Steven Li: The Battle for the Caucasus
In the Summer of 1942, Adolf Hitler issued a directive to build on the advances made in Operation Barbarossa calling for the Germans to begin an advance towards the Southern Caucasus region, code-named Operation Edelweiss. Hitler eyed the luscious oil fields of Baku in Azerbaijan as he believed the war would be won by those who controlled the oil and raw materials—irreplaceable war resources; manufacturing and commerce could be easily and quickly restored. Therefore, Baku was chosen as the primary target of the 1942 summer offensive as it would not only provide all the oil the Nazis needed, but also deprive the Soviets of this valuable resource.
An estimated 70 - 80 percent of all Soviet oil came from Baku, while about a quarter came from Grozny in Chechnya and Maykop in the Adygean Republic of the Caucasus, north of Baku. The Caucasus also provided the majority of food to the USSR. Additionally the ports on the Black and Caspian Seas handled 55 percent of the exports and 50 percent of the imports of the Soviets before the war. During the war, the Caspian port was the second most important port in the supply of munitions, food, and raw materials from the British and United States.
The Caucasus was also inhabited by many ethnic groups and Soviet socialist republics such as Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia that separated neutral Turkey with Russia, and connected Russia to the Mediterranean Sea through the Black Sea. Thus, the region was of high strategic value for the Germans primarily due to the vast oil fields of Baku, but also because of the region’s importance in the Russian supply line and geographical position cutting off ties between the Soviet Union and its Allies such as the United States and Great Britain. The Germans therefore focused heavily on an operation in the South for the Caucasus. The loss of the Caucasus would spell disaster for the Russians, yet, the conflict is significantly outshined in Western media and history discussion of WWII by events such as the invasion of Normandy and the Battle of Stalingrad.
Not only was the importance of the conflict in the Caucasus severely overlooked, the impact of the ethnic groups within the Southern Caucasus region on the Soviet war effort deserve greater recognition. The traditionally Muslim ethnic groups of the Northern Caucasus led armed resistances against the Soviet Union, and therefore did not serve in the military until their forced conscription in 1939. However, Soviet leaders distrusted these conscripted soldiers and often questioned their loyalty. The soldiers also deserted at a rate far higher than Red Army Soldiers in any other region. Thus, their forced conscription ended in 1942. However, the people of the Southern Caucasus of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan were pro-Soviet Union, and provided significant assistance to the Soviets in the Caucasus conflict. The Soviet leaders could depend on Transcaucasians, and did not question their loyalty. Many Transcaucasians volunteered to serve, and women and older men filled vacancies in oil drilling jobs left by men in the Red Army. Their valiant efforts against the Nazis go unnoticed—if they were similarly noncompliant like those in the Northern Caucasus, the Soviet war effort would have suffered from the lack of manpower in the army and workers in the oil fields that could have resulted in devastating consequences on the outcome of the war.
Operation Edelweiss was thus born out of the German desire to cripple the Red Army and take the prolific oil fields of the Caucasus for themselves. Hitler allocated the majority of the forces in the offensive towards fighting within the Caucasus to take the oil-rich fields of Baku, but reserved a force for an operation that would culminate in the surrounding of Stalingrad, as it was a large industrial hub for the Russians. General Franz Halder of Germany wrote in his diary that the “war will be decided in the east,” referring to the German offensive in the Caucasus - by conquering Baku, the Nazis would conquer the Soviets. Hence, the Germans concluded it was of the utmost importance that they capture the oilfields in Baku, Maykop, and Grozny, while converging on Stalingrad as well. When Hitler planned the offensive in July of 1942, he hoped the Germans would capture the oilfields of Baku by November of the same year. Hitler’s timeline was incredibly optimistic. largely due to the lack of German manpower in the east. There were an estimated 740,000 vacancies in the Eastern Army in June of 1942 because of the heavy losses suffered during the Soviet winter counteroffensive. The only solution was to fill the vacancies with the drafting of industry workers, calling on the help of nearly every member of the army reserve, and the preemptive admission into the forces of the class of 1923 (18-19 year olds), who were still in training. Still, the Germans continued to suffer from an immense manpower issue. Despite the overly unreasonable schedule and manpower struggle, Hitler was adamant on the invasion of the oilfields of Baku deeming them essential for a Germany victory as it would stretch Russian supply lines thin and worsen an already precarious food situation.
