Alternate History 101: Britain Invaded!

Continuing with the strong WW2 theme this month, I'm planning a campaign for Headologist and myself.  Some might remember the idea was an alternate history set of missions focussing on the Resistance movement of the long-expected invasion of Britain by Germany in 1940.  It's going to be set in Anglesey and Caernarfonshire (is that the right spelling Dai?), with troops from the SS Mountain Division Handschar pitted against the elite Army of Freedom, a US-backed coalition of British, French and Polish special forces mixed with local resistance groups - probably using a mix of Nuts and TW&T rules.

Without too much further ado, this is a brief historical timetable of what happened to get us to June 1942.  I include it here as a resource for anyone wishing to do something similar, but also as a raw example of how I go about reshaping history.  This is, unedited, what I typed into my laptop while waiting for my MOT.  As well as the timeline it includes some thoughts about the feasibility of an invasion in real life as well as general points on alternate history.  Any comments or suggestions would be very welcome!


1940

June The Germans launch Operation Sealion, and swiftly capture the Home Counties and London (declared a demilitarised free city, which spares it any fighting), before spreading westwards into Devon and Cornwall.  

July The Government relocates to Manchester, and the King escapes with the Royal Family  into exile in Canada.

August A series of running naval battles in the channel hinder any German moves northward.  The RAF, despite suffering crippling casualties on Altertag, manages to sucessfully relocate to the north and hamper German advances.  Throughout the winter of ’41/’42, the front line solidifies, roughly running from Liverpool to the Wash but the Navy and RAF retain their operational capability. A stalemate develops.

1941

February In the Battle of the Channel, the Royal Navy tries for the first time to force through the English Channel and cut off the Germans in southern England.  Despite their aerial superiority, the Luftwaffe are unable to sucessfully target the British battleships and the Germans loose many vessels.  However, skilled shore fire from the Pas-de-Calais batteries, directed by reconnaisance planes shatters the Home Fleet near the Isle of Wight.  They manage to withdraw back to Scarpa Flow but are effectively out of the war, with only one capital ship left operational. In Europe, Hitler launches operation Barbarossa against the advice of his generals. Although the harsh Russian winter is still biting, he claims the weather is improving and this will give them all year to beat the Russians.

March The Germans set up an occupational military government in Winchester; deportations of Jews to Europe begins.

April Spearheaded by the new Panzergrenadier and SS divisions which are moved to Britain in great secrecy, the German Army launches a massive offensive along the east coast of England.  The British Army is roundly defeated at the Battle of York, and the RAF looses many of its airfields.  The Government relocates again, this time to Edinburgh.

June In exchange for maintaining the monarchy and leaving the Empire alone, King George VI instructs Churchill to surrender to GFM Gunther von Kluge, with the surrender signed in Durham on 10 June 1941.  The King remains in exile, but an occupational ‘Vichy’-style government with Oswald Mosely at its head is allowed to remain in Edinburgh and administer Scotland and the Empire.  England formally becomes an Interim Occupational Authority under the command of the German Army, while Wales and Northern Ireland become ‘free zones’, administered by the former government under the supervision of the Germans. Earnst Wilhelm Bohle is appointed Reichskommissar fur Grossbritannien.  The remaining parts of the Empire, although nominally also ‘free zones’, in practice become centres of resistance and the remainder of the armed forces flee to Canada. Civilian movement is curtailed, despite an enormous exodus of people attempting to flee the occupation to Canada and Australia.

Aug The German Army reaches the outskirts of Moscow. Although they cannot continue their blistering advance, the Red Army is unable to dislodge the final German positions.

Dec The Japanese bomb Pearl Harbour and bring the US into the war.  Through Canada, the Americans assist the shattered British forces and refit them in the US as the Free British Forces. Germany starts deporting working-aged males and PoWs to Europe.

1942

April Acts of sabotage begin to be reported in the spring of 1942, mainly in the Peak District and other lightly-populated areas.  Three US officers are captured in Scotland after blowing up a train, and are publicly executed as spies and terrorists.

May GFM von Kluge is shot dead as he drives through Manchester by two gunmen who are never caught.  Over the next few months over 4,000 hostages are shot in retalliation, and the Germans extend the IOA into Wales and Scotland.  The US begins a campaign of resistance, known as Operation Army of Freedom, carried out by elite British and US Airborne forces to liberate Britain.  Neutral Ireland, unbeknown to the Germans, is being used as a forward base by the Americans.

Although the move of the IOA is largely an on-paper, propaganda move so Hitler can be seen to curtail the fairly generous provisions to the free zones and ‘vichy’ government, it is also followed by the moves of a few isolated Army units into Wales and Scotland.  The move is militarily untenable and these few army units end up effectively besieged in individual towns.  Local collaborators and Quislings converge on these small safe-zones to escape the vengeful populace, and the rest of the countryside falls into lawlessness between competing resistance movements.  The US-backed‘Army of Freedom’ is generally the strongest but it faces opposition from the fledgeling Communists. Although the AoF and Communists are the only two large groups operating across the country, local groups spring up and in some places are stronger than these two main groups. An enormous influx of weapons from the beaten British Army, and supplied by the US, equip a large but divided partisan movement.

