By David Brook
On Sealion Press Forums , we run a monthly Vignette Challenge. Contributors are invited to write short stories on a specific theme (changed monthly).
The 65th Vignette Challenge is on Motoring, and can be found HERE.
This vignette was from the Sixty-First Challenge, on the subject of Sealion 2 (Operation Sealion being the putative German plan for an invasion of Britain during WWII).
Führer Directive 834.
The OKW is to develop contingency plans to enable the clandestine mobilisation of an assault force capable of establishing and holding beachheads in multiple locations in Southern England for a period suitable to enable extensive landings of heavier forces.
Date: Feb 1, 1946.
Signed: Chancellor Heydrich.
The vast map, over twenty metres wide and five high, was backed with a thin steel sheet to allow units to be moved around by the half dozen technicians stationed close by, armed with poles, counters, and sets of wheeled steps. To the right of the map, a blackboard displayed unit status, strength, disposition, and future commitments. The map and blackboard cast a shadow over the dozens of desks crammed into the main operations room of Maybach III, but the headset-wearing occupants of the desks barely looked up, focused on scribbling updates and attracting the attention of runners to get messages to the map or board managers. The walls conveyed nothing but bad news to Generalfeldmarschall Norbert Klein, and he cursed quietly.
“Madness,” Klein hissed. “I told them.”
The room reeked of panic, the cacophony of sound making conversation difficult, and Klein assumed his counterparts from the Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine had not heard his comment. Besides the desk riders, junior and senior officers barked orders, shouted across the room, and added to the sense of doom. Occasionally one of the officers would fall silent, watching as a unit was removed from the map, then they would start shouting once again.
The map depicted the target area – the southern half of England – as well as northern France, and the coastal North Sea to Denmark. Most of the activity was along the south and east coast of England.
Below, on tables, smaller maps of specific battlegrounds were covered with tiny models of aircraft, men, ships, and tanks – far too few tanks for Klein’s liking – appended with status flags as yet more technicians shuffled them around. Too many of the changes involved green flags becoming amber or red or, in the worst cases, the units being removed.
“Deckchairs on the Titanic,” Klein muttered. Generaladmiral Kurt Schilling must have heard this comment as he looked around and shook his head at Klein. The Army man straightened his back. It was poor form for the senior officers to look so morose, but it was hard to find any postives.
The preparation for the operations was deemed successful. Lavish spending by fascist sympathisers in, coupled with discreet funding for various fringe nationalist groups on both the Hindu and Muslim sides led to riots in Delhi, Calcutta, Karachi, and Lahore, amongst others. The Royal Navy eventually deployed a task force, including no less than twenty thousand troops, two smaller aircraft carriers, and almost a hundred support vessels. It was the largest single deployment since 1941 and left the Home Fleet at its lowest levels for a generation. As they passed through Suez, the First Sea Lord raised the possibility that something felt wrong, but his concerns were dismissed.
With the Task Force in the Indian Ocean, the initial vague concern became a nagging doubt. The sinking of an Italian freighter, and damage to a pair of British ships in the seas around the northern entrance to the Suez Canal caused mild panic, and it was feared the waters might be mined. Fingers were quickly pointed at Germany, who constantly complained at their lack of access, although the Greater German Reich’s representative at the League of Nations protested their innocence. When analysis of the British ships suggested an attack with limpet lines rather than mines, Germany crowed at the LoN, accusing the British of lashing out without evidence, and promoting instability in the Middle East. The insinuation that it was local nationalists was clear – no one was safe from the evils of colonialism. Klein glanced to his left. It was the one thing Schilling had got right.
A few weeks after the incident in the Eastern Mediterranean, as tensions reduced, the go order was given, with an expectation – hope – of strategic, or at least tactical, surprise. Klein had argued this was impossible. The build-up of hundreds of thousands of men, ships, aircraft, and supplies across Northern France could not be hidden, especially with so many duplicitous locals watching. He also said British forces would react strongly, despite perceived weaknesses. Sure enough, much as Klein and Post predicted, the Royal Air Force and the parts of the Royal Navy’s Home Fleet close by stood up better than anticipated, blunting the initial Blitzkrieg strike. Schilling’s argument that a surprise attack was the only option – the Kriegsmarine did not have the ships to maintain a long shore bombardment of the type used by the British and Americans in the Pacific – whilst valid, did not magically mean it would work. Klein’s attempt to force a longer discussion of the do-nothing option was silenced.
