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 Demilitarisation of the Channel Islands, 1940

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Anglo-Norman
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PostSubject: Demilitarisation of the Channel Islands, 1940   Wed 13 May 2015, 22:15

In June 1940 the British Government decided that the Channel Islands were of no strategic value and should not be defended. They withdrew or disbanded what little military presence there was, and effectively left them a large-scale equivalent of an 'open town'. This is understandable. However galling it may have been, and distressing for the Islanders, the Channel Islands had (at that point - things changed later) little strategic value to either side and as far as the Germans were concerned, would serve as little more than propaganda triumphs if captured. They had no modern fortifications and would have been almost impossible to defend, certainly without supplying the sort of massive military resources that Britain could ill-afford at that time.

So far, so good.

However, it was decided not to tell the Germans. The reasoning seems to have been that to do so would be an open invitation for the Germans to waltz in. Unfortunately, of course, the Germans waltzed in anyway. However, before doing so they sent an 'armed reconnaissance' of bombers to inspect the defences. Seemingly mistaking rows of trucks carrying potatoes and tomatoes for troop convoys the planes bombed and strafed the harbours and towns of St Helier in Jersey, resulting in 11 deaths, and St Peter Port in Guernsey, where 33 were killed.

It seems an extraordinary blunder not to have told the Germans that the Islands had been demilitarised. Surely it was obvious that if they were going to invade they would do so regardless or whether or not they knew the Islands were undefended.
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PostSubject: Re: Demilitarisation of the Channel Islands, 1940   Wed 13 May 2015, 22:53

Good point there A-N. I hadn't realised that there had been casualties during the invasion of Guernsey. That fact certainly makes the question more than merely academic.

Also - do we know if the reverse was true? In other words was there some kind of demilitarisation on the German side which precluded a British/Allied invasion in the last year of the war? It never ceases to amaze me that, 11 months after the Normandy landings, 8 months after the liberation of Paris and Brussels, 7 months after the battle of Arnhem, 3 months after the battle of the Ardennes, 2 months after the capture of Cologne and a week after the capture of Hamburg etc - Guernsey and Jersey were still under German occupation.
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PostSubject: Re: Demilitarisation of the Channel Islands, 1940   Thu 14 May 2015, 09:36

Vizzer wrote:


Also - do we know if the reverse was true? In other words was there some kind of demilitarisation on the German side which precluded a British/Allied invasion in the last year of the war?
Far from it - if anything defences were increased.  By the end of the war there were two soldiers to every one civilian! 
 Gen. Von Schmettow, the decent, sensible local C-in-C, was retired, ostensibly on health grounds but more probably because he was felt to be too sympathetic to the locals.  He was replaced by the rabidly Naxi Admiral Huffmeier.  (It's a measure of his popularity that within a few weeks of his arrival there were two seperate plots to assassinate him, one by the officers, one by the ordinary troops!)  Other key officers, including commanders of coastal batteries, were also replaced by more 'reliable' men.  Right up to the last minute Huffmeier was threatening to fire on any Allied vessel that came within range, but fortunately common sense eventually prevailed.  Even then it was one of his subordinates who signed the articles of surrender.
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PostSubject: Re: Demilitarisation of the Channel Islands, 1940   Fri 15 May 2015, 22:05

I didn't know that A.N. (i.e. that the Channel Islands had been left to the mercy of the invader). I caught a documentary on one of the Freeview channels about wartime in the Channel Islands narrated by John Nettles a while ago and it was interesting.  I tend to know the well-known accounts of war in the Channel Islands (like the children being evacuated and coming back after the war speaking English rather than Norman French).  Though of course it may not be so simple as that but that appears to be the "perceived wisdom" for a layperson like myself. I know that Victor Hugo spent some time in exile in Guernsey in an earlier century but don't have a detailed knowledge of the local history of the islands.
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PostSubject: Re: Demilitarisation of the Channel Islands, 1940   Sun 17 May 2015, 19:17

LadyinRetirement wrote:
I know that Victor Hugo spent some time in exile in Guernsey in an earlier century

He was briefly in Jersey, too, but they didn't like his politics and kicked him out!  Didn't stop someone in the Island naming their vintners after him, though!  It was Hugo who famously described the Islands as "little pieces of France dropped into the sea and picked up by England".

