Operation Nest Egg

This was the British plan for the reoccupation of the German-occupied Channel Islands in the event of a German military collapse in North-West Europe (spring 1945).

The plan was eventually implemented on 8 May 1945 after the surrender of Germany, when the destroyers Beagle and Bulldog ferried troops to Guernsey and Jersey, and thence to the smaller islands.

On 9 May Generalleutnant Rudolf Graf von Schmettow surrendered the German garrison of 30,000 troops, centred on Generalmajor Rudolf Wulf’s 319th Division that had been commanded by von Schmettow to 27 February, based in the islands, which had been fortified at Adolf Hitler’s instructions into one of the most powerful fortress areas in the world.

The Channel Islands had been occupied by the Germans from 30 June 1940. In 1940 the British government had come to the unpalatable appreciation that the islands could not be held if France fell, the islands were demilitarised and some civilians were offered the chance for evacuation to England before the German forces arrived. The islands' leaders and some civil servants were asked to stay in their posts to look after the civilians in their care: 41,101 persons remained on Jersey, 24,429 on Guernsey, 470 on Sark and 18 on Alderney.

With the exception of a few commando raids, the islands were ignored by the British until June 1944, when the pace and intensity of attacks on German shipping and radar units were increased before and during the 'Overlord' landings in Normandy farther to the east. To reduce the threat of civilian starvation, authorisation was given to the Red Cross to deliver parcels to the islands during the winter of 1944/45.

In his role as head of Combined Operations, Vice Admiral the Lord Louis Mountbatten was responsible for planning commando raids, the varying in size from just a few men up to the 'Jericho' raid of August 1942 against Dieppe which involved more than 10,000 men. A proposal in 1943 was 'Constellation', which was the assault on the three main islands of Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney, where as many of 40,000 German troops were based, but the concept was soon abandoned when the strength of the Germans defences became clearer and it was appreciated that the weight of the bombing and/or naval gunfire support which would be required to support an amphibious assault would result in major civilian casualties.

Planning for the liberation of the Channel Islands began late in 1943 with the development of 'Rankin', which considered three possibilities. These were Case A to be undertaken before the liberation of France on the basis that a small-scale attack might work if German morale was low and most German forces had left the islands; Case B for the occupation of the islands if they were evacuated by the Germans; and Case C to be implemented in the event of the complete and unconditional surrender of all German forces. Only Case C was considered likely at the time and this led to the issue of a directive of 10 November 1943 by the Chief-of-Staff Supreme Allied Commander (COSSAC), Lieutenant General F. E. Morgan, resulting in a joint plan for 'Rankin C'.

The required naval strength was to be based on whatever was available at the time, merchant shipping would be required for the delivery of a three-month supply of food and medicines, and there would be a need for small craft for the landing of supplies, and bicycles for transport and signalling equipment. A strength of 725 men was considered adequate for the task.

During 1943, however, there was a severe dearth of intelligence about the situation on the islands, and air reconnaissance was required for the photographs whose interpretation could provide additional information. There were no Allied-controlled radio transmitters in the islands so the direct discovery of what was happening in the islands was impossible.

It was estimated that German troops comprised 23,800 men in three infantry and one artillery regiments within the 319th Division, and it was sensibly decided that a German surrender was highly improbable without a major loss of morale once the islands had been isolated and/or faced starvation. Aware that between 2,000 and 3,000 British civilians had been deported to camps in Germany in 1942/43, civilian numbers were estimated at 65,000, in the form of 42,000 on Jersey, 23,000 on Guernsey and 355 on Sark.

Early in 1944 Brigadier A. E. Snow was appointed as commander of Task Force 135 (based on Snow’s 115th Brigade) entrusted with the liberation, and a small headquarters was created to start the planning.

