*** World War II -- Operation Sea Lion

World War II: Operation Sea Lion -- Seeloewe (June-September 1940)

Operation Sea Lion
Figure 1.--This may be the first serious discussion of ivading Britain. The photograph was taken sureptiopusly by guard Gerhard Hartmann at the Wolf's Ravine, Hitler's Headquarters in occupied Belgium (June 20). France would capitulate within days. Hitler and Göring with the French defeated are turning their attention to Britain. Hitler who had constabntly pressed his generals on Poland and the Western Offensive, did not show this level of impatience or concern over details when it came to Operation Sea Lion.

"The English are wondering, they are asking, 'Why doesn't he come?' Be patient! Be patient! We are coming! We are coming!" -- Adolf Hitler, September 4, 1940

The German plan to invade Britain after the fall of France was code named Opertation Sea Lion. The BEF had managed to escape capture at Dunkirk, but had to abandon their heavy equiment. This mean that while Britain still had its army, it was an unarmed army. The American Naval Attaché reported that the Britih were no more prepared to defend the coast than Long Island. The British asked for surplus World War I destroyers, but President Roosevelt was not yet ready to authorize this. He did ask General Marshall to find surplus arms, mostly small arms, that could be rushed to Britain. [Freidel, p. 336.] The Gernmans were also unprepared. The Wehrmacht had not anticipated the dimensions of their victory in France. There had been no planning for an invasion of Britain. Bliztkrieg was essentially modern warfare, rapid land movement supported by aircraft. There was, however, no naval component. The Panzers stopped at the Channel ports. The Kriegsmarine received less support than the other two services. It did not have the capability to tke on the Royal Navy for a Channel crossing. And Hitler was unsure of the operation from the beginning. He confided in Admiral Raeder, "On land I am a hero. At sea I am a coward." And with France defeated, he wanted to ebnd the war in the West and prepare for his ulimate objective, seizing Lenbenraum in the East. He was still unaware how the his bad faith over Czechoslovakia had changed Britain, even appeasers like Chamberlain. Hitler hoped that he could bring about a British Vichy without an invasion. And he was willing to guarantee the Empire if Britain would accept a German-dominated continent. His vision was in part racial, seeing in Briain Aryan stiock that would eventually come to terms with Aryan Germany. It is not clear to what extent Hitler ever seriously contemplated an invasion. Here historians disagree. Some believe he simply wanted to threaten the British, asuming that they would agree to seek terms. Hitler believed that at least threantening invasion would force the issue. With France defeted, Hitler ordered his generals to organize the invasion of Britain.Without the needed naval forces, the Luftwaffe would be used to prepare for the invasion. Air superority over the channel and southeaster England would have to be achieved. Hitler ordered the Lufwaffe to destroy the RAF. Göring assured him that this could be easily accomplished.

Dunkirk (May 1940)

As the Panzers cut accross France, the British decided to evacuate the BEF. About 400,000 British an French soldiers began to fall back on Dunkirk. At this time the BEF was still within Hitler's grasp. It was not just the number of men that were at stake. The BEF was the professional core--the heart of the British Army. The men of the BEF would be the officers and NCOs of the British army that would eventually play an important role in defeating the Germans. The loss of the BEF would hsve crippled the Bitish war effort if not forced the British to seek terms. Churchill warned the Commons that it "should prepare itself for hard and heavy tidings". The Panzers were only a few miles south of Dunkirk and facing no serious opposition. Hitler ordered the Panzers to halt. Some believe that he hoped this gesture would help convince the British to comes to terms, other believe that is was just as it was described at the time, aneeded pause to regroup and prepare for a more coordinated assault. [Davidson, p. 408 and Fest, p. 630.] What ever the reason, this 48-hour respite allowed the British to organize a defensive perimter around Dunkirk and begin an almost miraculous withdawl. Although King Leopold III surended the Belgian Army, the French First Army delayed the Germans. The BEF fell back toward Dunkirk, abandoing their equipment along the roads. Nearly 340,000 men were evacuated from Dunkirk, including French and Dutch soldiers. This is even more important that it sounds as akmost all if the British sholdiers were regulars and would form the corps of the future British Army that would play such an important role in the War. All of the BEF's equipment, however, was lost and there was no replacemments for the lost equipment waiting for them back in England.

Fall of France (May-June 1940)

The Germans proceeded to conquer virtually all of Western Europe. After a few months of the "Phony War", France's turn came. The Germans struck on a wide front against the neutral Netherlands, Belgiym, and Luxemburg. The terror bombing of Rotterdam convinced the already hard-pressed Dutch Army to surrender. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) rushed north to aid the Dutch. The Germans then struck in the Belgian Ardenes which allowed them to avoid the formidable Maginot Line. The French and Belgians considered the Ardenes impassable to tanks. The Germans managed to easily penetrate the rough terraine, crossed two substantial rivers, and the XIX Panzer Corps rapidly reached the English Channel--cutting the BEF off from the French and rendering the Maginot Line uselss. The French entrenched behind the Maginot Line simply could not cope with the exposive highly mobil style of Blitzkrieg warfare. The Panzers surrounded the Belgian Army which King Leopold III surrendered. The BEF was within Hitler's grasp. Paris soon fell and the French signed a NAZI imposed armistace. The collapse of France after only a few weeks was a disaster of emense proportions. It was the French Army that had provided the bulk of the allied War Western Front in World War I. The German victory was not accomplished with massivelyu superior numbers or weaponry. In fact they had fewer men and tanks. What they had was a superior tactical doctrine. The Germans were amazed to find, for example, that French tanks were not even equipped with radios, and a more disciplined fighting force. NAZI propaganda began to describe Hitler as " Der grösste Feldherr Allerzeiten " (the greatest field commander of all time). [Davidson, p. 483.]

British Army

The BEF had managed to escape capture at Dunkirk, but had to abandon their heavy equiment. This meant that while Britain still had its army, it was an unarmed army. But not a defeated army. The men of the BEF were ready to fight the Germans again. In fact they would be the core of the British Arnmy that woukd eventually cross the Channel with the Canadians and Americans. In June 1940, hieever, they needed arms. The only fully armed force in Britain was the Canadian 1st Division. The American Naval Attaché reported that the Britih were no more prepared to defend the coast than Long Island. Within days of Dunkirk, President Roosevelt acted, provoking a heated sisagreement with Generall Marshall. British ships were soon sailingv from American ports with their holds full of 'surplus' military equioment. The British also asked for surplus World War I destroyers, but President Roosevelt was not yet ready to authorize this. [Freidel, p. 336.] Fortunately for Britain, the Germans were not prepared to organize an immedite invasion.

British Coastal Defenses

For centuries, Britain's defense was primarily the Royal Navy. In World War II, this was no longer the case in 1940. The Royal Navy had to withdraw major fleet elements from the Channel because of the vulnerability to air attack. The plan was to to bring them back once the invasion began. So the first phase of the invasion battle would be in the hands of the RAF which is what the Battle of Britain was all about. The RAF had the Chain Home radar system, but in 1940 this was only for air attack, not a a ship born invasion. After the Dunkirk evacuation, Prime-Minister Churchill delivered his memorable "We shall fight on the beaches" speech to Parliament (June 4, 1940). This was, however, something Britain was not at the time prepared to do. In World War I, Britain's defenses were the Trench line in northern France. And this was expected to be the same in again. Only with the stunning German victory and looming fall of France, the British coast was largely undefended. And this had been made worse because, although the Brutish Army had been saved by the Dunkirk evacuation, all of its heavy weapons, especially artillery had been left behind in France and it would take months to reequip the Army. So very quickly Britain had to build its coastal defenses, what the Brits called the Coastal Crust. And it short order, southern England was turned into a prepared battlefield. The British coastal defenses at time of the fall of France consisted largely of antiquated forts built during the Napoleonic and Victorian era when France was seen as the major threat. These were antiquated, but not unimportant because to succeed the Germans needed to seize a port. (The same problem the D-Day planners faced.) So the major ports had some defenses, including a small number of heavy guns. There guns were World War I vintage heavy guns, which were upgraded with modern optical and eventually radar ranging systems. To sustain and equip a substantial invasion seizing a port was critical. The old forts like Dover Castle also provided secure locations for command and control centers. Nothing was in place, however, to defend most of the beaches. The War Office with France tottering set up the Directorate of Fortifications and Works (FW3) to begin hardening coastal defenses. Major-General G.B.O. Taylor was put in charge. The British began building large numbers of concrete and brick pillboxes all along the Channel and southeastern coast. Some still stand. They were built by local soldiers and labor. There were six basic designs. These were primarily for machine guns, but some were for field guns as well. Ditches and treches were dug, including anti-tank ditches. Beaches were closed off for holiday makers. The Army mined and laid barbed wire. Extensible off shore mine field were laid. The Home Guard would be an important part of the defense if as expected the Germans came in 1940. Deception and disinformation was also important. This involved camouflaging real weapons and fortifications. And efforts were made to create the impression of the existence of defenses that were not real. Unlike during the run up to D-Day, the Luftwaffe was engaging in extensive photo reconnaissance. Drain pipes were made to kook like real guns. Dummy pillboxes were constructed. [Wills, p. 163.] Not much of this existed in May 1940, but by September when the German Operation Sea Lion landing were planned, the British had begun to harden their coastal defenses and the Army had begun receiving heavy weapons. And this was a hard break, because after September the weather in the Channel begins to deteriorate.

