This week in the War, 7–13 October 1940: Five reasons why Hitler did not invade Britain

This week in the war, on 12 October 1940, Hitler postponed his planned invasion of Britain, Operation Sealion, until the spring of 1941. (By then, of course, he would have a new enemy and a different country to invade).

Despite the fact that most people in Britain thought Hitler was coming—see the poster to the left—here are at least five reasons why he didn’t. (Maybe you can think of some others?):

(1) The Royal Navy was far too powerful. Derek Robinson makes this point very strongly in his book Invasion 1940 (Carroll & Graf, NY, 2005). A few destroyers or a cruiser would run amok amongst the German invasion barges. [It’s interesting to speculate what would have happened if Hitler could have persuaded the Italian navy to help out, or even the still powerful navy of Vichy France, smarting as it was from British attacks at Oran and Dakar]. Unfortunately for Hitler, the German battleship Bismarck did not become fully operational until the spring of 1941, and her sister ship Tirpitz was later still.

(2) Hitler had effectively given up on winning the Battle of Britain. And without control of the skies over southern England, Hitler knew that Sealion was dead in the water. [If Germany had won the Battle of Britain, life in the British Isles would have become very unpleasant. Who knows what would have happened next?]

(3) Hitler was an opportunist, a bluffer ready to roll the dice and see what happened. Had he been seriously opposed (by France or Britain) during his sabre-rattling before invading the Rhineland, or Austria, or Czechoslovakia, it’s possible he would have backed down. Perhaps invading Poland was a roll too many. In any case, an argument can be made for Operation Sealion being ninth-tenths bluff.

(4) Hitler liked the British. (Read Mein Kampf, if you don’t believe me). He truly did not want to conquer them. He wanted an arrangement: the British Empire would control the seas and beyond, the German Empire would control Europe to the Urals and beyond. Deputy Fuehrer Rudolf Hess would eventually be dispatched to Scotland (10 May 1941) to float this idea yet again before anyone who’d listen.

(5) Hitler really wanted to invade the Soviet Union. (Again, read Mein Kampf). He saw the peoples of Eastern Europe as his natural enemy. They were non-Aryans, and needed to be vanquished to make way for German expansion into new territory, the much-needed lebensraum. Once Russia was conquered (by December 1941, at the latest, he thought), then Britain’s last possibility for an ally would have disappeared and the British would be inclined to make peace. At this stage of the game, Hitler did not envisage the USA entering the war.

Have I missed anything?

Readers who like a touch of whimsy will enjoy reading the leaflet on the right. It’s phoney, of course,

In January 1943, RAF planes dropped hundreds of such leaflets over the island of Bermuda as part of a training exercise (and also to raise money for the sale of wartime savings certificates). Owing to it’s mid-Atlantic location, Bermuda was a key Allied base during WWII. The threat of German special forces, perhaps landing on the island from submarines, was seriously considered.

Thanks are due to the Bermuda Government Archives on Parliament Street, Hamilton, for providing me with a copy of the above. (Their original is beige-coloured. A version of the same leaflet, but printed on green, can be seen a few streets away at the Museum of the Bermuda Historical Society).


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