Fortress Guernsey – Autumn 2013…

My pal Dr Trevor Davenport, a renowned German & Victorian Channel Islands fortifications expert dwelling on my beloved walking island of Alderney, (most northernmost island of the 7 islands that make up the Bailiwick of Guernsey, and the one from which you can see the coast of France in the shape of the Cap de la Hague), often tweaks me about my ‘apparent’ lack of interest in German heavy fortifications whenever I am over on that sceptred isle… and our discussions (invariably) turn to the actual construction of such concrete beasts across all of the islands.

But my reply is, (almost in a whisper as such words are almost heresy to the committed ‘bunker hunter’), that my overall interests on this subject are more to do with the actual story of the German occupation of the British Channel Islands, (which I addressed in some detail in my TV documentary Channel Islands Occupied), from the personal perspective of its civilian population and the German occupying forces. As such I feel that I am more of a student of this particular aspect of this incredible Second World War story rather than being ‘purely’ a bunker hunter or ‘fortifications wallah’ myself..!

But I always add the caveat that I am indeed also interested in the Organisation Todt construction of these incredible German concrete towers & bunkers in the context of the Occupation, especially as a number of these highly specialised constructions can only be found in this part of Adolf Hitler’s mighty Atlantic Wall. But I am willing to admit that after several continuous hours of inspecting such impressive, (and often rare), fortifications I find my interest wandering and I want to get to grips with other aspects of the occupation. This usually means getting stuck in at Richard Heaume’s superb Occupation Museum up at Forest or the brilliant Military Museum deep underground down at La Valette in St Peter Port, where Peter & Paul Balshaw’s incredible private collection of both German Occupation artefacts and Guernsey Militia is also on public display.

However, when it comes to fortifications, (and this should please Dr Trev no end and get me back in his good books,) when happily back on Guernsey I always head straight for the beautiful Pleinmont headland down in the south-east corner of the island and the mouth-dropping Batterie Dollmann; not only is this the site of the superbly restored gun emplacement within the Dollmann Batterie itself by the lads of the Guernsey Armouries, but is also the site of the breath-taking & almost awe-inspiring L’Angle MP4 Naval (Kriegsmarine) Range & Direction Finding position high on the cliff tops, which originally boasted an important Freya radar located up on its roof throughout the German occupation…

This haunting construction, (redolent of the beautiful superstructures of the infamous Scharnhorst or Gneisenau battle cruisers of the Kriegsmarine’s High Seas Fleet), is complimented by its sister tower, the equally haunting MP3 tower just around the headland to the right, (now leased by Richard Heaume and open to the public on certain afternoons throughout April & October).

Dr Trev will be delighted to know that both of these incredible towers, (Marinepeilstanden und Messstellen to give them their correct German military monikers and which are a peculiar feature of the Channel Islands, for nowhere else do they appear on the Atlantic Wall of Hitler’s ‘Festung Europa’) really do get my heart beating just that little bit faster whenever I am lucky enough to lay my eyes on them.

One of my favourites is Le Prevote on the island’s southern coast which was actually the first of these range-finding towers built early on in the occupation by Wehrmacht Fortress Engineers (before the Organisation Todt took over this construction work), and they based their design more on the many Victorian Martello Towers that dot the Bailiwick.

Former Deputy Director of Tourism major Evan Ozanne and myself at one point considered joining forces to buy this historic tower when it came on the open market some years back… needless to say this and the other main towers on Guernsey really capture my imagination, as does the superbly uncovered & fully restored gu-pit that sits squarely betwixt the two towers on Pleinmont’s headland.

It was on June 30th 1940 that the forces of the Third Reich invaded and took control the Bailiwick of Guernsey, (along with Jersey to the south and Alderney to the north), and it was to be an occupation of 5 long, hard years before the islands would once again be free.

However it was not until October 1941 that Hitler issued orders for the heavy fortification of these stunningly beautiful British islands; this was due in part to his fear of an Allied assault, for he wanted to ensure his massive propaganda coup on occupying a ‘little piece of Britain’ was secure, in addition to these islands being his planned stepping stone or launching pad to a full-blown invasion of Britain, just 80 miles to the North.