Initial Luftwaffe Discussion (June 5)

One of Göring's key commanders, Generaloberst Erhard Milch, flew over Dunkirk to assess the situation (June 5). He was impressed by the panorama of destruction. He especially noticed all the abandoned vehicles and artillery pieces. What he did not see was captured British troops. The BEF had gotten away. Unlike the sutuation in Poland, Belgium, and France, there were no masses of defeated soldiers. That evening he met witth his boss aboard his persoal train, Asia. The Luftwaffe had played a key role in the German vuictory in the West, but Göring's reputation with the Führer had been tarnsished as he had assureed him that the Luftwaffe could prevent the Dunkirk evacuation. Göring was hoping to redeem himself. Like other NAZI leaders, he realized that his position and status was determined by his personal relationship with Hitler. He told him, "The British Army? I saw perhaps twenty or thirty corpses. The rest of the British Army had got clean away to the other side. They have left their equipment and escaped." Göring asked his opinion as to what the Luftwaffe should do now. Milch advised an immediuate, aggresive move. He advised immediately moving available units of Luftflotten 2 and 3 to the Channel and launching an immediate invasion. The Kreigesmarine would not be in a position to assist neaningful, but the Luftwaffe could. Paratroopers could capture key airfields in the southeast anbd Stuka could provide support until tanks and artillery could be brought over. The British could not respod effectively because there heavy equipment had been left at Dunkirk. Transport aircraft could insert 2-3 divisions and once a bridge head was established, the Kriegsmarine could begin to bring over reinforcements and heavy equipment. He stringkt advised that this ws the time toi strike, "If we leave the British in peace for four weeks, it will be too late." Göring was uncomvinced, in part because he had only one paratroop division. Neither Göring or Milch followed up on the discussion. Milch focused on the oingoung operations in France. Göring turned to plunder, acquiring priceless art treasures in Amsterdam for Cairinhall (June 10). Any decesion on Britain would have to wait.

Kreigsmarine Capabilities

The Gernmans were unprepared for an invasion of Britain. The Wehrmacht had not anticipated the dimensions of their victory in France. There had been no planning for an invasion of Britain. Bliztkrieg was essentially modern warfare, rapid land movement supported by aircraft. There was, however, no naval component. The Panzers stopped at the Channel ports. The Kriegsmarine had received less support than the other two services and thus was the smalles and weakest service. The Kriegsmarine was a fraction of the size of tge Royal Navy. And the Kreigsmarine had suffered grevious losses in Norway (April 1940). This significantly depleted its surface fotces, especially the destroyers which were now needed to support the planned invasion. The Kreigsmarine would in fact never recover from Norway. The Germans admirals had wanted a vast surface fleet, but after the losses in Norway and culminating with the loss of Bismark, the Keiegsmarine would be dominted by Admiral Dönutz's U-boat servuice. It simply did not have the capability to take on the Royal Navy for a Channel crossing. And Hitler was unsure of the operation from the beginning. He confided in Admiral Raeder, "On land I am a hero. At sea I am a coward."

Hitler's Vision

With France defeated, Hitler was anxious to end the war in the West and prepare for his ulimate objective, seizing Lenbenraum in the East. He was still unaware how the his bad faith over Czechoslovakia had changed Britain, even appeasers like Chamberlain. Hitler assumed that he could bring about a British Vichy without an invasion. He believed the British would soon accept thst they had been defeated and see reason. And he saw disadvantages to a military campaign. Defeating England would mean the disolution of the British Empire which would primarily benefit America and Japan. He appears to have been willing to guarantee the Empire if Britain would accept a German-dominated continent. His vision was in part racial, seeing in Briain Aryan Anglo-Saxon stock that would eventually come to terms with Aryan Germany. It is not clear to what extent Hitler ever seriously contemplated an invasion. Here historians disagree. Some believe he simply wanted to threaten the British, asuming that they would agree to seek terms. Hitler believed that at least threantening invasion would force the issue. He did not understand as the British now did that his guarantees were of no real value. Hitler was baffeled that the British were unwilling to make peace. Logic to him dictated that they would have to make peace. He seems totally oblivious of how violating the Munich Accords, 6 months after signing them, had irrevocanbly convinced the British that he could not be trusted. Somehoe Hitler saw no reason why the British should not now accept his assurances again. But there would be no British Vichy.

