9th May 1945

The Channel Islands are liberated

Few events have had so profound an effect on the Channel Islands as the Occupation. As the only British soil captured by German forces during the Second World War, the population endured five years of German rule and, towards the end, near starvation.

Although the occupying power had banned all radios (and, where possible, confiscated them), enough remained on both Jersey and Guernsey for news of the war – and its coming to an end – to filter through. By early May, everyone, both local and German, knew that the Axis powers were beaten. It was only a matter of time before the islands were freed.

As the days passed, the Royal Navy made radio contact with the German authorities, and a rendezvous was agreed. It would take place in Channel Islands waters on Tuesday 8 May, now known as VE (Victory in Europe) Day.

Several attempts at surrender

In the event, the German surrender was a fairly pitiful affair. HMS Bulldog and HMS Beagle sailed from Plymouth to meet the German representatives off the Channel Islands.

As a reporter for The Guardian described it, “… we saw the German surrender ship. She was a dirty, battered minesweeper her sides red with rust, the paint on her superstructure chipped and discoloured. It seemed crudely fantastic as we watched, to see, heaved over the side of the trawler, a three-foot-by-six rubber dinghy. Three Nazi sailors climbed into it, followed by a young naval officer carrying an attaché case. This youth of not more than 23 or 24 was the German emissary. He sat in the stern of the dinghy, his seat a few inches from the water, the waves sweeping up and soaking him from the waist downwards.”

The wet emissary was Arnim Zimmermann. He gave the Nazi salute when he boarded the Beagle, then went below deck to meet with brigadier Snow, who also supervised the liberation of Sark and Alderney on the 10th and 16th May respectively.

Lack of authority

The surrender didn’t happen right away. Zimmermann hadn’t been authorised to sign anything other than an armistice, which would start just after midnight the following morning. Snow pointed out that anything less than an unconditional surrender would not be accepted. He sent Zimmermann back to shore with surrender documents. In return, Zimmermann warned Snow that the Bulldog and Beagle would have to retreat. Otherwise, their continued presence would be taken as a provocation and they’d be attacked.

At midnight, the Germans saw sense. Zimmermann returned with Major General Heine, who agreed to the surrender before he could board the Beagle. By seven o’clock the following morning – the 9th May – the papers had been processed and signed. Within the next quarter of an hour, the islands had been liberated.


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Other events that occured in May