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Operation Sealion Figure 5: German plans for the Occupation of Britain

Operation Sealion Figure 5: German plans for the Occupation of Britain

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Operation Sealion Figure 5: German plans for the Occupation of Britain

Notes on the German plans for the occupation of Britain after a succesful invasion

German occupied britain?

German plans for the occupation of Britain after Seelion are actually quite well known, and they didn't include such niceties as a puppet administration practicing limited democracy. We might be sceptical about the feasibility of such things as arresting and deporting the entire male population between 18 and 45 years of age, but I hope we could at least recognise that it shows that the Germans were not planning on running a hearts and minds campaign.

On the other hand, there were aspects of the German planning that were both practical and likely to be implemented - prior to the invasion they'd drawn up a list of almost 3,000 people to be subject to immediate arrest, which reads like a cross-section of British cultural, business and political life ("my dear - the people we should have been seen dead with", Rebecca West to Noel Coward when it was made public after the war). BTW anybody thinking that Lloyd George would be angling to play the part of Quisling or Petain should note that his daughter Megan was on the list. There were also quite well developed plans to systematically strip Britain of it's artistic treasures and industrial assets and ship them back to Germany which i think we can also be pretty confident would have gone ahead.

As for Moseley - Meadow hits the nail on the head. He wanted to be the Duce of his own Fascist state, he didn't want to be anybody else's puppet.

Overall, if i had to rate the likely Nazi treatment of Britain it would be - not as bad as Poland or Russia, but a great deal worse than France or Denmark. There is zero chance that occupying Britain would see the Nazis getting their hands on much of the empire BTW.


I think this is absolutely true and worth pointing out, and this is one thing that bothers me about these settings. It's hard to go wrong expecting the Nazis to be especially evil.

But then again, Hitler and the Nazis were full of crap, with plans for everything from tropical colonies to a Burgundian nation. While I agree with you, the Nazis trying to do things in a way to exploit Britain more effectively isn't entirely crazy.


German plans for the occupation of Britain after Seelion are actually quite well known, and they didn't include such niceties as a puppet administration practicing limited democracy. We might be sceptical about the feasibility of such things as arresting and deporting the entire male population between 18 and 45 years of age, but I hope we could at least recognise that it shows that the Germans were not planning on running a hearts and minds campaign.

On the other hand, there were aspects of the German planning that were both practical and likely to be implemented - prior to the invasion they'd drawn up a list of almost 3,000 people to be subject to immediate arrest, which reads like a cross-section of British cultural, business and political life ("my dear - the people we should have been seen dead with", Rebecca West to Noel Coward when it was made public after the war). BTW anybody thinking that Lloyd George would be angling to play the part of Quisling or Petain should note that his daughter Megan was on the list. There were also quite well developed plans to systematically strip Britain of it's artistic treasures and industrial assets and ship them back to Germany which i think we can also be pretty confident would have gone ahead.

As for Moseley - Meadow hits the nail on the head. He wanted to be the Duce of his own Fascist state, he didn't want to be anybody else's puppet.

Overall, if i had to rate the likely Nazi treatment of Britain it would be - not as bad as Poland or Russia, but a great deal worse than France or Denmark. There is zero chance that occupying Britain would see the Nazis getting their hands on much of the empire BTW.

Operation Sea Lion (1974 Sandhurst Wargame)

Except people have spent years pointing out why this is utter nonsense. It isn't a case of Britain probably wins, but it will certainly win and Britain will be the stronger for it while Germany the poorer. To come to this conclusion, you ignore things such as logistics, logic, the strategic situation, leadership and even reality itself.

Germany's economy will, at the very least, be hugely disrupted thanks to Sealion, its navy gutted and thousands of soldiers lost. Britain will now have a much stronger hand elsewhere thanks to freeing up resources, a secured victory against Germany and a huge morale boost. The only winning move when it comes to Sealion for the Germans is simply not to play.


I don't know if I'd put it like that, certainly not in context with the information available. Realistically everyone thought the Soviets were going to collapse like a house of cards. One good kick and the whole rotten structure and all that.

So in the metaphor it would be more you walk across a street no one things is busy while blindfolded, and assume you can do it again, and everyone else agrees with you.

No, you are certainly both correct, and I should have been less flippant there. (Actually in the past I've been among the ones pointing out that, if they really did have to choose between the two, the Germans would have been nuts to attack England instead of Russia, given the facts as they knew them and the prevailing biases against the Soviets.)

Even so, it doesn't alter the fact that the invasion of France was a gamble that the Germans won at the slot machine, not simply a demonstration of vastly superior tactical prowess, and it was nuts to promptly think you could try again against the USSR. This was an intelligence error of cataclysmic implications for Germany, and while they do get some points for not being the only ones guilty of it, still, that doesn't counter the fact that this was one of the greatest intelligence errors of the war, arguably third only to the Japanese decision to attack Pearl Harbour and the German decision to invade Poland.

Yes, you can say that other countries also had low opinions of Soviet capacity, but then again, no other countries were planning on invading the USSR. Arguably if you are the country planning the invasion you should have a somewhat above-average assessment of that country's capabilities. I mean, arguably. What do I know. I've never worked in either politics or military intelligence, so perhaps I'm being blindly naive here.

When we route this back to the British context though the incompetence of German intelligence analysis does become more clear. This would have been right around the time the Germans were recruiting Garbo in Spain, for instance, which was another superb decision for them.

Operation Sealion

In the spring of 1940, the German war machine rolled over the nations of Western Europe so quickly that it surprised everyone, including the Germans.

With France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, and Denmark conquered, there was only one more country left to fall: Great Britain.

To topple this final domino, the German high command prepared for the invasion of the island.

Learn more about Operation Sea Lion, and the planned invasion of Great Britain, on this episode of Everything Everywhere Daily.

This episode is sponsored by

My audiobook recommendation today is Operation Sea Lion: An Account of the German Preparations and the British Counter-Measures by Peter Fleming.

On July 16 1940, Hitler issued Directive No. 16, setting in motion Operation Sea Lion: his plan to invade England. On September 17, Hitler postponed Operation Sea Lion indefinitely and the entire episode faded from memory.

It would be another 17 years before Peter Fleming rescued the story from military archives and, together with the recollections of those involved, pieced together the dramatic preparations for what could have been one of the most significant and potentially world-changing battles in history.

You can get a free one-month trial to Audible and 2 free audiobooks by going to or clicking on the link in the show notes.

From a military standpoint, 1940 was a good year for Germany. One could argue that it was the high point for the Third Reich. From April to June, they basically conquered most of Western Europe.

When they began operations, they assumed that the time it would take to conquer France would be much longer and would cost far more lives than it actually did. What the Germans thought would take months, only took weeks.

On May 10, the German entered Belgium and Luxembourg and on June 23, Adolf Hitler entered Paris.

The victory was almost even more complete. The British Expeditionary Forces on the continent were trapped near the French city of Dunkirk. If it wasn’t for a herculean effort on the part of British civilians in small ships who rescued over a third of a million soldiers, the British Army might have been defeated then and there.

Hitler’s initial plan for Britain wasn’t for an invasion. He assumed that with all of Western Europe conquered, the UK would seek a negotiated peace. The Kriegsmarine, aka the German Navy, did draw up some very basic plans as early as 1939 for a possible invasion of Britain, but there was nothing specific, only broad goals outlining what they would need to do to make an invasion successful.

The Germans had been very successful up until this point via their blitzkrieg strategy and use of mechanized warfare. However, all of their success in Eastern and Western Europe had been on land.

They had done very little by way of the sea. The closest thing to what they would have to do to invade Britain was the invasion of Norway. Norway, however, had a population of only 3 million, whereas the UK had a population of 47 million. Moreover, the Norwegians inflicted heavy losses to German naval units, without an impressive navy, and the British had the biggest navy in the world at the time.

When Churchill and the British refused to negotiate, Hitler ordered that plans be drawn up for an invasion.

No one in the German Wehrmacht was really keen on the idea of an invasion of Britain.

Field Marshal Alfred Jodl’s first idea was to simply dominate the air and destroy the Royal Air Force. If the Germans could gain air supremacy, they could shut down ports and shipping thereby crippling the British economy. By this route, they could eventually force the British to the negotiating table.

Hitler initially agreed. However, on July 16 he issued Führer Directive No. 16, which called to begin preparations for the invasion of Britain.

In the order, he said, “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.”

The plan was dubbed Operation Sea Lion.