The operation to arrive at Stalingrad was wildly successful for the Germans, as they had quickly arrived at the city in about a month. The Russians understood the industrial importance of Stalingrad, and moved to quickly fortify the city by building bunkers, gun emplacements, trenches, and by evacuating livestock and food supplies from the city. The Soviets intended to make a stand at Stalingrad while defending the Caucasus as well. Hitler reactively split his forces into two groups: Army Group A would consist of three groups, the primary group would fight from recently captured Rostov southwards down the coast of the Black Sea in the west, eliminating essential ports and the Black Sea Fleet. They would work in conjunction with specially trained mountain infantry who would take the western passes of the Caucasus mountain ranges. A third group would work its way south from the north east of Transcaucasia, capturing Grozny. This would culminate in all three groups attacking Baku along the Caspian Sea in the east. The other group, Army Group B, was simply tasked with occupying Stalingrad.
Hitler and his Generals committed a colossal tactical error - by splitting the two forces, both had an inadequate amount of manpower and support both aerially, and through an underdeveloped supply line. Army Group B especially did not have the manpower to take Stalingrad while Army Group A subsequently suffered as well as resources and supply lines ran thin. Army Group A had no reserves, while also suffering from a shortage in ammunition, shells, and grenades. The Luftwaffe -the German air force- was also stretched far too thin to be useful on both sub-fronts. They were expected to decimate Stalingrad as well as disrupt shipping operations on the Volga River, while also aiding the advance to the Black Sea coast and fight against the Black Sea Navy in tandem with the German Navy. The varied tasks across the vast Caucasus caused the Luftwaffe to be a nuisance at best, as they were unable to focus on a central location, and therefore incapable of finding success at any of their duties. Army Group A was also allocated additional transport and fuel as Hitler considered their operation to have greater importance, thereby delaying the transport of necessary munitions for Army Group B to attack Stalingrad, giving the Soviet Red Army more time to strengthen their defenses in the city. Hitler’s advisors believed concentrating the forces on an attack on Stalingrad and then fighting in the Caucasus was the better plan. Hitler refused, and said, “If I do not get the oil from Maykop and Grozny I must end this war.”
The German offensive of Army Group A commenced with the deployment of the 49th Mountain Corps, led by Rudolf Konrad, to take the initial passes of the Middle Caucasus region for the Nazis. The subsequent conflict that ensued was ridden with tactical mishaps and severe mismanagement on both sides. The 49th Mountain Corps advanced toward Sukhumi, the capital of Abkhazia or modern-day Georgia with tourist guidebooks in place of maps. The largest map acquired was in the scale of 1:200,000, far too small for tactical planning. The Germans concluded that the most effective path towards the Southern Caucasus was through the Sukhumi military road. However, they did not have the proper surveillance to deduce that the road was paved for a mere 40 kilometers, with the subsequent 105 kilometers consisting of narrow cart pathways. Therefore, the majority of distance covered would be on foot and supplying the German force would prove to be challenging.
The mountainous terrain proved logistically challenging for the Germans when considering supply lines and reconnaissance. However, the Germans brazenly decided to risk a strike across the Middle Caucasus on the element of surprise. A drawn out conflict was not an option. Although the Germans were far superior when compared soldier-to-soldier to the Soviets, the Soviets vastly outnumbered the German force. The Soviets also had undisputed aerial superiority in the region, and ample time to prepare fortifications.
