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A Very Different Desert War

This alternate history explores an alternative that was never, as far as I can tell, seriously explored by the Nazi government.  Italy never had the strength to even begin implementing it.  I am presuming that Hitler had an attack of common sense – rare, but they did happen – and decided that a) the British had to be forced out of Africa/Middle East and b) Russia was too big a target at present.  We could have Hitler realise the potential of the atomic bomb in 1940 and delay Barbarossa until the bomb was ready, or use some other gimmick.  Another possibility would be for someone to impress upon Hitler how easy it would be to take most of Africa and the resources there.  Point is in mid-1940; Hitler decides to focus on Africa. 

We’ll have the Germans essentially run the Italian war from day one.  The Germans move as many Luffwaffe aircraft to Italy as logistics will allow and use them to cover an invasion of Malta.  Without the build-up, it’s an occupation task instead.  Once Malta falls, the Germans can build up in Libya and defeat the British.  The Germans launch out for the Suez and take most of Egypt.  The British retreat into the Sudan or into Palestine.  The Germans launch a push across the Canal and force the British further back.  The Germans also quietly offer to respect Iranian neutrality if the British do likewise, so the British hole up in Iraq. 

Major Change here.  Hitler effectively ignored the French Empire until 1943.  Here, the Germans move some divisions to the Libya/Algeria border.  Hitler demands that the French surrender the control of the colony to Germany.  Failure to do so will result in German occupation and general nastiness.  I suspect that the Vichy government will give in under such pressure.  The French forces will either be disarmed or escape to British territory.  Second major change:  The Germans offer a chunk of the French empire to Franco in exchange for him joining the war.  Franco accepts and Gibraltar is besieged. 

Just how effective the Spanish would be is questionable.  The Spanish had lots of tough, experienced troops left over from the civil war.  On the other hand, their economy was in shambles and their transportation net a mess.  Even so, the Germans should have been able to move heavy guns to the rock and bombard it until the British surrendered.  Add in German air power and resupply becomes incredibly difficult. 

The next step is a long campaign against British territories in Africa.  The German/Italian forces reinvade Ethiopia and the Italian colonies that fell to the British.  This is done on shoestring logistics, so where possible the Germans work though European colonists who have been declared ‘German’ and the occasional native collaborator.  Many of the French and Belgium colonists agree to work for Germany, while Hitler also promotes settlement of Germans in Africa.  German medicine makes life much healthier, while the Germans are more than willing to enslave the natives.  What resistance there is suffers from being sparse and uncoordinated. 

The Germans have also been building up in Egypt, crushing native revolts when the Egyptians figure out Germany’s true intentions.  They head over the canal and push though Palestine, arming radical Arab factions and turning them lose on the Jews.  The British evacuate Haifa and the remains of the Mediterranean fleet (assuming its not been pulled out of the Med already) has to run the gantlet of the German air force to escape via Gibraltar.  As the Germans head east, the British position crumbles and whatever remains of the British desert army is evacuated from Iraq to India.  The Saudis are offered the choice to cooperate with the Germans or else – not being supremely stupid at that point in time – they agree to support Germany.  Germany is now swimming in oil as soon as pipelines can be laid, Britain, on the other hand, is staved of oil, which pinches the British navy. 

The bottom drops out of the situation in late 1941.  The Germans have been building a series of rail lines and airbases across Africa.  After much effort and suffering – mainly on the part of the native population – the Germans position a strong force in the Belgium Congo, which threatens South Africa and Rhodesia. 

My presumption here is that Smuts breaks with the Empire and makes a separate peace.  South Africa had a large German-origin population and had only gone to war reluctantly.  With the prospect of a German invasion and the massive fifth column, I suspect that Smuts would have sold out for the best he could get.  South Africa ends up with all the territory below the Belgium Congo and breaks completely with Britain. 

At this point, peace becomes imperative for the British.  The loss of both the cape and Suez cuts the British Empire in half.  Australia would demand their divisions back from wherever they went after the fall of the Middle East.  India would be even less stable and American supplies might not be so forthcoming as they were in OTL.  For the price of disowning the Free French, recognising the German conquests, conceding Iranian neutrality and possibly surrendering the Dutch East Indies to Japan, Britain makes peace. 

With access to the treasure trove of African resources, Germany becomes a much more dangerous nation.  Africa supplies uranium, food and other raw materials, while the Middle East provides oil.  Germany can rebuild most of its armed forces.  The downside is that the Germans and Italians need to keep strong forces in Africa to squash native and European revolts.  The Germans recruit SS divisions from the occupied areas of Europe for this task. 

There is a major fork in the road here.  Japan still has the option of hitting America.  If so, what will Hitler do?  If he honours his obligations to declare war, Germany will fight the US without an eastern front to distract them, with vastly more raw materials and a much larger economy.  If not, the US will probably squash Japan earlier than OTL (after 1942, America would be far stronger than Japan in the pacific anyway) and then settle into a three-way cold war. 

Another possible option, and a far more interesting one, is that Hitler now controls sources of resources Japan needs.  He might well agree to share those resources with the Japanese in exchange for technical sharing (Japanese naval designs + whatever work the Japanese have done on WMD) and the Japanese assisting with a German attack on the USSR when Hitler is ready for that.

I suspect that Stalin and Hitler would come to blows anyway.  The soviets would be stronger – unless Stalin decides to have another purge – but the Germans would have more supplies, better weapons (more resources means that the Germans can explore more angles at the same time) and generally better tactical skill.  By 1945, the Germans would also have a fleet of long-range bombers (with the vastness of Africa and the lack of bases, a bomber would be an obvious need), the ability to launch an attack into the soviet oil fields and probably atomic weapons.  Unless the Manhattan project becomes downgraded, the US will also have a bomb (perhaps shared with Britain) and the two powers will settle into a cold war.  It would be a very interesting world, but I would not like to live there. 

It would be in some ways far more exciting than our timeline.  Spain and Turkey would be dependent on Germany.  Italy might be trying to assert their independence.  France would probably have a growing resistance movement.  The British would be trying to hold whatever they could of the empire together.  The Germans would have developed Africa to first world standards at the cost of millions of African lives.  Judaism and Islam would be threatened with complete extinction. 

So I guess we’re lucky this never happened and Hitler stayed focussed on Russia. 

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