Hitler demanded four things occur before any invasion:

  1. The Germans had to achieve air supremacy to protect any force attempting to land on the coast around the Straight of Dover.
  2. The English channel had to be cleared of British mines, and a barricade of German mines had to block either end of the English Channel.
  3. The coast of France near England had to be packed with heavy artillery.
  4. The Royal Navy had to be pinned down in the Mediterranean and the North Seal to allow their ships to cross freely.

Once these things had been established, then there could be a wide scale landing of troops in southeastern England.

The Army was the biggest cheerleader of the plan, but its success required the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe. Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, head of the Kriegsmarine, and Field Marshall Hermann Göring, head of the Luftwaffe, were very hesitant about the plans.

The British navy was simply superior, especially their surface fleet. The super battleship the Germans were working on, the Bismark, wasn’t quite ready yet.

Hitler was wanting an invasion in September. This had no basis in reality. Organizing at least 100,000 men for an amphibious landing, plus finding all the ships and the logistics would take a year at least, not a month. Moreover, by the time September rolled around, the weather would become worse, seas would become rougher, and the odds of a failed landing would be higher.

Beginning in July and August, the first part of the Fürher Directive, establishing air supremacy began. We know this as the Battle of Britain, the world’s first great aviation battle.

The Germans assumed they could achieve air supremacy in 7 to 14 days. That didn’t happen. The Battle of Britain went on through October. The Germans were at a massive disadvantage as every British pilot who was shot down and survived could be put back into action. Every German pilot who went down and survived was taken out for the rest of the war.

In the end, it was the British who achieved air supremacy by downing more German aircraft and producing more planes.

While all of this was going on, the British were throwing everything into a homeland defense. The third of a million troops rescued from Dunkirk were all still in England. Civilians were mobilized and the entire nation was put on high alert. A half a million civilians were recruited into the home guard. Thousands of pillboxes were installed along the coast.

The Germans were assembling barges from all over Europe to carry troops and equipment. However, these boats weren’t military vessels. They had no armor, no guns, and most of them weren’t even designed to be used in the open ocean. They were for coastal or river use.

Compare this to the D-Day landing craft several years later, which were armored and specially built, and a German invasion might have been a fiasco.

In the end, Hitler indefinitely postponed Operation Sealion on September 17.

There have been several reasons offered as to why the invasion never happened.

One is that Hitler himself never really believed an invasion was possible and that the risk of failure was too high. The entire operation might just have been an attempt to get the British to negotiate.

Second, is that in a rare moment of taking his general’s advice, Hitler listened to Raeder and Göring. Both said that the necessary prerequisite of air and naval supremacy wasn’t possible in the short run, and in fact, it never materialized.

Many people think that Hitler’s attention was simply elsewhere. While an invasion of Britain would have been risky, Britain itself didn’t really offer any immediate threat to Germany. They were bottled up on an island, dependent on the United States for trade and resources.

Hitler’s attention was on the Soviet Union, which he viewed as the much bigger strategic prize. A land invasion of the Soviet Union would play much more to the strengths of the Germans than an amphibious landing on the shore of England would. In June of 1941, they would do just that with the start of Operation Barbarossa.

If Operation Sealion had been implemented, regardless if it had been successful or a failure, it would have radically changed the outcome of the second world war.

Everything Everywhere is also a podcast!

  • Hitler planned to land troops at five strategic points from Kent to West Sussex
  • Once Nazis had a stronghold, he would deploy 500,000 more to fight inland
  • Diversionary attack was also planned between Aberdeen and Newcastle

Published: 12:06 BST, 9 January 2019 | Updated: 14:05 BST, 9 January 2019

Chilling top-secret Nazi documents have revealed precisely how Hitler planned to conquer Britain.

The German naval archive documents were seized by UK forces after the war outlining the dictator's invasion plans.

Operation Sea Lion was planned for September 1940, when Hitler hoped to land 100,000 troops at five points on the English coast between Ramsgate, Kent, and Selsey Bill, West Sussex.

The first wave of the 'exceptionally bold and daring attack' would also feature 650 tanks and 4,500 horses.

He would then deploy another 500,000 soldiers to fight inland once the Nazis had a foothold.

Hitler planned to swoop into the UK through the south-east coast after dropping 100,000 troops at five points between Kent and West Sussex

The chilling plans (pictured) uncover how Hitler hoped to occupy a huge portion of the south-east, dominating from the Thames to Southampton as they moved inland

Plans reveal how the Nazi dictator would dominate the south-east of England before moving up across the UK had he won the Battle of Britain

The Germans were confident that such an onslaught would have led to the 'rapid abandonment' of the British defences south of London.

Their first operational objective was to occupy a huge swath of south east England - from the mouth of the River Thames down to Southampton - 14 days after the invasion.

Brighton was earmarked to be the main landing area for transport ships bringing in more troops, armour and supplies during the occupation.

The top-secret documents offer a disturbing vision of Hitler's hopes for domination

And just like the Allied invasion of Normandy, the Germans would have attempted to fool the British into believing the main landings were to take place elsewhere.

A diversionary attack was planned between Aberdeen and Newcastle on the North East coast. Hitler believed Operation Sea Lion would have led to a 'rapid conclusion' of the war.

But crucially the invasion was entirely dependent on the Luftwaffe gaining air superiority over the British by the middle of September.

The RAF won the Battle of Britain between July and October 1940, scuppering Operation Sea Lion.

Copies of the hard bound book 'German Plans for the Invasion of England in 1940' were only given in limited number to senior officials in the British intelligence community in 1947.

Now an extremely rare copy has emerged for sale for £5,000 with auctioneers Henry Aldridge and Son of Devizes, Wilts, having been owned by a collector of military for many years.

Auctioneer Andrew Aldridge said: 'This is a fascinating account that was compiled just after the war by the Admiralty and was based on documents taken from German naval archives.

'This is the "what if" scenario and chronicles in great detail the events that ultimately proved to be the cancellation of the invasion of England.

Operation Sea Lion: Hitler's plan to invade Britain marked with publication of Nazi war charts

It was the most fearful moment in the history of modern Britain – when Adolf Hitler’s shock troops lined up along the coast of France and prepared to launch an invasion.

But a never before published Nazi map shows how at least one German officer may have found the assault, codenamed Operation Sea Lion, well, a little bit comical.

The mystery officer appears to have got the doodle bug, taking time out from drawing attack lines to sketch three invasion ships steaming across the English Channel. He also drew what appears to be a rather rotund paratrooper descending on the Kent countryside.

Historians at the Imperial War Museums, who found the map in their archives, say it gives a rare insight into the minds of German officers preparing to storm Britain.

The map can be revealed today, in the week of the 75th anniversary of Hitler’s decision to cancel the invasion after he realised he had lost the Battle of Britain.


“The drawings on the map almost look quite childish in some ways,” said Ian Kikuchi, a historian at the Imperial War Museum in London.

“But they are quite chilling when you think about what the invasion would have really entailed, with German tanks landing on the beaches and then rolling northwards through Kent.”

Hitler began drawing up plans to invade Britain in July 1940, buoyed by his swift occupation of France, Belgium and Holland.

He issued the invasion plans under Führer Directive No 16 and announced: “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.”

Hitler hoped to destroy the Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain before sending troops across the Channel.

As RAF Spitfires and Hurricanes battled against the Luftwaffe in summer skies over England, German cameramen confidently filmed Nazi infantry practising the invasion on a beach near Antwerp, in Belgium.

But the scheme was opposed by some leading Nazis, including the Luftwaffe’s commander Hermann Göring, who was pessimistic about its success, and that cynicism may have rubbed off on the officer who drew the doodle map.

It was discovered by British troops following D-Day and is believed to have been handed over to the Imperial War Museum in London by the Government shortly after 1945.

The officer who drew the map is thought to have been a member of the headquarters staff of the German 16th Army, which was due to play a major part in the offensive.

It is unclear what his boss, Fieldmarshal Ernst Busch, thought of his work.

The highly-decorated commander, who later led his men in Hitler’s failed invasion of Russia, was one of the few who did ultimately make it across the English Channel. He died of heart-failure at a prisoner of war camp in Aldershot in 1945.


The map is now on display at the Imperial War Museum in London. A copy can also be seen at the Imperial War Museum North in Trafford, Greater Manchester, where “Blitzed Brits”, an exhibition in association with the Horrible Histories children’s television programme, is currently taking place.

Behold: Operation Sea Lion Was Hitler's Failed Plan to Conquer Great Britain

Without doubt, the fall of France was an unmitigated disaster for the Allied cause. However, for all its failures in command, strategy, and tactics, it could have been much worse.

During the first week of June 1940, a total of 335,000 British and French soldiers were evacuated to safety in England from the embattled French beaches near the town of Dunkirk. Under continuous air attack, a hodgepodge of civilian and naval watercraft performed what came to be termed a “miracle.”

