Nazi propaganda image showing German Navy sailor at historical cannon on the Channel Islands
History

Channel Islands: Life On The Only British Territories Under Wartime Occupation

The Channel Islands were brought to the brink of starvation while occupied by German forces between 30 June 1940 and 9 May 1945.

Nazi propaganda image showing German Navy sailor at historical cannon on the Channel Islands

This year has seen the 75th anniversary of VE Day, which celebrates Germany's unconditional surrender on 8 May 1945, marking the end of the Second World War in Europe.

The following day marks the official liberation of the Channel Islands, the only British territories to have to have endured occupation during the conflict.

What are the Channel Islands?

The collective term 'Channel Islands' began to be used in the 19th century and is used to identify an archipelago in the English Channel.

There are two Crown Dependencies in the archipelago - the Bailiwick of Jersey and the Bailiwick of Guernsey.

These are not part of the UK and they are self-governing dependencies of the Crown, meaning they have their own assemblies, legal and fiscal systems.

They are also not represented in the UK Parliament.

Among the islands that make up the archipelago, Jersey and Guernsey make up roughly 99% of the population.

The Crown Dependencies have never been colonies of the United Kingdom and they are not Overseas Territories.

However, the UK Government is responsible for their defence and international relations.

A Luftwaffe officer speaking with a British policeman in St. Helier, the capital of the island of Jersey, during the German occupation of the Channel Islands
A German officer speaking with a British policeman in Jersey in 1941 (Picture: PA).

Operation Haddock Force

In June 1940, a number of Royal Air Force bombers were dispatched to bomb industrial targets near Turin and Genoa, in Italy.

The operation was planned ahead of Italy entering the conflict on 10 June 1940 and was put into action as soon as the country joined enemy forces.

During the night between 11 and 12 June, RAF Armstrong Whitworth Whitley bombers carried out their first raid.

The aircraft refuelled at bases on Jersey and Guernsey and then proceeded to fly all the way to Italy.

Other raid attempts were made also using RAF Vickers Wellington bombers, which had to stop in Southern France before proceeding to bomb northern Italy.

Operation Haddock Force continued until 17 June 1940, but due to bad weather, many aircraft had to turn around, some failed to return, and only a few reached the targets.

A German telecamera photographs the coast of England from the Channel Islands
A German camera attempts to photograph the English coast in 1942 (Picture: Topfoto/PA).

Demilitarisation following Operation Ariel

Between 15 and 20 June 1940, all Allied personnel left the Channel Islands.

After the Fall of France, it was decided by the United Kingdom that the islands would offer no strategic value to the UK and they would not be defended.

On 16 June, the islands were instructed to aid Operation Ariel, which saw the Allied forces evacuate France after the Battle of France.

As part of Operation Ariel, more than 20,000 men, mostly from the Canadian forces, were evacuated from the historic port city of Saint-Malo, in Britanny.

The Channel Islands were told to make as many boats as possible available to help with the evacuation of Saint-Malo.

By 20 June 1940, all Allied troops had left the islands - however, this information was not communicated to Germany.

Evacuation

Following the decision to demilitarise the Channel Islands and the departure of the remaining troops, the UK Government realised it had to give islanders the opportunity to leave.

The first official evacuation boats left on 20 June and the last one left just three days later.

It was clear, however, that not everyone who wished to leave would have the chance to do so, as German forces had already arrived in nearby Cherbourg by the time the evacuation began.

Priority was given to special categories, such as children and their teachers.

To speed up the process, mail boats, coal barges and cattle boats were also used during the evacuation.

There were also reports of boats licensed to carry up to 12 people reaching a total of 300 evacuees on board.

German fortification and control tower observation post with radar on St Ouen, Jersey during Channel Island German occupation in 1945 resized image 010145 CREDIT TopFoto PA.jpg
A German control tower and observation post with radar in St Ouen, Jersey during the German occupation of the Channel Islands, pictured in 1945 (Picture: TopFoto/PA).

German invasion

After the loss of the Battle of France, the UK deemed the Channel Islands to be of little strategic importance.

The German army had a different opinion: the strategic location in the English Channel offered them an outlook on Britain.

Unaware of the recent demilitarisation and the evacuation trips, on 28 June 1940, Germany launched a bombing raid on the islands which killed 44 civilians.

Two days later, on 30 June, a German reconnaissance pilot made a test landing on Guernsey and realised the islands were not defended.

German forces landed in Guernsey on the same day and on 1 July they invaded Jersey.

On 2 July they invaded the island of Alderney, but found it empty.

Two days later, a German detachment left Guernsey and invaded Sark.

The Channel Islands were under German occupation from 30 June 1940 until their liberation on 9 May 1945.

Life during occupation

One of the key changes implemented by German forces was the change of time zone from GMT (Greenwich Meridian Time, used in London), to CET (Central European Time, used in France).

Driving was changed to the right-hand side of roads, in line with mainland Europe and the local currency was replaced by occupation money.

Many people lost their jobs as a result of the occupation and Jewish residents were deported to camps.

German forces also confiscated weapons, boats, radios, fuel, cameras, houses, furniture and forced the sale of motor vehicles.

Gaumont Cinema on Guernsey showing German Propaganda during the German occupation of the Channel Islands WWII in 1945 resized image 010145 CREDIT TopFoto PA (2).jpg
The Gaumont Palace Cinema in Guernsey showing German propaganda during the occupation of the Channel Islands (Picture: TopFoto/PA).

Restrictions were put in place in 1940 to limit fishing, drinking spirits, the export of goods, meetings with more than three people, clubs and associations, access to the beaches and to medicines, the display of patriotic signs or songs as well as other aspects of everyday life.

Islanders were forced to accept censorship, curfew, food rationing, identity cars and the institution of the German language in schools, among other things.

Labour camps were built in Jersey, Guernsey, and Alderney. The aim was to use slave labour to build bunkers and other fortifications to be used as part of the Atlantic Wall.

Many reported that the conditions got harsher as the years passed and at the time of the liberation, the islands were on the brink of starvation.

Liberation

The Channel Islands were officially liberated on 9 May 1945, a day after Prime Minister Winston Churchill announced the news.

"Our dear Channel Islands will be free tomorrow," the statement said.

"Hostilities will end officially  at one minute after midnight tonight, Tuesday, the 8th of May, but in the interests of saving lives the 'cease fire' began yesterday to be sounded all along the fronts."

On 9 May 1945, HMS Bulldog, a Royal Navy B-class destroyer vessel, arrived in Guernsey and helped with the liberation of the German-occupied islands.

Sark and Alderney were liberated on 10 May.

Liberation Day is a public holiday in the Channel Islands and is celebrated on 9 May.

In 2018, German personnel paraded in Guernsey for the first time since World War Two.

Cover image: A Nazi propaganda image showing German Navy sailor at historical cannon on the Channel Islands, shortly after occupation started in 1940 (Picture: DPA/PA).