On 10 May 1944 SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) sent a report to the Southern Command stating that should it become necessary to take the Channel Islands, this would be undertaken by General Sir Bernard Montgomery’s 21st Army Group, after which Southern Command would assume responsibility, and that 'Rankin C' should thus be reconsidered in the light of the fact that while shipping would be available after 15 July, no troops would be allocated. The Southern Command replied on 22 June, after the commitment of 'Overlord', that 'Rankin C' could be amended to suit either the German evacuation of or the German surrender of the Channel Islands. Alderney was to be bypassed as it was believed that there were no British civilians on the island.

By August, it was decided that only 'Rankin C' would be applicable and the headquarters of the 115th Brigade provided the nucleus of the Task Force 135 headquarters. The codename was for the proposed undertaking was changed to 'Nest Egg' on 11 August 1944, Plymouth was selected as the embarkation port, and the Task Force 135 planning staff relocated its headquarters from a location in the New Forest to Cornwall.

In August 1944 the German foreign ministry made an offer, via the Swiss Red Cross, for the release and evacuation of all Channel Island civilians except for men of military age. This was not a possibility which had been foreseen by the British, who considered the offer: a memorandum from Prime Minister Winston Churchill stated 'Let 'em starve. They can rot at their leisure', but it is wholly unclear whether Churchill meant the Germans or the civilians. The German offer was rejected.

As it was not known when the force for 'Nest Egg' would be required, the codeword W-Day (warning day) was established for implementation once the operation had been authorised for implementation: the proposed timetable proceeded from W+1 to C-Day, when the landing was to be launched, with the following days designated as C+1 etc.

It was also decided to involve a number of Channel Islanders in the planning process on the grounds that their local knowledge was important, and the questioning of islanders who managed to escape the islands by boat, especially during 1944, provided vital intelligence.

The need to male landings on Jersey and Guernsey on the same day involved additional shipping and men, and the requirement was now for three 700-man battalions and engineer units. Beaches suitable for landings, such as St Aubin’s Bay in Jersey and L’Ancresse in Guernsey, were selected, and considerable attention was paid to the possible difficulties of unloading in areas with a 33-ft (10-m) tide range. Surrender terms were drafted, the need for prisoner of war facilities was considered, and it was planned that the islands' airports would be opened for the operation of transport aircraft.

Administrative tasks, including the delivery of 200 tons of food, clothing and medicine on C-Day, was allocated to No. 20 Civil Affairs Unit, and all the islands' requirements, including 1.1 million sheets of lavatory paper, were sourced. The British government gave the force commander authority, under the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act 1939, to make regulations, and any new laws passed by the islands' civil governments would require Snow’s approval. Civilians were not to be permitted to leave the islands without specific authorisation. British currency would be provided, with £1 million in notes and coins to be delivered to the islands to enable the civilian population to exchange Reichsmarks back into sterling. A distribution of free 'treats', including tobacco, chocolate and tea, was planned.

For the longer term, plans were made for the removal of prisoners of war, mines and weapons, and for the delivery of food sufficient to provide each civilian with 2,750 calories per day for three months. Other deliveries were to include fuel and goods, including 15 months' worth of clothing rations which would be made available to purchase through the island shops.

There was no rush to liberate the islands, for the British appreciated after 'Overlord' that the Germans were in effect prisoners of war who did not even have to be guarded. Because of the British overall shortage of infantry, therefore, it was possible for troops allocated to Task Force 135 to be diverted to reinforce Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey’s British 2nd Army fighting on the European mainland.

During September 1944, British aircraft dropped German-language leaflets over the islands almost every night. On 22 September HSL-2632, an unarmed high-speed air/sea rescue launch travelled from France to a point near St Martin’s Point off Guernsey: arriving late and finding no German vessel to meet it, the launch proceeded to St Peter Port under a white flag, only to be met by the motor torpedo boat S 112, whose captain was not aware that a meeting had been agreed. A message was sent ashore, but the opportunity for a discussion was refused. HSL-2632 then departed to England, being engaged unsuccessfully by an 88-mm (3.465-in) battery on the island of Alderney, whose officers were also unaware of the attempted peace mission.

