This blog post will look at why people were still coming on holiday right up until the days immediately before invasion and what happened to a couple on their honeymoon and a family who chose Guernsey instead of Cornwall.
It may surprise you that even up until mid June 1940 adverts for holidays to the Channel Islands were still being published in British newspapers. What could possibly go wrong?
“Lovely Guernsey for a Restful Holiday” proclaimed the advert in the 13th June 1940 edition of the London paper the Daily News. Just nine days short of the French capitulation the adverts were extolling the benefits of “Golf, Tennis, Bathing, Boating and Fishing.”
The adverts advised that sea services were available from Southampton and air services were “available three times daily from Shoreham. Apply Guernsey Airways, Hudson Place, Victoria Station, S.W.1.”
Adverts like the one below featured in Newspapers across the whole of Britain.
They were of course placed well in advance so it is no surprise that they were still appearing at this point in the war. They had come about because of lobbying by hoteliers across the Channel Islands who in the spring of 1940 were keen not to miss out on their usual stream of visitors. After all in early 1940 it looked like the war would be fought far away from these islands.
Fast forward to June 1940 and you may be wondering did people still travel for holidays given that the Germans were advancing across France at a rapid pace? Especially with the Channel Islands being so close to the French coast.
Given that the British Government kept changing their assessment of whether the Islands would be invaded, sometimes twice in a day, you can’t really blame people for taking a holiday. The deliberations by the Government would not have been public knowledge in any case. Well not until the announcement that they were demilitarised and declared an open town on 15 June 1940.
In a few cases these holiday makers were to have an unexpected longer “holiday” than planned. Mr & Mrs Dunkley of Ramsgate had considered going to Cornwall but had previously enjoyed a holiday in Guernsey so decided to visit again with their son Leonard.
Unfortunately for them not long after they arrived the Germans bombed St Peter Port harbour on 28 June 1940. They were down at the harbour at the time of the raid and Mrs Dunkley described it as a terrifying experience. Two days later the occupying forces arrived and they were trapped for almost the next five years.
The problem that they will have faced is that once evacuation started it was clear that not everyone would be able to be evacuated.
Mr Dunkley and his son found work and they were able to find somewhere to live. In September 1942 they were deported to France and then onward to an internment camp in Biberach in Southern Germany. This was part of the deportation of all English born residents between the ages of 16-70, together with their families. Also deported were those who had at any time in their lives been enrolled in the armed forces of the Crown. The notice published by the Germans used the term “evacuated” rather than deported.
They were liberated in April 1945 and returned to Ramsgate where they were delighted to find their home intact. The whole article from the newspaper is at the end of this blog post.
Another couple who came to the island on Honeymoon were to suffer a similar fate. Ronald Harris married Eileen Brewer in London on 14 June 1940 and travelled to Guernsey for their honeymoon.
They had intended to return to England on the day that the Germans bombed St Peter Port.
Finding themselves stuck in Guernsey with only £3 Ronald volunteered to be an an ARP warden as he had experience. After the invasion on the 30th June he found himself as second officer in the Guernsey Fire Brigade. Whenever they were called out after an RAF raid they had to get permission to attend the fire and the telephonist at the German HQ didn’t speak English. They worked as slowly as possible when the Germans wanted them to put out a fire.
In early 1942 the Germans stood down the Guernsey Fire Brigade and insisted that they train Germans. So Ronald found himself in charge of 25 Germans for some weeks with them obeying his orders and his whistle. He clearly enjoyed ordering them about and training them to his whistle!
As with the Dunkley family they were also deported in September 1942. Eventually they were repatriated to England in April 1945.
The article from the Below is an article published in the Thanet Advertiser & Echo on 17 April 1945.
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The small-scale raids that took place around Alderney and the other Channel Islands are well recorded; however, this planned raid was something completely different. This would have been a full-scale invasion of the island with the intention of holding it for a week during 1942.
The attack would have involved a force of 6,000-7,000 personnel from all services—a vastly different proposition from anything planned before. An estimated 4,800 men to land on the island.
It raises many questions; why hold it for a week and then leave? Why do it at all? What would it achieve, especially in the first half of 1942? This blog post will look at all these questions and more.
