HMS "Pearl", an Asdic Trawler based at Plymouth, was one of the three warships which "liberated" the Channel Islands 60 years ago. I wasn't aboard then, having been transferred to the Army in April. The Army needed trained wireless operators for the invasion of Japan -so we DIDN'T celebrate VE Day ! "Saved by the Bomb" though !
The stories coming out concerning the Channel Islands however, do not include any reference to a quite remarkable story, of which, if our chaps had been the "heroes", we'd still be showing the film ! I, for one, would very much like to meet any of the Germans who took part.
The Granville Raid - March 9th. 1945
[Extracts from " German Occupation of the Channel Islands" - Charles Cruikshank, and the diary of Jack Yeatman, O/Tel. in HMS "Pearl", Royal Naval Patrol Service ]
Just before Christmas 1944 a Naval Assault Troop cadet and four paratroopers, captured at Brest, escaped from an American prisoner-of-war camp at Granville. They attached themselves to a working party in the harbour area, passing themselves off as interpreters, and slipped away under cover of darkness to an American landing-craft which they contrived to take out on the evening tide. With only a pocket compass and a sketch-map to guide them, they reached Maitress Ile in the Minquiers group, where the German observation post first fired on them, and then, when their identity had been established, directed them to St.Helier.
They reported that the harbour at Granville was in full operation. There were usually about five ships there, most of them discharging coal. (These ships came over in a convoy from Falmouth every other night, escorted by one Escort Trawler of the Plymouth Command Auxiliary Patrol. A USPC - a large American Motor Patrol Boat - was also stationed at Granville, usually anchored outside the tidal harbour. JY.)
A battalion of the United States Army was billeted on the hill overlooking the harbour, there was a signal station on the south pier, and a radar station on the coast a short distance to the north.
Von Schmettow ....... decided to seize the chance of hitting back at the enemy, and incidentally raising the morale of his own men, which was suffering almost as much from lack of action as from lack of food. The plan was to put Granville Harbour out of action, to capture a coal ship to help the desperate fuel situation in the Channel Islands, and to destroy the rest of the shipping. It was calculated that all this could be achieved if the port was held for an hour.
The escaped prisoners-of-war were treated as heroes. They were sent back to Germany at the beginning of 1945, but sadly their 'plane was picked up by a night-fighter and shot down near Bastogne. Admiral Krancke .... decided that the operation had a good chance of success, since the observation post on the Minquiers could keep a close watch on traffic into Granville, and agreed that it should go ahead.
The assault was planned for the night of 6/7 February, but the weather was rough, there was thick fog, and the convoy was recalled soon after it had left St.Helier. One tug and three patrol boats failed to receive the signal. The tug proceeded according to plan to the entrance of Granville Harbour, and the patrol boats went so close inshore that they could hear music from the Hotel des Bains. But before the men could disembark they realized that the rest of the assault fleet was missing and hastily withdrew.
[Extract from diary -
Arrived off Granville at 1500 . Harbour full.
1700. Our USPC friend came out and announced that she'd seen an E-boat last night, so we have to do a patrol from sunset to sunrise. The E-boat must have come from the Channel Isles, only a few miles away. There's still a German garrison there, but completely cut off, so I don't suppose anyone thinks it worth bothering about. They must be out of spares and fuel too. We advised the Yanks to leave it alone if they saw it again, but they're very keen to get it. Told us all about their radar-controlled gun etc. We tried to point out that they haven't any experience - a lot of their lads have only now seen the sea ! - and the Germans have plenty, but they don't go anything on that. We all hope it stays in port while we' re patrolling, anyway ! Went out on patrol at 1800. JY]
The next month was spent perfecting the plan. There was no dearth of volunteers - anything was welcome after months of idleness and inadequate rations. Most of the ships had been laid up at St.Helier for some months. They included six minesweepers, the masts of which had been removed to present a smaller target to Allied radar, three artillery carriers, two converted landing-craft, three motor torpedo boats (E-boats. JY.) and a number of smaller craft. They were manned by 600 men, and in addition there were 70 infantry and engineers to destroy the port installations and, with the help of 7 Luftwaffe men armed with light anti-aircraft weapons, to hold back the Americans; 8 naval ratings to blow up the vessels in the port; 12 to destroy the radar station; and another 12 to take any prizes back to Jersey. 25 infantrymen were to create a diversion by attacking the Hotel des Bains (A "rest" hotel for high-ranking American officers. JY) to the north of the harbour.
In March the weather became favourable, and at the end of the first week Maitresse Ile reported that a number of Allied ships were heading for Granville.
[Diary extract -
Wed. Mar 7th.
