Germans reclaim Heligoland from the United Kingdom, 1951

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Time Period:  
Location and Goals
Location City/State/Province: 
Heligoland Archipelago
Location Description: 
Small archipelago in the North Sea
To reclaim Heligoland from British control

Heligoland (also spelled Helgoland) is an archipelago 46 kilometers off the German coastline in the North Sea. The two small islands are less than 2 square kilometers in total, but the British, Danish and Germans have hotly contested the land over the centuries. In the Second World War, the British Air Force frequently bombed the islands, most notably in air to sea battles in 1939 and in 1945, when the residents of the island were forced to abandon their rock shelters and evacuate due to an enormous Allied air raid.

Subsequently, the British Royal Air Force (R.A.F.) and United States Air Force (U.S.A.F.) took control of the island and used it as a bombing range and testing ground for a period beginning in 1946. The British and United States governments claimed that they would return the lands to Germany but set up no established time schedule.

Shortly before Christmas day, 1950, two students and former Heligoland residents from Germany declared that they were going to occupy the island to prevent it being used by the RAF and USAF. Their resolution won them support and, by appealing to former Heligolanders and the German Nationalist group Europa, they managed to send over a party of 16 protesters to occupy the island and prevent it from getting bombed. They brought national flags with them and camped out in the ruined air raid shelters still left on the island. On 4 January 1951, German police removed the squatters in a British patrol boat. Germany’s support for the removal operation was not unanimous: the head of the German mine sweeping operation, Herr von Blank was suspended when he refused to let officers use his boats to remove the protesters and the German government issued a statement saying that it was in agreement with the protesters’ goals of German reclamation. The British government issued a statement saying it would not press charges but would if the protests and occupation continued.

The occupation and protests did continue, however, and on 9 January, British police arrived on the island to remove a larger group of 19 protesters. This escalated German public response: the protesters sent around a petition that soon gathered 2,000 signatures for their cause. The USAF announced that it would stop using the island as a test ground and bombing practice site to maintain the goodwill of the German public. On 12 January, the German government sent a formal request to the British government asking for the return of the island. On 7 March, the British government agreed to secede the island over to the German government within a year after receiving the German people’s petition.

The German government cooperated with the RAF and found another site for bombing practice. On 1 March 1952, Heligoland was returned to the German government. The island was severely devastated by the bombing and it was only after tons of debris and ammunition were removed that the island became inhabitable again. Heligoland is currently a holiday resort and site of scientific research.

Research Notes
"Bombing, HeligolandOral Answers to Questions — Royal Air Force." Bombing, Heligoland: 7 Mar 1951: House of Commons Debates. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2012. <>.

"The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1954)." 03 Jan 1951. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2012. <>.

"Helgoland (island, Germany)." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2012. <>.

"The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954)." 04 Jan 1951. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2012. <>.

"The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954)." 09 Jan 1951. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2012. <>.

Personal correspondence with Roderick Payne, February 2013.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Christopher Capron, 18/11/2012