WWII what ifs

Probably a boring subject to most but something I’ve been giving some thought to recently after doing some reading. Two different scenarios have sort of floated around my brain and I was wondering what others thought.

First, would Germany have had a chance of pulling off an airborne version of Sealion? As I understand Germany’s strategy, the Luftwaffe was to defeat the RAF first giving Germany a chance to gain control of the sea-lanes before attempting to invade England. Obviously that failed but what if Germany had concentrated its airpower over a small portion of England and used airborne troops. With the transportation needs requiring large numbers of round trips, maybe a staging of around Calais to the English coast to get the shortest distance possible. First objective would be to secure airfields to land troops and stage Stuka’s out of to repel English armor. A long shot but with their resources after the fall of France and the damage to the English army, could the Germans have pulled it off?

Second, what if Germany had presented themselves as liberators of the Soviet Union instead of making it a racial struggle. Offer the people 20 or 30 acres of land to either join the German side or to simply keep the population happy and not eventual join the partisans. With the numbers of Russian prisoners taken and Stalin’s actions against the kulaks and the forced collectivization, this would seem like the way to go. Go a step further and offer Ukraine and other subject states their independence and gain support against the Russians. Would this have had a chance of tipping the balance and ending the war or were those huge numbers of T-34 always going to be waiting at the end of the line no matter what road the Germans took?

The British and Germans wargamed this in the 70s with veteran commanders from both sides. The British always managed to repel invasion. The problem was always the resupply of the German forces. Once the Royal Navy made it to the English Channel from the North Sea it was game over for the German forces.

And there was always Churchill’s last ditch plan, to use chemical weapons on the advancing german forces if they looked likely to get close to London.

Britain had an immense network of defences, ranging from gun emplacements (both on land and at sea), camoflaged pillboxes, and anti-tank defences. In addition there was the Home Guard, which whilst getting off to a rather amusing start (drilling with brooms etc) were extremely dedicated. And finally the ‘Auxillary Units’ essentially these were trained insurgents, equipped with the best weapons and explosives. They remained a state secret until well into the late 20th Century. They trained under the assumption that they would survive roughly 14 days after invasion, but in that time they were to disrupt enemy operations.

I was thinking of it along the lines of airborne forces, not a naval force. This would take the Royal Navy out of the picture until much later.

Yeah, but you can’t look at the defence of Britain as only ‘land forces’. It’s an island. The Royal Navy was station near Scotland, well out of the reach of the luftwaffe, and so its involvement, although delayed by a couple of days was inevitable.

The only way to maintain an invading army would be by being able to resupply, which means using the channel.
An airbourne-only invasion would have failed, much quicker than a combined air-sea-land operation.

With airbourne only, you also lose the armoured vehicles, artillery and tanks. Which would have made breaching the various rings of defences impossible.
Have a look here

Just MHO, but I think J.F.C. Fuller (IIRC) was absolutely right to argue that if Hitler had simply proclaimed an end to collectivization of agriculture when the Germans invaded, the Soviet Union would have crumbled in short order. I think the failure to present Germany as a liberator in Russia (something I understand was ruled out by the Nazis’ entire racial philosophy, of course) and the declaration of war on the U.S. were among Hitler’s biggest strategic errors, if not the biggest ones.

Thing is, an airborne invasion just won’t work. You can’t just land troops and expect them to fight, because modern war requires truly staggering amounts of fuel, ammunition, spare parts, food, and supplies. And an airborne invasion means no artillery, no trucks, and especially no TANKS.

You can’t blitzkrieg across England with paratroopers only. Any troops landed on the island would be cut off from supply and would wither and die. It’s not like Crete, where paratroopers could seize a few key locations and the resistance is over. And even on Crete the Germans took such a beating trying to take the island they pretty much gave up on later airborne operations.

See the wikipedia article:

The impression I always get is that the Germans could have pulled it off, but only if they had strung together an impossibly long chain of what-ifs that would basically have required the German High Command to receive a detailed cookbook from the future and followed it to the letter. And even then some unforeseen event might have tripped them up.
[li]Crank up their materiel output to the maximum right at the start[/li][li]Have at least some decent medium-range fighter-bombers available[/li][li]Save all their forces for the push into france and not be distracted by Norway.[/li][li]Husband their airborne forces rather than squandering them in Holland.[/li][li]Ignore the tank loss/breakdown rates and drive full speed into Dunkirk to prevent the BEF evacuating.[/li][li]Start prepping for the invasion immediately they defeated most of the forces in, France, even while their infantry divisions were mopping up.[/li][li]Correctly identify and target the RAFs radar/airfields/aerospace factories in order to grind them down.[/li][li]Jump off at the earliest possible moment to minimise opportunities for British defensive preparation[/li][li]Throw all their naval and air assets at the RN to prevent them getting in amongst the invasion supply chain[/li][/ul]
Then consolidate for a bit after taking Britain to get war production in the occupied countries up to full speed and re-equip the wermacht before launching a ‘war of liberation’ into the soviet union.