In fact, just as an aside, one of the tricks the locals used to play on the German occupying forces was to point north-east to Alderney just a couple of miles hence and tell them that was the Isle of Wight, which many German soldiers believed! The other trick that was perpetuated early on against the Germans, (or rather more of an omission in not telling the Kriegsmarine, as told in my documentary by the late Frank Stroobant), was just how high the tide came into St Peter Port.. and in contrast therefore, just how low it was on its ebb, so that initially Kriegsmarine minesweepers tied up at the harbour side were on a short hawser, thus when the tide went out these self same vessels were left, literally, hanging in the air… a rather jolly jape that caused great amusement amongst the locals, but which was soon punished by the occupying forces that had been made to look foolish… so it was not such a jolly jape after that!

However back to the fortifications of these wonderful islands and returning to my favourite area of Pleinmont where the Marine Coastal Artillery Batterie Generaloberst Dollmann covered a large area of the headland & where, in German military mapping parlance, it was designated the name ‘Westberg’. For as a part of the German occupation of the islands, all gun positions & fortifications were give German names as, in addition, were the island’s original 13 parishes.

In fact everything on the Occupation map of Guernsey was now given a permanent German moniker or military designation!.

So it was that Batterie Dollmann at Westberg was equipped with 4 WWI French 220 mm cannons that had been captured by the Germans during their attack on France and brought to Guernsey as a part of their fortifying process. In support of these large 22 kilometre range guns, 105mm field-guns, mortars, machine-gun pits & searchlights were deployed in defence of the headland; whilst criss-crossing this impressive coastal position were personnel shelters, ammunition stores & minefields to complete the picture of a very well defended stronghold..!

In the middle of all of this activity is an intriguing low, squat-like Command Post or Leistand that was originally built to a naval design, but then handed over to the army mid-way through construction and today, thanks to the lads of Guernsey Armouries, you can freely walk around the Batterie Dollmann gun-pit and explore the personnel slit trenches, bunkers & tunnels surrounding the site courtesy of their expert and dedicated restoration of this most important occupation site.

Indeed the gun barrel you see was recovered and sited onto a specially commissioned and re-built gun cradle using original blue prints from Krupps of Essen and the wheels, which for many years had been ‘gate guardians’ to a Boy Scout hut at St Sampson to the north of the island, were also acquired and re-matched to the cannon. So what you see today is a complete and accurate restoration of the original gun-pit over a number of years… a site which had lain filled-in by the Royal Artillery after the German garrison’s surrender in 1945, before the Guernsey Armouries got busy in recent years with their heavy excavators and uncovered the treasures you now see expertly restored and laid out before you now.

Likewise around the coast at about 800 yards or so is  the most impressive and highly evocative Pleinmont MP3 tower, standing almost on guard as it overlooks the famous Hanois Lighthouse , (which until recently was the last working example in British coastal waters). ‘Pleinmont’ as many of us simply refer to this most striking of all of the Bailiwick’s towers , has been lovingly cleaned and renovated by Richard Heaume. On certain levels he has also managed to restore original range finding equipment to several floors, (it being the case that each separate floor in these towers controlled their own separate heavy Marineartillerie gun batteries sited around the headland.)

However it is not just the Pleinmont headland that boasts a superb restoration of the island’s former original German gun positions and bunkers, for down at Fort Hommet, a striking promontory on Guernsey’s beautiful West Coast, more German bunkers and casemates have been, (and are in the process of being), restored to their former glory…

During the war the Germans renamed the Fort Hommet headland ‘Stutzpunkt Rotenstein’ and this particular area of the coast boasted some 12 fortifications all aimed at deterring Allied landings on the considerable amount of wide sandy beaches that this part of the island offers the tourist and sun-seekers of today…

Richard Heaume MBE opened up one of the casemates, which, with the assistance of his ‘trusty liegeman’ Ernie Gavey, (himself also an author of several superb books on Guernsey’s fortifications), is open to the public during the summer season. As you’d expect with Richard, he’s invested a lot of time & effort in recreating the many scenarios that you would expect to find in such a defensive gun position during the German occupation between 1940 and 1945.

