DON’T MISS ‘CHANNEL ISLANDS WEEK’ ON WW2TV.

Paul Woodage of WW2TV is running a ‘Channel Islands Week’ starting this Monday (26 September). Links are below to the various shows as they stand at the moment. Promising to be a cracking week of excellent content.

Really pleased to have been invited to talk about ‘Commando Raids on the Channel Islands’ on Wednesday. I will be dealing with all the raids except Operation Basalt as Paul has the wonderful Eric Lee doing that on the anniversary on 3rd October 2022 live from Sark. I am also planning on being in Sark that day for the re-enactment on the anniversary.

Don’t worry plenty of other raids for me to talk about! Come along and ask questions.

Ever so slightly in awe that I am in such esteemed company as Duncan Barrett , Eric Lee , Phil Marett talking about various aspects of the occupation.

If you haven’t seen WW2TV it is a free to view history resource with lots of fantastic content covering all aspects of the Second World War. Either click the links below or go give the channel a follow on the various social media below. If you enjoy what you watch Woody would appreciate a sign up on Patreon.

Social Media links – https://twitter.com/WW2TV https://www.facebook.com/WW2TV https://www.instagram.com/ww2tv/

Monday 26 September 2022 – live at 7:00pm (BST) – or catch up anytime after that.
Tuesday 27th September 2022 – live at 7:00pm (BST) or catch up anytime after that.
Wednesday 28th September live 7:00pm (BST) – or catch up anytime after that.
Monday 3rd October 2022 – live at 7:00pm (BST) – or catch up anytime after that.

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 on Twitter at @Fortress_Island where I share other information and photographs.

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.

© Nick Le Huray

A SECRET MISSION 3/4 SEPTEMBER 1940 – NICOLLE RETURNS WITH SYMES

Despite Churchill being reputed to have said ‘Let there be no more silly fiascos like those perpetrated at Guernsey’ after the Ambassador operation it was only a matter of a few weeks before another raid was under way.

Following Nicolle’s earlier mission and the subsequent disastrous Operation Ambassador it was decided to send him again. This time it was planned that he and fellow Guernseyman and school friend James Symes would stay for three days and gather intelligence. They had known each other since they both attended Elizabeth College and played in the football team together.

James Symes – Photograph of a photograph on display at the German Occupation Museum
Photograph of Hubert Nicolle on display at the German Occupation Museum which I took a photograph of recently.

Much has been written about this operation mostly from the perspective of Hubert Nicolle, however, I recently came across an interview in the IWM archives with James Symes where he recounts his memories. I thought that it would be interesting to use this and some other resources to recount his side of the operation. I will also pick out some of the key aspects of the operation.

We pick up the story where Symes recalls how he came to be involved.

I think if I remember rightly, anyway, Hubert Nicolle had already been to and come out from Guernsey. He was summoned to the Admiralty again, because he went in by submarine and came out by submarine and he was asked if he would go again.

He said he would go on condition that I went with him. I used to play inside left in the football team and he played inside right between us we had enough. There was something between us like that on the football pitch, which made us friends for life really.

So this was what all that was about and I said yes I would go. So I went up to London, Nicolle   at that time was in Parkhurst, in this other holding unit.

Symes, James Michael (Oral history) – Imperial War Museum

Both men knew that they were taking a massive risk as they were landing wearing civilian clothing. They also had family in the island so they were putting them at risk as well. More of that later.

They were landed at 3am on the 4th September 1940 at Petit Port from an MTB.

I went to see him and he had a lot of photographs of German planes which we had to look at and memorise and then we set off London, where we were both asked if we would go and said yes. Did we realise that If we were caught, nobody could help us? Like idiots we both said yes, we were only 20 at the time, both of us and we went.

We went over by MTB, Motor Torpedo Boat. I took five and fourpence ha’penny and a flask of brandy. I was dressed in civvies, I was dressed in a Guernsey so was he and that was all we had because we were going to be there for three days and then they would come and pick us up. We could do what we’d like to on the island as long as we got information on the civilian aspects of the island. Not the German military side so much but they wanted to know in London how people were being treated those were our tasks.

Symes, James Michael (Oral history) – Imperial War Museum

Symes recalls that it was either MTB 69 or MTB 70 that dropped them ashore in Guernsey. Photographs of these two vessels are below. Sadly he never solved the mystery of which of these vessels it was as their records were lost.

