In June 1944, the Normandy landings marked the initiation of ‘Operation Overlord’, the invasion of northwest Europe by the Allied forces. By 7th May 1945, the Germany army had surrendered and the end of the war in Europe was announced. Early on 9th May the German forces occupying the Channel Islands surrendered to the Allies and, within hours, Jerseys’ liberators, Force135, had freed the Island of German control.
During the week leading up to 6th May Islanders had been hearing reports of Hitler’s fall in Berlin by way of their hidden radios. In spite of the fact that the Island was still officially under occupation, rumours began circulating of an imminent end to the war in Europe.
On 6th May a delegation of German officials met with Jersey’s Bailiff, Alexander Coutanche, and the Attorney-General to discuss the developments in Europe and their impact on the Islands.
The German Command were defiant and no reference to surrender was entertained. Instead, the Germans portrayed their defeat as a shift in focus towards a union between the powers in a new fight against Russia.
As if to illustrate this sentiment, the German Commander of the Channel Islands, Vice-Admiral Huffmeier, responded to the British Army’s request for capitulation by stating that he only received orders from his “own Government”. Despite the nonchalance of the German occupying forces, which were still officially recognised, Jersey’s preparations for liberation began to take noticeable shape.
At long last, on 8th May, the front page of the Jersey Evening Post carried Jersey’s first confirmation of the Allies’ victory in Europe, and Islanders were informed that Winston Churchill would broadcast the Nation’s first official announcement that afternoon at 3.00pm.
Crowds began to gather at various locations around the Island to hear the announcement that would declare their liberation. Responding to appeals for calm by the Bailiff, the Islanders waited patiently amidst the heavy air of expectation.
At 15.00pm Winston Churchill crackled onto the airwaves to give, perhaps, the most famous speech of his esteemed oratory career. The Prime Minister’s words announced the end to the war in Europe and the “unconditional surrender of all German land, sea and air forces in Europe”. When, amidst great cheers across the Island, he uttered the words, “our dear Channel Islands are also to be freed today”, he confirmed to an elated Jersey that their liberation was finally to become a reality.
our dear Channel Islands are also to be freed today
(Winston Churchill, 15:00, May 8th, 1945)
At the conclusion of Mr Churchill’s speech, all around the Island flags and decorations sprang up. From a balcony overlooking the Royal Square, Bailiff Coutanche gave an impassioned address, leading the crowd in prayer, and, after joining his fellow Islanders in the crowd, proceeding with an emotional rendition of the national anthem.
Around the Island, possessions, forbidden under the occupation, miraculously reappeared in a short space of time, adding to the celebrations. Parties continued throughout the rest of the day and long after the King’s speech at 21.00pm, with several bonfire and firework displays taking place.
Behind these scenes culminating on the 8th, the Allied military powers had been busy coordinating the necessary steps to recover the Channel Islands from their occupation. On 3rd May a British Military operation, with the objective of liberating the Channel Islands, was set in motion when a coordinated group of British Army units, collectively known as ‘Force 135’, were called to “Stand To”.
Force 135 had been established mid-1944 and was tasked with the responsibility of recapturing the Islands, removing the German threat and restoring order in the event of a German surrender. It drew together various units, then based in the UK, and comprised a range of services; among their numbers being a good few Channel Islanders. The combatant arm of Force 135 was largely composed of units of the Royal Artillery, whilst a vast range of support services, including the vital inclusion of the Royal Navy, rounded off the Force’s overall complement.
On 8th May the units that made up Force 135 received their orders to move to their marshalling camps in Portsmouth. The main body of the Force was due to arrive in the Islands on 12th May, however a small contingent of Force 135, including their Commander, Brigadier AE Snow, left for the Channel Islands aboard HMS’ Bulldog and Beagle the morning of 8th May. Together with the units of Force 135, this first party consisted of a team of officials responsible for negotiating the terms of the Germans’ surrender.
May 9th - Liberation Day
At 07.15 on 9th May, on the quarter deck of HMS Bulldog, Second-in-Command for Guernsey General Siegfried Heine signed the Instrument of Surrender on behalf of the German Command of the Channel Islands, effecting their capitulation. On completion of this, General Heine was then ordered to “immediately cause all German flags and ensigns now flying in the Channel Islands to be lowered”.
His authorisation is checked by Captain Herzmark of the Intelligence Corps.
Within an hour a British advance party had landed in St Peter Port. Shortly after, Brigadier Snow and the remaining negotiating team boarded HMS Beagle and departed for Jersey.
At Midday an overjoyed Bailiff Coutanche accompanied a German delegation led by the Island Commander, Generalmajor Rudolf Wulf, aboard HMS Beagle anchored in St Aubin’s bay, where the separate surrender of Jersey was to take place. Arriving at the same time in St Helier’s harbour was a small naval inspection party sent to report on the health of the Islanders, who were promptly overwhelmed by an enthusiastic crowd delighted at seeing their first liberators landing on Jersey soil.
At 14.00pm, as the crowds began to amass outside the Pomme D’Or Hotel, a dispirited General Major Wulf signed the Instrument of Surrender for Jersey. Immediately afterwards the advanced landing party was dispatched to secure control of St Helier and signal the liberation.
Having wrestled their way through the hordes of celebrating locals, Lieutenant -Colonel WPA Robinson and his team eventually arrived at the Pomme D’Or; the pre-selected liberation HQ. On their arrival the swastika flag was ordered down from the hotel balcony and, at 15.40pm the “Jack” was hoisted, officially signalling the end of the occupation. At this the crowd broke into a passionate performance of the national anthem before the streams of cheers erupted.
By 17.00, Jerseyman Captain Hugh Le Brocq had cleared Fort Regent and, having done so, promptly ordered the hoisting of the Union Jack at the Fort’s main flagstaff overlooking the harbour. This poignant act coincided with the landing of the main body of Force 135’s advanced party, which included sixteen Jerseymen, at the harbour. Having got immediately to work, the Island’s liberators had St Helier occupied, without resistance, by 22.00pm.
As the day of liberation drew on, the celebrations continued and Islanders allowed the reality of their freedom to sink in. Outside the Pomme D’Or, Islanders continued to sing and cheer as they mingled with the British troops, who kindly supplied them with luxuries, such as cigarettes, much to their appreciation.
|The Islanders immediate needs on Liberation were anticipated and specially selected items - food, medical supplies and clothing, were loaded onto vehicles, ready to be driven straight off the landing ships when Force 135 arrived. More supplies followed on the first transport ships.
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth made a special visit to the Islands on 7th June 1945.