Jersey Flag
The Channel Islands and the Great War
Guernsey Flag

The French Seaplane Base in Guernsey

Tellier 200

Tellier 200 with characteristic "G" code - for Guernsey based

In August and September 1917, three enemy submarines and a floating mine were seen by patrols from the Guernsey station, but they were unable to attack for a variety of reasons, mainly related to the weather. In December 1917, another submarine was sighted but it dived before they could attack. Bad weather was a real problem, because the seaplanes, heavily loaded with bombs and fuel,needed a longer run than was available within the harbour. They had to try to take off in the swell outside the harbour mouth, which meant hitting into the waves with considerable force as they gained speed. Fog also caused difficulties, as they had no means of calculating where they were except by line of sight. The aviators had to wear special thick clothing, especially in cold and wet weather, as they had no other protection from the elements. Landing in rough weather always carried with it the risk of capsize or damage to the hull.

However, despite these difficult operating circumstances, on January 30 1918, a newly laid minefield was spotted, and on January 31 two seaplanes sighted a submarine south of the Hanois lighthouse, and before it could dive, they fired on it and scored two direct hits. It was seen attempting to come up five times before heeling over to port and disappearing amid patches of oil. In April, command of the base passed from Lieutenant le Cour-Grandmaison to Lieutenant Flandrin, his former first lieutenant. On April 4, another minefield was found, this time near Jersey and on April 23 a U boat was seen waiting in thick fog for a convoy to pass near St Martin's Point. Ten bombs were dropped on it as it moved in to fire its torpedoes, and it disappeared.

During May 1918, there were five attacks by Guernsey based planes on German submarines, all of which caused substantial damage or destruction. Early in the month, the seaplane squadron sighted a German submarine in time to warn a convoy of 41 French ships which were just about to enter the Channel. Another incident on 6 May saw two seaplanes attacking a German submarine near the Roches Douvres before it could attack a Cherbourg to Brest convoy, and on 18 May, two seaplanes dropped bombs on a submarine which had been attacking an English convoy south of the Cornish coast.

All of this activity caused the U boats to move further away from the island, but the seaplanes also moved further afield, working over the open sea. On 31 May, 30 miles west of the Hanois they chased off a submarine which was shelling a becalmed English ship, Dundee P.14, travelling from St Malo to Portsmouth. After dropping two bombs, pilots reported that the submarine disappeared leaving an oily residue on the surface of the sea. The seaplanes then landed on the sea nearby, to check that all was well before returning to base. In June, they attacked a submarine before it could attack a big American convoy near the Casquets, and in July, there were six attacks on submarines and several convoys were warned of the presence of enemy submarines. In August, there were four more attacks, which were made more difficult as the Germans had begun to camouflage their vessels to make them look like Allied submarines. There was little flying in September and October, because of poor weather, and submarine activity came to a close in the months leading up to the Armistice.

As a result of these actions, several French pilots and observers based in Guernsey were awarded the Croix de Guerre and other honours. These and other successes meant that by February Lieutenant le Cour-Grandmaison was able to recommend Ensigne du Vaisseau Merveilleux du Vignaux for the Croix de Guerre with Palm, for being an officer with 177 flying hours, who, on 13 September 1917, attacked a large submarine, and on November 17 stayed in the air for six hours and made an enemy submarine go under water twice. On January 31 1918 he again attacked a large submarine, causing "grave damage which may have caused the loss of this vessel". Quartermaster Chapin was recommended for the same award, as he was Merveilleux du Vignaux's Observer on these occasions. Others including Pilot Officer Lambert were also recommended for various honours at this time.

The Croix de Guerre was also awarded to the station as a whole, for 25 attacks on enemy submarines and the discovery of three minefields, all between 9 August 1917 and 30 August 1918. Carpenters at the station made a wooden model of it, which they fixed to one of the barracks at the base.

Flyers from the French Air base at Castle Cornet

Flyers from the French Air base at Castle Cornet, taken when the base was disbanded in January 1919

Front row: QM Observateur Kerjean, SM Pilote Sylvestre, QM Observateur Gregoire

Middle row:QM Observateur Richez, SM Pilotes Gamain, Deschodt, Lambert and Barthe, QM Observateurs Chapin and Berest, SM Observateur Lescut.

Back row:
Sgt Pilote Pichard, QM Observateur Auffret, QM Pilotes Radison and Desnoyelles, SM Pilote Clot and QM Observateur Massol.

(with kind permission of Mr John Goodwin, Guernsey)

When the aviators left the island early in 1919, their base was dismantled and the buildings auctioned off. The sale attracted a crowd of 250 people, and prices were said to be good, with large sheds realising between £94 and £114, and smaller ones achieving £18 to £82. The cases sold for between £10 and £18 each. The seaplanes themselves were taken back to Cherbourg on the barge that had brought them over when the base was built.

Thus eighteen months after its arrival, the seaplane base no longer existed. Its existence had never been reported during that time despite the fact that it was a major construction that brought over 100 French airmen to the island, and its existence undoubtedly saved the lives of many sailors and helped essential foodstuffs to get through to Channel ports. It was also reported that no member of the crew of the Guernsey station was killed in action.

BBC Report 2014

A contemporary model seaplane


Davis, E.V. (undated) Sarnia's Record in the Great War, Guernsey Star

Ford, D. Fear God and Honour the King, Jersey Heritage Trust.

Taylor, K, The French Seaplane Base in Guernsey,1917-1918, in Journal, Channel Islands Specialist Society.

Guernsey Star, Guernsey Evening Press and Guernsey Weekly Press, various editions from late 1918 to mid 1919, courtesy of the Priaulx Library Collection.

© 2006 Liz Walton Contact Liz Walton
Page 1