It must be acknowledged that the feat was accomplished with German help. Rather than allow his victorious land forces to push the enemy into the sea, Adolf Hitler halted his panzers so that the Luftwaffe could administer the coup de grâce. The air bombardment failed, and the thousands of troops who escaped the closing noose on the French coast fought against the Nazis another day.

Preparing for the Nazi Invasion of England

Many on both sides of the 22-mile-wide English Channel believed that the next battle would come sooner rather than later—and it would be fought on British soil. Not since William the Conqueror sailed from Normandy and won the Battle of Hastings in 1066 had England been invaded.

On June 16, 1940, less than a month after France surrendered, Hitler issued Führer Directive No. 16. It read: “Since England, in spite of her hopeless military situation, shows no signs of being ready to come to an understanding, I have decided to prepare a landing operation against England and, if necessary, to carry it out. The aim of this operation will be to eliminate the English homeland as a base for the prosecution of the war against Germany, and, if necessary, to occupy it.”

General Alfred Jodl, chief of staff of the German armed forces, named the plan Operation Sea Lion. The cross-Channel invasion of England was initially scheduled for August 15, just eight weeks later. Operation Sea Lion called for more than 250,000 German troops, 60,000 horses, and nearly 35,000 vehicles to embark from ports in occupied France and Belgium and land in three waves on a 200-mile front from Weymouth in the west to Dover in the east. The capture of London was paramount.

Operation Sea Lion: A Nazi Reign of Terror

A Nazi reign of terror would follow. Members of Parliament, intellectuals, and outspoken enemies of the Reich were to be rounded up by the Gestapo and eventually interned.

One major voice of dissent in the German High Command was that of Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, commander of the Kriegsmarine, the German Navy. He recognized that for all its successes during the year-old war, the German military had neither attempted nor trained for a major amphibious assault. Moreover, suitable landing craft simply did not exist. Over 2,000 Rhine River barges, tugs, and other vessels were assembled for the operation and most of these had to be modified with steel and concrete reinforcement and landing ramps.

Contending With the Royal Navy Göring Over-Promises

For Raeder, the most critical aspect of Operation Sea Lion was not the treacherous English Channel with its unpredictable weather and strong tides. It was not the threat of intervention by the Royal Navy. Vast minefields would be sown on either flank of the landing beaches to hold the British warships at bay. Raeder knew that Sea Lion was doomed unless Germany controlled the skies over the Channel.

Once again, Hitler entrusted the direction of the war to an overpromising Hermann Göring. The Luftwaffe chief predicted that his battle-hardened pilots would sweep the Royal Air Force from the sky in a month. Raeder was no doubt relieved. It was his air force counterpart on whose shoulders fell the future of Sea Lion.

History records that the Battle of Britain was not fought on the ground, but in the air. Intrepid RAF pilots took a heavy toll in German planes and fliers. Hitler delayed Operation Sea Lion until September, then October. Ultimately, the invasion was scrapped for good. Göring’s Luftwaffe had failed the Führer a second time.

By the autumn of 1940, however, Hitler had already turned his gaze eastward. The invasion of the Soviet Union, Operation Barbarossa, would not be postponed. On June 22, 1941, German panzers rolled across the Russian frontier and sealed the fate of the Third Reich.

Operation Sea Lion — Change Of Plans

The change in plans moved the date of the operation back to August — even earlier than originally scheduled, to Aug. 13. It also relinquished Army Group C from responsibility, and would have only Rundstedt’s Army Group A participate in the initial landings. The westernmost landings would now be made at Worthing.

Rundstedt would lead the 9th and 16th Armies across the English Channel and create a solidified front from the Thames Estuary to Portsmouth. After building his forces back up, Rundstedt would command a pincer attack against London.

Once that was taken, German troops would march north to the 52nd parallel. Hitler thought Britain would surrender by the time they reached that point.

Wikimedia Commons Invasion barges at Wilhelmshaven. 2,400 barges from across Europe were collected, but this was still too few — and they could only be used in calm seas. 1940.

Throughout these fluctuating plans, delays, and assumptions, Raeder was dealing with actual, tangible issues. He had no purpose-built landing craft to complete his part of the strategy. The Kriegsmarine collected around 2,400 barges from across the continent, but this was still too few — and they could only be used in calm seas.

While these barges were dispersed across the Channel ports, Raeder’s lack of faith in the plan remained steady. He had no confidence that he’d be able to defend his men against the Royal Navy’s Home Fleet, and as such, protect the rest of Germany’s invading troops from British defense.

In the meantime, the Brits were in heavy defensive preparation. Though much of their heavy equipment was destroyed during the Battle of Dunkirk, the British Army did have a substantial amount of troops available. General Sir Edmund Ironside was chosen as leader of the island’s defense.

His plan was to set up defensive lines around the south, which would be backed by Anti-tank machinery. Those, in turn, would be supported by small bastions of troops.

Wikimedia Commons Winston Churchill visits bombed out areas of East London. Germany’s Luftwaffe did untold damage even without an invasion. Sept. 8, 1940.

Of course, none of this would come to be, as Germany was embattled in numerous other, time-sensitive operations. Between the lack of preparation, imperfect strategy, and Hitler’s attention toward Russia — the invasion of Britain has remained a mere what-if to this day.

Operation Sealion Figure 5: German plans for the Occupation of Britain - History

&ldquoTHE FINAL GERMAN VICTORY over England is now only a question of time,&rdquo General Jodl, Chief of Operations at OKW, wrote on June 30, 1940. &ldquoEnemy offensive operations on a large scale are no longer possible.&rdquo

Hitler&rsquos favorite strategist was in a confident and complacent mood. France had capitulated the week before, leaving Britain alone and apparently helpless. On June 15 Hitler had informed the generals that he wanted the Army partially demobilized&mdashfrom 160 to 120 divisions. &ldquoThe assumption behind this,&rdquo Halder noted in his diary that day, &ldquois that the task of the Army is fulfilled. The Air Force and Navy will be given the mission of carrying on alone the war against England.&rdquo

In truth, the Army showed little interest in it. Nor was the Fuehrer himself much concerned. On June 17 Colonel Walter Warlimont, Jodl&rsquos deputy, informed the Navy that &ldquowith regard to the landing in Britain, the Fuehrer &hellip has not up to now expressed such an intention &hellip Therefore, even at this time, no preparatory work of any kind [has] been carried out in OKW.&rdquo 1 Four days later, on June 21, at the very moment Hitler was entering the armistice car at Compiègne to humble the French, the Navy was informed that the &ldquoArmy General Staff is not concerning itself with the question of England. Considers execution impossible. Does not know how operation is to be conducted from southern area &hellip General Staff rejects the operation.&rdquo 2

None of the gifted planners in any of the three German armed services knew how Britain was to be invaded, though it was the Navy, not unnaturally, which had first given the matter some thought. As far back as November 15, 1939, when Hitler was trying vainly to buck up his generals to launch an attack in the West, Raeder instructed the Naval War Staff to examine &ldquothe possibility of invading England, a possibility arising if certain conditions are fulfilled by the further course of the war.&rdquo 3 It was the first time in history that any German military staff had been asked even to consider such an action. It seems likely that Raeder took this step largely because he wanted to anticipate any sudden aberration of his unpredictable Leader. There is no record that Hitler was consulted or knew anything about it. The furthest his thoughts went at this time was to get airfields and naval bases in Holland, Belgium and France for the tightening of the blockade against the British Isles.

By December 1939, the Army and Luftwaffe high commands were also giving some thought to the problem of invading Britain. Rather nebulous ideas of the three services were exchanged, but they did not get very far. In January 1940, the Navy and Air Force rejected an Army plan as unrealistic. To the Navy it did not take into account British naval power to the Luftwaffe it underestimated the R.A.F. &ldquoIn conclusion,&rdquo remarked the Luftwaffe General Staff in a communication to OKH, &ldquoa combined operation with a landing in England as its object must be rejected.&rdquo 4 Later, as we shall see, Goering and his aides were to take a quite contrary view.

The first mention in the German records that Hitler was even facing the possibility of invading Britain was on May 21, the day after the armored forces drove through to the sea at Abbeville. Raeder discussed &ldquoin private&rdquo with the Fuehrer &ldquothe possibility of a later landing in England.&rdquo The source of this information is Admiral Raeder, 5 whose Navy was not sharing in the glory of the astounding victories of the Army and Air Force in the West and who, understandably, was seeking means of bringing his service back into the picture. But Hitler&rsquos thoughts were on the battle of encirclement to the north and on the Somme front then forming to the south. He did not trouble his generals with matters beyond these two immediate tasks.

