On Friday 1st September 1939, Germany invaded Poland. Two days later Britain declares war on Germany. At this time in Jersey, the first of many War Regulations are passed by the States of Jersey: these included: food rationing, black-out’s and curfews. However, this state of war was soon called the phoney war as the months passed and nothing had happened. This changed on Friday 10th May 1940 when Hitler launched an invasion of Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg and France.
Whilst this Blitzkrieg (Lightning War) was taking place in Europe, Jersey was getting ready for its Holiday season with three weekly sailings from Southampton and a regular flight service with Channel Islands Airways. There seemed no immediate concern, although a local defence force, the Jersey Defence Volunteers was formed on 17th May: this force being based on the Home Guard.
Another force in the island was a group of young boys of the Army Technical School, based at St. Peter’s Barracks. One of their tasks was to create obstacles on and around the runway during the evenings to prevent any possible enemy landings. Life in the Island continued as normally as it could. Most islanders felt some uncertainty but few at this time ever thought the Island would be invaded by the Germans.
At 6.00pm on Friday 14th June 1940, Jersey’s Bailiff, Alexander Coutanche walked into Duret Aubin’s chamber and listened to the news. It was announced on the radio that the Germans had crossed the Seine at Quillebeuf. Coutanche knew that area of France very well and knew there was nothing to stop them from coming to Jersey. Coutanche and Duret Aubin immediately went to see the Lieutenant Governor, General Harrison at his office in Pier Road to express their concerns with the current situation.
After hearing the Bailiffs concerns, General Harrison contacted the Home Office and spoke to Mark Breiter who was in charge of Channel Island Affairs. Mark and the Home Office felt there was no cause for concern, but Coutanche was not so sure and told Mark to contact the War Office and find out what was happening. A short while after speaking to the War Office, Mark phoned back: the War Office was not at all happy with the situation.
Two days later: Sunday 16th June, the Bailiff received an urgent message to meet with General Harrison. The General had received a telegram from the Admiralty asking to send all available crafts to St. Malo to help with the evacuation of troops. William Le Masurier, the Commodore of the St. Helier Yacht Club was asked to assist with organising the smaller ships.
Due to the speed of the advancing German forces, the War Office advised that the evacuated troops, estimated to be in excess of 75,000, be brought to Jersey for safekeeping until transport vessels could pick them up. This would also allow the ships to make repeat sailings to St. Malo. The war Office told General Harrison to put Jersey in a state of defence whilst this happened. However, the German advance slowed due to French resistance near the airport of Rennes St. Jaques, which gave some of the larger evacuation ships time to take the evacuating British troops directly to England.
At 11:30am on Monday 17th June, after departing from Bordeaux, General Charles de Gaulle’s flight lands in Jersey for the aircraft to refuel: during which time Mr Herbert the Airport Manager drove the VIPS to the Alexandra Hotel for lunch as the Airport restaurant was closed! They purchased a case of Johnnie Walker Whiskey and departed at 3.00pm.
The following day Jurat Dorey who had flown to London for a cabinet meeting was told: “the fate of the Channel Islands would be known in a day or two”. There had been much debate in Whitehall as to whether the Islands be defended or not. On Wednesday 19th June the War and Home Office finally decide: the Lieutenant Governor received two official communications from London: the first read:
“War Cabinet decision is that the Island of Jersey is to be demilitarised. Further instructions regarding the Lt Governor will follow”
The second message read:
“The Channel Islands will not. Repeat not be defended”
On the same day the Bailiff, Attorney-General and other Officials are told by the Secretary of State to remain in their posts and continue to administer the islands as best they can.
Up to this point the Germans were fully aware of the Channel Islands and had conducted at least two aerial reconnaissance flights: however, these flights had been conducted at quite high altitude and photographs were inconclusive as to whether the islands were defended or not.
On Thursday June 20th the Bailiff addressed islanders in the Royal Square: he told them the islands will not be defended, but to remain calm and stay in the Island. For those wishing to leave, transport ships will take people to England. Islanders were then faced with a difficult decision: to stay and tough it out or leave the Island, their home and friends and head for a new temporary life? Many people including the Lt Governor at this point believed the islands would not be occupied by the Germans.