MTB 70 MTB 70 © IWM (FL 25709) LIGHT COASTAL FORCES ON OPERATIONS AT BEEHIVE, FELIXSTOWE. 12-17 NOVEMBER 1942. LIGHT COASTAL FORCES ON OPERATIONS AT BEEHIVE, FELIXSTOWE. 12-17 NOVEMBER 1942. © IWM (A 12914) LIGHT COASTAL FORCES ON OPERATIONS AT BEEHIVE, FELIXSTOWE. 12-17 NOVEMBER 1942. LIGHT COASTAL FORCES ON OPERATIONS AT BEEHIVE, FELIXSTOWE. 12-17 NOVEMBER 1942. © IWM (A 12915)

It was decided to use an MTB because of the issues that had previously been encountered using a submarine on the first visit and the difficulties encountered using other types of launch during Operation Ambassador.

Surprisingly they were landed at one of the beaches, Petit Port, that was used during Operation Ambassador in July 1940. Although they were cautioned not to use the same route up the steps and instead used a path that they were familiar with. Given that there are approximately 350 steps this was no mean feat! Instead of the steps they used a steep track to the left of the beach if you stand facing the cliffs.

Map showing Le Jaonnet Bay on the left and Petit Port on the Jerbourg peninsula
Photograph taken part of the way down to the beach at Petit Port © Nick Le Huray

After a few days they successfully gathered the information required by London and were ready to return.

At the end of the period, we went back to where we had landed earlier. We did take one thing we took a torch quite a large torch, which had been had a metal funnel put on it so when it shone out to sea the beam was restricted by this funnel. All we had to do was once every half hour we had to signal the letter, dot dash dot, dot, dot dash dot, dot and a long one and a little shorter one went straight out to sea.

We were on a bay where they would pick us up at approximately 3am They never came. So we went back to our respective homes and the following night we went back to this beach they never came so we went along the third night was a hell of a storm.

Anyway we instead of concentrating on one beam down the middle every hour or whatever the timing was we’ve decided to do one left one centre one right like that in case the ship, the torpedo boat was out there somewhere and one couldn’t see the beam or a direct line. It never came so we both went back to our respective homes.

Symes, James Michael (Oral history) – Imperial War Museum

They had been told that if nobody came they were to wait until the next period with no moon and somebody would come and look for them. This did happen but didn’t go to plan.

A chap came and he got caught. Fortunately for him, he was in uniform and he couldn’t be treated like we could have been if we’d been caught because we were in civilian clothes.  He, John Parker, Captain John Parker, he told the Germans he was on a recce. I don’t know whether they believed it or not, anyway, he became a prisoner of war. So we have to sit at home and wait for the next new moon.

Symes, James Michael (Oral history) – Imperial War Museum
Apologies for the quality but this is a photograph of photograph on display at the German Occupation Museum

Now at various times during the time from the landing up until their surrender they stayed with family or friends and even hid in the cricket pavilion at their former school. The problem they had was that they could not move about easily as the Germans were convinced that there were British troops on the island. They could only move around under cover of darkness and after the curfew.

Between the time of the September new moon and the late September and October the Germans issued an order that anybody, after Parker, issued an order in Guernsey that if there were any British soldiers in hiding in the island, they’d already done this once before when they first got there, and they got a few who were on leave. If these people gave themselves up they would be treated as prisoners of war and those who helped them would not be punished.

Symes, James Michael (Oral history) – Imperial War Museum

Below is the notice issued by the Germans. As you will see later on the offer of no punishment was an empty promise as Nicolle and Symes were initially treated as spies.

Notice issued by the German Authorities October 1940

In the interview Symes recalls how Ambrose Sherwill, later Sir Ambrose Sherwill and Baliff of the island post war assisted them greatly. At the time Sherwill was President of the Controlling Committee for the island. Effectively the most senior person in the government during the war. He negotiated with the German Commandant, Major Fritz Bandelow, for any members of the British armed forces still in the island who gave themselves up to be treated as POWs.

A clever man he saved our lives he persuaded the Germans he put up a draft for the letter that sort of go out into the press the notice he knowing full well that we were there. He got the thing worded in such a way that we could go and give ourselves up as if we were as if we’ve stayed behind when the Germans arrived as if we were on leave when the Germans arrived.

