ibid., p. 30 Back to text
40 See: Ibid., p. 29. Back to text
41 S.L. Agaev, Germanskiy imperialism v Irane, Moscow, 1969, p. 88. Back to text
42 See: Kh.M. Ibrahimbeyli, op. cit., p. 56. Back to text
43 See: Istoria vtoroy mirovoy voyny, Vol. 3, p. 47. Back to text
44 Ibidem. Back to text
45 See: Ibidem. Back to text
46 See: Ibidem. Back to text
47 Ibid., p. 46. Back to text
48 Komsomol’skaia pravda, 7 January, 1971. Back to text
49 See: Istoria vtoroy mirovoy voyny, Vol. 3, p. 46. Back to text
50 See: V. Agaev, op. cit. Back to text
51 See: Kh.M. Ibrahimbeyli, op. cit., p. 29. Back to text
52 See: Komsomol’skaia pravda, 7 January, 1971. Back to text
53 See: Istoria Bakinskogo okruga PVO. Kratkiy ocherk (1920-1966), Azerneshr Publishers, Baku, 1967, pp. 28, 34. Back to text
54 See: Istoria vtoroy mirovoy voyny, Vol. 3, p. 44. Back to text
55 See: N. Worwal, Voyska SS. Krovavy sled, Fenix Publishers, Rostov-on-Don, 2000, p. 155. Back to text
56 Ibid., p. 54. Back to text
57 See: Istoria vtoroy mirovoy voyny, Vol. 3, p. 229. Back to text
58 See: Bankrotstvo strategii germanskogo fashizma. Istoricheskie ocherki. Dokumenty i materialy, Vol. 2, Moscow, 1973, p. 146. Back to text
59 See: H.M. Ibrahimbeyli, op. cit., p. 21. Back to text
60 See: D. Mel’nikov, L. Chernaia, Imperia smerti. Apparat nasilia v natsistskoy Germanii. 1933-1945, Political Literature Publishers, Moscow, 1987, p. 332. Back to text
61 See: Sovershenno sekretno. Tol’ko dlia kommandovania, Collection of documents, Moscow, 1967, pp. 106-107. Back to text
62 Niurnbergskiy protsess, Vol. 2, Moscow, 1966. Back to text
63 H.M. Ibrahimbeyli, op. cit., p. 278. Back to text
64 L.F. Sotskov, op. cit., pp. 212-213. Back to text
65 A. Kolesnik, General Vlasov—predatel ili geroy? Moscow, 1991, p. 65. Back to text
66 See: F.Ia. Rumiantsev, Taynaia voyna na Blizhnem i Srednem Vostoke, Mezhdunarodnye otnoshenia Publishers, Moscow, 1972, pp. 80-81. Back to text
67 H.M. Ibrahimbeyli, op. cit., p. 48. Back to text
68 See: O. Skorzeny, Neizvestnaia voyna. Vospominania, Potpourri Publishers, Moscow, 2003, p. 170. Back to text
69 See: L.F. Sotskov, op. cit., pp. 140-141. Back to text
70 O. Skorzeny, op. cit., p. 269. Back to text
71 See: L.I. Mevedko, Rossia, Zapad, islam: “stolknovenie tsivilizatsii?”, Moscow, 2003, pp. 308-309. Back to text
72 See: Istoria vtoroy mirovoy voyny, Vol. 4, Moscow, 1975, p. 185. Back to text
73 See: F. Halder, op. cit., Vol. 2, pp. 357-359. Back to text
74 Ibid., p. 81. Back to text
75 Voenno-istoricheskiy zhurnal, No. 11, 1962, p. 86. Back to text
76 See: F. Halder, op. cit., Vol. 3, Part 1, p. 77. Back to text
77 Itogi vtoroy mirovoy voyny, Voenizdat Publishers, Moscow, 1957, p. 259. Back to text
78 See: L.I. Mevedko, op. cit., p. 309. Back to text
79 See: S.Ia. Lavrenev, I.M. Popov, Sovetskiy Soiuz v lokal’nykh voynakh i konfliktakh, AST Publishers, Astrel Publishers, Moscow, 2003, p. 19. Back to text
80 See: H.M. Ibrahimbeyli, op. cit., p. 35. Back to text
81 See: Istoria Velikoy Otechestvennoy voyny Sovetskogo Soyuza. 1941-1945, Vol. 2, Moscow, 1961, p. 195; H.M. Ibrahimbeyli, op. cit., p. 36. Back to text
