Mission Impossible: Operation Sea Lion


Amy Carney

Jacksonville University


By the summer of 1940, German Führer Adolf Hitler had conquered most of his adversaries in Europe except for Great Britain. Hitler eventually decided to invade the island nation. Unaware that his military forces had already considered an invasion, Hitler ordered his Army, Navy, and Air Force to prepare for an operation he called Sea Lion. The invasion was doomed to fail from the start. Hitler’s inability to invade and to conquer Britain served a devastating blow from which Nazi Germany never recovered.


After Poland fell in September 1939, Hitler organized his plans to occupy Belgium, Holland, and northern France. On October 9, he issued his sixth directive to Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, the Supreme Commander of the Wehrmacht (OKW; High Command), outlining the specific roles of the Heers (OKH; Army), Kriegsmarine (OKM; Navy), and Luftwaffe (OKL; Air Force) in the upcoming invasion. The directive also mentions actions against Great Britain: “If it should become apparent in the near future that England… [is] not willing to make an end of the war, I am determined to act vigorously and aggressively.” By taking Belgium, Holland, and northern France, Hitler sought territory to use as a base to launch “a promising air and sea war” against Britain.[1]


From those few words, it might appear as if Hitler were seriously contemplating an invasion of Britain. To the contrary, Hitler directed his thoughts elsewhere. On the other hand, Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, Commander-in-Chief of the OKM, felt he should “give some initial thought to” an invasion so that he would be prepared if Hitler ever came to such a decision. On November 15, Raeder created a secret team to study “the military, naval, and transportation aspects of a possible invasion.”[2] The officers delegated to this task had never planned an invasion before and knew Germany would be facing an enemy navy at least ten times its strength. Nevertheless, on November 20, Raeder received a document entitled “Study Red.” This report stated that a landing operation launched from German ports might force the British to sue for peace if several conditions were met: enemy naval forces were destroyed or kept at least 100 kilometers from the landing site; enemy air forces were eliminated; enemy coastal defenses were destroyed; and enemy submarines were kept occupied during the crossing.


Raeder promptly passed this report to General Alfred Jodl, Chief of Operations for the OKW, and Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch, Commander-in-Chief of the OKH. Whereas Jodl simply filed the report, Brauchitsch had his men begin a counter study, “Study Northwest,” and sent a copy to the Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe. From the Heers’ point-of-view, the Kriegsmarine had to close the Straits of Dover; prevent enemy naval interference; clear any sea mines; transport the troops across the Channel; provide the necessary landing equipment; provide fire support against British defenses; and impede the return of British troops from France. “Study Northwest” required the Luftwaffe to command the air; support the Kriegsmarine against enemy naval forces; deploy airborne landings in Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft, and Cambridge; support final operations in Britain; and impede the return of any British troops from France.[3]


Jodl filed the Heers’ report,[4] but the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe examined “Study Northwest” and then shot it down. The former asserted that it could not protect the German supply line from the British fleet and pointed out that it would be difficult to land in the locations the Army desired. The Kriegsmarine also berated the Luftwaffe: “Support…by the Luftwaffe cannot be counted on with any degree of assurance. The weather, the time of day, and other circumstances could totally preclude the participation of air forces over the sea.”[5] For its part, the Luftwaffe commented that it would not be possible to have the air superiority the Heers demanded.


While the Kriegsmarine, Heers, and Luftwaffe spent late 1939 and early 1940 dallying over possible invasion plans, Hitler dealt with Norway in April 1940 and then with his Western offensive, which Germany launched on May 10, 1940. By mid-May, however, Raeder feared that if he did not bring up the invasion idea to Hitler, someone else would. Raeder met with Hitler on May 21, and explained the dangers of crossing the English Channel. Hitler replied that no preparations were being made for an invasion. Raeder felt relieved.[6]


