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Trevor G. Davenport

Historical map of Alderney’s flak batteries (© PL)



Historical map of Alderney’s artillery (© PL)



















Historical map ofGuernsey’s Strongpoints and Resistance Nests (© RC)

The events that led to the German invasion of the Channel Islands are well documented and need only be summarised here.
The British Government had concluded after the Great War of 1914-1918 that the Islands were of little strategic value and to defend them would serve no military purpose. With the Germans rapidly advancing westwards in June 1940, the remaining British troops were withdrawn and the Islands were demilitarised. However, the failure of the British Government to inform the Germans of this led to the bombing of St. Helier and St. Peter Port on 28 June 1940. After officially being informed that the Islands were indeed demilitarised, for all practical purposes the Germans occupied Guernsey on 30 June, Jersey on 1 July, Alderney on 2 July and Sark on 4 July. The evacuation on 23 June of the inhabitants of Alderney on ships sent from Britain is admirably described in The Alderney Story: 1939-1949.
The subsequent fortification of the Channel Islands by the Germans has always been considered to be due to Hitler’s personal obsession with the possession of British soil. Their occupation was certainly of great propaganda value and if Operation ‘Seelöwe’ (‘Sealion’) – the invasion of Britain – had gone ahead, they would have proved valuable staging posts. Also Hitler, after the war had been won, never intended that the Channel Islands would be returned to Britain; instead he intended to keep them under German control. Hitler firmly believed the British would attempt to recapture the Islands. In fact Mountbatten became a great advocate for the recapturing of Alderney – particularly as there was no civilian population, and several hair-raising schemes were planned for such an operation. Fortunately they were not carried out, as it is debatable if any of the planned operations would have succeeded.
After Hitler had indefinitely postponed Operation ‘Sealion’ due to the failure of the Luftwaffe to gain air superiority during the Battle of Britain in 1940, he sought to bring Britain to its knees by cutting off supplies. In early 1941, submarine bases were established in France and, due to the initial success of the U-boat campaign, Operation ‘Barbarossa’ – the invasion off Russia – commenced in June.
After Pearl Harbor and the entry of the USA into the conflict in December 1941, Hitler issued orders for the building of the so-called ‘Atlantikwall’ (‘Atlantic Wall’) to defend the whole of the coastline of Europe from Norway to the Spanish border. However, two months prior to this he had issued a directive to turn the Channel Islands into an impregnable fortress and subsequently the Islands became an integral part of the Atlantic Wall. The majority of the permanent, fortress standard construction (walls and roofs of reinforced concrete at least 2m thick) was carried out between 1942 and 1943 by the ‘Organization Todt’ (OT) using mostly forced foreign labour.
The OT had originally been set up in 1933 under Dr. Fritz Todt to construct Germany’s motorway network. In 1938 the OT was given the task of constructing the West Wall defences, as it was impossible for the Army Fortress Engineers to carry out such a programme of fortification by themselves. After Hitler had decided to construct the Atlantic Wall, the OT was the natural choice to assume technical direction and construction of the fortification programme. It should be pointed out, however, that although the majority of the permanent fortifications were constructed by the OT, the responsibility for their design lay with the respective units in each branch of the armed forces. At the height of the building programme, the OT’s labour force consisted of half a million men of whom only 10% were German. However, by late 1943, supplies of necessary materials diminished and construction slowed in the Channel Islands. The labourers were withdrawn to the continent where, amongst other tasks, they were employed in the strengthening of mainland sections of the Atlantic Wall. By 1944, Hitler was expecting an allied invasion of Europe and designated the Channel Islands as one of twelve ‘Fortresses’ that were to be defended to the last man.
In Alderney, the OT labourers were housed in four camps: Lager ‘Helgoland’; Lager ‘Norderney’; Lager ‘Borkum’; Lager ‘Sylt’.
These camps - all named after German North Sea islands - were constructed within six months by a volunteer force of French workmen who arrived in the island in January 1942. Lager ‘Borkum’, (Impôt road) was for skilled workers, many being volunteers, while Lagers ‘Helgoland’ (Platte Saline) and ‘Norderney’ (Saye Bay) were for the forced labourers. The infamous Lager ‘Sylt’ (near Telegraph Tower), under the control of SS Construction Brigade 1 from March 1943, had been previously used by the OT to house Russian and other forced labourers. The harsh treatment and conditions of labourers in this, the only German concentration camp on British soil, are fully described by Pantcheff. By 1943, the total number of forced labourers on the island was over 4,000.
The German garrison increased from 450 in 1941 to 3,200 by 1944, made up of 890 infantry, 590 navy, 1,050 air force, 70 artillery, 200 service corps and 400 auxiliary personnel. The large number of Luftwaffe personnel can be explained by the various command responsibilities of the German forces. All anti-aircraft batteries were the responsibility of the Luftwaffe. No personnel were involved in flight operations as the pre-war airfield was trenched and mined as it was considered to be a potential enemy landing zone. Coastal defence was primarily the responsibility of the navy, and consequently the army batteries, both Coastal and Divisional Artillery, came under the direction of the island’s senior naval officer. However, once enemy forces had landed, landing barrage fire came under Divisional control.