Festung Guernsey - Fortress Guernsey: The fortifications of Guernsey

Festung Guernsey - Fortress Guernsey: The fortifications of Guernsey

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Festung Guernsey - Fortress Guernsey: The fortifications of Guernsey

Festung Guernsey - Fortress Guernsey: The fortifications of Guernsey

In 1944 the Germans produced a published guide to their own fortifications on Guernsey and Jersey, some of the strongest they ever built. This was a limited edition reference work intended to be used by officers commanding the defences, and is now being re-printed as a part-work, complete with an English translation of each page.

This book was clearly the work of a garrison operating under almost peacetime conditions. It was beautifully produced, with nice illustrated chapter headings, carefully coloured maps showing areas of fire and selections of photographs at the end of each section. Some of these showed the fortifications in question or possible landing areas, but others were simply tourist snaps, including one of a sunset over the sea. There are some very interesting photos here, including one showing a gun emplacement hidden behind a panel in the side of a hotel.

The text follows a standard format. Each strong point gets two pages, with five sections - deployment (a brief description of the location), contingent (broken down by rank and sometimes by organisation providing the men); weapons; military objectives and finally operations. The level of detail is very impressive, looking at positions manned by as few as a dozen men.

The military objectives are normally fairly obvious - detect and stop landings, defend the base, support other bases and of course fight 'to the last man'. This section also gives the main line of resistance (often the high water mark). The Operations section is most informative, often given quite detailed instructions to the defenders. These include the sort of attack to be expected, how to cooperate with nearby resistance nests, alternative positions for the main guns and how to react in foggy weather.

These two entries in the series cover rather different areas. The first volume begins with the defences of St Peter Port Harbour, a very heavily defended area, with plans in place for attacks from the land and the sea. The second volume looks at a more rural part of the west and south coast. Here the strongpoints are slightly more scattered, but they are still present in very impressive numbers.

This is a very valuable historical resource, providing a detailed explanation of how the Germans expected their coastal defences to work, as well as showing us the sort of defensive network they might have constructed on the French coast if they had been given more time.

3.1 St Peter Port Harbour from Les Terres Point to Salerie Corner
3.2 Belle Greve Bay from Gemäuer to Mont Crevelt

Festung Guernsey - Fortress Guernsey: The fortifications of Guernsey - East Coast - St Martins Point to St Sampsons
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 86
Publisher: Clear Vue Publishing
Year: 2013

Festung Guernsey - Fortress Guernsey: The fortifications of Guernsey - West and South Coasts - Rocquaine to Corbiere
4.3 Rocquaine Bay from Fort Saumarez to Imperial Hotel
4.4 Pleinmont from Battery Dollmann to Les Tielles
4.5 Torteval from Les Tielles to La Corbiere

Edition: Paperback
Pages: 80
Publisher: Clear Vue Publishing
Year: 2013

Guernsey’s Victorian Fortifications…

It is a little remiss of me when writing about Fortress Guernsey and all of the terrific work undertaken by this historical initiative in the late 󈨞s under the leadership of my good friend and former boss at the Guernsey Tourist Board, Deputy Director Major Evan Ozanne, not to have ever touched on the earlier Victorian Fortifications of the 7 islands making up the Bailiwick of Guernsey…

For almost as important in the engrossing history of these sun-soaked islands as the German Occupation is the story of the earlier fortification building programme that took place in the late 1700s to combat the ever-present threat of an earlier invasion, this time by the French, (our on-off friend & enemy down the years), as these attractive of Anglo-French islands were literally right in the firing line between our two countries.

Though a greater part of my responsibility as Media Consultant to Fortress Guernsey, (often working alongside leading Alderney-based fortifications expert Colin Partridge), was to write, report & broadcast on the German Occupation side of the story and indeed to bring over as many documentary-film makers, fellow broadcasters and travel journalists as possible to show off this unique aspect of Guernsey’s formidable & fascinating history, so too the incredible Victorian Fortifications were a major part of our combined endeavours when promoting the military historical background of Fortress Guernsey to an intrigued outside world.

