CHURCHILL ABANDONED THE CHANNEL ISLANDS OR DID HE?

Recently Dr Gordon Barclay was getting a hard time from some quarters on Twitter, for taking the position that Churchill did not abandon the Channel Islands. Having been tagged by a mutual friend, Andy Bryson, I tweeted a very brief overview of my view of the situation and the oft repeated “Churchill abandoned the Channel Islands and forgot about them” commentary.

It wasn’t possible to cover it in detail in a series of Tweets so I thought I would address it in a blog post. Where the idea of abandonment came from, how it was perpetuated and was it true?

There are a number of reasons this narrative has arisen, and to be honest I did have it on the list of things to blog about but just hadn’t gotten around to it yet. The above has spurred me on to address it now.

The ground rules!

It is important to remember that unlike today, when we take instant communication and access to information for granted, this was not the case during the war years and for many decades thereafter. Sat here in front of my PC with an iPad and iPhone to consult the archives, newspapers and search the information from my own personal collection it is easier to get an overview of what was happening.

Much of the evidence I will present in this blog post was not available until many years after the cessation of hostilities and indeed in some cases not available to the public until recent years.

I am writing this with the benefit of access to this information and viewing it with an objective 2022 lens. Given the emergence of information over time if I had been writing this in the 1950s or 60s my view may have been different.

Where did this come from?

Arguably this comes from a number of sources dating as far back as the summer of 1940. There are also other events or perceived lack of action throughout the war which also relate to this idea that Churchill abandoned and forgot about the Channel Islands.

Firstly it came from the occupation of the Channel Islands in the summer of 1940. The British Government declared us a demilitarised zone with no defences. Some view this as being abandoned to suffer our fate.

This caused a bit of a commotion at the time in the House of Lords. You can read about that on my post here. This was caused by Lord Portsea who will feature further down this blog post.

For the next five years sentiment amongst some Channel Islanders was that no thought was being given to retaking the islands or what was happening there. You will see why later in this blog post.

The next key point was the advent of D-Day in Normandy on 6 June 1944. This created a false hope that Liberation would be imminent. With the French coast being visible from all of the Channel Islands and the sounds of aircraft over head as they dropped airborne forces and bombs on France, as well as the naval bombardment, hopes were raised that the occupation of the Channel Islands would end soon.

This turned into a feeling of disappointment and that the Channel Islands had been forgotten about. You can read about this in my post about “False hope and fear” blog.

The final nail in the coffin for Churchill’s reputation, with some, was the withholding of permission for food to be provided to the islands for several months. Eventually the requests for permission to help from the International Red Cross were granted. I dealt with the interpretation of Churchill’s “Let’em Starve” blog post.

How was it perpetuated?

Lord Portsea, himself a Jerseyman, was very vocal in the House of Lords for the entirety of the war. These protestations by Portsea were widely reported in the British press and also in the Channel Islands Monthly Review, a monthly publication for those that had left the islands. These were widely read by those that had been evacuated and those that had left to serve in the forces. I wrote about Lord Portsea here

Portsea wasn’t alone in campaigning, but he was certainly the most vocal, although others sought to make political capital out of this both during and after the war.

Lack of information in the Channel Islands as to commando raids and intelligence gathering operations contributed to this feeling. Only the capture of some raiders in 1940 and the ‘Sark raid’, Operation Basalt, were widely known about within the islands themselves.

One example of this is the M.I. 19 interview with two Guernseymen that escaped from Alderney in 1944.

M. 19 (R.P.S.)/2144

Within the islands there was restricted access to news from outside and German propaganda in the local newspapers added to this. Following confiscation of radio sets islanders turned to making crystal radio sets to listen illegally and at some risk.

The lack of broadcasts or mention of the Channel Islands on the BBC added to this feeling of abandonment and that we were forgotten. This was a deliberate decision by the British government as there was a concern that such broadcasts may cause more difficulties for the islanders. There was a perception, rightly or wrongly, they may cause the Germans to introduce further measures.

Lack of information immediately post war other than very general short articles in the newspapers or the Channel Islands Monthly Review meant nothing was done to disagree with this view.

All of the above took hold over the war years. Over such an extended period of time and in the absence of evidence to the contrary these beliefs became entrenched. Rumours and speculation always gather momentum with a lack of information. They take on a life of their own and become a ‘truth’.

Was it true?

To consider the facts one needs to break it down into the various events that led to this feeling of being abandoned and forgotten. Addressing each aspect on its own merits and considering the evidence available.

