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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Britain and the American Revolution now Available in Paperback

JDB Communications LLC is proud to announce the publication of Britain and the American Revolution, another collection of essays by John D. Beatty, author of The Devil’s Own Day: Shiloh and the American Civil War.

Most scholars—especially Americans—when writing about the American Revolution (also called the American War) emphasize the Western Hemisphere when considering the effects.  However, in this scribe’s opinion this view is short-sighted.  Great Britain, after all, is still around, and its Empire indeed flourished a century after it lost its then-largest and most prosperous colonies.  The Empire may have steadily degraded after Victoria’s diamond jubilee gala in 1897, but by the much-ballyhooed “Brexit” from the European Community in 2016, Britain herself was still a force to be reckoned with.

Recent writers, especially Steven Sears in The British Empire, have suggested that the British Empire was really nothing more than a jobs program for the English middle and upper classes.  In some ways, this is arguably true.  However trivial this may seem in the great scheme of things, it was also the largest single influence on human civilization between the fall of Rome and the triumph of the United States and the Soviet Union in 1945.  As these essays argue, this influence was in part because of the sheer genius of hard-pressed Britons to survive on their harsh, rocky islands.

“Changing the Great Game” is an exploration of how the concept of “rights” was grudgingly preserved by dynasty after dynasty ruling the British Isles.  Even if the Scots, Irish and other ethnic groups didn’t recognize it, the rights enjoyed by Englishmen that were unique to their legal system did rub off on them as well, if only in small doses from time to time.  The ancient legends of Arthur, Alfred and the rest of the traditional lawgivers may have been perfected in the 19th century, but their origins are clearly much older.  The legal tradition that no sovereign is above his own laws far predate the Normans.

“Kings, Kin and Killers” is something of an experiment.  Steven Pincus in 1688: The First Modern Revolution talks extensively about the motives of the supporters of the Stuarts and those who…well, did not support the monarch.  They hadn’t yet expressed a desire to throw out the monarchy as they would later, but the non-supporters of the Stuart kings were far more interested in the power of capital than that of land.  Their arguments were eerily similar to those that would take place in America before the shooting started in 1861.  It is almost certain that many of the philosophical animosities in English society between country and town, between farm and workshop, were locked into American society after the Revolution, and hung on in animus for another three generations.

“The Limits of Empire” is explicitly that: an essay into the administrative and technical limitations of imperial administration in the late 18th century.  Law, trade, finance, and community administration all depended on communications, and there was simply no good or reliable way to improve trans-Atlantic communications in the 1770s such that the Revolution, or one like it, could be put down.  Even if India were to become the most prosperous of all of Britain’s imperial properties, it wasn’t yet.  If the Gandhi revolution had come two centuries earlier, by that remove it may have succeeded much faster.

“Copper-Bottomed Wizardry” began as a challenge—a sort of a bet.  This writer was wagered that he could not find enough technological innovation between 1775 and 1805 to explain how Britain defeated France at Trafalgar.  Knowing that coppering became standard by 1783, the research started there and produced this essay.  The carronade, the short-barreled “smasher” that was the terror of small-vessel warfare before the shell gun, was intentionally left out because of other innovations that made British ships not only reliable and easier to handle, but overall better vessels.  Any sailor can tell you that, pound for pound, any well-handled warship in peacetime is worth three that are better gunned.  In wartime, it’s how well the guns are laid and how long they can stay on station, not just how well they can blast a target.

Four essays are hardly a working thesis, but they may point to one: Britain was strengthened by the conflict that resulted in the loss of her thirteen colonies that would eventually become the United States.  Both she and the United States, ultimately, resolved the last of a conflict in Anglo-Saxon society that had raged since the Tudors: Do governments have a right to rule, or a duty?  Is society the master of an economic structure, or a servant or product of it?

Let these essays inform the reader’s viewpoint. Available in paperbound and PDF at The Book Patch. Personally autographed copies will be available at JDBCOM.COM soon.