Nonetheless, Rear Admiral Kurt Fricke, the Chief of Operations for the OKM, pulled out “Study Red.” He revised this plan based on Germany’s conquest of ports in Belgium, Holland, and France. Fricke’s inquiry, “Study England,” made Raeder all the more adamantly opposed to an invasion. At the time, Raeder had no one to convince against a landing because an invasion of Britain remained the last thing on Hitler’s mind. On June 17, Jodl sent Major-General Walter Warlimont, Chief of the OKW Operations, to inform Fricke that Hitler was astonished his branches were making invasion plans while he was trying to arrange peace terms with the British. Although this visit should have reassured the Kriegsmarine that there was not going to be an invasion, it caused alarm. The Kriegsmarine still feared that if one of the other branches came up with an acceptable plan, Hitler would force the Kriegsmarine to carry out a mission it could not handle.[7]


In fact, Colonel-General Franz Halder, the Chief of the OKH General Staff, saw many available German ships and troops in France. He began planning for an August 15 invasion. Having dealt with the Navy’s complaints before, Brauchitsch put his people to work to solve any transportation issues the Kriegsmarine could possibly raise. Brauchitsch also desired to create his own private navy because he felt that the Kriegsmarine would let him down. Raeder’s plan of mentioning an invasion to Hitler to preempt serious planning for one had backfired; the various staffs spoke of little else.[8]


Only Hitler remained silent on the invasion issue. He thought the British would sue for peace after the fall of France, despite British Prime Minster Winston Churchill’s bellicose speeches of June 4 and 18. In the latter, Churchill pledged that Britain “shall fight on unconquerable until the curse of Hitler is lifted from the brows of men.”[9] Hitler did not want to invade Britain because, as he had written in Mein Kampf, Britain was one of Germany’s few potential allies in Europe. Knowing the island nation relied heavily on imports, Hitler wanted to force Britain to capitulate by cutting her supply lines.[10] Only gradually did Hitler expand the war against Britain. In his first directive on August 31, 1939, Hitler had ordered the Navy and Air Force to “carry on a warfare against merchant shipping.” When the British opened hostilities against Germany on September 3, 1939, Hitler released his second directive and ordered his submarines to aid the Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe against the British merchant fleet. In successive directives, Hitler gave the Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe permission to act more assertively by conducting offensive missions in the North Sea and raiding British naval harbors.[11]


On November 29, 1939, Hitler released his ninth directive. He wanted the Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe to paralyze the British economy. This document also states, “In [our] war against the Western Powers, England sparks the determination to fight and is the leading power of our enemies. To throw down England is the prerequisite for final victory.”[12] When combined with the sixth directive, the Kriegsmarine had good reason to believe Hitler planned to invade Britain. Through June 1940, however, Hitler considered only an economic war to starve the British into submission.


Even if Hitler had wanted to invade, the fact that he had developed no plans was not out of character for him. He had a grand design of aggressive expansion, but no overall strategy for how to achieve his goal. He simply exploited the situations in which he found himself. On November 5, 1937, the only intended victims of Hitler’s plans were Austria and Czechoslovakia. He created plans in April 1939 for the September invasion of Poland. He began to think about Norway in December 1939 and defeated the Norwegians in April 1940. Finally, his Western Campaign, which ended with the fall of France in June 1940, had its roots in September 1939.[13]


Prospects of peace with Britain diminished by July 1940. Raeder met with Hitler on July 11 and again convinced him that an invasion was not plausible, especially if the Luftwaffe did not control the air. Hitler agreed, and the Admiral once again left believing an invasion would be a last resort to get the British to sue for peace.[14] Yet, as the first half of July unfolded, Hitler reviewed an invasion plan created by Jodl, who defined an invasion merely as a “Mighty River Crossing.” Jodl listed five prerequisites: defeat of the Royal Air Force (RAF); destruction of the British naval forces off the south coast of Britain; mine-free crossing lanes for the Kriegsmarine; protection of the German flanks from mines; and operations to hold the rest of the British fleet in the North Sea. Jodl recognized three major problems for the Germans: Britain’s command of the sea; Britain’s movement of troops to the landing sites; and Germany’s inability to launch a surprise attack. He suggested landing on the south coast where aerial superiority made up for naval inferiority; landing on a river with the Luftwaffe bombing ahead of the first wave of troops; and landing with a powerful force. Jodl named this plan Operation Lion.[15]


