Official portrait of Adolf Hitler, retouched - from the Bundesarchiv Bild, reproduced under creative commons.

When Hitler had finished with France in the Summer of 1940, the only country he was left with still opposing him was Britain. His preference was not to have to fight Britain, but to receive her acquiescence in his triumph. He was prepared to settle for an arrangement which gave him complete control over Continental Europe in return for which he would acquiesce in Britain’s overseas interests, her Empire guaranteed by her Navy. This is what he put, in not too graceful a way in his speech on 19th July. His phrase was that it was ‘a last appeal to reason’.

When this was rebuffed by Halifax, who made it quite clear that Britain planned to continue the war, and had no interest in discussing terms or indeed anything else with Hitler, the dye was cast. On August 1st, Hitler duly issued his Directive 17 to the effect that steps must now be taken to put the Royal Air Force out of action as a prelude to the launching of the seaborne invasion of Britain code named Sealion. Britain was to be put to the sword.

Having issued his new directive, he subsequently took relatively little part in the Battle, not bothering to oversee the next steps to be taken against Britain. The reason was that the Luftwaffe was in the personal hands and under the direct control of his trusted Nazi number two, Herman Goering. The fact was, the Luftwaffe was distinct from the other armed services in Germany at the time. The head of the Navy was Admiral Raeder, the Head of the Army was General Brauschitz. The Luftwaffe by contrast was under the personal control of Herman Goering who was given the newly created title of Reichsmarschall.

The fact that the German air force was professionally in the hands of a top Nazi figure, who admittedly had been a fighter pilot in the First World War, meant that Hitler had none of the latent mistrust which existed between him and the professional heads of the other services. It was almost as though he could rely on the Luftwaffe being within the overall Nazi element of the State. It meant also that it could do no wrong although it was to fail to carry out his Directive no 17. It was never taken to task for this. It was, after all, the responsibility of his trusted Lieutenant, Herman Goering.

The further reason why Hitler never interfered or even bothered to comment on the clear failure of the Luftwaffe to execute his orders may have been the fact that Hitler never seemed to have his heart in the project to subjugate Britain that summer. If Goering had brought it off, all well and good. But the fact that he was not going to bring it off didn’t seem to bother the Fuhrer. An analysis of the German plans for Sealion show that it never got to a stage where it was a realistic prospect. He would come back to the subject of what to do about Britain when and after he had disposed of Soviet Russia.