Operation Sealion

Employing fast-moving tanks backed up with air support, Germany defeated Poland in four weeks. This victory was followed by the occupation of Norway (four weeks), Netherlands (five days), Belgium (three weeks) and France (six weeks). The German Army was amazed at how quickly they defeated these countries and they became convinced that Adolf Hitler was a military genius.

The English Channel meant that these Blitzkrieg tactics could not be continued against Britain. Hitler had great respect for Britain's navy and airforce and feared that his forces would suffer heavy casualties in any invasion attempt. Hitler, who had not seen the sea until he was over forty, lacked confidence when it came to naval warfare. As he told his naval

commander-in-chief: "On land I am a hero. At sea I am a coward."

At this stage Hitler still hoped that Britain would change sides or at least accept German domination of Europe. His dreams of a large German empire were based on the empire created by the British during the nineteenth century. Although Hitler was often guilty of extreme arrogance he lacked confidence and tended to hesitate when dealing with Britain.

Immediately after the defeat of France in June 1940, Adolf Hitler ordered his generals to organize the invasion of Britain. The invasion plan was given the code name Operation Sealion. The objective was to land 160,000 German soldiers along a forty-mile coastal stretch of south-east England.

Within a few weeks the Germans had assembled a large armada of vessels, including 2,000 barges in German, Belgian and French harbours. However, Hitler's generals were very worried about the damage that the Royal Air Force could inflict on the German Army during the invasion. Hitler therefore agreed to their request that the invasion should be postponed until the British airforce had been destroyed.

On the 12th August the German airforce began its mass bomber attacks on British radar stations, aircraft factories and fighter airfields. During these raids radar stations and airfields were badly damaged and twenty-two RAF planes were destroyed. This attack was followed by daily raids on Britain. This was the beginning of what became known as the Battle of Britain.

Although plans for an invasion of Britain were drawn up Adolf Hitler was never very enthusiastic about them and they were eventually abandoned on October 12, 1940. Instead, Hitler attempted to batter Britain into submission by organising a sustained night-bombing campaign.

Primary Sources

(1) Guenther Blumentritt was interviewed about Adolf Hitler's views on the plans to invade Britain in 1940.

Hitler was in very good humour, he admitted that the course of the campaign had been 'a decided miracle', and gave us his opinion that the war would be - finished in six weeks. After that he wished to conclude a reasonable peace with France, and then the way would be free for an agreement with Britain.

He then astonished us by speaking with admiration of the British Empire, of the necessity for its existence, and of the civilization that Britain had brought into the world. He remarked, with a shrug of the shoulders, that the creation of its Empire had been achieved by means that were often harsh, but 'where there is planing, there are shavings flying'. He compared the British Empire with the Catholic Church - saying they were both essential elements of stability in the world. He said that all he wanted from Britain was that she should acknowledge Germany's position on the Continent. The return of Germany's lost colonies would be desirable but not essential, and he would even offer to support Britain with troops if she should be involved in any difficulties anywhere. He remarked that the colonies were primarily a matter of prestige, since they could not be held in war, and few Germans could settle in the tropics.

He concluded by saying that his aim was to make peace with Britain on a basis that she would regard as compatible with her honour to accept.

(2) General Franz Halder, diary (July, 1940)

13th July: The Führer is is greatly puzzled by Britain's persisting unwillingness to make peace. He sees the answer (as we do) in Britain's hope on Russia, and therefore counts on having to compel her by main force to agree to peace. Actually that is much against his grain. The reason is that a military defeat of Britain will bring about the disintegration of the British Empire. This would not be of any benefit to Germany. German blood would be shed to accomplish something that would benefit only Japan, the United States, and others.

14th July: The Führer confirms my impressions of yesterday. He would like an understanding with Great Britain. He knows that war with the British will be hard and bloody, and knows also that people everywhere today are averse to bloodshed.

(3) General Walter Warlimont was interviewed by Basil Liddell Hart about Operation Sea Lion in his book The Other Side of the Hill (1948)

There is no doubt in my mind as to the long-cherished and almost guiding political principle of Hitler's to come to terms with England, on a world-wide and lasting basis. Also I think it true that after the collapse of France he returned to this scheme - but far a short while only, and for the last time. It was during this short period, late in June and early in July, 1940, that he showed himself at first entirely unwilling and later on rather reluctant in taking up the problem of the invasion of England. The only explanation of this unusual attitude came to me at the time from a Foreign Office member of his entourage - he told me about Hitler's intentions of approaching England once more by way of a public peace

offer. Hitler's speech, when delivered in the Reichstag on 19th July, seemed to me disappointing. But Hitler in turn

may have been still more disappointed that his endeavour met with no response from the British side.

