Hitler’s Armada: The Royal Navy & the Defence of Great Britain
© Geoff Hewitt
Summer 1940. Britain stands alone, its ally France having lain down her sword and surrendered to the German blitzkrieg, which has already consumed Norway, the Low Countries, and half of Poland. Hitler, anxious to focus his attention and arms against his superior in mass murder Joseph Stalin, would love if Britain would stand down. If they won’t — if, as Churchill maintains, this is nothing less than a war for Christian civilization and English honor demands she fight for the freedom of Europe from the poor painter’s ambition — ‘if necessary for years, if necessary, alone‘ — then she must be made to. Her cities must be bombed, her ships bringing food and supplies sunk, and — possibly — her land invaded. The last is considerably ambitious, and extraordinarily difficult — so much so that Hitler, never known for prudence, accepted the impracticality in the autumn of that same year . After reading Hitler’s Armada, one can fully understand the reasons why, as Geoff Hewitt undertakes a detailed analysis of the available British and German naval & air forces, and argues that the Royal Navy, not the Royal Air Force, constituted the chief obstacle against invasion, both for its success in so compromising the German surface navy and for the brutal way it would surely annihilate Germany’s hastily-thrown together invasion fleet. Hewitt reviews the types of ships and aircraft available to both Britain and Germany, and points out that the Luftwaffe’s ability to effectively dispatch the Royal Navy at sea was limited, with no torpedo bombers (the most effective anti-ship air weapon) to speak of. Dive-bombers were potent, but not so much against moving targets. In addition, the German navy was very poorly equipped to attempt a land invasion in the best of circumstances, with clumsy barges (half unpowered!) rather than the made-for-purpose landing craft employed in Overlord. Against turbulent seas and the might of the Royal Navy, even Hitler’s arrogance had to bow to the reality that the sceptered isle would be too tough a nut for him to crack in 1940, and that Britain’s defenses would only grow stronger in future. This is an extremely detailed and welcome work, bout it may scare off readers who are accustomed to more casual/less analytical histories like those of Stephen Ambrose, etc. I’m more convinced by Hewitt’s analysis of the German navy’s limits (the proposed landing plan and logistics were absurdly amateur when compared to Overlord’s) than his stance on the Luftwaffe’s anti-sea capacities.
There’s LONG been a counter narrative questioning the tale that it was the German failure to win the Battle of Britain that stopped any invasion from happening. Essentially its an argument between Navy fans and Airforce fans. Obviously BOTH have to be taken into account.
I think the simple fact is that ‘Op Sealion’ could never have worked unless things were VERY different. To stage a successful cross-channel invasion you’d need *at least* local air-superiority (which they never achieved) and the ability to keep the Royal Navy at bay. As you say the JU-87 was available but actually turned out to be pretty crap at sinking manoeuvring ships, especially ones that were firing back at them. Add in Allied fighter support and you have the recipe for disaster.
Using unpowered barges always made me laugh. That’d be problematical even without being shot at! The Kriegsmarine lost a LOT of its destroyers in the Norway campaign and simply didn’t have enough ships of *any* kind to protect their invasion fleet. Between the Navy, Airforce and coastal gun batteries they’d have been cut to pieces with the remnants destroyed on the beaches (if they made it that far) by the Army.
Poor planning, poor logistics and facing a superior force… Opposed landings are some of the most dangerous military challenges around. ‘Sealion’ was really a non-starter. VERY interesting though!!
I *think* the Luftwaffe did have a handful of torpedo planes (and the Italians certainly did) but not enough to make much difference and certainly only useful with that pesky air-superiority again….
According to Hewitt, part of the slapdash prep work owed to Hitler not expecting war with Britain until 1944 or so. He’d signed a naval treaty in ’35 to smooth ruffled feathers with the Brits and didn’t anticipate the Allies’ vigorous response to his and the Soviets’ Polish collab.
Sealion was kinda thrown together, true. As you say, Hitler never really anticipated England to stay in the fight especially after France fell so quickly and we barely got our Army back off the beaches of Dunkirk. I think a vague plan was dusted off and ‘beefed up’ to produce Op Sealion most likely in the expectation that it’d never be put to the test. Luckily for the German Army it never was! World history might have been VERY different if he’d tried and failed though!!
I have a few books on Sealion which I’ve been meaning to get around to for AGES.
Considering that part of the Sixth Army was in the potential order of battle, they may have preferred capture in Britain to cold and starvation in Russia two years later…
Indeed! I’m watching the Germans being evicted from the Soviet Union ATM on a YouTube channel I’ve been following since the Pandemic. I think I’ve recommended it before but I think you’ll really like it. It follows the whole war, across the globe, in a week by week format.
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