Music in the German Occupied Channel Islands 1940-45…

As the generous readers of my Blog for Tomahawk Films will have realised, the German Occupation of the British Channel Islands between 1940 and 1945, is, alongside my passion for the German Soldier Song and the Military Music of the Third Reich, (an important & integral part of both my own and indeed Tomahawk’s personal & professional life, in addition to producing my television documentary Channel Islands Occupied), still something I love writing about, at the drop of a hat..!

So I thought I would also pen another Blog combining the two and write something on the history of the German military musical presence in those beautiful islands between 1940 and the occupying forces’ surrender 1945 and have actually subbed the ‘Channel Islands Occupation’ chapter from my book The Military Music & Bandsmen of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich 1933-45 as it offers some corking original archival photographs!

Sadly, Tomahawk Films and I have decided not to republish this ‘mighty tome’, for though it has been incredibly well received.. thanks to all that bought a copy..the  enormous cost of re-printing is such that we have decided not to funnel such another huge amount of money into books as that it is not our core business..

However as many fellow military enthusiasts (and indeed fellow lovers of these Crown Dependent pieces of heaven), already know, the Channel Islands were the only British soil to be occupied by the forces of Nazi Germany during the Second World and make for one of the of the most amazing stories of the Second World War.

By dint of this, during that Nazi occupation there were actually 2 German military bands stationed on the two main islands (out of the total eight Channel  Islands): one drawn from the army:  Pionierbattalion 15, garrisoned on Guernsey, and the other being provided by the Luftwaffe’s 40th Regiment, Flak Artillery, which primarily performed on Jersey.

The story of that Second World War occupation offers the incredible imagery of WW-II German Musikkorps performing on British soil alongside other rare and almost unimaginable images of German Forces on British soil and this sadly over-looked story is a historical study all of its own when it comes to the Second World War…

When the entire German garrison across the five main Channel Islands ultimately surrendered in 1945, their musical instruments, song books and many musical accoutrements were left behind intact and can be seen today on display in some of the superb island occupation museums. In addition, with the recent location of a number of rare photographs of these German military bands actually performing on British soil, it is possible to take a ‘then and now’ look at them and witness those instruments being played during the occupation:

The Channel Islands are some of the most beautiful, peaceful and evocative to be found anywhere in the world, but it wasn’t always that way, and a half century ago the picture told a very different story..:

In the first months of the Second World War, following Hitler’s lightning war against Poland, an uneasy peace settled over Europe, and to the Channel Islanders the problems on the continent seemed another life away. Besides, what would Hitler want with the Channel Islands anyway?  However, in the spring of 1940 aircraft of the Luftwaffe began to appear in the skies above the islands, and the authorities introduced the first air-raid precautions; then on May 10th 1940, as Hitler launched his forces against the Low Countries and the BEF began its retreat to Dunkirk, it was just a matter of time before France fell and Adolf Hitler’s eyes would then turn to his next target… Britain!

On June 19th 1940 the British government announced that the defence of the Channel Islands was no longer justified and withdrew the garrison; just 3 days later, France surrendered and fearing German invasion to be imminent, some 34,000 Channel Islanders left for mainland Britain, leaving a total population of 50,000 to face the unknown. But far from showing disinterest, Adolf Hitler knew that capturing a piece of Britain would not only provide excellent propaganda but give him an additional base from which to launch his air and sea attack on the British mainland.

Wrongly advised by German Intelligence that the islands were still heavily defended, 6 fully-laden Heinkel IIIs set a course from their bases in Northern France on June 28th and, mistaking a line of tomato lorries for a troop convoy, bombed Guernsey’s St Peter Port harbour, killing 30 civilians, before flying on to strafe St Helier in Jersey, killing a further nine islanders.

Then on June 30th the German bombers returned, dropping written ultimatums demanding the unconditional surrender of all islands. Later the same day a lone reconnaissance Dornier 17 landed at Jersey’s airport, the pilot, 25 year-old Luftwaffe-Leutnant Richard Kern, having the dubious honour of becoming the first German occupier setting foot on British soil.

Then came the first Ju-52 transports ferrying the advanced troops who, believing Britain was only days from invasion, settled in quickly under strict orders from Hitler (who still hoped for a settlement with Britain) to treat all islanders with respect. Nevertheless, communications between the islands and mainland Britain were immediately severed, batteries of flak-guns were sited, slit trenches dug and all Union flags were hauled down and replaced by the swastika’d Reichkriegsflagge.