It was in this period that the Allies gave their approval for the International Committee of the Red Cross to send a ship with Red Cross parcels to the islands to reduce the risk of starvation. The first such ship was to sail in the middle of December.

A few more leaflet-dropping missions were also flow, though again without visible sign of success, possibly because it was impossible for the soldiers, trapped on islands, to desert.

In December 1944 a rehearsal for 'Nest Egg' between W-Day to C+3 was undertaken. A force of 6,100 troops was gathered, supplies were loaded onto vehicles and into ships, and the vehicles were then loaded onto landing ships and the men boarded their transport vessels. The Jersey force of 200 vehicles and 804 tons of supplies landed at Paignton, and the Guernsey force of 340 vehicles and 800 tons at Brixham: realism was added to the scenario by the use of a few fanatic 'enemy' personnel, some in plain clothes, and pro-German civilian women were encountered on shore. The exercise resulted in 12 minor injuries, and a barn was also damaged by a bulldozer. Lessons were learnt, these including the discovery of a shortage of cooks, and applied to the 'Nest Egg' plan.

A second exercise, including street fighting in a bombed-out area of Plymouth, was undertaken late in February and encountered no problems, but a third exercise, scheduled for the middle of May, was cancelled.

Task Force 135, comprising about 6,000 military and naval personnel, included the the 614th, 618th and 620th Regiments of the Royal Artillery; No. 411 Independent Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery; No. 20 Civil Affairs Unit; assorted Royal Engineer companies; assorted Royal Signals sections; assorted Royal Army Service Corps units; No. 209 Field Ambulance; No. 135 Field Ordnance; REME, Medical, Postal, Provost, Pioneer, Intelligence, Pay, Catering, PoW, the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry band, and Royal Marine, RAF and Public Relations companies or sections; and a number of vessels of the British, US, Canadian, Free Polish, Free Belgian and Free Dutch navies.

On 30 April 1945 Adolf Hitler committed suicide: German flags in the Channel Islands were flown at half mast and Union flags were being sold openly in the islands, and the Bailiff in Jersey appealed for calm.

The 'Prophet' and 'Moslem' plans for landings in Guernsey and Jersey, were activated on 3 May, making the following day W-Day. Formation badges were issued, vehicles were appropriately marked, and equipment and stores started to move from depots as far away as Liverpool. W+1, W+2 and W+3 came and went without incident, but on W+4, 8 May 1945 (VE-Day) vehicles were loaded, and members of the press came aboard on W+5 just before the departure of the leading ships.

On the islands of Guernsey, Jersey and Sark the anticipation of the end of the war in Europe had already reached fever pitch, and the authorities were attempting to suppress the civilians' desire to hang out patriotic flags as they wished to prevent an possible retaliation by the Germans, who were naturally extremely nervous about what might lie in store for them.

On 7 May the Bailiff of Jersey went to the island’s prison and at his request 30 'political prisoners' were released. On the same day the Southern Command sent a plain-text message to the German commander in the Channel Islands informing him that ships would arrive shortly to accept the German surrender. The German reply was that the garrison took orders only from the German command. However, all changed on 8 May. The Germans released all other British, French and US prisoners of war and all German prisoners held in the islands. Bunting and flags appeared over the streets. Radio sets, which had been banned for years upon pain of imprisonment, were produced in public, were connected to loudspeakers and tuned to the speech given by Churchill at 15.00 in which he said, among other things, 'Hostilities will end officially at one minute after midnight tonight, but in the interests of saving lives the cease fire began yesterday to be sounded all along the front, and our dear Channel Islands are also to be freed today.' The crowds were cheering and jubilant, the island newspapers had published the fact that peace had been declared, and Allied flags and bunting flew everywhere. However, the islanders main concern was the whereabouts of the British liberation forces.