Over 23,000 islanders registered at the Town Hall to leave, however less than 10,000 actually left, most of these were men of fighting age wanting to join the British armed forces. Over the next few days St Helier Harbour and the surrounding area were crowded with people, many of whom had driven down and had abandoned their cars.
During the day, the Militia left for the Isle of Wight and by early evening Jersey’s Volunteer Defence Force is disbanded.
Leslie Sinel wrote in his diary: ”There are heart rendering scenes in the streets of town: everyone appears anxious and bewildered, not knowing exactly what to do.”
To try and reassure the population, the States produce a series of proclamations appealing to everyone to keep calm, not to panic and to stay in the Island.
On the Morning of Thursday 20th June the following message was sent from Berlin to German Naval Group West:
“In order to protect the local sea area, it is necessary to destroy the cable communication from the British Channel Islands to England. Ask permission for motor torpedo boats and minesweepers to support this raid by the Naval Assault Group”
A short while after the German Naval Group West had received this message, another communication arrived from Berlin:
“Occupation of the British Channel Islands is urgent and important. Carry out local reconnaissance and execution thereof. Written orders will follow.”
The Officer in charge of planning the invasion of the Channel Islands was Vice Admiral Eugen Lindau: he reported to Admiral Karlgeorg Schuster, the Senior German Naval Commander in Northern France.
At this time the only information about the Island’s defences had been gathered by a German agent who had travelled to Guernsey in July 1938. At the time, the agent had reported he had seen Forts and Castles but these seemed old and obsolete. The report was inconclusive and out of date. To gather new and more detailed information, Luftflotte 2 (Air Force Command 2, later to become Luftflotte 3: Air Force Command 3) were tasked with taking a series of reconnaissance photographs of the islands.
The German code name to capture the Channel was called Operation Green Arrow (Grüne pfeil). The intention was to launch a raid on the islands using a Naval Assault Group and several Army units using motor torpedo boats and minesweepers from Northern France, however an attack by sea was soon abandoned after it was felt the Harbour and coastal defences in the islands could have been reinforced.
By Friday 21st June the evacuation process was well under way. The Lt Governor, General Harrison left in the afternoon, shortly afterwards the Bailiff, Alexandre Coutanche was sworn in as Civil Governor: omitting the passage in the oath of office the line: ‘defending the island and its castles against the enemy’ as Coutanche had been told to surrender the island if the Germans were to invade.
Over 5,000 pets had been abandoned by those islanders evacuating. The pets being put down at the animal shelter. Staff at the shelter had to work on a shift rota to clear the dead animals.
With so many people registering to leave and besieging the banks limits on withdrawals of £25.00 (equivalent to £700 in today’s) money had to be imposed.
Saturday 22nd June: many islanders who chose to stay felt abandoned by those evacuating and by the decision of the British Government not to defend the islands, however the population soon got back to normal, shops owned by evacuated islanders are re-opened by friends or relatives.
Farmers soon got back to picking and packing potatoes for export, but were told not to block the Harbour and piers with lorries.
In the States, a new Cabinet was formed known as the Superior Council: headed by Alexander Countache as Bailiff, the Attorney-General, the Solicitor-General and presidents of:
- Essential Commodities: headed by Jurat Philip Le Masurier
- Transport and Communications: Jurat James Messervy-Norman
- Finance and Economics: Jurat Edgar Dorey
- Agriculture: Jurat Touzel Bree
- Public Health: Jurat Philip Baudains
- Essential Services: Deputy William Le Masurier
- Public Instruction: Jurat Philip Bree
- The Department of Labour: Deputy Edward Le Quesne
On Sunday 23rd June although life in the island had begun to get back to normality, Church congregations were urged to face the current events with calmness and not to panic.
Sunday 23rd June - Admiral Lindau (Flag Officer, Northern France) made a report based on the study of the reconnaissance photographs which read:
“There are numerous harbour and coastal fortifications and in the harbour area long columns of lorries which point to the presence of troops”
After further meetings with Air Force Command and Army Commanders, it was decided a full scale raid was not advisable: further air reconnaissance was necessary to assess the defence of the islands.
On Monday 24th June the King sends a message of assurance to the Channel Islands which is published in the Royal Square.
