ISLAND FORTIFICATION ORDERED BY HITLER 20TH OCTOBER 1941

It might surprise you to learn that, despite having arrived in the Islands on 30 June 1940 in Guernsey and 1 July 1940 in Jersey, that the full scale fortification of the islands wasn’t ordered until October 1941. Particularly given that there are so many fortifications dotted all over the islands as reminders of this time.

Initially they arrived in relatively small numbers. When Hubert Nicolle came to Guernsey in early July 1940 on Operation Anger, he estimated the garrison to be some 469 men. These were mostly based around the airport and St Peter Port. You can read about Operation Anger here .

This was far from the peak in numbers during the occupation which Charles Cruickshank estimates in in his book there were approximately 12,000.

In 1940 and early 1941 the fortifications were of a less sturdy nature being made out of sandbags such as that seen in the picture below of an anti aircraft position at the airport and were constructed by the troops themselves. these were known as feldmässige Anlage (field-type construction).

These were deemed appropriate at the time as the Germans were planning Operation Seelöwe (Sealion) to invade Britain. The German High Command did not see the need to waste time and resources in fortifying the islands on a more permanent basis.

Once Sealion had been put on hold in the spring of 1941 Hitler started to pay more attention to the defence of the Channel Islands as he became afraid that that the islands may be taken back. He really didn’t want that to happen as he revelled in the propaganda value of holding them.

His concern was probably not misguided at this point as the British Government were actively considering such an operation. This was Operation Attaboy which I wrote about here. They were considering this even though they had already decided that the Channel Islands were of little or no strategic value to either the Allies or the Germans. There were however other drivers for this which you can read about in that blog.

Initially some heavier defences were constructed by a German construction battalion in the Spring of 1941. But Hitler was not satisfied that this would be enough. Having personally reviewed plans of the Channel Islands he finally decided that the Channel Islands should be turned into a Festung (Fortress).

‘The time had now arrived … when plans and prospects of German strategy had to be re-examined. Directive No 33 dated 19 July, had contained an instruction of the type to which in those days we had become unaccustomed: in the West and North, the possibility of attacks on the Channel Islands and the Norwegian coast must be borne in mind.’

General Walter Warlimont – July 1941. Source Channel Islands: Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Sark (Battleground Europe) – George Forty.

Warlimont’s assessment wasn’t too far off the mark as by 1942 the British were again considering retaking Alderney to appease Stalin. This was Operation Blazing which you can read about in my blog here. This Operation reached quite an advanced stage.

So by October 1941 Hitler decided that something had to be done. Below is the order from October 1941. The bits in italics are explanatory comments from George Forty whom the order is quoted from.

1. Operations on a large scale against the territories we occupy in the West are, as before, unlikely. Under pressure of the situation in the East, however, or for reasons of politics or propaganda, small scale operations at any moment may be anticipated, particularly an attempt to regain possession of the Channel Islands, which are important to us for the protection of sea communications.

2. Counter-measures in the Islands must ensure that any English attack fails before a landing is achieved, whether it is attempted by sea, by air or both together. The possibility of advantage being taken by bad visibility to effect a surprise landing must be borne in mind. Emergency measures for strengthening the defences have already been ordered, and all branches of the forces stationed in the Islands, except for the Air Force, are placed under the orders of the Commandant of the Islands.

3. With regard to the permanent fortifications of the Islands, to convert them into an impregnable fortress (which must be pressed forward with the utmost speed) I give the following orders:

a. The High Command of the Army is responsible for the fortifications as a whole and will, in the overall programme, incorporate the construction for the Air Force and the Navy. The strength of the fortifications and the order in which they are erected will be based on the principles and the practical knowledge gained from building the Western Wall (ie: the Siegfried Line).

b. For the Army: it is important to provide a close network of emplacements, well concealed, and given flanking fields of fire. The emplacements must be sufficient for guns of a size capable of piercing armour plate 100cm thick, to defend against tanks which may attempt to land. There must be ample accomodation for stores and ammunition, for mobile diversion parties and for armoured cars.