Brutish Attack on the French Fleet-- Mers El Kebir (July 3, 1940)

The Royal Navy began World War II with only 9? battleships, a fraction of the World War I Grand Fleet. Italy's fleet of fast modern battleships and carriers already outnumbered the Royal Navy in the Mediterranen. The French batleships if they had fallen into German hands would have given the Axis the striking power to confront the Royal Navy. Neither Pétain or the French admirals ordered the French fleet to British ports or scuttled it. Rather the French Government decided to order the fleet to ports where it would be decomissioned under Axis supervision. Churchill's most difficult decission after France fell was the order he gave to neutralize the French fleet. A British squadron was dispatched to Oran (Mers El Kebir) where the French flet had sought shelter. The French fleet was given the options of joining the British in the fight against the NAZIs, imobilizing their vessels, or destruction. The French rejected the British demands and the British opened fire. About 1,200 French sailors were killed. Only the French battleship Strassbourg survived. Besides aleviating the threat of the fleet falling into German hands the attack had a orofonf impact on two very important individuals. President Roosevelt saw it as evidence that the British were determined to resist the Germans. [Lash, p. 165.] German Führer Adolf Hitler had nuch the same reaction and began to reassess his initial asesment that the War was won. He began to understand that the British were going to continue the War.

Military Advise (July 11-15)

Rebuffed by the British, Hitler was forced to consider the military options. He told Göring that he was going to retire to Berghof--his favorite place. Here he would cretire and clear his mind for important decesions. He left Berlin (July 10). His top military commanders weresummoned to present their assessment. Grossadmiral Raeder presented the Kreigsmarine (OKM) assessment (July 11). He expressed considerable reservations about a cross-Channel invasion, insistung tht it should be attempted only as a last resprt. He thought that Britin could be brought to terms by a naval blockade and heavy bombing, especially of the ports. Disabling the ports would create shortages of food and other needed material. Raeder stressed the complications, including clearing minefields and setting their own minefields to prevent the Royal Navy from opposing the invasion. He also reviewd the problems associated with collecgting the needed transpprts. Hitler agreeded that the invasion should be the last resort and that air superority was essential. Jodl representing OKW was more optimistic (July 12). He believed that the Luftwaffe could overcome any Royal Navy oppoition. He believed that the invasion should be treated as a river crossing in force, meaning a broad front attack. Next was Von Brauchitsch and Halder presenting the OKH assessment (July 13) Jodl, Keitel, and Raeder joined them. Hadler seconded Jodl's approach of a river crossing in force. Hadler presented what was known about the British preparations and reviewed the Heer's preparations underway. Hitler again expressed his baffelment that the British continued to seek terms. [Halder, July 13, entry.] An idea surfaced that was to grow in Hitker's mind--Russia. It was hope of a Russian declarAtion of war that kept British hopes alive. [Engel, July 15, 1940 entry] Hitler also insisted that he wanted to bring Spain into the war to extend the front. Abwehr Chief Admiral Canaris came next (July 15). Hitler expressed his irritatiion that he had not seized the Duke of Windsor while he was in France. He expressed considerable doubts about an invasion. After his military commanders departed it was time for Hitler to make his decesion.

Führer Directive 16--Operation Sea Lion (July 16)

With France defeted, Hitler ordered his generals to organize the invasion of Britain. Hitler prefaced the Directive with, "As England, in spite of her hopeless military situation, still shows no signs of willingness to come to terms, I have decided to prepare, and if necessary to carry out, a landing operation against her. The aim of this operation is to eliminate the English Motherland as a base from which the war against Germany can be continued, and, if necessary, to occupy the country completely." Without the needed naval forces, the Luftwaffe would be used to prepare for the invasion. Air superority over the channel and southeastern England would have to be achieved. The Kreigsmarine would deal with clearing the British minefields and laying theior owbn fields Hitler ordered the Lufwaffe to destroy the RAF. Göring assured him that this could be easily accomplished.

