This has come up in a different thread, but would probably work better in its own thread or in a thread on a related subject... but I don't know if what I'm about to post would work completely with an old thread... so here is a new one...
We know that the Battle of France ended as a smashing victory for Germany and came as a complete surprise to many who saw the French Army as among the strongest in Europe at the time. However, despite the victory, they only won half the war. They still had to defeat Britain and left Germany with several options on how to proceed... Option One: Invade England Directly
This would obviously be the most direct route, and after its defeat in France and Belgium, the British Army was in no position to win a one on one fight. And the German High Command did put together plans for this in Operation Sea Lion (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Sea_Lion
). However, there were plenty of problems that Sea Lion faced...
1) It lacked the full confidence of the German military. Army officers like Kietal and Jodl supported it and the Luftwaffe under Goering felt confident in winning air supremacy over England, as they had over France earlier in the year... However, the German Naval leadership, under Raeder would only support Sea Lion if the RAF was completely defeated.
2) The German Navy had been badly mauled in the naval battles around Norway earlier in 1940 and wouldn't be ready for a straight up fight with the Royal Navy again if the Royal Navy was deployed to combat against the landings. And while the Luftwaffe may be able to attack the Royal Navy, it should be noted that the German Navy in the Battle of Britain had some trouble with unarmed merchant ships in the channel. It'd thus be harder to deal with armed warships shooting back.
3) British radar would make it near impossible for the Germans to achieve surprise in the landings on the British south coast... which could allow for any German attack to be countered before troops could be landed...
But, if the Germans could have successfully launched Operation Sea Lion and landed in Britain, there wasn't much that could resist them. And the historian Robert Forczyk in the book We March Against England: Operation Sea Lion 1940-1941
would make the case that Germany's chances of being able to pull it off weren't as low as they have been thought to be in the years since the Battle of Britain...
However, in the end, the RAF defeated the Luftwaffe and Operation Sea Lion was never attempted. This then left Germany needing other options to follow... Option Two: The Mediterranean Plan
Many of the ideas for the Mediterranean Plan came as the defeat of France unfolded as it theoretically opened opportunities to defeat Britain particularly after the Battle of Britain was lost and the direct invasion route was not likely to have any chance of success. It was ultimately championed by Admiral Erich Raeder, though it was never fully adopted by the German government, though certain elements would be put into practice (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erich_...ranean_plan.22
The idea had several strengths, including:
1) Would secure the Mediterranean Sea to the Axis and would have the potential to bring in both Spain and France as full Axis partners. And while neither force would be able to stand on their own, they would put Britain in a tougher position. And this was possible after the British raid on Mers-el-Kebir (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attack...-el-K%C3%A9bir
2) It would secure additional bases with which to expand the U-boat war against British trade.
3) By taking Suez and Egypt, Germany would also be well placed to strike into the Middle East and seize the major oil fields in Iran and potentially threaten India. And given German relations with the Arabs in history, might have also secured local alliances with the Arab peoples in Egypt and the Middle East and could potentially pull Turkey either into the war on the side of the Axis powers or at least into closer economic ties with the Axis.
These actions theoretically might continue the waves of defeats that the British had suffered which may force Churchill out of office and a more negotiation minded PM may be elected in. And if Britain is forced to surrender, it would enable Germany to end the war in a position where they would have bases from which to threaten Baku in the Soviet Union should the Soviets try anything more in Eastern Europe.
But for many of these potential strengths there would also be difficulties, including:
1) An operation of this scale would take time to organize and would chiefly have to depend on the Italian Navy to do it. Even if Petain could be convinced to bring the French in wholeheartedly, after the raid on Mers-el-Kebir, the French Navy wasn't going to be strong enough handle much of a workload. And while the Italian Navy performed remarkably well in the Mediterranean in history, it still wasn't good enough to chase the British Mediterranean Fleet out of the Mediterranean Sea. It could thus take a lot of time to organize things for such an operation, which could only give the British time to rebuild their own military forces or look for other allies.
2) The campaign would force Hitler into a more diplomatic role, which would be difficult... It would mean concessions to both Petain in Vichy, who would surely want permission for the French to rearm metropolitan France, the retention of Alsace/Lorraine, or at least that Alsace/Lorraine would be the ONLY territory France loses to Germany. It would mean the Germans would have to devote a large portion of their economy to help arm and build up Spain. It would also mean potential concessions with regard to Italy... In theory, this was possible, but not something that Hitler is known for.
