The Germans arrive
Having decided in late June 1940 that the Channel Islands would not be defended against the Germans the British Government bizarrely decided not to inform the Germans that the islands had been demilitarised, explaining later that they did not want to issue an open invitation to the Germans to invade the islands.
German air raids
To test whether the islands were defended before they sent troops across from the nearby French coast, which had been occupied in recent days, the Germans launched an air attack against St Helier Harbour in Jersey and St Peter Port Harbour in Guernsey on 28 June. German aircraft also strafed La Rocque Harbour. A total of nine people were killed in Jersey, and casualties were much greater in the attack on Guernsey.
Ralph Mollet's account
The Jersey attack was recorded in his published diary, Jersey Under the Swastika by Ralph Mollet
- "On Friday 28 June and during the two previous days German planes flew over the Island, very low at times. The shipping continued to leave with cargoes of potatoes, and the mail steamer left as usual in the afternoon. About 6.55 p.m. on the 28th, three German planes flew over La Rocque, machine-gunning the district and dropping two 50 lb H E bombs on the road near the Harbour. Mr John Adams (an air raid warden) was killed on his doorstep, whilst Mr Thomas Pilkington and Mrs Farrell were killed by bullets, when sitting on a form in the vicinity.
- "The planes flew over Samarès, firing as they went; over Havre des Pas the bullets were seen ploughing the sand on the beach; two bombs were dropped on Mount Bingham, killing Mr John Ph Mauger near his house, and damaging many houses near by. Two fell on the Fort and the District Office, and others fell in the Old Harbour, setting fire to many small boats. The planes then went over the Island to St Ouen, returning to St Helier, machine-gunning the Albert and North Piers, dropping bombs on Commercial Buildings, setting fire to Norman's wood-stores. The furze on Fort Regent caught fire and burnt for several days. The planes, after again machine-gunning various parts of the Island, then dropped two bombs on the Yacht Hotel and two on the Pomme d'Or Hotel. Messrs Robert Fallls, Leslie Bryan, and W C Moodie were killed on the piers, and Messrs F W Ferrand and Wm A Coleman in Mulcaster Street. Many other persons were wounded and taken to the General Hospital.
- "Mr Harold F Hobbs was killed in the Guernsey life-boat when off Noirmont on its way to Jersey.
- "A telegram reporting the raid was sent to the Home Office; this was the last communication sent to the British Government. Jersey was not declared "an Open Town" by the BBC until three hours after the raid. Many people again left the town to sleep in the country."
Evening Post report
The following day, the Evening Post published this eye-witness account of the German raid by Mr R K Troy
- "What happened on the Albert Pier is best described by two men who were actually present, Mr R K Troy, the stevedore in charge of the loading of a ship, and Mr J A Laurens, of 17 Pomona Road, who was working with him.
- "We saw machines coming over”, said Mr Troy, “but we took little notice at first, for we have seen so many German planes lately. Suddenly I heard machine-gunning and realised that they were attacking and that we were the target. I shouted to the men to take cover and I myself got under a crane, and only then realised that there was little or no shelter there, as the crane was one of the high gantry type. The men scattered all over the place, some under lorries and others under stacks of sacks. Coming over as they did from the Fort we had no protection, for the high wall of the walk was unfortunately behind us. Mr Truscott and another crane man were hit by machine-gun bullets and others of my gang, Messrs W Tirel, Connors and Wilson, were also wounded, Mr Tirel having his toes completely shot off.
- "A bomb which burst near the railway sheds was also dropped, and then I heard that Mr Fallis had been killed. He had come out of his quarters and as the machine went over he laid down under the lee of the S R passenger shed, but a splinter of the bomb hit him as he crouched down and terribly mangled him. I ran over to his assistance, but I soon saw that there was nothing to be done for Mr Fallis, so I ran back to the other injured men to try and get them to hospital, but neither my car nor the lorries on the pier would start, every one of them had been hit and put out of action. The ambulance then came down and the injured were taken to the General Hospital, and here I must say a good word for the work of the police, ambulance drivers and A R P men, who worked splendidly and calmly.
