Operation Granville Raid

The 'Granville Raid' was a German undertaking from the Channel islands group in which a German raiding force landed in France and brought back supplies and former prisoners of war to their base (8/9 March 1945).

After the French surrender to Germany in June 1940 and the consolidation of the German occupation on northern and western France, the small town of Granville on the western coast of the Cotentin peninsula became the location of a prisoner of war camp. In December 1944, four German paratroopers and a naval cadet escaped from the camp and stole a US Navy Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel in which they made their way to the Channel islands group, which the Germans had occupied in 'Grünpfeil' during the summer of 1940. There the escapees passed on substantial intelligence on the Allies' disposition in the Granville area, including the fact that several ships were in the harbour discharging coal, which was in short supply in the Channel islands group, and the location of US troops. The former prisoners lost their lives on 25 December while returning to Germany in a transport aeroplane that was shot down by an Allied night-fighter; also killed in the episode was Korvettenkapitän Fritz Breithaupt, the commander of the 24th Minensuch-Flottille.

The new garrison commander of the Channel islands group, Vizeadmiral Friedrich Hüffmeier, a former captain of the German battle-cruiser Scharnhorst, exploited this intelligence to plan a raid on the Allies to restore the morale of his garrison forces and to obtain much-needed supplies.

On the night of 6/7 February 1945, a first attempt was aborted as a result of the combination of bad weather and the detection of an escorting S-boot by the US submarine chaser PC-552.

The raid was led by Kapitänleutnant Carl-Friedrich Mohr, and was now carried out during the night of 8/9 March. Hüffmeier’s raiding force comprised four large 'M'-class minesweepers (M-412, M-432, M-442 and M-459), three armed barges (artillery lighters) carrying 88-mm (3.465-in) guns, three fast motor launches, two small 'R' type minesweepers, and one seagoing tug.

As the Germans had received intelligence regarding the identification signals needed to enter the harbour, they were initially able to land unopposed, damaged the harbour locks and started fires on shore. The Germans mined the British merchant freighters Kyle Castle, Nephrite and Parkwood and the Norwegian freighter Heien. The master of Kyle Castle, William Callum Fraser, was killed while resisting the Germans, and two other men remained hidden on the vessel until after the Germans had left.

Outside the port, the US submarine chaser PC-564 raised the alarm and was attacked by German vessels. About 14 of the submarine chaser’s crew were killed, other men were wounded, her 3-in (76-mm) gun was disabled and the pilot house was destroyed. The captain, Lieutenant Percy Sandel, gave the order to abandon ship, but he and other crew members remained on board, and managed to evade the Germans, before intentionally running their vessel aground. Sandel and the remaining crew members were later rescued. PC-564 was later salvaged and renamed Chadron.

At the Hotel des Bains, which housed nine senior US officers, two US Marines resisted the Germans and were killed. A Royal Navy officer and five enlisted personnel were also killed during the raid. There is a suggestion that 30 Allied personnel were taken prisoner and taken to the Channel islands, this total including 15 of those who had earlier abandoned PC-564.

Allied resistance slowed the German raiding effort, and by the time the Germans were ready to depart, the tide was so low that only one captured collier, Eskwood, carrying 112 tonnes of coal, could be taken back to the Channel islands. The vessel was also carrying 67 German former prisoners of war who were working in the area and were rescued by the raiding party. A German minesweeper, M-412, ran aground and was scuttled with explosives.

The explosives charges on the British freighters detonated successfully, but all of them remained afloat, aground or accessible at low tide. Members of her crew managed to repair the hull damage on Kyle Castle. Her engines were unusable, however, and she had been anchored outside the port: the vessel was then allowed to drift to a position to the south of the Channel islands. Using hatch covers adapted as makeshift sails, the crew managed to steer Kyle Castle into the English Channel, from which she was towed to Plymouth.

In a later operation, an 18-man German sabotage raid from Jersey landed from rubber boats at Cape de la Hague on 5 April with the intention of destroying installations. The mission failed, and the team was captured.

Another raid was planned for 7 May, but Grossadmiral Karl Dönitz ordered Hüffmeier to undertake no more offensive operations so close to the end of the war.