Whilst RAF aircraft operated from both Guernsey & Jersey prior to the Occupation of the Channel Islands by the Germans on 30 June 1940 their role was primarily reconnaissance and some fighter patrols. The night of 11/12 June 1940 saw the only air raid on mainland Europe that took place by the RAF from the Islands.
As part of Operation Haddock the raid was an attempt by the British to support France when Italy was about to enter the war. It was not well received by some of the French as they were concerned about retaliatory attacks on poorly defended areas due to a lack of fighter aircraft in the south of France, however, the British Air Ministry paid little heed to this and ordered that the raids go ahead.
In addition to the aircraft that operated from the Channel Islands for this raid there were also Vickers Wellington bombers which flew from England but refuelled at Salon-de-Provence outside of Marseille. These aircraft did not conduct their raid until the 15/16 June as the French blocked the runway.
No. 4 Group dispatched Armstrong Whitworth Whitley bombers to Guernsey and Jersey to launch a raid on Turin with a secondary target of Genoa. At the start of the war No.4 Group were the only trained night bomber force in the world.1
Aircraft from 10, 51, 58, 77 and 102 Squadrons carried out the raids from Guernsey and Jersey. In total 36 aircraft took part in the raid. 13 found the target and two failed to return. The fact that all but two came back is amazing given the weather conditions on the night, they encountered severe thunderstorms and suffered lightening strikes and severe icing. Both of which prevented them from flying above the storms.
One aircraft that was lost was from No 77 Squadron was lost on the homeward route,Sgt M N Songest and his crew were killed when N1362 crashed at Lignieres-Orgeres,Le Mans in the Mayenne Department.
Several of the bombers accidentally bombed neutral Switzerland hitting Geneva and Lausanne killing four people and injuring another eighty.2
they encountered severe thunderstorms and suffered lightening strikes and severe icing. Both of which prevented them from flying above the storms.
The accounts from the various Squadron records are below and well worth a read to see what the crews endured. One aircraft flew over the target for sixty-five minutes dropping flares to illuminate the target!
Thanks to Nick Beale who advised that the Italian Commando Supremo war diary is online and records that 45 bombers raided Turin between 01.30 and 02.00. Flares were dropped and damage was done to the Fiat Mirafiori plant as well as to railways. The commercial district of Porta Palazzo was hit and a gasometer set on fire in the via Clemente Damiano Priocca. 15 people were killed and 30 injured.
I hope you have enjoyed this post. If you would like to receive email updates please sign up on the right of this blog post. Thanks for reading.
Moyes, Philip J. R. The Armstrong Whitworth Whitley. Leatherhead, Surrey, UK: Profile Publications, 1967 Page 11.
Having seen the photograph it intrigued me and I thought I would find out a bit more about the raid. I had read some mentions of it before but hadn’t really looked at it in more detail.
When it comes to air raids on the Island it is mostly the German raid immediately prior to the taking of the Islands that is written about. This is entirely understandable given the large loss of life during that German raid. A subject I will cover in another post.
Below is a Royal Navy map of the harbour to provide some context for those not familiar with it as well as a map showing the location of the Islands. On the map of the harbour the RAF aircraft approached at low level from the top right of the map.
The aircraft took off from RAF St Eval in Cornwall, top left of the above map, having only moved there seven days earlier. Other aircraft types did fly to the Channel Islands from St Eval during the course of the war. One of which was an Avro Anson of No. 217 Squadron which had been on a photographic mission ditched during a storm west of Guernsey on 16 October 1940. The crew of 4 came ashore in Guernsey and taken as POW’s.
These are two extracts from the 86 Squadron operations record which I tracked down in the National Archive. These give an account of the raid from an official point of view.
The above extract refers to “excellent photographs” of the raid being taken but despite searching all of my usual sources the one at the top of the page is the only one that I am able to trace taken by the RAF.
It isn’t really surprising that they received a lot of incoming fire given that the German fortifications around the harbour and out towards the south of the Island, which was their flight path away from the raid, were fairly formidable.
The gallery below this gives a flavour of what the likely armaments were but as the photographs aren’t dated not all may have been in place in 1942 it is likely that many were given the previous raids. Click on the gallery to see larger pictures of the images.
In his book “Guernsey under German rule” written immediately after the war Ralph Durand provides quite a bit of detail on the impact the raid had. He also notes that this was the first raid that the Germans had reported in the newspapers having ignored the previous twenty five raids of varying kinds in the preceding years. This was almost certainly because of the evidence that Islanders could see could not be denied.
The casualties inflicted by the raiders were, as nearly as could be ascertained, one Guernseyman, eight Germans and twenty Frenchmen killed by the bombing and some fifty Germans killed or wounded by machine-gun fire in Castle Cornet and Fort George. Among other results of the raid that both accounts minimise were three cranes wrecked, a steamer of 8,000 tons sunk at the Southern Railway’s berth on the jetty, a large munitions steamer holed in the bows, the back of a barge broken, and the sides of several other barges perforated with bomb splinters.
The Germans always endeavoured to keep us in ignorance of any damage done to them by British planes, but they could not hide from us what had been done to these vessels for the broken-backed barge was towed into the inner harbour with her fore hold flooded, the steamer that still floated was brought to Albert Dock where any passer-by could see that the hole in her bows was at least eight feet in diameter, and as for the steamer that was sunk, because only her fore part was flooded, her stem rose with each tide and could be seen at high water high above the level of the jetty.
Durand also noted that the almost identical stories in the two local papers, which were controlled by the Germans, led to another impact on Islanders views on those publications.
But it is quite inconceivable that two such journalists, after neglecting to record any of the previous raids that the RAF had made on the island, should, three days after it had happened, be inspired by this particular raid to write, spontaneously and independently, accounts of it in which the same bare facts were chosen for record, the same misstatement made, the same important details as to the damage done to the shipping ignored, the same sneer indulged in, and the same attack made on the veracity of the British Broadcasting Corporation. Such coincidences do not occur in real life. Anyone who read both accounts must have realised that they had the same source and that that source was the mind of the German Press officer.
In causing them to be published the Press officer defeated his purpose. So far from sowing in our minds doubts as to the truth of the news given us by British broadcasts he confirmed what we already knew – that the anti-British propaganda published each day in our newspapers, though often amusing, was not to be credited as true. Incidentally he reminded us that among other cherished British institutions of which German rule had deprived us was the freedom of the Press.
Another account by Ruth Ozanne provides her experience as she was close to the harbour at the time of the raid.
Despite the damage that RAF raids caused to civilian properties they were pleased to see the RAF in action. This is noted in an interview with a German NCO Erwin Grubba which is in the IWM archive and can be found here . He wasn’t here in 1942 having arrived in late 1943 but recalls that locals used to “smile and give the thumbs up” if RAF aircraft appeared over the Island. Even if they were bombing the Island.
The images below show some of the damage caused by the raid to one of the ships. Unfortunately one is mostly reliant on German sources for pictures as cameras were confiscated in 1942 and anyone retaining one and using it did so at great personal risk.
Below is a photograph of three aircraft from No. 86 Squadron taken in the same month and may even have been on the way to the raid.
This was not the first or last air raid on the Islands and I will be featuring others in later posts.