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The Granville Raid

The 8th / 9th of March 1945

To start the Granville Raid story, we need to look at the escape of five German Prisoners of War held at Granville and who were working in the Harbour. In the evening of the 20th of December, a naval artillery midshipman, Fänrich der Marineartillerie Leker, and four paratroopers, who had been captured at Brest, escaped from the camp. They had attached themselves to a working party in the harbour area, passing themselves off as interpreters. They then captured an LCVP landing craft and make a break for the Channel Islands. They made it to a German Observation post at Les Minquiers (very small islands south-east of Jersey) and after taking some fire were routed on to Jersey. Below is the timeline from the archived documentation in the NARA files. This story is important as it is these troops who provide the intelligence needed for the Germans to undertake a raid against the allied forces in Granville. The POWs reported that the harbour at Granville was in full operation. There were usually about five ships there, most of them discharging coal. They provided information on the forces at the harbour and weaponry. 

 

20th December 1944
22:36 Two LCVP’s were tied up along Quai Ouest of the inner Basin at Granville 
21st December 1944
01:30 LCVP Hull Number C-33432 was seen passing through the lock by Army duty officer. No alert is given.
02:12 Radar observed an unknown target moving out, upon inquiry Port Director advised that no departures are scheduled. JOC Cherbourg Alerted “Unknown target at 258° - 10,000 yards” Visibility was too poor to identify craft near the harbour. 

02:30 Austrian POW revealed the plan of some prisoners trying to escape. Army called Port Director to ask if any LCVP’s are missing. Upon checking one LCVP is reported missing 

02:40 Target passes out of range of the radar. Dispatched sent to USS PC 1233 and HMS Prospect who are patrolling the area, directing them to intercept the craft. LCVP was in good running order, with 60 gallons of Fuel on board.

Due to poor weather, an air search in daylight hours was stood down. It was believed the prisoners made good their escape to the nearby Channel Islands. 

The escaped prisoners-of-war were sent back to Germany at the beginning of 1945, but their plane was picked up by a fighter and shot down near Bastogne. 


Below is the USS PC 1233 and an example of an LCVP, the one captured by the Germans would have been very similar to this one. We have not got a photo of HMS Prospect. If you do, please contact us. 

The winter of 1944–45 was particularly cold and with coal shortages in France. To assist the freezing French civilian's British ships began bringing coal in, and Granville was one of the ports that handled deliveries from coasters sailing from South Wales. This was well observed by the German escapees as well as the fact there was only a light force of Allied soldiers, lightly armed and with very few Harbour defences. The German bunkers and weapons had all been decommissioned.   

 

The above photos were by an American photographer of the destroyed bunkers and port of Granville in 1944. 

 

From the intelligence gathered and from the POWs, Major General Graf von Schmettow (Commander of the British Channel Islands) decided to hit back at his enemy as well as raising the morale of his men. He planned to put Granville harbour out of action, capture a coal ship and destroy the rest of the shipping. A subplot was also set to capture Allied officers billeted in the hotels. The commanders estimated that all this could completed in one hour. 

 

January 1945, selected volunteers were given specialised training for the raid. Training was undertaken on Guernsey and in secret. The men are moved and accommodated at Le Chalet Hotel in Fermain Lane, Guernsey. Allied intelligence intercepts had picked up that men were being given special commando training, but it was not taken seriously.

 

These trained soldiers were then transferred to Jersey and billeted near Gorey harbour and waited for the right tidal conditions for a raid. It was established that at 11.30 p.m. on the night of 6/7 February there would be a high tide in Granville harbour, and the rais was scheduled for then.

 

The raid on the 6th of February went wrong, the weather condition worsened after the departure, and due to an issue with one of the escorting vessels half of the flotilla returned back to St Helier, some of the vessels do not receive the message but return to St Helier when they realise they were on their own. However, diversionary E-boat S112 had some success, it dropped captured RAF parachute mines close to St Malo and made a contact with USS PC 552, that was patrolling the Granville area. The PC-552 opened fire and chased the E-boat for 20 miles drawing it away from Granville Harbour. 

 

On the 27th of February 1945, Von Schmettow was ousted by Friedrich Hüffmeier, who had come to the islands in June 1944. Hüffmeier was a former captain of the battlecruiser Scharnhorst. He was not well liked and was described by his men as a walking disaster.  

 

Below is a description of Hüffmeier made by Major von Aufsess.

