The island of Sark has many admirable features. It is beautiful, idyllic, and has some of the lowest-priced rental property in the world. Located between Guernsey and Jersey in the Channel Islands, 80 miles (129 km) south of Britain, the small stretch of land (2.10 square miles/5.44 km2) is home to over 500 people. Cars are prohibited. There is no income tax. With all of that going for it, who wouldn’t be interested in having a piece of Sark? Some might even be inclined to try to take it by force. That is exactly what was attempted in what was, in all likelihood, the most ill-conceived invasion attempt in history.
Sark was considered to be the last feudal state in Europe. It did not formally adopt democracy until April 2008. Classified as a Crown Dependency of the British Crown, Sark is governed more-or-less autonomously by its Seigneur, John Michael Beaumont, and a 30-member parliament.
Andre Gardes looked upon Sark with an eye made green with jealousy. He thought the island should belong to him, and he thought highly enough of himself that he believed he should also be its supreme ruler. Thus motivated, Gardes set about planning the invasion and conquest of Sark in August 1990.
Gardes was an unemployed nuclear physicist from France. While he may have had considerable knowledge about physics (although that is questionable, given the fact that he was unemployed), Gardes seemed to lack some basic understanding of how military conquest happens. For one thing, he never quite grasped the concept of the element of surprise. Gardes went over to the island the day before the planned invasion and served notice on the inhabitants that they were about to be conquered.
Word of the planned invasion reached Sark’s Seigneur, John Michael Beaumont. “He was such an odd chap,” said Beaumont. “He turned up one night and started putting up signs saying he was going to take over the island next day at noon. They read very like German wartime notices. Most people thought it was a joke, but he was serious.”
Not only did Gardes underestimate the value of surprise, but he also slightly underestimated the number of soldiers needed to prevail in the invasion. Granted, Sark is a small, sleepy community with no organized military, but even so, Gardes was decidedly optimistic when he decided he could conquer Sark all by himself.
Sark did not have an organized military to ward off the one-man invasion. Fortunately, a volunteer constable took note of Gardes’ warnings and took steps to defend his homeland. In the morning hours leading up to the noon attack, Constable Perrée took a stroll along the beach, keeping a close lookout for any signs of an invading force. That’s when he found Gardes, dressed in fatigues, sitting on a park bench, attempting to load an automatic weapon.
Perrée approached Gardes and complimented him on the fine weapon. He got the would-be conqueror to chat with him about the upcoming invasion. Perrée acknowledged that Sark would have a hard time defending itself against anyone armed with such an impressive weapon. He asked Gardes if he might take a closer look at the gun that was destined to bring down Sark’s defenses.
Gardes was no fool. He knew if he handed a loaded weapon to the constable, it could quickly be turned against him. He therefore first removed the weapon’s magazine before handing the gun over for inspection.
Having thus disarmed the entire invasion force, Perrée executed a brilliant tactical counter strike. He punched Gardes in the nose. Before the invasion began, it was over. Gardes surrendered, and Sark’s sovereignty was assured. He was then treated to a stay in possibly the world’s smallest prison.
The gun can now be seen in the Sark Museum next to old ships and a dedicated exhibit to one of the island’s two original telephone calls. At last report, Gardes was still unemployed, unable to find employment as a physicist, supreme ruler, or military tactician.