The Luckiest Panzers!

By Rob Morgan

It has been many years since I drafted a never-to-be-completed wargame based on a series of Allied invasions of the Channel Islands in 1944. I’m not surprised I abandoned the idea, given that this collection of islands was a very heavily defended festung, as hard to breach as Dieppe or Omaha. In wargames’ terms, one of the more attractive features of the German defence was the armoured unit deployed on the larger islands of Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney; but then even tiny Sark had its armoured vehicles!

This is how I came to encounter Panzer Abteilung 213.

From spring 1942, some 36 captured French Char ‘B’ heavy tanks, armed with a 47mm turret gun and a 75mm in the hull, arrived, split more or less equally between Jersey and Guernsey. Five of the tanks on each island were converted flamethrowers, known as PzKpfw B1 bis (f). There were other former French tanks sent to the islands later – about 20 captured WWI Renault FT17s – and there were a few SP guns too.

An interesting collection of armour, never intended for combat with enemy AFVs, they were to be used for airfield defence and as mobile pillboxes. By 1944, many of the FT17s were immobile, and the Char ‘B’s big petrol consumption limited their scope of operations. I thought that these relics might make for a very different anti-invasion game, making a change from the inevitable King Tigers and Panthers.

The high proportion of flamethrower tanks sent to the islands was intriguing too.

Of course, the post D-Day capture of the Cotentin peninsula (Cherbourg and St. Malo) completely isolated the Channel Islands’ fortresses. Apart from some shelling and a few small naval actions, they remained under siege for the remainder of the war. Surrendering on May 9th, 1945, to British Task Force 135, the garrison’s tanks were eventually returned to the French army for disposal.

One intriguing fact still stays with me: Panzer Abteilung 213 is almost certainly the only German armoured formation of the whole of World War II that never fired a single shot in anger, never lost a tank in combat, nor ever took part in any action against the enemy.

Lucky? 

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2 Responses to The Luckiest Panzers!

  1. Paul Le Long says:

    I was born in Jersey and this has always interested me. I wrote a game in LW 206 based on a what-if Allied invasion of the islands in September 1944, something that Churchill actually considered. There were plans for an invasion pre-D-Day as well.

    In fact I’ve tweaked the game a little bit in order to fight the land battle using Rommel (an excellent Division/Corps level game by Sam Mustafa). I’ll be playing it in the next week or so.

    Rob – I would love to see your draft wargame in print!

    If my game goes well (it is at operational level with air and naval aspects included but abstracted and the actual fighting uses the Rommel rules) I might write it up for LW if anyone is interested.

    It has a lot of mileage as a game I think; an invasion in 1944 has dispirited German defenders but really formidable Atlantic Wall defenses whereas an invasion in 1943 would have fewer defenses but the garrison would be up for a fight and there would be more problems with German air and naval forces. Either way, the Germans can’t win but it’s all about how much damage they can inflict.

    • JohnY says:

      from Rob Morgan:

      The wargame, or part of one I drafted was prepared back in the early 1980’s after I’d been to a conference at Jersey’s amazing Fort Regent. I stayed on for a week afterwards, and visited as much of the islands Napoleonic, and WWII fortifications as I could. There is, or was then a very active and thriving research society on the islands which produced a number of publications which stimulated my thoughts about a game, this wasn’t long after ‘Airfix Magazine’ carried a long series on ‘Operation Sealion’ and my mind in some ways, reverse engineered that!

      Sadly, we moved a couple of years later, and I have no idea where the file of notes and booklets and newsletters went, only odd pieces remained, .I do remember thinking that some of the booklets on the Kriegsmarine’s flotillas of light craft would lend themselves to creating a lively naval war around the islands c.1944, but this was long time before the ranges of 1/600th and 1/300th Narrow Seas models emerged.

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