June 1940 and occupation

Let’s address the situation in the run up to and the invasion of Guernsey on 30 June 1940 and Jersey on 1 July 1940. One has to remember that this was an extremely fast moving situation which meant that some decisions were reversed

As early as 1925 the Channel Islands had been identified as of no strategic significance and too difficult to defend. This was partially due to the advent of the aeroplane and in particular the bomber. In June 1940 a number of memoranda were produced to assess what was to be done with the Channel Islands.

C.O.S.C. (40) 430. 10 June 1940 “Defence of the Channel Islands, Memorandum of the Chief of Imperial General Staff,” Held at the National Archives, Kew, File reference CAB 80/12 Page 158 & 159

The memorandum then concludes as follows:

If the enemy effected a lading on these islands it would be essential to eject him as a matter of prestige, and an operation to ensure this would necessitate a diversion of our forces.

The Committee are asked to consider the danger and effect of the Enemy’s attack on the Channel Islands and to decide what steps if any shall be taken to strengthen the defences

C.O.S.C. (40) 430. 10 June 1940 “Defence of the Channel Islands, Memorandum of the Chief of Imperial General Staff,” by Field Marshal Sir John Greer Dill. Held at the National Archives, Kew, File reference CAB 80/12 Page 160

Following on from the above there was a further consideration dated the same day in another memorandum, extracts of which are set out below.

C.O.S. (40) 442. (J.P.) (J.P. (40) 220). “Strategic Importance of the Channel Islands,” Held at the National Archives, Kew, File reference: CAB 80/12/69

These memoranda were considered at meetings of the war cabinet on the 12th and 13th of June. At the meeting at 10 a.m. on 13th June they concluded that it was pointless to send the two battalions mentioned in the memorandum above.

13 June 1940 C.O.S. (40)178th. Held at the National Archives, Kew, File reference:
CAB 79/5/3

On the 14th of June the position was considered again and decided to defer the position until the Chief of Air Staff had considered the RAF requirements.

C.O.S. Committee 14 June 1940 Held at the National Archives, Kew, File reference: CAB 79-5-6

Events were moving every quickly and following on from the 18th of June a memorandum (CAB 66/8/38) was circulated that despite the above it was necessary to use the aerodromes in Guernsey and Jersey to provide support to the B.E.F. being evacuated from Brest and Cherbourg.

A further meeting on 14 June 1940 again talked about demilitarisation.

C.O.S. Committee 14 June 1940 Held at the National Archives, Kew, File reference CAB 79-5-20

The problem with what was agreed in respect of “no declaration of demilitarisation should be made by them unless they felt it advisable” was to have tragic consequences. A meeting on the 15th June went on to reinforce this decision.

War Cabinet meeting 15th June 1940. Held at the National Archives, Kew, File reference: CAB 79-5-7

The meeting of the War Cabinet on 19th June 1940 was the meeting that sealed the fate of the idea of defending the Channel Islands as you will see from the minutes below Churchill felt that the islands could be defended by the Royal Navy. He was eventually persuaded otherwise.

War Cabinet meeting 19th June 1940. Held at the National Archives, Kew, File reference:CAB 65-7-67

At the War Cabinet meeting on the 21st of June 1940, they were informed that the military evacuation was complete.

War Cabinet meeting 21st June 1940. Held at the National Archives, Kew, File reference:CAB 65-7-69

On the 22nd of June 1940 a notice was drafted to declare the islands demilitarised. As noted in the minute of the 14th of June there was reluctance to release this. It was felt that releasing this notice too early would invite the Germans to invade. Unfortunately, this meant that the Germans went on to Bomb both Jersey and Guernsey with significant loss of life. You can read about it here. Occupation followed on the 30th of June 1940 and in Jersey’s case

I have seen the idea bandied about that the Channel Islands could have been defended in the same fashion as Malta. This argument simply doesn’t hold water for many reasons not least our geographical location so close to the French coast. There was also a complete lack of anywhere for the population to shelter in the event of sustained bombing or naval bombardment.

The map below will give you some idea of the challenges that would have been faced.

Location of the Channel Islands – Google maps

Malta had immense strategic importance to both the allies and axis forces so it was worth devoting men and resources as well as risking the cost to lives on the island. As you will see as you read on this was not the case for the Channel Islands.

One must remember that in June 1940 the British were smarting from Dunkirk and also facing the prospect of invasion. Precious men and resources could not be spared to attempt to prevent the Channel Islands being taken by force.

Our proximity to the French coast also meant that the Luftwaffe would have been able to operate from airfields that were only a few minutes from their target. The RAF on the other hand would have only been able to operate from airfields in the south of England which would mean that fighter aircraft would have only had approximately fifteen minutes over the islands before having to return to refuel and re arm. This would involve a round trip of some two hundred or more miles as opposed to sixty to eighty miles for the Luftwaffe. This continues to be an issue when planning the proposed operations to retake the islands. You will see this problem considered later on in this post.

