The German Occupation of the Channel Islands

The German Occupation of the Channel Islands

by Charles Cruickshank


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The official history of the German occupation of the Channel Islands, this book is based on previously untapped sources of information, including papers from Government departments, the Island’s own wartime files, as well as files left behind by the Feldkommandantur in Guernsey and Jersey. Dr. Cruickshank provides a full account of the German invasion, the subsequent landings of various British agents, raids, and of an attempt to psychological warfare to end the Occupation. He also looks at how the islanders and Wehrmacht lived, the reality of collaboration with the occupying powers, and the extent of support for the Resistance. The significance of this episode in the history of World War II, which the Germans saw as their first conquest of British soil and a springboard to further occupation of British territory, is essential reading for anyone interested in the war.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780750937498
Publisher: The History Press
Publication date: 06/01/2004
Pages: 448
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Charles Cruickshank was educated at Aberdeen Grammar School, Aberdeen University, Hertford College, Oxford, and Edinburgh University before joining the Ministry of Supply in 1940. He retired in 1973, and is the author of Elizabeth’s Army and Henry VIII and the Invasion of France.

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The German Occupation of the Channel Islands

By Charles Cruickshank

The History Press

Copyright © 2009 Charles Michael Cruickshank
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7509-7936-8


Preparation for War

The first step taken by the Islands to contribute to the defeat of Hitler was the embodiment of their militias. On 1 September 1939 both Lieutenant-Governors, aware of the need for speed, but without positive instructions from London, ordered that all ranks should be called up next day.

On 3 September the Home Office and War Office were still corresponding about the proper procedures. The former explained to their colleagues across Whitehall that 'the militia in these Islands may be embodied according to circumstances, by Royal Proclamation, Order in Council, or by an order of the Lieutenant-Governor, and Sir Samuel Hoare will be glad to know whether Mr Secretary Hore-Belisha concurs in the Lieutenant-Governors of the Channel Islands being approached at this stage with a view to embodying the militia now'. Four days and one Secretary of State later the reply came: 'I am commanded by the Army Council to acquaint you for the information of Secretary Sir John Anderson that they concur with the proposal that the Channel Islands' militia should be embodied.'

On the same day news that the militias had already been called up reached the Home Office. The official concerned tried to telephone it to the War Office, without success. He therefore wrote a further letter saying that the Department must now be aware of the position. This was a false assumption.

In acknowledging the letter on 10 September the War Office admitted that they had no idea what was happening in the Channel Islands. Stranger still, in spite of the fact that Britain was responsible for the defence of the Islands, they were unsure 'about the machinery by which we communicate with the Lieutenant-Governors of Jersey and Guernsey in their capacity of General Officers Commanding'. Could one deal with them direct, or had all communications to go through the Home Office? This curious transaction, which suggests that the United Kingdom authorities had begun to muddle through the Second World War almost before it had started, ended happily on 11 September when the Home Office told the War Office that there was no objection to their getting in touch with the Lieutenant-Governors – who, as serving soldiers, were responsible to the Army Council.

The militias were the least of the problems facing the Island authorities. They were intended only for defence. The men of the Channel Islands had for centuries been exempt from service in the armed forces of the Crown, unless they were required to rescue the sovereign from the enemy; but they have never sheltered behind this right. Many from all the Islands volunteered during the First World War, and when the United Kingdom introduced conscription the Islands followed suit. They did so again in the Second World War.

On 16 September the States of Jersey passed a resolution assuring His Majesty of their loyalty and devotion, and placing all their resources at the disposal of the Crown. Both bailiwicks introduced a law to make their men available for the United Kingdom forces and consequential measures to re-shape their militias. The Lieutenant-Governor of Jersey wrote to the Home Office in September about their proposed National Service Bill. He was sure that the services in Britain would welcome it since it would give them all the fighting men who could safely be released. The National Service Law empowering the States to direct British subjects in Jersey between eighteen and forty-one into His Majesty's forces was registered in the Royal Court on 20 January 1940. The complementary Insular Defence Corps Law reorganizing the militia – which could, of course, no longer rely on men fit for overseas service – was registered the same day. It set up a new Defence Corps for service within the Island – the Royal Militia Island of Jersey (Defence Unit) – into which men could be directed under the National Service Law.

According to the usual practice, the Bailiff, Mr Alexander Coutanche (later Lord Coutanche), should have submitted these laws to the Lieutenant-Governor for transmission to London, and the Home Secretary would have returned them for a report by the Law Officers (who were servants of the Crown) before passing them on to the Privy Council. In view of the urgency, however, the Law Officers, Mr C.W. Duret Aubin (Attorney General) and Mr Cecil Harrison (Solicitor General), sensibly provided their report when the measures were first sent to the Home Office. They were satisfied that His Majesty might properly be advised to approve them.

So far so good. Guernsey was no less forthcoming. On 27 September 1939 the States passed a resolution that 'for the period of the duration of the present war, in which the liberties of mankind are at stake, our constitutional rights and privileges in respect of military service overseas, while being formally reserved in perpetuity, should be waived'. The Island's men would be placed at the disposal of His Majesty for service overseas, subject only to the needs of their own essential industries and defence.