c. For the Navy: one heavy battery on the Islands and two on the French coast to safeguard the sea approaches. (This was to be the heavy battery on Guernsey – Batterie Mirus. The two on the mainland were to be on the Cherbourg Peninsula and near Paimpol on the Brittany coast, but they were never installed, two 20.3cm railway guns being put there instead -one in each location).

d. For the Air Force: strongpoints must be created with searchlights and sufficient to accommodate such AA units as are needed to protect all important constructions.

e. Foreign labour, especially Russians and Spaniards but also Frenchmen, may be used for the building works.

4. Another order will follow for the deportation to the Continent of all Englishmen 

5. Progress reports to be sent to me on the first day of each month, to the C-in-C of the Army and directed to the Supreme Command of the Armd Forces (OKW) – Staff of the Fuehrer, Division L. (signed) ADOLF HITLER

Source Channel Islands: Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Sark (Battleground Europe) – George Forty.

As a result of this order Organisation Todt under Fritz Todt was to provide labour for the construction of the fortifications. The exact amount of workers brought to the islands is still a matter of debate even to this day. Some estimates put it at 16,000 plus across all of the Islands. I will be dealing with the story of the slave workers in a future post.

It is even more incredible that so many fortifications were constructed when you consider that a large part of the workforce were shipped to France to replace the workers from there that were sent back to Germany following the Dambusters raid in May 1943.

The use of Organisation Todt was taken so seriously that Fritz Todt himself came to the Channel Islands in November 1941.

For documentary purposes the German Federal Archive often retained the original image captions, which may be erroneous, biased, obsolete or politically extreme. Reichsminister Dr. Todt. Der Führer ernannte den Generalinspetor für das Deutsche Strassenwesen, Dr. Todt, zum Reichsminister für Bewaffnung und Munition. 23.3.40. Röhr[n?]-Weltbild

In his report to the Historical Division, Group West, written in May 1948 Rudolf Graf von Schmettow outlined what happened after the fortification order had been given. Extracts below.

The scale of the fortifications that were built were enormous and proved to be a detrimental to the the rest of the Atlantic Wall. Valuable resources were used up in the Channel Islands that could have been used in Normandy. News of the scale of fortifications reached the British government as can be seen in the article below.

Lancashire Evening Post – Friday 29 October 1943

The British were well aware of the fortifications construction through those that escaped the islands successfully and through a large number of photo reconnaissance flights over the islands.

If you want to look at some of the photographs of the constructions can be found in my post below.

In all 244,000 m³ of rock were excavated out of the Channel Islands, only a little less than the 255,000m³ in the whole of the rest of the Atlantic wall, this is documented in Charles Cruickshank‘s book.

The Festung Guernsey book recorded that 616,000 m³ of concrete had been used in Guernsey. Almost 10% of all the concrete used in the whole Atlantic Wall.

There are more pictures and information on fortifications in my page on places to visit tab.

In addition to the concrete constructions the order to fortify the islands led to the first full scale minefields starting to be laid in October 1941. These were extensive and in Guernsey alone there were over 69,000 recovered after the liberation. I will be blogging about this in the coming weeks so sign up to the mailing list if you want to be notified of future posts.

Fancy a walk through some of the bunkers in Jersey but can’t get there in person? Never fear Jersey War Tours have virtual tours of a number of sites that are just amazing. The link to them is here https://www.jerseybunkertours.com/3d-bunker-scans

You can find out more about their work on this in this video.

As the war started to draw to a close and victory was in sight thoughts of some islanders that had been evacuated already turned to what should happen to the fortifications were already a source of hot debate as can be seen below.

Channel Islands Monthly Review December 1944

This continued to be a much discussed issue in the immediate post war years.

To finish up the blog there is a video from a few years back that may be of interest.