Whilst German Military Forces under the command of Feldkommandantur (Field Command – FK) 515 co-operated with the local government and police forces, all Channel Island affairs now fell directly under the command of Berlin, thus beginning six years of what Guernseyman Frank Stroobant was to call a ‘benign occupation’.

With the invasion of Britain abandoned, Hitler feared the Allies would launch an all-out attack to recapture the islands, and they soon began to reverberate to the sounds of shovels & concrete mixers as plans for their defence from air and sea attack were put into operation. Using forced labourers from Eastern Europe under the direction of the Organisation Todt (comprising German civilian technicians & labourers), massive flak and coastal gun batteries were built across the three main islands, turning them into the most heavily fortified part of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall…

Guernsey & Jersey were initially garrisoned from July 1940 by units attached to the German 216th Infantry Division, plus Machine Gun Battalion No.16 on Guernsey and Panzerjäger Battalion No. 652 on Jersey. However, with Hitler’s attack on Russia, the 216th was earmarked for the Eastern Front, and in the Summer of 1941 the 319th Infantry Division (who had already seen action in Poland and France) was ordered to the islands to take over the defence of Guernsey & Jersey, whilst the 83rd Infantry Division was sent to Alderney. The 83rd Division then found itself despatched to Russia at the end of 1941, and the 319th took over the garrisoning of all three main islands.

Alderney, with its civilian population having been totally evacuated by the German military, was an unpopular posting, so FK-515 ordered a 3-month garrison rotation with army units from Guernsey and Luftwaffe flak units from France, though Kriegsmarine units, (for some reason), were exempted from this rotation.

Mobile armour was provided by 17 captured French Char-B tanks on Jersey and 19 to Guernsey under the command of Panzerabteilung 213, whilst anti-aircraft firepower arrived in the shape of Luftwaffe Flak Regiment No.39 on Guernsey and No.40 on Jersey. The Kriegsmarine initially oversaw command of all army and naval coastal artillery batteries from March 1941, until they merged in 1943 to form Heeresküstenartillerieregt (Army Coastal Artillery Regiment) 1265.

As the war slowly turned against Hitler, his Naval High Seas Fleet found itself confined to their harbours in Germany by increasing Allied activity. As a result, the Kriegsmarine presence in the Channel Islands mushroomed, as surplus German naval manpower from Kiel, Hamburg and Wilhelmshaven was transferred in to boost the size of the garrison. Indeed Jersey’s last Kommandant was a senior Kriegsmarine officer, Vice-Admiral Huffmeier.

At the height of the Occupation in May 1943, some 26,800 German troops garrisoned the islands: 13,000 on Guernsey, 10,000 on Jersey & 3,800 on Alderney, including the Army Mobile Anti-tank Battalion 450; Luftwaffe Long Range Reconnaissance Group 123 & Fighter Group 53; Army Ost-Bataillon 823 & 643 (captured Georgians who changed sides and the Russian Army of Liberation); SS-Baubrigagde 1 and the  Kriegsmarine’s 2nd Patrol Boat Flotilla & 24th & 46th Minesweeping Flotillas.

Additional units included fortress construction battalions, bridge, railway & airfield construction companies, combat engineers, medical, veterinary, field-police, signals, customs, field- post and the Reichsarbeitsdienst and NS Kraftfahrkorps…

In fact an incredible assortment of manpower was crammed into the relatively small space of the three main Channel Islands, plus Sark, and all needing some form of entertainment in their off-duty hours; to this end the island’s civilian cinemas provided one form of distraction, as did the soldier’s own ‘clubs’, the Soldatenheime (Soldiers’ homes) in St Helier and St Peter Port.

However, it befell the lot of the two military bands of the Luftwaffe and the Heer to provide light relief for both the German garrisons and the civilian population alike, and their concerts, many in the open-air, proved to be very popular, so much so that one wartime occupation edition of the Guernsey Evening Press in July 1943 ran a terrific story on Gerhard Anders, Obermusikmeister of Army Musikkorps Pionierbataillon 15:

“Thousands of Sarnians visited Candie Gardens on summer evenings last year to listen to the German Regimental Orchestra under the direction of Gerhard Anders.