3) The campaign's ultimate success is still dependent on the enemy (Britain) deciding to surrender after a series of military defeats. It is possible if the Germans get the right replacement for Churchill, but in a democratic country, who your replacement is isn't a sure thing. The Mediterranean Plan might secure the Mediterranean and the defeats force Churchill out... BUT his opponent in the election could just as easily say that he could do better than Churchill, which would mean that the work for logistics, manpower, and of course in the time spent would then be wasted, as Germans would be right back where they started when the Mediterranean Plan was proposed...
4) And while the Germans were capable of winning battles with the British, the Italians in history proved to be clearly the junior partner and while Spanish volunteers on the Eastern Front fought well, Spain had been so badly damaged by its own civil war that the Germans might have to send troops just to deter the British from landing somewhere in Spain and thus weaken their gains elsewhere. And then there were the French... While Petain and the Vichy leadership were Fascists in how they acted and collaborated with Germany at every opportunity, France was in a quasi state of civil war between the Vichy supporters who followed Petain, French Communists getting their communiques from Stalin, and the Free French serving with the Allies in exile. And while De Gaulle's forces wouldn't grow in size until after the liberation of France in 1944, the Vichy troops that fought against the Allies in Operation Torch generally gave only "half-hearted" resistance to the Allies and many also defected to the Allies and fought harder against the Germans than they did against the Allies... In that, Germany would be saddled with allies that either couldn't stand on their own in the same way Germany could or couldn't be fully trusted to stay on Germany's side.
5) There would also be a timing issue... While the Soviet Union WAS supporting Hitler, through the Ribbentrop/Molotov Pact (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moloto...ibbentrop_Pact
), that doesn't mean that the tensions between the two vanished and the Nazis suddenly loved Soviet Communism. Far from it. Axis at its heart remained violently anti-Communist. The Non-Aggression Pact was only to prevent a two front war in 1939. And after the dismal performance of the Red Army in Finland, there was a great push by the Red Army to reform and rearm itself, which many would place as being completed by 1943... Thus, the Mediterranean Plan would need to be completed and the war won before then, or else a much stronger Red Army could be poised to attack at a weakly defended Eastern Europe...
6) Despite opposing Barbarossa and bringing in the Soviets in 1941, Erich Raeder did not share that opinion with regards to the US. He was urging Hitler to declare war on America in the summer of 1941 as America responded to the U-boat war and Hitler did declare war shortly after FDR declared war on Japan... Being defeated in the Soviet Union effectively gave Britain a strong ally to draw German troops away, which was something Raeder claimed he wanted to avoid when he proposed the Mediterranean Plan... However, bringing America into the war would add to Britain's strength and present different challenges... as as far as US Chief of Staff General Marshall was concerned, the goal should be a direct attack on the French coast, NOT games in the Mediterranean.
The plan, however, never got beyond the suggestion stage and was ultimately rejected in favor of Barbarossa. As such, how well the Germans could have handled the difficulties in the Mediterranean Plan are almost purely speculative. In pure theory if the Germans had applied themselves, they could have managed it... but at best only parts of the Mediterranean Plan were put into place... and there, more to keep Italy in the war than to focus on the region...
Despite this, the fact that Barbarossa ended up leading to defeat in December 1941 has lead to some support for the Mediterranean Plan. The historian Bevin Alexander pretty much devotes How Hitler Could Have Won World War II: The Fatal Errors That Lead To Nazi Defeat
to champion Raeder's plan. He includes other possible theories with other battles... but he generally retains that the Mediterranean Plan was what could have won the war for Germany. Option 3A: Operation Otto
Following the defeat of France and even before the Battle of Britain was even decided, Hitler's thoughts seemed to turn to conquering the Soviet Union. In some ways it made sense, as Britain wasn't going to be a major threat on the continent for the foreseeable future and the Red Army had performed so badly in Finland in 1939, that it was perceived that the victory over the French, then perceived as the most powerful country in Europe, would mean that there was no way the Soviets could defeat the Germans...
The option would destroy one of Hitler's ideological and racial enemies with the perception that Soviet Communism was a Jewish conspiracy. Initial ideas for the planning for the invasion went to Erich Marcks who put forth a plan that would get its start as Operation Draft East and would also gain knowledge as Operation Otto (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erich_...ion_Draft_East
The plan, however, was only a starting point and was ultimately refined... Operation 3B: Operation Barbarossa
The shift from Operation Otto to Operation Barbarossa did not change who the Germans would be fighting. The Germans were still invading the Soviet Union, but carried a different emphasis. While the initial proposal mirrored in many ways how the Battle of France was won, they did ignore the Red Army's size, and concerned over certain risks, Hitler feared leading Germany into a Napoleonic situation of taking Moscow only to lose the war because the Russian army was not destroyed...