To the credit of the Soviets, they ordered the strengthening of forces in the mountains of the Caucasus long before the Germans approached the region. They sent soldiers to the area for extensive training and surveillance of the area, with dissent punishable by death. If the Soviets had followed the deadlines and mandates, they would have nearly impenetrable defenses by the time the Germans were approaching. However, the Red Army failed miserably to properly fortify essential chokepoints, train troops, and provide essential equipment. The troops not only had no combat experience in the mountains, they lived in settlements a few kilometers away from their fortification locations. These settlements were all at much lower altitudes, meaning when the Soviets ventured to engage the Germans at essential locations, the soldiers were unacclimated to the high-altitude air—where there is far less oxygen—causing exhaustion and insomnia. Furthermore, the cheap Soviet shovels bent when digging in dry soil, making entrenching themselves in the rocky mountainside impossible. The Red Army also did not have adequate radio communications, relying upon a traditional communication method - hand delivery. This meant correspondence between higher command and outposts took several days causing commanders to be oblivious to both the enemy’s position, as well as their own. Finally, the Soviets allocated two to three maps per regiment of one to two thousand men. Generally, the advised practice is to have a map per platoon when fighting in mountainous regions, meaning one map per 20 to 50 men.
At the Klukhor pass, the most important of the regional passes, the soldiers initially did not dig in, believing that the natural landscape provided sufficient protection from the Germans. They eventually dug trenches sufficient for just one company of a few dozen men. The attack was also not a surprise for the Soviets as they had encountered a group of retreating Russians, who were so demoralized, they did not have the capacity to continue fighting the Germans. When German Captain Harald von Hirschfeld arrived, the defenders were already panicked at the sight of the state of their comrades. Hirschfeld decided to encircle the pass, and surprise the Soviets from behind. The Germans reportedly killed 80 percent of the hundreds of defenders, suffering just 41 casualties. The ratio in losses was likely 1 to 30 in favor of the Germans, showing just how easily the Germans took the important pass. The Germans subsequently took the next pass at Nakhar, continuing along the Klych valley where they were eventually stalled upon the arrival of additional Soviet reinforcements.
Similar scenes played out at all other passes, allowing easy entry for the Germans. The tactical mishaps and negligent behavior by the Soviet high command such as the inadequacy of troops, supplies, and communication in the Red Army led to an unexpected quick defeat at the hands of the outnumbered Germans in prime fortification locations allowing entry into the crucial region.
The Red Army fortunately understood the crippling issues their initial defense of the Caucasus suffered from, and sought to quickly escape their predicament. The People’s Commissar of the Interior Lavrentii Beria spearheaded the revision of Soviet mountain-defense. He requested 110 radios for the defenders, as well as assigning ten officers with the sole responsibility of communicating with the Soviet Headquarters. Beria also educated officers on mountain warfare theory and strategies utilizing doctrines written by Alexander Suvorov, who is considered one of the greatest Russian military commanders of all time. He ordered climbing training, as the Germans were able to exploit the Russians at Klukhor by climbing rocks the Russians dared not occupy, instead favoring plateaus. Beria also understood the soldiers needed to eat light, calorie dense foods to thrive in the mountainous terrain.
Lavrentii Beria’s improvements greatly benefitted the Russian fighting capabilities in the mountains of the Caucasus region by remedying glaring problems. The Soviets also attempted to slow the German advance through the mountains of the Caucasus by using explosives to block off pathways. These demolitions did not work particularly well, as they merely created more pathways, but the Soviets did not know, as they could only view the passes from a distance. Furthermore, in a psychotic frenzy, the Soviets began demolishing passes that they still controlled, even after discovering the demolitions did not impede the Germans. Finally, to the dismay of many at the front lines, Soviet high command delivered anti-tank mines and a total of 138 anti-tank rifles and heavy ammunition to the passes. A horse carriage could not pass the narrow trails, let alone a tank. Alternatively, the Germans built nearly impregnable fortifications on Soviet passes. In the rare event of a retreat, they laid anti-personnel mines that proved to be deadly against Soviet soldiers, causing restlessness and immense caution amongst the Soviet Army.
The Red Army discovered the complete lack of German aerial operations in the region, and used their obsolete I-15 and I-153 biplanes to wreak havoc on German positions. Luckily, the two planes’ lack of speed allowed them to travel between narrow gorges inaccessible to more modern planes. The Soviets dropped as many as 1000 bombs over the German occupied Sancharo and Mahrukh regions. The outdated planes could also operate from narrow and short runways, allowing them to evacuate wounded soldiers and deliver munitions effectively; In contrast, the German Luftwaffe did not supply or aid the Germans in the Caucasus mountain ranges.