Obermusikmeister Anders is himself a personality and  our music critic ‘Jubal’ contributes a pen-picture of this gifted composer & musician, who intends to honour Guernsey with a composition on the island..”

Meet Bandmaster Gerhard Anders

“He is young, genial; has bright eyes that flash with the genius of music and in the two years he has been with us in Guernsey, training his accomplished military band of 30 musicians, he has acquired English, to make himself understood, thus adding another language to his German.

Bandmaster Anders was the conductor of Berlin’s Operetta Theatre Orchestra of 80 musicians before the war, and his name is known throughout Germany as that of a young composer rising to fame. The upheaval of our time finds him writing band scores and composing music at his residence, ‘Cote des Vauxlaurens’, Cambridge Park, or conducting his devoted band at Les Cotils for two hours each morning in all genres of music”.

‘Jubal’, goes on to write (in very quaint English as if the Guernsey patois was his first language and English second) that Anders was always noting down ideas for future scores in a series of little blue books that were always to be seen ‘peeping out of his tunic pockets’ and that his army band, Pionierbataillon 15, had ‘over a  thousand pieces in their repertoire to choose from’.

However, whilst Anders was said to ‘find joy in helping Guernsey musicians in providing strings for their orchestras’, ‘Jubal’ (aka William ‘Billy’ Vaudin, the Guernsey Press’ chief reporter), noted that he ‘found great difficulty in obtaining suitable quality manuscripts for scoring’ as the on-going occupation resulted in a lessening of German and French supplies to the military garrison.

The long awaited relief of the Channel Islands, expected after the Allied invasion of Normandy, failed to materialise; instead the battle of France raged on and with the fall of St Malo the first of 600 wounded German soldiers arrived for treatment in the German underground hospitals on Guernsey & Jersey.

Meanwhile the Allied advance continued across North-West Europe and the islands were effectively by-passed; islanders and Germans alike were now cut-off and facing a very tough winter of 1944/45, existing on near-starvation rations and managing to hold on just long enough until the arrival of the Red Cross ship SS Vega in December 1944 with desperately needed food and supplies.

The final Allied drive into Germany continued and the death knell of the Third Reich was eventually sounded when on May 8th 1945 the Royal Navy’s HMS Bulldog and HMS Beagle left Plymouth to rendezvous with the Germans off Guernsey’s St Peter Port.

The islands’ Kommandant, Vice-Admiral Huffmeier, initially held out for an armistice, but on the following day, May 9th 1945, capitulated and surrendered the German military garrisons of Guernsey, Jersey and Alderney without a shot being fired!  (Incidentally the ‘bristling’ young Nazi officer pictured sitting, right, here in the surrender signing aboard HMS Bulldog, was later believed to have rejoined the new post-war German Bundesmarine, eventually becoming a very senior German Naval attache working within NATO!)

Meanwhile the musical instruments and sheet music of Guernsey’s army and Jersey’s Luftwaffe bands simply remained in their billets as the musicians themselves marched into captivity; after liberation, the islanders soon found them, and they were subsequently distributed to various island orchestras such as the Boys’ Brigade and Salvation Army bands in the following first months of peace.

On Alderney, however, a number of bandsmen found themselves prisoners-of-war and held back to help with the massive mine and defence clearance operation that took place in the years immediately following the island’s liberation. This was a most hazardous undertaking and sadly several former German garrison members were killed whilst attempting the recovery of many hidden mines & booby-trap bombs; but this task was finally accomplished and in 1947 the remaining German POWs performed a concert for the island’s returning civilian population.

Nothing is known of the fate of Heeres-Obermusikmeister Gerhard Anders, (though the Guernsey Press’ music critic & organ music aficionado, Billy ‘Jubal’ Vaudin, retired from the newspaper in 1948… and died in 1955 at the age of 73).

However, a footnote to the German occupation of Alderney was heard by myself in the early Summer of 1998, when Hans Schiffer, a former Kriegsmarine signals teletype operator at the former German Naval Signals Headquarters at St Jacques in St Peter Port, Guernsey, returned as the guest of honour at the opening of the newly refurbished bunker (and HQ of Guernsey’s German Occupation Society), under the island’s former ‘Fortress Guernsey’ initiative that I helped publicise:

During the celebrations, Herr Schiffer was heard to mention, when being interviewed on the possible whereabouts of former German service personnel based in the islands during the Occupation, that he had recognised one of the former Luftwaffe musicians he had previously seen performing for the troops on Alderney actually playing in a jazz-band in Düsseldorf in 1958… who’d have thought eh?

