28th December 1943
Operation Hardtack targets the Channel Islands
Despite having demilitarised the Channel Islands early in the Second World War, the British government never entirely lost interest in them. They knew, as well as the Germans did, that they would be a useful staging point for any invasion of mainland Europe via Normandy. Thus, Britain needed to know what was going on there and, where possible, it had an interest in disrupting German activities if for no other reason than to degrade their resources and morale.
London had been sending Commandos to the islands since the very beginning of the occupation. The most famous of these operations were the two that had landed Hubert Nicolle on Guernsey on fact-finding missions. When his transport home failed to rendezvous at the end of his second mission, he was arrested, tried, and sent to a prisoner of war camp.
One mission, many raids
Operation Hardtack was the name of a series of raids on the Channel Islands conducted by three commando regiments between 24 and 28 December 1943. Two of them – Hardtack 7 and Hardtack 22 targeted Sark and Herm respectively. Hardtack 28 was focused on Jersey.
In every instance, the mission was the same: reconnaissance and, where possible, taking prisoners who could be returned to England and interrogated.
Hardtack 7, the raid on Sark, was unsuccessful. The first attempt on the night of 25th – 26th December had to be aborted when the commandos found themselves unable to scale the island’s steep cliffs. They returned on the night of 27th to 28th December and this time made it to level ground but, in doing so, stumbled upon a minefield. Two of the commandos were killed and one other was injured. The dead were left behind while the remaining eight men returned to their boat.
Hardtack 22, the raid on Herm, was abandoned at the planning stage and the island saw very little action throughout the whole of the Second World War.
Hardtack 28, the raid on Guernsey’s close neighbour, Jersey, was also unsuccessful. Having failed to locate any German soldiers that they could take back to the mainland, the team turned around and headed back to their transport, but set off a mine at Petit Port beach in the process, which killed their captain.
Unfortunately, the Hardtack raids as a whole don’t appear to have achieved a great deal. Hardtack 36 at Wassenaar in the Netherlands resulted in the death of all the commandos. Hardtack 23 to Ostend had to be abandoned when the transport ran aground. Hardtack 11, just south of Dunkirk, saw the commandos stranded when their boat became waterlogged. Hardtack 5, in the French Somme department resulted in one Allied injury, again from a mine, and an apparent absence of any German soldiers.
Hardtack 4 and Hardtack 21, however, were exceptions. Hardtack 4 targeted Criel-sur-Mer and although the commandos were forced to withdraw they did at least encounter a patrol of German soldiers. Unfortunately they were outnumbered and unable to capture any of the enemy troops.
Hardtack 21, at Quineville, provided valuable information on one of the beaches at Pouppeville where the Normandy landings would take place in June 1944. Thus, of more than a dozen raids, one bore fruit that might have been sufficient to help the Allied forces in the closing stages of the war.