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.

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

LITTLE NEWS FROM THE ISLANDS – THE DIFFICULTIES OF OBTAINING NEWS OF FRIENDS AND FAMILY

In this modern age, as I sit here writing this blog post on my iPad with my iPhone next to me, it occurred that we take instant communication for granted. During the occupation of the Channel Islands it was a lengthy process to send and receive messages from the islands. Typically it would take four or five months for a message to be received and then a similar time frame for the reply to be received. An urgent message may take 5-6 weeks.

In the instance of my mother my grand parents found out four months later of her birth.

Unlike prisoners of war held on mainland Europe, who were able to write letters on a regular basis, islanders and their friends and family overseas found it very difficult to communicate. An International Red Cross office was set up at Elizabeth College in Guernsey as well as an office in Jersey.

In the early days islanders could only write to those outside of the Channel Islands if they had first received a Red Cross message to reply to. This changed in April 1941 when they were able to originate Red Cross messages.

As you can see below it also became possible to communicate with German and German occupied countries and these letters were not limited to 25 Words.

The only other information that found its way from the Channel Islands to England was either provided by the few that managed to escape, those that were repatriated from camps having been deported or information gathered during Commando raids.

Evening Press, Saturday April 19 1941

Messages were limited to twenty words initially and this was later increased to twenty five words. The messages were checked by the German and English censors. Often if you see a Red Cross message it will have a blue stripe across it or a blue cross. This is residue left by the German censor using a chemical to check for invisible ink.

The reason that it took so long for a message to reach the intended recipient was that the messages went via Portugal, Spain, France, Switzerland and then on to Germany before being sent on to Guernsey.

After D-Day on 6 June 1944 it became impossible to send messages so there was no further news from the islands or from the UK.

The quote below from the International Red Cross gives a good feel for how it worked.

 All messages were routed via the International Red Cross headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. The islands exchanged about 1 million messages.

The organization provided message forms on which islanders could communicate with family and friends who were outside the island. To ensure that the service was maintained for humanitarian reasons, both sides agreed that all messages would be read by both German and English censors. This was to ensure that no secret military or coded information was being sent via the forms. They were intended for non-military, civilian messages only. In May 1941, the first 7,000 arrived in England

Messages took anywhere from a few weeks to several months to get from the island to England and back again. At one point, islanders were not permitted to write to relatives but could write to friends. The number of messages that one could send was limited, and replies had to be on the back of the original message. To islanders, this link was invaluable. Messages ceased shortly after June 6, 1944, when the islands were cut off and isolated.

WWII and Guernsey: Red Cross Helped When German Forces Occupied English Channel Island

One thing that is of interest in the quote above is that it refers to the first 7,000 messages being received in England in May 1941. This seems to be at odds with reports in the Guernsey Evening Press of 2 April 1941 which indicates that messages were being received in England in January 1941.

Evening Press 2 April 1941

Likewise in the Evening Press of 16 January 1941 news of Red Cross Messages are recorded.

Evening Press 16 January 1941

In an effort to share news of loved ones that had been evacuated from the Island or were away serving in the forces recipients of a message could consent to the message being published in the Evening Press in Guernsey. An example of this is below.

Evening Press 30 April 1941

The end of these articles usually finished with a replies wanted to remind people that they needed to send a response.

Evening Press April 15, 1941

The reason for the “replies wanted” was that the messages were received in numbered batches and a batch of replies could not be sent until it was complete.

Evening Press 30 April 1941

The articles below from the Channel Islands Monthly Review October 1941 explain how the system worked and some of the frustrations.

Channel Islands Monthly Review October 1941
Channel Islands Monthly Review October 1941

The short video below tells the story of one family and their messages.

If you would like to receive email notifications of future blogs, you can sign up to the right of this blog post. Feel free to look around the website, where I have categorised posts to make them easier to find and other resources such as tours, places to visit and films that may be of interest.

You can also follow the blog on Twitter at @Fortress_Island where I share other information and photographs.

I will be adding more as time permits. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope you enjoyed it. Please share it on social media or add a comment if you did. Feedback is always appreciated.

Also happy to be contacted with questions about the war in the Channel Islands, media appearances, podcasts etc.

© Nick Le Huray

WHAT HAPPENED IN SARK? A REPORT FROM DECEMBER 1944.

I will be writing a couple of blogs around life in Sark during the Second World War but I thought this account of life in Sark may be of interest.