Under the terms of that letter, which became a German proclamation, we eventually gave ourselves up with five minutes to go to the time when we should have done it. On October the 21st Trafalgar day 1940 we ourselves up to the local police, who then told the Germans and we were then spies captured spies. Terrible now thinking of it, anyway we were court martialled by the Germans. We were sentenced to death.

We were then relieved because of this letter. We were taken to France we went to the prison Cherche-Midi in Paris, Dreyfus was one time so we were in good company.

We spent two and a half months in solitary confinement there and then just before Christmas my father died in the prison. My mother was in the prison, a lot of our friends were in this prison. Terrible place. It no longer exists. We were told on the 21st of December or there about that the Germans had decided we should be treated as prisoners of war.

Symes, James Michael (Oral history) – Imperial War Museum
Cherche-Midi Prison in 1938. (public domain)

You can read about the prison on the Frank Falla Archive website here including the experiences of those that assisted Symes and Nicolle.

If you click on the links in the quote below you can access the individual stories.

Uniforms were found for Symes and Nicolle and they handed themselves in. However, the Germans reneged on the agreement and the friends and family of the two men were picked up and put in prison. When Sherwill went to complain, he realised that he, too, was a suspect. With days, all involved were deported to France.

Those deported were Ambrose Sherwill; Jimmy Symes’ parents Louis Symes and Rachel SymesAlbert Marriette and Linda Marriette and their daughter Jessie Marriette (Hubert Nicolle’s girlfriend); Wilfred Bird and his adult children Mary Bird (Jimmy’s Symes’ girlfriend) and Walter ‘Dick’ Bird; Emile Nicolle and Elsie Nicolle (the parents of Hubert Nicolle); Hilda Nicolle and Frank Nicolle (Hubert Nicolle’s aunt and uncle); Henry E. Marquand (a family friend); Bill Allen (the groundsman at the Elizabeth College sports field, who helped shelter the commandos when they were hiding in the pavilion), and farmer Tom Mansell (who was covering for his married brother, Dick Mansell, at whose farm Hubert Nicolle arrived as part of his gathering of intelligence as the Mansell’s farm bordered the airport). 16 people in total were deported.

Frank Falla Archive

It transpired that the reason that they were treated as spies was that It was later established that Bandelow, who had been on leave at the time of their surrender, moved heaven and earth in his endeavour to keep his word. He called for a Court of Honour and General Feldmarschall Von Reichenau was consulted. He declared, “When one gives one’s word, one gives one’s word.” Sherwill later said that he regarded Bandelow’s action in time of war as in the very highest traditions of chivalry.

Below is the notice that was published in the Guernsey Evening Press of 24th December 1940 announcing the change in the decision and the exemption from punishment. Sadly this was too late for Louis Symes, James’s father, as he had died a few days before.

From the 24 December 1940 Guernsey Press

As you will see from the above the it ultimately cost Sherwill his position although this was reversed during the winter of 1942/43 when he was to return as Attorney General.

Both Symes and Nicolle remained prisoners of war until their camp was liberated. Both men were awarded the Military Cross for their trip to Guernsey for “displayed the highest qualities of fortitude and bravery throughout”.

Symes went on to win a second MC in Malaya in 1955 for anti terrorist work. He finally retired from the army in 1971. You can read his obituary here

Hubert Nicolle returned to Guernsey and was very active in the community as well as being an insurance salesman. I was privileged to have known Hubert or Mr Nicolle as we called him. He was a past pupil of the school that I attended, Elizabeth College, and was actively involved in college activities when I was a pupil in the 1980s. Little did I know that the gentleman that often started swimming races with a starting pistol was used to more deadly weapons!

A plaque was erected at the College Field Pavilion commemorating the actions of Nicolle and Symes.

Plaque in the Cricket Pavilion at the College Field where they hid

I have only been able to touch on a fraction of the story here so if you would like to read more about the operation I recommend you track down a copy of William Bell’s “The Commando Who Came Home To Spy” which is out of print but you can pick up for a few pounds second hand on Amazon, eBay or from a second hand book shop.

If you would like to listen to the whole interview with James Symes you can find it here .

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.

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

OPERATION ATTABOY – THE FIRST PLAN TO RETAKE ONE OF THE CHANNEL ISLANDS – 1941

A while ago I wrote about Operation Blazing which was a planned operation for a large scale attack on Alderney in 1942. You can read it here .

