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AH: Operation Sea Lion – the unmentionable sea mammal

#2
Given the Nazis weren't total idiots when it came to fighting wars (despite what many people seem to believe) how serious could they ever really be about invading Britain? Especially when they also believed the Luftwaffe would make Britain cave by itself and that the whole fall of France thing was also expected to be somewhat damaging to British morale.

I seriously doubt Sea Lion was ever more than a bluff/something to do whilst waiting for the war to end with a slight possibility that they did plan to do it but expected the mere arrival of German forces on British soil would bring about an utter collapse.

But none of that takes away from the article's main point that Sea Lion was utterly doomed.
 

AndyC

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#3
In many organisations, there can be a disconnect between what is feasible and what those at the top want to believe is feasible. I think they were serious about wanting to carry out Sea Lion, or something like it, but the planning and development stage uncovered a lot of issues that those in the chain of command had previously glossed over with "Well, we'll think of something as we go through the plan, surely"

It's hard for many people, especially those in power, to accept their first impressions were wrong. The invasion of the Soviet Union uncovered just as many elements that could be viewed in calm retrospect as idiocy.
 
#4
In many organisations, there can be a disconnect between what is feasible and what those at the top want to believe is feasible. I think they were serious about wanting to carry out Sea Lion, or something like it, but the planning and development stage uncovered a lot of issues that those in the chain of command had previously glossed over with "Well, we'll think of something as we go through the plan, surely"

It's hard for many people, especially those in power, to accept their first impressions were wrong. The invasion of the Soviet Union uncovered just as many elements that could be viewed in calm retrospect as idiocy.
Maybe but it was idiocy generally believed by everyone including the Western Allies and Stalin himself since he was apparently considering suicide. And it took months for the wheels to come off and years for the full scale of the fuck up to become clear, initially it very much seemed like the Russians would collapse after taking such hammer blows and often making the situation worse via sheer incompetence. I don't think you can say the same for 'we can't even train without people drowning' or 'the RAF and RN still exist despite Goering promising on a stack of looted bibles that they would be broken by now' I'm sure other doubts like that would prevent them just making a go of it.


I just think the Wehrmacht was too good at the tactical side of things to not realise how impossible the situation was even if they had some major failings strategically. They could grasp the obvious and work around it day to day even if the big picture was beyond them.
 

AndyC

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#5
Maybe but it was idiocy generally believed by everyone including the Western Allies and Stalin himself since he was apparently considering suicide. And it took months for the wheels to come off and years for the full scale of the fuck up to become clear. I don't think you can say the same for 'we can't even train without people drowning' or 'the RAF and RN still exist despite Goering promising on a stack of looted bibles that they would be broken by now' I'm sure other doubts like that would prevent them just making a go of it.
Oh, I agree with you that they very possibly wouldn't have ended up trying it after all - but I do think they were genuinely serious in their intent in the first place.
It's only when they got to the brass tacks of detail that they were unable to continue glossing over things.

To be honest, the one thing above all that leaped out at me during my staff course at Shrivenham when we looked into things from the past was "What in hell were they thinking?"
Again and again and again. It took a while before I adjusted to accept that people at the time had a confused picture and were labouring under a mental picture that was fashioned over time in a way we hadn't had. "The bomber will always get through" was a particular one.
"No, we don't want convoys in the Atlantic; that's a defensive measure and wars are not won by defence"
"What is this 'Leigh Light' thing? No, we won't fund it or accelerate development; it wasn't invented by the right person in the right organisation"
"Let's just give the crap to Coastal Command; Bomber Command is our attack force and must always get the cream of the crop. What do you mean - losing the Battle of the Atlantic is the only thing that would really knock us out of the war? Shut up and get on with it. You've got biplanes, haven't you?"

Ahem.
Sorry. The Battle of the Atlantic was my primary essay topic, and I could get ranty when arguing with other officers who were leading on the Battle of Britain or the Battle of Germany.
 
#6
Oh, I agree with you that they very possibly wouldn't have ended up trying it after all - but I do think they were genuinely serious in their intent in the first place.
It's only when they got to the brass tacks of detail that they were unable to continue glossing over things.

