In 1940 Britain faced a terrifying prospect, Nazi occupation. Operation Yellow had proved a giant success for Hitler, he had almost total control of Europe. Only one enemy remained for the Axis powers, The United Kingdom.
Many times has the story been told of how our heroic RAF fought fantastic odds to save our way of life and eventually the entire world’s future. Recently however a controversy has arose over the validity of this story. Did Hitler really call off the invasion due to the battle or were other factors at play?
To understand this argument we first need to understand the background history. It’s a well known fact that after Hitler had control over France he began to turn ever further west. The orders were given to drill the men on landing procedure, plans were drawn up and the craft were made ready. But how much of these moves were bluff and how much was a real threat?
On 16th July 1940 Adolf Hitler issued directive 16 that read “As England in spite of the hopelessness of her military position, has so far shown herself unwilling to come to any compromise, I have decided to begin to prepare for and if necessary to carry out, an invasion of England.” When we read this though, do we hear the voice of a man dedicated to a task or a man making a threat? To take a literary look at this directive seems to suggest that Hitler seemed apprehensive in his decision. The amount of times he personifies England alone seems to suggest that he feels respect for it and almost feels attached to it. His use of the line “I have decided to begin to prepare” also seems to suggest not only a total lack of preparation but also a feeling that he needs to state that he’s only “decided to begin to prepare” and not commit to invasion.
Britain expected Germany to at least attempt an invasion of Britain and the Nazi high command expected it to succeed. But the Nazi planners were suprisingly less optimistic, possibly because they had never been asked to plan such a move. Hitler had always said that he had no quarrels with England and saw no reason why they should declare war on Germany, somehow over the years it has however become thought that Hitler always planned to invade and saw England as a great prize. In fact after the armistice with France Hitler waited for a full month for peace to be offered to him by Great Britain. With no word of such a settlement from Britain and only signs of defiance after offering a treaty himself he told the Riechstag on Friday the 19th July “it was never my intention to destroy to even harm… I can see no reason why this war must go on… I… appeal once more to reason and common sense in Great Britain as much as elsewhere. I consider myself in a position to make this appeal since I am not the vanquished begging favours, but the victor speaking in the name of reason.” To read this passage suggests that Hitler simply wanted Britain and Nazi Germany to co-exist in peace, although this obviously could never have occurred. We can almost hear the voice of a man begging for a quick resolve to the conflict that he himself started. When Hitler heard of the British using copies of his speech as toilet paper he made his disappointment known saying that all he wanted was to avoid a “hard and bloody” battle. This once again suggests that he held respect for our relatively weak army.
On the 15th of November 1939 the Naval Staff Operations division had looked into the feasibility of invading Britain and two weeks later had pointed out the difficulty there would be if an invasion was to happen. They also pointed out that it would be essential to gain complete air superiority, giving Hitler the first notion that a series of Arial battles would be necessary. The conclusion that was drawn however was that “when forces are released from the Western Front a landing in the British Isles, undertaken across the North Sea on a large scale, appears to be a possible expedient for forcing the enemy to sue for peace.” Even in this investigation we see that the Nazis instead of wanting to conquer Britain in an invasion, simply wanted to force the government agree to peace.
A fact that is often overlooked is that for most of the war Germany did not posses enough ships to carry an invasion force, it was said that “the transport required for the forces specified by the general staff amounts to about 400 medium-sized steamers, with in addition a large collection of auxiliary vessels of the most varied nature, some of which must first be constructed” (and that was only for the first wave.) To even come close to such a number all other shipping activities would have to stop for the invasion, meaning that Germany would stop functioning.
The Nazis also considered a large airborne invasion, but the Luftwaffe concluded on 30th December 1939 “the airborne landing planned will run into the strongest point of the enemy air defence which it will be impossible to eliminate. The planned operation can only be considered under conditions of absolute air superiority, and even then if surprise is endured” “A landing in England must be rejected”. This is hardly the voice of a confident and ready force.
Obviously angered by his situation Hitler issued directive 17 on 1st August 1940 that said “I have decided to carry on and intensify air and naval warfare against England in order to bring about her final defeat. The German air force with all available forces will destroy the English air force as soon as possible.” This directive seems to suggest that Hitler really did believe that air supremacy was completely necessary and thought of it as an important objective.
Later in Directive 17 it was written “Regardless of whether or when we invade England, the constant menace of Invasion must be maintained against the English people and armed forces” “Those individuals bellow a certain grade of the High Command who are concerned with the preparations are not to be informed that their tasks are aimed at deception.” This seems to suggest very strongly that the whole invasion was a ruse to fool not only Britain but the whole world. This statement would also explain the myth about how close we came to defeat.
Hitler’s confidence must have began in deminsh when General Jodl on the 13th August 1940 wrote “the landing operation must not founder in any circumstances. Failure can have political repercussions far outweighing the military set-back. The Navel Commander in Chief (Admiral Reader) also shared this pessimistic outlook saying that the risks were so awful that the whole landing force might be lost. He even created a list of problems that would be faced that has been said could “daunt the strongest heart”. The suggestion was that the invasion was a task way beyond the navy’s strength, not to mention the stream of continual reinforcement of equipment.
Field Marshal Keitel issued a time-table for the invasion of Britain putting the date of the planned operation as the 20th September 1940. As the year progressed it became clear to him however that Germany was still woefully unprepared and that the only feasible dates (22-26 September, due to the tides) were going to fall on days with bad weather. He felt forced to recommend that it would be better to wait until the spring of 1941. Hitler however thought that as Britain’s strength was rapidly growing the September date should be held (if the Luftwaffe were successful). Hitler finally agreed that the air offensive would begin around the 5th August 1940 and he would decide to launch the invasion 14 days after that. 2 weeks was an amazingly over confident stretch of time to assume that the RAF would be crushed.
Karl Klee wrote “The tragedy of what was to come is that the British, who concentrated only on the struggle against the immediate opponent, were ready to except any partner”. This statement was largely true, and even know many people think that the savour of the British isles was the decision to invade Russia. Its often said that without an ally and luckily for Britain Hitler gave us one of his own. Hitler decided that “Smashing Russia would deprive England of her last hope. Russia must be knocked out by the spring of 1941”, the planning began on 29th July 1940. This decision seems to suggest that Hitler believed that after failing to scare England into submission, he should take away their hope forcing them to concede. Therefore it can be suggested that the real end of the invasion threat came in July 1940, but at this time the battle of Britain was far from over and the most decisive battles were yet to come. It seems a little bit of a stretch to claim that the battle was the sole factor in the stopping of the invasion. It is conceivable that it was still in planning and may still be brought into use until, at the latest February 1941.
With all the information collected I feel I can draw a reasonable conclusion. With so many quotes from Hitler claiming his admiration of England and his objection to the invasion of Britain I believe that Hitler was looking for other methods of conquest. He was certainly given many other reasons why invasion should be avoided, such as weather, danger, lack of materials, the high risk and political ramifications. Although his motives for invading Russia can be drawn into question, the fact that it seemed more of a priority to him can not. Operation Barbarossa may have been undertaken as a last effort to scare Britain into surrender or as a way to expand German territories futher, but either way it seems to me that its failure was the decisive factor in Britain’s survival. The fact that the Battle of Britain was still underway while the planning of operation Barbarossa had begun seems to destroy the much beloved image of the fighting RAF being the sole saviours of Britain, in fact it would be more sensible to thank the greed, bad planning and egotism of the Nazi infrastructure.