Even if the Channel Islands had been able to be held initially the logistics of keeping them re supplied would have been impossible. The Germans were to find this out after D-Day in 1944. The allied occupied French coast meant they were unable to get anything but a few ships through to the islands.

No attempt or plan to retake the islands?

This aspect of the of the myth is patently untrue. At the time nobody outside of those involved in the plans would have been aware of them because by their very nature they were secret. The British population were therefore unaware of these at the time, including those Channel Islanders that had left the islands. Those still in the islands equally so for obvious reasons.

There were a number of detailed plans to retake one or more of the Channel Islands throughout the war. They reached differing levels of planning and training.

The first of these was Operation Attaboy in March 1941 which I wrote about in detail here.

The second was Operation Blazing strangely enough one year later than Operation Attaboy. My detailed analysis of Blazing is here.

Operation Constellation was a plan in March 1943 that considered retaking one or all of the Channel Islands. This became Operation Concertina when they again chose Alderney.

If you read my blog posts linked above, you will see that Lord Mountbatten and Vice-Admiral John Hughes-Hallett amongst others were frequently pushing plans to retake the Channel Islands right from the outset. Often to the extreme annoyance of General Sir Alan Brooke.

Churchill was also involved in supporting the plan some of these operations.

“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.”

Brooke notes in his diary on 6 May 1942

In addition to these large-scale operations there were many more smaller raids and the order to pursue this course of action as early as the 2nd of July 1940.

War Cabinet meeting 2nd July 1940. Held at the National Archives, Kew, File reference: CAB 65-14-2

These gave rise to a number of operations running right up to December 1943, after which raids were stopped due to preparations for D-Day.

The initial flurry of raids in 1940 were Operation Anger 8th July 1940, Operation Ambassador 14th / 15th July 1940 and an intelligence gathering mission on 3rd / 4th September. You can read about these operations here.

In addition to these raids the following raids were carried out.

Paul Woodage of WW2TV was kind enough to have me on to talk about Commando Raids on the Channel Islands which also covers the planned large-scale operations discussed above. You can watch it on the YouTube link below.

What about negotiating a surrender?

It is frequently overlooked that there was extensive leaflet dropping following D-Day to encourage the garrison to surrender and at least one if not more attempts to secure a surrender. The October 1944 edition of the Channel Island Monthly Review notes a brief account of what happened.

From the October 1944 Channel Islands Monthly Review

Should you wish to find out more about this daring operation to attempt to secure a surrender, using a German General who was a POW, you can read about it here.

Let’em starve

Nobody outside of government was aware of this comment at the time but when it emerged there was much debate over whether Churchill meant the German garrison or the population as well. You can find my analysis of this here.

The comment was interpreted by many to be applicable to both the German Garrison and the population. Take a look at the blog to understand this complex situation.

The Verdict

The assessment in this blog post is in no way a criticism of those that were alive at the time and formed this view. I would have formed the same view had I been sat here trapped in Guernsey for five years and suffering numerous privations.

I will let you form your own opinion as to whether you think Churchill is guilty as charged or not guilty. Hopefully the above analysis will provide you with the information to draw your own conclusions.

It would however be remiss of me not to throw in my two penn’orth! Having looked at the evidence that has become available over the years, which I have set out above, I believe that Churchill is not guilty of abandoning or forgetting the Channel Islands.

My rationale for this opinion is:-

The Channels Islands were totally indefensible by 1940. Any attempt to defend them would have just led to them being bombed into submission. This would have resulted in enormous loss of life and some of you reading this may never have been born as a result.

The various intelligence gathering operations and commando raids clearly demonstrate that the Channel Islands were not forgotten.

Planned operations to retake one or more of the Channel Islands despite the fact that they were of no strategic advantage demonstrates that we were not forgotten. These operations didn’t take place, but were very seriously considered, trained and planned for, something that they wouldn’t have expended time, effort and resources on if we were forgotten or abandoned.

Churchill was not making these decisions alone. Whilst he was the figurehead of the government, he was guided by the War Cabinet and the Chiefs of Staff.

Whatever else he might have done wrong throughout his career and whatever else you think of him I don’t think on this occasion he is guilty as charged.

That’s all folks

I hope you enjoyed this blog post. I suspect I may get some incoming flak for this post. Ironic given the one thing we didn’t have in 1940 was anti-aircraft guns.

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

MIN(E)D WHERE YOU WALK! MAJOR BLASCHEK AND AN ACCIDENT.

Those of you that live in Guernsey, or have visited will be familiar with the headland at Rousse and will know that there is a Napoleonic era loophole tower and a pier that is used by fisherman and swimmers. The area is also popular with walkers. I suspect that many of the walkers, like the lady that stopped to talk to us a few weeks back, are unaware that they are walking over a former minefield!