It features in the December 1944 Channel Islands Monthly Review and is possibly the first news from Sark other than the Commando raids and a brief letter that found its way to England in 1941 (see below).

Written by Miss Jehanne Beaumont, Daughter of La Dame de Serk. It covers the period up to Jehanne’s deportation in 1943. The photo at the top of the blog is Jehanne Beaumont from an article in the Tatler in 1929.

Belfast News-Letter – Wednesday 21 May 1941

If you would like to receive email notifications of future blogs, you can sign up to the right of this blog post. Feel free to look around the website, where I have categorised posts to make them easier to find and other resources such as tours, places to visit and films that may be of interest.

You can also follow the blog on Twitter at @Fortress_Island where I share other information and photographs.

I will be adding more as time permits. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope you enjoyed it. Please share it on social media or add a comment if you did. Feedback is always appreciated.

Also happy to be contacted with questions about the war in the Channel Islands, media appearances, podcasts etc.

© Nick Le Huray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notice issued by the German Authorities October 1940

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frank Falla Archive

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

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

From the 24 December 1940 Guernsey Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you would like to receive email notifications of future blogs, you can sign up to the right of this blog post. Feel free to look around the website, where I have categorised posts to make them easier to find and other resources such as tours, places to visit and films that may be of interest.

You can also follow the blog on Twitter at @Fortress_Island where I share other information and photographs.

I will be adding more as time permits. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope you enjoyed it. Please share it on social media or add a comment if you did. Feedback is always appreciated.

Also happy to be contacted with questions about the war in the Channel Islands, media appearances, podcasts etc.

© Nick Le Huray

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

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

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

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

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

The paper below sets out the original proposal.

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

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

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

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

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

The operation was cancelled just before its commitment.

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

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

If you would like to receive email notifications of future blogs, you can sign up to the right of this blog post. Feel free to look around the website, where I have categorised posts to make them easier to find and other resources such as tours, places to visit and films that may be of interest.

You can also follow the blog on Twitter at @Fortress_Island where I share other information and photographs.

I will be adding more as time permits. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope you enjoyed it. Please share it on social media or add a comment if you did. Feedback is always appreciated.

Also happy to be contacted with questions about the war in the Channel Islands, media appearances, podcasts etc.

© Nick Le Huray

LADIES’ COLLEGE IN EXILE 1940-1945

Following on from my recent post about Elizabeth College in exile the Guernsey Weekly Press of 20 June 1945 also featured an article about Ladies’ College in exile. The paper is quite fragile and difficult to scan so apologies for it being somewhat askew in some of the images below.

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© Nick Le Huray

ELIZABETH COLLEGE IN EXILE 1940 TO 1945.

Whilst going through the numerous copies of the Guernsey Press from the Occupation years I found this in the Guernsey Weekly Press of 20 June 1945.

It is an article about my old school Elizabeth College during the years that the pupils and staff spent in exile in England. Link to a longer account of their time at the end of this post.

I was given a box of Channel Islands Monthly Reviews and in the May 1943 edition spotted this letter:

If you want to read a more detailed account of the evacuation and exile of Elizabeth there is a more detailed account written by Vernon Collenette who was a pupil at the time and teacher at Elizabeth College. Mr Collenette was a teacher at the time that I was at Elizabeth College in the 1980s.

You can read his account here as Elizabeth College have digitised it.

If you would like to receive email notifications of future blogs, you can sign up to the right of this blog post. Feel free to look around the website, where I have categorised posts to make them easier to find and other resources such as tours, places to visit and films that may be of interest.

You can also follow the blog on Twitter at @Fortress_Island where I share other information and photographs.

I will be adding more as time permits. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope you enjoyed it. Please share it on social media or add a comment if you did. Feedback is always appreciated.

Also happy to be contacted with questions about the war in the Channel Islands, media appearances, podcasts etc.

© Nick Le Huray

THE END OF AMBASSADOR AND AN ATTEMPT TO RESCUE MULHOLLAND AND MARTEL – 3 AUGUST 1940

Sgt. Stanley Ferbrache – You can see this and more information at the German Occupation Museum

This one is just a short blog to tie up the end of the Operation Ambassador story.

If you read my earlier blog about Operation Anger and Operation Ambassador you might be wondering why there was an attempt to rescue them on the 3rd of August when they became POWs on 28 July 1940. The earlier blog is here.