After this renewed disillusion his further steps were certainly no longer guided by political considerations. On the contrary, it seems to me that subsequent events can be understood only by the underlying idea of how to defeat England in the quickest and most effective way. Hitler pursued this aim in four different ways: the combined air and sea attack against British trade and industry; the air attack as a preparatory step to the invasion of the British Isles; the plan of attacking the British positions in the Mediterranean; and finally the initial preparations for a campaign against Russia, which was deemed England's last resort on the Continent.

It was Jodi who had a considerable share in killing off the 'sea-lion' when, in the late summer, he summarized his views in a memorandum to Hitler. The plan for an invasion of England, he wrote, would mean from the start a great risk - which had been further increased by the unsatisfactory results of the air offensive, due to the bad weather. If the landing did not succeed, this failure would endanger the whole of the achievements of the war thus far obtained. The invasion should therefore be executed only if there were no other way of forcing England to her knees. Such a way, however, offered itself by attacking and usurping the British positions in the Mediterranean - of which Jodi enumerated Gibraltar, Malta and the Suez Canal. The loss of these positions, he concluded, would bring the war to an end.

Hitler apparently was only too willing to endorse these considerations against the invasion. From this time

on no more serious efforts were made. Early in December the plan was altogether abandoned - the 'sea-lion' was definitely dead.

(4) Adolf Hitler, Directive No. 16 (16th July, 1940)

As England, despite her hopeless military situation, still shows no sign 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 war against Germany can be continued and, if necessary, to occupy completely.

(5) Adolf Hitler, Directive No. 17 (1st August, 1940)

The Luftwaffe will use all the forces at its disposal to destroy the British air force as quickly as possible. August 5th is the first day on which this intensified air war may begin, but the exact date is to be left to the Luftwaffe and will depend on how soon its preparations are complete, and on the weather situation.

(6) In January 1941, Kurt Student had a meeting with Adolf Hitler to discuss the invasion of Britain.

At first Hitler developed in detail his general views, political and strategical, about how to continue the war against his principal enemy. Herein he also mentioned the issues in the Mediterranean. After that he turned to the question of invading England. Hitler said that during the previous year he could not afford to risk a possible failure; apart from that, he had not wished to provoke the British, as he hoped to arrange peace talks. But as they were unwilling to discuss things, they must face the alternative.

Then a discussion followed about the use of the 11th Air Corps in an invasion of Great Britain. In this respect I expressed my doubts about using the Corps directly on the South coast, to form a bridgehead for the Army - as the area immediately behind the coast was now covered with obstacles. These doubts were accepted by Hitler. I then proposed that, if it proved absolutely necessary to use the 11th Air Corps on the south coast, then airfields in the hinterland (25 to 35 miles distant from the coast) should be captured, and infantry divisions landed on them.

Suddenly Hitler pointed to the Cornwall - Devon Peninsula, and drew a big circle on his map round Taunton and the Blackdown Hills, saying: 'Your airborne troops could be used here as flank protection. This is a strong sector and, besides, this important defile must be opened.' He then pointed to Plymouth and dwelt on the importance of this great harbour for the Germans and for the English. Now I could no longer follow his thought, and I asked at what points on the south coast the landing was to take place. But Hitler kept strictly to his order that operations were to be kept secret, and said: 'I cannot tell you yet'."

(7) Gerd von Rundstedt was interviewed by Basil Liddell Hart about Operation Sea Lion in his book The Other Side of the Hill (1948)

As the first steps to prepare for an invasion were taken only after the French capitulation, no definite date could be fixed when the plan was drafted. It depended on the time required to provide the shipping, to alter ships so they could carry tanks, and to train the troops in embarking and disembarking. The invasion was to be made in August if possible, and September at the latest. The military reasons for its cancellation were various. The German Navy would have had to control the North Sea as well as the Channel, and was not strong enough to do so. The German Air Force was not sufficient to protect the sea crossing on its own. While the leading part of the forces might have landed, there was the danger that they might be cut off from supplies and reinforcements.

The responsibility of commanding the invasion fell to me, and the task was assigned to my Army Group. The 16th Army under General Busch was on the right, and the 9th Army under General Strauss was on the left. They were to sail from ports stretching from Holland to Le Havre. The 16th Army was to use ports from Antwerp to Boulogne, while the 9th Army was to use the ports between the Somme and the Seine. No landing was to be made north of the Thames.

We were then to push forward and establish a much larger bridgehead along an arc south of London. It ran up the south shore of the Thames to the outskirts of London, and then south-westwards to Southampton Water.

(8) William Joyce, Germany Calling (6th August, 1940)

I make no apology for saying again that invasion is certainly coming soon, but what I want to impress upon you is that while you must feverishly take every conceivable precaution, nothing that you or the government can do is really of the slightest use. Don't be deceived by this lull before the storm, because, although there is still the chance of peace, Hitler is aware of the political and economic confusion in England, and is only waiting for the right moment. Then, when his moment comes, he will strike, and strike hard.