To be honest, the one thing above all that leaped out at me during my staff course at Shrivenham when we looked into things from the past was "What in hell were they thinking?"
Again and again and again. It took a while before I adjusted to accept that people at the time had a confused picture and were labouring under a mental picture that was fashioned over time in a way we hadn't had. "The bomber will always get through" was a particular one.
"No, we don't want convoys in the Atlantic; that's a defensive measure and wars are not won by defence"
"What is this 'Leigh Light' thing? No, we won't fund it or accelerate development; it wasn't invented by the right person in the right organisation"
"Let's just give the crap to Coastal Command; Bomber Command is our attack force and must always get the cream of the crop. What do you mean - losing the Battle of the Atlantic is the only thing that would really knock us out of the war? Shut up and get on with it. You've got biplanes, haven't you?"

Ahem.
Sorry. The Battle of the Atlantic was my primary essay topic, and I could get ranty when arguing with other officers who were leading on the Battle of Britain or the Battle of Germany.
I suppose that is a realistic scenario. They certainly did no lack ambition and both Hitler and the High Command did have trouble with grasping the realities of the situation without taking into account imperfect information and optimistic reports from below.

Rants are good, rants can offer a lot of interesting info.



I had the pleasure of watching some war games at university undertaken by a bunch of would be officer cadets. Take away the exact awareness of everything that is happening and things get... interesting.The entire Fleet Air Arm being expended trying to sink the mysteriously cruiser sized and unescorted Tirpitz coming from the wrong direction interesting for one example. This was made worse because both groups were cheating and had literal pictures of what the other side were doing just they misread it.
 

Artaxerxes

What about second Brexit?
#7
Racism played a massive part in a lot of the mistakes, the contempt for the Soviets from German commanders.

God knows what they were smoking for Sealion, probably just convinced that with no continental allies the British would fold so actually invading was a problem to blue sky think about in the unimaginable event they wouldn't.
 

Alex Richards

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#8
Racism played a massive part in a lot of the mistakes, the contempt for the Soviets from German commanders.

God knows what they were smoking for Sealion, probably just convinced that with no continental allies the British would fold so actually invading was a problem to blue sky think about in the unimaginable event they wouldn't.
I have a distinct impression that the German thinking basically went 'we don't really want to fight Britain, but we have to, so we must win. Now France folded really quickly, so really all we've got to do is just get troops into Kent and the country will be so demoralised that they've lost *again* that the silent majority who want peace with dignity will come to the fore. Anyway we've seen that they had to use a load of fishing vessels to evacuate the troops from Dunkirk so obviously the Navy's overstretched and if we can just knock out the RAF there'll be the window we need.'
 

AndyC

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#9
I think there was also a certain arrogance and excessive self-belief, not completely without cause.
"We've sent our armour through the Ardennes!"
"Everyone said it would be lunacy to outrace supply lines but we invented the blitzkrieg, which won the Battle of France in weeks, when in the last war, we couldn't get to Paris in four years"
"We swatted the French out of the air and kicked the RAF out of the French skies"

It's natural to respond to "That's not possible" with "Just watch us! We'll come up with something". Especially at the top ranks - Hitler was totally convinced he was a military genius.

Couple that with the the reluctance to pass up "That actually IS impossible, sir" all the way to the Fuhrer, and add in the belief from experience that a good kick would bring down their enemy and get them to sue for peace, and you have an environment where accepting the difficulties would genuinely be too great would not be welcome.

You can see the belief that maybe they'd be able to knock out the RAF quickly and then use their dive bombers to harass the RN to the point where they'd be so busy trying to defend themselves, it would be possible to get across the Channel. Get forces to Kent and they'd be only a few dozen miles from London. Get to London, and the Brits would certainly surrender like the French had when they got to Paris.

"Um, sir - it'd take thirty hours to get across the Channel. Maybe fifty"
- "Don't be ridiculous! Come up with a solution. It's only a dozen or so miles - give me a way of getting a dozen divisions across faster than that!"
"No, seriously, sir. We've tried it with river barges. They swamp"
- "Stop whining to me with problems and get me solutions, then!"
"And the Navy and Army aren't willing to co-operate very well"
- "Understandable. The most honour comes with the most glory"

Bad decisions were endemic. The RAF, for example, did better in dogfights than they should have done thanks to the Luftwaffe's Cult of the Red Baron - German pilots would hold off of the kill sometimes because the senior pilot in the squadron was supposed to get the kill and run up their own tally to overtake the Red Baron from the last war.
 