The answer to that question is that there was no way of getting a message out of the Guernsey other than if someone escaped or by the covert landings. Rumours abound on some forums that someone had a radio transmitter but this is simply untrue. All of the military equipment had been destroyed or removed prior to the arrival of the Germans.

Another Guernseyman Stanley Ferbrache volunteered to attempt to meet up with Mulholland and Martel and get them off of the island.

As with the previous raids he was landed at La Jaonnet Bay, this time having learnt of the issues with using other boats they used an MTB, on the 3rd of August.

Having met some of his family members he discovered that Mulholland and Martel had been left with no choice but to surrender the previous week. In order to avoid the mission being a waste of time he spent the next few days gathering intelligence on the German forces in the island.

He succeeded on leaving the island on 6th August. He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for this mission.

Churchill is reputed to have said ‘Let there be no more silly fiascos like those perpetrated at Guernsey.’ As it turned out there were plenty more missions to the Channel Islands to come and they were much better organised. More of those to come in future blogs.

If you would like to receive email notifications of future blogs, you can sign up to the right of this blog post. Feel free to look around the website, where I have categorised posts to make them easier to find and other resources such as tours, places to visit and films that may be of interest.

You can also follow the blog on Twitter at @Fortress_Island where I share other information and photographs.

I will be adding more as time permits. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope you enjoyed it. Please share it on social media or add a comment if you did. Feedback is always appreciated.

Also happy to be contacted with questions about the war in the Channel Islands, media appearances, podcasts etc.

© Nick Le Huray

OPERATION ANGER BECOMES AMBASSADOR- A BIT OF A DISASTER BUT AN IMPORTANT LESSON

On my blog post about stage one of Operation Anger we left the story at the point where Hubert Nicolle had been picked up by submarine H43 after two other Guernseymen 2nd Lieutenants Martel and Mulholland had been landed and briefed by Nicolle before he left. If you haven’t read that you might want to start there and come back to this after. You can find it here

2nd Lieutenant Mulholland
Martel taken post war.

This is probably as near to plan a things went! The rest most definitely didn’t go to plan.

The second phase of Anger was to prepare for the arrival of the raiding force of Operation Ambassador. Ambassador was originally planned for a landing in the early hours of 13 July 1940. The idea being that Martel and Mulholland would meet them on the beach and act as guides. The plan being that they would take the first of the raiding party to the airport where they could destroy aircraft and fuel supplies. They would then leave on the boats that had brought the raiding party to the island. The raiding party was to consist of No. 3 Commando and No. 11 Independent Company. Some 140 men were to take part in all.

The commander of the raid was Lieutenant Colonel Durnford-Slater. Upon arriving at Combined Operations Headquarters in Whitehall he was briefed by the actor David Niven, who was one of the staff officers. Niven having been an officer in the army in the 1930s before resigning his commission to embark on his Hollywood career. He returned from Hollywood and re-enlisted following the outbreak of war. Incidentally he recounts in his autobiography “The Moon’s a Balloon” a raid on Sark which he took part in. His other connection was starring in “Appointment with Venus”in 1951 which was filmed in Sark.

The first landing was to take place at Pointe de la Moye immediately south of the airport. The intention being this would be a distraction to the Germans. This aspect of the raid was to be carried out by H troop of 3 Commando.

Map showing Pointe de la Moye at the bottom, the airport at the top left and Le Jaonnet Bay on the right.

There were to be two other landings other than the party landing at Point de la Moye to attack the airport. The second landing was to be further east at Petit Port to attack a German machine gun post and a billet that had been identified at Telegraph Bay.

The third landing was to take place at Le Jaonnet Bay where the others had been previously been dropped. The idea being that they would be able to deal with any reinforcements sent from St Peter Port as a result of the landings. They were also tasked with taking prisoners in order to bring them back to England.

Map showing Le Jaonnet Bay on the left and Petit Port on the Jerbourg peninsula

At this point the wheels really started to come off the operation.

Mulholland and Martel made for the rendezvous at the appointed time on the night of 12th/13th July but unknown to them bad weather had delayed the mission. It wasn’t possible to contact them to tell them of the delay. They hid during the following two days coming out at night to return to the beach to give the signals again.

The Commander of the submarine that had dropped the three men in Guernsey had been quite robust in his report. He felt that the operation had been put together far too quickly and without time to practice. He felt that it was only because of the experience that the three Guernseymen had with boats that they had succeeded in getting ashore at all.

