In this second part of my look at Operation Sea Lion I will try to address some the political issues raised in the essay under discussion.
a) The planning of Operation Sea Lion was left too late
The following extracts are taken from a document produced by the British Naval Intelligence Unit shortly after the war entitled “German Plans for the Invasion of England in 1940 – Operation Sea Lion”. This research document was authored using captured German naval documents and gives a detailed account of the German navy’s preparations for the invasion of Britain but also an outline of the overall plan.
“The initiation of a plan for a landing in England came from the C. in C. (Commander in Chief; Grand Admiral Raeder) of the navy. As soon as he knew in the autumn of 1939 of the Fuhrer’s intention to launch an offensive in the west, he ordered the naval staff to investigate the possibilities of an invasion of England.”
“As a result of these preliminary reflections of the naval staff the C. in C. of the navy first spoke to the Fuhrer on 25th May 1940 on the possibility of an invasion of England.”
“On 20th June the C. in C. of the navy again reported to the Fuhrer on this question and he emphasised that absolute air superiority was an essential prerequisite for carrying out the operation.
It is important to affirm that the Grand Admiral Raeder did not make these two reports to Hitler with the intention of proposing the invasion or propagating the idea. His wish was mainly to discuss the whole question in good time, so as to avoid the consequences which might result from a hasty decision by Hitler, which might lead to the navy being confronted by an insoluble problem as regards material preparations.”
“However, in the last few days of June – after the termination of the campaign in France, and rather late in the season – the suggestion of the C. in C. of the navy was taken up by the supreme command, who, on the 2nd July, issued the first directive for the operation.”
Therefore the German navy had been considering the resources required and the likely defence strategy for the invasion and resupply fleets for an invasion of Britain. This initial planning began a year or so before the most likely invasion date in September 1940. The directive issued on the 2nd July allowed ten weeks for the final planning of the operation, which with cancellations stretched to just over twelve weeks.
In comparison and despite some people’s views, whilst it was known that an invasion of France by the allied powers was inevitable, the actual outline planning was not begun until May 1943 at a meeting in Quebec, Canada. This outline planning was to determine the most likely landing sites, the strength of forces required and to set a date for D-Day of 1st May 1944. The detailed planning did not begin until mid-January 1944, just 14 weeks before the expected landing date. This was subsequently set back by just over a month due to the expansion of the plans to encompass five landing beaches rather than the three included in the outline plan. This in turn led to the added requirement for two additional divisions to fulfil the expansion in the number of landing sites. (Source: The Invasion of Normandy: Operation NEPTUNE; United States Naval Administration in World War II - Commander, U.S. Naval Forces in Europe: Volume V)
b) Adolf Hitler never intended to go to war with Britain
The following extracts are taken from a document entitled “Fuehrer Conferences on Naval Affairs, 1939” which is a collection of minutes from meetings between Hitler and the various heads of his armed forces. These were collated and annotated after their capture by allied forces from the German Naval Archives.
“In deciding what ships to build Raeder was guided by Hitler’s early contentions that war would not take place with England until at least 1944 or 1945, though trouble with France, Poland, or Russia might be expected sooner.”
“In spite of much that has been said to the contrary Hitler undoubtedly anticipated interference from the western democracies. On May 10, 1939, he issued another directive to the Armed Forces:”
“The enclosure to this directive stated that the German Navy and Luftwaffe in particular were to make preparations for the immediate opening of economic warfare against Britain, and, as a second priority, against France. These operations were to be started as soon as ‘Granzsicharung’ was ordered.” (Granzsicharung or Frontier defence in English, was the plan to defend the borders of Germany and its territories from interference or aggression from other nations.)
These extracts clearly show that Hitler always expected war with Britain, initially he anticipated full scale conflict in 1944-45. However Hitler recognised that this may occur sooner following Britain’s pledge on 31st March 1939 to offer the support of itself and France to guarantee Polish independence. This pledge was formalised on 25th August by the signing of a mutual assistance agreement should either Britain or Poland be attacked by a foreign power. The signing of the agreement obviously gave Hitler some food for thought as he delayed his invasion of Poland from the planned date of 26th August to 1st September.
c) Hitler did not expect Britain to declare war over the Polish issue
“Hitler’s speech at the Obersalzberg (August 22nd 1939) has been variously reported. Some said that he asserted definitely that England and France would not go to war, while others said that Hitler’s opinion was that there was no reason for England to defend Poland, that therefore it was probable she would not go to war, but that it was a possibility to be borne in mind.But whatever Hitler’s opinion, the danger was all too clear to Raeder and his staff. On August 21 and 24 respectively the pocket battleships Graf Spee and Deutschland with their attendant supply ships Altmark and Westerwald were sent to waiting positions in the Atlantic. Between August 19 and 21, twenty-one U-boats were also despatched to offensive positions round the British Isles.These may have been precautionary dispositions, but they were also positive indications of the expected war with England. No such dispositions were made during the Munich crisis in September, 1938.” (Source: Fuehrer Conferences)
The evidence suggests that Hitler may have declared publicly that he believed that the British and French would not and should not go to war over the invasion of Poland however he knew there was a good possibility they would. In issuing a clear directive regarding the preparations for economic war against the western powers it can be seen that Hitler was willing to take the risk of reprisals from Britain and France. Hitler did have one card up his sleeve at this point which he hoped might make the western powers see sense, the day after his Obersalzberg speech Germany and Russia unexpectedly signed a non-aggression pact. But as history shows even this did not prevent the British and French from declaring war.