The Biggest Haul of German Equipment in Western Europe?

Credit: History Hit
Credit: History Hit

The islands of Guernsey, which consist of a small archipelago of five land masses, were all marked by the battles to control the Western end of the English Channel.

The Channel Islands were, famously, the only British territory occupied by German forces during WW2 .

Historian and television documentary presenter from History Hit, Dan Snow MBE, has teamed up with a local organisation which promotes travel and tourism to the islands, VisitGuernsey, and consultant Simon Livesey to uncover some of the secrets drowned in the bottom of a long-abandoned quarry on the isle of Alderney.

Credit: History Hit
Credit: History Hit

The adventure was followed by a camera crew and has resulted in the 55-minute documentary, “The Islands of Guernsey – Secrets of Hitler’s Island Fortress,” currently available on the digital HistoryHit TV.

Snow hopes to return to the islands armed with the resources to make a much more comprehensive series based upon the discoveries he describes as, “a phenomenal find”.

Snow and a team of divers explored the quarry, set next to Alderney’s power station, to a depth of ten metres.

Visibility at that depth was very poor and mud swirled around them making it difficult to see through the gloom.

Rumours had been floating around for years with islanders telling stories of what they had seen during the war and what with ex-servicemen’s old soldiers tales adding to the mysterious mix it was anybody’s guess concerning what lay at the bottom of the abandoned site.

What Snow and his team reported when they reached the surface was extraordinary. Many of the rumours were true, there was indeed a massive German field gun, a K-18, sitting in the mud at the bottom.

The K-18 was an absolute monster weighing in at 38,600lbs set up to fire and 51,500lbs when on the road.

A German 17 cm Kanone 18 in action in WW2
A German 17 cm Kanone 18 in action in WW2

It was 28 feet long which made it a difficult weapon to transport through towns and villages, but on the open fields of Alderney it was perfect and with a range of almost eighteen-and-a-half miles the gun could even hit targets on mainland France, thereby protecting the convoy route from St Malo to Cherbourg.

Despite its size the K-18’s 19-ton gun carriage was engineered to be swung through 360 degrees by a single soldier, changing firing positions quickly as the enemy changed position, ideal for coastal defence.

The double recoil system also ensured that the K-18 was extraordinarily stable when the gun was fired; on firing the barrel would travel backwards into its cradle while the bottom section of the assembly moved forwards, reducing the force of the recoil.

Credit: History Hit
Credit: History Hit

Channel Island WW2 military fortification expert Dr Trevor Davenport commented on the photographs taken by Dan Snow and his team that it is likely the tip of a Wehrmacht iceberg, “I’ve got photos of eight similar guns lined up in 1945,” he said, “Why would they just take one gun and dump it and send the rest for scrap?”

Official records indicate that the British Army dumped at least one gun, a tank and numerous other items in the quarry deemed too expensive to transport off the island in the austere years following the liberation of Europe.

Dan Snow expressed his ambition to be part of any project developed to raise, restore and put the artefacts on public display.

You can watch the full documentary here

The current documentary project was two years in the making with contributions from members of the States of Alderney and Guernsey, local historians and divers.

“I’ve been all over the British Isles looking for WW2 archaeology…and I’ve never seen anything like what I’ve seen on Alderney,” he said.

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The Islands of Guernsey include Guernsey, Herm, Sark, Lihou and Alderney, where several other finds have recently been revealed or rediscovered, including the Rouge Rue tunnels under Guernsey which boast preserved field kitchens and search lights surrendered by the Germans.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE