The Channel Islands were occupied by Nazi Germany for much of World War II, from 30 June 1940 until the liberation on 9 May 1945. The Bailiwick of Jersey and Bailiwick of Guernsey are two British Crown dependencies in the English Channel, near the coast of Normandy. The Channel Islands were the only part of the British Isles to be invaded and occupied by German forces during the war.
On 11 June 1940, as part of the British war effort in the Battle of France, a long range RAF aerial sortie carried out by 36 Whitley bombers against the Italian cities of Turin and Genoa departed from small airfields in Jersey and Guernsey. Weather conditions determined that only 10 Whitleys reached their intended targets. Two bombers were lost in the action. On 15 June, after the Allied defeat in France, the British government decided that the Channel Islands were of no strategic importance and would not be defended, but did not give Germany this information. Thus despite the reluctance of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the British government gave up the oldest possession of the Crown “without firing a single shot”. The Channel Islands served no purpose to the Germans other than the propaganda value of having occupied some British territory. The “Channel Islands had been demilitarised and declared…’an open town’ ”.
Although contingency plans had been made for evacuations of government departments in the United Kingdom, no contingencies for evacuation had been planned for the Channel Islands. The British government relaxed restrictions on travel between the UK and the Channel Islands in March 1940, enabling tourists from the UK to avail themselves of morale-boosting holidays in traditional island resorts. The realisation of the necessity of civilian evacuation came very late, and with no forward planning and secrecy being maintained, communications between the island governments and the UK took place in an atmosphere of confusion and misinterpretation. The British Government consulted the islands’ elected government representatives in order to formulate a policy regarding evacuation. Opinion was divided and, without a policy being imposed on the islands, chaos ensued and different policies were adopted by the different islands. The British Government concluded their best policy was to make available as many ships as possible so that islanders had the option to leave if they wanted to.
In Guernsey in total 17,000 out of 42,000 evacuated. In Jersey, the majority of islanders, following the consistent advice of the government, chose to stay; 6,600 out of 50,000 evacuated. Official evacuation boats started leaving on 20 June; the last official evacuation boat left on 23 June. Thousands of children were evacuated with their schools to England and Scotland, and a number of Guernsey headteachers re-established their schools in Britain for the duration of the war.
Since the Germans did not realise that the islands had been demilitarised (news of the demilitarisation had been suppressed until 30 June 1940), they approached them with some caution. Reconnaissance flights were inconclusive. On 28 June 1940, they sent a squadron of bombers over the islands and bombed the harbours of Guernsey and Jersey. In St Peter Port, the main town of Guernsey, some lorries lined up to load tomatoes for export to England were mistaken by the reconnaissance for troop carriers. Forty-four islanders were killed in the raids.
While the Wehrmacht was preparing to land an assault force of two battalions to capture the islands, a reconnaissance pilot, Hauptmann Liebe-Pieteritz, made a test landing at Guernsey’s deserted airfield on 30 June to determine the level of defence. He reported his brief landing to Luftflotte 3 who came to the decision that the Islands were not defended. A platoon of Luftwaffe soldiers were flown that evening to Guernsey by Junkers transport planes. Inspector Sculpher of the Guernsey police went to the airport carrying a letter signed by the Bailiff stating that “This Island has been declared an Open Island by His Majesty’s Government of the United Kingdom. There are no armed forces of any description. The bearer has been instructed to hand this communication to you. He does not understand the German language.” He found that the airport had been taken over by the Luftwaffe. The senior German officer, Major Lanz, asked to be taken to the Island’s chief man. In this way the Lufwaffe pre-empted the Wehrmacht’s invasion plans. They went by police car to the Royal Hotel where they were joined by the Bailiff, the President of the Controlling Committee and other officials. Lanz announced through an interpreter that Guernsey was now under German occupation. Jersey surrendered on 1 July. Alderney, where only a handful of islanders remained, was occupied on 2 July and a small detachment travelled from Guernsey to Sark, which officially surrendered on 4 July.
The German forces quickly consolidated their positions. They brought in infantry, established communications and anti-aircraft defences and established an air service with mainland France.
The Occupation tale is an extraordinary one of much resistace and some collaboration. It also gives a fascinating insight into how the forces of the Third Reich would have behaved in mainland Britain. Their treatment of Jews and deportations to mainland Europe as well as the setting up of concentration camps is a stark reminder of what would have been in store for Britain had the Germans successfully invaded. The images of Germans on British soil are very chilling and much of the Occupation legacy is still in place to be explored. We feel this is a story that every military history enthusiast should discover with MHT.
Jersey & Guernsey: The German Occupation of the Channel Islands Trips is £699 per guest. Plus £30 a night single room supplement, where applicable.
Next Trip Dates:
Apr 25-28 2014, from £699 – places available
Guests are met at Jersey airport at 09:30 by our expert, Nigel Meyer. Nigel and his driver then take guests on to St Helier for a walking tour of the island capital where he gives an introduction to the German Occupation. After a break guests are then shown the fascinating “Occupation Tapestry”. In the afternoon Nigel conducts a walk around the area of Corbiere including the Radio Tower, Mortar Bunker and defences including the site of the Czech gun. After visiting the Moltke Battery guests are then taken on to our hotel to check in.
On Day 2 we take the ferry to Guernsey. Here we visit the Channel Islands Military Museum and then the Tower before taking a break in St. Peter Port. In the afternoon we take an occupation walk around St. Peter Port where Nigel explains the sites before guests catch the ferry back to Jersey and return to the hotel.
Day 3 we see various sites related to the Occupation starting at the Gunsite cafe and ends at the Underground Hospital. We visit the Underground Hospital and visit the trenches and Defences above the Hospital site. After a break at the Hospital we visit the Battery Lotheringen before returning to the hotel.
On Day 4 we visit the bunker and memorial at La Hogue. We then go on to the Commando Memorial before visiting St. Brelades Church where German military personnel were buried and see the Fishermans Chapel. We view the Anti Tank Wall and casemate at St. Ouens before visiting the Military Museum at St. Ouens Bay. Guests are then taken to the Airport for their flight back to the mainland at approximately 17:00.
The trip price includes all local transport, 3 nights bed & breakfast, all museum entrances, talks and guidance.
Just £200 deposit secures a place on the trip. E mail or call us today to book your place.
Trip literature to download:
High resolution: German Occupation of the Channel Islands hi res
low resolution: German Occupation of the Channel Islands lo res