Jodl left the staff within the Heers to determine how to deal with the British Army once the Germans had landed. On July 13, Brauchitsch and Halder presented to Hitler the invasion plan Halder had been preparing since mid-June. Hitler did not ask for any details, did not recommend any improvements, did not consider any alternatives, and did not talk about the cost. He simply and uncharacteristically accepted the plan.[16]


Three days later, Hitler combined the two plans and issued his sixteenth directive. The purpose of the plan was to eliminate Britain’s ability to wage war against Germany and to occupy the isles if necessary. The directive set the landing as “a surprise crossing on a broad front.” All preparations had to be completed by mid-August. Hitler listed five prerequisites: defeat of the Royal Air Force; mine-free crossing lanes for the Kriegsmarine; operations to hold the British fleet in the North and Mediterranean Seas; mines to seal off the Straits of Dover and the western entrance of the Channel; and control of the coast by strong coastal artillery. Hitler renamed the project Sea Lion. He wrote orders for each of the branches. The OKH would determine the transportation for the first wave of soldiers; take over antiaircraft artillery; and establish the embarkation and debarkation points with the Navy. The OKM would provide the means of transportation across the Channel to the Army; escort the flanks of the ships carrying the soldiers; and regulate the coastal artillery against any sea targets. The OKL would “hinder interference from the enemy air force”; overcome any British coastal defenses; break the resistance of enemy ground troops and troop reserves; destroy any routes for bringing in enemy reinforcements; and have parachute and glider troops ready in reserve.[17]


Raeder’s worst nightmare had come true. He called the OKW twice to verify the directive. The seemingly impossible August 15 deadline horrified Raeder because he knew there was a critical shortage of both ships and landing craft. He believed that the Luftwaffe could not gain absolute control of the air and doubted the effectiveness of the mine barriers to protect the flanks of his ships. Furthermore, the harbors and waterways on the continent had been damaged in recent campaigns. The Navy was at the mercy of the weather, fog, currents, and tides. Most disconcerting was the presence of the British fleet, which could lay mines at the last minute and eliminate any safety margin for the German Navy. Raeder flatly stated that the Heers did not realize the hazards of this mission. In response, the Army gibed that the Navy had started all of this invasion talk with its November 1939 study and was now getting “cold feet.”[18]


While these problems tormented Raeder, Hitler made his last appeal to the British in a July 19 speech. Hitler professed that he had never wanted a war, but instead wanted to create a new European state “with a new social order and the finest possible standard of culture.” He declared that “a great empire will be destroyed—an empire which it was never my intention to destroy or even harm.” He claimed that Britain needed to come to her senses and realize she was beaten.[19] The speech left the British unmoved; they defiantly replied, “We have heard all this before.”[20] Their disdain for Hitler compounded when leaflets of this speech were dropped into Britain. The British sold the leaflets in auctions to raise money for charity or used them as toilet paper.[21]


His speech ineffective, Hitler focused on the invasion plans and set a new September 1 deadline. When Hitler met with Brauchitsch and Raeder on July 31, Raeder described the problems with the Army’s plans. Because the OKH wanted a dawn landing, the Kriegsmarine would be able to provide night transports only between September 19 and 26 due to the tides. The Channel, however, experiences bad weather at the end of September, which could stall additional troop and supply transports. Therefore, Raeder recommended May 1941 as the best time for an operation against Britain. Hitler countered that nothing could be done about the weather, and by postponing, the ill-prepared British Army would have time to improve. Raeder further believed that the 235-mile front the Heers wanted would spread the German lines too thin. After Raeder left this meeting, however, Hitler ordered preparations to commence for a September 15 operation using a wide front.[22]


