WW2 75th Anniversary Poll–-#12--JULY 1940 PART 2
RJL518 last edited by
Operation Sea Lion (German: Unternehmen Seelowe) was Nazi Germany’s plan to invade the United Kingdom during the Second World War, following the Fall of France. For any likelihood of success the operation required both air and naval superiority over the English Channel, neither of which the Germans ever achieved during or after the Battle of Britain. Sea Lion was postponed indefinitely on 17 September 1940 and never carried out.
This is a question that has probably discussed so many times on this forum. But…it is the 75th Anniversary of this event, so i will ask it again. How do YOU guys go about with the planning, coordination and actual carrying out of Operation SeaLion?
Or…do you even carry out this operation at all?
I voted “Wouldn’t have done it at all”. Germany, traditionally a land power, was in no position to improvise in a few weeks (or even a few months) a cross-Channel invasion that – by way of comparison – took two major naval powers (the US and the UK) more than two years to plan and prepare. The Wehrmacht was skilled at river crossings, and thus was inclined to view a cross-channel invasion as just a large version of a river crossing, but this was simplistic thinking at best. Rivers aren’t subject to the tidal and weather factors that have to be taken into consideration when dealing with the English Channel (which is a notoriously unpredictable stretch of water). Moreover these tidal and weather factors, when combined with the Channel’s width, meant that the Germans would not have been able to use two valuable river-crossing techniques: laying down artillery support from one bank to another, and building assault bridges (for example pontoon-type bridges).
If I’d been able to dictate German strategy after the fall of France, my plan would have been to strangle Britain directly by sea and indirectly by land rather than trying to invade it. By “directly by sea” I mean devoting more of my resources to the U-boat elements of the Battle of the Atlantic. By “indirectly by land” I mean using the Wehrmacht to pinch off Britain’s shortest route to India, the Far East and Australia: the Mediterranean. A step in that direction would have been to take Gibraltar, which overlooked the western entrance into the Mediterranean. When France fell, the bulk of the Wehrmacht was nicely positioned to strike south through Spain towards Gibraltar. Hitler had some talks with Franco along these lines, but they went nowhere. Given Spain’s weak economic and military situation after the Spanish Civil War, Hitler could simply have given Franco three choices: join us in a war against Britain; stay nominally neutral but allow the German Army to traverse Spain (which is more or less what Japan said to Thailand on December 8, 1941); or resist and be conquered by Germany as the Wehrmacht strikes towards Gibraltar.
With Gibraltar in German hands (reinforced by naval units from Italy), British access to the Mediterranean would have been appreciably complicated, and the British position in the Mediterranean basin would have been weakened. The next thing I would have done was to try take control of the Suez Canal away from Britain. This would have involved a two-pronged offensive. German forces would have been sent (via Italy and the Mediterranean) to Italian-controlled Libya, as was done historically with the Afrika Korps, and these forces would have teamed up with the Italians to attack Egypt from the west. In parallel, German forces would have been positioned for a strike into the Balkans, then Turkey, from which they would have attacked through the Levant towards Suez and Egypt from the east. Once Egypt and Suez were under my control, I’d have tried to pick up Iraq and Iran while in was in the area, to acquire their oil (and deprive Britain of it at the same time) and to position my forces on the Soviet Union’s south-west flank,
All of these operations would essentially have been land-based ones, therefore much more within the capabilities of the Wehrmacht than a cross-Channel invasion. They wouldn’t have knocked Britain out of the war quickly – and perhaps not at all – but theyt would have weakened Britain much more than the actions which Germany actually took in the year between the fall of France and the start of Barbarossa.
Almost typed “I agree with Marc” as I have a done a few times since I joined this forum!
However - I’d like to know more about the difference between “Hitler’s Way” and “His General’s Way” first. Anyone able to help me out?
Edit: Had a look at RJL’s link but cannot see the answer in there.
Despite the lack of an answer to my question above, I came back to vote. However, having re-read Marc’s post I do have some doubts:
1. Land: Is the comparison with D Day illuminating or misleading? The UK / US were preparing to land in the face of resistance from a highly effective fighting machine, whereas in 1940 the UK’s ability to resist was reduced by losses in France.
2. Sea: The UK did have maritime superiority, but deploying naval power without air supremacy invites significant losses. In which case it was the battle in the air that was critical.
3. Air: In 1940 G was a significant air power, as well as a land one. Was victory in the air beyond the Luftwaffe? My memory is that a number of key mistakes (such as their command structure and switching from targeting the RAF to bombing civilians) lost the Battle of Britain for G. If that is true, then the possibility of air victory was real.
Always pleased to learn, so do tell me where the above is wrong.
Germany did not have sufficient Fts to take on Britain. I would not have bothered attacking. It was a really bad waste of the Luftwaffe crews. If the target was Russia, then wait and use the experienced crews there.
England did not need to be conquered. It was subdued and that was sufficient for the time being.
Suggesting that with a stronger Luftwaffe and perhaps an earlier launch of Barbarossa, G would have beaten R before the UK/US were able to deliver an effective western front?