The history of the Channels Islands is fascinating, but apart from the Occupation most people outside the Islands probably know nothing of it. Fair enough, I suppose, they're only small - and to be honest, as a Jerseyman my knowledge of the history of the other Islands is often sketchy at best.
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PostSubject: Re: Demilitarisation of the Channel Islands, 1940   Sun 17 May 2015, 20:40

AN, it's nice to see a familiar face in these echoing halls. I have fond memories of Jersey having gone there on holiday every year from age 13 to 20.
It's a while since you've given us an update on the what's been happening on the archaeology front down there, any more exciting pre-historic revelations?

I know this is rather off topic but it seems there is no-one around to complain!
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PostSubject: Re: Demilitarisation of the Channel Islands, 1940   Mon 18 May 2015, 12:20

Vizzer wrote:
It never ceases to amaze me that, 11 months after the Normandy landings, 8 months after the liberation of Paris and Brussels, 7 months after the battle of Arnhem, 3 months after the battle of the Ardennes, 2 months after the capture of Cologne and a week after the capture of Hamburg etc - Guernsey and Jersey were still under German occupation.

I'd forgotten that aspect Viz. And after D-Day the German occupied Channel Islands were effectively cut off and under siege. Churchill's reaction to the besieged German garrison was to "let 'em rot", though of course this meant that the islanders had to rot with them. For 11 months the German garrison must have received very little in the way of supplies, and the plight of the civillian population was surely considerably worse. Although didn't the International Red Cross eventually manage to negociate the supply by sea of emergency food and medical supplies to the starving and beleagued population?
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PostSubject: Re: Demilitarisation of the Channel Islands, 1940   Mon 18 May 2015, 18:39

Post D-Day the situation had become increasingly desperate, with food an other essentials in disastrously short supply. Baron Von Aufsess, the Platzkommandant of Jersey from 1944, appealed to Britain for aid for the Channel Islanders (as a whole, not just Jersey). It was this which prompted Churchill's "Let 'em starve... Let 'em rot" comment; it seems it was assumed the Germans would steal any supplies sent. That door firmly shut in his face, Von Aufsess turned instead to the Red Cross, who agreed to start sending emergency aid. Contrary to Churchill's expectations the Germans were rigorous in ensuring the supplies only went to the garrison. The result was that by the end of the War the Occupiers were in a far worse position than the Islanders!

As more archaeology... the big story continues to be the hoard of 71,000 Celtic coins, gold torques etc dug up three years ago. The initial belief it was buried during Julius Caesar's invasion of Gaul has had to be revised, due to British coins from c.30BC being found amongst the earlier ones. The most recent discovery, however, is organic - what appears to be a 2000 year old millipede hidden amongst the coins! http://jerseyeveningpost.com/news/2015/05/18/meet-arthur-jersey-museums-ancient-millipede/
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PostSubject: Re: Demilitarisation of the Channel Islands, 1940   Tue 19 May 2015, 15:59

Operation Ambassador, one of the very early Commando raids in July 1940;

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Ambassador


There were seven Commando missions carried out on the Channel Islands. Operation Ambassador was the first and largest of these, employing 140 men from No. 3 Commando and No. 11 Independent Company in a night raid on 14 July 1940. Later raids were much smaller; only 12 men of No. 62 Commando took part in Operation Dryad in September 1942, when they captured seven prisoners and located several German codebooks. Operation Branford, a reconnaissance mission that aimed to identify a suitable gun position to support future raids on Alderney, followed only days later. In October of that year 12 men from No.s 12 and 62 Commandos took part in Operation Basalt, a raid on Sark that saw four Germans killed and one taken prisoner.
All the other Channel Islands raids were less successful. In January 1943, Operation Huckabuck, a raid on Herm, was a failure. After three attempts to scale the islands cliffs the Commandos finally reached the top, but there were no signs of any German occupation troops or of the island's population. The next raids were Operations Hardtack 28 and Hardtack 7 in December 1943. The Hardtack 28 raid on Jersey ended in failure when two men were killed and one wounded after they walked into a minefield. The exploding mines alerted the German garrison and the Commandos had to abandon the operation. In Hardtack 7 the Commandos had returned to Sark, but had to abandon the operation and return to England when they were unable to scale the island's cliffs.




