Sealion Fails

 

What Actually Happened:

 

On paper, the German plan to invade Britain seemed a good and workable idea.  When they came to look at it in more detail, however, they rapidly discovered it was a bridge too far.  No sane military commander would have authorised the operation, even though victory was possible on paper.  Even Hitler shied away from it as the difficulties became more and more apparent and, when the RAF was victorious in the Battle of Britain, he decided it would be better to concentrate on his plans for invading Russia instead.

 

What Might Have Happened:

 

Hitler was a lucky gambler.  He had a string of victories to his credit and his failures - his confident belief Britain and France would not declare war in support of Poland - hadn’t been anything like disastrous.  His gambles had led him to dominance over Norway, Denmark, France and Belgium and he had the power to overawe the handful of independent states within the continent.  Why not try to roll the dice once last time?  His forces were extremely capable and well-equipped, while the UK was short on everything except manpower.  If the Panzers got to shore in a reasonably intact condition, the ultimate defeat of Britain was inevitable. 

 

The invasion, therefore, was launched on the 14th of July (Macksey’s date).  It rapidly turned into a total shambles.  The first wave was seriously weakened by the Royal Navy and RAF, sinking so many barges and other invasion transports that it became clear that resupplying the forces on the far side of the Channel would be extremely difficult.  The parachute and glider attacks did a great deal of damage to the defenders, but British troops were well dug in and reluctant to abandon their posts.  Deeper strikes into British territory, aimed at capturing RAF airfields for German use, failed completely.  The Germans did manage to land a number of panzers in the opening wave, with Rommel taking command after the formal commander was killed during the crossing, but they rapidly ran out of supplies.  The Royal Navy swept through the channel, wiping out the remainder of the invasion fleet, while Rommel was unable to capture a port (and, if he had, given the shortage of German shipping it probably wouldn’t have mattered).  By the 18th, it had become clear that Operation Sealion had failed so badly the Germans couldn’t even withdraw.  On the 20th, the remainder of the invasion force threw down its arms and surrendered.  Britain stood victorious.

 

Perversely, the shipping shortage kept the defeat from being worse than it could have been.  Large formations earmarked for the trip across the Channel were never sent into battle, limiting the losses.  The handful of divisions that were effectively destroyed or captured were painful,  but hardly fatal.  Hitler still ruled or overshadowed the continent.  The German propaganda machine started pumping out claims that the invasion had really been nothing more than a large-scale raid, intent on disrupting British preparations to meet an invasion rather than occupying the entire country.  Hardly anyone believes them, but the Germans are still too strong to defy openly.  Still, resistance movements within Occupied Europe and Vichy France take heart from Hitler’s first major defeat.

 

The Germans haven’t lost that much manpower, relatively speaking, but the damage is highly concentrated.  The paratroops and glider formations have been wiped out.  (Otto Skorzeny met his death on the White Cliffs of Dover).  The Kriegsmarine has lost almost all of its surface units, along with vast numbers of naval-trained personnel; the Luftwaffe has taken heavy losses in both bombers and fighters, along with personnel who were sent along with the invaders to secure captured airfields and coordinate operations between the army and air force.  A great deal of institutional knowledge has been lost.  The Germans can rebuild, and will given time, but their military will be a great deal less flexible for at least two or three years to come.  Worse, the loss of the barges has had a serious impact on the German economy.  The Reich’s ability to rebuild has been compromised.  Given time, it can be fixed, but will they have the time?

 

Hitler’s position has been gravely weakened.  The myth of the Fuhrer’s infallibility was only in its infancy in ATL; now, it has been shattered beyond repair.  There is little open opposition, but the generals get more daring in their criticism of Hitler’s plans and concepts, as well as resisting attempts to either insert Nazi loyalists into the chain of command or diverting men and martial into SS divisions.  Hitler publicly blames Goring and Raeder for the disaster and sacks both men, but he knows their replacements will take time to repair the damage.  Donitz promises a new u-boat campaign, yet even that will be tricky.  The navy is very short on manpower.

 

The repercussions of the defeat continue to spread.  Mussolini finds his position weakened too, as large numbers of Italians doubt Hitler’s worth as an ally and seriously regret allowing their leader to take Italy to war.  Stalin licks his lips and considers quietly putting pressure on Hitler for more concessions, while trying to determine if the USSR can win a war with the Reich.  Franco edges away from Hitler, quietly deciding that supporting the Germans openly is asking for trouble.  Portugal makes moves to support the British, instead.  Japan realises the British are far from beaten, making them reluctant to jump on the British Empire (as they planned in the event of a successful Sealion).   America starts to slide towards openly supporting the British. 

 

Churchill is determined to capitalise on the British victory.  Thanks to Ultra, he is aware of both the German losses and their political uncertainty.  He is also aware that the Germans cannot possibly launch a second invasion, certainly not within the next two-three years.  He moves troops and ships into the Mediterranean, then reinvigorates the sputtering desert war by ordering an invasion of Italian Libya.  The Royal Navy cuts the supply lines between Italy and her colony and, when the Italian Navy comes out to fight, soundly beats it.  The Italian troops in Libya fight well at first, but when it becomes clear they’ve been cut off they start surrendering in droves.  British spearheads are soon closing on Tripoli. 