Dull, calm. Arrived off Morlaix River at 0915. Our ship had already sailed, so we headed back for Plymouth. Great activity at Carantec - the Americans are transferring their base to Granville and shifting everything moveable. A string of small craft, fishing boats, tugs with strings of pontoons and barges etc. were coming out, with a PC escort. Just after midday, received a signal from Plymouth diverting us to Granville, so turned back. At 1700, sighted one of the aforementioned tugs with 3 pontoons, broken down and drifting, looking very lonely. Apparently they had dropped behind and the escorting PC hadn't noticed ! Speaks well for U.S. Navy escort !! I know we've mislaid ships at times, but not in flat calm and broad daylight ! Since they had no means of communication they just had to wait till something came along. Just as well we were diverted after all. Took the whole lot in tow and headed back to Morlaix at 3 knots. Wirelessed Granville about their "lost sheep".
Thurs. Mar. 8th.
Fine, calm. Disposed of tug etc. off Carantec at 0930 and headed for Granville - a day late ! Anchored off Pointe du Roc at 1930. 1 ship - the " Gem" - anchored, rest coming out later. USPC 564 out on patrol - all quiet.
2350. PC reports 3 contacts approaching Granville - "Action stations" ! JY.]
The assault force set off from St Helier after dark on the evening of 8 March. When they reached Granville at 1.0 am they saw that the harbour lights were burning, which suggested that there was some activity there. The three artillery carriers had taken up position between the Ile Chausey and St.Malo to cut off any Allied patrols in that area, and two of the minesweepers stationed themselves between Jersey and the Cotentin Peninsula for the same purpose. Another two of the minesweepers were to be the spearhead of the attack. Their plan was to sail straight into the harbour, and when challenged by the signal station, simply to flash back the same challenge in the hope that this would throw the defence momentarily off their guard and allow them to get safely in. (Cf. HMS "Campbeltown" in the raid on St.Nazaire !! JY.)
This was precisely what happened. Before anyone in the harbour realized what was happening, the two minesweepers were secured alongside the quays.
The third pair of minesweepers was left outside the harbour to provide covering fire, the three motor torpedo boats made straight for the beach by the Hotel des Bains to land their party, the tug moved slowly towards the harbour entrance to give the leading minesweepers time to secure themselves. Before this was completed the assault parties were ashore and had established themselves in positions from which they could control the approaches to the dock area. For an hour and a half they remained in command of the situation in spite of fierce counter-attacks by the Americans.
[Diary Extract -
0000. Fun started in earnest. Star-shells and tracer near the Isles Chausey. We have to look after the "Gem", so cannot leave the immediate vicinity. Granville is calling the PC but isn't getting any reply. Looks like she's had it ! Off watch now and, as we' re short-handed, No.2 on Oerlikon.
0100 Heavy firing has broken out ashore .The "Gem" is still anchored, and with a light on ! Ordered her away to Cancale - hope she makes it. We have 3 ships approaching us. Fired several star-shells, but all failed to explode.
0130. Granville called us, then went off the air. We have no idea what is happening, or which side is which in the exchanges of fire ashore. Hell let loose there - heavy small-arms fire. Looks like a commando raid ! All navigation lights have been shot out, including Pointe du Roc lighthouse.
Back on R/T. had a go at contacting the PC - no reply - she must have had it. The 3 contacts have been lost, and they don't seem to have seen us, though some shells and tracer have come uncomfortably close, but we don't know which side fired them. Cannot close in to the shore as there isn't enough water for us now, and it's a maze of unlit rocks and skerries. Anyway, we have no means of knowing what to fire at. JY.]
It now appeared that the Germans had made a serious miscalculation. They had assumed that during their attack all the vessels in the harbour would be afloat - otherwise none of them could be towed away - but in fact the tide was so low that of the four ships in the harbour, three were firmly aground and only the 1,200 ton "Eskwood" was afloat. Further, the tide was ebbing, so that time was against the assault force. The engines of the three grounded ships were severely damaged by explosive charges, and the port installations - cranes, locomotives, wagons, and fuel dumps - were systematically demolished while the Americans were kept at bay. It had been intended that the tug should tow away any vessel that was captured, but in the event it was not needed. The "Eskwood" left the harbour under her own steam. According to the German account 'The crew took a sportsmanlike view of the proceedings and worked their ship', encouraged perhaps by German guns.
Meanwhile, the artillery carriers off the Ile Chausey were doing the work assigned to them. An American submarine chaser (USPC 564 JY.) was alerted by the noise of explosions at Granville and approached from the west to investigate. In the fight that developed the American ship was sunk by the artillery carriers, which themselves suffered no damage. (So much for the radar-controlled gun ! JY.) Some of the Americans were taken prisoner. It was believed that another Allied ship was hit and withdrew. (There were no other Allied ships in the area. JY.) The two minesweepers patrolling off the Cotentin coast sighted no ships.
