St Malo evacuation

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William Henry Wilkinson, a St Helier lifeboat which was sold to W S Le Masurier in 1937 and converted into a motor boat. She took part the the Saint Malo evacuation, leaving Jersey on June 16 1940 at 2300, returning on Tuesday June 18. Ten days later she was destroyed by the German bombing of St Helier Harbour on June 28

After the evacuation of Allied troops from Dunkirk at the end of May 1940 there were still large numbers of British and Allied troops in the west of France.

Operation Aerial

The decision to bring home the remainder of the British Expeditionary Force (Operation Aerial) was taken on 15 June. The ports of Cherbourg, St Malo, Brest, St Nazaire and La Pallice were to be used; the evacuations from the first two were to be directed by Admiral James from Portsmouth. It was hoped to embark transport, guns and equipment as well as the men.

Admiral James considered that he had far too few flotilla vessels to organise a convoy system. He therefore arranged for a continuous flow of troopships and other vesselos to sail between Southampton and Cherbourg or St Malo. The few available warships patrolled the shipping routes. In all some 30,630 men were brought home from Cherbourg and embarkation had also been proceeding at St Malo. By the evening of the 17th, 21,474 men had been embarked without loss and, early next day, the final search was made for stragglers.

Troops being evacuated in St Malo in June 1940. Although many were expected to be taken to Jersey, they were eventually all shipped direct to England

Telegram

On the 16th the authorities in Jersey received a telegram from the Admiralty asking them to send all available craft to St Malo to help evacuate the remaining British troops.

The potato season was in full swing and there were several large craft in St Helier Harbour which were sent to St Malo along with a flotilla of smaller vessels organised by St Helier Yacht Club Commodore William Le Masurier.

As recorded in the Memoirs of Lord Coutanche, Jersey’s wartime Bailiff, the first convoy consisted of the larger ships Hodder, Ouse, Fairfield, Corral and Alt; and the Duchess of Normandy, skippered by Frank Lawrence, a converted lifeboat (Bill Kent), Teaser (Sidney Perchard), St Clement (Ron Wagstaffe) and Klang II (Phil Le Marquand).

As the convoy was arriving in St Malo on Monday 17th, a task force of vessels reched St Helier, including a NAAFI canteen ready to cope with the needs of thousands of evacuated soldiers.

Second convoy

Meanwhile a second convoy was on its way to St Malo, comprising Clutha (Bill Glendewar), Mamie (Tommy King), Fiona (Bill Turner), Desiree (Bill Coom), Callou (James Langlois), Yvonne (Bill Mabey), Daddy (Charles King), Girl Joyce (Denny Mourant), Diana (Freddy Grenelle), Peirson (Reg Nicolle), Fleet Air Arm 236 (Pilot Cox) and Lindolette (Jack Falle).

At the last minute the German Army stopped its advance on St Malo and diverted to attack Rennes Airport, giving the extra time necessary for all Allied troops to be taken safely to England without needing to go via Jersey.

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