British Channel Islands and German occupation

Why were the British able to route the Germans in Northern Africa in 1943 and invade Normandy in 1944, yet they couldn’t reclaim the British Channel Islands from German occupation between July 1940 and May 1945?

The historian Paul Sanders writes, “To say that the situation was complex would be an understatement . . .”

The British were not able to rout the Germans from North Africa in 1943 and invade Normandy in 1944 all by themselves.

It’s all a matter of the value of the territory. North Africa, Egypt in particular, was vital to protecting the Suez Canal and so was worth the effort required to support an army there. The Channel Islands had little or no tactical or strategic value and so they were not worth the effort required to hold them or retake them after their loss.

Tough on the inhabitants but that’s the way it was.

But the British were masters of the sea. How were they occupied in the first place and why couldn’t the British simply blockade all German traffic to the islands and “starve” the Germans off? Is it a matter of them being to close to France?

Yes, it’s easy to forget how remote they are from Britain, and how close to France - look here: http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?q=jersey&ll=49.830896,-2.005005&spn=2.393428,6.596191&hl=en

And the British certainly weren’t ‘masters of the sea’ by 1940, not with U-Boats patrolling the North Atlantic. In any case, David Simmons’ point is the most important, that there was no strategic purpose in defending the islands, and so resources were better directed elsewhere.

IIRC one of the Islands was in fact occupied by a German pilot, who learning the islands were undefended, landed there to get the honor of being first.

The islands were held until very late in the War. A fight there would not have affected the outcome, so nobody wanted to die in a meaningless fight.

A quick google shows that Hitler equipped the island with an unusually high defence. However, late on in 1944/5, when the coastal areas were secured by the allies, I presume if the German regime on the islands had turned on the islanders, the allies could have stormed them with ease. So it was just a matter of containment.

The British were not masters of the air.

At least, not at first. With France in German hands, the Luftwaffe made the channel all but closed to British naval traffic. Not until the Luftwaffe was ground down in 1944 (mostly by the fighting involved in resisting the strategic bombing campaign) could an invasion of the channel isles be contemplated – and then, it was OBE (Overtaken By Events).

Something as insignificant as the channel isles couldn’t be allowed to sap amphibious resources away from the vastly more important D-Day invasion. By the time the battle for France was decided, in the late fall/winter of 1944, weather precluded invasion; by the next spring, it was clear that Germany was doomed, and no one wanted to die for islands that clearly would change hands in a matter of months anyway.

Land-based airpower was pretty short-ranged in Europe in 1940-1943, but the channel isles were close, and easily dominated by the Luftwaffe in that period.

Sailboat

How hard was life for the islanders under German occupation? (I seem to remember a BBC or PBS movie on the topic a few years ago, but didn’t see it). Were any taken to the mainland for forced labor? Anyone shot for partisan activity? Were Jews on the islands taken away to concentration camps?

The answer to your questions are yes, yes and yes. Here is a very good web-site that gives lots of information :- Occupation . I visited Jersey a few years ago and one lasting impression was how the Germans had strongly fortified the island. there are still massive concrete pill-boxes everywhere , together with an underground , fully equipped military hospital , all built with slave labour.

Apart from the obvious hardships most islanders faired quite well until the last few months of the war. This was when things got realy bad because of food shortages which affected both the Germans (who could not be re-supplied) and the islanders. The Red Cross did manage to get a couple of supply ships to the islands but only after very protracted negotiations .