This was followed by a loyal address recording that 'for centuries past by authority of Princely writ we have been exempt from military service out of the Islands, unless it be to accompany Your Majesty in person for the recovery of England, or that the person of Your Majesty should be taken prisoner by the enemy. Your Majesty's Norman subjects earnestly trust that their services may never be needed by reason of the happening of either of these calamitous events which render them obligatory.' Men from the bailiwick were already serving in every branch of the armed forces; but the legislatures of Guernsey, Alderney, and Sark 'yield back, freely and gladly, then, to Your Majesty, for the duration of this struggle, those exemptions from military service overseas which Your Majesty's noble predecessors conferred in times past'.

On 15 December 1939 the Home Office, stirred by a telephone call from Guernsey, agreed that the Island's proposals were acceptable, and belatedly offered help in working out the details. Eight weeks later – on 19 February 1940 – the Guernsey National Service Law was sent to London for comment. Now a major difficulty appeared. The legislation made Guernseymen liable for compulsory service in the United Kingdom armed forces, under Guernsey law. It transpired, however, that if a Guernseyman was invited to complete the United Kingdom attestation form (which asked, for example, 'Are you willing to be enlisted for general service?') all he need do to escape conscription was to say 'No', and that was the end of the matter. The Attorney General of Guernsey, Mayor (later Sir) Ambrose Sherwill, pointed out that this could lead to a complete breakdown of the law. Further, if Guernsey's difficulty was resolved by an act of the United Kingdom parliament, it would draw attention to the fact that Jersey's parallel legislation, which was now on the statute book, was subject to the same fundamental weakness.

It was hinted in the correspondence which followed that the authorities in Jersey had been careless. This was quickly disposed of by their Attorney General, Mr C.W. Duret Aubin. The law had been designed to meet the wishes of the War Office, in spite of Jersey's misgivings. The Home Office agreed that the service departments had accepted Guernsey's draft, and the Attorney General of Guernsey wrote with considerable restraint: 'We have reason to think that it was correctly settled in accordance with the wishes and the technical requirements of the Service Departments. I mention this in order that you may not think that we are the cause of any muddle which may have arisen in this respect.' The Lieutenant Governor added that 'it appears to us that the War Office have put us in an impossible position which can only be put right by act of parliament'.

The Islands were handsomely exonerated in a Whitehall memorandum. It made no bones about the blunder over the Jersey law, for which the War Office was mainly responsible. Jersey's original draft was right and the Home Office (acting under pressure from the War Office) should not have had it amended. It was obvious that dual legislation was needed. In the words of the memorandum: 'What was referred to as "a cunning device" for evading legislation at Westminster naturally had the effect of transferring the difficulties to the Islands, and it has not been successful.' By following the Jersey legislation the Guernsey authorities had unwittingly fallen into the trap laid by War Office officials trying to avoid the drudgery of piloting a bill through the United Kingdom parliament; and at the same time they had exposed the existence of the trap.

On 20 May 1940, more than eight months after the outbreak of war, the War Cabinet considered the National Service (Channel Islands) Bill. They were not told it was designed to paper over cracks created by the War Office. A memorandum by the Home Secretary explained that 'the Jersey States have passed, and the Guernsey States will shortly pass local laws similar to the National Service (Armed Forces) Act, 1939; but these local acts cannot operate outside the insular jurisdiction, and in order to make enlistments under the insular legislation valid for all purposes outside the Islands further legislation by the parliament at Westminster is necessary'. He drew a discreet veil over the reasons why it had taken so long for this small bill to appear.

Things could now start moving again. On 3 June Sherwill reported to London that the States had approved the national service law and that the States of Alderney had concurred in its application to their Island. He hoped that the measure would be brought before the Privy Council at the earliest opportunity. Next day The Times, with a fine disregard for the constitutional niceties, reported that 'the new bill awaits the ratification of the Home Office'. The King 'by and with the advice of His Privy Council' approved and ratified the Projet de Loi on 26 June – ten months after the outbreak of war, and two days before the German attack on the Channel Islands made the law a dead letter.

While this slow-moving comedy of administrative errors was being played out, the Guernsey States instituted an inquiry into their militia's wartime role. Many members were volunteering for the United Kingdom forces, and it was therefore necessary to establish a defence force consisting of men unqualified for service overseas. The Island would continue to be defended by men owing service under the ancient militia law. The new force, which must retain the honourable name of the Royal Guernsey Militia, would be a source of pride for every inhabitant. It was assumed that there would be plenty of volunteers, but if there were not, there would have to be conscription. Finally, there was the question of the band. As an economy measure it had not been embodied at the beginning of the war, but it was now proposed that it should continue in being in its present establishment of forty-one musicians. The consistent improvement in its performance in recent years and the keenness of its personnel warranted the support of the Island.

