20th October 1941

Hitler ordered the Channel Islands’ fortification

Capturing the Channel Islands was an enormous coup for Germany early in the Second World War. Hitler was keen to present life on them as a model occupation. At the same time, though, he was aware that they were of enormous strategic importance. Being so close to France meant they could have been used as a staging point for an Allied invasion of mainland Europe – something he would want to avoid at all costs.

In October 1941, therefore, he ordered that they should be fortified as part of his plans for an Atlantic Wall. The result must be all but impregnable. The defences would therefore include between 200 and 250 strongpoints on each of the larger islands. The deadline for completion was set for the end of the following year.

Organisation Todt

Organisation Todt was initially a benign department that concerned itself with building Germany’s autobahn network. However, with the advent of war it took on a more sinister role. It handled the construction of both defensive and offensive structures, and Todt himself was named Minister of Armaments and Munitions in 1940.

The Atlantic Wall, which included fortifications on Guernsey, Jersey and Alderney was Todt’s responsibility. If he was to deliver what Hitler wanted, he would need enormous numbers of slave workers. These were brought in from across the conquered parts of Europe. In total, over 16,000 were brought to the Channel Islands, of whom 7000 worked in Guernsey.

Pleinmont range finding tower

Many of the workers were housed in four concentration camps on Alderney and were given the hardest work, including tunnelling, quarrying and unloading ships. Some of them were worked to death.

Todt visited Guernsey in October 1941, but had been preceded by Fortress Engineer Staff 19 who had set about making plans for locating and building the necessary bunkers and casemates. They had also started work on a railway from St Peter Port to L’Eree by way of St Sampson for transporting supplies.

Standard construction

Although there are several different designs of bunker and casemate across Guernsey, they have several common features. They are all made of concrete that was poured into a wooden shell. The ceilings are between 2.5m and 3m thick for strength, and the doors are at least 30mm deep. The entrance doors were set at 90 degrees to at least one other wall in the bunker. This allowed those inside to see who was calling – and shoot them if necessary.

The rear of some beaches, including L’Ancresse were given concrete walls to make tank landings impossible. Elsewhere, tunnels made good use of Guernsey’s natural rock for protection. The underground hospital at St Andrews and the tunnels beneath Clarence Battery and Fort George that are now used as the aquarium and perhaps the best known of these.

Fort Houmet

Ultimately, the defences were never put to the test so we shan’t know how they would have performed under fire. The British government showed little interest in liberating the Channel Islands during the war, and Churchill famously commented “Let em starve” when Germany offered to evacuate most of the local population once the war had turned against them.

Thus, the occupation of the Channel Islands came through German surrender rather than Allied invasion on 9 May 1945.

 

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Other events that occured in October

Guernsey Post Office was established 1st
Guernsey switched to Reichsmarks 2nd
Sark was the target of Operation Basalt 3rd
Sark voted for democracy 4th
Guernsey lifeboat saved a Swedish schooner 5th
Jeeves actor died in Guernsey 6th
Sarnia Theatre celebrated its most successful year 7th
The Story of Adele H opened in cinemas 8th
Howards’ Way came to Guernsey 9th
Guernsey Ladies’ College opened 10th
A Trislander ate itself between Jersey and Guernsey 11th
The Channel Islands’ king set sail for England 12th
Major General Sir Isaac Brock died 13th
Footballer Matt Le Tissier was born 14th
Island FM brings commercial radio to Guernsey 15th
Channel Television saw off a rival broadcaster 16th
The first mines were dug on Sark 17th
Sark’s Stocks Hotel was damaged by fire 18th
Elizabeth College’s foundation stone was laid 19th
Hitler ordered the Channel Islands’ fortification 20th
Guernsey’s stone crackers demanded a pay rise 21st
The desalination plant opened 22nd
Sir Charles Hayward buys Jethou for £91,000 23rd
Guernsey Monopoly board game went on sale 24th
Dame Sibyl Hathaway chose her Desert Island Discs 25th
GUNS founder Charles Machon died 26th
Bailiff Sir Peter de Havilland was born 27th
A man “disappeared” from a Guernsey ferry 28th
Express & Star bought Guernsey Press 29th
The first lighthouses were built on the Casquets 30th
States of Guernsey voted to lower the voting age 31st