Thursday, 11 June 2009

1945 Island Kommandant

Well yesterday's post certainly ignited a little flurry of interest! But as someone commented today on the Pistonheads thread, I can't really say more yet until I've got as many facts as I can. Plus those old notes aren't mine, so I'm I'm hesitant about divulging their content without permission. More to come on that soon.

Anyway, on Pistonheads there's a number of conspiracies developing.  For those that are interested, what has been discussed today is who was in charge in Jersey at the end of the Second World War, as that might have a bearing on the German Authorities were up to just before liberation. 

In fact, in February, 1945 (around the time that the large warehouse appeared at the southern end of my property) Admiral Friedrich Huffmeier took over command of the Channel Islands. A commentator at the time recorded "The new Commander-in-Chief of the Channel Islands in February 1945, Admiral Friedrich Huffmeier, was a fanatical Nazi. “We shall never surrender,” he told Jersey’s Bailiff Alexander Coutanche. “In the end you and I will be eating grass."

Huffmeier is also credited with arranging, in the spring of 1945, several daring raids on a nearby French sea port, which was at the time under the control of the allies, even though the end of the war was looming. Wikipedia entry.

This was all at a time when Jersey was one of the most heavily fortified places in Europe.

And what was Huffmeier's plan for the Island with Nazi surrender imminent in Europe? Well, apparently it was to defend it to the end!

The book "Britain under the Jackboot" records that:-

"A "very bad" German was Vice Admiral Friedrich Huffmeier, a fanatical Nazi, of gaunt appearance, whose long admiral's greatcoat gave the impression of a shroud. He carried a large, bulging briefcase which somehow added to the sense of macabre. Huffmeier was sent to the islands in the autumn of 1944, officially as Seekommandant, but unofficially as the eyes and ears of Berlin. In February 1945, he replaced yon Schmettow as commander in chief--von Schmettow having been ordered to return to Germany for being "soft" on the islanders. It is said there was a botched plot, apparently involving von Aufsess, to kill him. 

A month before the war ended Huffmeier addressed a mass meeting in the Forum cinema, where he explained the importance of defending the Channel Islands. An attack by the British and Americans might at any moment put them in the front line. They must prepare for this hour spiritually and materially; the more desperate the times the more united they must be. 

After the death of Hitler, Huffmeier berated the skipper of a Red Cross vessel, which was in port, for not flying his flag at half-mast. Later that day an Allied ship appeared and signalled proposals for surrender. He replied: "Ihr Angeboot ist uberflussig" ("Your request is superfluous", or colloquially, "Get lost"). Huffmeier apparently believed that the islands--being "British"--could be used in bargaining to gain better terms for a defeated Germany. 

On 8th May, as Churchill formally announced the surrender of the rest of Germany, a similar demand was put to Huffmeier. His representative, a nervous young naval officer, Armin Zimmerman (who later held senior rank in NATO), kept the rendezvous with the ships HMS Bulldog and HMS Beagle. Taking a deep breath, he told the British he had been authorised to discuss an "armistice", not a "surrender". His hosts replied that it was surrender or nothing. Zimmerman took another deep breath and said his instructions were that the British must withdraw or they would be fired upon. 

The two ships retired to a safe distance. That night saner voices pressured Huffmeier to change his mind. The ships returned; Huffmeier threatened to open fire when they arrived before the appointed time. Generalmajor Heine, Huffmeier's deputy, signed the surrender document. Huffmeier could not bring himself to attend. It was left to von Aufsess to announce, at a hastily convened meeting of Channel Island elders: "Der Krieg ist zu Ende, und in den Kanalinseln auch" ("The war is over, and in the Channel Islands too"). Thus it was that the European war ended in the Channel Islands a day later that it ended anywhere else. 

HMS Beagle returned on 12th May, and took Huffmeier into formal custody. His last order, which was disobeyed, was that his men should greet the British with Nazi salutes."

