How they were "chosen" in Ankara
Behind the Main Caucasian ridge was the main oil box of Russia. This is what Winston Churchill called the Baku oil fields back in 1919, when the prospect of their transfer to full British control was more than real. The Transcaucasian interest of the West (and Turkey is behind it) by no means weakened even in the interwar period.
Perhaps the most compelling proof of this is the well-known Fuel plan of 1940, which envisaged a joint invasion of the Transcaucasus by British, French and Turkish troops no later than mid-March 1940. This was supposed to be the real “help” to Finland, which fought with the USSR. The plan provided for the seizure of the Baku oil fields, the Baku-Tbilisi-Batumi oil pipeline, the Batumi port and the Transcaucasian railway.
The plan was disrupted by the Soviet-Finnish armistice on March 12, 1940. However, the invasion project did not go anywhere, and at the same time US President F. Roosevelt in 1942 literally imposed on Stalin the deployment of American and British air forces in the Transcaucasus. This was, of course, due to the "high vulnerability of this region to the Nazi invasion" in the summer and autumn of 1942.
From the correspondence between Roosevelt and Stalin, widely known in our country, but not in the United States and Britain, one can learn that the Americans, when proposing the deployment of their air force in the Transcaucasus, did not mention a word about the possibility of a German or Turkish invasion of the region. But it was quite real in 1942. By the fall of 1942, Turkey had mobilized up to 20 divisions equipped with German and Italian, but also British weapons, for the invasion of the Transcaucasus.
The Turkish-German Treaty of Friendship, which, fortunately, Ankara had not fulfilled, was signed just four days before the Nazi invasion of the USSR - June 18, 1941. The document entered into force from the date of signing without ratifications, but at the same time, Turkey continued to receive British weapons, and from the fall of 1942 - and American.
The ambassadors of the United States and Great Britain in Moscow explained to the leadership of the USSR the need for such supplies by the desire to induce Turkey to enter the war … against Germany. However, Ankara did this only on February 23, 1945 in order to "have time" to identify itself in the UN. And until the middle of 1944, that is, before the Allied landings in Normandy, Turkey not only provided economic assistance to Germany, but also passed the military and merchant ships of Germany and Italy through the straits in both directions.
In the summer and autumn of 1942, Turkey's military provocations became noticeably more frequent on the land and sea borders with the USSR. It is not easy to judge how much this influenced the failures of the Soviet troops in the Crimea and the North Caucasus, but the delegations of the Turkish Ministry of Defense and the General Staff too regularly "visited" German troops on the Soviet front in 1942 and 1943. In Turkey itself, at that time, pan-Turkist, in fact, pro-German agents became more active.
Most likely, we should still pay tribute to the Turkish leadership for not entering the war. However, the Turks themselves should also be grateful either to fate or to their allies for this. After all, they also remembered who was the first to come to their aid in the early 1920s, when the real threat of partition of the former Ottoman Empire loomed. This was Soviet Russia.
Turkish President Ismet Inon cannot be denied "flexibility"
The very fact that Ankara's policy was rather peculiar in its flexibility was acknowledged, albeit indirectly, by Turkish President Ismet Inonu, speaking on November 1, 1945 at the opening of the 3rd session of the national parliament of the 7th convocation:
In some places in the USSR, it was argued that while advancing the Germans to the Volga, we interfered with the Soviets by concentrating our forces on our eastern borders.
But more specifically, the position of Turkey in the early 1940s was explained by Franz von Papen, the German ambassador to Ankara in those years. He was surprisingly acquitted at the Nuremberg trials.
F. von Papen once competed with Hitler for the post of German chancellor, but during the war he "served" in Ankara
In a dispatch to the German Foreign Ministry (March 1942), he noted:
As President Inonu assured me, "Turkey is highly interested in the destruction of the Russian colossus." And that "Turkey's neutral position is already much more advantageous for the Axis countries than for England," the president said."
And the allies of the USSR also took part in these discussions in Turkey - through the British ambassador H. Natubull-Hugessen and the American L. Steingard.
In this regard, the information of the portal “World of the Turkish Coalition”, which is clearly oriented towards “Pan-Turkism”, dated October 17, 2018, is also interesting:
von Papen had to play a triple game in Ankara: an ambassador, Hitler's secret envoy and a representative of the alleged "opposition". The main partners in the game were the American, British ambassadors and the Vatican nuncio. Pope Pius XII, like the Fuhrer, sent to Turkey not a simple clergyman, but a talented diplomat and "apparatchik". All this was already seriously frightening Moscow.