“For strategic reasons it has been found necessary to withdraw the armed forces from the Channel Islands. I deeply regret this necessity and I wish to assure My people in the islands that, in taking this decision, My Government has not been unmindful of their position. It is in their interest that this step should be taken in present circumstances. The long association of the islands with the Crown and the loyal service the people of the islands have rendered to My Ancestors and Myself are Guarantees that the link between us will remain unbroken and I know that My people in the islands will look forward with the same confidence as I do to the day when the resolute fortitude with which we face our present difficulties will reap the reward of victory.”
Tuesday 25th June - The Department of labour under the new Cabinet of the Superior Council gets busy on various schemes to try and absorb unemployment caused by many businesses closing due to islanders evacuating.
Wednesday 26th June - Although life in the island has settled and is getting back to normal, there is a general feeling amongst islanders of uncertainty and the future is seen with anxiety. The potato season is in full swing with farmers jamming the Harbour and piers with lorries loaded with potatoes waiting to export their valuable cargo to England.
Wednesday 26th June - Air Force Command carry out reconnaissance flights over the island and photograph large conveys of vehicles in the Harbour vicinity.
Thursday 27th June - For the last few days islanders had reported seeing low flying German aircraft around the island. Most of these sighting were initially put down to rumours, but by late afternoon it had been established beyond doubt that this was true: German aircraft were clearly seen flying low over the harbour during potato shipments.
On 27th June two reconnaissance flights was made over the islands, the crew reporting they had encountered no resistance: even after flying at just 200 meters!
Friday 28th June was a beautiful and uneventful day, hot and sunny: islanders were busy at work and the Harbour was a hive of activity with lorry loads of potatoes ready for export.
However that changed at 6.45pm when three German planes swept across the south of the island. There had been no alarms sounding: the aircraft dropped bombs and machine gunned La Rocque, St. Helier Harbour, Fort Regent, South Hill and Commercial Buildings.
Several fires started as a result and hundreds of panes of glass were shattered in the Weighbridge vicinity and some of the stained glass windows in the Town Church were damaged. Several small boats and yachts in the Harbour were destroyed. Ten people were killed, these being: at La Rocque, Mr J. Adams, Mr T. Pilkington and Mrs Farrell. Mount Bingham: Mr J Mauger. Mulcaster Street: Mr E.H. Ferrand and Mr Coleman. Harbour area: Mr R. Fallis, Mr L. Bryan, Mr W. C. Moodie and Mr A Parr. Mr Hobbs was killed on the Lifeboat on its way to Jersey. Many more were injured by shrapnel or machine-gun bullets. Guernsey was also bombed at the same time. In total forty-four people were killed and thirty-six injured.
At 9.00pm that evening, the BBC declared the Islands to be demilitarised. Part of the reason the Home Office did not declare this earlier, it was felt that it would be bad for morale: abandoning British Subjects.
Friday 28th June - 4.00pm reconnaissance flights reported seeing two transport vessels in St. Helier Harbour and approx. 150 vehicles in the Harbour vicinity. It was impossible to determine whether or not the islands were defended. In the afternoon Admiral Schuster called a meeting to sum up the situation: with all available evidence. It seemed the islands were at least partially evacuated by either civilians and or military. Defences appeared minimal, however it was suspected the islands were garrisoned: but by how many? The only way to test the defences and the islands garrison was an attack.
At 6.45pm six Heinkel bombers launched an ‘armed’ reconnaissance raid on Jersey and Guernsey. The aircraft dropped a total of 180 bombs on the islands. (The only resistance came from a Bren gun on the Isle of Sark, which was embarking passengers for England. Ironically – the German aircrew thought the gunfire had come from Sark!)
Saturday 29th June - Early in the morning the BBC radio world service announce the Channel Islands have been bombed by the Germans making the attack sound as if it occurred after it had been announced the islands were undefended.
Two separate air raid alarms were sounded during the day but there was no attack and by evening curfew had been re-imposed and the use of motor vehicles restricted.
On Saturday 29th June, Admiral Schuster attended a meeting in Berlin to discuss Operation Green Arrow. It was agreed that the attack had to be more than just a raid. The estimate of the assault force needed was reduced from six battalions, this being reduced to one Battalion for Jersey and Guernsey and a company for Alderney. The troops would be from the 216th Infantry Division who were close to Cherbourg. Support would be given by Luftflotte 3.
Sunday 30th June Another air raid alarm: German planes swooped low but there was no attack. British aircraft were also seen flying low over the island. A further reconnaissance flight over the islands took place, to access damage and response to the raid.