This includes a superb crew room with bunk beds & mannequins recreating ‘down time’ of a Marineartillerie crew during the war. Indeed not so long ago, enthusiastic battle re-enactors came over from the mainland to spend a weekend living & sleeping in this bunker, (all in kit, which must have caused a slight storm amongst the locals). But not so unpleasant as you might think as the expertly crafted O.T. fortifications, with their wood-lined crew rooms, were known for being cool in summer and warm in winter.

Actually that reminds me, for the opening sequence of my documentary Channel Islands Occupied, we dressed our sound-man Simon ‘Woody’ Wood (he the later technical genuis responsible for superb studio production of Tomahawk’s Third Reich Musik CDs) up in one of Richard’s original greatcoats & helmet and stuck a rifle in his hand and had him stand-to in one of the coastal bunkers, in a moody silouette, as if on coastal look-out..!

As we had hoped, this turned out to be a most evocative opening shot for my documentary when later viewed in black & white; but after taking the shot the crew & I just could not prise him out of this original garb and after we ‘cut’, Woody marched determinedly around the headland for a jolly… only come to face to face with a poor lady innocently walking her dog… and the look on her face was a picture… oops, so sorry madam!

But back to the plot and less than a 100 yards away from Richard’s exciting case-mate, the lads of Festung Guernsey have also again been very busy on their own accord, with the uncovering and restoration of a 5cm Machinengranatwerfer M19 automatic mortar bunker. According to weapons expert and Festung Guernsey member Terry Gander, the M19 was designed as an anti-personnel weapon and the mortar itself was mounted in a steel cupola, level with the ground, with only the muzzle of the weapon visible and at full stretch it could fire 120 rounds a minute… enough to cause any invading force assaulting from the sea a major head-ache..and then some!

Only 4 of these M19 mortar bunkers were built in Guernsey during the German occupation and sadly after the war, all were extensively damaged by explosives during the great scrap drive of the 1950s when mainland companies came over to recover as much metal from the former German fortifications as they could, damaging or totally destroying many fortifications in the process.

Happily Festung Guernsey, as a part of their personal remit to uncover and restore as many of Guernsey’s German fortifications as they can, (at which news Dr Trev is doing hand-springs..me too in fact), began excavating this M19 bunker in March 2010 Sadly the crew-room proved to be shattered and a very large crack (resulting from the scrap men’s less than careful work), was seen to run from the turret room to the rear wall. However despite the bunker being flooded the rest of the bunker seemed to be in generally good order, so thanks to the ever-willing band of volunteers, this restoration of another of the island’s important German defensive positions has preserved it for future generations interested in this most incredible story of World War Two.

Likewise over my weekend I was pleased to visit Richard Heaume’s stunning German Occupation Museum at Forest to catch up with the man himself and to check that the 20′ version of my Channel Islands Occupied documentary was still playing OK in his small cinema (it was!) and to again wander around this superb museum and re-capture that first excited feeling I had some 30 years ago when first I happened upon it and share those feelings with my dad, who was certainly most appreciative of what he saw…

Likewise I was also able to get down to the Balshaw brothers superb museum at La Valette down in St Peter Port, (my first visit for some years) and though I sadly missed catching up with the lads, I was quite amazed to see their new frontage. Not so long ago you had to walk up a grass bank then down some steps into the opening of their former U-Boot refuelling tunnels that are set back in the cliff but now, after some obviously major excavations, you can walk right in from road level to this most extraordinary museum.

Once again it was fantastic to see so much of  the brothers own personal collection beautifully displayed in these very evocative tunnels and to be able to introduce my dad to to this terrific museum here on Guernsey with its very evocative location & setting down in these impressive German tunnels. What was supposed to be for a long weekend off to relax and show my father the sights & sounds of Guernsey actually turned into yet another part-working trip as I came across more stories, which I plan to pen in forthcoming Blogs, meantime I hope you will enjoy this further Guernsey German Occupation update. Visiting these beautiful islands for you, gentle reader, is such a tough job…but somebody has to do it..!