The naval officers, however, with little else to do, continued to study the problem of invasion, and by May 27 Rear Admiral Kurt Fricke, Chief of the Naval War Staff Operations Division, came up with a fresh plan entitled Studie England. Preliminary work was also begun on rounding up shipping and developing landing craft, the latter of which the Germany Navy was entirely bereft. In this connection Dr. Gottfried Feder, the economic crank who had helped Hitler draft the party program in the early Munich days and who was now a State Secretary in the Ministry of Economics, where his crackpot ideas were given short shrift, produced plans for what he called a &ldquowar crocodile.&rdquo This was a sort of self-propelled barge made of concrete which could carry a company of two hundred men with full equipment or several tanks or pieces of artillery, roll up on any beach and provide cover for the disembarking troops and vehicles. It was taken quite seriously by the Naval Command and even by Halder, who mentioned it in his diary, and was discussed at length by Hitler and Raeder on June 20. But nothing came of it in the end.

To the admirals nothing seemed to be coming of an invasion of the British Isles as June approached its end. Following his appearance at Compiègne on June 21, Hitler went off with some old cronies to do the sights of Paris briefly* and then to visit the battlefields, not of this war but of the first war, where he had served as a dispatch runner. With him was his tough top sergeant of those days, Max Amann, now a millionaire Nazi publisher. The future course of the war&mdashspecifically, how to continue the fight against Britain&mdashseemed the least of his concerns, or perhaps it was merely that he believed that this little matter was already settled, since the British would now come to &ldquoreason&rdquo and make peace.

Hitler did not return to his new headquarters, Tannenberg, west of Freudenstadt in the Black Forest, until the twenty-ninth of June. The next day, coming down to earth, he mulled over Jodl&rsquos paper on what to do next. It was entitled &ldquoThe Continuation of the War against England.&rdquo 6 Though Jodl was second only to Keitel at OKW in his fanatical belief in the Fuehrer&rsquos genius, he was, when left alone, usually a prudent strategist. But now he shared the general view at Supreme Headquarters that the war was won and almost over. If Britain didn&rsquot realize it, a little more force would have to be supplied to remind her. For the &ldquosiege&rdquo of England, his memorandum proposed three steps: intensification of the German air and sea war against British shipping, storage depots, factories and the R.A.F. &ldquoterror attacks against the centers of population&rdquo &ldquoa landing of troops with the objective of occupying England.&rdquo

Jodl recognized that &ldquothe fight against the British Air Force must have top priority.&rdquo But, on the whole, he thought this as well as other aspects of the assault could be carried out with little trouble.

Together with propaganda and periodic terror attacks, announced as reprisals, this increasing weakening of the basis of food supply will paralyze and finally break the will of the people to resist, and thereby force its government to capitulate.&dagger

As for a landing, it could

only be contemplated after Germany has gained control of the air. A landing, therefore, should not have as its objective the military conquest of England, a task that could be left to the Air Force and Navy. Its aim should rather be to administer the deathblow [Todesstoss] to an England already economically paralyzed and no longer capable of fighting in the air, if this is still necessary.&Dagger

However, thought Jodl, all this might not be necessary.

Since England can no longer fight for victory, but only for the preservation of its possessions and its world prestige she should, according to all predictions. be inclined to make peace when she learns that she can still get it now at relatively little cost.

This was what Hitler thought too and he immediately set to work on his peace speech for the Reichstag. In the meantime, as we have seen, he ordered (July 2) some preliminary planning for a landing and on July 16, when no word of &ldquoreason&rdquo had come from London, issued Directive No. 16 for Sea Lion. At last, after more than six weeks of hesitation, it was decided to invade Britain, &ldquoif necessary.&rdquo This, as Hitler and his generals belatedly began to realize, would have to be a major military operation, not without its risks and depending for success on whether the Luftwaffe and the Navy could prepare the way for the troops against a far superior British Navy and a by no means negligible enemy Air Force.

Was Sea Lion a serious plan? And was it seriously intended that it should be carried out?

To this day many have doubted it and they have been reinforced in their opinions by the chorus from the German generals after the war. Rundstedt, who was in command of the invasion, told Allied investigators in 1945:

The proposed invasion of England was nonsense, because adequate ships were not available &hellip We looked upon the whole thing as a sort of game because it was obvious that no invasion was possible when our Navy was not in a position to cover a crossing of the Channel or carry reinforcements. Nor was the German Air Force capable of taking on these functions if the Navy failed &hellip I was always very skeptical about the whole affair &hellip I have a feeling that the Fuehrer never really wanted to invade England. He never had sufficient courage &hellip He definitely hoped that the English would make peace &hellip 7

Blumentritt, Rundstedt&rsquos chief of operations, expressed similar views to Liddell Hart after the war, claiming that &ldquoamong ourselves we talked of it [Sea Lion] as a bluff.&rdquo 8

I myself spent a few days at the middle of August on the Channel, snooping about from Antwerp to Boulogne in search of the invasion army. On August 15, at Calais and at Cap Gris-Nez, we saw swarms of German bombers and fighters heading over the Channel toward England on what turned out to be the first massive air assault. And while it was evident that the Luftwaffe was going all out, the lack of shipping and especially of invasion barges in the ports and in the canals and rivers behind them left me with the impression that the Germans were bluffing. They simply did not have the means, so far as I could see, of getting their troops across the Channel.

But one reporter can see very little of a war and we know now that the Germans did not begin to assemble the invasion fleet until September 1. As for the generals, anyone who read their interrogations or listened to them on cross-examination at the Nuremberg trials learned to take their postwar testimony with more than a grain of salt. * The trickiness of man&rsquos memory is always considerable and the German generals were no exception to this rule. Also they had many axes to grind, one of the foremost being to discredit Hitler&rsquos military leadership. Indeed, their principal theme, expounded at dreary length in their memoirs and in their interrogations and trial testimony, was that if they had been left to make the decisions Hitler never would have led the Third Reich to defeat.

Unfortunately for them, but fortunately for posterity and the truth, the mountainous secret German military files leave no doubt that Hitler&rsquos plan to invade Britain in the early fall of 1940 was deadly serious and that, though given to many hesitations, the Nazi dictator seriously intended to carry it out if there were any reasonable chance of success. Its ultimate fate was settled not by any lack of determination or effort but by the fortunes of war, which now, for the first time, began to turn against him.

On July 17, the day after Directive No. 16 was issued to prepare the invasion and two days before the Fuehrer&rsquos &ldquopeace&rdquo speech in the Reichstag, the Army High Command (OKH) allocated the forces for Sea Lion and ordered thirteen picked divisions to the jumping-off places on the Channel coast for the first wave of the invasion. On the same day the Army Command completed its detailed plan for a landing on a broad front on the south coast of England.

The main thrust here, as in the Battle of France, would be carried out by Field Marshal von Rundstedt (as he would be titled on July 19) as commander of Army Group A. Six infantry divisions of General Ernst Busch&rsquos Sixteenth Army were to embark from the Pas de Calais and hit the beaches between Ramsgate and Bexhill. Four divisions of General Adolf Strauss&rsquos Ninth Army would cross the Channel from the area of Le Havre and land between Brighton and the Isle of Wight. Farther to the west three divisions of Field Marshal von Reichenau&rsquos Sixth Army (from Field Marshal von Bock&rsquos Army Group B), taking off from the Cherbourg peninsula, would be put ashore in Lyme Bay, between Weymouth and Lyme Regis. Altogether 90,000 men would form the first wave by the third day the High Command planned on putting ashore a total of 260,000 men. Airborne forces would help out after being dropped at Lyme Bay and other areas. An armored force of no less than six panzer divisions, reinforced by three motorized divisions, would follow in the second wave and in a few days it was planned to have ashore a total of thirty-nine divisions plus two airborne divisions.

Their task was as follows. After the bridgeheads had been secured, the divisions of Army Group A in the southeast would push forward to the first objective, a line running between Gravesend and Southampton. Reichenau&rsquos Sixth Army would advance north to Bristol, cutting off Devon and Cornwall. The second objective would be a line between Maldon on the east coast north of the Thames estuary to the Severn River, blocking off Wales. &ldquoHeavy battles with strong British forces&rdquo were expected to develop at about the time the Germans reached their first objective. But they would be quickly won, London surrounded, and the drive northward resumed. 9 Brauchitsch told Raeder on July 17 that the whole operation would be finished in a month and would be relatively easy.* 10

But Raeder and the Naval High Command were skeptical. An operation of such size on such a broad front&mdashit stretched over two hundred miles from Ramsgate to Lyme Bay&mdashwas simply beyond the means of the German Navy to convoy and protect. Raeder so informed OKW two days later and brought it up again on July 21 when Hitler summoned him, Brauchitsch and General Hans Jeschonnek (Chief of the Luftwaffe General Staff) to a meeting in Berlin. The Fuehrer was still confused about &ldquowhat is going on in England.&rdquo He appreciated the Navy&rsquos difficulties but stressed the importance of ending the war as soon as possible. For the invasion forty divisions would be necessary, he said, and the &ldquomain operation&rdquo would have to be completed by September 15. On the whole the warlord was in an optimistic mood despite Churchill&rsquos refusal at that very moment to heed his peace appeal.

