28th June 1940
Guernsey suffered its first and only air raid
Guernsey was demilitarised shortly before the German invasion. However, perhaps to give residents time to evacuate, nobody told the Germans. Unaware that they were targeting a non-threat, they launched air raid to soften up the island’s apparent defences prior to invasion.
Luftwaffe aircraft bombed St Peter Port for 50 minutes on 28 June 1940. They killed more than 30 and injured a similar number. The attack was focused on the harbour and Town – and even the lifeboat, which was fired on while out on a rescue mission.
The new airport, however, was left untouched. This was likely because the Germans knew it would be a useful asset for their own forces following the invasion.
Attacked at the worst possible moment
The raid began in the early evening when the harbour was busy. Several produce lorries were queueing up on the dockside, and these became targets for the aircraft. They offered little protection for the locals who dived under them seeking cover from the bullets.
Several did avoid being hit this way, but many were burned to death in the process.
German military planners had sent a reconnaissance aircraft over the island ten days earlier. It seems they had mistaken the produce transporters for military vehicles. They assumed that they would need to be destroyed if the invasion force was to minimise its own losses. Troops landed two days later as part of Operation Green Arrow.
Simultaneous bombing raids were conducted on St Helier harbour, Jersey, killing nine on the ground.
Frank Stroobant, in his book One Man’s War, talks of the effect the unexpected raid had on the population:
…it was a tremendous shock, all the same, when the Germans sent their aircraft to attack us, and in their one and only raid on Guernsey killed 29 Guernseymen. The futility of the raid and the comparatively heavy casualties brought us face to face with stark reality, and I do not suppose there was one among us who did not thank God for this sign that we had done the right thing in sending our families away.
In The Silent War, Frank Falla writes,
Six enemy aircraft came, it seemed, from nowhere… three swooped down over the harbour dropping incendiaries and high explosive bombs, and machine-gunning ruthlessly along the line of waiting lorries… The air-raid warning sirens were not set going until at least ten minutes after the first bomb had been dropped, and even then it was not the ARP officials who set them in motion but three cool-headed telephone operators… as a result of this raid on defenceless Guernsey, thirty-four people died on the spot or in hospital soon afterwards, and another thirty-three were injured.