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013

Hitler’s Combat Newsreels on DVD…

From as far back as I can recall, I always seemed to have an abiding interest in military history…my first awareness in my youth being that of the British side of the story in both the First and Second World Wars, (my paternal grandfather having been a pre-war professional soldier who served with the Essex Regiment in the trenches of the Western Front between the years 1914-18).

However thanks to my coming across the eye-popping Third Reich collection of a great mate Phil, in my later teens, (who happened to live just around the corner from my parent’s house), my fascination for military history very much became focussed on the story of the Nazi era, yet it was to be another 10 years before I had a chance to actually turn my private studies into, effectively, a life-time of work in this fascinating historical and archival field of period film & music…

In fact I had been working for some while with small Winchester-based Film & TV company Lacewing Productions, (at that time primarily cutting my teeth as Production Manager on the famous and evergreen series: ’The Old Country with Jack Hargreaves’), when I mooted to the two directors that I thought, with this new-fangled thing called ‘video’ just coming into vogue, (I joined the telly world when 16mm film was still the shooting & programme transmission medium via tele-cine), there was now an opportunity to start re-releasing many of the WW-II documentaries being sold to the collector on super 8mm home-reels onto video… and perhaps even set up a dedicated mail-order company to market such military material straight to the enthusiast?

I was allowed to spend any down-time I had at the studio researching into the viability of my ideas but sadly, by the time that I had realised that I was indeed onto a winner, Lacewing had gone under, so I put all of my notes away safely and went off to work as a freelancer. However several years later, through a circuitous route, Tomahawk Films was created, with me at the helm, and so I went back into the old files and dusted off my notes…

By now several other companies had also realised that WW-II documentaries on video were the ‘latest thing’ and there was now a market for such titles…so Tomahawk very soon became an archival distribution & mail-order company seeking out & sourcing some fantastic WW-II documentary footage and releasing it to an avid video market that could not get enough!

Eventually our World War Two video catalogue, entitled Images of War, offered some 400 exciting documentary titles and we had mail-order customers all over the world…but slowly alongside the original, in-house work that I was putting into producing my documentary Channel Islands Occupied, I was also putting out the word out I was looking for anybody that might be sitting on any captured German film footage. Sounds silly saying it now, but I thought back then that there might just be a chance that amongst the veteran soldiers who brought all sorts of souvenirs back like helmets, flags & badges etc, somebody might have had the chance to ‘acquire’ some film cans…so I put an advert in the old Exchange and Mart, as was back then….and I actually got a reply!!!

A former British intelligence officer telephoned to say that he had pile of rusty German film cans ‘under his spare bed’ if I was interested in coming and having a look…? So not wanting to miss a possible opportunity I jumped in my car and headed north to Yorkshire to meet this lovely old chap..and sure enough there, under that spare bed, was indeed a pile of 16mm mute film.

Pulling out an old British army projector, he started spooling up the first can, and over the next few hours I sat transfixed as I saw some of the most exciting German Propaganda Kompanie combat film footage I had ever seen…(for even by the late 1980s as this was, I was already starting to see the same old film footage being put out in a range of documentaries and was aching to see something new!). By the end of the impromptu film show my head was reeling but I knew that I wanted very much to buy this film footage..so after a fabulous dinner in the nearby town, and probably having imbibed one too many glasses of excellent wine, I offered him £2,000, (a fortune then and not an insignificant amount now), for all 16 cans, to which he very readily and happily agreed..!

During dinner he was able to fill me in a little more and explained that, in 1945 he and his driver had arrived in Hanover only to stumble across Ukrainian troops ransacking the city’s main Gestapo Headquarters and looking for treasures whilst also throwing cine-projectors from an upstairs window!!  Brandishing his pistol he burst into the building and charged upstairs through the Ukrainian troops coming downstairs, loaded with their booty, and on seeing piles of film cans stacked in a blazing room, grabbed 16 of them and retreated back to his jeep to be driven back to his Allied base camp for security analysis… and there they stayed until after the war when, amazingly, he was handed them back, considered to be his own personal ‘booty’ which should be returned!

The cans were put into his spare room and remained, untouched, until my E & M advert in the mid 80s stirred his memory, when I was called and subsequently arrived to see all the cans resurface completely intact! Once I had the them safely in Tomahawk’s care we arranged to have the film taken up to the heart of the film industry in London’s Soho, where all of the reels were expertly cleaned & re-oiled to get rid of the years of dirt and so bring them sparkling back to life.

Once lovingly restored we brought in a 16mm film editor to cut & splice the stunning sequences together to effectively produce four exciting video titles from the restoration of these superbly detailed German combat newsreels, which were then transferred to 1” tape thence latterly to Beta SP as new master formats came on-line…

As I alluded to earlier, most of this Nazi Propagandakompanie footage had never been in public before and though it had many sub-titles throughout, there were no soundtracks found with it and we assumed that, as Die Wochenschau (Weekly Newsreels), such footage was destined to be shown in local German cinemas in its silent form with perhaps just piano or other musical accompaniment maybe.

However rather than leave it silent Tomahawk acquired a stirring German soundtrack, (now released as a separate audio CD) and armed with a newly acquired collection of WW-II sound effects (also available as an SFX archive on our CD Sounds of War), we went into the studio, with Simon ‘Woody’ Wood, who was back then a freelancer before the days of his current studio, studio Dubmaster, who really brought this incredibly film to life. In fact it was this German music soundtrack that would eventually set Tomahawk films off into its direction of Third Reich Military & Civilian Music on CD…a direction that we had no inkling of at the time!!

Which also helps explain to our later Third Reich Musik collectors, unaware of our early genesis, why we are actually called Tomahawk Films:   simply because of that fact that we started out as a war-time documentary film company but as, slowly & steadily, our name became synonymous with German Military music we did think about a possible name change to reflect that fact…

However we soon realised that, from a marketing point of view, once you are well known for something in particular, you certainly don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and change your name… so even though 75% of our historical media work is now in the German archival music field, rather than the in ‘pure documentary production film’ arena, the name ‘Tomahawk Films’ stayed and our Third Reich music continues to be happily marketed on CD around the world under our well-known moniker..!

So after Woody, (the first time that Tomahawk Films had actually worked with him, the second being as sound recordist on our 50′ television documentary ‘Channel Islands Occupied’) had produced his sound-on-film dubbing magic, Tomahawk proudly released the outcome as a 4-part video series, each with its own separate title:

Russian Front Volume I: The all-out action begins as Wehrmacht cameramen cover the combat assault teams across the Dneiper River, taking Minsk, Stalingrad and Rostov whilst close-quarter action intercuts with spectacular footage in the cockpits of Me-110′s and He-111′s battling high above the Russian steppes…

Russian Front Volume II : The intense and bloody combat photography continues in the heat of battle as the German infantry storm Kharkov and Kersch with flame throwers & heavy M.G’ whilst a fascinating record of the siege of Sevastapol offers an incredible sequence on German heavy artillery, including the Wehrmacht’s truly awesome railway guns…

Air Land and Sea: A Kriegsmarine Honour Guard introduces the Scharnhorst, Prinz Eugen and Gneisenau’s ‘Channel Dash’ under R.A.F. attack whilst rare Dieppe newsreel and the Waffen-SS in Finland leads into ‘Murmansk to Africa’, a lightning overview of the war and ends with some really exciting Luftwaffe in-cockpit action in ‘Air War in the East’.