England&rsquos situation is hopeless [Halder noted Hitler as saying]. The war has been won by us. A reversal of the prospects of success is impossible. 11

But the Navy, faced with the appalling task of transporting a large army across the choppy Channel in the face of a vastly stronger British Navy and of an enemy Air Force that seemed still rather active, was not so sure. On July 29 the Naval War Staff drew up a memorandum advising&ldquoagainst undertaking the operation this year&rdquo and proposing that &ldquoit be considered in May 1941 or thereafter.&rdquo 12

Hitler, however, insisted on considering it on July 31, 1940, when he again summoned his military chiefs, this time to his villa on the Obersalzberg. Besides Raeder, Keitel and Jodl were there from OKW and Brauchitsch and Halder from the Army High Command. The Grand Admiral, as he now was, did most of the talking. He was not in a very hopeful mood.

September 15, he said, would be the earliest date for Sea Lion to begin, and then only if there were no &ldquounforeseen circumstances due to the weather or the enemy.&rdquo When Hitler inquired about the weather problem Raeder responded with a lecture on the subject that grew quite eloquent and certainly forbidding. Except for the first fortnight in October the weather, he explained, was &ldquogenerally bad&rdquo in the Channel and the North Sea light fog came in the middle of that month and heavy fog at the end. But that was only part of the weather problem. &ldquoThe operation,&rdquo he declared, &ldquocan be carried out only if the sea is calm.&rdquo If the water were rough, the barges would sink and even the big ships would be helpless, since they could not unload supplies. The Admiral grew gloomier with every minute that he contemplated what lay ahead.

Even if the first wave crosses successfully [he went on] under favorable weather conditions, there is no guarantee that the same favorable weather will carry through the second and third waves &hellip As a matter of fact, we must realize that no traffic worth mentioning will be able to cross for several days, until certain harbors can be utilized.

That would leave the Army in a fine pickle, stranded on the beaches without supplies and reinforcements. Raeder now came to the main point of the differences between the Army and the Navy. The Army wanted a broad front from the Straits of Dover to Lyme Bay. But the Navy simply couldn&rsquot provide the ships necessary for such an operation against the expected strong reaction of the British Navy and Air Force. Raeder therefore argued strongly that the front be shortened&mdashto run only from the Dover Straits to Eastbourne. The Admiral saved his clincher for the end.

&ldquoAll things considered,&rdquo he said, &ldquothe best time for the operation would be May 1941.&rdquo

But Hitler did not want to wait that long. He conceded that &ldquonaturally&rdquo there was nothing they could do about the weather. But they had to consider the consequences of losing time. The German Navy would not be any stronger vis-à-vis the British Navy by spring. The British Army at the moment was in poor shape. But give it another eight to ten months and it would have from thirty to thirty-five divisions, which was a considerable force in the restricted area of the proposed invasion. Therefore his decision (according to the confidential notes made by both Raeder and Halder) 13 was as follows:

Diversions in Africa should be studied. But the decisive result can be achieved only by an attack on England. An attempt must therefore be made to prepare the operation for September 15, 1940 &hellip The decision as to whether the operation is to take place in September or is to be delayed until May 1941, will be made after the Air Force has made concentrated attacks on southern England for one week. If the effect of the air attacks is such that the enemy air force, harbors and naval forces, etc. are heavily damaged. Operation Sea Lion will be carried out in 1940. Otherwise it is to be postponed until May 1941.

All now depended on the Luftwaffe.

The next day, August 1, Hitler issued as a consequence two directives from OKW, one signed by himself, the other by Keitel.

Fuehrer&rsquos Headquarters
August 1, 1940

Directive No. 17 for the Conduct of Air and Naval Warfare against England

In order to establish the conditions necessary for the final conquest of England, I intend to continue the air and naval war against the English homeland more intensively than heretofore.

To this end I issue the following orders:

1. The German Air Force is to overcome the British Air Force with all means at its disposal and as soon as possible &hellip

2. After gaining temporary or local air superiority the air war is to be carried out against harbors, especially against establishments connected with food supply &hellip Attacks on the harbors of the south coast are to be undertaken on the smallest scale possible, in view of our intended operations&hellip.

4. The Luftwaffe is to stand by in force for Operation Sea Lion.

5. I reserve for myself the decision on terror attacks as a means of reprisal.

6. The intensified air war may commence on or after August 6 &hellip The Navy is authorized to begin the projected intensified naval warfare at the same time.

The directive signed by Keitel on behalf of Hitler the same day read in part:

The C. in C., Navy, having reported on July 31 that the necessary preparations for Sea Lion could not be completed before September 15, the Fuehrer has ordered:

Preparations for Sea Lion are to be continued and completed by the Army and Air Force by September 15.

Eight to fourteen days after the launching of the air offensive against Britain, scheduled to begin about August 5, the Fuehrer will decide whether the invasion will take place this year or not his decision will depend largely on the outcome of the air offensive &hellip

In spite of the Navy&rsquos warning that it can guarantee only the defense of a narrow strip of coast (as far west as Eastbourne), preparations are to be continued for the attack on a broad basis, as originally planned &hellip 15

The last paragraph only served to inflame the feud between the Army and Navy over the question of a long or a short invasion front. A fortnight before, the Naval War Staff had estimated that to fulfill the demands of the Army for landing 100,000 men with equipment and supplies in the first wave, along a 200-mile front from Ramsgate to Lyme Bay, would necessitate rounding up 1,722 barges, 1,161 motorboats, 471 tugs and 155 transports. Even if it were possible to assemble such a vast amount of shipping, Raeder told Hitler on July 25, it would wreck the German economy, since taking away so many barges and tugs would destroy the whole inland-waterway transportation system, on which the economic life of the country largely depended. 16 At any rate, Raeder made it clear, the protection of such an armada trying to supply such a broad front against the certain attacks of the British Navy and Air Force was beyond the powers of the German naval forces. At one point the Naval War Staff warned the Army that if it insisted on the broad front, the Navy might lose all of its ships.

But the Army persisted. Overestimating British strength as it did, it argued that to land on a narrow front would confront the attackers with a &ldquosuperior&rdquo British land force. On August 7 there was a showdown between the two services when Halder met his opposite number in the Navy, Admiral Schniewind, the Chief of the Naval War Staff. There was a sharp and dramatic clash.

&ldquoI utterly reject the Navy&rsquos proposal,&rdquo the Army General Staff Chief, usually a very calm man, fumed. &ldquoFrom the point of view of the Army I regard it as complete suicide. I might just as well put the troops that have landed straight through a sausage machine!&rdquo

According to the Naval War Staff&rsquos record of the meeting* Schniewind replied that it would be &ldquoequally suicidal&rdquo to attempt to transport the troops for such a broad front as the Army desired, &ldquoin view of British naval supremacy.&rdquo

It was a cruel dilemma. If a broad front with the large number of troops to man it was attempted, the whole German expedition might be sunk at sea by the British Navy. If a short front, with correspondingly fewer troops, was adopted, the invaders might be hurled back into the sea by the British Army. On August 10 Brauchitsch, the Commander in Chief of the Army, informed OKW that he &ldquocould not accept&rdquo a landing between Folkestone and Eastbourne. However, he was willing, albeit &ldquovery reluctantly,&rdquo to abandon the landing at Lyme Bay in order to shorten the front and meet the Navy halfway.