- "After the first raid had occurred, I called out to the men who were working with me, “what about making another start?” and several of them agreed, but the planes came over again, this time from the direction of St Aubin’s Bay and did some more machine-gunning. I saw it was hopeless and told the men to make their way up the pier”.
- "Mr Laurens bore out Mr Troy’s statement “I took cover under a lorry”, he said, "and a fellow alongside me was hit. As we went up the pier after the second raid they started machine-gunning again and Mr Troy and I who were then alone, lay down alongside the promenade wall and I can tell you we hugged it close.”
The war had well and truly arrived in the Channel Islands and after an uneasy weekend, during which there were further Luftwaffe sorties over the islands, with no further casualties, the Germans dropped three copies of an ultimatum on Jersey at 5.30 am on Monday 1 July.
One fell at the Airport and two in Bath Street. They were immediately taken to the Bailiff, Alexander Coutanche.
Coutanche summoned the Royal Court at 9.30am, and the States met later and passed an Act to comply with the terms of the ultimatum. Copies of the translation of the ultimatum were put up around the Island with the following footnote:-
"The States have ordered this Communication to be printed and posted forthwith, and charge the inhabitants to keep calm, to comply with the requirements of the Communication, and to offer no resistance whatsoever to the occupation of the Island."
Large white flags were hoisted on all public buildings, and white flags of various materials were flown from the majority of houses, while white crosses were painted in the Square and at the places mentioned in the ultimatum. Jersey then sat back to await the arrival of its conquerors.
Arrival at Airport
Early in the afternoon a German aircraft landed at Jersey Airport and the pilot waa informed by Airport Commandant Charles Roche that the island would surrender. He took off again and Mr Roche informed Alexander Coutanche, who decided to strike the Union Jack flying over Fort Regent. Shortly after Coutanche was summoned to the Airport where more Germans had landed.
The story of what happened there was related in Coutanche's autobiography, written 34 years later:
- "When we arrived at the airport in my car, flying my flag, we found about half a dozen German officers waiting for us."
Coutanche confirmed that he accepted that the island was occupied and a proclamation was read and translated. It dealt with a curfew, surrender of arms, restrictions on ships sailing and other matters and required that radios should only be used to listen to German stations. A guide was demanded to find billets for the invading troops, which would not be a problem because all the island's hotels were empty.
Coutanche's account continues:
- "Now that it had actually happened, I was in a mood of deep depression. What I have described had taken some time and it was getting on towards evening. I thought that I would try to relieve my feelings by doing some work in the garden. It was something which I was very fond of doing. I therefore changed into an old pair of grey flannels and a sports coat, and went out into the garden in order to do some much needed weeding. I remained engaged in this until my houseman, Coleman, came out to remind me that it was almost dinner time.
- "Towards the end of dinner, Coleman, who was looking out of the window at the drive suddenly turned round and said, 'Sir, the drive is full of Jerries. What do we do?'
- "I said 'There is only one thing to do and that is to open the door and let them in'. I remained seated at the table with Babs and into the dining room walked Aubin. He said 'I'm awfully sorry but the head man has arrived since you left the airport and he has insisted on coming here with some other officers because the Occupation formalities are apparently not yet complete. I said 'Very well. Where are they?'
- "They're in your drawing room'
- "All right, let's go and meet them'.
- "I should at this point explain that the ultimatum which had been dropped was addressed to the Governor of the Island. I think that when I arrived at the airport there could have been no doubt in the minds of the German officers there that I was he. However, the present situation was a little different. I was now in gardening clothes and, as I started to walk across the hall, I noticed to my horror that there was a large rent in the knee of my trousers. Aubin was quick to take in the situation. He was a tall, distinguished and impressive figure and he forestalled any questions which my general appearance must have raised by announcing in a commanding tone of voice, as he preceded me through the door, 'His Excellency, the Governor.'
