You are on page 1of 2
94 AUGUST 2011 Containing 900 years of history, the National Archives is the United Kingdom’s official government archive. In this month’s “Dusty Archive” we discover the fascinating story contained within the covers of just one of the many thousands of files held at Kew. The war had left them behind. Instead of attacking the Channel Islands the Allied forces had simply passed them by during the D-Day landings. The morale of the German garrison on the Channel Islands was low, so when an opportunity to strike out at the Allies presented itself there was no shortage of volunteers. THE GRANVILLE RAID The plan that von Schmettow devised was to put Granville harbour out of action, to capture some of the ships, particularly one of the coal ships which would be brought back to Jersey, and to destroy the other vessels in the harbour. The assault was planned for the night of 6/7 February 1945, but the weather was too rough and the operation was cancelled. It was reinstated for 8 March. The assault force consisted of six minesweepers (the masts of which had been removed to present a smaller radar target), three artillery carriers, two converted landing craft, three motor torpedo boats, a large tug, and a number of smaller craft. The vessels were crewed by 600 men in addition to whom there were seventy infantry and engineers to destroy the port installations and, with the help of seven Luftwaffe men armed with light anti-aircraft weapons, hold back the American battalion which was billeted on a hill above the harbour. There were also eight naval ratings to blow up the vessels in the port, twelve to destroy the radar station a little way up the coast, and another twelve to take away anything valuable they could seize. A further J ust before Christmas 1944, five Germans (one naval cadet and four paratroopers) who had been captured at Brest escaped from their US-controlled prisoner of war camp at Granville. They succeeded in seizing a US landing craft which they took out on the evening tide. With only a pocket compass and a sketch map to guide them they reached Maîtresse Île (where they were fired upon by the German observation post before being identified) from where they were directed to St Helier, Jersey’s capital. The escaped prisoners were warmly received in Jersey and when they described the situation in Granville harbour, Generallieutenant Graf von Schmettow, the commander-in-chief (Festungskommandant) of the Channel Islands, realised that it might be possible to deliver a surprise attack upon Granville. Morale amongst his troops on the islands was low and such an enterprise would give them a chance to strike back at the enemy. Of particular interest to von Schmettow was the escapees’ report that Allied ships unloaded coal at Granville every day. Since the start of Operation Overlord, the Channel Islands had been cut off from the mainland and stocks of coal were running perilously low. DustyArchive_August2011.indd 94 19/07/2011 12:18 The low tide also prevented the motor torpedo boats that were to support the attack upon the radar station sailing close enough inshore to engage their target. One boat, M-412, ran aground, forcing it to be destroyed and abandoned by its crew. The US troops on the hill above Granville were alerted, but the Germans held them at bay for an hour and a half. Jack Yeatman, at sea on patrol in HMS Pearl, an Asdic Trawler based at Plymouth and which was operating with the Royal Naval Patrol Service, recalled the confused scene: “01.30. Granville called us, then went off the air. We have no idea what is happening, or which side is which in the exchanges of fire ashore. Hell let loose there – heavy small-arms fire. Looks like a commando raid! All navigation lights have been shot out, including Pointe du Roc lighthouse … Some shells and tracer have come uncomfortably close, but we don’t know which side fired them. Cannot close in to the shore as there isn’t enough water for us now, and it’s a maze of unlit rocks and skerries. Anyway, we have no means of knowing what to fire at!” During the time that the Germans held the harbour they damaged the engines of most of the ships that were grounded in the port and demolished much of the port installations – cranes, locomotives, wagons and fuel dumps. With the help of its crew (under duress, no doubt) the 1,200-ton ship Eskwood was sailed out of the harbour back to Jersey. The Americans also suffered the loss of one of its submarine chasers (USPC 564 JY) which, having diverted to Granville to investigate the noise of the explosions, was sunk by the three artillery carriers covering the assault off the Îsle de Chausey. A small number of Americans in Granville were also taken prisoner. These prisoners included John Alexander, the Principal Welfare Officer of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. With his capture Alexander had the unique distinction of being the only member of that organisation to be taken prisoner in the war. Three American officers were also captured, Captain R.H. Shirley and First Lieutenants N. Youngers and W.W. Wendall-Heilman, who did not know the Channel Islands existed at all, let alone that there were enemy troops stationed there! They believed that they were hundreds of miles away from the nearest armed Germans. The only other nearby Germans were a party of seventy-nine PoWs. With the harbour in German hands, these men were released. Sixty-seven of them were taken back to Jersey. The Allies had been taken completely by surprise, and no wonder, for this was a unique operation. They had never suspected that an enemy force would use British soil to mount an attack upon their own forces! twenty-five infantrymen were to create a diversion by attacking the Hotel des Bains to the north of the harbour. * The German assault force, led by Kapitänleutnant Carl-Friedrich Mohr, left St Helier and reached Granville at 01.00 hours on the morning of 9 March. The three artillery carriers and two minesweepers had taken up positions on the flanks of the assault force to prevent any Allied patrol vessels from interfering with the attack. A further two minesweepers remained outside the port to provide covering fire. The assault was led by the two remaining minesweepers. As they approached the harbour entrance the signal station flashed its challenge, to which the minesweepers responded by flashing back the same challenge. This confused the port signallers and before they could work out what was happening the two minesweepers were secured alongside the quays. The three motor torpedo boats rushed for the beach by the Hotel des Bains to land their infantry force. The assault parties were quickly ashore and had established themselves in positions from which they could dominate the approaches to the dock area. It seemed that everything was going well, but the Germans had made a fundamental error. They had assumed that they would be easily able to tow some ships out of the harbour but they had not taken into account the different tidal conditions – and they had arrived at Granville during low tide. The consequence of this was that of the four ships in the harbour three of them were aground and could not be moved. AUGUST 2011 95 FAR LEFT: A photograph of Granville harbour taken by a member of the German forces prior to the town’s liberation in July 1944. (All images courtesy of Damien Horn/Channel Islands Military Museum) ABOVE: A picture of one of those involved in the Granville raid, Georg Oltmanns, which appears in his Soldbuch, or paybook. For his part in the attack, Oltmanns was subsequently awarded the Iron Cross First Class. BELOW: A defensive position on the hillside overlooking Granville harbour. THE GRANVILLE RAID · This account is based on the file with reference WO 219/3304. DustyArchive_August2011.indd 95 19/07/2011 12:19