TANKS IN THE CHANNEL ISLANDS

After a recent visit to the Tank Museum in Bovington, plus a few questions people have asked me, prompted me to think about the use of tanks in the Channel Islands. If you are familiar with the island roads you will perhaps be surprised that there were any tanks at all.

Initially there were no tanks deployed in the islands. Then in June 1941, after Hitler had personally studied the plans for the defence of the Channel Islands, he ordered that captured French Tanks should be sent. His concern was that once he launched Operation Barbarossa, the attack on Russia later that month, the British would then attack Norway or the Channel Islands.

This was as a result of small scale raids on Norway and the Channel Islands. He thought that they would want to appease the Russians by opening a second front or at the very least tie up the German forces in the West.

His belief that this was going to happen wasn’t entirely misguided as the British did indeed consider doing just that. Operation Attaboy, Operation Blazing, Operation Constellation and Operation Condor were some of these operations that were planned and cancelled.

Von Runstedt was less than enthusiastic on sending tanks to the Channel Islands as he could not see the need for them. He did however send two tanks to Guernsey to defend the harbour. More tanks were to follow later.

All of the tanks that were used in the Channel Islands by the Germans were captured French tanks.

Renault FT-17s.

The first to arrive were Renault FT-17s. These were well beyond their sell by date as they dated back to 1918. State of the art at the time they were produced with the first to have its armament in a turret that could fully rotate.

The Germans had captured so many French tanks and other vehicles that they had converted Panzerabteilung 213 to entirely to French equipment.

As they were of little use in other theatres a total of twenty FT-17s were deployed to the Channel Islands. Eight in Jersey, Eight in Guernsey, and four in Alderney.1

Photograph taken surreptitiously from an upstairs window by Frank le Page showing commandeered French Renault tanks moving along La Rue Cauchee in St Martin’s, Guernsey, after Hitler’s decision to fortify the islands in 1941. © IWM HU 25951

Whils visiting the Tank Museum I made a point of seeking out two tank types that had been used in the Islands.

Renault FT (often known as the FT-17) at the Tank Museum, Bovington. This tank is the same type that was used in the Channel Islands. Photograph © Nick Le Huray
Renault FT (often known as the FT-17) at the Tank Museum, Bovington. This tank is the same type that was used in the Channel Islands. Photograph © Nick Le Huray

The FT-17s became of little use as the war progressed and very few were actually still running by December 1944. If you think you recognise the turrets of these tanks you have probably seen them around the islands as a few of the turrets remain today. They were taken off of the tanks and fitted onto Tobruk pits on bunkers around the islands. In Guernsey you can still see examples, one in situ at Batterie Dollmann at Pleinmont and there is also an example at the German Occupation Museum.

Renault FT-17 turret at the German Occupation Museum. Photograph © Nick Le Huray
Renault FT-17 turret at Batterie Dollman. Photograph © Nick Le Huray
Renault FT-17 turret at Batterie Dollman. Photograph © Nick Le Huray

The fitting of tank turrets to fixed fortifications is reported in a number of the M.I. 19 interviews with successful escapees. One example is an interview with Hubert who escaped in August 1943. Interview is in the National Archives as M.I.19 (R.P.S) 1742

This refers to a turret at the bunker near the current site of the Guernsey Yacht Club
Sited at the St Sampson Harbour entrance

The Tank museum has a great short video about the tanks that you can watch below.

Char B1

The next tanks arrived in 1942 were Char B1 Bis of Panzerabteilung 213. These were a much better tank being of much more modern construction and armament. For Panzerabteilung 213 this was to be somewhat academic as they were the only German panzer group to never see action during the war!2

In 1940 during the battle for France these were seen as a well respected, well armoured and armed tank. They were however dogged by high fuel consumption and low speed. They had a top speed of only 16 mph. Limited range and slow speed were not of course a hindrance in the relatively small Channel Islands.

Char B1 at the Tank Museum, Bovington. This tank was used in Jersey. Photograph © Nick Le Huray

A total of thirty six Char B1 bis of various different versions were sent to Guernsey and Jersey. Four command tanks, twenty four normal tanks, and ten of the flamethrower equipped tanks. These were split evenly between the two islands.2

The flamethrower version replaced the lower 75mm gun in the hull with a flamethrower.

Char B1 at the Tank Museum, Bovington. This tank was used in Jersey. Photograph © Nick Le Huray
This is the Char B1 bis currently on display at the Tank Museum. When this photo was taken it was at the School of Tank Technology in Chertsey. It came to the Museum in 1951. The British were the tank’s third owner, after the French, who built it, and the Germans, who captured it. In their hands it was assigned to 1st Platoon, 1st Company of Panzer Abteilung 213 and shipped to the Channel Island of Jersey in Spring 1942. The British captured it when they liberated the islands in 1945. Photograph © The Tank Museum
Char B1 bis tank, with German ‘B2’ modifications, owned by Bovington Tank Museum and shown here displayed at the Jersey War Tunnels in 2008.

A short history of this Char B1 is in the video below.

Not a Tank!

Now those of you that follow me on Twitter may have seen some banter about #NotATank. Whilst this article is dealing with tanks I thought it would be remiss of me not to include the Panzerjäger 35R Panzerkampfwagen 35R 731(f).

For the avoidance of doubt this was not a tank, it was a self propelled gun, although it was based on the chassis of a Renault R35 tank. The turret was replaced with a fixed superstructure with a Czechoslovak 47mm anti-tank gun. Strangely the superstructure was open topped, you can see the canvas cover in the photograph below, which must have been rather unpleasant for the crew of those that were sent to the freezing conditions of the eastern front!

They did however see service in the Channel Islands so are worthy of a mention here.

From the Jerripedia page. German Renault Panzerjäger 35R Panzerkampfwagen 35R 731(f) Tank Destroyer  at Millbrook in Jersey.
From the Jerripedia page. German Renault Panzerjäger 35R Panzerkampfwagen 35R 731(f) Tank Destroyer  at Millbrook in Jersey.

I will be researching the use of tanks in the Channel Islands some more so will revisit the topic at some future point.

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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

FOOTNOTES

  1. The German Occupation of the Channel Islands – Charles Cruickshank
  2. Atlantic Wall: Channel Islands: Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Sark – George Forty
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