In 1940, with the Germans rapidly advancing westwards in June, the remaining British troops were withdrawn from the Channel Islands. The British Government, in their wisdom, refrained from informing the Germans that the Islands had been demilitarised; 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 occupation of the Islands was of great propaganda value and if Operation Seelowe (Sealion)  the invasion of Britain  had gone ahead, they would have proved valuable staging posts. Also Hitler, after he had won the war, never intended that the Channel Islands would be returned to Britain; instead Hitler intended to keep the Channel Islands 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; fortunately no attempts were made, as it is debatable if any of the planned operations would have succeeded.

After Hitler had indefinitely postponed Operation ‘Sealion’ and with the initial success of the U-boat campaign against British shipping, 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 including the Channel Islands, which were to be turned into an impregnable fortress. Throughout 1942 and 1943 the majority of the permanent, fortress standard construction was carried 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 and later was given the task of constructing the West Wall defences. After Hitler had decided to construct the Atlantic Wall, the OT was the natural choice to implement the huge fortification programme.

In Alderney, the OT labourers were housed in four camps: Lagers Helgoland, Norderney, Borkum and Sylt. The infamous concentration camp 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. 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 and, although far smaller than either Guernsey or Jersey, Alderney was fortified to a greater degree, for its size, than the other islands. The island boasted five Coastal Artillery Batteries, 22 Anti-Aircraft Batteries, 13 Strongpoints, 12 Resistance Nests, three Defence Lines and 30,000 Land Mines.

With the decision of the allies to by-pass the Islands during the Normandy Invasion in 1944, they were to remain effectively isolated and mostly, but not completely, impotent. However, on 12 August 1944 the British battleship HMS Rodney fired 75 x 16-inch shells at Batterie Blücher with limited success in an attempt to destroy the battery which had been firing at the American advance on the Cotentin Peninsula.

On 9 May 1945 Jersey and Guernsey were liberated, but Alderney finally surrendered one week later on 16 May 1945.

In December 1945, then the islanders eventually returned to a devastated island. They then began the long process of clearing up and rebuilding and life on the island slowly returned to normal. Many gun emplacements and bunkers still stand as reminders of this dark chapter in Alderney’s history.

Move your mouse of the Gallery images below and click to see a larger version of the following:

  1. A co-ordinated fire plan showing Alderney’s role in the protection of the Cotentin Peninsula, and the in-shore shipping ‘core-route’ from Cherbourg south to Granville and St Malo
  2. The 15cm gun emplacement in Batterie Annes  – one of five artillery batteries on the island.
  3. View of the northwest corner of Fort Tourgis showing part of the German Strongpoint Turkenburg
  4. Strongpoint Biberkopf  eastern side facing Saye Bay
  5. The entrance gates from inside Lager Sylt – the only concentration camp on British soil – looking towards Telegraph Tower on the horizon
  6. MP3, 20mm Flak position and trench shelter in 88mm Flak battery Hohe 145
  7. Searchlight position, Longis anti-tank wall and MP3 in Resistance Nest Unteressex
  8. 10.5cm gun bunker and 60cm searchlight position above in Strongpoint Turkenburg
  9. German 10.5cm gun bunker in Victorian Fort Grosnez, known to the Germans as Strongpoint Josephsburg
  10. Large fragment of shell
  11. Shell craters from the bombardment by HMS Rodney in August 1944 – traced from aerial photographs

There is a huge amount for anyone with an interest in WW2 history or fortifications to explore on Alderney. There are few signs or notice boards on Alderney so you can enjoy the sites without clutter. However, it is advisable to enquire at the Visitor Information Centre which forts and bunkers are safe to explore.

Alderney Wildlife Trust in co-operation with the Alderney Society organises history and heritage tours. The schedule for these is dependent upon demand so please call 0044 (0)1481 822935 for details.

With thanks to T.G.Davenport

September 2013

Gallery

Links

Living Islands Visit
Alderney Society and Museum Visit
Alderney Wildlife Trust Visit

 

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