20th October 1941
Hitler orders the Channel Islands’ fortification
Capturing the Channel Islands had been an enormous coup for Germany early in the Second World War. Hitler was keen to present life on them as a model occupation but was also 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, which was something he needed to avoid at all costs.
In October 1941, therefore, he ordered that the islands 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 with a deadline for completion set for the end of the following year. The work was directed by Organisation Todt.
The Atlantic Wall
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, handling the construction of both defensive and offensive structures, with Todt himself named Minister of Armaments and Munitions in 1940.
The Atlantic Wall, which included fortifications in Guernsey, Jersey and Alderney, was Todt’s responsibility and if he was to deliver what Hitler wanted, he would need enormous numbers of slave workers. These were brought in from across the conquered and occupied parts of Europe. In total, over 16,000 were brought to the Channel Islands and many were housed in four concentration camps on Alderney. These were given the hardest work, including tunnelling, quarrying and unloading ships. Some of them were worked to death.
Although there are several designs of bunker and casemate across the islands, they have many common features. All are made of concrete 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, allowing those inside to see who was calling and shoot them if necessary. The rear of some beaches were given concrete walls to make tank landings impossible. Elsewhere, tunnels made good use of the Channel Islands’ natural rock for protection.
Ultimately, the defences were never put to the test so we shaln’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 it.
The occupation of the Channel Islands came to an end through surrender rather than invasion.
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