There are plenty of terrible things to say about Adolf Hitler, and here’s one more: His top-down leadership style really didn’t help his generals.
Germany had rolled over a number of European countries in late 1939 and by June 1940, its soldiers were standing in the streets of Paris. But that wasn’t enough for Hitler, who had his eye on London. In Führer Directive 16 of July 16, 1940, Hitler ordered his generals to work on a “surprise crossing” on the English Channel which he wanted to call Sea Lion.
“The aim of this operation will be to eliminate the English homeland as a base for the prosecution of the war against Germany and, if necessary, to occupy it completely,” he wrote.
But there was a big problem: His generals thought it was ridiculous. According to a study by a German operations officer in 1939, in order for it to be successful, the Germans needed to completely eliminate the Royal Air Force, all its Navy units on the coast, kill most of its submarines, and seal off the landing and approach areas from British troops.
Not exactly the easiest of tasks.
Then there were his top military leaders. In response to a soliciation for input from the German Army, the head of Germany’s Air Force Herman Göring responded with just a single page outright rejecting such an idea: “It could only be the final act of an already victorious war against Britain as otherwise the preconditions for success of a combined operation would not be met.”
The Navy responded similarly at the time. But it was in even worse shape after an invasion of Norway in 1940, and Admiral Eric Raeder knew he didn’t have nearly enough ships to take on Britain. But — surprise, surprise — Hitler didn’t care.
In a review of the book “Operation Sea Lion” by Leo McKinstry, NPR writes:
But Hitler’s hubris and poor strategic thinking ensured this never happened. McKinstry contends that three major mistakes cost Hitler dearly: his underestimation of Britain’s naval power; his lack of understanding of the British political system; and his failure to recognize that a team of intelligence operators at Bletchley Park were decoding key information about the Luftwaffe’s plans for aerial bombings.
Though a plan to invade the British mainland was finalized by August 1940, it never came to pass. German infantry began practicing beach landings while the first step of the plan — beat the Air Force — was tried. It was the three month “Battle of Britain” and it failed miserably for Germany.
Instead of Germany achieving air superiority in preparation for invasion, the Brits instead had a decisive victory that became a turning point in the war.
“The German Navy had lost a lot of destroyers by 1940 and the reality is that, if the invaders had made the crossing, they would have been annihilated by the Royal Navy,” Ian Kikuchi, a historian in London, told the Independent. “They were planning to make the journey in river barges.”
After the failure of the Battle of Britain, Hitler decided in September to postpone the operation. Then the plans were completely scrapped after Germany invaded Russia in 1941.