AUXILIARY HOME GUARD UNITS
The Auxiliary Units or GHQ Auxiliary Units were specially trained, highly secret units created by the United Kingdom government during the Second World War, with the aim of resisting any eventual occupation of the United Kingdom by Nazi Germany, after a planned invasion which the Germans codenamed 'Operation Sea Lion'.
Having had the advantage of seeing the fall of several Continental nations, the United Kingdom was the only country during the war that was able to create such a resistance movement in advance of an invasion.
In fact, so secret were these units that information only started to come out in the late 1960's thanks to researchers such as David Lampe and his book 'The Last Ditch'. Aptly the 'last ditch is certainly what these units going into operation would have been, although there is good evidence they would have been a highly effective and downright deadly foe to the expected onslaught.
Many Auxiliary Unit personnel's own families suspected little and were never told. Unlike other countries resistance movements, the British units were to attack (usually in uniform) and then return to custom built hideouts, often ingeniously disguised and unknown to anyone but their own patrol rather than to attempt to return to their homes and the risk that such adds to a clandestine unit.
Whether Hitler & his generals suspected such a level of organised & formidable resistance is thought unlikely, luckily the RAF stemmed the tide of German plans to invade and Hitler turned his attention to the East in June 1941.
Winston Churchill (Prime Minister from 10 May 1940) initiated the units, sometimes referred to as a part of the British Resistance Organisation, in the early summer of 1940. He appointed Colonel Colin Gubbins to found them. The Auxiliary Units answered to GHQ Home Forces, but were organised as if part of the local Home Guard.
Gubbins, a regular British Army soldier, had acquired considerable experience and expertise in guerrilla warfare during the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War in 1919 and in the Anglo-Irish War of 1919-1921. Most recently, he had returned from Norway, where he headed the Independent Companies, the predecessors of the British Commandos.
Gubbins used several officers who had served with the Independent Companies in Norway, plus others he had known there.
Units were localised on a county structure, as they would probably be fragmented and isolated from each other.
Priority was given to the counties most at risk from enemy invasion, the two most vulnerable being Kent and Sussex in southeast England. The two best known officers from this period were Captain Peter Fleming of the Grenadier Guards and Captain Mike Calvert of the Royal Engineers. Fleming came from a famous banking family and was the elder brother of Ian Fleming. Calvert had recently served in the 5th Battalion, Scots Guards, which had been formed to fight as a ski-troop in Finland.
Both of these men were too valuable to stay long, once the immediate threat of invasion was over, and both later served in Burma, Fleming in deception work, Calvert in the Chindits.
The 'combat units' were the Operational Patrols, but these were supported by Special Duty Sections, from the local civilian population.
In addition, a signals structure would attempt to link the isolated bands into a national network that could act in concert, on behalf of a British government-in-exile and its representatives still in the United Kingdom.
(The British Government had a plan to retreat to a specially prepared headquarters for the War Cabinet - Hindlip House near Worcester, this was incidentally (although they couldn't know this at the time of the plan) above the Germans 'final objective line' which ran from Malden in Essex to Gloucester in the west).
The Auxiliary Units were kept in being long after any immediate Nazi threat had passed and were stood down only in 1944.
Several Auxiliary Unit members later joined the Special Air Service. Many men saw action in the campaign in France in late 1944, notably in Operation Houndsworth and Operation Bulbasket.
Special Duty Sections and Signals
The Special Duties Sections were largely recruited from the civilian population, with around 4,000 members. They had been trained to identify vehicles, high-ranking officers and military units, and were to gather intelligence and leave reports in dead letter drops. The reports would be collected by runners and taken to one of over 200 secret radio transmitters operated by trained civilian Signals staff (see 'ATS & civilian spies' below).
Operational Patrols consisted of between four and eight men, often farmers or landowners and usually recruited from the most able members of the Home Guard, who also needed an excellent local knowledge and the ability to live off the land. As cover, the men were allocated to "Home Guard" battalions 201 (Scotland), 202 (northern England), or 203 (southern England) and provided with Home Guard uniforms, though they were not actually Home Guard units.
The German invasion was expected to be largely sea borne as (despite the public's popular perception) Germany did not possess sufficient trained parachute troops at this time), so a 30 mile deep area from the coast extending from approximately Margate in Kent to Bognor Regis was to be the main immediate resistance area, a highly accurate assessment as it was revealed this was indeed the planned attack area with 6 Army group A divisions attacking from Margate to Bexhill, 4 more attacking Brighton to the Isle of Wight and a further 3 Army group B divisions attacking in the Lyme Regis area of Dorset.
Around 3,500 such men were trained on weekend courses at Coleshill House near Highworth, Wiltshire, in the arts of guerrilla warfare including assassination, unarmed combat, demolition and sabotage. Recruits for Coleshill reported to the Highworth post office, from where the postmistress Mabel Stranks arranged for their collection.
Each Patrol was a self-contained cell, expected to be self-sufficient and operationally autonomous in the case of invasion, generally operating within a 15-mile radius. They were provided with a concealed underground Operational Base (OB), usually built by the Royal Engineers in a local woodland, with a camouflaged entrance and emergency escape tunnel; it is thought that 400 to 500 such OBs were constructed. Some Patrols had an additional concealed Observation Post.
Patrols were also provided with a selection of the latest weapons including a silenced pistol or Sten Gun and Fairbairn-Sykes "commando" knives, quantities of plastic explosive, incendiary devices, and food to last for two weeks.
Special weapons also included the special 22 calibre sniper rifles capable of killing from a mile away (some units were to use these to kill collaborators or to assassinate high ranking German officers from afar), Pencil fuses, Plastic explosive & Anti-tank sticky bombs.
Auxiliary units were so highly valued they obtained these special weapons long before any of the regular army, even before the Royal Marine Commandos.
Members anticipated being shot if they were captured, and were expected to shoot themselves first rather than be taken alive.
There is good evidence for this as saboteurs caught in enemy territory during the German occupation of France etc usually found themselves being tortured, interrogated and then dispatched to a concentration/death camp or executed rather than any lesser treatment, also as the battle for France showed the Germans already had posters warning people of the consequences of sabotage and the likely reprisals that would be considered/taken.
The mission of the units was to attack invading forces from behind their own lines while conventional forces fell back to the last-ditch GHQ Line. Aircraft, fuel dumps, railway lines, and depots were high on the list of targets, as were senior German officers.
Patrols secretly reconnoitered local country houses, which might be used by German officers, in preparation for their arrival!
Some local bases were actually built within the large country houses' grounds in utmost secrecy.
Operational bases were largely destroyed by groups of Royal Engineers after the war although a few remain mostly on country estates where inacccesible to the public, it is thought unlikely any of these could be preserved unfortunately.
It has been argued that the operational bases and men within them could only have been completely eradicated by the Nazis if the entire area were sealed off and every person removed from it, a near impossibility in most areas.
ATS and civilian 'spies'
Further to the 'normal' (although Auxiliaries were hardly a normal type of unit by any stretch of the imagination!) units, a number of highly secret radio operators and information gatherers were trained at various locations in 1940/41, using a compact specially made high frequency radio (operating on what is now the BBC1 wave band).
These radios were made only for these units on a special production line at Coleshill house in Highworth (Swindon) and used a non military wavelength for coded voice communication.
It was thought unlikely the Gestapo's radio location equipment would be able to be tuned to such frequencies, and this combined with the fact many transmitters were hidden so very well has led most researchers to conclude this espionage network would have been highly effective.
Such units were recruited from within the Women's ATS and civilian population, male & female, and were never known to each other nor to the 'normal' auxiliary units themselves for securitys sake.
In our Historic Documents library
Many publications can be found in our historic documents collection such as:
Modern Automatic Guns
The Home Guard Manual
Signalling and Map-Reading for the Home Guard
All of which give a fascinating & informative account of the Home Guard's training and capabilities and just a glimpse of what an invader had to very much expect!
390th Bomb Group Memorial Air Museum & The Museum of the British Resistance Organisation
Phone - 01728 621373
Highly recommended and now reprinted by 'Pen & Sword' - 'Last Ditch' by David Lampe
A thoroughly researched source of invaluable information on the units and their leaders, special weapons, tactics and the German's invasion plans.
The National Archives:
All as stated above except:
Some of the material on this page was also partially derived from
'Last ditch' by David Lampe (Pen & Sword)
'Invasion 1940' by John Erickson from the original plans made by SS Brigadefuhrer Walter Schellenberg
Which are released under the terms of
The records consist of information hand transcribed by Forces War Records from the original nominal rolls held at the National Archives under reference WO199/3388-3391.
Records consist of the following information: Surname, Initials, Rank, Home town/address, area, group number and commander, patrol number and leader and national identity card number.