RAF Air Raid on St Peter Port 17th January 1942

On 17th January 1942 three Bristol Beaufort Mk Is of No. 86 Squadron RAF, attacked shipping in St Peter Port, Guernsey. In the photograph above the aircraft are passing over St Julian’s Pier at its junction with White Rock Pier. Bombs can be seen falling from the aircraft in the left-hand corner, which was itself nearly hit by bombs dropped from the photographing aircraft (seen exploding at the bottom). Photograph is © IWM C 2249.

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.

Map of St Peter Port harbour as it was during the Second World War

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.

Extract of No. 86 Squadron Operations Record page 1

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.

Extract of No. 86 Squadron Operations Record page 2

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.  

Ralph Durand

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. 

Ralph Durand

Another account by Ruth Ozanne provides her experience as she was close to the harbour at the time of the raid.

Extract from Life in Occupied Guernsey: The Diaries of Ruth Ozanne 1940-1945″ 

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.

Picture courtesy of Deane Photographic Archives

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.

ROYAL AIR FORCE COASTAL COMMAND, 1939-1945. (CH 7493) Three Bristol Beaufort Mark Is of No. 86 Squadron RAF Detachment based at St Eval, Cornwall, flying in formation over the sea.. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205210129
More photographs of the raid from the aircraft.

This was not the first or last air raid on the Islands and I will be featuring others in later posts.

© Nick Le Huray

Cooking & Recipes

I tweeted a while ago that I had a copy of “Hints on War Time Cookery” which was issued to the population of the Bailiwick of Guernsey during the Occupation of the Channel Islands. One of my followers on my personal twitter account Chris Ayres expressed an interest in knowing more about this. Then a few others chipped in that they would be interested. So as unlikely as it seems for those that know me, here is a blog about cooking, something I am renowned for not being very good at!

Guernsey Museums & Galleries have now put a copy of this book on their website. You can find it here.

A few observations on the book which maybe of interest.

The preface sets out the reasoning for producing the book. You will note that part of the reason is to encourage people to use communal cooking facilities in order to preserve fuel. This became more and more important as the war went on and the Islands were cut off from supplies. Gas and Electricity supplies were rationed and other fuel sources became scarce.

It also includes at the end of the book of how to use “The Fireless Cooker or Hay-Box” as another method of preserving fuel stocks.

If you want to have a go at cooking with a Hay-Box instructions for a modern version here.

I don’t know who the lady experts “D.H. and M.W.” are. If you know who they are please do drop me an email (Nick@Le-Huray.Com) or on Twitter here

One has to remember that as time went on many of the ingredients became scarce or just simply not available due to severe rationing so substitutes were made. I will be blogging about that another time.

If you are looking for Potato Peel Pie you will be disappointed, a bit like the accuracy of the film.

Page 22 does contain a slightly puzzling recipe for Sea Pie containing nothing from the sea apart from the salt.

This one is not one I have heard of before and no it isn’t a typo it really is Ham Roly-Poly! The jam version is later on.

Hope that was of interest. Back to my more normal stuff later in the week!

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.


What’s this all about then?

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! 

If you have read this far and are still awake feel free to sign up to the mailing list, follow the blog on Twitter @fortress_island.

Thanks for reading.

Nick Le Huray

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