Island Life   

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German Occupation 1940 - 1945

On 28th June 1940, a German spotter plane flew over the island and later touched down at Guernsey's newly completed airport.  Later that day, Luftwaffe planes bombed St Peter Port harbour where tomato lorries lined the quay. From the air they must have looked like troop carriers and as a result of the attack, 38 people died and many more injured. On 30 June German troops landed and began five long years of foreign occupation and military rule.

In the tradition of the island, many Guernseymen were already serving in HM forces in Europe and many more islanders (around 17,000 including hundreds of schoolchildren) had been evacuated to the north of England in the preceeding weeks. But over half of the population (25,000) decided to stay and face whatever came their way. Around 2,000 of those were later to find themselves imprisoned in Germany. The entire population of Alderney was evacuated and there sprung up three slave labour camps and an S.S. Concentration camp.

In Guernsey, the local government had no alternative but to act as a conduit for the orders and directives of the German Commander. Irksome restrictions, curfews and censorship were imposed and all radio sets were banned. However this did not stop islanders hiding them away and listening to broadcast from the BBC in London whenever they could.

The seizure of the first British territories was seen as a major prize for Hitler and ordered an impregnable fortress to be built across the Channel Islands. The materials and effort spent was totally disproportionate to the strategic importance of the islands but he was convinced that the British would recapture them. In fact the British Government had already decided in 1940 that the islands could not be defended without huge loss of life. In just 2 1/2 years between 1942 and 1944, 272,000 cubic metres of reinforced concrete were poured . By 1943 five thousand one hundred Todt Organisation foreign slave workers were working in the island. Many were to lose their lives from exhaustion and starvation. They were guarded by a garrison of 13,000 Wehrmacht troops.

Backbone of the defense network were medium and heavy artillery batteries - 65 guns in all and backed up by batteries at Paimpot, Alderney and Capo de la Hague. The largest was the Miras Battery in St Saviour, which consisted of four re-conditioned 30.5cm Russian Battleship guns.

After the Normandy landings in 1944, the islands became cut off from the rest of Europe and food and fuel supplies dried up.   Life became steadily worse with both the occupying forces and islanders suffering from starvation. The harsh winter of 1944 made life almost unbearable. However by the end of December, a life saving Red Cross ship the SS Vega docked at St Peter Port with much needed supplies and was to make several more trips up to May 1945. 

Finally on 9th May 1945 the German Commander surrendered and first British Troops landed in St Peter Port from HMS Bulldog. They were warmly welcomed by islanders along the Quay and three days later the main liberation party arrived. Then started a massive clean up operation and over the following months, some of the German troops were used to clear up the 66,000 land mines laid around the island.

Relics of the Occupation are all too visible but in the last 65 years, islanders have come to terms with the reminders of those years. Several of the German watch towers and bunkers have been restored as part of Fortress Guernsey, an ambitious conservation programme started in 1993 and they are open to the public. The story of the Nazi occupation is also told in graphic detail at the Occupation Museum run by Richard Heaume near to the airport. There is also a splendid gallery at Castle Cornet. There is also an award winning museum near La Vallette bathing pools in St Peter Port in German built fuel storage tunnels.

Guernsey Forts & Museums

Links to Local History sites

Fortress Guernsey
Occupied Guernsey
Candie Museum 



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