WAR CAMPAIGNS: Sea Lion - The Campaign That Was Never Launched
Translation and commentary by Carolyn Yeager and Wilhelm Mann
Copyright 2010 Carolyn Yeager
Translators' Introduction: Not quite four weeks after the new president of the defeated Republic of France, Marshal (Philippe) Petain, signed the Armistice with Germany, Adolf Hitler spoke to the Reichstag and the German Nation. It was the 19th of July 1940 when the Reichstag Deputies were assembled at the Kroll Opera House in Berlin, joined by all government ministers and the top brass of the Wehrmacht.
“I have summoned you to this meeting in the midst of our tremendous struggle for the freedom and the future of the German nation,” Adolf Hitler began. “I have done so […] with the intention of appealing, once more and for the last time, to common sense in general.” He described his political, social and economic goals and how they had succeeded since his Machtuebernahme in 1933. Raising His voice slightly, he said, “The program of the National Socialist Movement, besides freeing the Reich from the innermost fetters of a small substratum of Jewish-capitalist and pluto-democratic profiteers, proclaimed to the world our resolution to shake off the shackles of the Versailles Dictate…” Toward the end of his speech, showing visible emotion, he claimed, “From France and England, I never demanded anything but peace […] because my intention was not to make war, but to build a new social and cultural state […] At this hour I feel obligated before my conscience to once more appeal to common sense in England […] I don’t see any reason to continue this senseless fight.”
England’s answer was Churchill’s cynically uttered, “I don’t propose to say anything in reply to Herr Hitler’s speech, not being on speaking terms with him.” The British Prime Minister and his Hintermaenner wanted war and the destruction of Germany.
Prior to this speech, Hitler had issued on July 16th his Directive #16. It began: “Concerning preparations for an amphibious operation against England. Since England, in spite of her hopeless military situation, still shows no sign to come to an agreement, I have decided to prepare, and if necessary carry out, a landing operation against her.” He then outlined his strategy in broad strokes and requested plans from his three Armed Forces Commanders in Chief (Army, Navy, Luftwaffe) by early August.
At a meeting at his Berghof residence on July 31st with Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch (CiC Army) and Grand Admiral Erich Raeder (CiC Navy), Hitler requested detailed position papers for the operation after listening to their ideas. Already at that time, he told them he would start the campaign against Russia if Sea Lion was not executed, revealing he was aware of the serious problems confronting an invasion.
OKH (Oberkommando des Heeres–Army Supreme Command) came up with a bold, massive offensive across a wide stretch of Southern England that would tie up large enemy forces. Three Army groups (Army Group A under von Rundstedt; B under Strauss and C under von Reichenau) with a total of 36 divisions, including six tank and two airborne, would invade the South East coast of England, a 200-km long area between Ramsgate, the Isle of Wight and the Lyme Bay. Three waves, the first one with six divisions (16th, 9th and 6th Army), supported by 650 tanks (280 submerging amphibian) should attack on D day between September 19th and 21st.
OKM (Oberkommando des Marine—Navy Supreme Command) followed later with its operational plan. They requested a smaller attack area—no Lyme Bay—and concentrating between Folkstone and Eastbourne. With a strength differential of 1:10 for the German Navy to the Royal Navy, they could not give enough protection at the far Western end, since large naval units were unable to operate in the small English Channel–Straight of Dover. The Navy proposed to make a flotilla of ten destroyers and twenty torpedo boats available for the West side; thirty Schnell boats1 and twenty-one submarines for the East side; large minefields on the flanks; and to fake naval operations with a battleship, cruisers and troop transporters out of German North Sea ports and the south coast of Norway. The Navy also requested absolute control of the airspace by the Luftwaffe. There were some obvious military basics missing, for instance, time and space for unloading troops from ships to landing boats or vehicles.