After substantial Soviet improvements in their military effectiveness in the Caucasus, victory finally came for the Soviets after the Germans, understanding they could not fight a prolonged battle, sent a battalion of around 1000 men to wrap around the Klych valley, flanking the Soviets. A Soviet cavalry patrol encountered the battalion in the dead of night, allowing for an early warning and subsequent surrounding of the German forces. After this defeat, the previously triumphant German commanders began to fret over the Soviet defense, and the German advance stalled. After the Soviets had previously arrived at the entry of the Caucasus with inadequate equipment such as proper clothing, cooking supplies, and tents, they inevitably suffered defeat after defeat resulting from their insufficient equipment and low morale. The leadership of Lavrentii Beria pulled the Red Army up by their bootstraps, allowing for a decisive termination of the German advance through the Middle Caucasus mountain ranges.
Although the Russians had stopped the German advance in the mountains, they found less success in the Northern Front. The first and northernmost Caucasian oil city fell to the Germans, Maykop. The goal of the summer campaign appeared to be within reach for the Germans. However, the mountainous terrain of the oil fields proved challenging for the German reconstruction effort to rebuild the facilities they had previously destroyed. The Russians also attacked from the air and natives sabotaged reconstruction efforts as well, impeding the Germans from using Maykop for themselves. The Soviets also proactively evacuated all stocks of oil, petrol and kerosene, clogged all oil wells, and partially evacuated or buried drilling equipment, further curbing the German reconstruction efforts.
After Maykop, the German advance remained focused on capturing Grozny, subsequently moving towards Baku along the Georgian Military Highway. Issues arose in the decision of the Germans’ next step. All strategies theorized by the Germans were either too costly, too time consuming, or both. Furthermore, Hitler withdrew the 16th Motorized Division to assist the attack on Stalingrad, weakening the German advance.
Eventually, the Germans settled on a quick, surprise attack on Grozny, where the Germans believed the refineries were still operational. Unfortunately for the Germans, they not only lacked manpower, aerial superiority, and reinforcements, the Russians were increasing in strength by the day. By September, the Soviets were able to inflict heavy casualties upon the Germans, completely stopping the German advance. This frustrated the German Command as it gave the Soviets valuable time to strengthen the Transcaucasian front. The logical choice for the Germans would be to divert some of their forces at Stalingrad towards the more valuable oil fields of the Southern Caucasus region. However, the troops at Stalingrad found themselves in need of heavy reinforcements as well. After costly fighting, the Germans made insignificant advancements, and their outnumbered forces opted to settle in the eastern Caucasus for the winter.’
The Germans were able to take the preliminary Caucasus mountain passes with relative ease, however, they were met with far greater resistance the lower they descended. General Rudolf Konrad of the Germans wrote to the Headquarters advising the Germans allocate minimal forces to defend the passes they took and cease their advance, instead of the German plan to fight until Tuapse, a Russian town near Georgia. Hitler was furious when he heard of General Konrad’s advice, and consequently replaced him.
Tuapse was strategically important for the Germans because it was along the coast of the Black Sea. By conquering the Tuapse area, the Russians would be deprived of its Navy in the Black sea, as well as its bases and ports in the region. Once the Black Sea on the west was out of the hands of the Soviets, they would advance towards Baku in the southeast. Soviet General Andrei Grechko argues,
"A successful breakthrough to Tuapse would have enabled the Germans to cut off and encircle the 47th and the 56th Armies of the Black Sea Group. By doing so they would have been in a position to narrow the front by some 200 kilometres and transfer about 10 divisions for an attack along the Black Sea coast. They could have captured the Tsemess Bay, the ports of Gelenjik and Tuapse, the Novorossiysk-Sea coast, entered Transcaucasia, seized the remaining Soviet naval bases on the Black Sea and subsequently mounted an offensive on Kutaisi and Tbilisi"
General Grechko understood the dangers of a successful advance at Tuapse, and mounted a heavy stand against the Germans. However, after just four more days of fighting after Konrad’s letter, Hitler ordered the end of the German offensive in the region.