This was not enough for the hardheaded admirals, and their caution and stubbornness were beginning to have an effect at OKW. On August 13 Jodl drafted an &ldquoappreciation&rdquo of the situation, laying down five conditions for the success of Sea Lion that seemingly would have struck the generals and admirals as almost ludicrous had their dilemma not been so serious. First, he said, the British Navy would have to be eliminated from the south coast, and second, the R.A.F. would have to be eliminated from the British skies. The other conditions concerned the landing of troops in a strength and with a rapidity that were obviously far beyond the Navy&rsquos powers. If these conditions were not fulfilled, he considered the landing &ldquoan act of desperation which would have to be carried out in a desperate situation, but which we have no cause to carry out now.&rdquo 17

If the Navy&rsquos fears were spreading to Jodl, the OKW Operations Chief&rsquos hesitations were having their effect on Hitler. All through the war the Fuehrer leaned much more heavily on Jodl than on the Chief of OKW, the spineless, dull-minded Keitel. It is not surprising, then, that on August 13, when Raeder saw the Supreme Commander in Berlin and requested a decision on the broad versus the narrow front, Hitler was inclined to agree with the Navy on the smaller operation. He promised to make a definite ruling the next day after he had seen the Commander in Chief of the Army. 18 After hearing Brauchitsch&rsquos views on the fourteenth, Hitler finally made up his mind, and on the sixteenth an OKW directive signed by Keitel declared that the Fuehrer had decided to abandon the landing in Lyme Bay, which Reichenau&rsquos Sixth Army was to have made. Preparations for landings on the narrower front on September 15 were to be continued, but now, for the first time, the Fuehrer&rsquos own doubts crept into a secret directive. &ldquoFinal orders,&rdquo it added, &ldquowill not be given until the situation is clear.&rdquo The new order, however, was somewhat of a compromise. For a further directive that day enlarged the narrower front.

Main crossing to be on narrow front. Simultaneous landing of four to five thousand troops at Brighton by motorboats and the same number of airborne troops at Deal-Ramsgate. In addition, on D-minus-1 Day the Luftwaffe is to make a strong attack on London, which would cause the population to flee from the city and block the roads. 19

Although Halder on August 23 was scribbling a shorthand note in his diary that &ldquoon this basis, an attack has no chance of success this year,&rdquo a directive on August 27 over Keitel&rsquos signature laid down final plans for landings in four main areas on the south coast between Folkestone and Selsey Bill, just east of Portsmouth, with the first objective, as before, a line running between Portsmouth and the Thames, east of London at Gravesend, to be reached as soon as the beachheads had been connected and organized and the troops could strike north. At the same time orders were given to get ready to carry out certain deception maneuvers, of which the principal one was &ldquoAutumn Journey&rdquo (Herbstreise). This called for a large-scale feint against Britain&rsquos east coast, where, as has been noted, Churchill and his military advisers were still expecting the main invasion blow to fall. For this purpose four large liners, including Germany&rsquos largest, Europa and Bremen, and ten additional transports, escorted by four cruisers, were to put out from the southern Norwegian ports and the Heligoland Bight on D-minus-2 Day and head for the English coast between Aberdeen and Newcastle. The transports would be empty and the whole expedition would turn back as darkness fell, repeating the maneuver the next day. 20

On August 30 Brauchitsch gave out a lengthy order of instructions for the landings, but the generals who received it must have wondered how much heart their Army chief now had in the undertaking. He entitled it &ldquoInstruction for the Preparation of Operation Sea Lion&rdquo&mdashrather late in the game to be ordering preparations for an operation that he commanded must be carried out from September 15. &ldquoThe order for execution,&rdquo he added, &ldquodepends on the political situation&rdquo&mdasha condition that must have puzzled the unpolitical generals. 21

On September 1 the movement of shipping from Germany&rsquos North Sea ports toward the embarkation harbors on the Channel began, and two days later, on September 3, came a further directive from OKW.

The earliest day for the sailing of the invasion fleet has been fixed as September 20, and that of the landing for September 21.

Orders for the launching of the attack will be given D-minus-10 Day, presumably therefore on September 11.

Final commands will be given at the latest on D-minus-3 Day, at midday.

All preparations must remain liable to cancellation 24 hours before zero hour.

This sounded like business. But the sound was deceptive. On September 6 Raeder had another long session with Hitler. &ldquoThe Fuehrer&rsquos decision to land in England,&rdquo the Admiral recorded in the Naval Staff War Diary that night, &ldquois still by no means settled, as he is firmly convinced that Britain&rsquos defeat will be achieved even without the &lsquolanding.&rsquo&rdquo Actually, as Raeder&rsquos long recording of the talk shows, the Fuehrer discoursed at length about almost everything except Sea Lion: about Norway, Gibraltar, Suez, &ldquothe problem of the U.S.A.,&rdquo the treatment of the French coloniesand his fantastic views about the establishment of a &ldquoNorth Germanic Union.&rdquo 23

If Churchill and his military chiefs had only got wind of this remarkable conference the code word &ldquoCromwell&rdquo might not have been sent out in England on the evening of the next day, September 7, signifying &ldquoInvasion imminent&rdquo and causing no end of confusion, the endless ringing of church bells by the Home Guard, the blowing of several bridges by Royal Engineers and the needless casualties suffered by those stumbling over hastily laid mines.*

But on the late afternoon of Saturday, September 7, the Germans had begun their first massive bombing of London, carried out by 625 bombers protected by 648 fighters. It was the most devastating attack from the air ever delivered up to that day on a city&mdashthe bombings of Warsaw andRotterdam were pinpricks beside it&mdashand by early evening the whole dock-side area of the great city was a mass of flames and every railway line to the south, so vital to the defense against invasion, was blocked. In the circumstances, many in London believed that this murderous bombing was the prelude to immediate German landings, and it was because of this more than anything else that the alert, &ldquoInvasion imminent,&rdquo was sent out. As will shortly be seen, this savage bombing of London on September 7, though setting off a premature warning and causing much damage, marked a decisive turning point in the Battle of Britain, the first great decisive struggle in the air the earth had ever experienced, which was now rapidly approaching its climax.

The time for Hitler to make his fatal decision to launch the invasion or not to launch it was also drawing near. It was to be made, as the September 3 directive stipulated, on September 11, giving the armed services ten days to carry out the preliminaries. But on the tenth Hitler decided to postpone his decision until the fourteenth. There seem to have been at least two reasons for the delay. One was the belief at OKW that the bombing of London was causing so much destruction, both to property and to British morale, that an invasion might not be necessary.&dagger

The other reason arose from the difficulties the German Navy was beginning to experience in assembling its shipping. Besides the weather, which the naval authorities reported on September 10 as being &ldquocompletely abnormal and unstable,&rdquo the R.A.F., which Goering had promised to destroy, and the British Navy were increasingly interfering with the concentration of the invasion fleet. That same day the Naval War Staff warned of the &ldquodanger&rdquo of British air and naval attacks on German transport movements, which it said had &ldquoundoubtedly been successful.&rdquo Two days later, on September 12, H.Q. of Naval Group West sent an ominous message to Berlin:

Interruptions caused by the enemy&rsquos air forces, long-range artillery and light naval forces have, for the first time, assumed major significance. The harbors at Ostend, Dunkirk, Calais and Boulogne cannot be used as night anchorages for shipping because of the danger of English bombings and shelling. Units of the British Fleet are now able to operate almost unmolested in the Channel. Owing to these difficulties further delays are expected in the assembly of the invasion fleet.

The next day matters grew worse. British light naval forces bombarded the chief Channel invasion ports, Ostend, Calais, Boulogne and Cherbourg, while the R.A.F. sank eighty barges in Ostend Harbor. In Berlin that day Hitler conferred with his service chiefs at lunch. He thought the air war was going very well and declared that he had no intention of running the risk of invasion. 24 In fact, Jodl got the impression from the Fuehrer&rsquos remarks that he had &ldquoapparently decided to abandon Sea Lion completely,&rdquo an impression which was accurate for that day, as Hitler confirmed the following day&mdashwhen, however, he again changed his mind.

Both Raeder and Halder have left confidential notes of the meeting of the Fuehrer with his commanders in chief in Berlin on September 14. 25 The Admiral managed to slip Hitler a memorandum before the session opened, setting forth the Navy&rsquos opinion that

the present air situation does not provide conditions for carrying out the operation [Sea Lion], as the risk is still too great.

At the beginning of the conference, the Nazi warlord displayed a somewhat negative mood and his thoughts were marred by contradictions. He would not give the order to launch the invasion, but neither would he call it off as, Raeder noted in the Naval War Diary, &ldquohe apparently had planned to do on September 13.&rdquo

What were the reasons for his latest change of mind? Halder recorded them in some detail.

A successful landing [the Fuehrer argued] followed by an occupation would end the war in a short time. England would starve. A landing need not necessarily be carried out within a specified time &hellip But a long war is not desirable. We have already achieved everything that we need.

British hopes in Russia and America, Hitler said, had not materialized. Russia was not going to bleed for Britain. America&rsquos rearmament would not be fully effective until 1945. As for the moment, the &ldquoquickest solution would be a landing in England. The Navy has achieved the necessary conditions. The operations of the Luftwaffe are above all praise. Four or five days of decent weather would bring the decisive results &hellip We have a good chance of bringing England to her knees.&rdquo

What was wrong, then? Why hesitate any longer in launching the invasion?