For almost 2,000 years in fact Guernsey and its 6 satellite islands of the Bailiwick possessed considerable strategic importance in the defence of Britain and by virtue of its special relationship to mainland Britain as a Crown Dependent territory, Guernsey was to eventually find itself covered with myriad fascinating earthworks, forts, Martello towers, gun-batteries, arsenals & watch-houses, all built principally to resist the threat of invasion… and obviously long before the rise of the Third Reich and Hitler’s lustful eyes on these stunning islands, (though interestingly enough all those years later many of the subsequent German fortifications were actually built upon, or added to, these previously early constructed and very sturdy Victorian fortifications.)

The catalyst for the earlier defensive positions can be traced back to the American War of Independence in 1775 as 3 years later in 1778, France declared its support for the American colonists in their struggle against the British Crown..and the Channel Islands, despite the presence of a powerful Royal Navy, lay very close to an increasingly aggressive France.Indeed in May 1778 the Governor of the neighbouring island of Jersey wrote to the British Secretary of State in London recommending that a programme of coastal defence building should begin in the two larger Channel Islands (i.e. Jersey & Guernsey).

So it was that in August 1778, approval was given for the construction of 15 fortified towers and with the importation of a large force of labour, (later echoed in the 1940s when the Germans brought in slave labour for their building programme), by March 1779 all 15 were complete and ready for action. The French had actually drawn up plans for the full invasion of the Channel Islands, though mercifully this did not materialise, nevertheless it was decreed that Guernsey’s defences be further strengthened. So it was that from 1803 onwards three large Martello Towers were built at Rocquaine Castle, Fort Sausmarez and at Houmet Point, all of which were to have additional German fortifications added to, (or on and indeed over), during the 1940-45 Occupation of the Bailiwick.

However, of the original 15 Victorian Loophole Towers built in 1778-79, just 12 now remain in Guernsey, one of the most important of these being Rousse Tower in the north of the island overlooking Grand Havre. Designed primarily to prevent the landing of enemy troops on nearby beaches and, on stretches of coastline where more than one tower was erected, Rousse and the other towers were positioned to provide overlapping fields of fire from their light 1-pounder cannons.

Musket-fire could also be directed down on invading forces through the loop holes whilst from a position on the roof the later addition of a 12-pound cannonade could fire grapeshot. Heavier guns on these batteries were subsequently added and this allowed the towers to actually engage enemy ships up to a range of some 3000 yards.

Rousse was actually constructed in 1804 on the site of a former small battery already sited on this ‘achingly beautiful’ headland and by 1816 it boasted three 24- pounder cannons and two smaller 9-pounder cannons and, on a base of Portland stone imported over from Dorset, the larger guns were mounted on inclined platforms to help with the force of the cannon’s recoil, whilst the smaller cannons were sited on the flat so they could be easily manoeuvred to fire on the advancing enemy through the embrasure openings on the rear wall if required.

Although the British Government maintained a permanent military garrison in the islands, there were actually insufficient troops to guard all of Guernsey’s wide-open sandy beaches, so this task was delegated to the Guernsey Militia. Recruited at the age of 16 and transferred into the Reserve at 45, they remained on standby by for call-up right up to the age of 60, and though there were weekly drills & parades, they were not paid… and even had to provide their own Militia uniforms until the British Government began furnishing them from 1782 onwards.

With a force of some 2,500 to 3,000 men in the Militia, Rousse Tower was manned by a Sergeant and 20 men under the command of a Captain, who was also responsible for 3 other identical batteries sited across the headland

Men allocated to this duty also had to continue their normal day-job as farmer, fisherman or quarryman, however they were allowed to appoint ‘substitutes’ for when the day job was more pressing and at these times it was not unusual for the soldier’s wives or their children to stand in. But eventually this led to abuse and many derelictions of duty when men supposedly on duty… but were anything but!

As a part of Fortress Guernsey’s remit, Rousse Tower was given a superb make-over and in addition to the construction of life-size models then placed inside the tower to illustrate life within in the late 1700s/early 1800s, after a great deal of effort a number of original cannons were sourced and, after proofing in Chatham Docks in England, were sited on accurately reproduced carriages. Now these are proudly on display at this beautifully restored Victorian site.

On my recent trip back over to Guernsey I was delighted to once again pop up to Rousse and happily note that the Tower, (seemingly falling yet again into a state of some disrepair on a previous visit, despite all the work that Fortress Guernsey had originally invested on it), was now looking really ‘ship-shape & Bristol fashion’.. a real sight for sore eyes in fact!