A forerunner to Blazing was Operation Attaboy in 1941. Despite Attaboy ultimately being cancelled they still went on to plan Blazing and Constellation at later stages in the war. This was partly due to Lord Mountbatten and the fact that he had the ear of Churchill and an apparent obsession with retaking one or all of the islands at various stages of the war. Some of the reasons are in earlier blog posts and some are for future blog posts.

Given this first assessment for Attaboy concluded that “The strategic value of the Channel Islands either to ourselves or the enemy is negligible.” it is somewhat surprising that they persisted.

If Attaboy had gone ahead it would have been Alderney that was the most likely target.

The paper below sets out the original proposal.

The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-43_8.jpg
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-43_8.jpg
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-43_8.jpg
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-43_8.jpg

The minutes and papers below show the consideration of this proposal and subsequent .

The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-37_
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-37_02.jpg
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-43_1.jpg
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-43_5.jpg
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-43_6.jpg
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-44_1.jpg
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-44_3.jpg
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-48_1.jpg
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-48_1.jpg
The National Archives’ reference CAB 80/57
The National Archives’ reference CAB 80/57
The National Archives’ reference CAB 80/57
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-55_1.jpg
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-55_1.jpg
The National Archives’ reference CAB 80/57
The National Archives’ reference CAB 80/57
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-54_1.jpg
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-54_4.jpg

As you can see from the minute above they decided not to proceed and instead to proceed with Operation Barbaric.

‘Barbaric’ was a British unrealised intelligence-gathering operation involving the landing of special forces parties of No. 12 Commando, totalling some 220 men, along the north coast of France between Dunkirk and Calais, and between Boulogne and the Somme Bay for the purposes of capturing German troops for interrogation (20/21 March 1941).

The operation was cancelled just before its commitment.

https://codenames.info/operation/barbaric/

If you want to read about other raids that happened or were planned take a look at my other posts that are listed here.

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.

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

HUBERT COMES HOME – THE FIRST COMMANDO LANDING IN GUERNSEY

Photograph of Hubert Nicolle on display at the German Occupation Museum which I took a photograph of recently.

Just over a week after after the Germans had occupied the Channel Islands twenty year old Hubert Nicolle landed in Guernsey to undertake “Operation Anger”. Hubert was a Guernseyman that had originally served in the Royal Guernsey Militia and then joined the Hampshire Regiment.

Guernsey had been occupied by the Germans on 30 June 1940 and on 4 July Nicolle was ordered to report to Room 74 at the Admiralty. Arriving, still having no idea why, he learned that Combined Operations had been instructed by Winston Churchill to send someone “to find out what is going on in the Channel Islands”. He was told, “If you do this and are caught we don’t want to know you; you are out on your own. You will be shot and that will be the end of it.” Nicolle immediately agreed to go.

Obituary of Hubert Nicolle The Independent 2 October 1998

He was brought to the Island on the submarine H43 and landed at Le Jaonnet Bay on the south coast of Guernsey in the early hours of 8 July.

In an interview with the Imperial War Museum Ian McGeoch who was a first lieutenant on H43 recalls how things didn’t go smoothly.

We found our way to the southwest side of Guernsey and surfaced near the coastline so we could hear the dogs barking. Fortunately, it was fairly calm. Well not calm but fairly calm. I recall an incident, it was a very still night.

I recall probably the second Coxon, the leading seaman whose job it was to open up the casing and help to get the canoe out and so forth when he lifted the big steel plate which was part of the door of the top of the casing, he inadvertently let it drop. And you can imagine the noise made by about 100 square inches of steel being dropped. And of course, we thought oh well everybody is bound to hear the dogs bark and everything I said there was a panic, but we got away with it.

Ian McGeoch
H43

He was taken ashore in a canoe that had been purchased from Gamages a London department store a few days before. The flat pack canoe was originally assembled inside the submarine but they then discovered it wouldn’t fit out of the hatch. It had to be taken apart and reassembled on the hull.

Once assembled a naval officer, Sub-Lt J.L.E. Leitch took him the two miles to shore before returning to the submarine.

This bay is at the bottom of a large cliff. The initial ascent is via a ladder from the beach, sorry no photo, and 218 steps to the cliff path at the top. As you can imagine this beach doesn’t attract the casual visitor given how difficult it is to access. So on a dark night it must have been a challenge to get up from the beach.