Hitler intervened and demanded a revised plan to be worked out by the operations department of OKH. The invasion force was cut down to 26 divisions. A first wave of six divisions of General Busch’s 16th Army (from Army Group A) was to assemble in the ports of Rotterdam, Antwerp, Dunkirk and Calais, going ashore between Folkstone and Dover. Two divisions of General Strauss`s 9th army were to assemble at the harbor of Boulogne and landing between Eastbourne and Bexhill. Three divisions of Field Marshal Walther von Reichenau’s 6th Army would assemble at Le Havre, invading the shores at Brighton.
In the meantime, from August 13—“Eagle Day”—Luftflotte 2 and Luftflotte 3 of Germany’s Luftwaffe, tried to gain control over the island’s skies. It seemed to work, as they strafed and bombed airfields and communications, until the “Ultra” machine deciphered the wireless orders of the Luftflotte and enabled the British Command to quickly assemble Spitfires and Hurricanes for fierce counter-attacks. When Reichsmarshall Goering ordered reprisal attacks against British cities for the terror bombing of German cities, the goal of airspace supremacy was lost.
On September 17th, 1940, the Fuehrer Headquarters, recognizing these problems, postponed Operation Sea Lion and it never took place. Hitler turned his attention to the east.
August 1944, Fuehrer Headquarters, Winniza
"Why didn’t I give the order to attack England? I had various reasons.”
We were having our nightly tea at Winniza. It was not clear to me what Adolf Hitler was drinking most of the time. Once he said to me, “Camomile tea with honey tastes very good, sometimes peppermint tea or rose hips … also tea of mixed flower blossoms. And quite delicious is a boiled apple served in a glass.”
I chose black tea with oat cookies; from time to time, he took one.
For sure, he let the preparations for the attack go ahead; he had his reasons. Operation Sea Lion sounded very promising, but he was by no means sure about it. The forces for the attack had already begun their exercises; ships were concentrated; offensive operation plans worked out.
“But I wanted peace! Was it not possible that our offensive preparations would have been detected by reconnaissance, eagerly reported via the Vatican, Switzerland, Sweden, and Portugal to England, and possibly contributing to willingness for peace? But soon I recognized the hate was stronger; they preferred ‘blood, sweat and tears.’ The powers in the dark—incomprehensible—did not mind; it was not their blood, or their suffering. This war was satisfying their hate and drive for profit and power; Churchill was only the order taker.”
The offensive toward the West had never been his goal; he wanted to avoid it, and an attack on England seemed to him senseless. What losses would have occurred by such an attack across the Channel. Fall was approaching, with its unruly seas; most of the transport ships were not seaworthy. At first, he only felt a slight apprehension about it, but then he saw a threat—the very busy diplomatic activity of the enemy. Their target: a renewed effort at encirclement. But for the time being he left that aside.
“Let’s assume we attack England and the attack succeeds, under great sacrifices. What then? We would not possess the English government, the Royal House, the fleet—they moved away to Canada. The war in the West would continue, but not to our advantage, and in any case with an enormous tie-down of our forces. The occupation of England would not relieve the situation in Norway and France.
“And how would we feed the island when we ourselves are just making it, with restrictions. Then, our forces would bleed to death on the way to England and in England itself, while the Russians rolled over the Balkans, as they did in the Baltic with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. First they declare it a ‘sphere of interest,’ then comes military occupation, and finally the bolshevization, and with it, gaining military and economic strength.
“But not only that, the Russian could cut off our supplies and block important raw materials at the Balkans, above all oil. No, he would have us in his hand, dictating. We should even be glad he would not attack us right away. That would depend on how much our forces were weakened by our attack of England.”
Those were his considerations at that time. Why was England not ready for peace? Churchill has said only one word: Russia.
Already, long before (just after the French campaign had ended), it was clear to him that, depending on the war and political world situation at the time, Russia will act—either by its Bolshevik idea of a world revolution or by a nationalistic Russian idea of expansion towards the West, Europe. Both would come to the same result in the end. It’s a problem of greatest importance, not only for Europe but more so for the whole world. It lurks on the horizon like a threatening cloud before a thunderstorm.
Certainly the Russians were not yet quite ready, but the threat was already obvious. The deployment against us had already begun, first diplomatically, followed very soon by military preparations. Now he knew it would not take long for blackmail to enter. He anticipated far ahead of what Molotov presented.
