Operation Lion de Mer

"This morning the British Ambassador in Paris handed to the French Government a final note stating that unless we heard from them by 11 o'clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw from Spain a state of war would exist between us. I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received and that consequently this country is at war with France."

Neville Chamberlain, Radio Broadcast, 4th September 1939.

Opération Lion de Mer - The French Invasion of England

"...this is the BBC News. Early this morning French forces landed on English soil between Ramsgate and Brighton.  They are failing to establish a foothold and should be pushed back into the sea by tonight. Their action has been condemned by Prime Minister Chamberlain..."

George Mainwaring switched the radio off, recognising the propaganda for what it was. He had called the platoon together last night and a good job too.  They were all ready and in position by the time the Frogs appeared out of the dawn mist.  Already his platoon had struck a blow for Britain.  The burning tanks on the beach, the dead Garlic Eaters littering the streets and the wrecked landing craft by the now ruined Novelty Rock Emporium stood as witness.  The second wave was expected at any time as the increased shelling and bombing showed,  But now the Regular Highlanders and tanks were on their way.  We’ll show the Damned French what we are made of…

On the hillside overlooking Walmington-on-Sea Charles “Chalkie” Whyte put his binoculars down.  He remembered how just before the war broke out Winston Churchill, as the First Lord of the Admiralty, made contingency plans for the creation of Auxiliary Units for the defence of Britain against a French invasion.  Secretly, men and women were identified, recruited and trained for an important role against the invaders. They were organised into small groups as observers, watching, reporting and assessing the progress of the invaders. Others, mainly French speakers would be gathering intelligence and passing it on to the British Army. And a few, like Chalkie’s group would be at the sharp end, they would be fighting.

Nine months ago, a well-dressed stranger in a black car had come to his cottage and talked about recruitment into the British Resistance. He was to stay under cover until the French had passed inland and then, with the others in his group, take weapons and explosives from the cache in the wooded downs behind Walmington-on-Sea and disrupt the French supply lines.  Now he was watching the battle develop.  The French First Wave was stalled on the promenade but forces were already visible moving inland to the east.  A force of Scottish infantry and some tanks was moving down from the northwest.  The British Resistance would be ready to strike a blow for freedom. It was Tuesday, September 17th, 1940.


I have a confession.  I am addicted to the Dad’s Army TV series and I have had for many years a 20mm version of this elite fighting force.  It has taken the field once or twice in public participation games at wargames shows.  To oppose them I have a few German Paratroops, a U-boat crew and a shot down Luftwaffe crew.  But I have never quite got around to building any German Army models for Operation Sea Lion. 

My latest project was to be building a French force for Syria or our fictional East African campaign.  But what to do with those Char B-1bis that came with the Matchbox FTs?  Some are already in my late war WW2 German army.  But what about the rest? 

A friend found out that a Parliamentary or Cabinet paper had been prepared in the 1930's outlining how the British Forces might defend against a French Invasion and what should be done to prevent this from happening. The document included the building of the airfields that would later be used by the RAF in the Battle of Britain.  Going back before the First World War it was considered that any European War would see Britain and Germany fighting France. The French were considered our natural enemies, whilst the Germans with our related royal families were our brothers. The French occupied the Ruhr in the 1920s when Germany defaulted on the reparation payments.  They were forced to pull out under international pressure.  But what if they had stayed?  So a bit of lateral thinking took place. 

The Alternative History

The French occupation of demilitarised zone and the Ruhr in this alternative history continues into the 1930s and Hitler and the Nazi Party rise to power but the rearmament is seriously hampered by the French control of the industrial heartland.  France relaxes its hold during the 1930s reducing the garrisons on the occupied zone as it watches the rise of fascist Spain, Italy and Austria.  It feels surrounded by potentially hostile nations.  A landslide victory in the elections places a strongly socialist government in power and support for the Nationalists in Spain soon follows as does support and closer relations with the Soviet Union. 