There isn’t anything for these walkers to be worried about as the mines were cleared in the immediate months after the war. There are some innocuous reminders of the minefield that you can still see today and most people walking the area are unaware of.

You may be wondering why I picked this particular minefield to write about. When I was at the German war grave cemetery at Fort George in the summer I happened to photograph the grave of Major Friedrich Blaschek. The reason I photographed it was that I wondered what had happened to him.

Photo © Nick Le Huray

Following on from this I did some research and I discovered how he had become fatally injured and the bravery of a soldier that tried to save him.

THE ROUSSE MINEFIELD

The Germans had already laid many minefields around the islands but not on the scale that followed the order from Hitler to fortify the islands in October 1941. You can read about the fortification order on the blog post here.

Some eight months prior to the order this notice appeared in the Evening Press.

I was provided with an original map of the minefield by Jersey War Tours and I thought I would go and take a few photographs to illustrate the blog post.

As with many of the existing fortifications on the Channel Islands the Germans strengthened the defences around the existing loophole tower at Rousse.

Photo © Nick Le Huray
Thanks to Colin R Fallaize (@LeRoiHaptalon on Twitter) for this drone shot of the area. Photo © Colin R Fallaize

The minefield chart or “Minenplan” is very detailed and I will use some extracts from it later on so don’t worry if you can’t read all of the detail on the full scale picture below.

German mine chart of the minefield at Rousse kindly provided to me by ©
Jersey War Tours.
German mine chart of the minefield at Rousse kindly provided to me by ©
Jersey War Tours.

As you can see the area was extensively mined with both Tellermines (anti tank) and Schrapnellmines or ‘S’ (anti-personnel) mines.

Tellermine from National Army Museum

The Tellermine whilst primarily being an anti tank mine could also be triggered by someone running. The S mine shown below was particularly nasty, as if you touched one of the horns it would tigger the mine with a delay of a few seconds then it would spring up to waist height before exploding. It would fire 360 steel balls, short steel rods, or scrap metal pieces in all directions. The Americans nicknamed them ‘Bouncing Betty’ because of this.

S.Mi.35 (Sprengen Mine 1935) (S-Mine & Schrapnellmine 35) anti-personnel mine (MUN 3318) The Sprengen Mine 1935, also known as the ‘S-Mine’ or ‘Schrapnellmine 35’, was a German Second World War anti-personnel device, that could be activated by direct pressure on the igniter in the top, or by a pull on one or more tripwires attached to pull igniters. It could also be fired electrically. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30021489
Concrete ‘punkt’ (point) marker. This one is located on the wall behind the post war toilet block. Photo © Nick Le Huray
Existing Granite marker that was placed by the Board of Ordinance and re-utilised as ‘punkt’ (point) marker. Easily missed if you are out for a walk. Photo © Nick Le Huray
Existing Granite marker that was placed by the Board of Ordinance and re-utilised as a ‘punkt’ (point) marker. Looking over the area where mine group two and three were laid. Photo © Nick Le Huray
Existing Granite marker that was placed by the Board of Ordinance and re-utilised as a ‘punkt’ (point) marker. Looking back to the tower from the site of mine group 3. Photo © Nick Le Huray
The ‘Schuppen’ or shack identified on the mine chart just where the road splits in two. Photo © Nick Le Huray
The ‘Schuppen’ or shack identified on the mine chart just where the road splits in two has seen better days. Photo © Nick Le Huray
Thanks to Colin R Fallaize (@LeRoiHaptalon on Twitter) for this drone shot of the area. Photo © Colin R Fallaize

Below is a picture from March 1942 of the headland taken from a photo reconnaissance Spitfire of the RAF 140 Squadron. One thing you will notice from the 1942 photo is the lack of boats in the bay. If you are familiar with this area you would know that this bay would normally have been full of boats. The reason there are none are because of the escapes that had happened earlier in the occupation which had led all boats having to be moved to St Sampson and St Peter Port harbours.

Aerial Reconnaisance Photo March 1942. Roque-Rousse; Guernsey

MAJOR FRIEDRICH BLASCHEK

Major Blaschek was commander of No.1 Pioneer Battalion 319 Infantry Division. His men were responsible for laying the minefield at Rousse and many others around Guernsey.

In his book ‘Achtung’ Minen! Guernsey The History of the German Minefields 1940-45’ – Henry Beckingham includes an extract from two letters to Blaschek’s widow. These letters were written using the accounts of those present at the time of the accident. A précis of what happened is below.

On the 7th November 1941 Blaschek went to inspect the minefield that his men were working on. He noted that his men were not working on the minefield and inspected the fencing surrounding the minefield. He then stepped into the minefield to go and inspect it. This was a fatal mistake as, unbeknownst to him, the minefield had been made live the previous day.

You may have spotted in the mine chart images above that the minefield had been signed off as ‘unlocked’ or ‘armed’ by Lieutenant Kias on 6.11.41.

Snip from the mine chart showing that it had been signed off
In the other corner of the mine chart (translated with Google Translate) it notes that the safety pins have been handed over to Guernsey command.

Having stepped into the minefield he soon set off an ‘S mine’. He was rescued from the minefield by Hauptfeldwebel (Company Sergeant Major) Schulz. Despite the badly wounded Blaschek repeatedly telling him not to enter the minefield he did so and succeeded in rescuing Blaschek who had been unable to move more than a few steps after stepping on the mine. Schulz received a commendation for this.

Blaschek was taken to hospital and initially it was thought that he would survive. Indeed he was visited by a number of men from his battalion before he was operated on. As the operation proceeded it became apparent that his wounds were much more severe than first thought. He died at eight pm, aged thirty six, during the operation without regaining consciousness.

He was buried at Fort George with full military honours. Blaschek was far from the first or last minefield casualty in the Channel Islands.

I hope you have enjoyed the blog. As part of the fortification order a large number of further minefields were to be laid. I am going to be writing a blog covering minefields across the Channel Islands in general in the future.

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

A SURPRISING FIND ABOUT VICE-ADMIRAL FRIEDRICH HUFFMEIER!

Whilst looking at what happened to him after the war I stumbled across an article from 1971. He pretty much disappeared off the radar after he was released from a prisoner of war camp in 1948. He moved back to Germany and some say he became a preacher, perhaps atoning for his past, although I have not as yet seen anything to evidence this.

Interestingly there is no mention in the article about his time, in the latter stages of the war, as commander of the German forces occupying the Channel Islands. As an ardent Nazi he was quite prepared to let his own men and the civilian population of the Channel Islands starve rather than surrender.

This appearance at watching HMS Belfast demobbed was just three months before his death.

Nottingham Guardian – Friday 22 October 1971 Image © Reach PLC. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

There is even a picture, below, of a smiling Vice-Admiral Friedrich Huffmeier (left), a former captain of the German battlecruiser ‘Scharnhorst’, presents a picture to Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles, a former captain of the cruiser ‘HMS Belfast’, which was involved in the sinking of the ‘Scharnhorst’ during World War II, at a ceremony on the River Thames, 21st October 1971. The ‘HMS Belfast’ is being handed over to the Belfast Trust as a floating museum. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Embed from Getty Images

You can read about Huffmeier and his dragging out of the occupation of the Channel Islands all the way to the end of the war in my blog posts below.

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

LORD PORTSEA – OUR CHAMPION IN THE HOUSE OF LORDS!

Lord Portsea was a colourful character and frankly must have been viewed by the British Government as a bit of a nuisance. The octogenarian was a fervent champion of the plight of the Channel Islands population, those that had been evacuated, those that were serving in the armed forces and those that remained behind in the Channel Islands. Despite this I would venture to suggest that many Channel Islanders alive now would be unaware of what he achieved and how he helped the islands.

If you are old enough to remember Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” then you will understand that this is a bit of a “What did Lord Portsea ever do for us apart from….” rather than the Romans. If you don’t remember Monty Python this is the relevant bit!

Some might say that he did more for the Channel Islands than any member of the House of Lords since the end of the war. There were others in the Lords that raised the issue of the Channel Islands from time to time but none were as vociferous and persistent as Portsea.

Some of the suggestions of action that he called on the government to take were quite sensible and others a little more fanciful. His suggestions included using POWs to sail a ship with aid to Guernsey or some women who had volunteered to do so, a force of Channel Islanders to go and recapture the islands and a few more. More of those suggestions later. Some of his suggestions really did help.

He was absolutely furious that the Channel Islands had been surrendered and declared in the House of Lords that he would go to liberate the islands himself if he could despite being 80. He viewed the surrender of the islands as an act of cowardice or ‘poltroonery’ as he put it. He also viewed it as a risk that the axis countries would think that they might surrender other parts of the British Empire just as easily.

I am an old man, but I do not imagine that because the sands of life are running out those sands are less hallowed. They are hoarded with miserly care. But I say to this House with all honesty that if I could go tomorrow to submit to the bombardment with any chance whatever of recovering those islands, I would go, I would go today.

Lord Portsea’s speech in the House of Lords – as reported in Daily News (London) – Friday 02 August 1940.

He made sure that the plight of Channel Islanders was not lost in the media or Government circles. One imagines that if he had been alive in the age of social media, he would have been all over it. If we were to compare his campaign in the media of the 1940s with the current position of social media campaigns on behalf of Ukraine it would probably have been very similar.