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Anniversary update

I've been recently mulling over a particular detail of last year's events which I didn't at the time reveal. In fact, the incident probably had a bearing on the momentum of my excavation plans, and caused much discussion among a close circle of people that I revealed it to. For the sake of completeness (and a slight revival in the original Pistonheads thread today) I thought that I'd recount a little about it now.

About a week or two after we'd opened the bunker, when interest was at its peak, I had a phone call from an excited chap who introduced himself as a historian. 

He asked if he could come round and have a look. I agreed. He asked if he could come straight away (i think it was about 7.00pm). Given that my enthusiam was still running at a high I agreed to this as well, and about half an hour later he arrived, bringing with him a friend who had what I can only describe as an industrial size hand held spotlight (5 million lumen?).

They pulled up and got out of the car, and immediately started surveying the garden, asking lots of questions about the orientation of the land, water courses, drainage, whether I knew the history of the property etc etc. They asked if they could have a good look around the garden before looking inside the bunker, and I left them to it for a few minutes.

The historian was, at a guess, in his early 60s, and had long thinning grey hair. He was wearing (no joke) a heavily patinaed Indiana Jones style leather jacket and desert boots. 

They got extremely excited whilst looking at the aerial photos from the war that I'd handed them. They commented in quiet voices to themselves about the fact that there appeared to have been a warehouse built at the southern end of the property at the latter stages of the war. They pointed at the collapsed northern quarryface. I strained my ears and heard the historian in hushed discussion with his colleague asking "why would the germans have done that, whilst their army was in retreat across Europe at that time, when the occupying forces were preparing to surrender?" "What did they have to hide?"

Shortly afterwards, when they were walking abck towards me, i overheard other man say to the the historian, "Do you think this could really be the place?" 

The historian told me he'd spent his whole life scouring every german fortification and bunker in the Channel Islands, and had never come across details of the one in my garden before. It was getting darker and I noticed that his air of excitement had not abated.

We then climbed down inside the bunker, and they were very interested in the fact that the entrance to the bunker faced north towards the quarry face, and not south, which they noted would have provided an easier entrance. We discussed the rumours about a longer tunnel that existing in the vicinty (which I did post about). He told me that some people were not quite so open to believing the rumours as others, and the two of them discussed something I couldn't hear between themselves again. 

They'd been at the house quite some time by this stage, and I invited them inside the house to show them the photos that I'd taken of the excavation that we'd been doing, which were on the computer. Again, further interest.

The historian then asked if I'd had any contact from the media. I said I'd had several approaches. He then leant in and quietly suggested that for the moment I might perhaps play my cards close to my chest until some more research was done. 

He then spent some considerable time telling me about avenues of investigation open to him through official records offices and archived military resources. He suggested to me some avenues of enquiry i might undetake (some of which I have explored and posted about, others which I have not).

By this stage it was dark and late. The visitors had been at the house several hours, and showed no signs of leaving. I decided to politely suggest we carry on our discussions another time, and the historian apologised, explaining this was his passion and that he sometimes got carried away with himself. 

I walked out to the car with them, and as the historian was getting in through the door, he again reminded me to be cautious about taking up any offers of assistance just yet. He then leant into the car, opened the glovebox, and told me that he was going to show me something.

He then held out to me a rolled up clutch of old papers covered in manuscript notes, and gestured me to take them. I asked what they were? He smiled and suggested that I take them and read them. As I took the string bound paperwork, he got in the car and shut the door. Then, as he drove off, he leant out out of the window and shouted "When you've read them, get in touch and we'll talk some more!".

I went back inside, thinking how slightly surreal the whole experience had been. Then I poured myself a drink, sat down, and unrolled the slightly creased papers, flattening them in a small pile on the desktop. 

Slowly I read the first page. Then the second. I took another slug of drink and scratched my head in disbelief. I read the third and laughed to myself in excitement. After the fourth I got up and had to walk around the room. 

Before reading further I got on the phone to Dave. I re-read the first four pages to him, before continuing through page after page of notes. When I eventually finished, Dave asked whether I thought it was for real? I told him I honestly didn't know. In fact, I still don't ....