It was a real delight to spend some time here once again, this time with my dad, taking in the magnificence of this Loophole Tower, now some 230 years old, fully restored to its former glory as it is a truly wonderful testament to the Victorian art of military fortification and something that the German military designers & engineers either consciously or subconsciously copied some 160 years later when it was their turn to further fortify the Bailiwick from 1941 onwards, (after their invasion the previous year), and the island’s unique German gunnery range-finding towers began to rise at their coastal locations…

Now following Major Ozanne’s earlier lead & persistence in the late 1990s, Rousse Tower is deservedly back on Guernsey’s list of States-maintained historical sites and with further island investment and continued work on the site in 2006, this important landmark attraction can rightly said to be of the finest restored Loophole Towers anywhere in the Channel Islands. So to all involved…well done and bravo!

Finally, whilst just finishing off this latest Blog, a number of readers kindly contacted me to say that they had been enjoying my piece entitled ‘A Soldier’s Grave’ concerning ‘Douglas’ Small’s final resting place in my local village churchyard and my musings as to whether the Commonwealth War Graves Commission had learned of my periodic maintenance of his grave and added it to their official cleaning list as a result?

Well I am delighted to say that a fellow villager, Reg, came forward to say that he and his wife had seen a van in the churchyard when out on one of their regular rambles that bore the legend ‘Commonwealth War Graves Commission’ on the outside and when they approached the team, they were told that the CWGC now comes to our churchyard every two years to give the soldier’s headstones a make-over…

Back then Reg was unaware of my tie to Douglas’ grave so wouldn’t have been able to ask the cleaners if it was indeed them that had given his headstone a thorough make-over, but as his is now a clear white marble, (as opposed to the ‘grey concrete’ when I started to clean it in 1999), I feel I can conclude that the CWGC have indeed added ‘Douglas’ to their list. A very happy outcome for me as we approach this Sunday’s November 11 th Remembrance ceremonies and then, next year, the 100 th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War and the subsequent opening of the Hazeley Down Army Pre-Embarkation Camp here in my beautiful village of Twyford on the River Itchen.

Fort Hommet 10.5 cm coastal defence gun casemate bunker

The bunker is in Castel on the northern side of Vazon Bay and is part of a complex of reinforced concrete fortifications built by the Germans on the site of Fort Hommet. [2] Fort Hommet is on a headland that lies 3.3 miles (5.3 km) north west of St Peter Port on the other side of the Island. [3]

Fort Hommet was constructed on the Vazon Bay Headland in the late Napoleonic Wars era as part of the anti-French defences although there had been fortifications recorded here as far back as 1680. [4] A Martello tower was built on the site in 1804 with further batteries and a barracks being added later. On 20 October 1941, after the occupation of the Channel Islands, a directive ordered by Adolf Hitler proclaimed that the Islands would be turned into an impregnable reinforced concrete fortress as part of the Atlantic Wall, and the Organisation Todt constructed fortifications round the coast.

As part of these plans this restored casemate was one of 21 similar standard constructions of a design type Jäger, [5] : 57 built to house 10.5cm K331(f) guns. [6] Four such casemates were installed at Fort Hommet and make up part of Stützpunkt (Strongpoint) Rotenstein. The Jäger casemate being a Series 600 Regelbau construction, named after the Organisation Todt officer who designed it. [5] : 57

1943 construction Edit

The construction work began in April 1943 after the completion of a railway link between Vazon and St Peter Port which was the essential link needed for the transportation of the vast quantity of materials required to build the fortifications. The schedule of work consisted of initial site excavations followed by a concrete base poured. Wooden shuttering would then be built and steel reinforcing would be installed in the form of cradles. The concrete would then be poured in a continuous fashion giving each structure its immense strength. Once cured, the shuttering was removed and the bunker was fitted out. The process was carried out in a matter of weeks.

Design Edit

Looking at the plan and starting at 12 o'clock you have the gun room, at 1 o'clock the spent shell room, 3 - crew room with escape shaft, 5- anti-gas lock with entrance defence, 6- entrance, 7 and 9 - two ammunition rooms, 10 o'clock the ventilation plant. [5] : 57

Liberation Edit

After the liberation of Guernsey in 1945, the fortifications were stripped of all their fixtures and fittings by both the British Army and the islanders. By the late 1940s all the metal fittings including guns and blast doors were removed for their scrap value. Many of the bunkers including this casemate at Fort Hommet, were buried in an attempt to return the coastal landscape to its pre-war condition.