Stalin would naturally have preferred us to attack England, to weaken and entangle ourselves according to Lenin’s prophecies. Not only common sense but European thinking spoke against an invasion of England.
More and more, threatening signals appeared—danger from the East. Not only the decision for Germany, but one for the whole world rested with us. Churchill and Roosevelt, warmongering figures visible in the darkness, bet on the Russia card. To forestall them with our attack was the only possibility; first to ward off the Russian-Bolshevik danger, second to secure food and raw materials, and third to not only take the Russian card out of the hands of the West, but to make it obvious that, by Germany securing its food and raw material, a continuing of the war would be senseless.
For sure, individual operations in the West, like Gibraltar, would have been possible and could have shown significant results, but only on our own, without drawing Spain into the war. He has been advised against this. He had talked to me about his disappointments after negotiating with Franco. He naturally wanted to attack Gibraltar from the land side. He by no means intended to draw Spain into the war. Ally with Spain?—never. We were burdened enough by the Italians. Spain would draw us into war fronts of neither military, nor, above all, of any economic interest. That’s one side of the coin. The other is that we would have had to help them; we could not allow them to get beaten, even in battles picked by them for which we saw no need.
Specifically, he was thinking about the very senseless attack of Greece—he could not prevent it.2 He had told me that on his visit in Florence he faced a fait accompli—an expanding war, followed by restlessness at the Balkans and the consequence: Yugoslavia.3 All in all, a loss—a tie down of forces; we lost time, unrecoverable time, over two months time. We missed the original assault time for reaching the targets he had set. That lost time was a gain for the Russians; they threatened our border by putting 175 divisions into readiness.
A neutral Italy, mobilized and ready for action, could have helped us and been useful to them, too. Already in 1940, when we had taken Paris, Hitler had prophesied to me that we would not be able to hold back the Italians; they wanted to have a part in it. They lessened our victory and the possibility of peace. If they really wished to fight, they should have taken Malta.
After pondering in silence, he said with a slow voice: “Yes, now I faced the most difficult decision of my life. What will happen if I push open the door to the East?” Adolf Hitler was quiet again for a while, then, “Enough for today, Giesler, I’ll see you tomorrow for lunch.”
Lunch at Deutelmoser’s Osteria in Munich
Alone, I had time to think and ponder also. I recalled the 26th or 27th of October, 1940, when I had been asked to the “Osteria Bavaria” for lunch. After the meetings with Franco and Petain, Adolf Hitler came to Munich at midmorning, before meeting later on with Mussolini in Florence. Deutelmoser, the owner of the Osteria, was always highly honored when Hitler choose his small, simple restaurant for lunch. I was amused every time at the stir-up in the kitchen. But Deutelmoser was cool and collected when he served the potato soup and the turnip salad with the air of serving treasures.
After lunch, I was sitting alone with Adolf Hitler at the table. He talked about his trip and said of Petain: “A soldier, honorable and dignified, he fully met my idea of a French marshal, but he is already too old to plan into the future. Well, now to Franco—it may well be that my disappointment influenced my judgment. Our discussion remained without results. Franco has no personality, he is absolutely average. Without the Jesuits, who in my opinion not only advise but direct him, he would be insignificant. He is certainly clever in his way, but so are traders.”
He believes if he had already recognized Franco’s political aims and his character in 1936, his sympathies would have been with those who stood up against the feudal system and the clerics. But those revolutionaries were led by communists, and once they get their foot in the door there is no turning them out again. A socialism that suits Spain, yes; a Spanish-Communistic state as a satellite of the Soviets, no. It was a European task to prevent it and in that he agreed with the Duce. Thus, we had to intervene with help. It would then have been up to Franco to start a new social order with his Falangists.
Adolf Hitler looked around, met the eyes of the guests with a smile and a gesture of greeting. “What might I expect in Florence? I have an unpleasant feeling,” he said, facing me again with a completely changed look.