France now takes up a much more aggressive stance against fascism and increases its involvement in Spain which is matched by the Italians under Mussolini.  This diversion of French effort into Spain and North Africa where Hispano-Italian expansion into French colonies was anticipated encouraged Hitler to march into the Ruhr.  When this was virtually unopposed he, against the advice of his generals, ordered the troops to march into the French held Rhineland.  This thrust met strong resistance and a French armoured counter thrust cut off and captured a huge proportion of the German Army and the led to the French reoccupation of the Ruhr.  This humiliation of the German forces and the loss once again of the industrial Ruhr virtually ends Adolf Hitler’s career and he is deposed, arrested and tried for treason.  This time he is sentenced to death but while awaiting execution his mental state rapidly deteriorated into insanity and he was committed to a lunatic asylum.  At about this time the Austrian fascists fail to win a majority even so many German Nazis find a new home there. 

France and Russia become ever closer, co-operating in the Spanish Civil War against the fascists which devolves into a stalemate.  Britain continues its policy of seeking a diplomatic solution in Europe as the fascist factions look to Italy for leadership and the socialist movements look to France.  However, France is now the only real power in Western Europe.  The expansion of French influence greatly worries the British government. 

It became apparent that if France established territorial or political control over a substantial area of Spain it would become a superpower.  Thus it was that the British Government reluctantly started rearming and placed the Empire on alert for possible French aggression in the colonies and mandated territories.  Meanwhile, Italy launched an invasion of France which was repulsed with heavy losses and the terms included that the Italians withdraw support from Spain effectively ending the Spanish Civil War as Franco withdrew into the south and North Africa.  The new northern Spanish government now feared domination by France and sought allies.  The British Government decided to offer a guarantee of securing Spanish neutrality and freedom. 

Two weeks later on 1 September 1939 the French army crossed into Spain after a contrived border incident. 

The British Ambassador in Paris delivered an ultimatum to the French Government on 4 September 1939.  Almost immediately the RAF started a leaflet dropping campaign against French cities.  Convoys were attacked on both sides of the Channel and the Royal and French Navies clashed in the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean with losses on both sides.  Overseas there was fighting the Middle East and North Africa and skirmishing in the Far East.  The air forces fought some spectacular battles over the Channel but both sides refrained from actually attacking each other’s homelands.  In Spain the new Spanish government came to terms with France as a virtual puppet state and the war went quiet except on the high seas.   

 All this changed on 4 June 1Image result for operation sealion940 when the Armée de l’Air launched a massive surprise attack on RAF airfields across southern England.  The Battle of Britain had begun.  The highly experienced and much larger French forces gradually gained the upper hand.  The RAF preserved its Bomber, Coastal and Army Co-operation Command strength against the invasion fleet massing on the French coast.  In mid-September the RAF was forced to retire north as is airfields were being destroyed. 

It was the evening of Tuesday, 24th September, when the French invasion fleet left the Channel ports bound for England.



Operation Sea Lion becomes Opération Lion de Mer!

The French

The French had the second largest army in the world in 1940 supported by some of the best armoured tanks then in service.  They had the powerful Char B-1bis and the Somua S-35 both formidable opponents and superior to most contemporaries.  Many of these French tanks were slow, having been designed for infantry support and though well armoured they mounted relatively light weaponry.

In this alternate timeline, they also have access to some German equipment and just as Germany used Czech equipment in the battle for France and may well have used French equipment in Operation Sealion.  The French in this scenario may well use some German equipment maybe SdKfz 251.  Repainted in French colours, this is an interesting alternative unit to muster.  However, I have decided that the early panzers did not offer a great enough leap forward to lead to wide employment.  Though I could see the numerous Panzers 1 and 2 being used in the French Cavalry units.

The British

This time the British army would have remained on British soil retaining its heavy equipment intact.  They have their tanks and heavy guns that would have been missing in a German Operation Sealion assault.  However, only those units in the colonies would acquire battle experience.  Aided by the Auxiliary Forces and the Home Guard units, the regular army would be ready and waiting for the French attack. The invasion would be much more difficult for the French than it would have been for the Germans.

