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Sealion and Independence Day 2018

Hot time, summer in the Great Lakes, back of my neck gettin’…um…that doesn’t work. Well, let’s see what does.

On 2 July 1566 the seer called Nostradamus died in Provence, France; whether or not he predicted his death is impossible to know since his prophecies have been so bowdlerized over the centuries, many original texts having been lost:  he might have, or not. Also on this day in 1644, William Gascoigne was killed at the battle of Marston Moor in Yorkshire, England; Gascoigne was the inventor of the micrometer and the telescopic sight, and Marston Moor was the decisive battle in that phase of the English Civil War. But never mind, James II disbanded Parliament on 2 July 1687, partly as punishment for his grandfather’s ouster. On 2 July 1871, Charles Tupper was born–and he had nothing to do with Tupperware but was a Father of Confederation and the 6th Prime Minister of Canada. And today in 1900, the first Zeppelin flew over Lake Constance in Germany, and just sixteen years later Hans-Ulrich Rudel was born in Konradswaldau, in what is now Poland but was then part of Germany; Rudel was the most decorated German airman in WWII, and author of the memoir, Stuka Pilot.  It’s also National Anisette Day because, well, somebody said so. But today we’re going to talk about an invasion that never could have been, and the difference between declaring independence and being independent.

While this story has been peddled for decades by book writers and movie-makers, the truth is that the Germans were never particularly serious about invading England, and much of their preparations were meant to merely frighten her to the peace table.

After the British Army had its head handed to it in France and the Low Countries in June 1940, the story goes, Hitler was merely waiting for Britain to give up and make peace. When that didn’t happen, the Germans prepared to invade the British Isles. This scary prospect supposedly shocked and galvanized Britons into all sorts of gyrations to defend their island against the dreaded invaders. While this story has been peddled for decades by book writers and movie-makers, the truth is that the Germans were never particularly serious about invading England, and much of their preparations were meant to merely frighten her to the peace table.

In addition, neither the Luftwaffe nor the Kriegesmarine had any enthusiasm for the project. In short, Seelowe (Sea Lion) was a plan without willing participants or a shred of a possibility for success.

On 2 July 1940, the OKW,  (Oberkommando des Wehrmacht, or Armed Forces High Command) instructed the three branches of Germany’s military to do some studies for the invasion, with the preconditions that air and naval supremacy had already been established in the English Channel and much of southeastern England. The services dutifully prepared elaborate estimates, some of which required equipment that Germany didn’t have. On 16 July, having heard a synopsis of the estimates, Hitler issued his Directive 16 that ordered that preparations be made for the invasion. The services dutifully complied, again, and started collecting landing craft and troops. Absent in Directive 16 was the reality that the RAF and the RN were still viable forces in the area, and no matter what else happened they would still be viable when the preparations were supposed to be complete at the end of August, nor was a combined headquarters provided for. In addition, neither the Luftwaffe nor the Kriegesmarine had any enthusiasm for the project. In short, Seelowe (Sea Lion) was a plan without willing participants or a shred of a possibility for success.

Though Prime Minister Churchill was aware of all these non-gloomy official assessments, he was counseled to assume that the worst could happen if nothing else to get Britain moving in aggressive directions; that was his public persona.

But on the other side of the Channel, despite having only one fully equipped division in Britain–and that Canadian–the higher-ups in the British Army, Royal Air Force, and Royal Navy were somewhat sanguine. They had access to the tidal charts and eggheads who had been studying them for centuries. These eggheads were queried time after time since 1935 about the possibility of an invasion of England from France, and the answer was always the same: surprise was impossible because of the slow tides; an invasion force big enough to create a lodgement had to be larger than the Channel ports could accommodate; the Channel current flow was a bear that any force could overcome only with large numbers and concentration beyond German capacities. Besides, the intelligence men were saying, the Germans had zero experience with large-scale amphibious operations. Though Prime Minister Churchill was aware of all these non-gloomy official assessments, he was counseled to assume that the worst could happen if nothing else to get Britain moving in aggressive directions; that was his public persona.

After the failure of the Battle of Britain, Seelowe was postponed indefinitely on 17 September 1940.

The preconditions for the invasion, of course, were never met. The Luftwaffe never got close to air supremacy over the Channel or over England itself–they could barely keep the RAF from shooting up the collections of barges for the land forces. The Kriegsmarine was never more than a commerce-raiding force and were never a serious challenge to the Royal Navy. Thus the British Army could build up its forces in Britain and send troops to North Africa and wherever else the Empire needed them. After the failure of the Battle of Britain, Seelowe was postponed indefinitely on 17 September 1940.


Wednesday is Independence Day in the US–the 4th of July. It celebrates the day in 1776 that the Continental Congress in Philadelphia approved the text of the Declaration of Independence, and to mark that approval John Hancock affixed his signature to it. But, as those of us who have adult children living with them can attest, declaring independence is a far cry from being independent. For one thing, there were forces already in motion that, within two months, would largely destroy the largest American Army, Washington’s on Long Island. There was nowhere in the American colonies that the war was going particularly well for more than a year until about 1782. Another six years of often desperate fighting makes the 1776 declaration presumptuous, at best.

But it was a necessary step to get all the colonies at least thinking in the same terms. Thought the fractious United States would bicker and fight and argue with the others for the next four score and nine years–until 1865–the basic notion that they made up a self-governing republic without the need of a monarch on the other side of the Atlantic wasn’t seriously questioned. But financial independence had to wait until WWI when the center of the financial world gradually shifted from London to New York.

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