If the Germans had managed to destroy the BEF in France, achieve local air superiority and get any subtantial forces across the Channel during the ‘pikes and cudgels’ phase of defense preparation, they probably wouldn’t have been needed armour or anything heavier than small arms and field artillery to tear apart the defense. The logistical challenges of supplying them would have still have been huge, though.

It could conceivably been achived, but certainly not with Germany being run by a bunch of nihilistic racist incompetents. And without them in charge there would almost certainly have been no war at all, so its a wash.

Well, considering that as the Wehrmacht moved into the Ukraine, Belorussia, and western Russia, the natives usually met the invaders as liberators, there’s a lot to be said for the idea that the Germans could have won the war on the eastern front. Especially since, for all the huge area in Russia to the east of the Urals, most of the industrialization of the nation was in the western portion of the nation.

It wasn’t until the administration of the occupation began, and the Germans treated the captured peoples as helots that the Soviet propaganda could work to get the people involved in resistance against the invaders.

So, I think that, yes, if the Germans had been more humane in their control of the conquered territories of the USSR they’d have had fewer problems advancing, and far fewer problems with partisans. And I don’t know, but I suspect that the Soviet Union would have fallen if Moscow had been taken.

One more imponderable, however, is that there is a lot of racial tension between Russians, and other Slavic peoples, and Germanic peoples. It was part of the whole Nazi purification schtick, but it’s also part of the reason the people did rally against the invaders. So I can’t say that there would have been no resistance at all, nor any partisans.

Regarding Sea Lion…

Why is it assumed that the Royal Navy would have just rolled in and demolished anything the Germans managed to put into the channel? Sure, the RN was the biggest and baddest (maybe), but the entire channel is well within range of land-based aircraft.

I seem to recall that land-based aircraft did very bad things against most navies. Since the whole Sea Lion is predicated on removing the RAF from the equation…what am I missing here?


I think this comes from the expectation that the RAF would have been able to supply sufficient fighter cover to at least make life difficult for the Luftwaffe, together with the fact that the Royal Navy planned to make the last and most dangerous part of the run under cover of darkness. At night they would have been almost totally safe from aircraft but still capable of naval gunnery.

Without air superiority, they probably wouldn’t have lasted long after the sun came up.

At that stage nobody was really aware of the protean nature of air power, and how vulnerable ships were (the Japanese were shortly to demonstrate it). While this meant that the RN didn’t have much in the way of AA, it also meant the Luftwaffe had few torpedoes and AP bombs and not much anti-shipping experience. But even so, any vessel given the undivided attention of a couple of Stuka squadrons operating a few minutes away from their airfields would probably not have survived long.

Yeah, that was pretty much my point.

So, can it be agreed that, were the RAF eliminated, the RN wouldn’t have added a whole lot to the defense of Britain?



For one thing, the Channel isn’t very wide, and any aircraft coming in range of Royal Navy vessels near the English coast was also likely to be in the range of the English Bofors 40mm Ack-Ack guns. :smiley:

One of my favourite Sea Lion stories: The production of the Sten SMG was facilitated because the BEF left most of their equipment behind in Dunkirk- and despite ordering more Thompson M1928A1s from the US, there was a period of several weeks where there were fewer than two dozen submachine guns in England (The Royal Navy had the Lanchester SMG, but they weren’t sharing.)

As a result, the idea of an SMG that could basically be made in someone’s garage (and were, as the Marquis later proved!) was born, rushed into production, and saw service right through until the mid-1960s!

The Sten story is a bit more complicated than that, of course, but trust the English to turn a stop-gap measure into something that was still in service 25 years later! :smiley:

Well, look at Crete. There, the Luftwaft tried an airborn only invasion- on an island with less that 1/100th the population and defences of England, and it was a near-fought thing that gutted the Paratroop corps of the German military.

Look at the disaster of Operation Market Garden.

Airborne doesn’t work for crap by itself. What it does is allow you to get some forces behind the enemy so that your REAL ground forces can then psuh the enemy back intot he ground the airborne holds and is cutting off the supply & communicatiosn lines of.

I dunno, look how difficult the Allied landings at Normandy were, and the Allies had massive air superiority over the Germans in that operation.