Despite Reuters’ repeating the BBC announcement that the Channel Islands were demilitarised, Admiral Schuster decided a further ‘armed reconnaissance’ be scheduled for Monday 1st July. However, in the late afternoon of Sunday 30th June news arrived that Hauptmann Liebe-Pieteritz had landed at Guernsey airport, although having to depart quickly as three RAF Bristol Blenheim’s appeared, he reported the islands were undefended.
Monday 1st July - Early in the morning German planes flew over the island at a very low altitude and dropped surrender ultimatum messages addressed to the local authorities: one landed in Bath Street and two at the Airport.
These called for white flags to be flown from all buildings and white crosses to be painted in prominent locations: these included the Airport, Fort Regent and at the Weighbridge. All communication with England ceased at 8.15am. Just before noon, a German aircraft was seen flying over the Island and a short while later it landed at Jersey Airport, but later flew off heading towards France. At approximately 3.00pm the same day the Bailiff and Duret Aubin were summoned to the Airport, upon their arrival they were greeted by six German Air Force Officers. The German Airforce men already had a civilian interpreter with them, most likely from one of the hotels. The first thing one of the Germans said to Coutanche was ‘you realise you are Occupied?’ To which Coutanche said yes!
By the early evening around a hundred German soldiers had arrived, the Occupation had begun.
At 5.50am on Monday 1st July an ultimatum of surrender was dropped by aircraft of the Long Range Reconnaissance group 123. The messages were placed in a large canvas bags, weighted by sand and attached to which were several red streamers. These were dropped at several locations in Jersey.
They landed at the Airport, St Aubin’s Inner Road, near West Park and St. Marks Church. The ultimatum was addressed to the Military and Civilian Authorities and instructed the authorities to comply with surrender, large crosses had to be painted in conspicuous open spaces and white flags flown from public buildings and places. This order had to be completed by early the following day. The order was signed by General Richthofen, Luftwaffe Commander of Normandy.
At approx. 12.00pm the same day, a lone Dornier (Do17) flown by Staffelkapitan von Obernitz with radio operator Oberleutnant Richard Kern. After observing a sea of white flags and large white crosses decided to land at Jersey Airport.
After von Obernitz and Kern had reported back at Cherbourg, the first wave of troops boarded the first of many Junkers Ju52 transport planes destined for Jersey.
At approx. 3.00pm The first Germans had arrived.
Although the bombing of the Islands was terrible and many people lost their lives: if Operation Green Arrow would have been carried out to its full capacity or if another armed reconnaissance raid would have been conducted as planned by Admiral Schuster for Monday 1st July, there would have been many more casualties. In that respect we can thank Staffelkapitan von Obernitz and radio operator Oberleutnant Richard Kern for landing when they did and for the interference of General Richthofen who issued the surrender ultimatum, for these acts potentially saved many islanders lives.
Terms of the ultimatum of surrender: signed by General Richthofen:
Isle of Jersey
1st July, 1940.
To the Chief of the Military and Civil Authorities, Jersey (St. Helier).
1. I intend to neutralize military establishments in Jersey by occupation.
2. As evidence that the Island will surrender the military and other establishments without resistance, and without destroying them, a large White Cross is to be shown as follows, from 7 a.m., July 2nd, 1940 :
(a) In the centre of the Airport in the East of the Island ;
(b) On the highest point of the fortifications of the port ;
(c) On the square to the north of the Inner Basin of the Harbour ; Moreover, all fortifications, buildings and houses are to show the White Flag.
3. If these signs of peaceful surrender are not observed by 7 a.m., July 2, heavy bombardment will take place :
(a) Against all military objects ;
(b) Against all establishments and objects useful for defence.
4. The signs of surrender must remain up to the time of the Occupation of the Island by German troops.
5. Representatives of the Authorities must stay at the Airport until the Occupation.
6. All radio traffic and other communications with Authorities outside the Island will be considered hostile actions and will be followed by bombardment.
7. Every hostile action against my representative will be followed by bombardment.
8. In the case of peaceful surrender, the lives, property and liberty of peaceful inhabitants are solemnly guaranteed.
The Commander of the German Air Forces in Normandy,
CIOS Archives, text and colour photo by CIOS Archivist Colin Isherwood