The Russians thus began a costly counter-offensive attempting to retake their positions in the Caucasus mountains. The Soviets finally provided their troops with adequate equipment and rest, instating combat tours of five days with 10 days of rest between. But, the Soviets subsequently did not find success in Klukhor, sustaining more than 2000 casualties. In Marukh, they also suffered close to 2000 casualties. Similarly in Elbrus, the Soviets did not make any progress. The toughest battle occurred at Sancharo near Georgia, but was also the first success of the counteroffensive where Soviets were able to gain control of some, but still an insignificant amount of land. The Soviets suffered from the same predicaments during the counteroffensive that plagued them during the defense of the Caucasus. The Russian 242nd Mountain Division that occupied the Caucasus consisted of Georgians from the plains of the Ordzhonikidze region and Ukrainians, who both were in the mountains for the first time, and could not ski and scored abysmally on marksmanship tests because of their insufficient training.
The Soviets and Germans largely remained at a costly stalemate after the unsuccessful counteroffensive, with each side making little to no progress for a substantial portion of the conflict. In December, German high command suggested the withdrawal of Army Group A from the Caucasus as they were at risk of becoming surrounded as the consequence of a successful Soviet counteroffensive in Stalingrad. Likely falling victim to the sunk-cost fallacy, Hitler refused to withdraw troops until a month after in January as a result of his generals’ pleading. The complete withdrawal of troops was completed by the end of the month—barely quick enough for them to escape the fate Army Group B suffered from, complete decimation at Stalingrad. The quest for Soviet raw-materials proved to be incredibly unsuccessful as the only significant oil refinery captured, Maykop, produced a negligible amount of oil - just 7 tonnes. The Germans lost 10,000 tonnes of irreplaceable drilling equipment when abandoning Maykop, marking the complete flop of the conflict in the Caucasus for the Germans, juxtaposing with the heroic Soviet defense. Army Group A retreated northwards, joined the retreating forces from Stalingrad, and were defeated. The tactical advantage shifted towards the Russians, who remained on the offensive for the remainder of the war. The Germans never achieved their goal of capturing the oil-rich fields of Azerbaijan through the stoic Soviet and Transcaucasian war efforts. The Germans lost about 100,000 troops during their invasion into the Caucasus with an unknown amount of sick or wounded, while the Soviets sustained more than 140,000 with more than 170,000 sick or wounded. Despite the fact that from a numerical standpoint the Soviets appear to have lost the engagement, retaining control of the priceless Caucasus region supersedes the casualties suffered, marking a Soviet victory.
Although the Soviets were only successful in retaking their lost lands as a result of the withdrawal of troops to avoid their surrounding in the event of a defeat at Stalingrad, the importance of their valiant defense of the Caucasus against the far better equipped and trained Germans is often overlooked in the Eastern Front of WWII. Their equipment and training was grossly inadequate, as they were not provided with proper clothes, sleeping arrangements, and food to name a few. Yet, they continued to successfully defend the oil rich fields within Azerbaijan as their defeat would leave the Russians without fuel. Additionally, if the coastline surrounding the Black and Caspian Seas were captured, the Soviets would be cut off from British and American war supplies. If the Soviets did not have access to an estimated 95% of their fuel production as well as over half of their imported supplies from their allies, the Nazis would undoubtedly steamroll through Russia. The Allies would therefore have very few options delivering supplies to the Russians, while Russia’s own supply lines would be rendered useless from the lack of fuel.
Without the prolific Russian railways and vehicles that were essential for the Russian war effort, the Russians would be incapable of fighting for more than a few weeks. They relied on railways transporting ammunition, food, equipment, artillery, and troops to and from the frontlines supplied by the allies. If their railways and ports in the Black Sea were rendered unoperational, or captured because of a successful German conquest of Transcaucasia, the Red Army would crumble. They would suffer from immense, irreparable shortages that would slowly whittle away their Army. Coupled with the German Blitzkrieg, the Russians were not likely to put up a meaningful fight against the German advance into their homeland. The Germans would have easily strolled through Russia, and the majority forces on the German Eastern Front could be diverted towards the west.
Suppose the Germans had taken the Caucasus by 1943, a realistic two year conquest. They could then allocate most of their manpower to the west, occupying France, or even launching an attack onto the British mainland while starving the Russians. The Russians relied heavily on Allied relief and raw materials found in the Caucasus both for equipment, and for food. Therefore, the Germans would not have to allocate a significant amount of resources to either quell, or conquer the Soviets while all the allies could do was watch, as taking the Caucasus would leave few options to resupply the Soviets, especially since the Allies would first have to cross Nazi occupied Europe to liberate the Russians.
The Germans were unable to take the Caucasus, and suffered from immense manpower shortages stemming from the war on two fronts, had they not, the Allies would likely not have been able to advance quickly and successfully in the aftermath of D-Day. The Germans suffered defeat after defeat in the months following D-Day because they were fighting a war on two fronts, with the Soviets advancing from the East, and the allies advancing from the west. If all troops allocated towards the Eastern front fought on the Western front, with all of the German resistance focused on impeding the Allies, the war likely would have continued for far longer, resulting in far greater casualties on both sides. Brilliant misinformation allowed for success at D-Day, and greater troops on the Western Front likely would not prevent the initial assault. But, the Battle of Normandy would have continued for far longer than in the history books had the German force been solely focused on the Western Front simply because they could allocate greater manpower and resources to the front.
The Germans bolstered approximately four million troops on the Eastern Front in 1943, had three of those four million troops been relocated towards the Western Front after the steamrolling or atleast subduing of the Russians in the East, the Battle of Normandy in 1944 could have been wildly unsuccessful for the Allies. The Germans had approximately two million troops in 1944 on the Western front and bolstered a fighting force of 380,000 troops in Normandy. If the Germans were not preoccupied with the Soviet Front, they likely would have far more troops awaiting the Allied advance in Normandy, or the subsequent battles that made up Operation Overlord - the Allied advance to Berlin. If the Germans added just half of the Russian fighting force to the West after a victory over the Russians, they would double their fighting power, undoubtedly making an allied advance far more difficult, and inducing far greater casualties for both sides. Although it is impossible to accurately predict the result of a German conquest of the Caucasus, and its subsequent events, it is evident the Germans would gain a significant advantage over the Red Army if they controlled Soviet Ports, 95% of the Soviet oil, and the majority of their food imports and production, the course of the war would be significantly altered, with Russia likely being overrun, or heavily subdued.
The German Blitzkrieg strategy that successfully occupied Europe at the onset of the war heavily utilized the abilities of the Luftwaffe and Panzer Tanks to wreak havoc on their enemies at the cost of extensive fuel consumption. The Germans utilized fast, vehicle-based attacks that shocked the enemy with heavy usage of mechanized infantry such as tanks, and planes (Blitz - lightning, Krieg - war). These successful attacks came at the cost of heavy fuel consumption, meaning the Germans utilized the tactic sparingly. The Germans required around 7.25 million barrels of oil per month in 1941, while only being capable of producing 5.35 million per month. In May of 1941, German High Command estimated they would run out their oil stores in August of the same year—just three months. The Germans were able to continue in the war from the confiscated oil acquired in Europe, but soon turned towards Russia. Maykop, Grozny, and Baku produced 19, 32, and 170 million barrels of oil per year, respectively— far more than enough to supply the German war machine. Without the need to worry about fuel for the remainder of the war, the Germans would therefore gain a significant tactical advantage if the oil fields of the Caucasus were conquered.