Whilst talking about social media thanks to Dan Girard for reminding me on the local Facebook history group “Guernsey Days Gone By” that Lord Portsea was worth writing some more about.

If you are familiar with the constitutional position of the Channel Islands, we aren’t part of the United Kingdom, you will know that we don’t have an official representative in the House of Lords. If you aren’t familiar with the constitutional position and want to know more you can find it here. You are probably wondering why I gave the article the title I did given this situation all will be revealed in this post. Before we get into what he did I will set the scene with a bit about Portsea himself.

Who was he?

Sir Bertram Falle. Bart. chose the title of Lord Portsea of Portsmouth when he was created a peer in the New Year’s Honours list in 1934. His connection with the Channel Islands was that he was born and educated in Jersey.

He then went on to a career as a lawyer, judge and politician before being elevated to the Lords. He had also fought in the First World War and gained the rank of Major in the Royal Field Artillery.

At the outbreak of the war in 1939 he was two months away from his 80th Birthday.

He was known not to be a fan of the motor car and was the last member of either House of Parliament to arrive by carriage and pair. He had several carriages and disposed of the last one in in July 1942.

Lord Portsea being drive out of Old Palace Yard at the Houses of Parliament
Portsmouth Evening News – Saturday 18 July 1942
Georgie and Ginger outside the house in Eaton Square, London c 1935

Anger & concern

At the top of the blog I mentioned that he was angry about what he viewed to be a cowardly act of leaving the islands undefended. You will find further down the blog quotes of his very eloquent speeches which illustrate quite how angry he was about the situation.

He was quick out of the blocks to speak on the subject and cause a fuss in the House of Lords just days after the islands were occupied. You can read about that here on my blog post from earlier this year.

This was followed by him expressing concern over the RAF bombing of the airport in Guernsey in August 1940 and lack of information available in respect of this.

Belfast News-Letter – Saturday 17 August 1940
Sunday Mirror 11 August 1940 – Reporting on the 9 August Raid.

In January 1941 he again raised his concerns about the Government treatment of the Channel Islands.

Aberdeen Press and Journal – Wednesday 29 January 1941

As time went on he became particularly annoyed at the difficulty in communication between those in the UK and their friends and family who were still in the Channel Islands. I wrote a blog post about these difficulties which you can find here.

Hampshire Telegraph – Friday 14 February 1941

Now the eagle eyed among you will have noticed that his “telegram” would have actually been a short Red Cross message. Miss Falle was of course his younger sister who was still in Jersey.

Portsea continued to campaign for the islands to receive food aid and to reiterate the impact of the lack of information had on the morale of Channel Islands men serving in the armed forces.

Belfast Telegraph – Wednesday 22 April 1942

He even offered to supply a ship and would take it there himself.

Hampshire Telegraph – Friday 24 April 1942

By September 1942 he had written an article for the Weekly Dispatch (London) – which was published on Sunday 6th September 1942. His article again drew attention to the history of the Channel Islands, their connection with the Crown and the information he had about conditions. You can read it below.

His frustration continued in October 1942 at the news of deportations from the Channel Islands to internment camps on mainland Europe, again referring to the abandonment of the islands.

The Scotsman – Friday 09 October 1942

He continued to raise the prospect of food being sent to help the Channel Islands. Accused of being hysterical and that any aid would aid the enemy he was still ignored. He raised the prospect of women sailing ships to the islands.

Daily Mirror – Friday 19 March 1943

He compared the dropping of food parcels to Belgium with the fact they were unwilling to do so for British subjects in the Channel Islands.

The Scotsman – Wednesday 02 June 1943

Following D-Day he became even more concerned about the situation in the islands and when they might be liberated. Proposing a force of Channel Island troops to liberate the Islands. Now what he wouldn’t have been aware of was that there had already been plans to liberate one or all of the Islands that had been discounted for various reasons. You can read about them Operation Attaboy and Operation Blazing. There were also further plans under way which had begun as Operation Rankin and became Operation Nest Egg the ultimate liberation of the Islands.

Liverpool Daily Post – Wednesday 21 June 1944

He later raised the question of whether the Government would give the German garrison an opportunity to surrender. What is interesting is the timing of this question as he raised it just a matter of days after an attempt to get the garrison to surrender had been made. Major Chambers had attempted to negotiate a surrender, at great risk to himself which you can read about here on 22 September 1944.

The Scotsman – Thursday 05 October 1944

In January 1945 he had another falling out with Lord Munster in the House of Lords.

The Scotsman – Wednesday 31 January 1945

Following the liberation of the Channel Islands the King was welcomed to the House of Lords where he replied to the speeches given and acknowledged as noted in the article below.