In addition to the air superiority issues which Wittmann mentioned, Germany simply didn’t have the resources to carry out a large-scale cross-Channel invasion and – a crucial point which tends to be overlooked – to sustain their forces in combat after the landing.
When the Allies landed in Normany, and in the months which followed, logistics were the factor on which everything hung. Mechanized armies require vast amount of supplies, especially fuel, and for the second half of 1944 the Allies had to make huge efforts to keep their forces in Western Europe provisioned with fuel, ammunition and food. Initially, everything had to be brought in via the Normandy beachhead because the Germans held all the major ports. It took several weeks to capture Cherbourg, and even longer to get it operational because the Germans had demolished it. It remained, as I recall, the only major port in Allied hands until the capture of Antwerp. Fuel shortages were a chronic problem for the Allies as they advanced through France; Patton once complained to his superiors, “My men can eat their belts, but my tanks need gas!” One vitally important tool the Allies had devised well ahead of the D-Day invasion was PLUTO, “Pipe Line Under The Ocean” – essentially a large-diameter flexible tube similar to a garden hose, which was unrolled from huge drums by special ships all the way across the Channel. Disguised pumping stations in Britain were then used to pump fuel to Normandy through the pipeline, and this helped keep the Allied armies supplied until fuel could be landed by more conventional means via tanker ships. Germany had no such pipeline system, and could not have devised one on short notice.
Germany, true enough, would not have faced a heavily defended “Festung Britania” if it had tried a Sealion operation in 1940…but by the same token, its invasion resources would have been minimal compared to what the Allies had in June 1944. One of the workhorses of the D-Day invasion was the Higgins boat, one of the many types of landing craft and landing ships designed to land men, tanks and other equipment directly onto the invasion beaches; they were designed specifically for those jobs, and produced in great numbers. Germany had no such landing craft; the Sealion plans, which were drawn up in great haste and some aspects of which were rather improvised, had to settle for the concept of having river barges scrounged from all over Europe for the operation. It’s debatable whether this solution would have been adequate to carry out a landing, to say nothing of keeping up with the logistical needs of the German invasion forces once they were ashore.
Thanks Marc and witt. Marc’s reply has also reminded me of the huge Mulberry Harbours and the amazing investment of British production capacity in these monsters.
So will vote “would not have done it”.
Still interested in whether you think Barbarossa would have turned out differently?
I think a Russian conquest would never have succeeded.
Perhaps they would have done better starting earlier, as the winter of 41 was the severest in years and stopped them cold before Moscow. Combine that factor with the German arrogance (over the conquered peoples) and unpreparedness for a long campaign, I can’t see how the extra Air units and crews would have made that much difference to the end result.
Hitler would still have sacked the wrong Generals, like he did and still taken over the control of the tactical decisions. The Germans were simply unprepared, logistically and economically, for the kind of protracted campaign and overall war, that it would turn out being.
So G’s choice was to fail with Sea Lion first or fail with Barbarossa first!
Sounds right to me witt, given their low production of war materiel until late in the war.
But it does leave open the slim possibility that of two bad bets Sea Lion may have been the better one?
Unless you believe Stalin and Hitler would have got on like old chums indefinitely!?
Still interested in whether you think Barbarossa would have turned out differently?
It’s interesting that this aspect of the Barbarossa operation is being raised in the context of a discussion of Sealion because, in my opinion at least, the two operations illustrate (in different ways) the concept of identifying defendable positions (typically involving either political borders or natural terrain features) and making them the objectives of a military campaign.
When the Battle of France was over, Germany had secured for itself an easily defended position: the English Channel. The Channel had the disadvantage that it prevented Germany from invading Britain, but at the same time it had the advantage that it made Germany’s position in western Europe safe from invasion in the short-to-medium term. The French coast could be held by relatively small German forces at that time because Britain – which hadn’t even been strong enought to keep the BEF on the Continent at the time of Dunkirk, nor in Norway in the weeks prior to Dunkrik – was hardly in a position to invade France. So the Channel made good sense as a strategic objective, and it would have been sensible for the Germans to simply stop there without wasting time and resources on making preparations for a cross-Channel invasion of Britain which ultimately never materialized.
The two questions which can then be asked regarding Barbarossa from this perspective are: was there a strategically defendable position for which the Germans could have aimed, and did they have a realistic prospect of reaching it? The answers in brief are yes to the first question and probably not to the second one. If the Germans had managed to push the whole Soviet line east of the Urals, they would have put themselves on a defendable physical border and, by the same token, would have found themselves in control of (and would have deprived the Russians of) the natural resources of the European part of the USSR…which was a large percentage of the Soviet total. A slightly less ambitious objective would have been the Arkhangelsk-Astrakhan line: easier to reach because it was further west, but not as easy to defend as the Urals. As it turns out, however, even the A-A line proved beyond the reach of Barbarossa, owing to the many factors which slowed down the Wehrmacht’s advance. Some of these factors – such as Russia’s lack of paved roads – were problems that the Germans could probably not have done anything about even if they had launched Barbarossa earlier and if they had stuck to their plans rather than switching objectives back and forth.
Thanks Marc. As always an informed and informative response.