As part of Guernsey's fiftieth liberation celebrations, and part of the project Fortess Guernsey, the States of Guernsey had all the 10.5 cm casemates on the island surveyed with a view to restoring the best example. [7] This casemate was found to be dry and structurally sound although it was just a bare shell. The entrance to the casemate was excavated in April 1993 and restoration work began.

The restoration was completed in 1995 and is open to the public on two afternoons from April to October.

A chance to see Guernsey's hidden fortifications

A special partnership between a tour business and Festung Guernsey will give people the chance to take an in-depth look at some of the island's more hidden-away German fortifications.

From April, Tours of Guernsey will be offering walking tours around the Scharnhorst Battery, the bunker network on the Fort Hommet headland, and the not-seen-before site at the Mirus Battery.

Each of the fortifications have been, or are being, restored by Festung Guernsey, but they decided to work with Tours of Guernsey to open them up to the public to celebrate the 75th year of Liberation from the German Occupation.

"Last year we got together to start looking at what we could do for Liberation 75, as it is a big year," Steve Powell, Project Co-ordinator at Festung Guernsey, said. "We have been working with tour guides for years now over a number of our sites, and this seemed like a natural partnership to look at some areas we do not normally open up."

Amanda Johns, from Tours of Guernsey, said: "The tours will be at the demand of groups, so if and when we get interest from family groups of groups of friends, we can organise them to maybe look around one or two of the sites, or all three.

" At each site guests will be taken on a private tour inside where they will have the opportunity to view these amazing fortifications that are not usually open to the public. Information regarding the construction and use of the different fortifications will be provided, together with more detail on what can be seen as we walk through the sites. Festung have an extensive collection of photographs of these fortifications during the Occupation, and I will be showing just some of these as visual aids to enhance the experience."

The Mirus Battery bunker is a very large site, consisting of a number of fortifications, but this specific one has been being worked on by Festung Guernsey. Paul Bourgaize, Festung's other Project Co-ordinator, said they had had the Mirus site in their sights for years, but had only just secured access to start to work on the restoration. The bunker has 20 rooms to look around, and is part of the biggest network of fortifications in the Channel Islands.

Pictured: The entrance to the Mirus Battery. (Image from Festung Guernsey)

The Fort Hommet network consists of four bunkers, one of which housed an automatic mortar, which has been restored by Festung's volunteers. Finally, the Batterie Scharnhorst is a site consisting of four open gun emplacements, and personnel and ammo bunkers.

Ms Johns and Mr Powell estimated that the sites each would take about an hour to look around, with the Mirus battery likely to take longer.

The tours will first be available from the 18 April, but people can contact Ms Johns to prebook them now on [email protected].

Pictured top: The sites people will now have the chance to look around on the new tours. (Images from Festung Guernsey)

Festung Guernsey - Fortress Guernsey: The fortifications of Guernsey - History

The secret paths across Hitler's forgotten Island fortress - five to six day itinerary

Historian Dan Snow’s recent documentary ‘The Islands of Guernsey - The Secrets of Hitler's Island Fortress’ uncovers one of the most important hauls of World War 2 artefacts in the 21 st century. Retrace Snow’s journey across the Islands of Guernsey, Alderney, Sark, Herm and Lihou and visit some of the same sites that are imbued with long lost history and previously untold tales of WWII.

And discover the real James Bond on Sark, a British raid commander that inspired Ian Fleming to create the character for his series of spy novels.

Day 1

German Occupation Museum, Les Houards, Forest, Guernsey

The German Occupation Museum provides a unique insight into life in Guernsey during the Occupation. A treasure trove of preserved artefacts including local, Freda Oliver’s love letters with German Under Officer Paul Schlimbach. Complete with an authentic recreation of an occupation-era street, exhibitions on maritime history, and Second World War fortifications.

Petit Bot, Forest, Guernsey

Petit Bot is a sheltered cove beach with plenty of rock pools to explore and a charming tea room at the bottom of the valley. This area saw the commencement of Allied forces’ commando raids during the war, but is now a peaceful valley filled with luscious plant life, waterfalls and lots of great walking routes.