Depends. I’ve read many discussions of this and they generally assume that if the RN made a full-strength bid overnight to get in amongst the invasion fleet, enough vessels would have made it through the minefields, kriegsmarine, and artillery to do huge damage to the german shipping. Even unmolested by the RAF, sinking dozens of destroyers, cruisers and battleships would take the luftwaffe a long time, and the RN would be attacking barges and merchant shipping which were essentially helpless. According to this the RN had nearly 170 combat vessels in the North Atlantic theatre at the start of the war. Even if only a third of those were available, that’s more than 50 warships. If you assume it would take squadron of planes to sink each one you would need to rustle up six hundred planes for a morning, slap-bang in the middle of your invasion.

I think it’s fairer to say that some hypothetical genius with 20/20 foresight in charge of the invasion could set up the schedules and dispose their forces in such a way that they could defeat the RN without suffering losses catastrophic to the enterprise. It would still be horribly costly and delay the conquest of Britain by weeks or months. If the Luftwaffe had longer-range aircraft that could harass the RN anywhere in home waters then they might be neutralised completely, but I understand that would be pretty much impossible given the state of the German industrial base.

Similarly to the airborne component of Overlord, I guess the german strategy would be to use them for a mixture of pinning attacks against British defensive formations and assaulting coastal defences from the rear, which would be a lot easier than trying to storm them from the beach without landing craft or amphibious vehicles. Even if the brits were armed only with shotguns, muskets and petrol bombs any airborne assault would run out of ammo and supplies pretty quickly unless resupplied by sea. The luftwaffe would have been stretched to the limit just flying CAS and interdiction while also setting up forward airfields and trying to supply them.

And the thing most people forget- the Bf109 didn’t hold much fuel. A trip from Cherbourg-Dover-Cherbourg pretty much used most of the petrol in the tank, with enough for maybe 15-20 mins of flying around/dogfighting. And given the likelihood of getting lost on the way back (especially if your plane was damaged and you had to make an emergency landing), the Luftwaffe really didn’t have the ability to be flying all over Merrie Olde Englande for the sheer hell of it- at least, not if they wanted a fighter escort as well.

The British, of course, had the Home Field Advantage- and crucially, Luftwaffe aircrews shot down over the UK ended up in a POW camp, whilst British pilots shot down over the UK got a cup of tea in a farmhouse (or a pint at the local pub!) whilst they waited for someone from their squadron to come and pick them up.

In other words, whilst both sides suffered horrendous casualties, the Luftwaffe pilots and who went down over England were effectively out of action for good- regardless of whether they were killed or captured- which also took it’s toll on the Luftwaffe and eventually left them with a real shortage of trained aircrews.

The very political conditions (Nazi ownership of Germany) that started the war in the first place also doomed it from the beginning. The problem with “wargaming” after the fact is that it removes the political and ideological conditions that led to war in the first place. Subtract Nazification from the equation, you have no war in which Germany tries to “rectify” the “injustices” visited upon it after WWI. You have no invasion of Poland, no annexation of Austria, no invasions of the USSR or England. Add Nazification into the equation, you have the weaknesses inherent in tyrannical regimes – micro-management from a central command, imperialistic motives and goals, and idological blindness to reality (sort of like what’s happening in Iraq now, come to think of it.) Only the Nazis would have tried to do what Germany tried to do during World War II, and yet the very things that made them Nazis also doomed their military efforts.

There’s an interesting essay on why Operation Sealion wouldn’t work. It brings up an aweful lot of what’s been talked about here, and in addition some quite relevant facts about the state of the Kriegsmarine, the lack of transport and landing ships, the lack of air superiority and anti-ship weaponary and skill. It’s quite interesting.

First it is worth mentioning that both these things could not happen. Hitler could not have invaded England (presumably sometime in Fall 1940 and still invaded Russia in 1941 no matter how he cased it – not sure anyone said that – just I am pointing out that this wouldn’t have happened).

I agree with the thoughts on this thread on a main air invasion of the UK. To echo just one of the fine points made on this thread I think slaphead has it right about the bombers. Goring had built the airforce to tactically support the army NOT to be used strageically to bomb like was going to be necessary to invade Britian properly. So you would have to re-write history back to about ’33 build more bombers less of the regular airforce (and that would have implications in France, Poland and the USSR). So no I can’t see this working.

I think there was just no realistic real world way Operation Barbarossa , as conceived, was going to work. I can spin other crazy what if scenarios that could make the difference maybe Stalin is killed, Germany has an A-bomb or a major Military commitment from Japan in Siberia that Stalin overreacts to. IMHO now, but there no realistic real world way Barbarossa (or it’s bastr^d child Typhoon) as executed in our timeline - was ever going to work.