#10
I think there was also a certain arrogance and excessive self-belief, not completely without cause.
"We've sent our armour through the Ardennes!"
"Everyone said it would be lunacy to outrace supply lines but we invented the blitzkrieg, which won the Battle of France in weeks, when in the last war, we couldn't get to Paris in four years"
"We swatted the French out of the air and kicked the RAF out of the French skies"

It's natural to respond to "That's not possible" with "Just watch us! We'll come up with something". Especially at the top ranks - Hitler was totally convinced he was a military genius.

Couple that with the the reluctance to pass up "That actually IS impossible, sir" all the way to the Fuhrer, and add in the belief from experience that a good kick would bring down their enemy and get them to sue for peace, and you have an environment where accepting the difficulties would genuinely be too great would not be welcome.

You can see the belief that maybe they'd be able to knock out the RAF quickly and then use their dive bombers to harass the RN to the point where they'd be so busy trying to defend themselves, it would be possible to get across the Channel. Get forces to Kent and they'd be only a few dozen miles from London. Get to London, and the Brits would certainly surrender like the French had when they got to Paris.

"Um, sir - it'd take thirty hours to get across the Channel. Maybe fifty"
- "Don't be ridiculous! Come up with a solution. It's only a dozen or so miles - give me a way of getting a dozen divisions across faster than that!"
"No, seriously, sir. We've tried it with river barges. They swamp"
- "Stop whining to me with problems and get me solutions, then!"
"And the Navy and Army aren't willing to co-operate very well"
- "Understandable. The most honour comes with the most glory"

Bad decisions were endemic. The RAF, for example, did better in dogfights than they should have done thanks to the Luftwaffe's Cult of the Red Baron - German pilots would hold off of the kill sometimes because the senior pilot in the squadron was supposed to get the kill and run up their own tally to overtake the Red Baron from the last war.

It just occurred to me that maybe a somewhat original take on a WWII question would be if there was more 'mature' German intelligence and diplomatic services. Both were uniformly awful throughout the war and they also had a lot of failings in terms of logistics, duplicated effort and generally anything that wasn't actually fighting.

I wonder if one could string together the right PODs probably dating back to 1918 where the Germans look at what fucked them during WWI and as part of rebuilding their armed forces they also decide they need to understand the mechanics of a war economy and their rival's industrial and political systems better.


I don't think its been done before. It would be heavy work and probably be classed as a wank but a Germany that could take a look at Sea Lion and decide to shelve it and bury Hitler/OKW with studies showing its impossible...would be a Germany that wouldn't start WWII. Whoops. I guess you kind of need the Germans to be bad at strategy and wearing multiple blindfolds in order to get them to think a world war was winnable.
 

Ncw8

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#11
One thing I’ve wondered is what was the British assessment of the risk of invasion at the time? There was certainly a lot of preparation for it, from the formation of the Home Guard, the removal of road signs and the use of church bells as an invasion alarm. Of course such preparation did serve a useful morale function in reassuring people that every defensive measure possible was being taken. But what did the military and intelligence services really think were the chances that German troops could make it across the Channel?
 

DocU

Resident Centrist Dad
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#12
I think no "Miracle of Dunkirk" is a more interesting PoD - not because it makes Sealion any more likely, but because of the impact of that on the British psyche. Add to that a perception of the RAF 'losing' by having to withdraw from the southern airfields, and things might be different. Not in a "now the Germans can invade" sort of a way, but in a "the British might give up" way.

But then that isn't Sealion
 

Alex Richards

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#13
I think no "Miracle of Dunkirk" is a more interesting PoD - not because it makes Sealion any more likely, but because of the impact of that on the British psyche. Add to that a perception of the RAF 'losing' by having to withdraw from the southern airfields, and things might be different. Not in a "now the Germans can invade" sort of a way, but in a "the British might give up" way.