Day 2

Herm Island

Take the ferry from St Peter Port and arrive on the scenic Island of Herm. Herm was by-passed by the Germans initially but was later claimed by the Third Reich on July 20 th 1940. The Island was used to practise landing from barges in preparation for the invasion of England, under the guise of shooting a propaganda film entitled ‘The Invasion of the Isle of Wight’. The Island was also used by Officers for shooting rabbits and pheasants. Now though Herm is a tranquil Island with white sandy beaches perfect for sunbathing, walking or stopping for a drink in the Mermaid Tavern.

Castle Cornet, St Peter Port, Guernsey

Castle Cornet is Guernsey’s sprawling 800 year old castle complete with four museums and four period gardens. Stop by at 12 o’clock to see the scarlet clad castle keepers fire the noon-day gun. Explore the historic fortification, the only place in the British Isles with Henry VIII defences enhanced by Hitler.

Horseshoe pool, La Vallette Bathing Pools, St Peter Port, Guernsey

Next take a refreshing dip in Guernsey’s Victorian tidal bathing pools. The four pools each have a unique view towards the neighbouring Islands and Castle Cornet and are within walking distance of Clarence Battery. Allied Forces bombed this site, in a failed attempt to disable German radar, in preparation for the D-Day landings.

Day 3

Travel by ferry to Sark

October 3 rd 1942, 12 British commandos of the Small Scale Raiding Force (SSRF) launched Operation BASALT, raiding Sark with the dual objective of capturing prisoners and offensive reconnaissance. Take a stroll along the Hog’s Back headland and view the exact spot where they scaled the treacherous cliffs at night.

The raid was led by Major Geoffrey Appleyard, who worked alongside Naval Intelligence Officer Ian Fleming. Fleming was so inspired by the SSRF, including the night raid on Sark and other missions, that he went on to write his series of spy novels. The main character, James Bond, is said to be based on Appleyard and three of his SSRF colleagues one of whom, Major Anders Lassen VC, also took part in the Sark raid.

Day 4

Fort Hommet, Vazon Bay Headland, Castel, Guernsey

Visit Fort Hommet (named ‘Stutzpunkt Rotenstein’ by the Germans) on the impressive Vazon headland. The Germans added to the fort in 1942, with a 4.7cm anti-tank gun casemate, four 10.5cm casemates, two searchlight bunkers, a machine gun turret bunker, a M19 automatic mortar bunker, a water supply bunker, shelter for 5cm anti-tank gun and a personnel Shelter.

Not all of the fortifications at this site are regularly accessible to the public, but there is lots to explore any time of day.

Lihou Island, west of L’Eree Headland, Lihou

If the tide is right you can walk across the cobbled causeway to Lihou Island, and explore this wild, natural paradise. During the War the Islands’ only house was used as target practice and was shelled, causing it to collapse completely. Luckily the 12th century priory was undamaged and its relics still remain. There is also a beautiful tidal rock pool or ‘Venus Pool’ that is deep enough to jump in if you are feeling brave.

Marine Peilstand (MP4), Pleinmont Headland, Torteval, Guernsey

MP4 as it is known locally was a naval direction finding and signalling position tower. It is a monumental structure overlooking the southern coast. The original rangefinders are still onsite and in working order. There is also access to a battery dolmen gun-site nearby.

Batterie Generaloberst Dollmann at Pleinmont Headland, Torteval, Guernsey

This restored battery gun pit houses the last of its type in Europe. It was restored recently and all work was carried out as authentically as possible to return the site to its wartime appearance. On some Sundays during the summer the site is fully open to the public and the gun is fired using blank charges.

Travel by plane or ferry to Alderney

The 'Odeon' Bunker, Alderney

Day 6

Military walks and trails, Alderney

There are a number of self-guided walks that take in Alderney’s bunkers and wildlife, the maps are free to pick up from the Visitor Information Centre. Fort Albert and Bibette Head Trail leads you on a military history walk along Braye Bay, up to Fort Albert, the largest Victorian fort on the Island, and round the headland to the German strongpoint at Bibette Head and on to Fort Château à L’Étoc.

Hidden artefacts and artillery, Alderney

Both The Coast Path Challenge and The Mid-Island Walk – will take you near the quarry containing WWII artefacts and artillery, including tank tracks, shell casings and at least one K18 gun plus many more submerged relics in the depths of the York Hill Quarry. Although access to the Quarry is restricted, walking around Alderney there are many reminders that the Island was once inhabited by over 6,000 German soldiers.

For more information about Guernsey during the Occupation please visit.