The submarine was commissioned in 1919 and was not ideal for an operation such as this. They had to stay submerged for most of the trip and this placed a strain on the batteries. Navigation to the Guernsey coast was also problematic for the submarine crew.

The landings for Ambassador were to take place from two destroyers HMS Scimitar and HMS Saladin with six RAF Launches to accompany them. Two RAF Ansons were to circle at low level over the Island to drown out the noise of the engines and provide a distraction.

HMS Scimitar © IWM FL 5410
HMS Saladin © IWM FL 12574
Thanks to Stephen Fisher (@SeaSpitfires) for sourcing the photo of the type of launch used. It was in fact a 37’6″ seaplane tender IWM CH1687.

Having arrived off of the coast of Guernsey they set about landing the men who would have just an hour and a half ashore before being picked up. Well that was the plan anyway!

One launch set off and for some reason immediately headed off in the wrong direction. There are a couple of theories as we know it was because the compass was incorrectly indicating direction. The first is that equipment on the destroyer interfered with the compass or that equipment for the raid stowed on the launch had interfered with it.

Here there are varying accounts as to what happened to the launch. It found its way to one of the islands off of the east coast of Guernsey. Some accounts indicate that they landed on Little Sark, other accounts say they went there but didn’t land. Further accounts appear to indicate it may have been Herm or Jethou. In any event they returned to HMS Saladin.

Sark in the left of the picture Jerbourg point © Nick Le Huray

The second party set off in launches heading for Pointe de la Moye. Here the waited for the signal from Martel & Mulholland who were in fact at Le Jaonnet bay as originally planned. As a result the launches at Pointe de la Moye didn’t receive a signal and failed to identify a beach to land on. Two launches returned to HMS Saladin the third was unable to find the ship so returned to Dartmouth.

If they had managed to make it to the airport they would likely have found rich pickings as the Germans based a variety of aircraft there including fighters. A report of activity at the airport around that time indicated that there were approximately 30 to 50 aircraft. Approximately two thirds were Bf109s the rest being Bf110s and JU52s.

Bf109 at Guernsey Airport

The third landing force successfully landed at Petit Port after a struggle to get ashore involving having to save ashore with all their kit in four feet of water. The delay in the operation had meant that the launches couldn’t get as close in due to the rocks and tides.

They created a road block out of rocks and cut a telephone cable at Telegraph Bay. They sent out patrols and quickly discovered that there no Germans in the area and the machine gun post was deserted. Durnford-Slater gives an account of this in his memoir.

Johnny Giles and I crawled up on either side of the little mound in which the machine-gun nest was dug. I carried grenades and a 45 Webley; Giles, a giant of well over six feet, had a tommy gun.

We jumped to our feet and into the nest, a sandbagged circle. We were both ready to shoot, but I found myself face to face with Johnny’s tommy gun; and he with my Webley. “Hell!” Johnny said bitterly, “there’s no one here!” We went down to where the others were cutting the cables leading from the hut. Knight asked me rather plaintively: “Please can I blow the place up, sir?” He had a pack of demolition stores on his back and was aching to use it.

“No. Apparently the Germans don’t know yet that we’ve come. There’s no point in announcing it. Just cut the cables.”

We went back to see if we could help de Crespigny’s party. It was pitch dark, and as I approached, Corporal “Curly” Gimbert burst through a hedge at me. The next thing I felt was a bayonet pushing insistently through my tunic. “Password!” Gimbert hissed.

He was a big, powerful man. It seemed a long time before I could say anything when I’ve been less scared. At last I remembered the word and let it out with a sigh. “Desmond!” I said. Gimbert, recognising my voice, removed the bayonet quickly. “All right, Colonel.” I thought he sounded disappointed.

Commando: Memoirs of a Fighting Commando in World War Two – John Durnford-Slater
Telegraph Bay a Photograph taken later in the war in February 1945. Higher resolution images are available from NCAP here
This is likely to be the spot where they set up the road block as there are still large granite boulders in the garden of the property on the left and this is the first point where they could block the road entirely for the Jerbourg Pennisula. © Nick Le Huray

They resigned themselves to returning empty handed although they were not happy about it as Durnford-Slater recounts.

We formed up on the road between the barracks and the Doyle Column, a monument we had used as a landmark. It was easy to guess from the muttered curses that the others shared my disgust at our negative performance and at the fact that we had met no Germans.

