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The Auxiliary Units were specially trained highly secret units created with the aim of resisting the expected invasion of the United Kingdom by Nazi Germany during World War II. Having had the advantage of seeing the fall of several Continental nations, the UK was the only country during the war that was able to create such a resistance movement in advance of an invasion.

The units, sometimes referred to as a part of the British Resistance Organisation, were initiated by Winston Churchill 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 was a regular British Army soldier, but due to the nature of the British Empire's repression of independence movements, he had acquired considerable experience and expertise in guerrilla warfare. Most recently, he had returned from Norway, where he headed the Independent Companies, the predecessors of the Commandos. Subsequently, he would move to the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and make it an effective military, or para-military organisation.

Contents

Beginnings

Gubbins used several officers who had just been stood down from the Independent Companies in Norway, plus others he had known there. Units were localised with 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:

Fleming came from a famous banking family, though as his younger brother Ian Fleming would later write, none of this money seemed to have filtered their way. This required both brothers to earn a living and both became writers. Before the war, Peter was perhaps the better known writer, but after the war his brother's career took off. Calvert had recently served in the 5th Battalion of the Scots Guards, the famous Phoney Fifth, which had been formed to fight as a ski-troop in Finland. It became famous for having a couple of hundred officers masquerading in the ranks, presumably because, in the pre-war era, only officer-types would have been able to afford to learn to ski. It had one company of non-officers. 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. This group acted as the spotters for the action teams. 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.

Some tales attach to the Auxiliary Units, of varying degrees of credibility. Members were supposedly vetted by a senior local police chief who was allegedly, according to sealed orders given to the Operational Patrols to be opened only in case of invasion, to be assassinated to prevent the membership of the Auxiliary Units being revealed.

The Auxiliary Units were kept in being long after any immediate Nazi threat had passed and were stood down only in 1944. Several of the members of this generation were thus released to join the Special Air Service Regiments, which were recruiting hard, in readiness for their role during the forthcoming invasion. Many men saw action in the vicious campaign in France in late 1944.

The units' existence did not generally become known by the public until the 1990s, though a book on the subject was published in 1968.

Special Duty Sections and Signals

The Special Duty 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.

Operational Patrols

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.

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 and Fairbairn-Sykes "commando" knives, quantities of plastic explosive, incendiary devices, and food to last for two weeks. Members anticipated being shot if they were captured, and were expected to shoot themselves first rather than be taken alive.

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 reconnoitred local country houses, which might be used by German officers, in preparation.

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Members

Cultural references

An Auxiliary Unit arms cache features in the 1985 BBC TV series; Blott on the Landscape.

The Auxiliary Units formed the basis of a question on the BBC panel game QI.[1]

See also

Further reading

  • David Lampe, The Last Ditch: Britain's Resistance Plans against the Nazis Cassell 1968 ISBN 0304925195
  • A. Ward. Resisting the Nazi Invader (Constable, 1997)
  • Stewart Angell. The Secret Sussex Resistance. (Middleton Press) ISBN 1-873793-82-0
  • Roger Ford. Fire from the Forest (Orion, 2004), ISBN 0-304-36336-7
  • Donald Brown. Somerset versus Hitler (Countryside Books, 2001) ISBN 1-85306-590-0
  • John Warwicker. With Britain in Mortal Danger: Britain's Most Secret Army of WWII ISBN 1-84145-112-6

References

  1. ^ "Games". QI. 10 December, 2009. No. 3, season 7.

External links



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 the expected invasion of the United Kingdom by Nazi Germany. 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.

The units, sometimes referred to as a part of the British Resistance Organisation, were initiated by Winston Churchill 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 was a regular British Army soldier, who had acquired considerable experience and expertise in guerrilla warfare. Most recently, he had returned from Norway, where he headed the Independent Companies, the predecessors of the British Commandos. Subsequently, he would move to the Special Operations Executive (SOE).

Contents

Beginnings

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. This group acted as the spotters for the action teams. 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.

Some tales attached to the Auxiliary Units are of varying degrees of credibility. Members were supposedly vetted by a senior local police chief who was allegedly, according to sealed orders given to the Operational Patrols to be opened only in case of invasion, to be assassinated to prevent the membership of the Auxiliary Units being revealed.

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.

The units' existence did not generally become known by the public until the 1990s, though a book on the subject was published in 1968.

Special Duty Sections and Signals

The Special Duty 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.

Operational Patrols

File:Auxiliary Units, Operational Base, emergency exit,
Auxiliary Units, Operational Base, emergency exit

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.

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 and Fairbairn-Sykes "commando" knives, quantities of plastic explosive, incendiary devices, and food to last for two weeks. Members anticipated being shot if they were captured, and were expected to shoot themselves first rather than be taken alive.

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 reconnoitred local country houses, which might be used by German officers, in preparation.

Cultural references

An Auxiliary Unit arms cache features in the 1985 BBC TV series; Blott on the Landscape.

The Auxiliary Units formed the basis of a question on the BBC panel game QI.[1]

See also

Further reading

  • Lampe, David (2007) [1968]. The Last Ditch: Britain's Resistance Plans Against the Nazis. Greenhill Books. 
  • Ward, Arthur (1997). Resisting the Nazi Invader. Constable. ISBN 0-09-476750-5. 
  • Stewart Angell. The Secret Sussex Resistance. (Middleton Press) ISBN 1-873793-82-0
  • Roger Ford. Fire from the Forest (Orion, 2004), ISBN 0-304-36336-7
  • Donald Brown. Somerset versus Hitler (Countryside Books, 2001) ISBN 1-85306-590-0
  • Warwicker, John (2002). With Britain in Mortal Danger: Britain's Most Secret Army of WWII. Cerberus. ISBN 1-84145-112-6. 

References

  1. ^ "Games". QI. 10 December 2009. No. 3, season 7.

External links


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