Jersey - The German Occupation
The Second World War 1939-45
Lying just off the coast of northern France, the Channel Islands are a unique part of the British Isles with a long history spanning many centuries. Not part of the United Kingdom the islands are independent and self-governing, and have been viewed as rich prizes by invaders dating back to Roman times. In 1940 as France surrendered, the islands came under the gaze of a new invader, as Hitler's mighty war machine viewed them as a coveted prize.
The largest of the islands is Jersey, covering just 45 square miles, and together with the neighbouring islands they were seized by German forces in July 1940. Over the next five years the islands were under Nazi rule and for the area they covered, had more troops deployed to guard them than any other territory under German occupation. The islands had been declared 'Open', meaning there were no British troops on them, but the radio broadcasts appeared to have been missed by the Germans and the Luftwaffe bombed the main harbour installations. The air raids caused much damage and killed and wounded many civilians.
Over the following months the civilian population watched as more troops arrived by sea and took control of facilities such as the airport and harbours. Cut off from the outside world Hitler was determined they should never be retaken by the British and ordered the islands turned into powerful fortresses with massive anti-tank walls, bunkers and tunnels absorbing thousands of tons of concrete and steel. Minefields were laid and artillery positions built to encircle each island and more weapons were shipped in to make the islands ever-more powerful.
The Occupation took a different course from other European countries, although martial law imposed a curfew and civilian movement was restricted to certain areas. Gradually more strict laws were imposed and those citizens not born on the islands were deported to camps in Europe and the small Jewish community was also sent to Concentration Camps. Many died in these unique transportation plans, resistance was futile, apart from passive demonstrations and any act of insubordination brought severe repercussions including deportation. Along with other occupied territories the islands were expected to contribute to the occupying powers and pay for their own administration.
Each of the main islands were transformed into heavily defended fortresses, first by the Organisation Todt, the German Army's construction unit, and later forced labour using Russian prisoners brought to the islands. Each island developed its own defensive system according to size and terrain, which was out of all proportion to their military importance. On Jersey, for example, tunnels, such as the Hohlgansanlage 8 in Lawrence, were dug using slave labour to create a series of galleries measuring more than half-a-mile. Originally begun as a storage facility the tunnels were turned into an underground hospital with the capacity for 500 beds to deal with the wounded following D-Day.
Defensive positions with overlapping fire were created and the sandy bays were fronted by anti-tank walls. This year sees the 70th anniversary of the islands' Liberation and many of the bunkers have been transformed into museums, housing some of the finest collections of equipment used by the German Army. This tour to Jersey will take you to visit some of the best preserved sites with access in the company of your guide, who will explain the intricacies of the weapons, defence plans and the commando raids conducted against the island by British troops.
In no other country under German Occupation did civilian and military forces live so closely together and for such a long time. After France was liberated in 1944 Jersey and the other islands had to endure a further year of Occupation. Isolated from mainland Europe the islands had to fend for themselves and food production was a constant problem. By the end of 1944, early 1945 fuel was also in short supply and the Germans mounted a raid to steal a cargo ship with coal from the French port of Granville. By this time the German garrison was on starvation rations and the Swedish Red Cross vessel the Vega arrived with Red Cross parcels for the civilians. Daily life will be detailed and your guide will explain the effect the situation had and the reaction by the civilians.
When the Liberation Force approached the islands they did not know what to expect. Jersey was liberated on 9th May 1945 without a shot being fired, but it was a very tense moment for all concerned. The local population was overjoyed and the once-proud German troops were taken off the islands, some were defiant but most were relieved it was all over. The programme to dismantle the defences began with the removal of thousands of tons of ammunition. It was virtually impossible to demolish the concrete bunkers, except for the smaller positions, and today these enigmatic structures form the basis of the visit.
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