George Herbert was particularly upset and begged me to give them a few minutes more to visit some houses nearby which he thought might contain Germans. In this atmosphere of complete anticlimax, it was clear that none of us wanted to leave. But I called the officers together. “We’ve got to be back on the beach in ten minutes,” I said urgently.

Commando: Memoirs of a Fighting Commando in World War Two – John Durnford-Slater
Looking the other way from the road block towards the Doyle Monument. This is actually a replacement as the Germans demolished the original during the war. © Nick Le Huray
View from Jerbourg Point © Nick Le Huray

The only shot fired by the raiders was accidental when Durnford-Slater slipped and discharged his pistol. A searchlight briefly came on followed by a brief burst of machine gun fire. The Germans had only been in the island for two weeks so had not yet built the bunkers that you see on Jerbourg peninsula today.

Hardly surprising that running down here in the dark Durnford-Slater slipped and his cocked pistol went off. As at July 2022 you can’t get down to the beach due to a rockfall. © Nick Le Huray

Their troubles were not over. Due to the tide and the rocks the launches couldn’t get close in. They began ferrying the party out in a dinghy but on one of the trips it was caught in the waves and overturned. One of the commandos, Gunner J. McGoldrick, was lost overboard and feared drowned. He was later found alive and captured remaining a POW until 1945.

They were now left with no choice but to swim to the launches. This presented another problem as three of them couldn’t swim. The three men were Private F.T. Drain, Private A Ross and Corporal D. Dumper. They were left on the beach with instructions to hide and return the next night to be picked up. Unfortunately for them this was deemed too risky and the Navy refused to come and pick them up.

When I mentioned on Twitter that I was writing about Operation Ambassador @GuernseyLiz14 Liz Walton was kind enough to share the information that she had collated about her relatives who helped to hide the non swimmers. Her Aunt & Uncle stayed in contact with Fred Drain after the war with him visiting them. Thanks Liz for your kind permission to share these.

© Liz Walton
© Liz Walton
© Liz Walton

They were later apprehended walking down the road near the airport some days later. At least unlike Mulholland and Martel they were wearing uniform.

There is an account of the raid in an interview held by the Imperial War Museum given in 1988 by Sir Ronald Swayne MC who held the rank of Lieutenant at the time of the raid. In his interview he recalls that some of the boats were towed by the destroyers and that they had gone too fast for these boats which left them damaged and leaking.

But we weren’t remotely ready. We didn’t know what kind of boats we wanted, we didn’t know how to do it, there wasn’t a proper planning body to prepare for these raids. In any case there was a fearful shortage of weapons and everything… we had no Tommy guns and we didn’t have the Remington Colt which we were issued with later… we were armed with .38 revolvers which was, I always thought, a poor weapon. There was a shortage of ammunition for teaching the soldiers to shoot. Some of them had hardly done any practice on the range, it was all frightfully amateurish.

Sir Ronald Swayne MC, interview with the IWM which you can find it here.

Interestingly his account regarding the weapons situation seems to different from other accounts as they all refer to them being armed with Tommy guns and Bren guns. The pistol situation sounds about right given that Durnford-Slater’s pistol was cocked when he lost his footing and it discharged. This difference in accounts may be due to the passage of time between the events and the interview some forty eight years later. Many other accounts given more closely to the raid indicate that Tommy guns and Brens were used.

As the party due to meet Martel and Mulholland never made it to the bay instead heading on a trip to another island they weren’t picked up. As a result the two men, fearing for the impact that their capture may have on their relatives still in Guernsey decided they needed to hide then escape.

They left the beach and decided to hide in a barn and spent some time hiding with family. Martel with his sister and Mulholland with his mother then spending some time at a house in Vazon on the west coast of the island. Realising this was putting their family at great risk and after several attempts to escape from Guernsey, including one by stealing a boat from Perelle Bay which left them stranded on rocks, they decided they had no choice but to surrender themselves to the German authorities.

They contacted the Bailiff Ambrose Sherwill and he arranged for them to be supplied with some uniforms as they had come to the island in civilian clothes which would have resulted in them being treated as spies with the prospect of being shot. Luckily for both men the Germans treated them as prisoners of war rather than spies when they surrendered on 28th July.

They were taken to France and interrogated separately. Mulholland was sent to
Oflag VIIb Eichstätt, Bavaria and Martel to a camp at Tittmoning, Warburg and then Eichstätt.

