Auxiliary Units or GHQ
Auxiliary Units were specially trained,
highly secret units created by the
United Kingdom government
United Kingdom government during
the Second World War, with the aim using irregular warfare to help
combat any invasion of the
United Kingdom by Nazi Germany, which the
Germans codenamed Operation Sea Lion. With the advantage of having
witnessed the rapid fall of several continental nations, the United
Kingdom was the only country during the war that was able to create a
multi-layered guerrilla and resistance movement in anticipation of an
Auxiliary Units would fight as uniformed guerrillas
during the military campaign.
Service in the
Auxiliary Units was expected to be highly dangerous,
with a projected life expectancy of just 12 days for its members;
along with orders to either shoot each other or use explosives to kill
themselves if capture by an enemy force seemed likely.
Urged on by the War Office, Prime Minister
Winston Churchill initiated
the Auxiliary Units in the early summer of 1940. This was to
counter the civilian Home Defence Scheme already established by SIS
(MI6), but outside
War Office control. The
Auxiliary Units answered to
GHQ Home Forces, but were organised as if part of the local Home
Churchill appointed Colonel
Colin Gubbins to found the Auxiliary
Units. Gubbins, a regular
British Army soldier, had acquired
considerable experience and expertise in guerrilla warfare during the
Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War
Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War in 1919 and in the Irish
War of Independence of 1919–1921. Most recently, he had returned
from Norway, where he headed the Independent Companies, the
predecessors of the British Commandos. In November 1940 Gubbins moved
Special Operations Executive
Special Operations Executive (SOE).
In modern times, the
Auxiliary Units have been referred to as the
"British Resistance Organisation". This is a title was never used
by the organization officially but has more recently been used to
describe the movement to explain to layman what their role was.
Colloquially, members of the
Auxiliary Units were referred to as
“scallywags”, and their activities as “scallywagging”.
2 Operational Patrols
Special Duty Sections and Signals
4 Later history
5 Cultural references
6 See also
8 Further reading
9 External links
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. They were distributed around the coast
rather than being country-wide, with priority being given to the
counties most at risk from enemy invasion, the two most vulnerable
Sussex in south east 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.
Auxiliary Units, Operational Base, emergency exit
Operational Patrols consisted of between four and eight men, often
farmers or landowners. They were usually recruited from the most able
members of the Home Guard, possessed excellent local knowledge and
were able to live off the land. Gamekeepers and even poachers were
particularly valued. They were always intended to fight in Home
Guard uniform and from 1942 the men were badged to Home Guard
battalions 201 (Scotland), 202 (northern England), or 203 (southern
England).[dubious – discuss]
Around 3,500 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.
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 elaborately
concealed underground Operational Bases (OB), usually built by
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 and/or
underground ammunition store. Patrols were 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. 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.
Special Duty Sections and Signals
Separate from the Auxiliary Units' Operational Patrols was the Special
Duty Branch, originally recruited by SIS and carefully vetted and
selected from the local civilian population. This group acted as "eyes
and ears" and would report back to military intelligence any
information they heard from 'careless talk' or from watching troop
movements and supply routes. It was supported by a signals network of
hidden, short-range, wireless sets around the coast. The structure
allowed no means of passing on such information to the Operational
It is unlikely that the wireless network would survive long after
invasion and it was therefore unable to link the isolated Operational
Patrols 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. Instead, SIS (MI6) created a separate resistance
organisation (Section VII) with powerful wireless sets that was
intended to act on a longer-term basis.
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.
The civilian personnel operated as 'Intelligence Gatherers' and
operated the OUT Station radios. ATS subalterns or Royal Signals
personnel operated the
Special Duties IN-Stations and Zero Stations.
Auxiliary Units were kept in being long after any immediate Nazi
threat had passed and were stood down only in November 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.
From 1942, the Operational Patrols of the
Auxiliary Units tried to
re-invent themselves as an anti-raiding force. This was primarily a
device to avoid them being disbanded as the
War Office had made a
promise that the volunteers would not be returned to normal Home Guard
duties. They therefore had to be kept in existence until the general
stand-down of the Home Guard. Nonetheless, some units were deployed to
the Isle of Wight prior to the D day landings in 1944, in order to
help protect the Pluto fuel pipeline from being attacked by German
commandos. It was then suggested that the
Auxiliary Units should be
fully administered by the Home Guard but this was not enacted before
the final stand-down in November 1944.
An Auxiliary Unit arms cache features in the 1985 BBC TV series, Blott
on the Landscape.