The British armoured regiments would have Matilda I and II, and some of the new Valentine Infantry tanks and A9, A10 and A13 Cruiser tanks. There would also be Mark VI light tanks in the cavalry regiments.  These latter tanks would be outmatched by the French tanks but a match, especially those with the 15mm BESA, for any impressed Pz1 and II deployed. The infantry would no doubt have higher morale, without the defeat at Dunkirk and the fact they were defending their home country, would lead to a highly motivated force.  The Empire, probably Canada, would be able to send troops.

Another aspect would be the use of Auxiliary Units, or British Resistance in opposing a successful invasion. They would be used behind the lines to hinder the French advance.

I have given an alternative history that can be used to loosely "justify" a French invasion of the South Coast of England wargame. One of the benefits of using alternative timelines is that you can change history even more to suit what you see to be the "correct" timeline.  So what about aid from Italy's Mussolini, could there be a mutual alliance between Britain and Italy, sharing a common enemy? This gives the option of using Italian equipment.  That said, the Soviet Union may support France against the fascist capitalists.

Then there are other alternatives that feature Oswald Moseley and his fascists gaining considerable power if not a majority in Parliament.  Also what of America?  Would they support the UK?  And then when would Japan’s expansion take place against a background of the Anglo-French war? 

The Wargame

All the background for Operation Lion de Mer is really fluff for an alternate Operation Sealion, which allows me to use my existing Op Sealion British, early WW2 French with my very few early war Germans. It also lets me look at the nice Sergeants Mess figures and any Very British Civil War models in a different way.  I do not need to buy German tanks to paint grey (unless I want to later).  The game is facilitated by the availability of period buildings from the railway modelling ranges that I already own.

So what about some scenarios?  Really any WW2 (and many other) scenarios can be used by adjusting the forces.  We can fight the actual invasion, with an amphibious assault on a heavily defended beach and/or port, aided by aircraft, parachutists and glider troops. You would have to create these forces for the French as they had only a couple of companies of paratroopers – or would this be the Soviet contribution?  This would make a very large game, but you could just isolate a small action between a few troops and tanks on one part of the beach at Walmington-on-sea, for example.

Going further along the coast we do some street and harbour fighting in Dover or other ports as the invaders try to secure port facilities to land reinforcements. Maybe the French could convert some of their heavier tanks for use in these operations?  How about Char B1bis equipped with a dozer blade and the 75mm hull gun deleted and a new superstructure mounting a 105mm or 150mm howitzer others might mount flamethrowers or even carry bridges.  Maybe some of the acquired German vehicles might be converted to carry mountain or anti-tank guns or be armed mortars or flamethrowers.  The Germans tried submarine and amphibious tank, so would the French do likewise with their Somua S-35s or the little Hotchkiss and Renault tanks?

Between the wars the French did trials with a variety of conversions on the Renault FT chassis - bridge layers, mine ploughs, assault guns, Self propelled artillery.  Others were given new turrets (not very successful), new guns with the 75mm gun on the BS being successful and projects mounting 25mm amd 47mm Anti-tank guns, 75mm field guns and the Italians trialled a 105mm howitzer. 

Another scenario would be the first push inland to expand the bridgehead against a retreating enemy that must be caught and prevented from regrouping. This could be followed by the inevitable British counter attack from their immediate armoured reserves to push the invaders back into the sea before they consolidate their position. This would see tank versus tank actions leading, perhaps to a major land battle, supported by naval artillery, and aircraft on both sides.

What about a French commando assault on a British supply depot with a relief force in an armoured train?  With a bit of a stretch of the imagination the French may have glider borne troops (captured DFS-230s?) or parachutists.  Arriving by air, the commandos must destroy the depot, and make their way to the coast, to meet up with their transport back home.  

Then we could have the British Auxiliary Units in action against French convoys on the country lanes of Kent. Or they might have a go at rail or road bridges, blowing up cranes in a dockyard, attacking a forward airfield, fuel or ammo depot or any other target. 

The Models

I am a dedicated 20mm wargamer and other scales are well catered for in this period, 1/300, 1/200, 15mm, 20mm and maybe even 54mm.