If you would like to receive email notifications of future blogs, you can sign up to the right of this blog post. Feel free to look around the website, where I have categorised posts to make them easier to find and other resources such as tours, places to visit and films that may be of interest.

You can also follow the blog on Twitter at @Fortress_Island where I share other information and photographs. If you prefer Facebook I also have a page there.

If you have questions or information to share you can contact me by email on Contact@Island-Fortress.Com.

I will be adding more as time permits. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope you enjoyed it. Please share it on social media or add a comment if you did. Feedback is always appreciated.

Also happy to be contacted with questions about the war in the Channel Islands, media appearances, podcasts etc.

© Nick Le Huray

OUR FRIENDS IN JERSEY! CHECK OUT THEIR WORK.

If you are enjoying my blog you really should take a look at what the lovely folks over at Jersey War Tours are doing. They have some amazing content for you to look at.

Fancy a walk through some of the bunkers in Jersey but can’t get there in person? Never fear they have virtual tours of a number of sites that are just amazing. The link to them is here https://www.jerseybunkertours.com/3d-bunker-scans

You can find out more about their work on this in this video.

They have some fantastic stories about the occupation here.

There are a wealth of other resources and information on their site. Most importantly if you can get to Jersey do go and visit their sites or take a tour with them.

If you enjoy their site please consider joining their Patreon as they share a lot of information to subscribers.

If you would like to receive email notifications of future blogs, you can sign up to the right of this blog post. Feel free to look around the website, where I have categorised posts to make them easier to find and other resources such as tours, places to visit and films that may be of interest.

You can also follow the blog on Twitter at @Fortress_Island where I share other information and photographs. If you prefer Facebook I also have a page there.

If you have questions or information to share you can contact me by email on Contact@Island-Fortress.Com.

I will be adding more as time permits. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope you enjoyed it. Please share it on social media or add a comment if you did. Feedback is always appreciated.

Also happy to be contacted with questions about the war in the Channel Islands, media appearances, podcasts etc.

© Nick Le Huray

BATTERIE MIRUS – THE BIG GUNS

Batterie Mirus is probably the most well known of the German gun batteries in the Channel Islands. Probably because it was the largest on any of the Channel Islands.

The name of the gun batterie was in honor of Kapitan-zur-See Rolf Mirus, who was killed in 1941 while sailing between Guernsey and Alderney.

They had a range of 51km (31.5 miles). The image below shows the impact this could have on shipping in the area.

Range of guns shown on History.gg website

If you have read some of my tweets and blog posts you will be familiar with the Germans taking captured equipment and reusing it themselves. This is features in a number of aspects of the construction of the battery itself.

The 30.5cm (12 inch) guns themselves had a couple of previous owners including a short period with the Germans. Originally they were the main armament of a Russian battleship captured by the Germans and then returned to the Russians at the end of the First World War. After the battleship was broken up in the mid 1930s the guns were placed in storage before being pressed into use in the Russo-Finnish war. Captured by the Germans they were sent back to Germany to be reconditioned. Then onwards to Guernsey.

As you can imagine they were not easy to transport at any stage of the journey. Arriving at St Peter Port on barges a special crane was required to lift them. 50 ton guns will not be easy to move.

What was required was a crane with a large lifting capacity. The Germans had captured one from the French, the barge ANTEE, with a tested lifting capacity of 100 tons. This was dispatched from France to Guernsey and can be seen in the photographs below.

The next problem was transporting them, for which 48 wheeled trailers were used. If you are familiar with Guernsey roads you will know that they are often quite narrow and not particularly straight. The dotted lines on the Google Map below show where the harbour at St Peter Port is and then the location of the Batterie Mirus which is in the Guernsey countryside at the far end of the Island.

Some junctions such as the one shown below had to be widened to enable the trailers to get through. The pictures below show some of the challenges they faced.

You can see from the photograph below the difficulties in navigating the guns through the narrow lanes once they reached the area near the gun pits.

Once at the sites they then had the problem of lifting the guns into place. This was achieved using the massive cranes that you can see in the pictures below. You can see from looking at the people in the photographs the scale of the guns.

An incredible 45,000 cubic metres of concrete were used in construction of the four gun pits and supporting buildings.

Concrete mixers on construction.

Once completed it was disguised as a house. This was an attempt to hide it from reconnaissance flights. In reality the Allies were well aware of the construction because of photo reconnaissance missions during the course of construction.

© IWM HU 25925
© IWM HU 25926
Mirus Control Room © IWM HU 25928

I found an interesting account “The Grower’s Tale” in the June-July 2014 edition of “Shore to Shore” a magazine for the Parishes of St. Saviours & the Forest.

The first that Renaut de Garis knew that these guns were coming to stay, was when his brand new brick house, La Croix in La Vieille Rue, was requisitioned. He and his pregnant wife were moved down to the Grand Douit behind Perelle. La Croix was given a reinforced first floor: steel beams and a foot of concrete; and the Commander of the gun battery moved in.

Interviewed in 2009 aged 95 (he was 100 this May), Renaut remembered it all: “They were Spaniards building the battery, we called them Morroccans. Some of them were quite refined people. They were treated terribly, poor devils. Soupe d’Atlantique, they called the food they gave them, it was just water really. Disgusting.

In the winter they wrapped cement sacks round their feet to try and keep them warm. If British planes were overhead, the Germans would cut all the lights at their building sites, but not the power to the concrete mixers. Those huge mixers just ran and ran, night and day.

After they had built the battery they covered it all back with earth again. There used to be a little valley there, and now it’s flat. When they were going to test the [Number 2] Mirus gun the first time, most people didn’t want to go. The shock of the detonation was tremendous. I had my young son in my arms at the time… I saw his cheeks rippling with the shock wave. I had three greenhouses and they were just lifted up and moved sideways. The glass was like snow on the ground. 

“The Grower’s Tale” in the June-July 2014 edition of “Shore to Shore” a magazine for the Parishes of St. Saviours & the Forest.

Below is a video from YouTube which shows the transport issues and firing.

The guns were fired numerous times from 13 April 1942 onwards.

When they were test fired large numbers of the population had to move out of the area and much disruption was caused. One can only imagine what happened when they were fired without warning. The picture below is from a document I found in the Island Archives relating to restrictions on test firing.

AQ696/08 Island Archives
From a report to the Historical Division of Group West. It was written in May 1948 by Major General Graf von Schmettow who was commander of the Channel Islands until his removal on 20 February 1945. Usefully there was an English translation.

The Guns were removed after the war as part of the scrap drive. You can see below a photograph of the site maintained by Festung Guernsey. Don’t be fooled by the photograph this is a massive site. The video at the end of the blog will help you appreciate just how big this site is.

Photo Copyright Nick Le Huray

Entrance to the gun pit. Photo Copyright Nick Le Huray
Picture from Weapons & Warfare gives an idea of the scale of just one of the gun sites.

Below is a great video with an overview of the site.

If you want to learn more about the Batterie Mirus and visit the site of one of the guns I highly recommend the tour that is run by Tours of Guernsey around the site maintained by Festung Guernsey. I recently took the excellent tour and posted about it below. If you go on the tour you will find out far more than I can write in a blog post. Plus nothing is as good as walking the ground!

If you would like to receive email notifications of future blogs, you can sign up to the right of this blog post. Feel free to look around the website, where I have categorised posts to make them easier to find and other resources such as tours, places to visit and films that may be of interest.

You can also follow the blog on Twitter at @Fortress_Island where I share other information and photographs. If you prefer Facebook I also have a page there.

If you have questions or information to share you can contact me by email on Contact@Island-Fortress.Com.

I will be adding more as time permits. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope you enjoyed it. Please share it on social media or add a comment if you did. Feedback is always appreciated.

Also happy to be contacted with questions about the war in the Channel Islands, media appearances, podcasts etc.

© Nick Le Huray

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