Copyright  @ Brian Matthews 2013

Festung Alderney 1940-45…

For many years just hearing the mere mention of the island of Alderney was enough to send a slight shiver down my spine….. as a young Third Reich history student I had always regarded this tiny Channel Island, lying just off the French coast, to be a cold, bleak outcrop of rock jutting out from an inhospitable sea – the perfect setting for the only Nazi concentration camp ever to be constructed on British soil during the Second World War. My fevered imagination had played out all sorts of awful scenes on that far flung ‘island of terror’, the stuff of nightmares in fact!  But the reality in broad daylight could not have been further from my idea of the truth..!

The most northerly of the small group of British Islands, and measuring just 3.5 miles long by 1.5 miles at its widest, Alderney lies eight miles off the French Cotentin peninsula and, home to a small population of just over 2,000, is a place of truly outstanding, desolate beauty! This surprising revelation hit me in the late 1980s when I was doing the groundwork for my 50′ tv documentary ‘Channel Islands Occupied’ and had just set foot on the island for the very first time after a 15 minute flight from nearby Guernsey, a mere 24 miles away.

With the early Autumn sun glinting off a deep-blue, wave-flecked English Channel, my tiny 16-seater aircraft had banked sharply on its final approach to give me an impressive panoramic view of this incredible little island and my first sight of some of the concrete fortifications of Hitler’s ‘Atlantic Wall’  that were abandoned and left to nature after the German garrison surrendered without a shot being fired in May 1945.

Since that first introduction to the ancient and historic Bailiwick of Guernsey’s tiny sister island, I have come to fall deeply in love with Alderney’s untouched, tranquil beauty and to understand and appreciate the sheer variety of its myriad fortifications that have protected this vulnerable outpost down through the centuries.

The Germans were not the first to fortify this island – in fact the most prolific examples of defensive positions were actually built in Victorian & pre-Victorian times: stunning stone forts that have been studied in depth by island residents Dr Trevor Davenport & Colin Partridge. Both experts on the German defences, these two academics have faithfully documented Alderney’s stunning range of fortifications from the period 1940-45, back to the mid 1770s and their publications on these incredible edifices makes for fascinating reading.

For the committed WW-II German ‘bunker hunter’ or Victorian fortifications ‘buff’  then the real beauty of Alderney is that, apart from being a mere 40 minutes flying time from the UK mainland, you don’t actually need a car when you arrive. St Anne, the islands’ pretty little town, can actually be reached on foot from the tiny airstrip in about 15 minutes, whilst the island itself with its high cliffs in the south-west and its flat sandy beaches up at the north-east, is very much walkable in much less than a day.

The wide, open spaces also mean that the majority of the fortifications, both German & Victorian, are readily accessible to view and some to clamber over, with the right clothing and a torch. In fact some twenty-three years or so on from my original film, I never tire of rambling round Alderney, taking in the Victorian forts of Ile de Raz, Tourgis & Clonque and the impressive German anti-tank wall at Longis Bay, the enormous gun emplacements of the marine-artillery gun emplacements at Annes Batterie and the haunting and evocative MP3 naval direction-finding tower dominating the sky-line at Mannez.

Unlike the remainder of the Channel Islands, Alderney was cleared of its local population after the relatively bloodless occupation of this British territory in the summer of 1940. This civilian evacuation was the prelude to the impending fortification, resulting in Alderney joining with the other islands to eventually become the most heavily fortified part of Hitler’s ‘Atlantic Wall’ and a natural extension of the Fuehrer’s grand plan for ‘Festung Europa’ (Fortress Europe).

In 1938 the ‘Organisation Todt’ (set up under Dr Fritz Todt to oversee the production of Hitler’s massive autobahn construction programme), was tasked with fortifying Germany’s western border. Between 1938 and the outbreak of war in 1939, this para-military body built over 400 miles of defences comprising 14,000 individual concrete bunkers & emplacements along the so-called ‘West Wall’.

