As with many of the series volumes, the title of this one has a double meaning. Astute readers will note it
corresponds to the name of a cancelled German plan to invade England in 1940, Operation Seelowe or Sea Lion, and being the one portion of the war that was not covered in earlier volumes, that battle will be presented here. It makes a nice reprise, for the series at its heart was a retelling of an alternate history of WWII. As the candle burns low now in volume 62 of this amazing adventure, it is only fitting that we get another taste of this alternate history, and on land and sea, and the Royal Navy, England’s Sea Lions, step up to defend the realm. And I’m talking battleships now, the big edge England had over Germany at sea. But the fight isn’t easy, as Germany had pressed hard to get both Bismarck and Tirpitz ready for action, with big brothers Hindenburg and Oldenburg right behind in the naval pipeline. Britain is put to the ultimate test here where the virtue of sea power is concerned, and there will be lots of ship to ship action in this one. But what triggered all of this?
In the history files provide by Tyrenkov, Fedorov learns that there has been a major point of divergence in
the war when Hitler decides to go forward with his Operation Seelowe in September of 1940. The author gives us the entire thing, from its planning on both sides, detailed orders of battle, and the naval and land action in that campaign. In this we see just how vital the Royal Navy was in defending England in 1940. After first carrying off the “Miracle at Dunkirk” to repatriate 330,000 British regulars, Admiral Tovey now takes the reins of Home Fleet to face down the Keiegsmarine’s Admiral Raeder. The result is a series of big naval engagements that decide the fate of this operation, and subsequent plans launched by the Germans in the remainder of the book.
Admiral Raeder had a grand scheme to pursue an aggressive strategy in the Mediterranean and Middle
East—Plan Orient. This overarching plan aimed to knock England out of the war, the first attempt being Seelowe. Then, in the Med, a number of sub-operations would attempt to crush
Britain’s long hold there by taking Gibraltar (Operation Felix), Malta (Operation Herkules), and Crete (Operation Merkur). These were the steppingstones that let German
power roll east until it was vested with Erwin Rommel and his daring drive on the Nile that began with Operation Sonnenblum. Also included was the off tangent Operation Kondor, where
the Germans would seize the Canary Islands to threaten convoy routes around the Cape of Good Hope. Once again, it is the Royal Navy that becomes the sword of the British Empire against many of these
German operations that rely on overseas lines of communication. After Seelowe the next big confrontation is during Operation Kondor, because Germany has captured the French fleet at Toulon as early
as 1941, instead of seeing it scuttled in 1943. Why this wasn’t done in the real war has always been a great mystery. Germany needed ships, particularly battleships, and there they were at
Toulon, for years. In this volume they get battlecruisers Strausburg, Dunkerque, and battleships Jean Bart, Richelieu, Lorraine, and Normandie, not to mention the older ship Bretagne.
It’s a tall order, but Tovey faces it during the action off Fuerteventura, rounds two and three in the naval action here.
The history then takes us back to Rommel, because in this alternate history, there never was any mission
involving Orlov on the airship Narva to attack the inn at Ilanskiy, so the Chief never finds the Devil’s Teardrop. That means it was not there in the North African Desert when Fedorov took a helicopter to search for General O’Connor, which means Brigadier Kinlan’s Brigade never falls through to 1941 as he did in the novel Three Kings. That creates a major point of diversion in the alternate history, so the author then takes us back to the eve of the action near Bir El Khamsa, only nothing comes out of the Egyptian Desert to threaten Rommel’s flank.
Rommel is now free to do what he wishes, and the British, already invested in Tobruk, are on their own.
It’s all a great way, in this the final season of the series, to recapture some of the interesting alternate history that was at the heart of the story, but here, Rommel does something that
throws everything off on a new tangent, something completely unexpected.
Nearing the end of this one, the British are given their priorities by Churchill, who decides that of all
the colony states Britain controls, Iraq is the most important in the Middle East, even given priority over Egypt and the Suez Canal. So the renamed Operation Exporter, Operation Scimitar,
is launched to run the Vichy French out of Syria and send British forces into Iraq to secure its vital oil fields at Kirkuk and Basrah, and to hold the political center at Baghdad. Kinlan’s
Brigade was the spearhead of Operation Scimitar as well, but now we see how that operation fares without him. Coincidentally, Hitler embraces yet another part of Plan Orient, and the Germans launch their own Operation Phoenix,
also intending to conquer Syria and Iraq. The two offensives collide with one another, leaving Karpov at his wits end as he tries to get involved. That eventually impacts the fate line of his long
time co-conspirator in all these events, Captain Anton Fedorov.
Action on land and sea here, with many big sea battles, convoy raids, and lots of desert fighting in Egypt
and Syria. It’s a great reprise, and possibly our last look at the alternate history of WWII, for in the next volume, The Final Sortie, the story will focus heavily on the battlecruiser Kirov where Karpov has taken it to the Pacific on the eve of the Japanese Pearl Harbor operation. Yes, even a ship has its fate line, and we’ll be back aboard for the last sortie in Volume 7 of this final season, #63 in the series overall. In the meantime, don’t miss #62, Sealions!