 “…a man of dangerous machinations…a dedicated Nazi…an ambitious man of unstable character. Of great eloquence…and a master of rhetoric…he belongs to that category of Nazi who are so carried away and bemused by their own oratory that they can never be reckoned to be dealing honestly with themselves or with others” (He came from “…a family of Protestant Pastors…and spoke with evangelical fervour…but on behalf of Adolf instead of God…”)

Above is a copy of the intercepted and decoded message sent from the Signals Bunker in Guernsey to Germany. This was picked up by British Y Stations and deciphered at Bletchley Park. (DEFE 3/542 Ultra Signal, Crown Copyright)

Hüffmeier was keen to impress the Nazi high command and ordered the 2nd attempt of the raid. On the first week of March, German intelligence observed a presence of coal ships at Granville and Hüffmeier ordered the raid to set sail on the evening of the 8th of March 1945. 

 

The attack force was split into five assault groups 

 

Group One was tasked with the demolition of the port facilities and radar station. They would be responsible for returning with a captured coal coaster. 

 

Group Two were to take up position to shell the landward approaches to the harbour and block reinforcements from reaching the port.

 

Group Three would draw off the Granville guard ship and intercept any ships that might be sent to engage the raid. As the raid concluded group three were tasked with destroying the Grand Chausey lighthouse.

 

Group Four was to meet with French collaborators and then raid the hotels, where it was expected officers would be billeted.

 

Group Five was an auxiliary force would monitor and provide support. 

 

On the 8th of March 1945, Granville Harbour had the following vessels inside the port, SS Kyle Castle, SS Parkwood, SS Eskwood, SS Nephrite and SS Heiden, and outside was, SS Gem, HM Pearl and USS PC-564.

 

At 21:49, at the allied headquarters of the Harbor Entrance Control Post (HECP) #2  (APO 654 - US Army) reported information of targets had been picked up. Radar station code name CATBIRD, at Coutaninville started tracking. 

 

The Commanding Officer of HECP No2 was notified. He instructed the operator on duty to notify the Radar station at Carteret, code name COSMO, and to notify S-2 X-Ray (3rd Battalion 156th Infantry Regiment at Coutainville) in case the Navy could not immediately identify the target. 

 

2158 the radar station CATBIRD reported to the Granville Port Director that an unknown target had just been picked up twenty miles from Granville, moving southwest at a speed of 8 knots. When the subsequent radar report revealed that the targets between 17 & 18 miles from Granville, and established the fact that the target was an actual ship and not a false target, a message was sent to the PC-564 informing her of the radar contact and instructing her to pass the warning on to HMS Pearl. The Army unit at Granville was notified at this time, though the 156th infantry, who was charged with the defence of the area, had already been informed. The Radar CATBIRD continued to report the progress of the targets. 

 

2230 Pink Patrol, Motor Torpedo Squadron 30, PT458 & PT460 ordered from their station at Cap de la Hague to head south.

 

2244 PC-564 was requested to"STANDBY FOR APPROPRIATE ACTION." PC-564 sends a message to HM Pearl "UNIDENTIFIED RADAR CONTACTS WEST OF CHAUSEY, STAND BY TO PROTECT COLLIER" and sets a course to Grande Ile Lighthouse (Chausey Island). 

 

2245 Regimental Commander US 156th Infantry Regimen directed the 3rd Battalion, to “STAND TO”, pending further information and reports that Hq’s 3rd Bn, was receiving directly from HECP Radar Station “CATBIRD”. 

 

2330 Major Brown, Commanding Officer Sub-port T-411 (Granville), received information from an enlisted man of 156th infantry of three targets moving southwest at ten knots. Port immediately blacked out and working POW's removed from ships and ordered back to stockade. 

 

2335 Call made from port to POW stockade to stop the oncoming prisoners, but they had already departed for the port. Instructed the officer in charge not to place any prisoners against the wall ready to move out if an alert is given.

 

2345 Pink Patrol, Motor Torpedo Squadron 30, PT458 & PT460 ordered to stop and return north, and secure the Cherbourg area, in case Granville was a diversion and the real attack was to be at Cherbourg.  

 

2400 The second information of notice was received. Major Brown asked if this was an alert. The response was "This probably is, as enemy targets are coming in fast".  All units were alerted and defence plan put into operation. Firearms were issued and troops reported to harbour defence posts. At this point in time, 79 German POW had arrived in the harbour for work duty.  

