Operation Sealion, The Invasion of England 1940

A German perspective of what might have been. The alternative history approach enjoys periods of popularity and it usually throws up some interesting questions – Highly Recommended.

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NAME: Operation Sealion, The Invasion of England 1940
FILE: R2955
AUTHOR: Peter Schenk
PUBLISHER: Pen and Sword, Greenhill Books
BINDING: hard back
PRICE: £25.00
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: World War 2, World War II, WWII, Second World War, European 
Theatre, Battle of France, Battle of Britain, air superiority, naval superiority, 
amphibious landing, defended coastline, landing craft

ISBN: 1-78438-394-5

IMAGE: B2955.jpg
BUYNOW: tinyurl.com/y4at8cbf
LINKS: 
DESCRIPTION: A German perspective of what might have been. The alternative 
history approach enjoys periods of popularity and it usually throws up some 
interesting questions –   Highly Recommended.

The arguments will continue long into the future as to whether the Germans could 
have successfully invaded the British Isles in 1940. After all, French historians are 
still whining about how they were robbed of victory at the Battle of Agincour and 
claiming it was only possible because of English war crimes. In battle and in war the 
margin between winning and losing is often narrow. There are also events that could 
be described as victory or defeat, never more true than in 1940.

The British Expeditionary Force that was sent to France was most of the British 
standing army based in the UK. Britain has always been nervous about standing 
armies and very happy to put most available resources into the Royal Navy. The 
sorry period of appeasement made matters even worse for land forces by slowing 
the rate of investment and the work of developing new weapons. In France it was 
a similar story in many respects. 

The Maginot Line was a very logical policy following the very costly trench warfare 
of WWI. It was also a very practical idea had the politicians not tried to cut corners. 
To be really effective it required the correction of two omissions, one political and 
one financial. Belgium was naturally very nervous about the prospect of a strong 
fixed defence line from the Channel to Switzerland on the French side of the border. 
To settle Belgian fears, French politicians were happy to weaken  the planned 
defences along the border with Belgium, accepting Belgian claims for their own 
critical fixed defences facing Germany. To save money, the French politicians 
decided to avoid building the reserve forces that the military plan for the Maginot 
Line required to act as a mobile reserve, reinforcing against any possible breaks in 
the line. That almost inevitably meant the Germans would be encouraged to attack 
through Belgian using the Ardennes as their route.

There was not the same close working between the French and British that in WWI 
had co-ordinated the two forces, with the BEF fighting a brilliant opposed 
withdrawal, slowing the significantly stronger German force and opening 
vulnerabilities that British and French co-ordinated counter strikes could exploit. 
The counter strike threw back the German force towards Germany and would have 
succeeded had the BEF not been exhausted and depleted by their fighting withdrawal. 
In 1940, the lower level of co-ordination meant that the British and French failed to 
mass their technically superior armour and their lack of infantry mechanization meant 
that a mass tank counter-attack could not be adequately supported as it halted, and 
then broke through, the German line. As it was, the British did mass armour and 
counter attack at Arras in a move that shocked the Germans. There just was not the 
all arms resources to follow through and in any case the British were essentially 
planing on slowing the Germans to allow evacuation of British and French troops 
from Dunkirk, rather than seriously intending to smash the German force and throw 
it back.

At Dunkirk, the evacuation of troops by sea left the field to the enemy and can 
therefore be viewed as a defeat of the Dunkirk Pocket. However, the evacuation of 
so many troops to Britain was a battle that was convincingly won and it probably 
saved the war for the Allies. The BEF and French troops may have left their heavy 
equipment behind, but they saved trained soldiers who could be re-equipped and 
the British Purchasing Commission to the US was busy placing orders with US 
firms to augment what British factories could roll out. The only way the Germans 
could win would be to establish air and sea superiority across the Channel and 
immediately invade but, even had they managed to obtain air and sea superiority 
they did not have available the means of moving an adequate force across the Channel.

The German Army had no experience of a large scale amphibious invasion and 
lacked the tools for the job. What followed Dunkirk was a fevered program of bring 
together barges and small ships that could be hastily modified to beach and land 
troops. Compared to the Allied preparations for D-Day, the German preparations, 
for their equivalent Operation Sealion, were pitiful.

The authors have offered a well-researched account of German work to build the
 resources required for Sealion. There was much innovation and ingenuity and 
some 4,000 vessels were hastily collected together. The text is supported by a great 
many images in the form of rare photographs and maps. Whether this could ever 
have proved effective had sea and air superiority been obtained is highly arguable. 
British coastal defences  had been rapidly strengthened, troops recruited and trained 
and equipment built or bought to replace what had been left in France and what was 
needed for a rapidly expanding army. Given the German plans for widely separated 
landings, the chances of success were not great. Without air and sea superiority the 
invasion would have been a costly failure. This may explain why the German Navy 
was less than enthusiastic about Sealion. The Luftwaffe believed they could win the 
war without the army, only to find fatal flaws in their intelligence which resulted in 
their failure to achieve even temporary air superiority over the planned beaches.