Hitler’s Directive no. 18 was issued on November 12th 1940. It mainly concerned eventual future German participation in the support of the Italian operations in and around the Mediterranean. The Hitlerite directives were a mixture of general information, warning of eventual future actions and orders for planning and preparations. Several dozen directives were issued during the war.
For the German war machine it all started with General Jodl’s, Chief of Operations in the German Superior Command (Chef des Wehrmachtsführungstabes), ponderings over what should take place after the fall of France. What to do now? The German quick victory over the French and British forces came as a surprise not only to the Allies but to the German leadership as well. It should take several weeks before Hitler jumped onto the Sea Lion bandwagon. More like an afterthought, Jodl speculated in the possible advantages of a peripheral effort in the South, to attack the Empire in its soft underbelly, so to speak. Gibraltar, with its dominating position at the Western exit of the Mediterranean was central in this theme.
Between Jodl’s report and the issuing of Directive no. 18 went several months with hectic planning activity and many “study” travels to the Iberian peninsula for German officers and specialists. We shall return to that. In the meantime let us take a look at the directive itself and note the points which can have relevance, maybe somewhat overlooked, to the later events.
Directive No. 18
The preparatory measures of the High Command for the conduct of the war in the near future will be made on the following lines :
1. Relations with France.
The aim of my policy towards France is to co-operate with that country in the most effective manner possible for the future conduct of the war against England. For the present France will assume the role of a ‘non-belligerent power’ and will thus be required to allow German war measures on French territory and particularly in the African colonies. She will also be required to support these measures with her own forces as far as may be necessary. The most urgent duty of the French is to secure their African possessions (West and Equatorial Africa), offensively and defensively, against England and the de Gaulle movement. From this the full participation of France in the war against England may develop.
The conversations with France begun at my meeting with Marshal Pétain will, apart from the day-to-day work of the Armistice Commission, be carried out exclusively by the Foreign Office, in liaison with the High Command of the Armed Forces.
Further instructions will be issued when these conversations are concluded.
Auth. rmk.: These are interesting statements: “…and will thus be required to allow German war measures on French territory and particularly in the African colonies. She will also be required to support these measures with her own forces as far as may be necessary….from this the full participation of France in the war against England may develop”.
Hitler obviously knew something we don’t. He could “use French territory for war measures”….and: “From this the full participation of France in the war against England may develop”.
Had Petain indicated that the French at some point actually would consider joining into an Axis partnership? If so, why did it not happen?
2. Spain and Portugal.
Political measures to bring about the entry into the war of Spain in the near future have already been initiated. The aim of German intervention in the Iberian peninsula (cover-name ‘Felix’) will be to drive the English from the Western Mediterranean. To this end—
(a) Gibraltar is to be captured and the Straits closed.
(b) The English are to be prevented from gaining a footing at any other point on the Iberian peninsula or in the Atlantic Islands.