The picture below and the map will give you an idea of where he landed.

Looking down from the cliff path at Icart towards Le Jaonnet Bay. This photograph gives you an idea of the terrain. © Nick Le Huray

Nicolle was able to make contact with friends and family. He borrowed a bicycle and was able to move around the island and obtain information about the German garrison and their positions. Now you might wonder how he was able to move about so freely. He was of course in civilian clothes and the island had been occupied for little more than a week.

He had determined that the German Garrison stood at only 469 soldiers based mainly around St Peter Port, this information was provided to him by a friend who was a baker and forced to supply the Germans. His uncle was the assistant harbour master and provided him with information about German shipping activity.

The reason for the small numbers was that they had only been here for a week. At the peak in numbers Charles Cruickshank estimates in in his book there were approximately 12,000. Whilst there were machine gun posts located around the coast he estimated that it would take about twenty minutes for reinforcements to arrive if the alarm was raised.

As a result the Germans were still present in relatively small numbers and identification cards had not yet been introduced. He was of course a local so able to pass without suspicion as well as using his local knowledge to move about through the lanes. He was therefore able to also visit the roads around the airport and assess the position there.

Having gathered this intelligence he was picked up by the same submarine on 10 July 1940 and two other Guernseymen were dropped off, this time using a Berthon boat rather than a canoe. They were 2nd Lieuts Philip Martel and Desmond Mulholland who were to conduct the second phase of Operation Anger.

They were taken to shore by the same navy officer that had dropped Nicolle off. This nearly ended in disaster as the boat became swamped in the waves near the shore. Fortunately they made it with the help of Nicolle. He briefed his two fellow Guernseymen on the curfew, where the Germans were and other useful information.

They didn’t have to wait long to repay the favour of being rescued as the boat began to sink as it was on the way back to the submarine and they had to help bring it back to shore.

Eventually the boat made it back to the submarine and Nicolle was able to report back to London with his findings.

A memorial stone stands at the top of the cliffs in commemoration of Nicolle’s landing.

Memorial at Icart to the landing. © Nick Le Huray

I was privileged to have known Hubert or Mr Nicolle as we called him. He was a past pupil of the school that I attended, Elizabeth College, and was actively involved in college activities when I was a pupil in the 1980s. Little did I know that the gentleman that often started swimming races with a starting pistol was used to more deadly weapons!

He was to return to Guernsey again on 3 September 1940 with another Guernseyman and fellow pupil of Elizabeth College James Symes. That is a story for a future blog and a far more eventful visit it was! I have an interview with Symes that provides some interesting insight into this raid as well as some archive material and an interview with one of the submarine crew who recalled the landing. Sign up for email notifications of you don’t want to miss out.

I have only been able to touch on a fraction of the story here so if you would like to read more about the operation I recommend you track down a copy of William Bell’s “The Commando Who Came Home To Spy” which is out of print but you can pick up for a few pounds second hand on Amazon, eBay or from a second hand book shop.

At this point you are probably wondering what happened to Martel and Mulholland. Well they stayed in the island to gather intelligence and take part in the next phase Operation Anger and the follow up Operation Ambassador later in the month. This was a raid consisting of some 140 men. A blog post about this will be out later in July.

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.

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

PLANNED LARGE SCALE RAID ON ALDERNEY 1942 – OPERATION BLAZING

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.

Map from Visit Alderney

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.

GENERAL SIR ALAN BROOKE, CHIEF OF GENERAL STAFF, 1942 © IWM TR 151

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.

Article from the Northampton Mercury & Herald 18 August 1944

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.”

He wasn’t wrong; Alderney was indeed heavily defended. Now I know this link is a Wikipedia one, but it does stack up with all of the reference sources I have checked at the time of writing. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fortifications_of_Alderney#German_fortifications

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 😊

© Nick Le Huray

Operation Hardtack

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.

Pictures ©Nick Le Huray

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.

Photograph I took of the memorial in May 2019. ©Nick Le Huray

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.

Conclusion

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.

Footnotes

1 Sark – Information about the Island.
2 Operation Basalt – Eric Lee .
3 The Last Raid: The Commandos, Channel Islands and Final Nazi Raid – Will Fowler Chapter 22.
4 Herm Island
5 Cruickshank 1975 page 245.
6 Information on Jersey.
7 Information on Guernsey.


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