The trouble was, Hitler conceded:

The enemy recovers again and again &hellip Enemy fighters have not yet been completely eliminated. Our own reports of successes do not give a completely reliable picture, although the enemy has been severely damaged.

On the whole, then, Hitler declared, &ldquoin spite of all of our successes the prerequisite conditions for Operation Sea Lion have not yet been realized.&rdquo (The emphasis is Halder&rsquos.)

Hitler summed up his reflections.

1. Successful landing means victory, but for this we must obtain complete air superiority.

2. Bad weather has so far prevented our attaining complete air superiority.

3. All other factors are in order.

Decision therefore: The operation will not be renounced yet.

Having come to that negative conclusion, Hitler thereupon gave way to soaring hopes that the Luftwaffe might still bring off the victory that so tantalizingly and so narrowly continued to evade him. &ldquoThe air attacks up to now,&rdquo he said, &ldquohave had a tremendous effect, though perhaps chiefly on the nerves. Even if victory in the air is only achieved in ten or twelve days the English may yet be seized by mass hysteria.&rdquo

To help bring that about, Jeschonnek of the Air Force begged to be allowed to bomb London&rsquos residential districts, since, he said, there was no sign of &ldquomass panic&rdquo in London while these areas were being spared. Admiral Raeder enthusiastically supported some terror bombing. Hitler, however, thought concentration on military objectives was more important. &ldquoBombing with the object of causing a mass panic,&rdquo he said, &ldquomust be left to the last.&rdquo

Admiral Raeder&rsquos enthusiasm for terror bombing seems to have been due mainly to his lack of enthusiasm for the landings. He now intervened to stress again the &ldquogreat risks&rdquo involved. The situation in the air, he pointed out, could hardly improve before the projected dates of September 24&ndash27 for the landing therefore they must be abandoned &ldquountil October 8 or 24.&rdquo

But this was practically to call off the invasion altogether, as Hitler realized, and he ruled that he would hold up his decision on the landings only until September 17&mdashthree days hence&mdashso that they still might take place on September 27. If not feasible then, he would have to think about the October dates. A Supreme Command directive was thereupon issued.

The start of Operation Sea Lion is again postponed. A new order follows September 17. All preparations are to be continued.

The air attacks against London are to be continued and the target area expanded against military and other vital installations (e.g., railway stations).

Terror attacks against purely residential areas are reserved for use as an ultimate means of pressure. 26

Thus though Hitler had put off for three days a decision on the invasion he had by no means abandoned it. Give the Luftwaffe another few days to finish off the R.A.F. and demoralize London, and the landing then could take place. It would bring final victory. So once again all depended on Goering&rsquos vaunted Air Force. It would make, in fact, its supreme effort the very next day.

The Navy&rsquos opinion of the Luftwaffe, however, grew hourly worse. On the evening of the crucial conference in Berlin the German Naval War Staff reported severe R.A.F. bombings of the invasion ports, from Antwerp to Boulogne.

&hellip In Antwerp &hellip considerable casualties are inflicted on transports&mdashfive transport steamers in port heavily damaged one barge sunk, two cranes destroyed, an ammunition train blown up, several sheds burning.

The next night was even worse, the Navy reporting &ldquostrong enemy air attacks on the entire coastal area between Le Havre and Antwerp.&rdquo An S.O.S. was sent out by the sailors for more antiaircraft protection of the invasion ports. On September 17 the Naval Staff reported:

The R.A.F. are still by no means defeated: on the contrary they are showing increasing activity in their attacks on the Channel ports and in their mounting interference with the assembly movements.* 27

That night there was a full moon and the British night bombers made the most of it. The German Naval War Staff reported &ldquovery considerable losses&rdquo of the shipping which now jammed the invasion ports. At Dunkirk eighty-four barges were sunk or damaged, and from Cherbourg to Den Helder the Navy reported, among other depressing items, a 500-ton ammunition store blown up, a rations depot burned out, various steamers and torpedo boats sunk and many casualties to personnel suffered. This severe bombing plus bombardment from heavy guns across the Channel made it necessary, the Navy Staff reported, to disperse the naval and transport vessels already concentrated on the Channel and to stop further movement of shipping to the invasion ports.

Otherwise [it said] with energetic enemy action such casualties will occur in the course of time that the execution of the operation on the scale previously envisaged will in any case be problematic. 28

In the German Naval War Diary there is a laconic entry for September 17.

The enemy Air Force is still by no means defeated. On the contrary, it shows increasing activity. The weather situation as a whole does not permit us to expect a period of calm &hellip The Fuehrer therefore decides to postpone &ldquoSea Lion&rdquo indefinitely. 29

The emphasis is the Navy&rsquos.

Adolf Hitler, after so many years of dazzling successes, had at last met failure. For nearly a month thereafter the pretense was kept up that the invasion might still take place that autumn, but it was a case of whistling in the dark. On September 19 the Fuehrer formally ordered the further assembling of the invasion fleet to be stopped and the shipping already in the ports to be dispersed &ldquoso that the loss of shipping space caused by enemy air attacks may be reduced to a minimum.&rdquo

But it was impossible to maintain even a dispersed armada and all the troops and guns and tanks and supplies that had been assembled to cross over the Channel for an invasion that had been postponed indefinitely. &ldquoThis state of affairs,&rdquo Halder exclaimed in his diary September 28, &ldquodragging out the continued existence of Sea Lion, is unbearable.&rdquo When Ciano and Mussolini met the Fuehrer on the Brenner on October 4, the Italian Foreign Minister observed in his diary that &ldquothere is no longer any talk about a landing in the British Isles.&rdquo Hitler&rsquos setback put his partner, Mussolini, in the best mood he had been in for ages. &ldquoRarely have I seen the Duce in such good humor &hellip as at the Brenner Pass today,&rdquo Ciano noted. 30

Already both the Navy and the Army were pressing the Fuehrer for a decision to call off Sea Lion altogether. The Army General Staff pointed out to him that the holding of the troops on the Channel &ldquounder constant British air attacks led to continual casualties.&rdquo

Finally on October 12, the Nazi warlord formally admitted failure and called off the invasion until spring, if then. A formal directive was issued.

Fuehrer&rsquos Headquarters
October 12, 1940

The Fuehrer has decided that from now on until the spring, preparations for &ldquoSea Lion&rdquo shall be continued solely for the purpose of maintaining political and military pressure on England.

Should the invasion be reconsidered in the spring or early summer of 1941, orders for a renewal of operational readiness will be issued later &hellip

The Army was commanded to release its Sea Lion formations &ldquofor other duties or for employment on other fronts.&rdquo The Navy was instructed to &ldquotake all measures to release personnel and shipping space.&rdquo But both services were to camouflage their moves. &ldquoThe British,&rdquo Hitler laid it down, &ldquomust continue to believe that we are preparing an attack on a broad front.&rdquo 31

What had happened to make Adolf Hitler finally give in?

Two things: the fatal course of the Battle of Britain in the air, and the turning of his thoughts once more eastward, to Russia.

Sealion - What if Germany had invaded Britain in 1940?

If you look across the English Channel from Calais, on a good day you can often make out the white cliffs of Dover, not 20 miles away. Imagine then the anticipation of a German soldier, standing on the Atlantic Coast of France 700km from Germany, with the last enemy literally in sight but perhaps 20 miles too far away.

The Germans were faced with an unenviable task in June 1940 if they wanted to take Britain out of the war. The small island had not been invaded by a foreign power since the 12 th Century and had resisted all subsequent attempts. The British Armed Forces, in particular the eminently powerful Royal Navy, stood guard, a bastion against anyone foolish enough to try.

The Germany Army was well equipped (if overly reliant on horses), battle hardened and as large as, if not larger than the British Army. The Luftwaffe seemed more than a match for the RAF as well, being particularly skilled in tactical operations, having supported the army through Poland, Belgium, Holland and France, and numerically superior. The Kriegsmarine (the German navy) was sorely lacking however. Yes, they boasted powerful vessels like Bismarck, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, but they were numerically inferior to their British counterparts and singular, powerful battleships are of less use in the narrow confines of the English Channel than Destroyers and Cruisers.

Let us assume, however, that the Germans were able to meet these challenges, destroying the RAF and successfully protecting their landing zones from naval interference. According to Hitler’s Fuhrer Directive No. 16, the invasion force would have landed on a wide front from Ramsgate to the Isle of Wight, using upwards of 40 divisions, 17 in the first wave. With troops successfully ashore, the first objectives would have been the ports at Dover and Folkestone.