June The newly-formed 13. Waffen-Gebirgs-Division Handschar is sent to Holyhead to take command of all anti-partisan operations in North Wales
The lovely Welsh village of Y Felinheli
will be the scene of vicious fighting between the German
security troops and the Army of Freedom

4. Kompanie, under Waffen-Hstuf (name needed), occupy the town of Port Dinorwich (modern-day Y Felinheli), known to the Germans as Dinorwikhafen.  The A487 road between Caernarfon (HQ II. Bn) and Bangor (HQ I. Bn and Standarte-HQ) is entrusted to 4. Kompanie. Hstuf Badrow sends his three platoons on periodic sweeps of the road and the paralel railway, with the HQ and MG-Zug garisonning Dinorwikhafen.

A Note on Historical Accuracy

Since 1940, there have been countless excursions of fancy and fiction, as to what would have happened had Hitler invaded Britain.  They have ranged from strategic military studies at the RMAS, carried out with surviving officers of the General Staffs from both sides, to purile comic book fiction and cartoons. While the results are predictably varied, the more scholarly of these studies generally tend to assume that an invasion of Britain was extremely unlikely to have ever occured. The main reasons for this assumption are:
  • The Luftwaffe failed on Altertag because of a continuing inferiority in intelligence and co-ordination. Furthermore, many believe the Luftwaffe never had the capacity to achieve aerial superiority. Had the RAF suffered the losses in bases that the Germans intended on Altertag, they could have simply relocated northwards and continued to threaten the Channel. Although the RAF had its key stations, it remained by its very nature a resilient and decentralised organisation.
  • Admiral Raeder himself said that the Royal Navy had never been fully thrown against the Kriegsmarine, and that an invasion would prompt Britain to commit every last ship in her defence. He said that “it could not be expected that even for a brief period our Air Force could make up for our lack of naval supremacy”.
  • The Luftwaffe’s air-to-surface capability against shipping was poor to say the least. In the Norwegian Campaign, with eight weeks of air supremacy, they sank just two British warships. This was mainly down to the lack of training for aircrews and no effective armour-defeating torpedoes with which to challenge the heavier British warships.
  • The whole plan of an amphibious operation was tenuous. Unlike four years later when roles were reversed, the Germans had no specialised landing craft and planned to make the crossing in river barges, which would severely limit the transport of heavy artillery and tanks. Apart from the vulnerability to naval and air attack already alluded to, these would have necessitated the capture of a port to allow a naval bridge to be established. The British knew this, and the southeastern ports were very strongly defended. Even if Folkstone, the most vulnerable port, had fallen, then it could only have supplied about 150 of the 3,300 tons that would be requried every day.
  • It should be remembered that the German blitzkrieg invasions of Poland, Denmark, Norway, France and the Low Countries were some of the most sucessful invasions since the days of Atilla the Hun, conquering whole swathes of Europe that had remained out of reach to generations of preceeding leaders. The Germans’technological superiority was not as severe as is often thought; when they invaded France in 1940 they were seen by some as the underdogs. The majority of this sucess came from speed and surprise. Speed would not be possible in a seaborne invasion, and with most of Europe conquered the British were not going to be taken by surprise. The Germans would have been greeted by a hard-set population, supported by a (partly) armed and trained LDV/Home Guard and an Army with a whole swathe of anti-invasion contingencies.
Despite the historical evidence, merit remains in re-enacting a possible invasion of Britain for both reasons of historical interest and wargaming enjoyment. Because of this, the five reasons of the first parts of the timeline are intentionally vague about how the invasion takes place; the campaign set in 1942, for all intents and purposes, simply assumes it has happened without digging too deeply into a debate about whether or not it could ever have done so.

Thanks for reading!  Just to keep you updated, the WW2 painting is going well with a huge number of models in the post, and my Palladians haven't been forgotten about!  The Iron Hearts continue slowly and I should hopefully have an update on them by the end of the month.  Until we meet again, goodbye and happy gaming!

The Colonel

Comments

  1. That was an enjoyable read per usual sir!

    In my teens I became the proud owner of an old hexmap and card counter "Unternehmen Seelöwe" game that I played the poop out of. My Grandfather (Ex RAF armourer WW2, ex Royal Naval chaplain after the war and a scholar of history in general) always maintained that Operation Sealion would never have come about much less worked just as you've described.
    But you're fictional history certainly is convincing as a setting for a narrative campaign.

    *And yes, you spelled it right :)

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    Replies
    1. Thanks a lot Dai. I have rapidly-fading memories of similar counter-and-hex games; my very first sallies into the field of wargaming. The fact that an RAF/Navy serviceman had similar views on Sealion is reassuring - but yes, the leaps required to allow the invasion to happen at all are pretty massive. I did a fair bit of research and the more I did, the less I believed it could ever have succeeded. But that's all by the by, hopefully we can have a jolly good campaign and we'll keep you posted on it!

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  2. wow that was awesome. A very interesting read!

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  3. I like what you have so far, some folks get a bit testy if you consider something like an unlikely version of history. All that matters is that it makes sense to you and the people you're playing with. What scale are you going with? 15mm? 25mm? 54mm? Don't do that one it would be crazy! Although the airplanes could actually fly at that size.

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    Replies
    1. @Col Ackland: Thanks mate! Hope you enjoy the campaign as well...

      @Chris: Cheers - it was you who got me set on this alternate history thing anyway! This is going to be 28mm, probably ranging from 5-6 man squads to platoon-scale engagements, with various rules. 54mm would be amazing, although increasing the scale that much and you'd basically be re-enacting rather than wargaming!

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