My own Operation Sealion collection is very one sided and dates back many years.  It was based entirely on Dad’s Army TV series with a few Despicable Hun Paras, a nasty Jerry bomber crew and an evil Nazi U-Boat crew.  Now there are several ranges of the tanks for the British and French (Germans too if you go historical) in plastic, metal and resin.  You can even find a few Belgian and Dutch tanks as well (Frontline Wargaming amongst others). Frontline Wargaming and Sergeants Mess also have Home Guard equipment, armoured cars and tractors.  Armoured trucks can be easily converted and may equip recce units or carry infantry in armoured thrusts. The French might have armoured half-tracks of their own or maybe German origin. 

Depending on how much “what iffery” you want you might add a WW1British tank, for use by a Home Guard unit (no doubt borrowed from a local museum). There may even be a Kings German Legion of ex-patriate volunteers who may be equipped from British (likely) or German (less likely) sources. 

For aircraft, there are ample models in 1/72 of virtually everything needed.  You might add a few German aircraft flown by the reformed King’s German Legion.

The Rules

I actually use a set of rules written by my friend John Mumford in the 1960s and slightly revised for these games. These are simple, yet fast rules for infantry, tanks and aircraft. Other Second World War rules sets would, no doubt, work equally well.  So use your own favourite set for your collection. 

The Conclusions

I do not claim that the idea of a French invasion of the south coast is my own.  The inspiration for this wargame idea came from an old picture of Napoleon’s plans in the early 19th Century and also the paper discovered by my friend.  Of course my “Dad’s Army” collection languishing in their boxes and an interest in Operation Sea Lion helped.  Then there is the Sergeants Mess Home Guard range with Blacker Bombards, Smith Guns and much more. 

Okay, this is a fictional situation - fantasy if you like - and it never happened.  But that is true of many wargames I have seen.  I have exercised my imagination, tacked on a few liberties and clichés to come up with a framework for some different looking games.  I have deliberately used a time line that is very similar to what actually happened because it suited what I wanted and I really did not want to spend a lot of time researching and rewriting. My objective was to use my models in some different games.  As a side issue I realised that I could have a modelling project on some of the “what if” vehicles that the French might have made. 

End Note

Chalkie wiped the sweat from his eyes and checked the connections were secure.  The moon was not much help as the clouds flitting across its face alternately letting him see the bridge clearly or obscuring it.  The glow from the French soldiers’ cigarettes was just enough to show that they were moving along the river bank.  He waited, he could hear the tanks coming.  He offered up a prayer that they would not see the cable.  Had he hidden it well enough?

The glow from the tanks’ blackout lights increased as they approached the bridge.  He held his breath. They paused and rumbled forward increasing speed.  They were not stopping.  What was it the Major had said about French tactics in training?  Ah yes … “L’attaque, toujours l’attaque!” 

Chalkie pushed the handle down hard and a brief spark flashed.  And the bridge seemed to fold inwards.  One of the big tanks rose in the air and fell sideways into the river, two more slid into the thrashing water as the spans collapsed.  Another reversing almost made the safe bank but tilted, hung for a moment and the plunged into the river.  Then the noise of the explosion reached him.  By the time the French infantry reached his position, Chalkie was in “The Swan” downing a well-deserved pint.

Down at the coast, Captain Mainwaring sat with his surviving Home Guardsmen in the back of Hodge’s truck heading for captivity guarded by a Frog soldier on the tailgate.  Half his platoon was missing or killed.  Lance Corporal Jones was gone – last seen lobbing Molotov’s at a giant tank outside his butcher shop.  Godfrey had stayed with the wounded.  Pike was sitting opposite, perched on a box of cabbages and kicking one back and forward monotonously, a vacant look in his eye.  “Stupid boy” he thought but was too tired to say it out loud.

The truck slowed on the hill out of town.  The Froggie on the tailgate looked around the canopy.  He disappeared as a cabbage hit the back of his head and Pike leapt after him. “Come on!” he called jumping on top of the stunned sentry.  The Frenchman’s bayonet flashed in Pike’s hand.  Sergeant Wilson picked up the fallen rifle.  The survivors hid in the darkness as the truck picked up speed again.  The driver had not noticed that their prisoners were gone. 

Read the "history" here

The French Invaders

The British Defenders

The King's German Legion

Wamington-on-Sea Sector

The Scenarios

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