The Soviets would therefore be subjugated to heavy supply line complications, as they would rapidly expend their oil reserves. Without their oil reserves, the Russian railways that transported soldiers and munitions across the country would become impractical, or cease to exist, simply from the lack of oil. The Russians would consequently not have fuel to supply their Navy, ground transportation such as cars and tanks, and their Air Force, also rendering them obsolete after their oil stores ran dry. The only workaround would be a costly, and potentially fruitless counteroffensive into the easily defendable Caucasus, or alternatively solely relying on Russia’s northern ports. At the northern ports, the Allied supply ships were subject to frequent attacks from the German Armada. Over the course of the conflict, the Allies lost 85 merchant vessels and 16 warships, sinking just four German warships and 30 submarines in the process during resupply attempts. The Allies also could not attempt a proper breakthrough of the Germans by seizing full control of the waters because they were logistically unable to fight in a second front in the east, but supplied the Soviets through Arctic convoys. Although these aided the Russians, they would not be able to transport munitions they received without oil. The Allies would then have to ship oil as well, reducing the amount of other munitions such as rifles, ammunition, or food that could be sent. Therefore, if the Nazis conquered the Caucasus, the Russians likely would have been overrun early on in the war as a result of losing the copious amounts of natural resources and ports in the region. This theoretically would have devastating consequences, as the Nazis could have reached the Japanese in Asia, allowing the Axis to effectively control most of the WWII Theater and thus significantly alter the course of the war.
Had the Germans attained unrestricted access to oil allowing them to deploy their costly but effective Blitzkrieg, far greater Allied casualties would ensue. With unlimited access to fuel, the Nazis could relentlessly wreak havoc to all of Europe and advance into Asia with little concern. This undoubtedly would result in far greater Allied and civilian deaths. Hence, even though the Soviets suffered more casualties in the conflict, they prevented far greater casualties through the defense of the vital oil fields of the Caucasus.
Although the loss of the Caucasus would likely not alter the overall course of the war and the victors because of the American development of the atom bomb that would definitively mark the end of WWII no matter the condition of the war, the Soviet defense deserves far greater commereration, along with the contributions of the native people of Transcaucasia because of the strategic importance of the Caucasus both for the Germans, and the Soviets. The people in the Northern Caucasus were fervently opposed to Soviet rule, and did little to aid the war against the Germans until their forced conscription. However, the people of the Southern Caucasus embraced Soviet culture and eagerly joined the ranks of the Russians defending their homeland. Approximately 1/5th of he Azerbaijani population or an estimated 600,000-800,000 men served in the Soviet military defending their homeland, with women and the elderly comprising around 60 per cent of the oil workers - their primary contribution to the Soviet war effort. About 700,000 ethnic Georgians also served in the ranks of the Red Army. Finally, about 300,000 - 500,000 Armenians served as well. The assistance of the civilians and soldiers from Transcaucasia was greatly beneficial in the Battle of the Caucasus even from just a manpower standpoint. However, the civilians further assisted the Soviets; in the case of Azerbaijan, most men of age served within the Army, while women and older men found new professions in their oil industry additionally assisting the Russians and preventing a greatly detrimental Nazi victory. It is unfair and inaccurate to attribute victory at the Caucasus to a specific event or group of people, but the final outcome had far greater impact than currently recognized.
The valiant Soviet defense and contributions of the Transcaucasian people at the Battle of the Caucasus is greatly overlooked in American and Western European historiography, as the loss of the Caucasus clearly would cause a vastly different unfolding of events in the European Theater, providing the Germans a substantial advantage over the Soviets, and potentially altering the course of the Western Front as well largely because of the tactical significance of the Black Sea ports, Caspian ports, and primarily, the oil fields of Baku. The heavy Soviet reliance on the import of goods into Caucasia, as well as the copious amounts of oil produced by Baku meant the Soviet loss of the Caucasus would have an extensive impact on the Russian war effort, unquestionably creating an advantageous position for the Germans that could have culminated in a completely different outcome of events in WWII that favored the Axis. The Germans would also never need to worry about oil consumption, allowing them to employ their vehicle-reliant Blitzkrieg strategy without fear. Thus, the efforts of the Soviets, the people of the Southern Caucasus, and the entire conflict in the Caucasus deserve greater appreciation in Western history because its loss would have dramatic history-altering consequences that favored the Nazis.
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