Despite the bickering between the Heers and Kriegsmarine, all plans hinged on the ability of the Luftwaffe to gain air supremacy over the Channel. Hitler declared in his seventeenth war directive that “the German air arm is to overcome the English Air Force with all means at its disposal and in the shortest possible time.”[23] Reich Marshal Hermann Göring, Commander-in-Chief of the OKL, believed his pilots could take out the RAF in two to four weeks. He felt that his successful air war, Operation Eagle, would eliminate the need for Sea Lion. Due to adverse weather conditions, however, the Luftwaffe could not start its mission until August 13. This delay prompted a nasty remark from the Navy: “The Luftwaffe has missed opportunities afforded by the recent favorable weather.”[24]


Göring had his pilots feint attacks on London to draw the rival RAF pilots out to fight.[25] He instructed his pilots to drop parachutes, wireless transmitters, explosives, maps, photographs, addresses of prominent people, and instructions for imaginary agents throughout Britain. These items were all part of a psychological warfare to let the British know the Germans were coming.[26] Göring additionally sent bombers to attack British airfields and factories vital to the British war effort. He wanted the Luftwaffe to deliver a knockout blow, and he hurled wave after wave of planes against the beleaguered RAF. Britain sustained heavy damage, and the Germans began to believe that the war would be over by the end of the year…until a fatal mistake occurred.


On the night of August 24/25, German bombers flew thirty kilometers too far west of their targets and accidentally bombed London. Hitler had given express orders to leave London alone. In response to this mistake, the British attacked Berlin on August 28, 30, and 31. Hitler learned of the raids against London and Berlin on August 30, and the Germans struck back on September 7. Hysteria momentarily overtook the British people, but this frenzy died down by the next morning. Throughout the month of September, London suffered 22 attacks aimed at destroying the civilian morale and forcing a rapid collapse of any resistance.[27]


While the Luftwaffe bombed away, the Heers and Kriegsmarine still bitterly argued over how many troops and supplies the Army wanted to send with how many the Navy could feasibly carry. Hitler finally settled the argument on August 16. He nonchalantly switched from supporting the Army to the Navy. He told the Heers that it must conform to the services that the Kriegsmarine could provide. He removed some of the landing points from the invasion plan, determined how many troops would be in the first wave, decided how long it would take for the first wave to cross the Channel, and resolved how often reinforcements would land. The invasion would take place on September 21, and the final orders would be delivered on D-10, September 11. Unfortunately, these sudden changes satisfied neither the Army nor the Navy.[28]


On September 10, Hitler postponed his final orders to the fourteenth. At this point, the invasion still hinged on the one fact that had existed since the November 1939 “Study Red”—the destruction of the Royal Air Force. Despite the almost daily battles with the RAF, the Luftwaffe had not achieved aerial superiority.[29]


On September 13, despite Jodl’s impression that Hitler had given up the invasion, Hitler issued plans for the landing. The plan called for thirty-nine divisions of troops to land on British soil within four weeks. Two hundred and fifty amphibious tanks and parachute troopers would assist the initial landing. Bombers would neutralize the coastal defenses and protect the flanks of the Kriegsmarine. Ten destroyers and twenty torpedo boats would secure the western flank and thirty motor boats would defend the eastern flank. Twenty U-boats would operate out of the Western Channel and North Sea and another six would be off the coast of Northumberland and Pentland Firth. Finally, to distract the Royal Navy, a phony operation would simulate a landing in Scotland.[30]


As D-day approached, the Luftwaffe continued to bomb Britain. The Germans suffered heavy losses, and the RAF remained undefeated. When his pilots complained, Göring issued the standard alibi, “I can’t do anything about it, the Führer himself has ordered it.”[31] The Luftwaffe was not the only air force busy pounding at the enemy. On the night of September 17/18, British bombers successfully raided the German fleet harbored at Dunkirk, Cherbourg, Boulogne, Calais, and Den Helder. The RAF sunk twenty-six barges and damaged another fifty-eight. The Germans had to stop shipping supplies to the invasion ports. According to Raeder, this attack would push the invasion back by at least five days.[32] At best, the Germans would be ready to attack on September 26, the very last day, because of the tides, that the Kriegsmarine could sail across the Channel at night.


