During World War II, Nazi Germany managed to occupy an area of Britain known as the Channel Islands. The Channel Islands are a small group of islands in the English Channel near the coast of France. It was the only British territory that the Nazis managed to occupy during the war, and naturally the British government was more than a little embarrassed by this.
Winston Churchill, who was apparently brilliant at coming up with interesting names, decided to create a group of soldiers to go on what was called “Nuisance Missions.” The idea was to land the soldiers behind enemy lines in the dead of night, have them sneak around and mess with the Nazis and create havoc, before escaping back to the allies. They would attack strategic places, sever communication lines, destroy anti-aircraft guns, kill or capture as many Nazis as possible, etc. The idea seemed like a good one.
One of the first “Nuisance Missions” was to the Channel Islands, and of course it went catastrophically and comically wrong.
Three boatloads of soldiers were assigned to infiltrate the Channel Islands and create difficulty for the Germans. Before the mission even landed on the islands, things began to go sideways. To start off, the first of the three boatloads of men landed on the wrong island. (Several of the islands were completely uninhabited, aside from sheep.)
Then the second boat saw the flashing signals of spies on their destination island that they were supposed to meet, and decided they were German signal lights, so they just turned around and went home.
The third boat made it, to the correct island! But then it ran aground and everyone had to bail out. They were at the wrong spot and the men then had to climb up a 250-foot cliff, while soaking wet in heavy gear. They were exhausted by the time they got to the top, but mustered their strength and attacked the machine gun post!… only to find it was empty. They did, however, scare the absolute life out of a local elderly farmer. In the end, all that the third boatload of men managed to do was cut a pair of telephone lines, of which their leader, Lieutenant-Colonel John Durnford-Slater later commented, “A youth in his teens could have done the same.” Then they decided to make a road block, but then realized that they had left all their barbed wire on the beach.
Now it gets even worse. On the way back down the cliff to the beach someone slipped and somehow managed to accidentally fire his revolver. The gunshot echoed all the way around the cliffs, and a nearby German outpost freaked out and started blindly firing their mounted machine gun out to sea, believing ships were attacking. In all this chaos, a single rubber dinghy that was dispatched to rescue the group hit against rocks and sank.
Thinking that the only way off the island was to swim for it, everyone stripped down and got ready to swim. That’s about the time where three men turned to Lieutenant-Colonel John Durnford-Slater and said “Uh, boss? I can’t swim.” Lieutenant-Colonel John Durnford-Slater, probably just about at the end of his tether at this point, told them to go hide and left them for the next day’s problem.
The rest of the soldiers swim out to sea, where one man drowns. The next morning the Germans check out the beach and find the remains of the sunken dinghy as well as the discarded uniforms on the beach, including helmets and rifles. It was abundantly clear that a military operation had taken place, so the Germans began a search the whole island (which was not very big!) Eventually they find the three soldiers who could not swim, as well as a fourth soldier — the man who had been believed drowned, had somehow made it back to shore alive. All four of them were sent off to a prison camp in Germany, where they remained until the end of the war.
When briefed on the matter, Churchill stated he was, quote, “unimpressed”.