Moscow did not dare to take military measures against such actions of Turkey, so as not to provoke it into official military support for Berlin. The western allies of the USSR stubbornly refused to join the Soviet protests about Ankara's flagrant violations of official Turkish neutrality in favor of Germany and Italy - for example, to the corresponding notes of the Soviet government to Turkey on July 12, August 14, 1941, and November 4, 1942.
In March 1942, headquarters exercises were held in Transcaucasia, in which Turkey was in the role of the enemy. The actions of the Red Army began, according to the scenario of the exercises, with an attack on eastern Turkey from the Black Sea coast of this region and ended with the capture of Oltu, Sarikamish, Trabzon and Erzurum, more precisely, all of eastern Turkey and most of the eastern Turkish Black Sea ports.
But these exercises did not provide for the admission of observers from the United States and Great Britain. Thus, Moscow made it clear that it did not trust the Allies' policy towards Turkey and did not forget about the plan to invade Transcaucasia in 1940 ("Fuel"). At the session of the Council of Allied Foreign Ministers, held in October 1943 in Moscow, Stalin declared that
Turkish neutrality, which at one time was beneficial to the Allies, is now beneficial to Hitler. For it covers the German rear in the Balkans.
What will Comrade Stalin say to this?
But the Allied delegations did not react to this statement in any way. Taking into account all these factors, Washington and London seem to have prepared the ground either for the implementation of the same Fuel plan, or in order to get ahead of Turkey in its possible seizure of strategic objects in the Transcaucasus. Let us cite in this connection documents from the already mentioned correspondence between Stalin and Roosevelt during the war years.
October 9, 1942, Roosevelt to Stalin:
I have received a copy of the message from the British Prime Minister addressed to you. We are going to act as soon as possible to provide you with an air force that will operate under your strategic command in the Caucasus.
Without waiting for Stalin's response to such a proposal, the President of the United States spoke more specifically about military plans in the Transcaucasus. Already on October 12, 1942, Roosevelt informed Stalin:
Our group of heavy bombers has been ordered to immediately prepare for operations on your southern flank. The implementation of this event will not depend on any other operation or task (that is, the Transcaucasian project has a higher priority. - Author's note), and these planes, as well as a sufficient number of transports, will be sent to the Caucasus in the near future.
Note that two weeks before this letter, the Wehrmacht almost blockaded Dzaudzhikau, the capital of North Ossetia. That is, the shortest route to the Transcaucasus was under a real threat of capture by the Nazis. The Americans, on the other hand, proposed options for basing the allied air forces in Batumi, Tbilisi, Baku, Julfa, the main transit point for lend-lease supplies through Iran, and in Azerbaijani Lankaran, a port near the border with Iran. But Stalin continued to ignore these proposals.
Which, of course, offended Roosevelt. A fragment of his letter to Stalin dated December 16, 1942:
It is not clear to me exactly what happened in relation to our proposal for American air assistance in the Caucasus. I am quite ready to send connections with American pilots and crews. I think that they should operate in the composition of the formations under the command of their American commanders, but each group in terms of tactical goals would, of course, be under general Russian command.
What I mean is basically bomber-type aircraft that can be airlifted to the Caucasus on their own. (From Iran and Iraq. - Author's note)
Finally, Stalin clarified this issue, albeit without a hint of understanding the true intentions of the Allies. In his letter to Roosevelt, dated December 18, 1942, it is noted:
I am very grateful to you for your willingness to help us. As for the Anglo-American squadrons with flight personnel, at the moment there is no need to send them to the Transcaucasus. Now the main battles are being played out and will be fought on the Central Front and in the Voronezh region.
However, Roosevelt subsequently no longer proposed to re-target the American squadrons assigned to Transcaucasia to the directions named by Stalin. It is not hard to assume that American plans to "protect" that region from the Wehrmacht were timed to coincide with a possible invasion of the same region by Turkish troops. Then, together with the allies, cut off the Transcaucasia from the USSR and seize, first of all, the oil resources of the region and the Caspian-Black Sea corridor. But it didn't happen …