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If Sealion had failed…

Operation Sealion remains the most interesting ‘what-if’ of the Second World War.  If it had been launched, many suggest, Hitler would have ended up dominating the world.  What might be more interesting is what might have happened if it had been launched … and then failed. 

The first problem, however, is clearing the political decks to allow Sealion to take place.  Historically, Hitler never permitted advanced planning against the British Empire, as he expected that the British would seek a peace agreement with the Germans after France was neutralised.  However, its not impossible that he could be talked into allowing some limited planning by the German general staff to prepare for an invasion, both in case it was needed and as a bluff to convince the British to keep some forces in Britain, as they did in WW1.  The British might be more ready to talk peace if the Germans look like they’ve been preparing for an invasion from day one. 

This leads to a second problem.  The Germans did not expect their campaign in France to be such a stunning success.  It tends to stretch believability that they would plan for a launch from French territory.  I suspect that the 1939 sealion would be planning and preparation of the concentration of what ships, barges and ferries they have at a particular point. 

Let’s assume that events move along in a loosely similar line to OTL.  Germany will still invade Norway and beat the allies soundly.  France will make the same mistakes that they did in OTL and lose the war.  The British will still manage to save most of the BEF from Dunkirk and the French sue for peace.  Germany begins the battle of Britain as per OTL. 

Here comes the POD.  The Germans accidentally bombed London and started a city-bombing campaign at the very moment the British were nearly exhausted.  If some German navigator does not make that elemental mistake, London remains untouched and the British continue to lose planes at a dangerous rate.  Dowling, as per plan, withdraws most of the RAF from the southeast region and Goring declares victory.

Hitler decides to shake the dice again.  The Germans rush their motley invasion fleet into position and load the troops onboard, heading towards Britain under cover of darkness.  The British, however, have plenty of warning.  The British move troops themselves to intercept the landing troops and move the RAF (reinforced from all over Britain) back to the southeast.  The Germans are attacked as soon as they land, while the RAF intercepts their air cover and the RN closes the channel.  The German fleet is wiped out (apart from the two battlecruisers which were damaged in Norway) and what German troops have landed are either killed or captured.  The invasion is a failure. 

There are many different estimates of how many troops the Germans could have thrown across the channel.  At most, the Germans will have lost ten divisions, possibly including a Panzer one, which is a minor drain on the total German army.  The Luffwaffe will have also taken a beating, although probably not a fatal one, as most of the aircraft were short-ranged and would not have taken part in most of the invasion.  The German Navy would have been decriminated of its surface ships, although the U-Boat component would have remained strong. 

The British would have taken a battering as well.  The RN would have lost a lot of destroyers and other small ships.  The RAF would have taken losses in the desperate battle.  Percentage wise, the invasion would have hurt the British more than the Germans.

So, what would have happened in the aftermath of a failed invasion?  The failure would have encouraged anti-German factions across Europe.  Spain, the Balkan nations, perhaps even Italy, would have been less willing to bow to German demands.  France might have rediscovered some backbone, which would have translated into increased resistance, and the anti-Hitler factions in German politics would have been encouraged. 

My principle argument is that a failed sealion would have been similar to the disaster at Stalingrad of OTL, although much less disastrous.  It would have served as a signal warning to the Germans that the war was not over (in contrast to the belief that the war was practically over after France fell), and they would have attempted to deal with a long war, which is Germany’s historical weak point.  The Germans would probably have mobilised for total war in late 1940 and increased their production rapidly.  The Germans would have also worked to integrate the industry of France into the German war plants, while also stripping France of anything useful. 

Hitler also needs new victories.  The easiest place to get them is in the Middle East.  Hitler dispatches a full German force to Libya and uses it against the weakened British force.  Instead of a half-hearted support of Italy, Hitler sees the Middle East as continuing the war against Britain and supports it to the hilt.  The Germans take Egypt by early 1941 and head into Palestine.  Arab forces rise in revolt and the Germans would have taken over without much difficulty, while pressing into Iraq and supplying Iran with arms.  Iran provides a border to German expansion, so Hitler halts there and continues to prepare for Barbarossa. 

Hitler begins Barbarossa under far move favourable circumstances.  The Germans would have been able to forge a treaty with Iran and can use it as a base for attacks on the Russian oil wells.  The Germans are much stronger than they were in OTL as they’ve been raising new regiments, as well as integrating Italian forces with better equipment, let’s say that the Germans take Moscow towards the end of 1941.  The Germans have more supplies than OTL, as well as a more limited version of ‘victory disease’.

The British would have been able to do less to support the USSR.  They’ve having to keep some troops in Britain to forestall the possibility of another German invasion.  They’re desperately trying to build the defences of India before the Germans or Japanese try to invade.  The British allow the Japanese to take the Dutch East Indies without complaint, as the US won’t give any support.  That solves most of the Japanese supply problems, while Britain can be intimidated into stopping the flow of supplies to China.  Without those supplies, the Japanese can wear down Chieng over time.  

The fall of Moscow means the end of the Soviet Union.  Moscow is too important as a transportation hub and symbol of authority.  A Stalin-led government tries to claim that they’ve abandoned Moscow like the Tsar did in 1812, but such claims do not carry weight with the oppressed masses, many of whom revolt.  Revolutions spread across the Muslim SSRs and others.  The Japanese consider hitting the soviet rear.  The Germans are able to hold off any soviet counterattack, which sends soviet morale plummeting. 

Under such circumstances, Stalin is forced to consider peace.  The peace terms are harsh; Germany annexes all the occupied territories and the Stalingrad region.  Stalin has limits placed on his armed forces.  With a powerful German presence northwards, the Shah of Iran joins up in earnest, weakening the British positions in the remains of the empire.  The British sue for peace, losing the Middle East as the price of peace. 

Summery:  The sealion disaster served as notice to Hitler and his cronies that victory was not around the corner, somewhat akin to Stalingrad in OTL.  This prompted the Germans to begin massive industrial movements to increase their production while it could still be decisive, as well as ridding them of the fond belief that Britain would seek peace.  A sealion disaster could have won Germany the war.  I find that conclusion surprising. 

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