Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The Impossibility of Sea Lion - Part One

Earlier this month I posted on here a blog entitled “Sperrle, the Man Who Changed the World” stating what might have been if the Germans had gained air superiority in the Battle of Britain.  As a consequence I theorised that it may lead to a successful invasion of Britain something the Germans had planned in reality and known as Operation Sea Lion.  One reader of my post pointed me in the direction of a website called and said that my views might not be acceptable there.  Being the curious type I visited the site only to discover that one of the biggest sins on the site is talking about Operation Sea Lion (or the Furry Marine Mammal as some like to call it for fear of mentioning its real name).
I have included the following quote from one of the forum threads on as it seems to be representative of the collective thinking of most of the members of the site.
“Sea Lion, as planned by Nazi Germany in 1940, is a physical impossibility. Having it occur, let alone succeed, is ASB.”  By the way ASB stands for Alien Space Bats apparently which I’m guessing is some other way of saying B*ll Sh*t.
I even discovered that one of the site administrators had written an extensive “essay” outlining exactly why Sea Lion was impossible which can be found here for those that are interested.
The essay begins with the following statement:
“The Second World War has always been a favourite stomping ground of alternate historians, especially the writers of alternate history novels. Probably the most popular single alternate history in the western world is one where the Nazis win the war. In order to accomplish this, the creators of many timelines utilize Operation Sea lion, a German plan in 1940 for the invasion of Britain. Unfortunately, what most don't realize is that Sea lion was nothing more than a pipe dream - utterly unworkable in any alternate history at all similar to the history we are familiar with.”
In brief the author makes the points listed below as being the crucial elements of the plan that would have made it impossible for Operation Sea Lion to have been a success.
1)    Political
a)    The planning of Operation Sea Lion was left too late
b)    Adolf Hitler never intended to go to war with Britain
c)    Hitler did not expect Britain to declare war over the Polish issue
2)    Air Supremacy
a)    There is a false assumption that a German victory of the Battle of Britain is all that is needed for a successful invasion
b)    Britain’s rate of aircraft production was higher than Germanys
c)    The RAF had the advantage of air crew recovery
d)    The RAF planned to withdraw the fighter squadrons north if it looked like the Battle of Britain was being lost saving the planes to deny the Germans air superiority over the landing beaches
e)    The structure of the RAF allowed for redundant squadrons to be based in the north of England where they were used for resting tired pilots, training and refitting
f)     The RAF had ample reserves of planes in its northern squadrons to allow replacement of those lost in the south, the primary location of the Battle of Britain
g)    The bombing of fighter plane production facilities and air fields by the Germans was an annoyance not a serious threat to the RAF’s ability to continue the fight
3)    Initial Invasion
a)    Germany had few if any landing craft and would have had to rely on river barges
i)     The barges designed for inland waterways would swamp in heavy seas
ii)   There was not many available
iii) They were not suitable for transporting heavy equipment such as artillery or vehicles including tanks
iv)  At best a barge would be able to transport one tank at a time
b)    Britain’s land forces would have been too numerous for any invasion force the German’s could have transported
i)     The German’s could only have landed 10 infantry divisions at most
ii)   Britain’s armoured forces would have outnumbered those of the Germans
iii) Not only did Britain have a large army including those evacuated from France via Dunkirk but they also had a large part time army, the Home Guard
iv)  After the initial invasion it would be possible for the Canadians to reinforce the British by sending large numbers troops across the Atlantic
c)    Britain had a number of secret plans for defeating the Germans on the invasion beaches
i)     The use of chemical warfare (poisoned gas)
ii)   Setting the sea on fire
d)    German paratroopers could not hope to succeed
i)     The transport planes were slow and vulnerable to fighter attack
ii)   The Germans had few paratroopers available after the invasion of Crete
iii) Paratroopers are good at attacking small targets not large land masses like mainland Britain
4)    Control of  the Seas
a)    Germany did not have a strong enough merchant navy to be able to carry reinforcements and resupply the invading forces
i)     Germany did not have many freighters
ii)   The freighters do not have the capacity to transport the heavy equipment needed to reinforce the initial landings
iii) Resupply would have to be conducted using barges
b)    The Royal Navy Home Fleet would have been more than capable of destroying most of the invasion fleet and any subsequent supply convoys attempting to enter the English Channel
i)     The major warships of the Home Fleet were stationed at Scapa Flow, a naval base in the Orkneys in the far north of the British Isles.  A such they were safe from German attack out of range of the Luftwaffe
ii)   Smaller vessels of the Royal Navy stationed on the south coast of England would be used to disrupt the invasion fleet
iii) The major warships of the Home Fleet would be within the English Channel within 24 hours to disrupt reinforcement and resupply
iv)  The German submarines would be no defence against the larger warships of the Royal Navy and would be vulnerable in the confines of the English Channel
v)    The German navy was inadequate to defend the resupply ships being small in number and having lost a large majority of its forces in the invasion of Norway in April 1940
c)    Even with air superiority the German air force would not be capable of dealing with the Royal Navy
i)     The German aircraft did not have the range to attack the Home Fleet at Scapa Flow
ii)   The Germans had no dedicated torpedo bombers
iii) The invasion of Norway proved how poor the Germans were at attacking even unguarded ships with very few British vessels sunk
iv)  Battleship task forces have a vast screen of anti-aircraft fire from escorting cruisers and destroyers as demonstrated in the Pacific campaigns between the American and Japanese navies
v)    The majority of German bombers were level bombers rather than dive bombers meaning that targeting manoeuvrable ships would be near impossible
vi)  The Germans only dive bomber was the JU 87 Stuka which was outdated, slow and vulnerable with a short range that would mean limited attacks would be possible before the Home Fleet engaged the German resupply convoys in the English Channel
I’m not saying that the invasion of Britain in September 1940 was possible or impossible but after a bit of research I believe some clarification should be made regarding a number of the points the author of the essay has raised.  That way people can make up their own minds about whether there was even a slim chance of success rather than being ridiculed by a collective of Alternative History Timeline Elites as one contributor to a thread on Operation Sea Lion called himself and those who shared his views.
There is not enough room in a single blog entry to devote to this subject so I will be spreading it across many parts of which this is the first.


  1. Why bother? You won't change these people's minds, you'll just be wasting your time doing a bunch of pointless research.

    I think these people are missing the whole point of "Alternate History" novels. The point of any novel is to tell an entertaining story. If a novel features a successful Operation Sea Lion and it is a gripping tale that keeps you turning the pages, then who cares if some obsessed nerd says it couldn't have happened that way?

  2. Unfortunately I'm also a little on the nerdy side, I enjoy the research. I doubt whether any of the AlternativeHistory people will even read this unless I post a link to my blog on one of their precious forums. There are two reasons really for me doing this, the first is to satisfy my need for information, for me life is about learning new things and if I go a day without learning something new I feel like its been a waste of a day. The second is the fascination I have for the events of the second world war, from the underlying politics of the period to the individual stories of those whose lives were affected.