When it became clear that conquering Britain would be impossible, Hitler issued orders to convert the Channel Islands into an impregnable fortress as part of his infamous ‘Atlantic Wall’, heavily fortifying the only British territory he would ever conquer.

By 1944 Guernsey’s coastline was covered in concrete fortifications. Hundreds of reinforced bunkers, gun emplacements and tunnels were constructed, transforming the tiny archipelago into the most fortified place on earth. A colossal 8% of the entire Atlantic Wall’s concrete was poured into the Islands and they held more guns than the neighbouring 600 miles of Normandy coastline.

Thousands of foreign prisoners and labourers were shipped to the Islands to complete the construction. Skilled labourers brought over from Germany and Europe were provided with a suitable wage. The manual labourers - mainly prisoners of war - were treated like slaves, housed in camps, poorly fed and forced to work long hours without respite.

Some of the gun emplacements and bunkers on the coast have been fully restored. Courtesy of VisitGuernsey


World War II in Europe began on 1 September 1939, with Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland. Two days later, the UK and France declared war on Germany. [3] Poland's geographical location, however, prevented the Allies from intervening directly. [ citation needed ] Four weeks into the attack, the Germans had successfully occupied Poland. [3]

Less than a month after this victory, Adolf Hitler issued a directive stating that Germany must be ready for an offensive through France and the Low Countries. [3] However, the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (German high command OKW) was convinced that preparations would take at least until the following year. After furious arguments, Hitler reluctantly agreed to wait. [3] In May 1940, three massive German army groups overran France and the Low Countries in little more than six weeks. [3]

Creation Edit

Prior to the Atlantic Wall decision, following a number of commando raids, on 2 June 1941 Adolf Hitler asked for maps of the Channel Islands. These were provided the next day and by 13 June Hitler had made a decision. Ordering additional men to the Islands and having decided the defences were inadequate, lacking tanks and coastal artillery, the Organisation Todt (OT) was instructed to undertake the building of 200–250 strong points in each of the larger islands. The plan was finalised by the OT and submitted to Hitler. [4] The original defence order was reinforced with a second dated 20 October 1941, following a Fuhrer conference on 18 October to discuss the engineers' assessment of requirements. [5] : 197 The permanent fortification of the Channel Islands was to make them into an impregnable fortress to be completed within 14 months. [6] : 448 Festungspionierkommandeur XIV was created to command the project of fortifying the Channel Islands.

It was six months later on 23 March 1942 that Hitler issued Führer Directive No. 40, which called for the creation of an "Atlantic Wall". He ordered naval and submarine bases to be heavily defended. Fortifications remained concentrated around ports until late in 1943, when defences were increased in other areas. [7] This decision required the army engineers and the OT to organise quickly. Massive supplies of cement, steel reinforcing and armour plate would be required and everything would need to be transported.

Nazi propaganda claimed that the wall stretched from the cape of Norway down to the Spanish border. [8] [9]

Regelbau Edit

The Regelbau (standard build) system used books of plans for each of over 600 approved types of bunker and casemate, each having a specific purpose, having been updated as enemy constructions were overrun and examined, even testing some to destruction for effectiveness. They incorporated standard features, such as an entrance door at right angles, armoured air intake, 30-millimetre (1.2 in) steel doors, ventilation and telephones, [10] : 7 internal walls lined with wood, and an emergency exit system. [11] There were over 200 standardised armour parts. [12] : 350

The standardisation greatly simplified the manufacture of equipment, the supply of materials and the budgetary and financial control of the construction as well as the speed of planning for construction projects. [13] : 50

To offset shortages, captured equipment from the French and other occupied armies were incorporated in the defences, casemates designed for non-German artillery, anti tank and machine guns and the use of turrets from obsolete tanks in tobrukstand pill boxes (tobruk pits). [13] : 51

Organisation Todt Edit

Organisation Todt (OT), formed in 1933, had designed the Siegfried Line during the prewar years along the Franco-German border. OT was the chief engineering group responsible for the design and construction of the wall's major gun emplacements and fortifications. [8] [14]

The OT supplied supervisors and labour as well as organising supplies, machinery and transport to supplement the staff and equipment of construction companies. Many of them were German, however construction companies in occupied counties bid for contracts. Companies could apply for OT work or could be conscripted. [13] : 53 Companies failing to complete their work on time, which was always possible as the OT controlled the material and manpower of each firm, could find themselves closed down, or more likely fined, or taken over or merged with another firm to make a more efficient larger unit, successful firms however could make attractive profits. [13] : 53–4

