Operation Sea Lion - Navy

Navy

The most daunting problem for Germany in protecting an invasion fleet was the small size of its navy. The Kriegsmarine, already numerically far inferior to Britain's Royal Navy, had lost a sizable portion of its large modern surface units in April 1940 during the Norwegian Campaign, either as complete losses or due to battle damage. In particular, the loss of two light cruisers and ten destroyers was crippling, as these were the very warships most suited to operating in the Channel narrows where the invasion would likely take place. Most U-boats, the most powerful arm of the Kriegsmarine, were meant for destroying ships, not supporting an invasion.

Although the Royal Navy could not bring to bear the whole of its naval superiority (most of the fleet was engaged in the Atlantic and Mediterranean), the British Home Fleet still had a very large advantage in numbers. It was debatable whether British ships were as vulnerable to enemy air attack as the Germans hoped. During the Dunkirk evacuation few warships were actually sunk, despite being stationary targets. The overall disparity between the opposing naval forces made the amphibious invasion plan risky, regardless of the outcome in the air. In addition, the Kriegsmarine had allocated its few remaining larger and modern ships to diversionary operations in the North Sea.

The French fleet, one of the most powerful and modern in the world, might have tipped the balance against Britain. However, the preemptive destruction of the French fleet by the British by an attack on Mers-el-K├ębir and the scuttling of the French fleet in Toulon two years later ensured that this could not happen.

Even if the Royal Navy had been neutralised, the chances of a successful amphibious invasion across the Channel were remote. The Germans had no specialised landing craft, and had to rely primarily on river barges to lift troops and supplies for the landing. This would have limited the quantity of artillery and tanks that could be transported and restricted operations to times of good weather. The barges were not designed for use in open sea and even in almost perfect conditions, they would have been slow and vulnerable to attack. There were also not enough barges to transport the first invasion wave nor the following waves with their equipment. The Germans would have needed to immediately capture a port, an unlikely circumstance considering the strength of the British coastal defences around the south-eastern harbours at that time. The British also had several contingency plans, including the use of poison gas.

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