Finally the 4 title: Afrika Korps: which offers desert combat footage from the war in North Africa, including Ju-88′s in action, Italian assault troops, German troops under canvas with Rommel and the Fall of Tobruk; also Luftwaffe footage of the air attack on Malta and finally a great sequence offering ground crews ‘bombing-up’ and close ups of Kesselring and fighter ace Marseille…

At a later date we took the decision to then re-edit all four titles together to make an exciting and more cost-effective 90 minute video for our customers entitled: The Combat Newsreels of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich,which in turn became a world-play DVD of the same name, still with its incredible 16mm footage and stirring German music and combat effects soundtrack…

Over the years I have often thought about writing a  script and narrating it for the DVD, but do you know what?.. the film footage is so exciting and so gripping that any random voice-over, (however well or pertinently I had written a script), would have added little to the viewer’s enjoyment and possibly merely insulted their intelligence.

So in the end I opted to leave these incredible Combat Newsreels with just their rip-roaring music & combat sound effects sound-track where pertinent…and happily I made the right decision judging from the enthusiastic customer feed-back we get..and the fact it still keeps selling in its many thousands..!.

Even today, I have still seen very little of this footage used in the myriad TV documentaries that keep appearing on television, so I still bless the day that my old appeal for German footage via the pages of the Exchange & Mart came up trumps..!

Copyright@ Brian Matthews 2013

The Music of Hitler’s Kriegsmarine…

Military bands in Nazi Germany’s Navy, the Kriegsmarine, were divided into two major categories. The first were permanently shore-based bands known as Musikkorps der Landmarineteile and were attached to the Naval Commands Ostsee (Baltic Sea), and Nordsee (North Sea), ship’s cadre battalions, NCO instruction battalions and the marine coastal artillery battalions or Küstenartillerie.

Often parading in the German navy’s standard field-grey service dress, with gold and field-grey swallowsnests, these land-based band marines were full-time, professional or career musicians who performed at all important formal Kriegsmarine functions.

With a complement of 26 full-time junior NCO’s & ratings, one senior NCO in the rank of Musikoberfeldwebel (Petty Officer) and one senior NCO in the rank of Musikmeister, the Musikkorps performed a cross-section of musical duties from the large ceremonial parades and official march-pasts to quay-side departures and arrivals of ships & U-boats, under the command of a Flottenadmiral (Fleet Admiral). Land-based Marinemusikkorps also operated fife & drum Spielmannszüge with one junior NCO acting as Abteilungstambour or Detachment Drum Major, and six drummers & fifers also drawn from the naval musician’s career branch.

The second category comprised bands attached to ships of the High Seas Fleet. Known as Bordmusikkorps, these ship-borne musicians were sub-divided into two further divisions: bands serving on the battleships & battle-cruisers such as the Scharnhorst or Tirpitz, and known as Geschwadermusikkorps or ships-squadron bands, and smaller bands serving with destroyer & minesweeper fleets, known as Kleine Schiffsmusikkorps or small ships bands.

Wearing the standard blue square rig uniform with ‘Donald Duck’ boarding cap, all major Fleet Commands or Flottenkommando had a Geschwadermusikkorps which normally consisted of between 26 and 40 junior NCOs & ratings drawn from the naval music career path, with a senior NCO Korpsführer, under the overall command of a senior NCO Musikmeister.

However, the size of the ship’s band normally related to the actual size of the ship so in the larger vessels, such as battleships or battle-cruisers, the Geschwadermusikkorps complement could be up as high as 26 or with as few as just 8 musicians and band-leader. Ship-board Spielleute were, like their land-based colleagues, drawn from the music-career branch and each Geschwadermusikkorps normally paraded 6 fifers and 6 drummers under the musical direction of an NCO Abteilungstambour.

The Kleine Schiffsmusikkorps were composed of 9 volunteer ratings & NCOs who played in the band in addition to their normal duties as seamen & gunners etc, under the direction of a junior NCO career musician in the rank of Musikmaat or Musikobermaat. Unlike their career musician colleagues, these ‘hobby’ musicians wore their main branch career insignia on their uniforms…

Naval bands on the smaller vessels could vary their musical complement to as low as just three members, quite often carrying only fifers & drummers on-board ship, with the addition of a lone signalling bugler or Signalhornister…..

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013