The OT obtained quotes for necessary works and signed contracts with each construction company setting out the price and terms of the contract, such as bonus payments for efficiency, including the wage rates and bonus payments for OT workers (which depended on their nationality and skill). There could be several construction companies working on each site. [13]

Labour comprised skilled volunteers, engineers, designers and supervisors, who were paid and treated well. Second came volunteer workers, often skilled technicians, such as carpenters, plumbers, electricians and metal workers. Again, these workers were paid, took holidays and were well treated. Next came unskilled forced labour, paid very little and treated quite harshly. Lastly came effective slave labour, paid little, badly fed and treated very harshly. [13] : 75 The OT ran training courses to improve labour skills. [13] : 18

Massive numbers of workers were needed. The Vichy regime imposed a compulsory labour system, drafting some 600,000 French workers to construct these permanent fortifications along the Dutch, Belgian, and French coasts facing the English Channel. [14] Efficiency of the OT decreased in late 1943 and 1944 as a result of manpower pressures, fuel shortages and the bombing of worksites, such as V-weapons sites, where some volunteer workers refused to work in such dangerous areas. [13] : 50

OT Cherbourg in January 1944 dealt with 34 companies with 15,000 workers and 79 sub contractors. Daily, weekly and monthly reports showing progress, work variations, material used, stocks of material, labour hours used per skill type, the weather, equipment inventory and quality, level of supervision, employee absences, staffing levels, deaths and problems experienced all had to be filed with the OT. [13] : 57

British attacks Edit

Throughout most of 1942–43, the Atlantic Wall remained a relaxed front for the Axis troops manning it, with only two large-scale British attacks. Operation Chariot, launched near St Nazaire in March 1942, successfully destroyed German pumping machinery for, and severely damaged, the Normandie dry dock and installations. [15] The second attack was the Dieppe Raid, launched near the French port of Dieppe in August 1942 to test the German defences and provide combat experience for Canadian troops. The Germans were defeated at St. Nazaire, but had little difficulty in repulsing the attack at Dieppe, where they inflicted heavy casualties. Although the Dieppe raid was a disaster for the Allies, it alarmed Hitler, who was sure an Allied invasion in the West would shortly follow. [16] Following Dieppe, Hitler gave Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, the overall German Commander-in-Chief in the West, 15 further divisions to shore up the German positions. [16]

Reorganisation Edit

Early in 1944, with an Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe becoming ever more likely, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was assigned to improve the wall's defences. [9] [16] Believing the existing coastal fortifications to be entirely inadequate, he immediately began strengthening them. [16] Rommel's main concern was Allied air power. He had seen it first-hand when fighting the British and Americans in North Africa, and it had left a profound impression on him. [16] He feared that any German counterattack would be broken up by Allied aircraft long before it could make a difference. [16] Under his direction, hundreds of reinforced concrete pillboxes were built on the beaches, or sometimes slightly inland, to house machine guns, antitank guns, and light and heavy artillery. Land mines and antitank obstacles were planted on the beaches, and underwater obstacles and naval mines were placed in waters just offshore. [17] Little known was that touch sensitive mines were placed atop the beach obstacles. The intent was to destroy the Allied landing craft before they could unload on the beaches. [17]

D-Day Edit

By the time of the Allied invasion, the Germans had laid almost six million mines in Northern France. [9] More gun emplacements and minefields extended inland along roads leading away from the beaches. [9] In likely landing spots for gliders and parachutists, the Germans emplanted slanted poles with sharpened tops, which the troops called Rommelspargel ("Rommel's Asparagus"). [18] Low-lying river and estuarine areas were intentionally flooded. [16] Rommel believed that Germany would inevitably be defeated unless the invasion could be stopped on the beach, declaring, "It is absolutely necessary that we push the British and Americans back from the beaches. Afterwards it will be too late the first 24 hours of the invasion will be decisive." [17]

The Channel Islands were heavily fortified, particularly the island of Alderney, which is closest to Britain. Hitler had decreed that one-twelfth of the steel and concrete used in the Atlantic Wall should go to the Channel Islands, because of the propaganda value of controlling British territory. [19] The islands were some of the most densely fortified areas in Europe, with a host of Hohlgangsanlage tunnels, casemates, and coastal artillery positions. [20]

However, as the Channel Islands lacked strategic significance, the Allies bypassed them when they invaded Normandy. As a result, the German garrisons stationed on the islands did not surrender until 9 May 1945—one day after Victory in Europe Day. The garrison on Alderney did not surrender until 16 May. Because most of the German garrisons surrendered peacefully, the Channel Islands are host to some of the best-preserved Atlantic Wall sites. [21]

The commander in Guernsey produced books giving detailed pictures, plans and descriptions of the fortifications in the island, Festung Guernsey.