Speech to the Reichstag (July 19)

Hitler spoke to the Reichstag in the Kroll Opera House (July 19). This was to be his final peace offer to Britain. “For millions of other persons, great suffering will begin. Mr. Churchill, or perhaps others, for once believe me when I predict a great empire will be destroyed, an empire that it was never my intention to destroy or even to harm. I do realize that this struggle, if it continues, can end only with the complete annihilation of one or the other of the two adversaries. Mr. Churchill may believe this will be Germany. I know that it will be Britain. In this hour I feel it to be my duty before my own conscience to appeal once more to reason and common sense in Great Britain as much as elsewhere. I consider myself in a position to make this appeal, since I am not the vanquished, begging favors, but the victor speaking in the name of reason. I can see no reason why this war must go on. I am grieved to think of the sacrifices it will claim. I should like to avert them. As for my own people, I know that millions of German men, young and old alike, are burning with the desire to settle accounts with the enemy who for the second time has declared war upon us for no reason whatever. But I also know that at home there are many women and mothers who, ready as they are to sacrifice all they have in life, yet are bound to it by their heartstrings. Possibly Mr. Churchill again will brush aside this statement of mine by saying that it is merely born of fear and of doubt in our final victory. In that case I shall have relieved my conscience in regard to the things to come." Hitler went on for an impressive 2 1.2 hours. Despite the stakes he spoke less dramtically than usual. The spittle and gestures became pronounced only when he began talking about Churchill. It was not what many had expected. Göring immediately understood it mean war. He told associates that the 'fat i in the fire'. Hitler's military commanders and inner curcle had been waiting fir the terms to be iffered Britain. Despite such a long zpeech, there were no terms iffered--only 'an appeal to reason'. They di this mean that the Fühere was no longeer seriously seeking an accomodation. In London, Governnt officials like Duff Cooper who spoke German alsi noted that here were notrms ifered. The Prime Minister who had ben so catigated did so as well as the pech was translted. His first reaction was not o reply. At the Cabinet meeting tge following day, it was decided thatvaesonse was needed. Churchill suggested that Halifax s Foreign Secretary and leadung dive should reply. At the same time Hitlerwas meeting with his commnders, tellig thm that a poliyicak settkement was still possuble. And peace feelers came in from the German ambasadir in Wasington, a Dutch businessman approached by Göring, and the Pope. Churchill was having none of it. Halifax during a previously scheduled speech replied in Churchillian language, "Hitler may plant the sawatica where he will, but unles he can sapthe strength of Britain, the foundations of his empire are based on sam=nd." July 22). Goebbels who was opposed to any political accimidation with Britain, ran headlines nnouncing that the British had chosen war and called the rejection of the Führer's peace offer a war crime.

Military Conference (July 31)

Hitler summoned his senior military commanders to the Berghof (July 31). He clearly enunciated his thoughts. His hope was that the British would recognize the obvious and end the War. Now that they refused, his intention was to bludgeon them into submission. with the air assault. He explained, "Its results will determine our relative strength." He expressed confidence in Göring's Luftwaffe. He had no reason to believe that the Luftwaffe would not succeed. And once air superiority had been achieved, Sea Lion could proceed. Come what may, Hitler was determined that Britain had to be forced out of the War.

Military Plans

OKW before the Battle of France had not prepared a plan for invading Britain. The dimnsiona of the victory in the West came as a much of a surprise to senior German commanders as it did to the French. With control of France, the Germans rushed to cobbel together invasiion plans to complete their victory and end the War. No one unified plan emerged, but two different concepts for Sea Lion. Both OKM and OKH produced their own plans which were radically different. And of course both were predicated on OKL quickly achieving air superiority over southeastern England. The plan eventually hammered out for Operation Sea Lion pleased no one. After the Luftwaffe had destroyed the RAF, the Germans would land 160,000 German soldiers along a 40-mile coastal stretch of southeast England. The invasion date was set for August 10. It was postponed, apparently for bad weather. Concerns of military commanders may have been more important. It was then rescheduled for August 13 and then further postponed when the air war did not go as predicted.