- "It was made clear to me who was the commander in charge of the whole operation when he introduced himself to me as Captain Gussek. His method of expressing some surprise at my appearance was to put a monocle into his right eye, the better to take me in. In those days I used on occasion to wear a monocle myself and it so happened that it was in the pocket of my jacket now. I was, therefore, able to repay the compliment and I did so. We took good stock of each other."
It was agreed that a further meeting would take place the following morning at the Town Hall, where the Germans intended to set up their headquarters. At that meeting it became clear that the Germans were happy for the island's civil administration to continue. A proclamation was issued:
- "The Civil Government and the Courts of the Island will continue to function as heretofore, save that all Laws, Ordinances, Regulations and Orders will be submitted to the German Commandant before being enacted. Such legislation as, in the past, required the sanction of His Britannic Majesty-in-Council for its validity, shall henceforth be valid on being approved by the German Commandant and thereafter sanctioned by the Bailiff of Jersey. The Orders of the German Commandant heretofore, now and hereafter issued shall, in due course, be registered in the records of the Island of Jersey, in order that no person may plead ignorance thereof. Offences against the same, saving those punishable under German Military Law, shall be punishable by the Civil Courts, who shall enact suitable penalties in respect of such offences, with the approval of the German Commandant."
The Occupation had started, and lives would never be the same again.
Despite Reuter’s repeating the BBC announcement that the Channel Islands were demilitarised, Admiral Schuster decided a further 'armed reconnaissance' be scheduled for Monday 1 July. However, in the late afternoon of Sunday 30 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.
At 5.50am on Monday 1 July 1940, an ultimatum was dropped in the island. The ultimatum messages were placed in a large canvas bags, weighted by sand and attached to which were red streamers. These were dropped at several locations in Jersey; the Airport, St Aubin’s Inner Road, near West Park and St Mark's Church. The ultimatum was addressed to the military and civilian authorities and instructed them to comply with surrender. Large white 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 7 am the following day and was signed by General Richthofen, Luftwaffe Commander of Normandy.
At 12 pm the same day, a lone Dornier Do17 flown by Staffelkapitan von Obernitz, with radio operator Oberleutnant Richard Kern of the German Long Range Reconnaissance group 123, flew over the island and after observing a sea of white flags and large white painted crosses (in the Royal Square and the Weighbridge), decided to land at Jersey Airport. Oberleutnant Richard Kern stepped out of the aircraft and so was the first German to set foot in Jersey, in World War 2.
Two hours later, the Bailiff, Alexander Coutanche went to Fort Regent and lowered the union flag. It would not be hoisted again for another five years. The reason Coutanche personally lowered the flag was that while it was flying over the town, he felt he could protect the population, but with the current situation, he felt was impossible and did not want the flag lowered by the Germans.
As Coutanche was at the flagstaff, the phone rang. The Germans were at the Airport. At 3.30 pm Coutanche and Duret Aubin arrived at the airport and were met by a group of German Luftwaffe officers. One of them read a proclamation which was translated by a local; possibly a German/Austrian waiter from a hotel. He then said to the Bailiff: 'You realise you are Occupied?' to which Coutanche replied 'yes'.
Many accounts have been written of the German Occupation of Jersey, by those who lived through it, those who spoke to people who lived through it, and others who had very little knowledge of what actually happened in the island between 1 July 1940 and 9 May 1945.
Keeping diaries detailing the events of the occupation years was one of the many things prohibited by the Germans, but this did not prevent several islanders from recording their day-to-day observations of the war years.
Jerripedia has quoted frequently in its Occupation section from two particular accounts, both named Jersey Under the Swastika by their authors, Ralph Mollet and Philip Frederick Le Sauteur.
- Extracts from Ralph Mollet's diary
- Military occupation, Escapee Dennis Vibert's report to the British Government
- War Illustrated report from July 1940