As the Allies realised during their own amphibious operations, securing a port as early as possible was critical to maintaining the invasion force. On D-Day, Cherbourg and Ouistreham were priority targets, however Allied Command also created prefabricated docks known as the Mulberry Harbours to help land equipment and supplies. The Kriegsmarine had been working on a similar project called a “heavy landing bridge” prior to the Battle of Britain. Two prototypes had been built and successfully tested on the Channel Islands and likely would have been used during Sea Lion. The prototypes were so successful, sturdy and well-built that they remained on the Channel Islands until the 1970s.

With a beachhead established, ports secured, and an airfield captured at RAF Lympne (close to the coast and within easy reach of Hitler’s specified landing zones) it would have been time to push forward. British counter attacks would have been made by the Territorial Reserves and the remains of the army, evacuated from Dunkirk months previously. With droves of equipment abandoned in France during the Dunkirk evacuation, only small numbers of British units would have been fully equipped with their designated allotment of vehicles, artillery and tanks.

Abandoned Equipment left in France following the Dunkirk evacuation - Wikimedia Commons

The Germans, having met British tanks in France, would have been well aware that their general issue anti-tank guns like the PaK36 (PanzerabwehrKanone) and anti-tank rifles like PzB38 (Panzerbüchse), would not be of much use against British Infantry tanks such as the Matilda II and Valentine III. Thus, they had to make sure their own tanks could make it ashore and they developed two novel ideas, one of which would later be independently developed and used successfully by the British. The first was a ‘Schwimmpanzer II’, essentially a Panzer II tank equipped with flotation devices and buoyancy aids with propellers linked to the tanks’ tracks for propulsion. The Panzer II, however, was an outdated tank before the Germans invaded France and would have been no match for the British. The second idea was ‘Tauchpanzer’, a deep wading tank. This was a Panzer III, a tank built to take on other tanks, with waterproof seals around all sighting ports, hatches and air intakes, with snorkel hoses for oxygen and exhaust floating on the surface. The Tauchpanzer could drive along the sea bed after being dropped off by a barge in a maximum of 15 metres (49 ft.) of water, and provided it kept moving, had been successfully tested near Wilhelmshaven. The Germans had created over 250 tanks for amphibious use, giving them roughly an Armoured Division’s strength, very useful for the initial landing and getting tanks to the Front quickly.

A Matilda II Tank on manoeuvers near Liverpool with 5th Battalion King's Shropshire Light Infantry - Wikimedia Commons

Let’s assume that British counter attacks had failed and the Germans have secured all of their objectives. London would have fallen. Occupation, establishing a military government and disarming any local British Army or Home Guard units would have been a priority. According to H. Lloyd Goodall in ‘A Need to Know’ Hitler planned to use Blenheim Palace, the childhood home of Sir Winston Churchill, as the overall headquarters of the German Occupation Government. There would have been the possibility of restoring Edward VIII to the throne, as per a Channel 5 documentary broadcast in 2009. Edward VIII was believed to be a Nazi sympathiser, a feeling reinforced after he and Wallis Simpson visited Germany in 1937. That rumour has never been properly substantiated, however.

An unfortunate circumstance of many of the German occupations of the Second World War was the removal of cultural artefacts, art and literary works from museums, homes and other sites. According to Norman Longmate in ‘If Britain Had Fallen: The Real Nazi Occupation Plans’, Hitler wanted Department III of the German security service to remove Nelson’s Column and the 4 bronze lions from central London. The edifice was a symbol of British Naval superiority and a victory over the invading forces of Napoleon’s French Republic. To Hitler, removing it would have created a visible and powerful reminder of his victory over the British Empire and his triumph where the great French Emperor had failed. Department III would also have been made responsible for emptying the National Gallery, the British Museum and the Ashmolean Museum, ostensibly for protection in actual fact, such plundering would have amounted to little more than theft. As a minor side note, Longmate points out that [aside from Nelson’s Column] none of the items wanted by the Germans were where they thought they were. Art, literary works and other precious items from the great museums had already been moved, prior to the outbreak of war, to various country estates and even a quarry in Wales. No doubt they would have been moved further afield had the Germans successfully landed on British shores.

More sinister plans would have been afoot in the Government Offices however. The Gestapo hoped to get British records from the Home Office on all foreigners in England including Irish nationalists, Moscow agents, German emigrants and political prisoners. Gestapo officers would have visited the Foreign Office too, hoping to arrest the head of the Intelligence services. While the immediate aim would have been to identify former friends and past enemies of Germany, the ultimate political aim, according to Longmate, would have been to gather evidence which would embarrass the recent British Government and its Allies. Most significantly, however, the Germans hoped to clarify Anglo-American relations with a view to exposing Roosevelt as interventionist. If there is one thing Germany was good at, it was propaganda, and the next stage would have been the closure of the Ministry of Information, press archives and the newspapers and editorial offices. Once life returned to some semblance of normalcy, some of the newspapers would have been re-opened and distributed once again, albeit with strict censorship and the understanding they would be closed down if they did not adhere to German rules. The BBC would of course also have been a prime target indeed, broadcasting studios and transmitters were top of Germany’s list. It would have been the main instrument by which the British population would be forced to accept occupation, and every article, broadcast, and show would have served their purposes.

Ultimately, Hitler’s ambitions for the Third Reich stretched beyond the borders of Europe. ‘Lebensraum’ or ‘Living Space’ had always been a central tenant of Hitler’s ambitions, and in particular he had his eye on the vast steppes of the Soviet Union, where the sub-human Slavs, Russians, Ukrainians and Poles could be easily displaced or otherwise removed to facilitate German expansion. To take on the Soviet Union was no easy task. It boasted one of the largest armies and air forces in history, was the largest country in the world by landmass and boasted a leader equally as despotic as Hitler. The German Army needed supplies, men and equipment to combat the Bear while German industry needed materials and workers to supply that equipment. What better way than to strip it from defeated nations, including Britain, which had a wealth of such materials? The German army was predominantly reliant on horses for much of its transportation, ironic considering how well regarded the Germans have become for the quality of their Armoured Divisions. Defeated armies leave behind vast swathes of equipment, much of it useable and the Germans took full advantage of that. The vehicle inventories of Czechoslovakia, Poland, France, Great Britain, and the USSR could be found throughout the German Army during the Second World War. From battle tanks like the Char B1 and T-34 to light tractors such as the Universal (Bren Gun) Carrier and Renault UE Chenillette, all would have been useful to replace horsed transport. Even civilian vehicles could have ended up in military inventories, Longmate makes reference to cyclist battalions in the German Army, requisitioning civilian motor cars where possible.

In addition to actual equipment, the British Armaments Factories would have been re-tooled for German production, be it tanks, aircraft, trucks or rifles. The dockyards and ship building facilities would have proven useful for supporting further Kriegsmarine operations in the Atlantic. Certainly if Hitler wished for a future war with the United States, the Kreigsmarine’s surface fleet would have needed to have been significantly expanded and strengthened to match the United States Navy.

Materials and industry were not the only resources available however great minds such as Frank Whittle, who worked on the first British jet engine, or Barnes Wallis, the inventor of the famed bouncing bomb, would have been a more than inviting target and of incredible value to German Armaments companies like Messerschmitt and Krupp. Whittle had actually completed a working jet engine prototype by 1940, and would later successfully flight-test the same in 1941 in an aircraft designed and built by Gloster. Imagine if the Messerschmitt ME-262, the first operational jet fighter in the world, had come 2 years earlier than its historical debut in 1944!

ME-262 Jet Fighter, feared by all when it was introduced in 1944, limited numbers and low fuel supplies thankfully kept them mostly at bay - Wikimedia Commons

Fortunately, the above never came about. Hitler indefinitely postponed Operation Seelöwe on 17 th September 1940, having been convinced in a meeting with Hermann Göring and Gerd Von Rundstedt that an amphibious invasion was no longer viable. The RAF survived the Luftwaffe’s efforts to destroy it in the Battle of Britain. The Kriegsmarine, meanwhile, had taken disastrous losses during the invasion of Norway, with several light cruisers and destroyers sunk. They barely had the strength to oppose the Royal Navy before the Norwegian operations, and could in no way support an invasion fleet at their current force level. Britain lived to fight on, and with the help of the United States of America, the Soviet Union and many other Allied nations, reversed the tides of war which looked so bleak in June 1940.

To see who would have been targeted by the Gestapo immediately after a successful invasion of Great Britain, take a look at Hitler's Black Book - The Most Wanted List , newly translated from the German version, transcribed exclusively and completely free to view on the Forces War Records site.


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