Proclamation issued by the Germans after capturing two officers in plain clothes;

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PostSubject: Re: Demilitarisation of the Channel Islands, 1940   Tue 19 May 2015, 22:11

In the long term I'm not sure the Commando raids achieved much, except to prompt the Germans to tighten up what until then had been a relatively loose regime.

This year was a milestone, as it was not only the 70th anniversary of the Liberation, but the probably (due to the advanced years of most of the participants) the last visit of the Jersey Ex-Internees Association to Bad Wurzach. From September 1942 some 2,011 Channel Islanders (mainly Britons not locally born) were deported to Germany, initially in revenge for the internment of German citizens in Iran. 618 were interned in the Castle of Bad Wurzach, finally liberated in April 1945 by the Free French Forces (mercifully the Volkssturm troopers that made up the bulk of the defenders defied the Waffen-SS soldiers in charge of them and surrendered, as the FFF did not know about the internees and had intended to bombard the Castle!). The internment orders arrived from above, of course, and the garrison in the Channel Islands was very reluctant to implement them. One Jerseyman later vividly recalled the visible distress on the faces of the German troops as they transferred the Internees onto the boats for the Continent, some even seeming to be on the verge of tears! Treatment of the Islanders varied but those in Bad Wurzach were relatively well treated and the children amongst them had regular trips into town and were allowed treats like ice-cream.

It was the Ex-Internees who pushed for reconciliation in the years after the War, and in 2002 Bad Wurzach and St Helier, Jersey's capital, were officially twinned. There have been frequent trips and exchanges between the two (the Bad Wurzach town band is a regular participant in Jersey's famous Battle of Flowers for example).

Interestingly, many former German soldiers recall their time in the Islands with fondness. Marine-Artillerie Abteilung 604, who manned Coastal Battery 'Lothringen' in Jersey, had regular reunions in the Island until quite recently. I knew the son of a German soldier, formerly of Panzer Abteilung 213, who had returned to the Island and married a girl he had met there during the Occupation.
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PostSubject: Re: Demilitarisation of the Channel Islands, 1940   Wed 20 May 2015, 09:29

March 1945 saw a German raid to capture Allied supplies at Granville in France;

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Granville_Raid
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PostSubject: Re: Demilitarisation of the Channel Islands, 1940   Wed 20 May 2015, 09:43

I see another raid was planned for 7th May - Huffmeier really didn't know when he was beaten, did he!
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PostSubject: Re: Demilitarisation of the Channel Islands, 1940   Thu 21 May 2015, 21:41

Thanks Trike and A-N for all that eye-opening information. I had no idea there was quite so much action, destruction, violence and death in the islands.

My appreciation of the islands during the Second World War would tend to come from such literary sources as the 2008 novel The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society or the 1974 play The Dame of Sark, in both of which any actual violence is minimal and also takes places 'off stage' or even 'off island'. Even Reginald Maugham's 1946 book Jersey Under the Jackboot seemed quite sanitised in this respect.

It just goes to show that there's no such thing as a glamorous war.
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PostSubject: Re: Demilitarisation of the Channel Islands, 1940   Thu 21 May 2015, 23:31

I wonder - I know there was a row over "Enemy at the Door", but was it at least reasonably historically accurate?
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PostSubject: Re: Demilitarisation of the Channel Islands, 1940   Fri 22 May 2015, 14:10

Vizzer wrote:
Thanks Trike and A-N for all that eye-opening information. I had no idea there was quite so much action, destruction, violence and death in the islands.



Although  the Channel Island based human torpedoes in The Eagle has Landed are fiction.



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PostSubject: Re: Demilitarisation of the Channel Islands, 1940   Tue 06 Oct 2015, 19:01

As a contrast, something which I hadn't realised before: unlike the decision to demilitarise the Channel Islands in WWII, it seems that Britain was determined to hold on to them during the First World War. Regular troops were sent to bolster the Militia, and extensive gun batteries and trenches were established in the most vulnerable areas (albeit mainly of the earth-and-timber 'field fortification' variety than the more sophisticated defences built by the Germans a few decades later).
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