NAZI Occupation Plans

German agencies units after Hitler issued Führer Directive 16 began preparing for not only the invasion, but for occupying a subgegated Britin. Walter Schellenberg, director of the counter espionage unit of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Head Office of Reich Security--RSHA) prepared a secret occupation handbook. (Schellenberg was recruited by SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich and would later become the top German intelligence officer after British agents shot Heydrich and Abwher head, Admiral Canaris was arrested.) His handbook would have been proven useful by occupation authorities. It offered detailed informtion on a wide range of topics concerning Britain and the Empire. There were detailed analyses of both the political and economic system. Individual chapters covered a wide range of topics, everything from Parliament and public schools to freemasonry a prenial NAZI target. The book also discussed the Boy Scouts, probsbly because of the importance of the Hitler Youth in Germany. Schellenberg's book today provides modern historians insights into exactly how the Germans viewed Britain. Some of it is insightful. Other sections are largely orojections of twisted NAZI ideology. The most chilling section was the Sonderfahndungsliste G.B.--Special Search List for Great Britin (black book). This is what the French avoided by surrendering to the Germans and collaborating. (Of course what would have happened after the Germans won the War does not seem to have occurred to the Vichy men.) The price of British resistance was to be high. Schellenberg's black book listed 2,820 individuals who the SS would take into 'protective custody'. The people were chosen by Schellenberg's counter espionage unit with input by sympathetic British Fascists although we do not know just how the selection process worked. The Sonderfahndungsliste was the British version of the Sonderfahndungsbuch Polen--Special Prosecution Book--Poland. The SS after occupying Poland summarily shot thousands of civilians on the list. Churchill of course at the top of the list as was Chamberlain. And individuals they had scores to settle with, such as Col. Kenneth Strong, a former British military attache at the British Embassy in Berlin. German and other political refugees were included. There were Jews such as Chaim Weizmann and Sigmund Freud, who was already dead. Included on the list was Boy Scout founder, Rober Baden Powell as was cartoonist David Low. In addition to political figures there were many authors who upset NAZI sensibilkities, including Vera Brittain (feminest author and pacifist), Noël Coward (actor who openly criticised apeasement and was not only homosexual but had connections with MI-5), E.M. Forster (humanist novelist and broacaster who was also homosexual), Aldous Huxley (humanist author and pcifist had moved to America), F.L. Lucas (literary critic and prominent anti-Fascist). Steven Spender (left-wing poet, novelist, and esayist), Lytton Strachey (also dead), H.G. Wells (science fiction writer abnd socialist), Rebecca West (author and sufffragist), Virginia Wolf (Feminist author), and many others. It was a matter of honor to have been included on the list when it was found after the War. West telegraphed Coward, 'My dear, the people we should have been seen dead with." Also on the list were American journalists working in Britain in addition to Afro-American actor Paul Robeson. [Schellenberg] This of course well before Hitler declared war on America. Quite a few women were on the list, including feminest politicans and writers. Interestingly the NAZIs were going after pacifists even though they had helped bring about Germany military victories by ensuring Britain was unprepared for war. Several homosexuals (one of the groups persecuted by the NAZIs) were on the list, but this was probably because of their political beliefs rather than their sexual orientation which at the time was not wellm publicized. Not included on the list were men like George Bernard Shaw and David Lloyd George who had been willing to associate and make peace with the NAZIs. Shaw was a rare English whose books were allowed to be published in NAZI Germany. RSHA commander Heydrich chose SS Col. Professor Dr. Frank Six was chosen to command the six Einsatzkommando groups that were to cleanse Britain. They were to operate throughout Britain from the major urban centrs: London, Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester, and Edinburgh. Six would not be able to carry out his deadly assignments in Britain, but he would do his grisly work in the Soviet Union a year later.


The Germans began assembling a large armada of vessels, including 2,000 barges in German, Dutch, Belgian, French, and Scandinavian ports. Most of the vessels were already constructed, flt bottom river barges, not very suitable for Channel crossings. They were hastily converted for a beach landing by having the bows cut off and and landing ramp installed. OKW was concerned about the havoc the Royal Navy and the RAF would reak on an invasion fleet. The fact that the BEF had been forced to abandon its equipment at Dunkirk argued for an immediate operation before the British could rearm. But it was clear that air superiority had to be achieved for the crossing. The differet Wehrmacht seetvivces differed on the invasion plan. They all agreed, however, that air superority was an essential prerequisite. The preparations for the air battle bought the British invaluable time. The Germans were confident that the vaunted Luftwaffe would quickly establish air superirity in the skies over southern England which would allow Opperation Sea Lion to go forward before the fall weather in the Channel would make a crossing imposible. There was little thought within OKW that this would be a difficult undertaking and many at the time agreed with the Germans that Briutain would quickly fall as easily as France.