Many major ports and positions were incorporated into the Atlantic Wall, receiving heavy fortifications. Hitler ordered all positions to fight to the end, and some of them remained in German hands until Germany's unconditional surrender. Several of the port fortresses were resupplied by submarines after being surrounded by Allied Forces. The defenders of these positions included foreign volunteers and Waffen-SS troops. [22]

Local History

Throughout history Guernsey has been a strategic military point in several conflicts and the signs of this are still visible around the island.

From trenches dug on the headlands in prehistoric times to the bunkers constructed during the Occupation Guernsey has a long history of fortification which led it to once be described as "the most fortified place on Earth".

This is due to its historically strategic location at the mouth of the English Channel with easy access to the Atlantic and the north coast of France - a situation used to the advantage of the French, English and German military at different points.

The earliest signs of anything resembling defensive fortification are visible on the Jerbourg headland where a trench is still visible crossing the width of the peninsula from Marble Bay to Petit Port.

This represents what is left of a wall and ditch based structure which would have also included wooden spikes and would have been manned by archers to protect the headland from the main island in case of invasion.

Find out more about some of Guernsey's fortifications:

last updated: 05/05/2009 at 09:19
created: 24/04/2009


The Jersey branch was set up in 1971. In 2010 it was converted into a limited liability company. [3]

    , (underground command bunker, coastal artillery observation tower) [5]
  • Strongpoint Corbière, (‘M19’ fortress mortar bunker with linked MG bunker, 10.5cm K331 (f) coastal defence gun casemate) [6][7] , St. Ouen
  • Anti-tank gun casemate at Millbrook, St. Lawrence

Founded in 1961, by Richard Heaume, M.B.E.,in Guernsey, the society still researches all aspects of the German Occupation of the Channel Islands. It has an archive of historical documents, and also renovated the former German naval Signals H.Q, which was responsible for all messages to the islands from France and then Germany after D Day. The Guernsey branch is a member of the Association of Guernsey Charities, and donates money every year to The British Red Cross, in recognition of the help given to islands by the International Red Cross in 1944 and 1945, with supplies of food to the local population.

Guernsey CIOS works with Festung Guernsey and private owners as regards sites open to the public in Guernsey: [8]

In addition to the annual publication Channel Islands Occupation Review which has been produced since 1973, the society has published a sequence of books under the title Archive Book dealing with specific subjects such as Archive Book 5 Channel Islands Merchant Shipping 1940 - 1945

Guernsey World War II German bunker opened at Cobo

Festung Guernsey entered the structure at Cobo in January 2012 and were able to locate part of a weapon mount.

The bunker on the west coast of the island was found to be flooded and empty of any other equipment, although some stencils and fittings were found.

Ian Brehaut, of Festung Guernsey, said: "As yet we've never really found an Aladdin's Cave."

He said of the find at Cobo: "It's that excitement of opening up a bunker you know nobody's been in and there's the possibility of finding little bits and pieces."

Mr Brehaut said the bunker yielded a part of a barrel adapter of a machine gun that had once been mounted there.

He said the original structure had "a large armoured turret" at the front of the bunker with two heavy machine guns attached, and weighed in the region of 47 tonnes.

This was destroyed by scrap metal merchants after the war ended.

Mr Brehaut said Festung Guernsey had a similar gun mount on which the piece that was found could be displayed.

He said this may eventually end up on display in an identical bunker at Fort Hommet.

Festung Guernsey has documented a number of World War II fortifications around Guernsey.

Mr Brehaut said: "We're running out of sites to do, but there are one or two that still haven't been opened, so we'll wait and see."

Watch the video: Secrets of Hitlers Island Fortress - The Islands of Guernsey WW2 Documentary. Timeline (May 2022).