Pots, pans and invasion plans
July 1940. Occupied France. On a clear day the Germans who occupied Calais could see Dover just twenty-two miles across the Channel. Bearing in mind how quickly they had just smashed through France and the Low Countries, any German officer would have been forgiven in thinking that it was just a matter of time before he would be putting his feet up in the ‘Garden of England’ enjoying fish and chips and a couple of pints of local ale.
Indeed, across the Channel in Blighty there was a very mild sense of panic as the whole country made plans for the worst case scenario: Invasion.
Thousands of children living in Kent, London and the south of England were evacuated to safer areas and a million men, deemed too old or unfit for regular army service, were brought together to form a ‘Home Guard’. They drilled with broomsticks because there were not enough rifles to go around and they practiced tactics that were sure to give Adolf and his mates a less than friendly welcome if they were ever to decide to drop in for a cup of tea and a cream bun.
Anti tank barricades were erected all over the place, and signposts and place names across the country were either defaced or removed in an effort to confuse any would-be invader. The beaches and the countryside areas of the invasion zone practically disappeared under a sea of barbed wire and defence works. It wasn’t quite the Atlantic Wall but it was nonetheless a formidable set up, which was more than could be said for the British Army.
The truth was, after Dunkirk, the British Army was in a bad way; the men may have escaped from the beaches with their rifles, but they were forced to leave an enormous amount of kit and equipment behind. In June 1940 the only fully fitted and equipped Division in Britain was Canadian. In the whole of the south east of England (widely thought of as the most likely area for an enemy invasion at that time) there were no anti-tank weapon of any kind and not one single tank.
The cupboard was bare.
Whilst the rest of the country held its breath, the manufacturing and munitions plants were working 24/7 to re-arm the Army and Airforce. The call went up for all members of the public to contribute to the war effort by donating their pots and pans – the premise being that they could be melted down to make tanks, fighter planes and such things. All over the country people donated their cooking utensils, resulting in mountains of pots and pans. Iron railings and metal fencing were also taken. How much of this stuff was actually melted down and used for manufacturing is still debated today, it is likely that only a small percentage of what was donated was ever re-used, but the whole initiative certainly got the country working together and made everyone feel that they were doing their bit for the war effort. Meanwhile, the guns, shells, tanks, fighter planes, vehicles, bombs and equipment that was so badly needed were rapidly being stockpiled.
But where was the German invasion?
The truth was that at that time there was no plan to invade. Hitler was too busy celebrating his victory in France to worry about Britain and had even taken a few days out to visit some of the old First World War battlefields he had fought on twenty five years previously. As far as Hitler was concerned Britain was isolated, alone and probably making plans for a peaceful end to the situation, and if she did prove stubborn and uncooperative, then he would initiate a blockade and starve her into submission. In his mind, there was no need to worry too much and after his trip to the battlefields he toured Paris before returning back to Berlin where he received a heroes welcome.
Meanwhile, both the German Army and the Kriegsmarine (German Navy) were getting itchy feet and began to formulate their own plans for the invasion of Britain. The army plan proposed an initial first wave of 90,000 men that would come ashore via landing zones that stretched from Margate in Kent to the Isle of Wight. A second wave of men would be 170,000 strong, plus almost 120,000 vehicles/horses/bikes. To achieve this, the army looked to the Luftwaffe to win control of the air. The plan was tentatively pitched to The Führer on 13 July. Remarkably Hitler didn’t question anything and didn’t suggest any improvements. It was all systems go.
On 16 July Hitler issued Führer Directive No 16 On preparations for a landing operation against England
Since England, in spite of her hopeless military situation, shows no signs of being ready to come to an understanding, I have decided to prepare a landing operation against England and, if necessary, to carry it out.
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.
I therefore order as follows:
- The landing will be in the form of a surprise crossing on a wide front from about Ramsgate to the area west of the Isle of Wight. Units of the Air Force will act as artillery, and units of the Navy as engineers.
- The possible advantages of limited operations before the general crossing (e.g. the occupation of the Isle of Wight or of the county of Cornwall) are to be considered from the point of view of each branch of the Armed Forces and the results reported to me. I reserve the decision to myself.
- Preparations for the entire operation must be completed by the middle of August.
- These preparations must also create such conditions as will make a landing in England possible, viz:
- The English Air Force must be so reduced morally and physically that it is unable to deliver any significant attack against the German crossing.
- Mine-free channels must be cleared.
- The Straits of Dover must be closely sealed off with minefields on both flanks; also the Western entrance to the Channel approximately on the line Alderney-Portland.
- Strong forces of coastal artillery must command and protect the forward coastal area.
- It is desirable that the English Navy be tied down shortly before the crossing, both in the North Sea and in the Mediterranean (by the Italians)1. For this purpose we must attempt even now to damage English home-based naval forces by air and torpedo attack as far as possible.
The operation was codenamed Seelöwe – Sealion.
This text is taken from my forthcoming book: WW2: A Layman’s Guide. It will be available on Kindle and in Paperback during winter 2015.