 

Mussolini begs Hitler to help him.  Hitler has little to send.  Shipping supplies across the Mediterranean is extremely difficult, nor do they have the air power to make a serious difference.  The Germans do sent a handful of troops as stiffeners, but - again - nowhere near enough.  (They also start drawing up plans for occupying Italy, if Mussolini falls and the Italians try to switch sides.)  They try to convince the Turks, Greeks and other Balkan states to either join the war or allow German troops to transit their territory, but with the British in the ascendant (at least in the Mediterranean) there are no takers.  Most neutral powers are waiting for a clear victory to emerge.  Tripoli falls in late 1940 and the British start pressing against Algeria’s borders.

 

This sets off a political crisis.  Some elements of the Vichy Government would like to either switch sides or seek a more equable relationship with the Germans.  The former is difficult because of the German military supremacy, while the latter is impossible as long as Hitler is consumed with hatred for the French.  The Free French are still quite a small force at this point, but they are loud and determined to push Churchill to occupy Algeria and hand it over to them.  The Algerians themselves are looking for potential independence, but don’t trust any of the European powers.  Hitler demands Vichy allow German troops into Algeria, to push the British back into Egypt and beyond; Churchill plays a game of hinting Algeria will remain untouched as long as Vichy remains effectively neutral in the war.  Hitler suspects, correctly, that he’s running out of time.  Italy is on the verge of dropping out of the war, while the Soviets are starting to make sharper demands for goods and services in exchange for raw materials.  Hitler masses forces on the border of Vichy France and presents the French with an ultimatum.  The Vichy Government shatters.  Some elements put their contingency plans into operation, trying to get as much men and material out of France as possible before the Panzers make it all the way to Marsalis.  Others surrender to the Germans, convinced resistance is futile.  The confusion leads to absolute chaos, but - when the dust settles - it becomes clear the Germans control France, yet cannot project power to Algeria.

 

The confusion gets out of hand.  French Algeria is under the control of the runaway Vichy politicians, who also control the French Navy.  The Free French are pissed about this, pointing out that Vichy was at best neutral and at worst outright collaborators.  France itself is under German control, but much of the pre-war infrastructure is still in place and Vichy has contacts at all levels of society.  The sudden shockwave sets off another series of political chaos in Italy.  The Italians are reluctant to openly dispose Mussolini, as that might draw Hitler’s wrath, but the government sidelines him as much as possible.  There’s little hope of a formal peace treaty, as long as Hitler is a brooding presence to the north, but the Italians come to a quiet understanding with the British.  They won’t commit themselves fully to the war, and they’ll do as little as possible, as long as the British don’t push them into Germany’s arms.  Churchill agrees, for now.

 

Churchill has good reason to be pleased, although the war could still go either way.  Britain has a string of victories to her credit.  She’s also secured the Mediterranean and won a new source of manpower in French Algeria and (occupied) Libya.  There are political clashes with nationalist forces in both countries, as well as struggles between Vichy and Free French leaders - the British work hard to get the two factions to paper over their differences - but they can be handled.  The British Empire is relatively quiet.  Turkey, Spain and the other neutral powers appear to be remaining neutral.  More interestingly, Britain captured a sizable number of German weapons during the invasion and several of them have been reverse-engineered, then put into British production and service.  He shifts a number of British units to Singapore, in hopes of deterring the Japanese, while drawing down the forces in Hong Kong (as the British have learnt from the German disaster and calculate that, if Japan does launch an offensive, Hong Kong is doomed).  Britain is effectively growing stronger for as long as her forces are not involved in major fighting.

 

Germany is in a downward spiral.  Hitler is still in control, but his power is far less than absolute.  His health is worsening, which doesn’t help.  Several of his ‘supporters’ are suggesting it is time to seek a peace treaty with Britain, although what - very quiet - discussions are held suggest that neither power is prepared to accept what the other can reasonably offer.  The economy is weakening rapidly, making it harder to rearm the military or obtain foreign exchange. Stalin is tightening the screws.  Hitler is unimpressed with the Red Army, after the failure in Finland, but his generals - more willing to challenge him in this timeline - point out Germany has its own weaknesses.  They simply don’t have the capability to mount a major invasion.  Even trying to bite off East Poland and the Ukraine would be extremely difficult, leaving the Germans vulnerable to a major counterattack. 

 

As 1941 moves on, the war seems likely to become a permanent stalemate ...

 

Where do we go from here?  Will Germany still try to invade Russia?  Or will the Germans seek to occupy Italy while rebuilding their navy?  Or will Stalin try to stab Hitler in the back?  Or invade Manchuria instead?  Will the Japanese declare war on America?  Or risk hitting Britain and Britain alone?  Will America be so willing to come to British aid, if the British Empire looks far more able to survive the war?  Would Hitler reluctantly agree to a peace treaty?  Or would he be overthrown and replaced by a more reasonable government?  And what would this mean for the Holocaust?  Would it even take place in this universe?