82 Correspondence between the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR and the Presidents of the USA and the Prime Ministers of Great Britain during the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945, Vol. 1, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1957, pp. 26-27. Back to text
83 Ibid., p. 32. Back to text
84 Ibid., p. 37. Back to text
85 See: S.Ia. Lavrenev, I.M. Popov, op. cit., p. 20. Back to text
86 F. Halder, op. cit., Vol. 3, Part 1, p. 45. Back to text
87 See: Ibid., p. 107. Back to text
88 See: Rokovye reshenia, Voenizdat Publishers, Moscow, 1958, p. 127. Back to text
89 See: “Kavkazskaia papka” Alfreda Rosenberga… p. 64. Back to text
90 Istoria vtoroy mirovoy voyny, Vol. 7, Moscow, 1976, p. 340. Back to text
91 See: Ibid., Vol. 4, p. 414. Back to text
92 See: H.M. Ibrahimbeyli, op. cit., p. 76. Back to text
93 Bankrotstvo…, p. 326. Back to text
94 Ibid., p. 327. Back to text
95 See: Entsiklopedia Tret’ego Reikha, LOKID-Press, Ripol klassik, Moscow, 2005, p. 438. Back to text
96 H.M. Ibrahimbeyli, op. cit., p. 80. Back to text
97 Voenno-istoricheskiy zhurnal, No. 11, 1963, p. 89. Back to text
98 Rokovye reshenia…, p. 153. Back to text
99 Ibidem. Back to text
100 See: F.Ia. Rumianatsev, op. cit., p. 92. Back to text
101 See: Istoria vtoroy mirovoy voyny, Vol. 12, Moscow, 1982, p. 351. Back to text
102 See: L.I. Medvedko, op. cit., p. 310. Back to text
103 Ibidem. Back to text
104 See: W. Adam, Trudnoe reshenie, Moscow, 1962, p. 120. Back to text
105 See: H.M. Ibrahimbeyli, op. cit., p. 101. Back to text
106 Ibid., p. 163. Back to text
107 Ibid., p. 80. Back to text
108 See: Ibid., p. 149. Back to text
109 See: Ibid., pp. 153, 246. Back to text
110 Ibid., p. 173. Back to text
111 See: Krasnoznamenny Zakavkazskiy, Sabchota Saklartvelo, Tbilisi, 1981, p. 191. Later, when the German offensive in the Caucasus failed, in January 1943, Corps F was transformed back into Special Staff F and in February was moved to Tunisia. On 12 May, 1943, the unit capitulated together with the German-Italian Army Group Afrika. Back to text
112 Correspondence…, p. 74. Back to text
113 Bankrotstvo…, p. 327. Back to text
114 See: J. Butler, J. Gwyer, Bol’shaia strategia (iul 1941-August 1942 gg.), Moscow, 1967, p. 171. Back to text
115 See: Ibid., pp. 173. Back to text
116 See: Ibid., pp. 174. Back to text
117 See: Ibidem. Back to text
118 See: H.M. Ibrahimbeyli, op. cit., pp. 77-78. Back to text
119 See: Correspondence…, p. 79. Back to text
120 See: Iu.V. Sigachev, “Novoe ob Anglo-Sovetskom sotrudnichestve v gody Velikoy Otechestvennoy voyny,” Novaia i noveyshaia istoria, No. 2, 2000, p. 33. Back to text
121 Correspondence…, Vol. 2, p. 40. Back to text
122 Ibid., Vol. 1, p. 84. Back to text
123 H.M. Ibrahimbeyli, op. cit., p. 58. Back to text
124 See: Ibid., p. 59. Back to text
125 Ibid., p. 60. Back to text
126 Ibid., pp. 218-219. Back to text
127 See: V.I. Blishchenko, M.M. Solntseva, Regional’nye konflikty i mezhdunarodnoe prvao (vtoraia polovina XX-nachalo XXI vv.), Moscow, 2005, p. 82. Back to text
128 Quoted from: E. Ismailov, Vlast i narod. Poslevoenny stalinizm v Azerbaidzhane. 1945-1953, Baku, 2003, p. 63. Back to text
129 S.Ia. Lavrenov, I.M. Popov, op. cit., p. 17. Back to text

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