Northern Whig – Friday 18 May 1945

What did he achieve?

Whilst some of his ideas were somewhat fanciful and not achievable he did manage some significant achievements.

His constant harrying of the government around the food situation in the Channel Islands undoubtedly helped with the eventual U-turn by the British Government in 1944 over the policy of not allowing food to be provided. See my post about “Let’em starve. No fighting. Let them rot at their leisure.”

Earlier on in the war, in May 1942, he managed to save the Channel Islands Monthly Review which was an extremely important publication to those Channel Islanders that were outside of the Islands. Many of them were spread across the UK and also away serving in the forces.

If you can imagine going from small closeknit island communities and then being spread across the United Kingdom, let alone the World, with none of the modern methods of communication for five years then you may begin to understand the importance of the publication.

LORD PORTSEA
My Lords, I beg to ask the starred question that stands in my name.
[The question was as follows:
To ask his Majesty’s Government whether they are aware that the Stockport Channel Island Monthly Review has been ordered to cease publication on the ground of shortage of paper, and if they are aware that this small monthly publication is of great interest to Norman Islanders (of whom many are in His Majesty’s Forces) and whether the order can be rescinded.]

LORD TEMPLEMORE

My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend the Minister of Works and Buildings, I have been asked to reply. The Stockport Channel Island Monthly Review first appeared in May, 1941. The printing or publication in the United Kingdom of new periodicals has been prohibited since August, 1940, on account of the shortage of paper. It has been necessary to refuse permission to publish many new periodicals, including a number for circulation among persons in the Forces or affected by the war, and I regret that it is not possible to make an exception in the present case.

Hansard 12 May 1942 – Questions in the House of Lords

Now Portsea was not going to be fobbed off so easily and brought the matter back to the House again on 20th May 1942.

The review is the only real link between thousands of islanders who are serving His Majesty, their homes, their wives and their children. I have had a large number of letters from every part of the United Kingdom asking me to bring this matter before your Lordships. 

Hansard

He went on to share his anger at the treatment of Channel Islanders and how they were being treated differently to POWs.

The Government state that the review is not to be allowed to continue because it has not been in being within certain dates, that is to say, within two years; and yet a brand new magazine has had its first issue with Government sanction this very month—the first issue of a “new special monthly journal” to be sent free of charge to all those who are eligible for it. It is called The Prisoner of War. It was inaugurated in a fine speech by a Scot. He says:

“Loss of freedom is hard to bear to those who have lived as free men in a free country.”

Who so free as the Norman islander, a free man, a freeholder; no serf blood in his veins, not a drop! A free man with a thousand years of history, his soil untainted by the foot of a conqueror till now, when the Government have handed him over to the Germans, not for any fault of his own, not because he did not want to fight. As he says:

“It is hard for those who wait at home, aye, and fight, to go cheerfully to their daily tasks, knowing that someone dear to them is a prisoner.”

Now the people of these islands are, from my point of view, truly prisoners, not because they gave themselves up—oh, no!—not because they were unwilling to fight—the thousands now fighting prove that—not because they wished to give in, not because they were hands-uppers—we know how the Boers despised their hands-uppers—but because a Government of their own blood handed them over to the Germans. Surely they have a claim to decent treatment. Abandoned, deserted and betrayed, to cover up that shame some red herring is introduced, and they are spat upon.

Hansard

His eloquent and staunch stance on the need for the continued publication of the Review undoubtedly saved it. The image gallery below shows an example of the publication.

A legacy that lives on today.

His legacy lives on in Jersey through “THE LORD PORTSEA GIFT FUND (JERSEY) ACT, 1971” . This fund was established in his name by his sister.

The Lord Portsea Gift Fund provides financial help for educational training, re-training or specialised equipment to young people who want to further their careers in the United Kingdom armed services or the civil services in Jersey or the United Kingdom.

Gov.Je

So that’s it!

I hope you have found this an interesting account of a champion of the Channel Islands who often gets overlooked when it comes to the Occupation of the Channel Islands. Lord Portsea passed away on 1 November 1948 at his sister’s home in Jersey.

All newspaper extracts are Image © Reach PLC. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

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.

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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

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.

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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

ISLAND FORTRESS ON THE RADIO – LISTEN AGAIN

I had the pleasure of being a guest on Gnet Radio to talk about the German occupation of the Channel Islands, the blog and various other projects. Including one project that the shows host Keith Pengelley and myself are working on at the moment.

We also discussed the We Have Ways of Making You Talk podcast, my experience of attending the We Have Ways Festival and appearing on WW2TV Channel Islands Week. You can access these by clicking the links.