The following is an account is by Lt Percy Sandell USNR from the War Diary of PC 564

 

At 2359 we were at position 8,000 yards bearing 190 true from Grande Ile Lighthouse when we had radar contact baring 308 true, distance 10,200 yards. This contact was first reported as two separate targets but almost immediately after was reported as being three targets. Mr Page reported that they were moving south across our bow. We proceeded at one-third speed until the range closed to 5,800 yards. When Lieutenant R F Klinger, Gunny Officer, asked if he was to illuminate, I replied yes. At that time I ordered all engines ahead full flank and we illuminated at 0013 with a three-star spread, the first around 003 relative, second 000, and third 357. The star shell burst and I saw two targets moving to the left of the lighted area. We immediately illuminated with another spread.

 

Immediately after firing this second spread I gave right standard rudder and three-star shell bursts. A range of 3,500 deflections 500 was given to the three-inch gun and one round was fired from the three-inch gun. The ship had just started turning to starboard when a hit was received in the forward part of the pilot house and destroyed the compulsion and gyro repeater. The hit killed or seriously wounded all personnel in the Pilothouse. Mr Page was evidently standing in the door between the pilothouse and chart room at the time of this hit and was killed. I knew we had been hit but did not the result of the hit and continued to call orders down to the pilothouse as the ship continued to circle starboard. When I got no answer I claimed down on the wing of the bridge and discovered what had happened. I looked into the chart room and called for someone to take the wheel but found no one there except the radioman who was trying to call Granville and the radar man who was still manning the radar. I was unable to find anyone within the sound of my voice and put the wheel amidship myself, running to the port wing of the bridge first and then to starboard wing trying to locate someone to put on the wheel. There being no one moving I went back into the pilot house, took the wheel myself and began to make radical changes in course, using first full left rudder and then full right.

 

All this time we were being fired upon and tracer shells seemed to be coming from both sides of the ship. Almost immediately after I had descended to the pilot house the ship received another hit on the stern of the ship. This hit either killed or injured every man of the 40mm gun position. At the same time, we received a hit on the mast about seven feet above the deck which knocked out both the #2 & #3 20mm gun crews.


Prior to being knocked out these guns had been firing at the maximum rate of fire. The three-inch gun crew after the first round were unable to close the breach and this gun did not fire again during the rest of the action. The gunnery officer reported to. The pilothouse and stated that the 20mm and 40mm were out of action due to casualties to the gun crews and that the three-inch gun was unable to fire due to a jam. 

At about this time a hit was received on the starboard side of the main deck just aft of the pilot house. This hit started a fire 
In the starboard officers cabin. The fire was put under control in about five minutes 

Three men had appeared in the pilot house and one had taken over the wheel. The enemy ships were illuminating us with star shells and I would make a radical change in course and then head in the direction of the star shells hoping to open the range as much as possible. Tracer fire became more intense at this time and there was no organisation of the crew and all guns were out, it was decided the only thing to do was to stand by to abandon ship. This word was passed. The engines were stopped and it appeared that there was a great deal of difficulty in letting the lift rafts go and the firing having decreased in intensity, it was decided not to abandon ship. However, subsequent to the order to stand by to abandon ship certain men stationed on the fantail had released the life rafts there and had jumped overboard. It was believed fifteen men jumped over at the time.

I ran back to the engine room and told the engineering watch to start them up and give me full speed. The engines were started immediately and I continued to make radical changes of course and started in the general direction of the star shell bursts. 

The enemy ships were firing tracer at the ship and sometime later, standing on the port wing of the bridge I was a ship on the port bow. It was again deceived to abandon ship and word passed to the engine room. 

Almost immediately after the engines were stopped, in consultation with Lt R F Klinger, I decided to open them up and make a run for it, firing had stopped and the engine room was told to give them everything they had.

 

0114 we headed for Herpin Light and were illuminated twice on the way in. 

Above is the some of the battle damage on the PC-564, Below is the incomplete radar plot from PC-564

 

 

 

0045 HMS Pearl reported to Major Brown Granville Port Director that she was standing in the anchorage and that PC 564 had opened fire. A despatch was sent from Granville to HMS Pearl instructing her to go and join the action. 

 

The below account is from the diary of Jack Yeatman a Sailor on board HM Pearl during the Granville Raid.  

"0000. The 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, we don't know which side fired them. Cannot close into 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." 