The Naval Staff issued orders to disperse the ships so they could not fall prey to another British attack. Hitler confirmed these orders; he no longer talked about invading Britain and worried about a long, drawn-out war. On October 12, Hitler issued a directive renouncing an invasion in 1940. He sullenly accepted his first major failure of World War II, although he clung to his belief that he would eventually win the war.[33] In a letter to Italian Duce Benito Mussolini dated January 20, 1941, Hitler justified his inability to invade Britain:


We could never attempt a second landing since failure would mean the loss of so much equipment. England would then not have to bother further about a landing and could employ the bulk of her forces where she wanted on the periphery. So long as the attack has not taken place however, the British must always take into account the possibility of it.[34]


After December 5, Hitler concentrated his efforts on Russia, the last possible European ally for the British. On February 6, 1941, he wrote his twenty-third war directive, which states that “the object of further military operations against” Britain was to reduce imports and decrease the “production of airplane material.” He wanted “to inflict the greatest possible damage” and to make the British fear that “an attack on the British Isles” was imminent.[35] Finally, on February 13, 1942, Raeder persuaded Hitler to cancel any remaining Sea Lion preparations. Hitler consented, and on March 2, Jodl issued the order that at least one year’s notice would be given if plans to invade Britain were resumed. After a slow, agonizing death, Operation Sea Lion was buried at last.[36]


In hindsight, Sea Lion was appropriately named. The real animals “pride themselves on a loud roar…In fact, all seem to try to make noise continuously.”[37] Once Hitler had decided to invade, he threatened the British over and over with inflammatory statements: “Our victory will teach them a lesson which will go down in history” and “As our enemies still reject peace, they shall have a war of total annihilation.”[38] Yet, when it came time to follow through, he could not back up his threats with deeds.


Consequently, the question remains: why did the Germans fail to invade Great Britain?


Three reasons stand out above the rest: problems among the Wehrmacht, Heers, Kriegsmarine, and Luftwaffe; failure of the Luftwaffe to accomplish its mission due to the continual presence of the RAF; and failure of Hitler to organize his forces in an appropriate and timely fashion.


The basic problem was that the requirements for a successful invasion exceeded the abilities of the Kriegsmarine. The thought of an invasion constantly plagued Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, who, although not the strongest personality among Hitler’s military commanders, was the soundest strategist. He consistently laid out the difficulties of an invasion before Hitler. He repeatedly stated that the Army clearly did not realize the hazards of the mission. The plans issued with Directive 16 were out of proportion to the power of the Navy. Even when Hitler narrowed the invasion front, the Navy could not meet the increasing demands placed on it. Harbors had been damaged; fog, currents, and tides presented navigation difficulties; there was uncertainty about how to land the troops on the beaches; limited numbers of craft existed to transport troops and supplies; an adequate margin of safety from sea mines did not exist; there was no protection from the RAF; and the British Navy could block communication and prevent subsequent waves of troops and supplies from landing.


Raeder’s objections fell on deaf ears. During the operations in Norway, the Luftwaffe bombing made up for the lack of German naval power, and the Germans easily conquered Norway. Therefore, plans went forward because of the belief that the Luftwaffe could successfully bomb the British into submission. The Nazis mistakenly thought they could do to Britain what they had done to Norway; they thought that they could win a war by the strength of their air force alone.


Sea Lion should have forced the Heers, Kriegsmarine, and Luftwaffe to work together: the soldiers had to get to Britain; the sailors had to transport the soldiers; and the pilots had to protect the sailors. Each branch raised important problems with the various invasion plans, but none of them was interested in solving those problems. They could only criticize one another. Jealousy and mistrust reigned among the commanders-in-chief.[39]


The Heers believed that prior land warfare had fine-tuned the German Army into a proficient weapon[40] and complained, “We are in the peculiar situation where the Navy has only obstacles to offer, the Luftwaffe is unwilling to start on a task which is theirs alone at the outset, and the OKW…simply plays possum. The only driving force in the whole situation comes from us.”[41] The German naval officers possessed a holier-than-thou attitude toward their Army and Air Force brethren. The Kriegsmarine concluded that each section of the armed forces had its own private war, and the OKM had its conflict with the British Navy. The Navy had little regard for the land objectives. Finally, the Luftwaffe squabbled with the Navy and ignored the Army.[42]


Each commander-in-chief always found something to dislike about the other two. Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch and Raeder argued non-stop over the wide versus narrow front. Raeder could have pointed out that both the Romans and Normans had landed on narrow fronts and still managed to conquer Britain. Ultimately, Raeder’s views were confirmed on June 6, 1944, when the Allied forces landed in Normandy on a narrow front seventy kilometers wide.[43] Severe friction had existed between Raeder and Reich Marshal Hermann Göring since the Norway invasion. Raeder had proposed that strong air units be kept around the naval base in Norway, but Göring responded with a rude, mind-your-own-business telegram. He had even suggested that he would do the Navy’s job if the Kriegsmarine could not handle it.[44] Göring also kept a close eye on the reactionary Army to make sure it did not receive too much glory in the eyes of the German people.[45]


It was the responsibility of the Wehrmacht, the High Command of the German Armed Forces, to reconcile the sparring commanders, but in reality Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel and General Alfred Jodl were nothing more than Hitler’s “mouthpieces.”[46] Keitel and Jodl spent their time trying to gain authority over the three branches. Raeder and Göring each kept a measure of independence. A unified command would have had little effect on the Kriegsmarine. Göring relied on his high position in the Nazi party and his close relationship with Hitler. The Army was not so lucky, and the Heers resented the Wehrmacht meddling in its affairs.[47]


In the midst of this conflict, where was the Supreme Commander himself? The fact of the matter—Hitler trusted no one. He did nothing to stop the bickering because that would impair his ability to control them effectively.[48] Hitler “preferred to talk to one commander-in-chief at a time and play them off against each other.” Aside from the fact that Keitel, Jodl, Raeder, Brauchitsch, and Göring could not stand each other, if the five of them met together, they might put aside their differences and combine to oppose Hitler.[49]


In every plan created by the Germans, one factor kept reappearing as a prerequisite for a successful invasion—the defeat or destruction of the Royal Air Force. Here lies the second explanation for Germany’s failure to invade. The Germans continually overestimated the Luftwaffe’s strength and capacities. The OKW, OKH, and OKM made exacting demands that the OKL could not meet. Coupled with the ability of the British to withstand continual saturation bombing, an invasion of Britain became impossible.


The Luftwaffe had two roles according to Göring: first, to shoot down as many enemies as possible; and second, to perform strategic bombing that would “decide the war and relegate the army and the navy to the role of mere bit players.”[50] Nothing could ever come of Sea Lion, however, because the Luftwaffe failed to take out the RAF. As long as the RAF could menace the sailing German fleet and the landing German troops, an invasion could not happen. Because of the presence of the RAF, the Luftwaffe could not protect the troop transports from the British Navy. Furthermore, the Luftwaffe bombers were not well defended, did not release enough bombs, and did not follow up on targets to make sure the targets were completely destroyed.


The RAF had two distinct advantages over its German counterpart: fighting near home and radar. When a British pilot was shot down, he bailed out over the British mainland or in the Channel. Either way, he could be picked up by British forces, sent to an airbase, and put into another airplane to continue fighting the Germans. The Luftwaffe pilots were not so lucky. When a German pilot went down near Britain and got picked up by the British, he was out of the war for good. Radar was a bitter surprise for the German pilots. The British made extensive use of the technology that had been developed in 1935. They had advanced notice when the Luftwaffe planned to strike, could accurately plot the enemy’s course, and could plan the best time and place for the RAF to intercept the Luftwaffe.[51] The Luftwaffe continually underestimated the effectiveness of the British radar, and in all of their bombings in Britain, the Luftwaffe put forth no serious effort to jam or destroy radar stations.[52]


Finally, Hitler himself proved to be his own formidable obstacle to his invasion plans. Hitler’s ego demanded success over Britain. “He had swallowed Austria and Czechoslovakia, Poland, Denmark, and Norway, the Low Countries and France in successive gulps. Italy was his jackal, Russia (the next victim) his dupe, Japan a thunderbolt up his sleeve, Spain at the worst a toady.”[53] He assumed he could waltz into Britain and easily take over…once he decided to invade. Up through mid-July 1940, Hitler proclaimed that he wanted nothing more than peace with Britain. Even when he ordered Sea Lion, he continually thought of an invasion as a last ditch effort to get the British to sue for peace.


Hitler did not understand Britain or her people’s tenacious will to resist. First, Hitler chose to starve the British into submission. Then, he thought the British would capitulate once France fell. However, as Churchill later wrote, “Hitler could not conceive that Britain would not accept a peace offer…he misjudged our will-power.”[54] Only after this refusal did Hitler decide to change from strategies of annihilation to exhaustion. Had he been planning ahead for a possible invasion or had he been privy to the studies of the Kriegsmarine and Heers in late 1939, perhaps he would have been better prepared to deal with the British. This advanced preparation would have given his commanders more time to solve the problems that arose during the summer of 1940. Instead, Hitler seemed content to play his commanders off one another to see who could best curry favor with him. If Hitler had been ready to strike immediately after the fall of France, he would have been far more successful. In fact, if Hitler had destroyed the fleeing forces at Dunkirk, Britain could have been left “so defenseless that he might have conquered her even by hastily improvised invasion.”[55]


Hitler’s golden opportunity slipped past him before he had serious thoughts about an invasion. If he had created a strategy beforehand, Britain could have fallen. If the invasion had succeeded, the only remaining British forces would have been in Egypt, and those few forces probably could not have held off the Italian’s invasion from Libya. Hitler would never have had to deploy troops marked for Russia to Greece due to British intervention. Hitler presumably would not have had to postpone his operations in Russia, and with his extra troops, he might have taken Moscow before the bitter Russian winter set in. Capturing the Russian capital would have significantly strengthened the German position.[56] All of this could have happened if Hitler had created a master strategy or at least made plans more than a few weeks in advance.


Operation Sea Lion was a symbolic and pivotal event in World War II. The Germans had crushed the French, but they became stuck on the French side of the Channel in a stalemate. German Führer Adolf Hitler demanded his forces invade Britain, but they failed miserably after having spent the summer of 1940 laboriously laying the groundwork. The Germans fell short of their desired goal for many reasons, among which was the inability of the high-ranking officers to cooperate with one another; failure of the Luftwaffe to gain aerial superiority due to the continual menace of the Royal Air Force; and lack of foresight and planning on Hitler’s part. Operation Sea Lion delivered Hitler his first defeat in World War II, and with this loss, Nazi Germany suffered a devastating blow from which it never recovered.




[1] Directive No. 6 for the Conduct of the War, Documents on German Foreign Policy 1918–1945 Series D, vol. 8: The War Years 1939–40 [hereafter cited as DGFP, D], ed. Paul R. Sweet (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1954–64), no. 224.


[2] Egbert Kieser, Hitler on the Doorstep: Operation ‘Sea Lion’: The German Plan to Invade Britain, 1940 (Annapolis, MD: Arms and Armour Press, 1997), 82.


[3] Ibid., 82–4.


[4] Walter Ansel, Hitler Confronts England (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1960), 50.


[5] Keiser, Hitler on the Doorstep, 86.


[6] Ibid., 87–88.


[7] Ibid., 88–89.


[8] Ibid., 137.


[9] London Times, June 18, 1940.


[10] Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, in The Sword and the Pen, eds. Basil and Adrian Liddell Hart (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1976), 249.


[11] Directive No. 1 for the Conduct of the War, DGFP, D, 7: no. 493; Directive No. 2 for the Conduct of the War, DGFP, D, 7: no. 576; Directive No. 5 for the Conduct of the War, DGFP, D, 8: no. 170; Directive No. 7 for the Conduct of the War, DGFP, D, 8: no. 276.


[12] Directive No. 9 for the Conduct of the War, DGFP, D, 8: no. 399.


[13] Ronald Wheatley, Operation Sea Lion: German Plans for the Invasion of England (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1978), 27–28.


[14] B. H. Liddell Hart, The German Generals Talk (New York: William Morrow and Co., 1948), 146.


[15] Ansel, Hitler Confronts England, 132–33; Wheatley, Operation Sea Lion, 34–35.


[16] Kieser, Hitler on the Doorstep, 95.


[17] Directive No. 16 for the Conduct of the War, DGFP, D, 10: no. 177.


[18] Ansel, Hitler Confronts England, 144–46, 161–61; Wheatley, Operation Sea Lion, 41.


[19] London Times, July 20, 1940.


[20] New York Times, July 20, 1940.


[21] Kieser, Hitler on the Doorstep, 145.


[22] Wheatley, Operation Sea Lion, 47–49; Ansel, Hitler Confronts England, 205–06.


[23] Directive No. 17 for the Conduct of the War, DGFP, D, 10: no. 270.


[24] Wheatley, Operation Sea Lion, 63.


[25] Ibid., 62–64.


[26] Peter Fleming, Operation Sea Lion: The projected invasion of England in 1940—An account of the German preparations and British countermeasures (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957), 116–17.


[27] Kieser, Hitler on the Doorstep, 209–13; Wheatley, Operation Sea Lion, 77–78.


[28] Wheatley, Operation Sea Lion, 70–71; Ansel, Hitler Confronts England, 233; Fleming, Operation Sea Lion, 252–55; Liddell Hart, The German Generals Talk, 148–49.


[29] Wheatley, Operation Sea Lion, 73.


[30] Ibid., 80–83.


[31] Kieser, Hitler on the Doorstep, 242.


[32] Wheatley, Operation Sea Lion, 89.


[33] Ibid., 99–97.


[34] Walter Warlimont, Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939–45 (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1964), 116–17.


[35] Directive No. 23 for the Conduct of the War, DGFP, D, 12: no. 23.


[36] Wheatley, Operation Sea Lion, 98.


[37] Ansel, Hitler Confronts England, 143.


[38] London Times, June 6, 1940.


[39] Ansel, Hitler Confronts England, 326–331.


[40] Ibid., 333.


[41] Wheatley, Operation Sea Lion, 148.


[42] Fleming, Operation Sea Lion, 222.


[43] Kieser, Hitler on the Doorstep, 130.


[44] Ansel, Hitler Confronts England, 65, 102.


[45] Warlimont, Inside Hitler’s Headquarters, 91.


[46] Kieser, Hitler on the Doorstep, 260.


[47] Warlimont, Inside Hitler’s Headquarters, 8, 56.


[48] Fleming, Operation Sea Lion, 35.


[49] Warlimont, Inside Hitler’s Headquarters, 118.


[50] Kieser, Hitler on the Doorstep, 155–57.


[51] William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960), 776.


[52] B. H. Liddell Hart, History of the Second World War (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1971), 95.


[53] Fleming, Operation Sea Lion, 133.


[54] Winston Churchill, Their Finest Hour (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1949), 320–21.


[55] B. H. Liddell Hart, Strategy (New York: Praeger, 1967), 251–52.




[56] Fleming, Operation Sea Lion, 300–02.