Review: Operation Sealion
- Published: 01 May 2010 01 May 2010
- Last Updated: 12 July 2013 12 July 2013
Robert Cox was an officer in the parachute regiment, and then the military affairs editor of the Daily Mail at a time when this paper must have had rather different aspirations then today. During his tenure at the Daily Mail, he arranged for a wargame of a hypothetical Operation Sealion at the British Army’s officer school of Sandhurst, with support from the Staff College. Adolf Galland and German Admiral a.D. (ret.) Ruge served as part of the team of judges. Both of these officers served on the frontline of the German effort to subdue Britain. This book is written on the basis of the wargame. Sounds good so far?
Unfortunately, that is as far as it will go. The book proceeds from the standard assumption about Sealion, i.e. that it would have occurred in late September 1940. It tells how the invasion would have proceeded in a style that makes me suspect it was in fact a serial in the Daily Mail before it was turned into a book. There is little technical military detail, but to make up for that, some excruciatingly contrived individual heroics are told. While these will certainly warm the cockles of the heart of every true Englishman, they are rather out of place in a serious analysis. Which the book is somewhat claiming to set out to do, by referring to the wargame. In fact, the wargame was just the very basis of the idea (or excuse to write the book, depending on your view), and nothing is heard of it again after the introduction chapter.
My biggest bugbear as a German speaker is the toe-curdling way in which German expressions are forced into perfectly good English sentences in conversations held by German officers. Presumably this should add some dramatic or authentic effect. Unlike in ‘Allo, Allo’, it fails miserably. Reading it makes me growl and show my teeth, and is a good reason why this book should get no star at all.
The only reason this book managed to get a second star is the appendix. In it, the Admiralty weather data for the days of the invasion are given (a boon to wargamers wanting to game Sealion), and three short essays on the military and political situation (by Correlli Barnett and the late Alan Clark, respectively), as well as one on the secret underground army that was built up at the time, make for quite interesting reading.
If you are interested in the (invented) personal aspects of a major operation, then this book maybe of interest to you. It holds some niche value as a study of Sealion, and it is a shame that not more has been made of the wargame, which after all was a serious affair, held at the staff college, with very distinguished expert input. If none of the two conditions above apply, give it a miss.
The book contains some pictures and a map that does the job if you do not have the faintest idea what south-east England looks like.
(Reviewed by Andreas Biermann)