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The Last Raid

Will Fowler

The History Press, April 2016

The Channel  Islands were of course the only British territory to be occupied by the Nazis during WW2. So perhaps it is invidious for those who have never been thus occupied to pass judgement  on the behaviour of those that were. But Fowler lays out plenty of evidence of the ‘accommodation’ that many islanders reached with their unwelcome arrivals. Possibly as many as 900 babies were sired by German troops. The illegitimacy rate in Guernsey leaped from its pre-war level of 5.4% to 21.8% by 1944.  There was also a significant level of snitching, resulting sometimes in islanders being transported to the camps.

 

But these and other aspects of wartime island life have been well covered in many other tomes. Fowler’s central focus is on the commando raids that the UK mounted on the islands. Prefaced by perhaps an overlong section on the gestation of the Commandos, he sets out the dubious rationale for the raids – costly in resource and life, with little gain. They provide yet more evidence that Earl Mountbatten was more of a liability in his role of head of combined operations. His survival was largely due to his closeness to Churchill (and the royal family). Great Britain had decided not to defend the islands because they had questionable strategic value, and because, as the Nazis discovered, they required a lot of resource to defend.  The commando raids had no strategic value.

 

On the Nazi side, Fowler points out that the considerable effort and resources poured (in the case of vast quantities of concrete, literally) into the islands by Operation Todt, would have been much more useful diverted to Normandy.

 

The most interesting part of the book is its end, when he relates how the ardent Nazi commander of the island garrisons decided to mount a raid on Granville, by now being used as a major importing port by the Allies. The Americans had become somewhat complacent by March 1945, and the raid was well planned and executed by the Germans. Apart from the fact that time pressures meant they had to ignore the lack of water in the Granville basin due to the neap tide.  

 

Overall a typical History Press military history book in that it focusses on a  relatively narrow topic. Fowler pads out his narrative a little by veering off piste, but the style is confident, and it has its moments.