Whilst researching something else, I listened to an interview on the IWM website with General Michael Stephen Hancock, part of which he talked about his role in this proposed raid and the training that was undertaken in early 1942.
Before I start with an explanation, there are a couple of things that would be useful to set the scene, particularly for those not familiar with Alderney or its location. This will help understand the reasons for the proposed raid and the challenges they may have faced if it had been executed. If you are already familiar with Alderney, then feel free to skip past this bit.
Alderney is the most northerly Channel Island and approximately ten miles from La Hague on the Cotentin Peninsula. You can see it on the map below with the red pin.
Map from Google Maps.
The island is shown on the map below, and it is 3 miles (5 km) long by 1.5 miles (2.4 km) wide. The size of the island is essential for understanding some of the challenges the proposed raid may face.
I remembered that I had come across a few references to this planned raid some time ago when reading the diaries of General Sir Alan Brooke, later 1st Viscount Alan Brooke. The references to the planned raid did not provide much information but are of interest because it involved those at the highest level of the armed forces and the prime minister Winston Churchill.
Frankly, the diaries do not give you a lot to go on. It is also important to note that his diary entries are obviously from his perspective and need to be tempered by reviewing other documents from the time. I decided to search the National Archives and various other sources to see what I could find.
Brooke notes on 28 March 1942 that “Mountbatten was still hankering after a landing near Cherbourg where proper air support is not possible.”
It is fair to say that Brooke found Mountbatten quite irritating at times, not least because of his status and his relationship with Churchill. Brooke found it frustrating because he frequently stayed with Churchill at Ditchley Park and Chequers from late 1942. This gave him the opportunity to discuss his ideas and try to get Churchill onside.
Now Lord Mountbatten was known for his love of a hair-brained scheme, and this certainly would seem to be one. However, he was not alone in these ideas of actions in the Channel Islands. Vice-Admiral John Hughes-Hallett also advocated operations to retake the Channel Islands by force at various times during the war.
These were discounted for many reasons. Primarily because of the massive loss of life, this would have caused the civilian population let alone the inevitable casualties of any invading force. One must remember that an estimated 8% of all the concrete used on the Atlantic Wall was poured into the fortifications of the Channel Islands by the end of the war. The fortifications in the Islands contained more armaments than the 350 miles of the nearby Normandy coastline.
The other Channel Islands were also of less significance for the Allies from a strategic point of view aside from the other challenges mentioned above. The fortification and sinking of men and resources into the Islands are often referred to as “Hitler’s Island Madness.”
Alderney would have been a different prospect as only approximately seven civilians were left on the island. However, many forced workers on the island would have also become casualties. During the war, Alderney was heavily fortified and became one of the most heavily armed sections of the Atlantic Wall. Alderney was designated a Festung (Fortress).
Alderney had gun batteries that could prove troublesome to any attack on Cherbourg at a later stage in the war but not in the summer of 1942. Later in the war, in June 1944, the 150 mm guns in Battery Blücher on Alderney fired upon the American troops on the Cotentin Peninsula. Subsequently, the British warship HMS Rodney attacked the gun battery, which cost the lives of two German soldiers.
What purpose could risking so many lives to occupy the island for a week serve war effort? There appears to be some speculation that such a raid could have been used to appease Stalin that the Allies were serious about mounting operations to open a second front, but surely this would have been too small scale.
Another reason that they considered the raid to be of value was that the Germans were using Alderney as a control centre for U Boats in the area returning to or leaving the French ports.
In his book “The German Occupation of The Channel Islands” Cruickshank states that Mountbatten first raised the idea of a an operation to take Alderney at a meeting of his staff on 6 March 1942.
Brooke notes in his diary on 8 April 1942, “Very difficult COS attended by Paget, Sholto Douglas, and Mountbatten. Subject-attempt to assist Russia through action in France. Plan they had put up was a thoroughly bad one!!” This would indicate some substance to the assertion that the raid may have been partly for this purpose.
Mountbatten briefed the Chiefs of Staff Committee on 16 April 1942. His initial plan was to take and hold Alderney permanently. His reasons for doing so were:
A) The island would provide a base for small craft to be used to attack the German’s convoy route from the Channel ports down to Bay of Biscay.
