The Channel Islands were the only part of the British Isles that were under German control during the Second World War. Guernsey has a number of sites and visitor attractions dedicated to its wartime history—the pinnacle of the island’s story.
The occupation began on the 19th June 1940, when Winston Churchill made the difficult decision to pull all allied troops out of the Channel Islands, effectively leaving it undefended. Around a quarter of the island’s population, including thousands of school children, were evacuated to the mainland. On the 28th June, the Germans bombed St Peter Port harbour after mistakenly identifying a group of tomato sellers for a convoy of troop carriers. Two days later, German troops began arriving into the airport and before long, their flag was raised and the number of troops was equal to the number of civilians.
The Germans built new and reinforced existing fortifications around the island, many of which are now accessible to the public. Guernsey suffered almost five years of occupation and had to enforce rationing before finally, on the 9th May 1945, the occupying German troops left the island as the Second World War came to an end. Each year, this day is now celebrated as Liberation Day and is marked with parades, parties and fireworks — a real spectacle.
Those interested in Guernsey’s wartime history are in luck, as the island has numerous museums and other sites that help retell the story of those challenging five years.
German Military Underground Hospital
Built by slave workers, this is the largest remaining structure from World War 2 in the Channel Islands. It was built underground to remain undetected by the allied planes and also to store ammunition. Visitors can explore the tunnels and exhibitions — it really is quite a haunting experience.
German Occupation Museum
Located near the airport, this museum offers an insight into everyday life during the occupation. It has a fabulous recreation of an occupation-era street as well as a number of vehicles and fortifications.
La Villette Underground Military Museum
Found at the southern end of St Peter Port, the museum is located in a series of tunnels that were used by the Germans for storing fuel for their U-boats. A wealth of wartime memorabilia and exhibitions on wartime history are on offer, including some from the First World War.
There are numerous fortifications dotted around the island, notably on every headland of the west coast. Many are preserved by ‘Festung Guernsey’ and are available to explore for yourself.