At his request, I gave him a short report about the status of the Munich city planning and the steps I initiated for the construction of the Autobahn ring and the new railway system. I also asked him if he thinks that, for the time being, all constructions and plans for (NSDAP) party buildings should be set aside. Absolutely; he said preference has to be given to plans serving city rebuilding and community purposes.
It was certainly the word “party” which turned his thoughts.
He worries a great deal about Rudolf Hess. He knows he can talk about it with me: Hess’s nearly occult, airy behavior, his hypochodria (Sichkrankfuehlen) and what he is doing for it. He (Hitler) is certainly not against homeopaths and non-medical practitioners, but strongly against all those Hess trusts with his confidence. He should by all means find the confidence of a physician with rank. Hitler is really worried, not only because of Hess’s position and tasks, but simply because he is sincerely fond of him. “That I keep him in such high esteem, that I feel an obligation, well, he is the ‘Faithful’ since the beginning of the national socialist struggle.”
Adolf Hitler stood up, waved his hand to his guard commando, saying good bye, to travel towards new disappointment and trouble. When he arrived in Florence, Mussolini told him he issued the order to attack Greece. That was now the second extension of the war and war theaters, totally undesired and useless, idiotic.
Hitler expressed it once to me as a fall-back of two millennia, and its origin lay in the historically-based myth about the Roman Empire. He explained that the turbulence in the Balkans, cleverly stirred by the English, surely led to Yugoslavia’s break-away and the Balkan campaign, causing losses and tying up divisions and airplanes necessary for the offensive against Russia, and above all using up time, precious time.
"The most difficult decision of my life,” Adolf Hitler told me at the end of our nightly talk in his work room at the Winniza headquarters. A memory appeared like a picture in front of my eyes: around February 1941, on an afternoon at the Berghof, after a discussion with my construction staff for Obersalzberg (Bauleitung Obersalzberg), I arrived at the large living room of the Berghof for the usual walk to the tea pavilion.
The military talks were just finished. Adolf Hitler stood with a few generals at the marble table in front of the big window and gave some orders to his adjutant. Dr.Todt, who participated at the talks, stood with me toward the back of the large room. He pointed to the scene and said quietly, “They know about the decision—Russia. It will be tough, who knows what is waiting for us behind that border; what is already known to us is threatening enough. But look, here the Fuehrer stands, concentrated, collected, and in the background the Untersberg. You know the saga: For one thousand years the hope of Germans is connected with this mountain—isn’t that strange?” (see story below)
Yes, it was a striking picture, somber and impressive. I looked at Adolf Hitler’s profile as some generals and SS officers were facing him with serious, tight expressions. In the background, the view through the large window looked over the deeply snowed-in landscape of the Berchtesgadener Land. The Untersberg alone stood high above the dark forests, its red, precipitous rocks now white, illumined by the last sunrays of the day.
In the evening we were sitting around the fireplace; Adolf Hitler was silent, focused inward. We talked quietly. Around midnight, Hitler asked (Martin) Bormann for something. Then, to our complete surprise, the powerful, fateful-sounding melodies of Liszt’s “Les Preludes” swept through the large hall lit only by the flames of the fireplace.
1) German Schnell boats were heavily armed coastal craft often referred to by the Royal Navy as E-boats. Faster and better armed than the Royal navy MTB’s and PT-boats, they became the most effective inshore attack craft of World War Two. All German Schnell Boats carried two separate torpedo tubes. In total 249 Schnell Boats were built for the Kriegsmarine, with a total of 157 being lost or scuttled. The US, UK and Russia divided up the surviving boats between them.
2) Benito Mussolini, impressed by Hitler’s success, wanted to do his own war and started the attack on Greece without informing Hitler. It can be attributed to jealousy combined with imperial pride on Mussolini’s part.
3) Giesler is referring to the putsch in Yugoslavia that forced the redirection of German forces to the Balkans just before the planned invasion of the Soviet Union. Guided by the British secret service and probably supported by the Russian Air Force, Serbian General Simovic overthrew the Pro-Hitler regency of Prince Paul and installed a pro-British military government.