British Preparations

After Dunkirk the British began preparation for what most believed would be a quicky executed German invasion. The country had the Royal Navy and Rotal Air Force, but virtually all the heavy weapons were left on the beaches at Dubkirk and surrounding countryside. Even small arms were in short supply as was amunition of all types. President Roosevelt order General Marshall to put together what ever he could from American arsenals and ships within days of Dunkirk were on the way to Britain. But that first month the only fully armed division in Britain was the First Canadian Diviion. The British also set about building fixed defenses. Special attention was given to the beaches, primarily along the southwast coast. Barbed wire and other barriers were put in place. Large numbers of mines were laid. There was also a range of other defensive obstacles constructed in the areas behind the invasion beaches. Most of these preparations occurred in 1940-41 when the threat of invasion was at its height. A reader who was evacuated to America writes, "One memory I have on my return to the UK in 1945 was seeing the numerous concrete machine gun emplacements at road junctions, and 'dragon's teeth' anti-tank obstructions snaking across fields. They were present for many years. Even now there are some dotted around the coast. There is one on the Royal Cinq Golf Course at Deal. My children and their friends used to love exploring the fortifications built behind Dover Harbour. Dover is a rabbit warren of tunnels in the cliffs, including a hospital, now open to the public." The British beach defenses were no Atlantic Wall, but the British had several advantages the Germans did nit have in 1940, namely a powerful navy, and an air force capable of resisting the invasion. The German opportunity for success existed in only a narrow window after Dunkirk when the British Army was largely disarmed. This meant that the Germans would have to come by September or not come at all.

Battle of Britain (July-September 1940)

The Battle of Britain was the first air campaign in history. An air campaign against Britiain meant the Luftwaffe would have to set up air bases along the Channel. Here they had many well-developed French bases they could use. But it took time to moveinto the bases and bring in supplies. The first encounters took place over the Channel with the Luftwaffe trying to lure RAF squadrond into combat over the Channel. Air Chief Marshall Downing held his fighters back, bracing for the inslaught that was to come. The Luftwaffe commenced the campaign with attacks on British cioastal radar stations, aircraft factories, and fighter airfields (August 12). This was the beginning of what is now known as the Battle of Britain. Radar stations and airfields were damaged and 22 RAF planes were destroyed. The radar had, however, given early warning and the damage was much less than the Germans had hoped. Fortunateky for the British, the Germans did bot yet fully understand the importance of radar and did not persist in the attacks ion the radar stations. The attack was just the beginning, The Luftwaffe began daily raids on Britain with a focus on RAF instalations in southeastern England. If the RAF's 11 Wing had been forced to pull back north, the Luftwaffe would have achieved air superiority over the Channel and the invasion beaches.

Was Hitler Serious?

It is an open question whether or not Hitler was serious about invading Britain. Not that he would not have liked to have defeated Britain, but the question was wheter or not the Germans had the capacity to sucessfully do so in 1940. There is little doubt that if Hitler had made Britain his priority, with all the resources of conquered Europe, that Germany could have overcome Britain. But there is considerable doubt that Germany had that capability in 1940. And two other complications exist for 1941. First, if Hitler concentrated on Britain in the West, the Soviet Union would present a serious danger in the East. Second, America with Lend Lease essentially wrote Britain a blank check. With American aid, invading Britain a much more danting proposition. There are several matters that suggest to us that Hitler was never seriously committed to Opertion Sea Lion. It appears to have been more of a bluff to convince the Germans to surrender. Even the most basic assessment shows that the Germans were not capable. The German preparations were so feeble that one questions if Hitler was really serious or really just bluffing and many historians have raised just that issue.

The Channel

The English Channel is very unpredictable and often very rough. The weather in the Channel in fact postponed D-Day and almost cancelled it all together And the Allies had an armada of substantial OCEAN GOING transports. What did Hitler have—2,000 Rhine River barges! Does any one seriously believe that you can transport an army across the Channel and supply it with Rhine River barges? You might note that the Allied shipping that crossed the Channel on D-Day did not include any river barges.


Another problem making the German invasion impossible was ports. You may note that a key aspect Hitler’s Atlantic Wall was heavily defending the ports. For an invasion to succeed the Germans would need to seize a FUNCTIONING port. And of course the British would have defended a port strongly and destroyed it if it was going to fall. And with Bomber Command still fully functional, the RAF would have blasted any effort at repair. Thus the Germans had no way of delivering heavy equipment and supplies in large quantity that an invading army would need. There were no German Mullberrys.

Royal Navy

Any invasion and supply effort would have to contend with the Royal Navy. The Germans had a minimal fleet to protect shipping having lost most of their destroyers in the Norwegian invasion. If some of those river barges had made it across the Channel, the Royal Navy supported by the still undefeated RAF (12 Group, 10 Group, Coastal Command, and Bomber Command) would have isolated the Germans in southeast England and cut off reinforcement and supply.


We would also note that Hitler was not just bluffing the British. An important part of the German effort to mask Barbarossa preparations was to convince Stalin that their focus was still on Britain.


