Yesterday was liberation day in Jersey. For those that don’t know Jersey is part of the Channel Islands (British Isles). The Channel Islands were the only part of the British Isles to be occupied during the second world war.
On 15 June 1940, the British government decided that the Channel Islands were of no strategic importance and would not be defended. They decided to keep this a secret from the German forces. So, in spite of the reluctance of Prime Minister Winston Churchill the British government gave up the oldest possession of the Crown “without firing a single shot” The Channel Islands served no purpose to the Germans other than the propaganda value of having occupied some British territory. The “Channel Islands had been demilitarised and declared…’an open town”.
The British Government consulted the islands’ elected government representatives, in order to formulate a policy regarding evacuation. Opinion was divided and, without a policy being imposed on the islands, chaos ensued and different policies were adopted by the different islands. The British Government concluded their best policy was to make available as many ships as possible so that islanders had the option to leave if they wanted to. The authorities on Alderney recommended that all islanders evacuate, and nearly all did so; the Dame Of Sark, Sibyl Mary Hathaway, encouraged everyone to stay. Guernsey evacuated all children of school age, giving the parents the option of keeping their children with them, or evacuating with their school. In Jersey, the majority of islanders chose to stay.
German soldiers in Jersey.
Since the Germans did not realise that the islands had been demilitarised, they approached them with some caution. Reconnaissance flights were inconclusive. On 28 June 1940, they sent a squadron of bombers over the islands and bombed the harbours of Guernsey and Jersey. In Saint Peter Port, what the reconnaissance mistook for troop carriers were actually trucks lined up to load tomatoes for export to England. Forty-four islanders were killed in the raids.
While the German Army was preparing to land an assault force of two battalions to capture the islands, a reconnaissance pilot landed in Guernsey on 30 June to whom the island officially surrendered. Jersey surrendered on 1 July. Alderney, where only a handful of islanders remained, was occupied on 2 July and a small detachment travelled from Guernsey to Sark, which officially surrendered on 4 July.
The German forces quickly consolidated their positions. They brought in infantry, established communications and anti-aircraft defences, established an air service with mainland France and rounded up British servicemen on leave.
Concentration camps were built in Alderny. The Nazi Organisation Todt operated each subcamp and used forced labour to build bunkers, gun emplacements, air-raid shelters, and concrete fortifications. The camps commenced operating in January 1942 and had a total inmate population of about 6,000.
As part of the Atlantic wall between 1940 and 1945 the occupying German forces and the organisation Todt constructed fortifications round the coasts of the Channel Islands. The Channel Islands were amongst the most heavily fortified, particularly the island of Alderny which is the closest to France. Hitler had decreed that 10% of the steel and concrete used in the Atlantic Wall go to the Channel Islands.
Light railways were established in Jersey and Guernsey by the Germans for the purpose of supplying coastal fortifications. In Jersey, a one-metre gauge line was laid down following the route of the former Jersey railway from Saint Helier to La Corbiere with a branch line connecting the stone quarry at Ronez in Saint John. A 60cm line ran along the west coast, and another was laid out heading east from Saint Helier to Gorey. The first line was opened in July 1942, the ceremony being disrupted by passively-resisting Jersey spectators. The Alderny railway was taken over by the Germans who lifted part of the standard gauge line and replaced it with a metre gauge line.. The German railway infrastructure was dismantled after the Liberation in 1945.
The majority of the workforce constructing bunkers were German soldiers (photo evidence recorded) although around one thousand Soviet soldiers were also used as slave labour.
In Alderney, a concentration camp Lager Sylt was established to provide slave labour for the fortifications.
A large number of the German bunkers and batteries can still be seen today throughout the Channel Islands, a number of them have been restored and are now open to the general public to visit.
Just wanted to say a quick well done to one of my Junior Triathletes getting head boy today, very proud!!
Racing this weekend in Mallorca so will give you the update soon!