The Barbarossa Saga
At the time of the crusades, the German Kaiser and Holy Roman Emperor Friedrich the First, called Barbarossa (Red Beard), left to fight in the Holy Land. During the 3rd Crusade in 1190 in Asia Minor, the Emperor died tragically by drowning in the River Saleph.
Soon, however, rumors that he was not dead, but would return, began to circulate and developed into the Barbarossa Saga. The enchanted Friedrich was said to still live with his whole court in the Kyffhäuser, a mountain in Thuringia, or in Mount Untersberg, straddling the border between Berchtesgaden and Salzberg. One version of the legend has it that the Emperor is seated in the mountain at a table with his golden crown on his head; his beard grows around the table and has circled it twice. When the time comes, Barbarossa will step out from the mountain and again erect his empire. Every hundred years, he sends his dwarfs to see if the ravens are still circling around the mountain. If this is the case, the time for the Emperor’s awakening is not yet and he again falls back into his enchanted sleep.
After the death of the last Staufer (the Hohenstaufen dynasty), Emperor Friedrich II, in the year 1250, the German Empire, after a nearly 100-year blossoming, broke down into many small states with partly-contradictory interests. The Barbarossa Saga mirrors the desire of simple people for a unified state led by a wise and just ruler.
Originally, the Emperor’s saga was applied to Friedrich II, the nephew and successor of Barbarossa. However, by the later middle ages, it was Barbarossa who was seen as the sleeping Emperor in the mountain.
At the beginning of the 19th Century, during the time of Bismarck, strong efforts were made to create a unified German national state. During that time, the Barbarossa Saga became the German national story.
Franco, center, greets Adolf Hitler in Hendaye, October 23, 1940.
Adolf Hitler remembered his meeting with Generalissimo Francisco Franco at Hendaye as one of his worst experiences. They met at this town on the French-Spanish border in October 1940. Hitler was upset for two reasons.
First, the General’s growing hesitancy to support Hitler’s "Operation Felix," the plan to take Gibraltar and extend the operation into Spanish Morocco. Franco did not want Spain to join the war. Unbelievable as it sounds, Franco was advised to take up that attitude by Hitler’s chief of the Abwehr, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, who was an expert for Spanish affairs and twice visited Madrid in 1940.1
Second, Hitler was angered by Franco’s outrageous demands for Germany to supply raw materials, armaments, machinery and even foodstuff with which to fight the war. Franco knew well enough Germany could never fulfill this request. That devious move was also suggested by Canaris. The meeting ended with the signing of a worthless document of mutual cooperation. Hitler reportedly stated about this meeting: "I would rather have my teeth pulled than meet with Franco again."2
Franco’s Jesuit conscience must have pestered him, however. He could not but remember the decisive help given to him by Adolf Hitler during his life and death struggle with the Red Republic from 1936-39, which resulted in unfavorable publicity such as “Guernica” being leveled against “the facists,” including Germany. He did permit Spanish military forces to join Germany’s war in Russia. The Blue Division (Division Azul) under the command of General Agustin Múñoz Grandes fought with distinction for two years at the Leningrad front.
1) John H. Walter, The Unseen War in Europe, p. 155. 1996, Random House, New York
2) Published in “The Journal of Art, History and Literature,” from Count Ciano’s transcript of Hitler's October 28th meeting with Mussolini, written a few days after Hendaye. Ciano was Mussolini’s son-in-law.
(L to R) Marshall Petain, interpreter Paul Schmidt, Adolf Hitler, Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop, in France in October 1940.
Marshal Philippe Petain, national hero of WWI, took over the presidency of the French government after he signed the final armistice treaty with Germany. He resided in Vichy, in the unoccupied part of France, and collaborated with Germany. His premier, Pierre Laval, suggested a military alliance and full cooperation with the National Socialist government. The pro-German PPF party of Jacque Doriot had Laval’s full support.
After the war, the government of General De Gaulle sentenced Marshal Petain to death, then pardoned him to life imprisonment. He was too famous, and too much a part of past French victories, to punish with death. Laval, however, was shot as a traitor in July 1945. ~ cy & wm