Late on 7 May, the Southern Command made another radio transmission to the islands' commander, who responded that British would not be engaged. The destroyers Beagle and Bulldog departed at 09.45 on 8 May with the 'Omelette' advance party. Arriving off the south-west coast of Guernsey, 4 miles (6.4 km) to the south of Les Hanois Lighthouse, at 14.00 the ships were met by a German minesweeper, from which a junior German officer came aboard Bulldog to inform the assembled British that he was authorised to negotiate surrender terms but not to sign them. Details of the surrender terms were handed to the German officer, who then departed, as did the British ships as they would not be safe until the general ceasefire came into existence at 00.01.

On the receipt of a German message agreeing to a meeting at 24.00 on 8/9 May, the British ships returned to the same south- west coastal location off Guernsey and the German minesweeper M 4613 emerged to meet Bulldog. The second-in-command of the German forces in the Channel Islands and commander on Guernsey, Generalmajor Siegfried Heine, came aboard and, when asked if he would accept unconditional surrender, replied in the affirmative. The ships then sailed slowly around the coast to St Peter Port.

Eight copies of the formal terms of surrender were signed on the quarterdeck, and at 07.15, with the help of a German pilot, Bulldog anchored off St Peter Port.

All German flags were lowered and German ships were used to collect and land the first British troops. The initial 'Omelette' party of four officers and 21 men, including four Guernseymen, landed at 07.50 to be greeted by a town decorated in red, white and blue and thousands of malnourished but deliriously happy islanders singing patriotic songs Lieutenant Colonel Stoneman established his headquarters in the Royal Hotel, and at 11.00 Stoneman and his small party went to the Royal Court House to meet the Bailiff of Guernsey. The Union flag was ceremonially raised.

Snow had transferred to Beagle for passage to Jersey, leaving Bulldog anchored off St Peter Port. Beagle arrived off Jersey at 10.00 with another set of surrender documents to be signed, an arrangement adopted lest no German officer had authority over both islands and because of the rivalry between the two islands. Two naval officers, Surgeon Lieutenant R. McDonald and Sub-Lieutenant R. Milne, were met by the harbour master, who escorted them to his office where they hoisted the Union flag, before also raising it on the flagstaff of the Pomme d’Or Hotel.

The Bailiff of Jersey had already received a telephone call from the British headquarters in Guernsey when at 10.00 Beagle arrived and radioed for a German ship to meet her. A Kriegsmarine tug, FK 01 was despatched, but without the Jersey commander on board. It was noon before this officer and the Bailiff of Jersey sailed out to Beagle. After the Germans had signed the surrender documents at 14.00 and had lunch, the civilians started the return to Jersey, their pockets laden with bars of soap and tobacco to Jersey. En route, they were overtaken by a launch carrying the first 'Omelette' troops, five signallers, for Jersey.

The RAF now made an appearance, with flypasts by de Havilland Mosquito warplanes at 13.00. The Jersey population had been told to be in Royal Square at 14.00, however, so the whole event was delayed. It was 14.30 before the first group of fewer than 30 'Omelette' personnel, including Jerseymen, landed and marched to the Pomme d’Or Hotel where a massive crowd awaited them. The German flag was removed and a Union flag was draped from a balcony of the hotel, which then became the Task Force 135 headquarters under Lieutenant Colonel Robinson, who made a speech to the crowd.

The Germans were told to remove all troops from a circle of 1-mile (1.6-km) radius around the centre of St Helier, except for the hospital and the guards on ammunition and weapon dumps. The flag flying over Fort Regent was changed to the Union flag at 17.00.

LCI(L)-130, carrying 200 additional 'Omelette' personnel including six Jerseymen, arrived at 17.00 just as another flypast, this time by North American Mustang fighters of the Royal Canadian Air Force, overflew St Helier. Once ashore, the 'Omelette' personnel divided into small groups to take command of the town.

The main part of the Guernsey 'Omelette' party, comprising 160 men, had meanwhile landed from LCI-103 at 14.15. The Germans had already started on the clearance of obstructions from the airport and the disconnection of the electrically controlled defensive minefields in the waters off the island. Some 22 German officers were allocated to work at the British headquarters to provide assistance, and other Germans were appointed as drivers to take British soldiers in their cars to vital locations such as the airport.