 

0045 Major Brown went to the French Security barracks at Le Roc. 88's and possibly 105's were hitting the buildings. The French were in the barracks at that time. The troops were ordered out about. The French officers had the idea that the Americans were practising and it was only with considerable urging and finally an order that brought out the French Unit. The French troops were dispersed along the road running parallel to the barracks. 

 

0100 German Minesweepers, M452 and M412 entered the harbour and opened a raking fire on the docks and over the town. The main fire was, directed against the French barracks located on the top of the hill "Le Roc" overlooking the port. M412 ran aground inside the harbour. However, it continued to make a perfect gun platform pinning down allied forces in the harbour. 

 

The SS Eskwood 

 

This RAF photo below is of Jersey Harbour was photographed on the 9th of March 1945, it shows the unloading of captured vessel S.S Eskwood. One of the many people who lost their lives that morning was the Eskwoods Captain, Master Andrew McNeilly Wright. He was shot by the German raiding party while putting out a fire on one of the Granville harbour cranes. He is buried at the Bayeux War Cemetary (VIII. B. 21.). 

At the same time, as the attack on the harbour was going other German raiding parties landed on rubber crafts along the beach on the other side of town, near the Normandy Hotel. These landing parties went through the Normandy hotel and on the first and second floors of the Hotel des Baines and the Hotel Gourmets. These parties captured four Army officers, wounded one army officer, killed another army officer, and killed Lt F R Lightoller, as he was making his way from the port area towards the Navy communications building. Three small boats later landed on the beach and took off the Germans from that area. 

The below account is from J V Alexander, Welfare Officer,  United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration.

Report of capture in Normandy Hotel during the German Commando Raid on Granville, France, on the night of 8th/9th March 1945. 

"About 11:30 pm Thursday, March 8th all Hotel lights noted turned on and off for about 5 minutes. About 1.30am March 9th Friday, noted waves of tracer bullets coming over housetops from harbour direction. About 2am boat noted approaching beach below Normandy Hotel. Actual landing made soon after in rubber boats, about 4 or 6 of them. Did not personally observe any firing from shore. The raiding party entered Hotel Normandy at once and fired several volleys along the ground floor corridor. I cam out of my room on the 1st floor and found Germans waiting at the head of the stairs armed with Tommy-guns. They did riot shoot as I half expected but took me to the front of the hotel where I waited while they collected others. There were considerable firing and much shouting going on all this while all this time by the Raiding Party but we were not hit. I was told someone opened fire on the Germans from the top floor of the Normandy but I did not observe this myself. Several prisoners were lined up against the quay wall and I understand searched and questioned. Some U.S Officers were taken from there on to the rubber boats and I also. We were transferred from rubber boats to a small launch and then to the prow of a larger vessel. Two of the U.S Officers were in pyjamas, one without stockings or boots. One of these was given a coat and one a blanket by one of the Germans as it was very cold and the journey back took about five hours."

 

 

The below account is from First Lieutenant Newell Younggren US Army. 

 

 

"I had only had army rations for the previous few months and was looking forward to a change of diet, The hotel chef cooked us a beautiful dinner, and later we went upstairs to our bedrooms on the third floor. I had been sent some pyjamas by my grandmother, but this was the first night that I had had a chance of wearing them. I went to bed setting my boots and field jacket next to my bed. I was woken at one o'clock in the morning by the sound of gunfire and explosions. I looked out of the window and saw German troops – I didn't think there were any within 200 miles of us. I quickly put on my boots and threw my army jacket on over my new pyjamas and rushed out of the room to find out what was happening. I left my pistol behind in the bedroom. But the Germans were rushing up the staircase and other troops had come up the outside fire escape and were coming downstairs. I was caught in the middle – and I was captured in my pyjamas! I was taken prisoner with eight American officers who had been staying at the hotel. They led us down to the beach. There they lined us up facing a rock wall. I thought we were about to be shot. But then other American troops began firing at the Germans from another location, so the Germans used us as cover and ran across the beach to their inflatable landing craft. As we ran, one of the prisoners was shot, but the Germans successfully escaped with the rest of us. We were put on a raft and transferred to a tugboat. I sat in the prow, still wearing my jacket and boots over my pyjamas. Thank goodness I had put my jacket on – it was very cold. A German sat next to me covering me with a machine pistol. I don't know why. I had no weapons."

The Hotel "des Bains"

The Hotel "Normandy"

One of the raiding craft found on the beach near the hotels. 