British partisans feature in two UK films that imagine what would have
happened if Germany had successfully invaded Britain: the 1966 film It
Happened Here (which simply refers to 'partisans') and the 2011 film
Resistance based on Owen Sheers' first novel, Resistance. The
partisans in the latter are loosely based upon Auxiliary Units, albeit
with considerable artistic licence..
Auxiliary Units feature in the BBC programme
Wartime Farm although
there is some confusion between the roles of the Operational Patrols
Special Duties Branch.
Auxiliary Units and
Special Duties Branch feature heavily in
Gordon Stevens' 1991 novel And All the King's Men
(ISBN 978-0330315340). The novel examines an alternate history
following a successful German invasion of England.
British military history of World War II
British anti-invasion preparations of World War II
British military history
Axis victory in World War II, a list of Nazi Germany/Axis/World War II
alternate history articles
Coleshill Auxiliary Research Team
^ Hardman, Robert (25 November 2011). "The British Resistance: The
true story of the secret guerilla army of shopkeepers and farmworkers
trained to defy the Nazis in a suicidal last stand". Daily Mail.
London. Archived from the original on 21 November 2015. Retrieved 29
January 2016. Not only were
Auxiliary Units given a life expectancy of
12 days, but they were also under orders not to be captured. If
surrounded, they would need to shoot each other or blow themselves up
with their own explosives.
^ Sykes, Tom (28 March 2016). "British Resistance Archive". British
Resistance Archive. Coleshill Auxiliary Research Team. Retrieved 28
^ Lampe (2007), p.113
^ "The History of the
Auxiliary Units & British Resistance
Movement". Cole's Hill House. Retrieved 29 January 2016.
^ Secret army of ‘scallywags’ to sabotage German occupation quoted
from The Times, 5 January 2009
^ The Scallywags on pinterest.com
^ a b "Trevor Miners, Auxilier - obituary". The Daily Telegraph.
London. 8 April 2016. Retrieved 9 April 2016.
^ "Operational Bases (OB's) of the Auxiliary Units".
coleshillhouse.com. Coleshill House. Retrieved 11 November 2016.
^ "Hidden tunnels and Britain's secret WW2 resistance army".
bbc.co.uk. BBC. 11 November 2016. Retrieved 11 November 2016.
Special Duties Section". The British Resistance Archive. 2015.
Retrieved 13 June 2015.
^ Atkin, Malcolm (2015). Fighting Nazi Occupation: British Resistance
1939 - 1945. Pen and Sword. p. 158.
Watson, Bill (2011) . Gone To Ground. Coleshill Auxiliary
Research Team (Foreword by David Blair).
Lampe, David (2007) . The Last Ditch: Britain's Resistance Plans
Against the Nazis. Greenhill Books (Foreword by Gary Sheffield).
Ward, Arthur (1997). Resisting the Nazi Invader. Constable.
Stewart Angell. The Secret
Sussex Resistance. (Middleton Press)
Roger Ford. Fire from the Forest (Orion, 2004),
Donald Brown. Somerset versus Hitler (Countryside Books, 2001)
Warwicker, John (2002). With Britain in Mortal Danger: Britain's Most
Secret Army of WWII. Cerberus. ISBN 1-84145-112-6.
Warwicker, John (2008). Churchill's Underground Army: A History of the
Auxiliary Units in World War II. Frontline Books.
Sheers, Owen (2008). Resistance. Faber and Faber.
Atkin, Malcolm (2015). Fighting Nazi Occupation: British Resistance
1939-1945. Barnsley: Pen and Sword. ISBN 978-1-47383-377-7.
Stevens, Gordon (1991). And All The King's Men. Pan.
"British Resistance Archive". The Coleshill Auxiliary Research Team.
"British Resistance in WW2". Malcolm Atkin (2015).
Atkin, Malcolm (2016). "Myth and Reality: the
Auxiliary Units of the
Second World War". Academia.edu.
"Record of the
Auxiliary Units 1940-1944". web.archive.org. 2007.
Archived from the original on 21 June 2007.
Ward, Arthur (2007). "Britain's Guerrillas". web.archive.org. Archived
from the original on 21 June 2007.
"Museum of the British Resistance Organization". Parham Airfield
"UK Pillbox, Pillboxes, Bunkers, Anti-tank traps and other
Anti-Invasion Defences built in World War 2". pillboxesuk.co.uk.
"Hurstpierpoint Patrol (Auxiliary Units)". Subterranea
Sampson, David (2013). "Stuart Macrae's "Toy Box"". The Mills Grenade
Leet, Geoff (2008). "The Caithness Secret Army in World War II".
web.archive.org. Archived from the original on 2