It was not just the response of the British. The Kriegsmarine’s landing craft were a disaster. The new designs sank at the suggestion of enemy fire or rough weather, and thousands of troops were drowning in each wave that crossed the channel. Hundreds of tanks, guns, and support vehicles would rust on the sea floor. Klein glanced across at Schilling as a number was altered on the blackboard – another six landing craft crossed off the active list. The admiral had refused to sanction the use of his new, precious battleships, Koester and Holtzendorff, to support shore bombardment, claiming they were needed in the North Sea to protect the flank.
The Luftwaffe had at least thrown everything at the problem, although Generalfeldmarschall Rainer Post was looking at the board with distress. Hundreds of his newest jet fighter-bombers, along with a similar number of transport aircraft were gone. The much smaller heavy bomber force, flying from Germany, had been decimated.
“This is a disaster,” Klein muttered to his fellow Generals. His comment was met with morose nods. Klein jerked his head towards an empty office. “Let’s go talk about what we can do.” Klein waited for the other two to pass into the office and pushed the door shut, shutting out the noise. It was almost calming, but the situation did not allow any such state of mind to last for more than a moment. “Let’s start with the positives.”
“Shouldn’t take long,” Schilling said dryly. His fellow staff officers frowned, and he raised a hand in apology as they turned to the window to look across the room at the map. The closed door allowed them to talk openly, without being overheard by the men.
“Is anything going well?” Post asked.
“I suppose the Cherbourg assault, to the west, is the most positive,” Klein began. “They’ve managed to establish a beachhead, and a paratroop battalion has joined them. They’ve got supplies and some heavy weapons, albeit not a lot of either. And they’re holding Cobb Harbour. Seems this force was larger than expected and that’s why they’ve done this well. Casualties are heavy, but not as bad as elsewhere. Schilling?”
“The next wave, a reinforced light armoured brigade, including Panzers, eighty-eights, and field guns is heading there now. It’ll be tough to disembark, but it’s something.” He glanced at the clock, did a quick calculation. “Should arrive in a couple of hours. If they can last that long,” he added unnecessarily. “And if they can avoid the Royal Navy.”
“Any chance of air support, Rainer?”
“We’re sortieing as much as we can. Four squadrons of fighter-bombers, plus escorts devoted to that effort. We’re trying to hit the rail lines and the main road junctions to slow down reinforcements.”
“We’ll need the railways,” Klein protested.
“Only if they hold out,” Post snapped. “An airfield would be nice.”
“Understood,” Klein conceded. “What else?”
“We might hold the Isle of White,” Schilling said facetiously. “Hastings isn’t a disaster.”
“It wasn’t,” Klein said darkly. He nodded towards the map. A series of units had changed from black to red around the town. Moments later, two squadrons of medium transport aircraft were scrubbed from the board, followed by the battalion of paratroopers they were carrying.
“Where were they heading,” Klein asked quietly.
“Brighton,” Post said softly.
“The Kent assault is a disaster,” Schilling said. “The paras didn’t manage secure any of the major ports before they were rendered unusable. Dover, Newhaven, Folkestone are technically in our hands and all but useless. Pre-positioned charges. We should have guessed. It’s not like we didn’t have the same problem with the oil fields in the East.” He turned up his lip, a contemptuous sneer at the thought of the Soviets. “We can’t unload heavy equipment, so it’s amphibious only at the moment. Might manage to get something better in a day or two. They’re under huge pressure.”
“If they last,” Post said. He looked at Klein.
“I can’t see them lasting more than a night or two,” Klein offered quietly. “Fifteen thousand will be captured. Same number dead.”
“Dear God,” Schilling muttered.
“Rainer, anything we can do to provide air support to the men in Brighton and Worthing?” Klein asked. “It’s our best shot at securing a beachhead on the south coast right now.”
The Luftwaffe man shrugged and glanced pointedly at Schilling. “We need ships. Heavy weapons. You can’t occupy ground with aircraft. We need combined arms. It’s a miracle they’ve got as far as they have.”
“We can’t sail yet. It’s too rough.”
“Too rough!” Klein said, incredulous. “It’s a light breeze, good visibility. Where the hell did you test your landing craft?”
“It’s not a light breeze. Thirty knot winds, two metre swells,” Schilling snapped. “The testing was done in secret. Out East in the Black Sea.”
“Christ, they’re built out there? By the red roaches?” Post shook his head. “No wonder they sink. It’s probably deliberate. I’m amazed the British didn’t notice hundreds of the damn things being shipped across the continent on railway trucks.”
“Maybe they did,” Klein said. “It’d explain why we were expected.”
“We built them in Germany as well,” Schilling muttered huffily. “Besides, we have to wait until we’re going to arrive at low tide.” He paused. “And we expect significant opposition. Naval forces from Scotland. Two dozen cruisers, a hundred destroyers and frigates.”
“It’ll be a massacre,” Post breathed. “What about your fleet? Can they help? The battleships. And your aircraft carriers. Can’t you do something to slow them down?”
“No,” Schilling said. “The carriers are no match for land-based aircraft, and they only have light fighters aboard. They are useless against a cruiser or even a destroyer with heavy anti-aircraft guns. And we’re hugely outnumbered. We’d be throwing the entire fleet away for nothing.” He glanced across to Klein, risking a row. “Your amphibious tanks aren’t waterproof, it seems.”
Klein’s eyes narrowed. Reports of armoured vehicles sinking a mile from shore told of problems with the vehicles, and with sailors being unwilling to get close enough to the beach to give them a chance.
“We’ve got to do something,” Post snapped. “Our feints along the East coast, up towards Lincolnshire and Hull are pulling some of their fighters away, but radars in the south, so our pilots have time to attack before they are swarmed on by the RAF. Can’t your fleet use their heavy guns to shoot at them?”
“I can’t bring major warships close to shore without exposing them to air attack,” Schilling retorted. “If you can get control of the skies, perhaps. Otherwise, it’s impossible. And we have to protect our flank.”
It was Post’s turn to scowl silently as the blame merry-go-round continued. The air war was not going to plan. “So, in summary. Kent’s ports are lost. Reinforcements for Brighton just disappeared. Our diversions are working, but not enough. The Kriegsmarine is about to be wiped out in the North Sea, and our third and fourth waves are stuck because it’s too windy and will also likely be annihilated by the British once they set sail. Is that about right?”
“Don’t forget we might hold the Isle of Wight,” Schilling said bitterly. “And the beachhead, possible beachhead, with little access to anything of use. Lyme Regis, I think it’s called.”
“And we’ve lost, or will lose what... two thousand aircraft. Forty thousand men, most of the Kriegsmarine and a billion Reichsmarks of army equipment is at the bottom of the Channel. For some godforsaken place called Lyme Regis?” Klein paused. “Anyone think it’s going to get better?”
The silence was deafening.
“I suggest, if we are in agreement gentlemen, we end this debacle sooner rather than later.” Klein looked at the others, all staring at the map, desperate to find a modicum of hope. Chancellor Heydrich’s Directive was over two years old, and this was the plan the OKW had presented. The plan was accepted as workable. A plan deemed far more comprehensive than the original Operation Seelöwe in 1940. When they dubbed it Seelöwe Zwei, it was meant as an inside joke, but the name stuck. Heydrich was not a man who took failure well, and this was an unmitigated disaster.
“We need to consider limiting losses,” Post admitted. “We’ve got to protect ourselves.”
“Very well,” Schilling said, accepting last, as though he disagreed.
“Unless Kurt, you can find a way to make this work.”
“No, Norbert. You and Rainer were quite right. I should have been more forceful. This operation was doomed to failure. There’s a reason no-one has succeeded in invading England for hundreds of years. Our forces are those of a continental power with continental enemies,” Schilling said. It was a tacit admission that the Kriegsmarine was, and always would be, the junior service in the German Reich.
“I suppose we should all speak to our superiors,” Post said. “Good luck.”
“There’s going to be hell to pay,” Klein said. “Thank fuck it’s only a wargame!”
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Atomic Secrets, by John Hopkins (published SLP), is a David Brook novel.