As with many operations relatively early in the war these two were put together in a rush and a relatively amateur fashion.

The RAF Launches proved to be far from suitable for the job. They were designed for operating over much shorter distances and nearer the coast than travelling over 90 miles to the south west coast of Guernsey. Two of them became unserviceable before the raid even started. They had been supposed to carry twenty men each to the beach. As a results other boats from the destroyers had to be towed behind the launches.

Subsequent raids used larger MTBs, as shown above, which were much more suited to this type of operating environment. Durnford-Slater went on to requisition his own boats that his men were trained to operate and maintain for future raids on mainland Europe.

Ambassador may appear a bit of a disaster with four men captured, Mulholland and Martel subsequently captured and no military objective achieved other than cutting some telephone wires. It did however provide some valuable lessons which were to be implemented for future raids.

Whilst being able to swim was a requirement when signing up for the commandos nobody had actually checked that they could. The unit had only been formed in mid June 1940.

The Navy came in for some criticism from the Army for not being as professional and as experienced as expected. This would seem to me to be a little harsh given the efforts they made to recover the commandos. They stayed beyond the allotted time putting the ships at risk of air attack as dawn came. They had also been promised a pilot with local knowledge but he was not taken onboard before they left England.

The main thing that they learnt was those involved required adequate training and that proper planning was key to the success of future operations.

Churchill was reported to be furious at the amateurish nature of the operation but surely must be partly culpable in the lack of planning because of his wish for it to take place so quickly. After all Anger took place six days after Churchill had ordered the raid and Ambassador twelve days after his initial order.

Dunford-Slater recalls in his memoirs that those involved had all become caught up in the rush to stage the raid that the first proper briefing was on the eve of the operation after they had set sail.

In his interview Swayne puts the blame squarely on the Royal Navy.

It was beautifully planned from an army point of view but the naval preparation was very inefficient, partly due to inadequate equipment of course…. it was a wonderful idea and it could have been a very, very clever raid.

Sir Ronald Swayne MC, interview with the IWM which you can find it here.

One aspect of Ambassador that was a success was that it made the Germans nervous. They conducted a thorough investigation into the landing at Petit Port and the activity around Jerbourg. Having been unable to extract any information from the four commandos and with Martel and Mulholland still at large they were unaware of the other two attempts at landing.

They even staged a re-enactment to try and better understand what had happened. Their assessment was rather more generous in the capabilities of the landing party than if they had been aware of the other landing parties and issues.

As a result of this they spent time searching the island for any raiders that had been left behind and became nervous about the defence of the coastal areas. They also instructed the Guernsey Police force to assist with the search, although they didn’t look very hard.

They placed more restrictions on areas around the coast that civilians could visit and deployed more men to those areas. In addition they began laying minefields.

Evening Press 18 July 1940

The Bailiff (Leading Citizen see here for the role) Ambrose Sherwill (Later Sir Ambrose Sherwill) was troubled by the raid as the Germans had threatened to bomb the island if there was any trouble, presumably after withdrawing themselves. With the deaths of civilians in the raid before the Germans arrived only a few weeks earlier he was moved to write a letter to the British Government. In it he warned of the consequences of such raids. He asked the Germans to ensure this was passed on through diplomatic channels but they declined. You can read my blog about the air raid here

Durnford-Slater certainly learnt from the lessons of Ambassador and took this forward to lead No.3 Commando to many notable successes in future operations.

If you want to learn more about the raids and some of the individuals I recommend these books:

Commando – John Durnford-Slater at the time of writing free on Kindle.

No News From Guernsey – The Diary of Lieutenant Desmond Mulholland MC by Peter Jesson

If you are in Guernsey then you may wish to contact Keith from Guernsey Walking Tours as he does a tour that includes Mulholland. You can follow them on Twitter here @gsywtours.

If you would like to receive email notifications of future blogs, you can sign up to the right of this blog post. Feel free to look around the website, where I have categorised posts to make them easier to find and other resources such as tours, places to visit and films that may be of interest.

You can also follow the blog on Twitter at @Fortress_Island where I share other information and photographs.

I will be adding more as time permits. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope you enjoyed it. Please share it on social media or add a comment if you did. Feedback is always appreciated.

Also happy to be contacted with questions about the war in the Channel Islands, media appearances, podcasts etc.

© Nick Le Huray

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