B) It could be used to site a radar installation to extend Fighter Command’s radar coverage.
C) It could be used as an emergency landing strip.
D) To open a second front in a small way.
The plan changed many times during the course of April and early May. Not least changing from a plan to hold the island permanently to a plan to hold it for a week.
The interview with General Michael Hancock sheds more light on the plan and just how far preparations went.
“The object of the operation was only to hold the island for about a week, and the stated objects in the Chiefs of Staffs um appro… approval of it were, (I cannot remember in what order they were), but they included three things, and I don’t know that I can remember them all, but one of them, (which surprised me having had nothing to do with the political side of things) was in order to satisfy the clamour for a second front. Seems a little surprising, I suppose for a small-scale thing like this, but still, it was not all that small scale. We are talking about 7,000 men that sort of size.”
“A lot of men to put on such a small island. It is the island is what three miles by one something about that, but the Germans were holding it with four or five thousand.”
“Secondly, to put out of action, er, their control of their submarines, which they did from there with radio control etcetera and thirdly, to hold it long enough, so the Germans might think we intended springboards for the invasion of France and might withdraw something from the Russian front.”
“Wishful thinking, I suspect. We had allocated not only for this not only for this, but we had also been allocated a Parachute Battalion.”
“One of the snags was that the island is about a mile wide from the northwest side, north, east side and southwest side. The prevailing wind, of course, is across that, and in those days, you jumped out of an aircraft with 20 men, one after the other, and the mathematics of it are that if you do this and everything goes perfectly, you drop two or three men in the sea, either before you start or at the end of the run.“
“This was one of the difficulties at any rate, in the end, after I suppose three or four weeks of planning and rehearsal and so on. It was called off because it was recommended the RAF, who would have to give us a great deal of support beforehand, would lose several hundred aircraft, and they could not afford it at the time.”
So how far did they get with the plan?
“We got as far as having a particular beach and the Isle of Wight, which had the right characteristics tarted up a bit with certain little floating jetties, but to make it similar to where we would be landing in at Alderney. We did rehearsal landings on it.”
When asked why they expected such significant losses, he explained “It was heavily defended, very heavily defended. I don’t know, but that is what we were told.”
Brooke notes in his diary on 6 May 1942, “Arrived just in time to go to COS meeting to turn down proposed attack on Alderney Island [Channel Islands] as a large raid by Guards Brigade.”
So why did they turn it down, given the immense effort put into planning and training? These extracts from that meeting explain the discussion and the reasons. They even considered scaling back the operation to a single day.
A significant problem was the gap they would have between the bombing of the island and the landing. Given the small size of the island and the lack of accurate bombing in 1942, it was doubtful how effective it would have been in softening up the defences.
In 1942 it would only have been possible for fighters to provide cover for fifteen minutes at a time. The Luftwaffe would have been able to operate from airfields only twenty miles from Alderney where as the RAF would have had to operate from airfields more than seventy miles away. This partly explains the massive commitment of aircraft that would have been required.
Overall, they felt that the casualties would not be worth the dividend from such an operation. You can read the complete deliberations in the extracts of the War Cabinet Chiefs of Staff Committee minutes below.
Churchill was still keen for a raid, perhaps spurred on by Mountbatten. Brooke notes in his diary of 11 May 1942, “At 12 noon we had meeting with PM to discuss the giving up of the attack on Alderney, and raids planned as alternatives.”
The minute of this meeting is not very clearly scanned in the national archives, but you can get its gist. (Blue text added to clarify the feint wording)
Even at this stage, they didn’t discount resurrecting the operation later in the year. It did make an appearance later in they year as Operation “Aimwell” with the intention of a smaller force and only holding the island for twenty four hours. This was also cancelled.
Going back to the interview with Hancock, he talks about what happened next. “So as we were there and all geared up for such an operation, an alternative operation was planned as a raid on the French coast. Somewhere in the … between Boulogne and Dieppe, I forget where but in that sort of area, and so we then started planning for that instead. And they got us in, I suppose it must have been the end of May, early June, and we are about then getting into the ships ready to go, and we were all in our ships with these funny little radios off Spithead, and the weather was foul.”
“That is why I remember the ship was flat bottomed pitching and, and so all these six-seven thousand men but in the ship sitting there we sat down for three days. The weather showed no sign of abating. And they decided then that it was too long or risks to security over us being there for three days. Without anything happening were too great. So, the whole operation was called off. We were sent back to Scotland.”
Ultimately some of what they planned was used in the planning and execution of Operation “Jubilee”, the raid on Dieppe.
I wonder what the impact would have been on the civilian population of the Channel Islands if the raid had gone ahead, given the deportations following other raids later in the war.
If you find this of interest, I can highly recommend visiting Alderney, where you can visit some of the fortifications. You can find details at Visit Alderney.
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, films and other resources that may be of interest.
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.
Thanks to my brother Matt Le Huray for his patience in proofreading these longer blog posts. Any typos in the shorter ones that I put out are nothing to do with him 😊
Operation Hardtack was a series of raids on the German occupied Channel Islands, the French coast and southern Holland between 24 December and 28 December 1943. This article will deal with the raids on the Channel Islands.
The raids on the Channel Islands were all for Reconnaissance and capture of prisoners.
Hard Tack 7(Sark)
Whilst Operation Basalt, a raid on the island of Sark1 in October 1942, has been the subject of a book by Eric Lee2, not as much has been written about the raids that comprised Operation Hardtack. Although they do merit a chapter in Will Fowler’s book The Last Raid: The Commandos, Channel Islands and Final Nazi Raid3.
Thanks to @KevSouth1 on Twitter for reminding me that some of the population of Sark were moved inland after Basalt as well as deportations to camps on the Continent. More of that in another blog.
The first raid on the night of the 25/26 had to be abandoned as the climb was found to be impossible. As can be seen from the photographs that I took from the top of the cliff that they climbed on the second raid it isn’t easy to scale these cliffs.
They returned the next night and successfully landed and climbed the cliff at the Hog’s Back where Operation Basalt had landed in the previous year.
Unfortunately the shore party found themselves in a minefield, laid in response to the previous raid. After several mines detonated, causing a number of casualties, they decided to return to the MGB that was waiting for them.
There is an excellent summary of Hardtack 7, including the report on the operation along with maps and photographs here
Hardtack 22 (Herm)
The raid on the Island of Herm4 was cancelled at the planning stage. Originally planned by No. 10 Commando responsibility for the proposed raid was transferred to No. 2 US Ranger Battalion, but the operation was not proceeded with5.
Arguably there would have been little to have been gained from a raid as the Island is much smaller than the others and only had a small number of troops stationed there. Although it was visited by other troops for leisure purposes during daylight hours.
Hardtack 28 (Jersey)
The raid on Jersey6 took place on the night of 25/26 December and was time to be on the same night as the raid on Sark. There is an excellent article with maps and photographs here.
No Hardtack raid on Guernsey?
It is likely that there were no Hardtack raids in respect of Guernsey7 as there had been a number of other raids over the previous years. There was little to be gained from such a raid.
Whilst only the raid on Jersey provided any useful information news of the raids did at least boost the morale of Islanders with hope of the second front being imminent. Albeit this came a great cost in casualties.
Shortly after the raids it was decided that no more raids were to be made on the Channel Islands.
I have been fascinated by the history of the Bailiwick of Guernsey since I was a small child. Growing up in Guernsey I became particularly interested in the occupation of the Channel Islands by German forces during the Second World War.
After all there are many remaining fortifications to remind us of this part of our history. As a teenager and into later life I spent many hours exploring them.
I was lucky enough to be able to talk to various people over the years about their experiences during the occupation and collect various documents.
During lockdown I started listening to the We Have Ways of Making You Talk Podcast, joined their Independent Company and joined their weekly live streams. This has led to some fascinating interactions with fellow members, both online and in person at WarFest in September 2020.
Other members and sharing of their family stories has spurred me on to put something down in writing about what life was like during the occupation. The fortification of the islands and military activity from both sides. Lots of photos and stories to follow.
Surprisingly despite the many books on the subject there are also some aspects that haven’t been addressed. I will be looking at these areas as well.
If you are a member of the Independent Company never fear, there will also be concrete bunkers and things that go bang!
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