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The Mediterranean War – Part 1 – Hitler’s Directive no. 18

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PHASE III

(a) An attack will be made with German troops to seize Gibraltar.

(b) Forces will be made ready to invade Portugal should the English gain a footing there. Formations detailed for this purpose will enter Spain immediately behind the forces intended for Gibraltar.

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Auth. rmk.: Since the Germans were not willing to consider more imaginative solutions than a rough ride with all their heavy equipment through the whole of Spain the plan, after many twists and turns, fell to the ground due to Franco’s unwillingness to cater to the German demands and Hitler’s lack of will to curl up to Franco’s behind to more than a certain extent, so to speak. But it took several years before it was finally shelved.

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PHASE IV

After the capture of the Rock, the Spaniards will be assisted to close the Straits ; if necessary, from Spanish Morocco also.

The strength of the formations destined for ‘Undertaking Felix’ will be as follows :

Army: Formations detailed for Gibraltar must be strong enough to capture the Rock even without Spanish support. A smaller force must also be available to support the Spaniards in the improbable event of an attempted English landing on another part of the coast. Motorised forces will be employed in the main for a possible invasion of Portugal.

Air Force: The forces detailed for the attack on Gibraltar harbour must be sufficient to ensure a resounding success. Dive-bomber units, in particular, are to be transferred to Spain to engage naval targets and to support the attack on the Rock. Army formations will be allotted sufficient anti-aircraft artillery to allow them to engage targets on the ground also.

Navy: Submarines will be used to engage the English Gibraltar squadron, particularly when it leaves harbour, as is likely after the attack. To support the Spaniards in closing the Straits, preparations are to be made, in conjunction with the Army, to bring over single coastal batteries.

Italian participation in the operation is not expected.

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Mussolini and Hitler

Auth. rmk.: This last paragraph can only be seen as a serious lapse by Hitler, but it very well describes the lack of imagination on Hitler’s side and, furthermore, the lack of affinity between the two partners. Mussolini knew about Hitler’s wish to conquer Gibraltar, as he had urged Mussolini also to try to persuade Franco to play along with the Axis partners. But Mussolini never urged, as he did with the CAI (the Italian air contingent in Belgium) and later the large contingent in Russia, to participate in this operation. They each had their reasons. Hitler, of course, wanted to be the best boy in the class, one who didn’t need anybody’s help. Also, as it turned out he was neither impressed by the Italian air force, nor its navy. Mussolini, through his naval commanders, had a healthy respect for the Royal Navy and in November when Directive 18 was issued  the Italians had that very night received a serious blow with the British carrier attack on the Italian battle-fleet in the port of Taranto. At the same time the going was rough on the Albanian-Greek border and there was stalemate in the desert, the Italians had dug in well inside the Egyptian border, Graziani refused to take any chances. Hitler wrote “Italian participation not expected” but he really didn’t want any of it.

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The Atlantic Islands (especially the Canaries and Cape Verde Islands) will assume additional naval importance after the operations against Gibraltar, both for the English and for ourselves. Commanders-in-Chief Navy and Air Force are to consider the best means of supporting the defence of the Canaries by the Spaniards and the occupation of the Cape Verde Islands.

I also request that the problem of occupying Madeira and the Azores should be considered, together with the advantages and disadvantages which this would entail for our sea and air warfare. The results of these investigations are to be submitted to me as soon as possible.

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Auth. rmk.: This would have been a tough nut and could hardly have been put into practice without the use of German bases in French or Spanish Marocco. Raeder was, of course, very critical to such a hazardous adventure. A lot of time was used to study the problem.

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Comments

  1. Interesting stuff. Thanks.

  2. petergarforth@btinternet.com says:

    Great article about a document I didn’t know existed.

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