Following the invasion of France and the Battle of Britain, Hitler decided in December 1941 to fortify the entire coastline from Denmark down to France’s border with Spain, and it was the O.T. that was put in charge of this massive ‘Atlantic Wall’  building programme. By mid-1943 this enormous body, bolstered by forced-labour from the occupied countries across Europe, had grown to over half a million strong.

In the wake of the occupation of the Channel Islands in that beautiful summer of 1940 Alderney, along with Guernsey,Jersey and to a lesser degree Sark, were initially fortified to a limited degree by army combat engineers. However, following Hitler’s fortification decree of 1941, it was realised that that the army would not be able to cope on its own, so the Organisation Todt moved in with the role of permanently fortifying the islands and providing the coastal defences capable of providing cover for German shipping routes along the western coast of France, from St Malo to the Cotentin peninsula. Flak Artillery was provided by the Luftwaffe whilst coastal defence was to be undertaken by army & marine-artillery units under the control of the Kriegsmarine.

Whilst the two main islands of Guernsey & Jersey retained much of their local population, despite a fairly high level of pre-German occupation evacuation to mainland Britain, on Alderney from 1941 onwards the civilian population was all but replaced by the constant inward flow of German manpower, plus the military hardware and building material required to turn this small island into a fortress. Aided by the construction of a huge jetty down in the harbour, (originally destined for use as part of an artificial harbour for ‘Operation Sealion’ – the aborted invasion of mainland Britain), the original military garrison of 450 assorted personnel in 1941 was to eventually grow to over 3,000 by 1944, whilst the German labourers of the OT, boosted by forced-labourers from as far afield as Russia, would bring the total war-time occupation force on Alderney to some 7,000.

Most Wehrmacht personnel were either billeted in St Anne or alternated between hutted accommodation constructed around their flak coastal batteries or underground in their heavily reinforced, wood-lined concrete crew-quarters that made up a part of the complex maze of bunkers & slit-trenches surrounding each fortified position.  However in early 1942 a priority was given to house the influx of German O.T. workers & forced-labourers which resulted in four specific camps being constructed within a six-month period by a volunteer force of French workmen who arrived on the island in January 1942.

Each was named after a North Sea island: ‘Helgoland’ at Platte Saline, ‘Nordeney’ at Saye Bay, ‘Borkum’ at the Haize and ‘Sylt’ on edge of the grass air-strip, (disabled to deter Allied landings), and ‘Lager Sylt’’  which was eventually handed over to 1.SS Bau-Brigade. This SS Construction Unit took charge of the Russian forced labourers previously under O.T. control so becoming the only SS-run concentration camp on British soil.

Unfortunately many salacious and fanciful stories concerning the fate of these Russian workers at the hands of their SS guards have magnified themselves over the years, whilst the real truth regarding the terrible conditions that some of those wretched workers endured under such SS rule has been shrouded in mystery, compounded by a lack of surviving witnesses and the fact that the SS destroyed the camp before the German occupation came to an end in 1945.

What is known is that by 1943 all four camps housed between 3 & 4 thousand volunteer & forced-labourers and at least 330 of these workers died or were killed during the fortifying process, including many of the Russians who were subsequently buried in make-shift graves on Longis Common. Following the German surrender in May 1945, ‘Bunny’ Pantcheff, a British officer in military intelligence, (and a former peace-time visitor to Alderney), was sent to the island to conduct a full enquiry into any German ‘mis-deeds’ and his compelling summary was later turned into a small paperback book entitled Alderney Fortress Island’ in 1981.

As the long shadows of history now fall gently across this breathtakingly beautiful Channel Island, the welcome visitor, armed with a map from the small tourist office in town, will find it possible to locate many of the German and Victorian fortifications that still dominate the scenery – even the former gate-posts to SS-Lager Sylt stand alone & forlorn by the side of the now tarmac airstrip, as an accusing testament to what awful deeds may have taken place within the camp perimeter those many years ago.

Standing looking at these innocent gate-posts today or indeed standing atop some of the huge coastal bunkers or amidst the  massive gun emplacements up on the cliffs I must admit that even in such beautiful location as this, a slight tingle still runs up my spine as I take in the haunting atmosphere and think back over 70 years to Adolf Hitler’s forces occupying this small, but heavily fortified outpost of the British Empire and wonder… what if mainland Britain had actually been next..?

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013