And that is what Barbarossa sought to change. While the ultimate capture of Moscow was still there, the operation's primary objective was to create a series of cauldron battles that would destroy the Red Army... with the final attack on Moscow drawing in the last of the Soviet reserves. And it was this option that Hitler ultimately chose...
However, the plan had its own difficulties, including:
1) The size of the Soviet Union. Immediately prior, Germany's campaigns had been against smaller countries that didn't require much to completely occupy. The Soviet Union, however, was much larger than the largest country Germany had occupied, France, by a wide margin. Germany would need to commit pretty much everything to conquer the Soviet Union which it couldn't provide with Britain still fighting... and as such, Germany would need a lot of the forces it could provide.
2) Churchill wasn't looking to the Soviets for help. While he may have decided to work with Stalin after the German invasion, Churchill had not spent a lot of time supporting the Soviet regime. As such, even if Germany succeeds in conquering the Soviet Union, it ISN'T going to mean Britain surrenders. Churchill was looking more to America, who Hitler did not have a weapon that could effectively strike at the US, let alone defeat it.
3) Conquest is only going to raise trouble for the Germans. While, yes, the German army defeated Russia in 1917, it needs to be remembered that the Russians left World War I to shoot each other in the Russian Civil War which lasted into the 20s. In that sense, Russia did more to beat itself in WWI than Germany did. Any sort of invasion in WW2 would likely need the same sort of internal help. And in theory, Stalin's rule had been harsh enough to give the Germans a chance of getting either large numbers of local volunteers or inspiring resistance to Stalin behind the Red Army's lines as a result... However, the ethnic murders inspired in the Commissar Order pretty much meant that Germany wasn't liberating the Russians but conquering them for use as slaves to Germany. This ultimately inspired many partisan units to form against the Germans for Nationalistic reasons rather than pro-Communist reasons. And while some effort was made to get local support... it wasn't enough and represented on of the major problems that plagued the Germans in the East.
4) German arrogance ran through much of the planning with many expecting the war to be won by the fall of 1941. As such, the German army wasn't given winter gear... as it was never thought to be needed. Thus when December came around, the Germans were losing as many men to frostbite as they were Soviet bullets.
5) German intelligence on the Soviets was ultimately poor. While they had good estimates for how many divisions the Soviets could start with... their estimates on what the Soviets could mobilize was heavily underestimated and even Halder admitted that Soviet troop strength was grossly underestimated in terms of its numbers.
6) Taking Moscow was not necessarily going to mean victory. It'd surely give the Soviets problems from the loss of their communications hub, but by 1941... it was clear that the Soviet Union was Stalin, and so long as he lived, the Soviet people would fight as they feared what Stalin would do if he didn't. German actions with regard to the commissar order wouldn't make that any easier... and Stalin was perfectly willing to leave Moscow in history, so unless the Germans can either kill or capture Stalin, taking Moscow might not win the war...
Many have argued over where and how Barbarossa was lost or whether or not it could have been won at all. German generals after the war claim the diversion to Kiev in August 1941 cost the Germans a shot at taking Moscow and thus winning the war. However, some may argue that the Soviets would have fought on after the fall of Moscow and that taking the Russian capital would not win the war. And the historian David Glantz would even argue that moving to Moscow instead of Kiev in August 1941 could have lead to a far greater defeat than was actually suffered in Operation Typhoon (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle...41)#Assessment
). Which Option Works the Best...
Given the strengths and weaknesses of each option, which one really worked the best for Germany?
In many ways, each could be no win options, as they couldn't land in Britain which made the direct route uneasy, the Mediterranean Plan offered great rewards but also left a lot to chance we can only speculate on... and could still fail, and the war in the Soviet Union did little to defeat Britain if anything and thus wouldn't solve the war Germany was in.
Personally, I'd tend to lean toward the Mediterranean Plan, at least as an attempt to build a coalition and would give Germany the room to strike at Britain in a way that wouldn't depend on building a huge fleet under war time conditions to try and redo the Battle of Jutland... Though... in many ways all of them could well shape into no-win scenarios...