When Germany Occupied Britain

The Channel Islands were occupied by Nazi Germany for much of World War II, from 30 June 1940 until the liberation on 9 May 1945. The Channel Islands are two British Crown dependencies in the English Channel, near the coast of Normandy.

The Channel Islands were the only part of the British Isles to be invaded and occupied by German forces during the war.

Realizing occupation was inevitable, some islanders and many local children were evacuated just before the German invasion. They vacated their homes, businesses and schools and headed for the harbor with all the possessions they could physically carry. With very few boats available to take them to relative safety, children and Jewish inhabitants were prioritized, and set sail for the unknown. About 30,000 people of a total population of 104,000 evacuated the islands.

The German forces quickly consolidated their positions. They brought in infantry, established communications and anti-aircraft defences, established an air service with mainland France and rounded up British servicemen on leave.

In Guernsey, the Bailiff, Sir Victor Carey, and the States of Guernsey handed overall control to the German authorities. Day-to-day running of island affairs became the responsibility of a Controlling Committee, chaired byAmbrose SherwillScrip (occupation money) was issued in Guernsey to keep the economy going. German military forces used their own scrip for payment of goods and services.

The German authorities changed the Channel Island time zone from GMT to CET to bring the islands into line with continental Europe, and the rule of the road was also changed to driving on the right.

How Did This Happen?

German troops goosestepping on main street

On 15 June 1940, the British government decided that the Channel Islands were of no strategic importance and would not be defended, but did not give Germany this information. Thus despite the reluctance of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the British government gave up the oldest possession of the Crown “without firing a single shot”.[1] The Channel Islands served no purpose to the Germans other than the propaganda value of having occupied some British territory. The “Channel Islands had been demilitarised and declared…’an open town‘ ”

Since the Germans did not realise that the islands had been demilitarised, they approached them with some caution. Reconnaissance flights were inconclusive. On 28 June 1940, they sent a squadron of bombers over the islands and bombed the harbours of Guernsey and Jersey. In St Peter Port, the main town of Guernsey, some lorries lined up to load tomatoes for export to England were mistaken by the reconnaissance for troop carriers. Forty-four islanders were killed in the raids.

While the German Army was preparing to land an assault force of two battalions to capture the islands, a reconnaissance pilot landed in Guernsey on 30 June and the island officially surrendered to him. Jersey surrendered on 1 July. Alderney, where only a handful of islanders remained, was occupied on 2 July and a small detachment travelled from Guernsey to Sark, which officially surrendered on 4 July.

Of Course The Germans Had To Build Concentration Camps

The Germans built four concentration camps in Alderney. The camps were subcamps of the Neuengamme concentration camp outside Hamburg and each was named after one of the Frisian IslandsLager Norderney located at Saye, Lager Borkum at Platte Saline, Lager Sylt near the old telegraph tower at La Foulère and Lager Helgoland in the north west corner of Alderney. The Nazi Organisation Todt operated each subcamp and used forced labour to buildbunkers, gun emplacements, air raid shelters, and concrete fortifications. The camps commenced operation in January 1942 and had a total inmate population of about 6,000.

The Borkum and Helgoland camps were “volunteer” (Hilfswillige) labour camps[3] and the labourers in those camps were treated harshly but marginally better than the inmates at the Sylt and Norderney camps. The prisoners in Lager Sylt and Lager Norderney were slave labourers forced to build the many military fortifications and installations throughout Alderney. Sylt camp held Jewish forced labourers.[4] Norderney camp housed European (mainly Eastern Europeansbut including Spaniards) and Soviet forced labourers. Lager Borkum was used for German technicians and “volunteers” from different countries of Europe.Lager Helgoland was filled with Soviet Organisation Todt workers.

In 1942, Lager Norderney, containing Soviet and Polish POWs, and Lager Sylt, holding Jews, were placed under the control of the SS Hauptsturmführer Max List. Over 700 of the inmates lost their lives before the camps were closed and the remaining inmates transferred to Germany in 1944


There were approximately 36,000 troops stationed in the Channel Islands during the Occupation so after the Islands’ liberation in May 1945 there was literally thousands of tonnes of German equipment to dispose of.

Much of it was dumped and sealed up in the German tunnels around the Islands and left to rust away. Some was dumped over the cliffs into the sea and some used as scrap metal.

Many of the elder generation talk about their excitement as young boys when they would go to gun sites or into the many deserted bunkers and tunnels to gather as much as they could carry and described it as an Aladdin’s Cave for collectors.

Some of this gear survived and was kept as keepsakes and put up in lofts and attics to gather dust for many years.

Most of it has ended up in a few large collections and a number of museums, which can be seen around the Islands today.

From 1943 the German troops were not even allowed to listen to the news on the radio as it was thought to be bad for morale.


Wikipedia and Google Images