16th July 1940. Invasion Threat.
Any notions that Hitler didn’t want to invade these islands is dispelled by his War Directive No. 16, dated Today 16th July 1940.
It read: ‘Since England in spite of her hopeless military situation, shows no sign of being ready to come to an understanding, I have decided to prepare a landing operation [Operation Sea-Lion] against England, and, of necessity to carry it out’.
‘The aim of the operation will be to eliminate the English homeland as a base for prosecution of war against Germany and of necessity to occupy it completely’. This supports his earlier Directive of November 1939, which said, ‘the defeat of England is essential to final victory’.(1)
Before the outbreak of war invasion seemed highly unlikely, yet after a few weeks of German Naval activity in home waters the possibility of small raids or even a more substantial invasion began to seem less remote.
However in May 1940 the significant respite came when, on the brink of invasion, Hitler’s ‘Halt Order’ was given in support of General von Rundstedt’s request to halt the Panzers, which countermanded the order by the Wehrmacht’s C in-C General von Brauchitsch to stop short of the coast as he wanted to move on Paris.
Hitler was aware of the problems of the logistics of an extended supply chain consequent of the rapid movement of the tanks, so after 250 miles of advance there was a need to regroup.
Also he didn’t want to commit his armour to the Flanders marshes, it thus gave the Allies a 48 hour breathing space.
However by the 20th May the Germans were at the French coast and two days later the entire British fighter force of 300 planes were withdrawn from France, to operate from British bases.
By the 26th of the month, Lord Gort realised he was surrounded; the Belgians capitulated on the same day. ‘Siren voices’ urged Churchill to surrender, but he was convinced a rescue, ‘Operation Dynamo’, would succeed.
Within days the Germans were within 35 miles of Paris, the French government having moved to Tour..
By mid June, before the inevitable French surrender, Churchill proposed that France and Britain should become a single union with common citizenship, but time had run out.
The French finally surrendered on the 22nd in the same railway coach as that when General Foch had handed the Germans the Armistice terms in November 1918.
It was at this point that Churchill appealed to the United States to ‘bring her powerful material aid to the common cause’. Britain braced itself under General Ironside, in charge of Home Defence, to take on the might of Germany.
In 1974 a war game at Sandhurst with both British and German ex military came to the conclusion that if an invasion had happened it might have got as far as the Winston Line in southern England, and no further than the HQ Line further north.(2)
By this time the Navy which had been removed to Scapa Flow would now have been on station in the Channel and North Sea and would have in effect blown German reinforcements from the sea. The effect on the villages in southern England however would have catastrophic.
(1) Directive No 9 of 29.11.39.
(2) On Wednesday August 14th 1940 the Daily Telegraph reported: ‘69 enemy planes down in enormous raids’ and ‘Hitler making test for invasion’. An Air Ministry statement said, ‘that in the afternoon alone 500 were sent across in three waves and the RAF took a heavy toll’.
Also, ‘Enemy airfields on the invasion coast had been raided by the RAF. It appeared that according to authoritative sources that the raids were a test of Britain’s power in the air… without air superiority Hitler realises that invasion is not a practical proposition‘.