The populations of the Channel Islands were now informed that the main force would arrive on C+3, 12 May.

Beagle sailed back to Guernsey, leaving the frigate (ex-US destroyer escort) Cosby off St Helier, and herself anchored off St Peter Port as Bulldog departed with Snow for Plymouth. Here, on 10 May, the embarkation of vehicles, equipment and men was being completed, and small coasting vessels loaded with coal and fuel joined the assembling fleet. There were 10 LSTs in the first lift, these comprising one British and three US for Jersey, and one British and five US for Guernsey. The troops boarded LSIs, each of which carried six LCIs to ferry the troops ashore.

During this period minesweepers were busy sweeping channels across the English Channel and into the waters of the Channel Islands, but no mines were found.

The size of the German garrisons was now becoming clear: the overall total of 26,909 men comprised 11,671 on Jersey, 11,755, on Guernsey, 3,202 on Alderney and 281 on Sark.

The liberation of Sark was known as 'Marble', and took place earlier than planned as a result of reports of unrest among the Germans when a large fire was sighted and the telephone remained unanswered. At 16.00 the German tug FK 04 sailed across to the island with a small number of British troops. Landing safely, these latter were met by Sibyl Hathaway, the Dame of Sark, who explained that the bonfire was a celebration. After meeting the German commander at his headquarters, the British organised the signature of surrender documents, after which the Germans were instructed to surrender their weapons and start the removal of mines. The tug returned to Guernsey at 21.00, leaving the Dame of Sark in charge of the 275 German soldiers until 17 May, when most were removed.

By 11 May work was under way to clear certain beaches and slipways of obstacles, mines and barriers in expectation of the arrival of landing craft on the following day, and the civil population was warned to take great care not to pillage, loot, enter minefields, pick up strange objects or weapons and to stay away from the proposed landing areas so that the vehicles coming ashore could safely land with men and supplies.

Reports regarding the islands' situation were quickly created, and these assessed the fuel, food, health and hospital supplies requirements, needs for evacuation to England, and the restoration of postal services, and all of these were factored into revisions of the 'Nest Egg' plan. Members of the German Geheime Feldpolizei (secret field police) were seized.

The 'Agent' first-lift group for Guernsey comprised 13 ships and departed Plymouth at 15.45 under the escort of six warships and one Consolidated Liberator maritime reconnaissance aeroplane. The comparable 'Booty' group for Jersey followed 15 minutes later, escorted by another six warships, most of them Canadian destroyers. All the ships were ordered to keep a distance of 27,000 yards from Alderney as it was not known whether or not that island’s garrison had surrendered.

The 'Booty' ships anchored off St Helier at 07.00 on 12 May, and the 'Agent' ships off St Peter Port at 07.15. On this day all German troops were confined to barracks.

Guernsey’s 'Prophet' undertaking envisaged landings at L’Ancresse Bay and in St Peter Port. At 08.30 the first LCA docked at Baker Red, the Castle Cornet breakwater, the task of its embarked men being to secure Castle Cornet, a fortified German strongpoint commanding the harbour approaches. Thereafter a stream of LCAs came ashore to Baker Green, the White Rock Pier and Baker Red with the task of securing the German defences in the harbour area. There were not many civilians to be seen, but within a short time, people began flocking into town, shouting and cheering, and the British had to deploy military police to keep them off the harbour piers.

Knowing nothing of amphibious warfare developments during the war, the civilian population was amazed to see LST-516 enter the harbour at 09.00 and nose through the Old Harbour entrance to await the fall of the tide before disgorging its load.

The third phase of 'Nest Egg' started at 09.20 with the landing of 257 more men, followed at 09.40 by still more personnel including MI5 officers, members of the press, signallers and engineers. The newly landed soldiers concentrated their efforts on specific military objectives, moving further away from the town to secure Fort George, the waterworks at Kings Mills and L’Ancresse Common.

Meanwhile, at L’Ancresse Bay access to the beach was achieved, while in the town civilians were again amazed to see DUKW amphibious vehicles swim ashore and drive onto the land, then at 13.40 the doors of LST-516 swung open and pre-loaded lorries drove out over steel slats laid over the mud and up the slipway.

Most of the LSTs made their passage to L’Ancresse Bay, and LST-516 withdrew when the tide had risen to be replaced in the old harbour by LST-295. Unloading continued at night in accord with tide conditions.

In Jersey, 'Moslem' followed essentially the same pattern, starting with the securing of Elizabeth Castle and the establishment of a beach-head in St Helier, where the casemates containing 105-mm (4.13-in) guns and 47-mm PaK 38(t) anti-tank guns. Mines designed to destroy the harbour piers were made safe, aircraft kept watch overhead. In the undertaking’s second phase newly landed troops moved to secure the town of St Helier and the German headquarters, in in the third phase, which began at 10.15, more troops were landed to move inland and secure the island’s electricity and water facilities.

The pace of the undertaking accelerated as DUKW vehicles began to land and LCIs started to dock. St Aubin’s Bay was cleared for LST operations, numerous beach obstacles having been destroyed and a gap created in the anti-tank beach wall.

Unloading continued on each island during 13 May, and by the end of the day 3,427 men and 299 vehicles had been unloaded in Guernsey, where St Sampson’s harbour had been brought into operation. German troops, now prisoners of war, were helping with the heavy work of unloading and moving supplies. Some 98% of the German weapons had been surrendered, the other 2% being retained for the use of the Germans on guard duty.

In Jersey, St Aubin’s Bay was opened for LSTs to discharge their cargoes, among which were vehicles such as ambulances, cranes, bulldozers, a steamroller and radio trucks. Lorries brought £477,000 of money to the island banks in 128 boxes.

Empty LSTs were loaded with prisoners of war, at the rate of about 800 per ship. Most of the prisoners were eager to go as they had been promised food once they were on board.

On 14 May unloading continued in St Aubin’s Bay, road traffic reverted to driving on the left, postal services resumed with free postcards for people to send messages to relatives overseas, and clocks changed to British time.

On 15 May the embarkation of German prisoners of war continued, though engineer, naval and air force personnel were retained to continue work with the British.

On 16 May special police assumed the task of guarding supply dumps, and loudspeakers were erected through St Helier creating a public address system. Distributions of tea, chocolate, soap powder, lard, sugar, biscuits, cereals and rice etc. were made to civilians as the weekly rations were reorganised, increasing the daily calorie intake from the previous low of around 1,000. Red Cross parcels continued to be issued.

Housing used by German troops and the Organisation 'Todt' construction organisation was inspected and many houses were found to be in a very poor state, with holes knocked through walls, wood ripped up for fuel and all needing complete disinfecting. The German military and Organisation 'Todt hospitals were also cleared and their buildings disinfected.

The process of lifting and making safe mines continued in a process which would continue until August: 65,982 mines were removed in the process, which was dangerous and resulted in a number of German deaths and injuries. Some 5,689 beach obstacles and 110,000 yards (100000 m) of barbed wire were also removed. Another element of making the islands' safe once more was the collection of weapons and shells, which then had to be destroyed.

The liberation of Alderney' was 'Merit', which began on this day as an armed trawler sailed for the island with Snow, officers and the press, accompanied by two LCIs with support troops and the coasting vessel Beale with supplies. Landing at Braye Harbour and met by the island’s commandant, the parties moved to a house later called Peacehaven to discuss the details of the surrender. Civil Affairs officers began the interrogation of Organisation 'Todt' personnel, guards, prison officials and the few civilians present: there had been four camps on Alderney, and there abounded stories of brutality demanding the establishment of a major enquiry.

The liberation of the Channel Islands was now complete and the process of reconstruction began. The period of military government lasted until 25 August 1945, when new lieutenant governors were appointed to each bailiwick.