Hitler was in Berlin during the climatic period of the Battle of Britain. Admiral Raeder suggested that Sea Lion be pursued a aiant bluff. Hitler rejected this without futher discussion. Hitler told Joldl that he would make a final deession on September 10 (August 30). By this time the outcome of the air battle would be apparent. The Germans assumed that 10 days would be needed to execute the order. This meant that the earliest that the invasion could commence was September 20. Göring expressed doubts about Sea Lion. Hitler reviewing the Luftwaffe's optimistic reports about RAF planes being shot down was becoming increasingly optimistic. Some assessments indicated that the British were down to as few as 100 fighters. It was hoped that the RAF would finally be eliminated during the first weeks of September. Bomber Command raids on Berlin eraged Hitler and finally convinced him to authorize the bombing of London. Göring who ibcreadibly had been diverting himseld hundreds of miles away at Carinhall, arrived in Holland aboard his private train, Asia, with much fanfare to personally oversee the final defeat of the British (September 6). It was the beginning of the Blitz. Göring chatiized his fighter commanders and ordered them to stay closer to the bombers. The next day with hus senior commasnders, he stood at Cap Criz Nez and watched the largest massed attack ever launched by the Luftwaffe head for Britain. The resulkt was the climax of the Battle of Britin. The London docks and the East End were soon afire, but the 11 Group was given an almosdt meraculous respite. The NAZI penchant for violence in a short period undid all that had been achieved during August. The goal was to achieve air surperority over southeastern England. Bombing London actually undermined what everyone agreed was a prerequisite for Sea Lion--air superority. And it was soon clear to The Luftwaffe's London raiders that the RAF was still very much a going concern. Thus Hitler refused to comit himseld when his self imposed tatget date of September 10 arrived. Raeder suggestefd to postpone until October 8 to give the Luftwaffe more time. Hitler decided to postpone, but not cancel Sea Lion (September 17).

Sea Lion Abandoned (October 1940)

Despite Göring's assurance, The RAF proved a tough nut to crack. Losses were much heavier than ancticipated. British aircraft and pilots proved effective adversaries. Actually the Luftwaffe came very close to succes without fully undrstanding it. RAF airfields in southeastern England were severly damaged and the effective strength of 10 Wing cobering the Southeast substantially reduced. Losing patience, especially after a British raid on Berlin, Hitler ordered the Luftwaffe to shift the weight of the attack to London. This was the beginning of the Blitz, but it brought time for 10 Wing to recover. And while all of this was going on, the British Army was being rearmed. The Luftwaffe attacks on London proved much more costly than anticipated, in part because it gave time for Lee-Mallory's 12 Wing to assemble its vaunted Big Wing. The Luftwaffe was forced to shift to night attacks. But bombing at night meant they could only attack cities, but few real targets. By the end of September, not only had the Germans lost the oppotunity to destroy 11 Wing and gain mastery over the Channel, but the British army was now largely rearmed with new tanks and artillery pieces. The golden opportunity offered by Dunkirk had been lost. Operation Sea Lion was abanodoned (October 12). Hitler attempted to batter Britain into submission by a sustained night-time bombing campaign and an expanding U-boat campaign.

NAZI Politics

Influence in NAZI Germany depended on Hitler's personal patronage. He had named Rudolf Hess Deputy Führer, but the second most important NAZI was Reichmarshal Herman Göring. He was Hitler's most important confident. Early NAZI moves such as setting bup a police state, remilitarization, the Abnchluss all had Göring's imprint. The early victories of the Luftwaffe, especially the fall of France has only increased Hitler's confidence in Göring. Even the British escape at Dunkirk, despite Göring's assurances that the Luftwaffe could prevent it, diud not impair Hitler's confidence in Göring given the dimensions of the victory in France. The failure of the Luftwaffe in he Battle of Britain abd the cancellation of Operation Sea Lion was a different matter. It was the beginning of Göring's fall from grace.


Davidson, Eugene. The Unmaking of Adolf Hitler (Univesity of Missouri: Columbia, 1996), 519p.

Engel, Gerhard. At the Heart of the Reich.

Freidel, Frank. Franklin D. Roosevelt: Rendezuous with Destiny (Little Brown: Boston, 1990), 710p.

Hadler, Franz. Diary.

Schellenberg, Walter. Invasion, 1940: The Nazi Invasion Plan for Britain (Little Brown Book Group: 2001). The title is assigned for the modern publication. It was not an invasion plan, but a handbook for administrators after the invasion. Quite a number of copies were printed by the Germans, but only two copies survive. One is held by the Imperial War Museum.


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Created: 1:34 AM 7/21/2011
Last updated: 4:19 PM 11/29/2022