156th Infantry Regiment - US Army

 

The Regimental Commander with the S-3. arrived at Coutances, at 0240 hours, where he learned from CP 3rd Bn, that now a platoon of Co “K” had moved to Granville, and Anti-Tank Platoon of Anti Tank Co, Attached to 3rd Bn had been moved from Coutances to Danville. The action was reported at Granville. The Motor Platoon of Co “M” had been moved from Annville to Granville, at approximately 0115 hours, It was learned that an enemy landing had been made in the port of Granville and that Company “I” reported firing on and receiving fire from Naval vessel south of Jullouville. The Regimental Commander directed the Regimental S-3 to remain at Coutances and establish a forward regimental CP. He further instructed the S-3 to have the Anti-Tank co, Cannon Co, and Company “C” to move on Granville, without delay, where Regimental Commander would issue further orders. Information was received from Regimental Headquarters at Barneville, that ten scout cars from 0-620 Combat Vehicle Park, Near Cherbourg, had been made available for regimental use. The regimental commander directed that the scout cars be moved direct to Granville and report to him thereat. 

The Regimental Commander moved to Granville, arriving there at approximately 0355 hours, at the assembly point of Co’s “K” & “M”. He was informed upon his arrival that the Anti-Tank Platoon of the Anti-Tank Co, which had moved from Coutances to Danville, had fired on a boat target some distance off the beach at Donville, at approximately 0200 hours, and had received heavy fire in return, which was reported by observers to be 105mm calibre. He was further updated that Co 3rd Bn, S-3 3rd Bn and a patrol had moved into the city. The Regimental Commander formed an additional patrol of five men and moved promptly into the town where he met the CO 3rd Bn, returning with a German Krieg-Marine Prisoner. Co 3rd Bn stated that this patrol had entered the city with the support commander thirty minutes earlier and had gone into the port just after the enemy had left the area. The prisoner was captured on the quay after being left behind. All remaining troops were ordered to move into town and 3rd Bn surgeon was instructed to search for and aid casualties. The Regimental Commander proceeded to the Hotel Les Bains, arriving there at 0400 hours. The elements which had been moved from Barnville, arrived on the outskirts of the city and was instructed to detract ad be held in readiness for possible action. They were further instructed to be prepared at daybreak to patrol the entire city searching for Enemy stragglers or any wounded, and establish a cordon around the port to prevent movement of unauthorised personnel in the area. 

The Regimental Commander made a reconnaissance of the streets and the port area between 0415 and 0500 hours, and discovered mines and booby traps had been left by the enemy raiding party. It was directed that sentinels be posted at such hazards as a safety precaution. During this period the 3rd Bn surgeon checked the hotels, Normandy and Les Bains, evacuating two additional wounded located in the buildings and then reported to the dispensary, where his services were not required. Battalion Surgeon then departed to Cancale to assist in caring for Naval casualties at that point which had resulted from another phase of this operation. 

At 0630 Company “C” move into the city and organise patrols which covered the city proper to search for mines and booby traps, casualties not previously discovered and to apprehend any enemy personnel left behind. 

“C” Company found and requested the bomb disposal squad to act on:

Bains Hotel 
1 x S-mine 
2 x Antipersonnel Mines 

Docks 
1 x Teller mine 
2 x concussion grenades, German, on the rail track. 

Plagoucit Street 
4 x German Hand Grenades 

Activities were concluded at 0830 hours 9th of March with the situation being under control. 

Below is the tracking of the battle from the radar tracking.

Below are photos from the morning after the raid at Granville  and also the M412 which was beached and left behind

Below are now photos from Granville 

Lest we forget the brave people who lost their lives during this raid.

U.S. Army Personnel 
Major Ben Ritter, US Army Medical Corp

U.S Naval Personnel 
Lt T M Page
Lt R A Miller 
R G Antwall
W T Bagwell
J V Benesevich 
E J Lightfoot
R J Moore
J F Newman 
A Piombino

D G Riley
C L Rounseville
R M Rowland 
R J Butts

British Royal Naval Personnel
Frederick Roger Lightoller
A. McN. Wright SS Eskwood
W C Fraser (MBE) SS Kyle Castle
George Bell SS Kyle Castle 
Charles Olsson SS Kyle Castle 

John Daniel Cullen SS Kyle Castle 
Gordon Wills SS Nephrite
Richard A Lees SS Nephrite 

French Civilians 
Maurice Deshayes
Pierre Giroux
Pierre Juin
Marcel Guilbert
Mrs Leclerc 
Mrs Laignel