The attack on the radar station failed because the boats covering this part of the operation found that the tide was so low that they could not get close enough in to provide adequate covering fire. In trying to get close in, one of them ran aground and had to be blown up with depth charges, the crew having been transferred to another boat. The diversionary assault on the Hotel des Bains was completely successful. There was little resistance and nine Americans were taken prisoner.
On the return journey the lighthouse and signal station on Grande Ile de Chausey were attacked and put out of action. All the German vessels, except the boat which had to be blown up, returned safely, taking with them 30 prisoners captured in the harbour area and 55 prisoners-of-war who had been released. The only German casualties were one officer presumed killed and five men wounded.
[Diary Extract -
0400 Firing ashore has died down. Now there are heavy explosions from the dock area and big fires started. Sounds as though the garrison has been overcome and demolition parties at work. Instructions from Plymouth to remain in area till daylight. The "Gem" seems to have got away safely, anyway. Asdic picked up several ships, but unable to make any visual contact. Hopeless in the dark, and among all these rocks and islets. W/T reception very bad, with heavy jamming. Practically impossible to hear Cherbourg.
0600 Enemy forces seem to have withdrawn, though heavy explosions are going on intermittently and fires burning.
0700 Getting light at last. Picked up a fishing-boat, one of those used in the landing. It contained a lot of gear - a quantity of civilian clothes, a wireless set, and some code- books. Granville W/T on the air again. Apparently the PC is aground somewhere down the coast.
Small boat came out, bringing a US naval officer - Lieut.Robinson. What a story he had ! He is the only surviving Allied officer in the place, and escaped by climbing down the cliffs.
The whole thing had been planned with assistance from ashore. On this particular night a high-ranking US officer and his staff were visiting Granville, and the Germans were led to their hotel by a civilian woman. All were shot. All the ships in the harbour are sunk or damaged, except one which the Germans have taken away ! The attack was made by 3 armed trawlers and some 40 small boats loaded with troops. The PC was probably disposed of by an E-boat, but we don't know yet. Since we were diverted there unexpectedly they probably thought she was the only warship there, which accounts for our being left alone. They must have picked us up on their Asdics or RDF, but each would have taken us for one of her consorts. If those star-shells had exploded ...... !
There were virtually no effective US forces ashore and resistance was overcome in a very short time - some 200 casualties suffered, including crews of the merchant ships. Ron Lister and I had difficulty in coding up Lieut.Robinson' report, since we had to translate his Americanese into phrases to fit our Naval Code.
We searched along the coast for the PC and found her near Pierre de Herpin.
An awful sight - guns blown away and bits of her crew all over the deck - men we' d got to know quite well. 10 killed, 11 wounded evacuated to Rennes by ambulance, and about a dozen missing. there are also 11 more known to be adrift in a life-raft, not seen since 0030. They never really knew what hit them. Took Lieut. Robinson down to St.Malo and put him aboard "Porcher" just arrived. "Narcissus" "Ilfracombe" and "Parrsboro'" have also arrived and we are going back to Falmouth with the "Gem" - we have only a few hours coal left ! Aircraft are searching for the life-raft. Homeward bound by 1700.
Fine, calm. Good trip - entered Falmouth at 1130. Went alongside at 1300 and took aboard 40 tons of coal. Newspapers report a German raid on Granville in daylight, yesterday afternoon !! They say that damage and casualties were slight, and it only had 'propaganda value'
They should have been there !! JY]
The Germans were highly delighted with the success of the operation. In the words of Admiral Ruge : ' a sound plan, thorough preparation, and complete secrecy had enabled the Channel Isles to strike a shrewd blow. Compared with the battle in Germany, it was no more than a pinprick, yet it was the best they could do for their suffering country.'
(With which I heartily concur -'Hornblower' at his best !! JY.)
There was also, for me, two quite interesting sequels. Soon after the war, I was teaching in a school outside Southampton, and a 15-year-old boy from Jersey arrived to do his last term.
I asked him if he remembered anything about March 9th. 1945. "Oh yes - the Germans got a whole lot of coal from somewhere. We had the first proper fires for months."
Many years later, a book was published purporting to list all the losses of all the navies engaged in the Second World War, I wrote to the author, via the publishers, on another matter, and also commented on the fact that his lists included a German minesweeper "beached at Granville, March 9th. 1945", saying that I had a personal interest in that action.
He turned out to be the Naval Historian at the Admiralty, and replied immediately, saying that he had been sure that the date of the minesweeper's beaching must have been a mistake - what could possibly have been happening there at so late a stage of the War ? Of course he had never heard of the Granville Raid !
I sent him a copy of the above - he knows now !
LT/JX 358728 A.J.Yeatman O/Tel.
HMS "Pearl" 1943 - 44 - 45