But then that isn't Sealion
Or rather it falls into the 'yes a Nazi invasion of Britain is possible, but only if you change so much beforehand it's not the one that was actually planned.' category
 
#14
Or rather it falls into the 'yes a Nazi invasion of Britain is possible, but only if you change so much beforehand it's not the one that was actually planned.' category
Hmm so the invasion would only work if the British caved totally on all major issues...

The Bill of Rights Act 1940- His majesty King Adolf I and his Majesty King Edward VIII shall rule together as joint sovereigns.
 

Coiler

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#15
I've actually seen proposed German takeovers of Britain that are even worse than a semi-historical Sealion. And I'm not talking about outright supertech-fantasy ones. I'm talking stuff like the plan made by infamous author Tom Kratman where he had paratroopers dropped into England and a single freighter somehow holding dozens of tanks slipping them ashore in combat condition. Oh yeah, and this is during the Battle of France, not after it. The "Depth" of the research can be deduced by Kratman mentioning that he found a WWI veterans center in the landing area, but brushing off the armored division the British had as totally useless.
 

KingCrawa

Prayed for by a Brace of Monks
#16
I think no "Miracle of Dunkirk" is a more interesting PoD - not because it makes Sealion any more likely, but because of the impact of that on the British psyche. Add to that a perception of the RAF 'losing' by having to withdraw from the southern airfields, and things might be different. Not in a "now the Germans can invade" sort of a way, but in a "the British might give up" way.

But then that isn't Sealion
Oddly enough I was at the Operation Dynamo exhibition at Dover Castle yesterday and the guide pointed out there were at least three ways you could kill of Dunkirk

1: Have several days of bad weather making a sea crossing difficult

2: Fail to get Ramsay to persuade the Admirialty to give them access to the big ships

3: Not have Hitler wait three days before he attacked Dunkirk
 
#17
Oddly enough I was at the Operation Dynamo exhibition at Dover Castle yesterday and the guide pointed out there were at least three ways you could kill of Dunkirk

1: Have several days of bad weather making a sea crossing difficult

2: Fail to get Ramsay to persuade the Admirialty to give them access to the big ships

3: Not have Hitler wait three days before he attacked Dunkirk
Not counting of course someone coming up with the brilliant idea of too many confusing orders being the cause of all the chaos so ordering the British to hold position for a few days and thus get cut off.

Now that is unlikely but if the Germans moved quicker the BEF might not have had those channel ports to fall back too and we're talking a total loss of the BEF.

That could well force an armistice since there wasn't much left.
 

Meadow

There's no Sea Lion here
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#18
I did my dissertation on Sea Lion, and read a lot of logs of German naval discussions. As far as I could tell, if Hitler himself was bluffing, he didn’t let on. Raeder believed he was going to have to somehow try this, and was terrified as a result. He did pretty much constantly argue against it, IIRC his tactic was to suggest there was a single week where the weather would’ve worked but once they’d missed that it was impossible.
 
#19
I did my dissertation on Sea Lion, and read a lot of logs of German naval discussions. As far as I could tell, if Hitler himself was bluffing, he didn’t let on. Raeder believed he was going to have to somehow try this, and was terrified as a result. He did pretty much constantly argue against it, IIRC his tactic was to suggest there was a single week where the weather would’ve worked but once they’d missed that it was impossible.
That's really interesting, how did Hitler and the others take to this line or arguing?

Did any of them see through it, or atleast comment on it if they did?
 

Meadow

There's no Sea Lion here
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#20
That's really interesting, how did Hitler and the others take to this line or arguing?

Did any of them see through it, or atleast comment on it if they did?
Not that I can recall. The source I was looking at was the KM's own notes, and IIRC (and this was 6 years ago now) there were internal things knocking around in it too, as in, it wasn't just stuff that was said face-to-face with Hitler.

Hitler did insist on preparations continuing to be made, and only let Raeder stop focusing on it in May 1941, when energies needed to be put Elsewhere. But on the other hand, Hitler never ordered that real, on the ground preparations be carried out, or that troops be moved to make ready for Seelowe. So on one level, given how usually impulsive he was, he probably wasn't as certain about Seelowe as he was his other plans.