Neither the reorganized Royal Guernsey Militia nor Jersey's Insular Defence Corps had a chance to play a part in the existence of the Islands. The former was still under discussion when the Germans invaded, and the latter awaited the appointment of officers. The Lieutenant-Governor told the Bailiff that it was impossible to get suitable senior officers of experience at the original rate of pay proposed. Further, the number of volunteers was not large, and it was considered in May 1940 that it would be necessary to call men up. Thus for most of the nine months between the declaration of war and demilitarization the existing militias had to carry on, their numbers being steadily depleted as members went into the United Kingdom forces.

Earlier the Channel Islands had been invited to participate in the United Kingdom Civil Air Guard Scheme. Light aeroplane clubs were to train pilots who would offer their services in the event of an emergency. Coutanche saw no constitutional difficulty, so long as Jersey did not re-introduce compulsory service, but he wanted something more ambitious. Jersey must play her role in imperial defence; even after the militia had been reorganized there would still, in his view, be Jerseymen with no chance to serve the Empire, 'in strong contrast to what is happening in England at this time'. An Auxiliary Air Force Unit would give them this chance. The Air Ministry were discouraging, since they considered that the Islands could not support such a unit. They suggested instead a Volunteer Reserve Centre at which pilots could be trained. Coutanche agreed. He was sure that there would be plenty of volunteers.

The Guernsey authorities welcomed the Civil Air Guard Scheme and offered to start a flying club. Their new airport would not be ready until the following summer but members could be given theoretical training during the winter months. The winter months came and went and there was no further news from London. When the LieutenantGovernor asked what was happening he was told that the Air Ministry had not reached a decision. By the outbreak of war nothing had been done, and a Guernsey file recorded that 'now presumably nothing will be done'.

The Lieutenant-Governors of Jersey and Guernsey, both military men, studied the defences of the bailiwicks before the war began, but failed to arouse much interest in the United Kingdom. This was not surprising. Whitehall knew that the strategic importance of the Islands had been reduced; was equally conscious of the desperate shortage of weapons in Britain; and was seemingly oblivious of the United Kingdom's formal responsibility for the defence of the Islands. In September 1939 Jersey asked for two 4.7-inch coastal defence guns, four Bofors anti-aircraft guns, and twelve Bren guns. The War Office received the order without enthusiasm and the official handling the transaction made an ungenerous marginal note: 'Perhaps when the States are informed of the cost (about £40,000) and its effect on their income tax, they may review their requirements.' The formal reply was that coastal guns might be delivered in August 1940 but that it was impossible to quote a date for Bofors, production of which had only just started, or for Bren guns. The War Office airily told the Home Office that the possibility of an attack on Jersey was 'somewhat remote', and the Army Council hinted that the weapons asked for might be more useful elsewhere. The best that Jersey could do for the Empire Defence Problem (the Army Council's capitals) would be to protect the airfield from low-flying attacks. They recommended Lewis guns, 'which are at present the most general weapon in use at Home'.

In October 1939 the Lieutenant-Governor faced up to the inevitable. He said, humbly, that Jersey realized that the Imperial Armed Forces must have priority. Two months later he retreated further. He wrote to the Home Office: 'As the possibility of obtaining the equipment asked for in sufficient time for it to be of any use in the present war is remote, and as the situation may have materially changed by the time the equipment is available', the States wished to cancel the order, except for seven Bren guns. The War Office gratefully noted this change of heart and replied that there was no chance of supplying anything in 1940.

In April 1939 the Lieutenant-Governor of Guernsey, Major-General Sir Edward Broadbent, in his capacity of Officer Commanding, Guernsey and Alderney District, reported to the Bailiff that he had examined 'with some anxiety' the question of the defence of the Island in the event of war. The Channel Islands were not of primary strategical importance but might have to face minor raids from the sea or the air. An artillery unit to man coastal and air defence weapons and an infantry unit would therefore be needed – about 270 officers and men. Weapons could not be provided for twelve or eighteen months and would be costly. It seemed to him sensible to train the militia to a higher standard before buying sophisticated equipment. Major-General Telfer-Smollett, who succeeded Broadbent as Lieutenant-Governor, agreed that the shape of the militia should be changed on these lines; but suggested that in view of the long delivery dates two Bofors and two 4.7-inch coastal guns should be ordered right away.

Expert advice was needed before the sites for the coastal guns could be chosen, but the War Office could not spare anyone. Further, the guns could be supplied only at the expense of more important commitments. On 4 October the Lieutenant-Governor told the Bailiff that he fully agreed with the decision to buy guns, but that war had come before they could be installed and gunners trained. He now recommended that the States should rely solely on Lewis guns – the advice the War Office had already given Jersey. The modest attempts by the two bailiwicks to take care of themselves had come to naught.


Excerpted from The German Occupation of the Channel Islands by Charles Cruickshank. Copyright © 2009 Charles Michael Cruickshank. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


1 Preparation for War,
2 Demilitarization,
3 Preparation for Occupation,
4 Invasion,
5 Early Operations,
6 Occupation Government,
7 Daily Life: Islanders,
8 Daily Life: Germans,
9 The Fortress,
10 Deportation,
11 Later Operations,
12 Siege,
13 Liberation,
14 Aftermath,
15 Conclusion,
Select Bibliography,

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