If you missed it and would like to listen you can listen to it here, I am on from 38:45 for an hour.

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

“LET’EM STARVE!” – A CONTROVERSIAL COMMENT! WHAT DID CHURCHILL MEAN?

On the 27th September 1944 Churchill is reputed to have scrawled a note on the bottom of a report put forward to the War Cabinet “Let’em starve. No fighting. Let them rot at their leisure.” A picture of the report is at the end of this blog post.

The report was produced following a request from the Germans to arrange the evacuation of all of the civilian population of the Channel Islands with the exception of men of military age. Rather than do this or mount any form of operation to liberate the islands the British Government reminded the German authorities of their responsibility under the Geneva Convention to adequately feed the population.

Over the years this has become a very controversial comment with various historians and islanders interpreting it differently. Some felt that he meant just the German garrison, others felt that he meant both the garrison and the islanders.

The aspect that is always focused on is the lack of food and Churchill’s refusal to allow a supply of the islands with food. The rationale for this was that it was felt that the Germans would take the food for themselves. The islands effectively formed a prisoner of war camp which didn’t require guards but meant that a large force of German resources were tied up there rather than being able to be deployed in mainland Europe.

At the time the Islands were caught in a pocket and effectively under siege.

Map of the Channel Islands and the pocket of German resistance
Illustrated London News Feb 1945

There are some factors that don’t seem to have been taken into account by some commentators. Most notably that Churchill’s comment was made days after an attempt to get the Germans to surrender. They had however refused to even entertain the idea. One would imagine that he would have taken this into account in making his assessment.

This first attempt to achieve a surrender by direct negotiation happened on 22 September 1944. Having secured the assistance of a high ranking German officer, who had been captured in 1943, Major Chambers boarded an R.A.F. launch at Carteret and proceeded towards Guernsey under a white flag. I have read a number of differing accounts of this and decided to go back to primary sources to establish exactly what happened.

The intention was that Chambers would meet with von Schmettow and invite him to come and meet the German officer understandably said he was not willing to go ashore or aboard a German vessel. The German officer is only identified in the reports of the raid as Mr Black. Subsequent to earlier accounts being written it is now believed that Mr Black was in fact Gerhard Bassenge. He was captured in North Africa in 1943 and spent time in Trent Park a luxurious camp for high-ranking prisoners. They were kept in luxury because it meant they would talk freely amongst themselves without realising that the British were listening through hidden microphones.

Letters had been dropped to arrange a meeting off the south coast of Guernsey. On arriving at the rendezvous point they found no German vessel waiting to meet them. Chambers decided that they should proceed to St Peter Port and try to make contact. On approaching St Peter Port a German vessel, not under a white flag, approached them. Extracts from the official report about what happened next

This was certainly a brave effort by Major Chambers, who received a DSO for his actions.  You can read the full account of it here

If they had decided to surrender they could have saved the islanders and their own personnel from a terrible winter of hunger and deprivation.

Eventually following an appeal from the Bailiffs of Jersey and Guernsey an International Red Cross ship the SS Vega made five trips to the Islands prior to the liberation in May 1945. The first arriving in Guernsey on 27 December 1944. A further visit was made in June 1945.

The ship delivered food parcels designed to supplement the meagre food supplies of Islanders. The parcels were designed to provide an additional 462 calories a day. To give some context that is the equivalent of eating two Snickers bars or slightly less than one Big Mac.

SS VEGA in St Peter Port Harbour Image from BBC.co.uk
Newcastle Journal – 31 January 1945

Without these food parcels things could have been much worse. If you want to read more about the food situation from a German soldier’s perspective go to my previous blog here . For a civilian view point I blogged about the doctor’s story here .

The report with Churchill’s comment scrawled on the bottom.

Whatever the true reason or reasons were some islanders held it against Churchill for the rest of their lives.

You may be reading this and wondering why the Channel Islands were not retaken by force. There are a multitude of reasons but first and foremost the loss of life that would have occurred amongst the civilian population would have been immense. It would also have mean’t that a vast amount resources would be taken away from the main front on mainland Europe. That is a blog for another day.

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

“MRS CHURCHILL” DEPORTED 25 SEPTEMBER 1941

Probably one of the best known people for carrying out individual acts of defiance against the Germans during the occupation of the Channel Islands is Winifred Green. If you consult almost any book about the occupation Winifred gets a mention.

She became quite well known in the UK Newspapers in May 1945 when her story was widely reported. Some extracts below from a couple of newspapers.

Manchester Evening News 15 May 1945

The Scotsman 16 May 1945

Below is a photo of the display at the German Occupation Museum in Guernsey.

Display at German Occupation Museum

You can read more about Winifred at the Frank Falla archive 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. 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

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

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