British Auxiliary Units

Discussion in 'United Kingdom' started by Chats1, Nov 19, 2009.

  1. Chats1

    Chats1 Junior Member

    I was wondering whether anyone had any snippets of information on the British Auxiliary Units, set up to resist behind lines in the face of a German invasion.

    I have read a couple of books (Last Ditch by Kempe, and Invasion!), but it is such a fascinating subject, as it has remained relatively under the radar for 70 years, but also it's interesting to consider how effective they might have been if the worst had happened (and the potential reaction of the German's on the British public) - let me know your opinions on that as well!

    Any information you have on the units I would be really interested in hearing more!
  2. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Hi and welcome to the forum.

    I have some info on resistance units set up in Kent on the Romney Marsh area. I haven't read the book yet but it shows one of their underground bunkers in a field with a list of all equipment, rations and weapons that were stored in the bunker.

    I'll try and dig it out later for you (I'm going out tonight). If I've not posted anything by Sunday drop me a PM to remind me :)

    Try the forums search engine too....I believe this subject may have been discussed before on here.

  3. Chats1

    Chats1 Junior Member

    Cheers! I'll take a look round the site too, but would be great if you could round up anything!
  4. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Very Senior Member

    I'll have to find it again, but there's an Aux Units website somewhere!

    I've come across a lot of stuff over the years, but there's no truly comprehensive history....partly because of the whole air of secrecy that surrounded it - AND which was maintained by old Aux Unit members until their dying day! I remember at least two underground hides remaining equiped until the end of the war, and being gradually forgotten about, STILL with their explosives and arms, and being guarded by the veterans. One only came to light when the last survivng Patrol member asked police to come out to his house and take some weapons off him during one of the firearms anmesties a few years back - and there was the FULL armoury for his Patrol! Their hide had gradually flooded over the years - and he as the last survivor had gradually transferred evenything into his semi!

    What is it you want to know, specifically?
  5. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin

  6. Bala

    Bala Member

    The GHQ of Aux Units was Coleshill House, near Highworth, Wilts. Take a look Coleshill House - Churchill's Underground Auxiliary Unit A fairly new site but up and coming. Plenty to interest and inform you.

    PostScript: I just tried clicking on the link but it failed to open. If you have a problem - try typing COLESHILLHOUSE dot ORG all lower case and no spaces, in the address bar.
  7. cptpies

    cptpies Member

    Checkout the Defence of Britain Database. All the Hide locations are on there. You can download a Google Earth KML from my sig too.
  8. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Very Senior Member

    Coleshill House was a training base as well as a GHQ. The Aux Unit Patrols had a noticable degree of autonomy in regulating their own affairs...very much like the SOE later networked resistance groups in Europe, the Balkans and the Far East, by means of travelling "Intelligence Officers". Here's an early party of them at Coleshill House...


    Notice any familiar faces???
  9. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Very Senior Member

    The Auxiliary Units came about after the famous weekend of dinners at Chequers in late June 1940 where on hearing the FULL detail on the parlous state of Britain's defences from Gen. Ironside and others, Churchill ALSO gave the orders for the production of Mustard Gas and the preparation of Operation Banquet.

    As with a lot of wartime schemes, Churchill had an element of detailed involvement in the early days of the Aux Units. It was he who roughly specified their arming - "Each man must have a revolver" - and made sure an early shipment of Thompsons was diverted to them, and also provided for the first arming of a British Army unit with silenced weapons! Each Aux Unit Patrol was to have at least one Winchester .22 silenced rifle.

    Churchill apparently interviewed Colin Gubbins personally on his return from Norway and put him in charge of the project as well as the embryonic SOE. Prior to this - there had been a number of small-scale stay-behind organisations a-building....including one VERY professional outfit in Kent under one PETER Fleming, brother of Ian!!!


    Those of a more tender age from the UK might remember his DAUGHTER, Lucy Fleming...a "stay behind" of a whole different sort! One of the cast of the ORIGINAL "Survivors"!!!


    Fleming was drafted to Coleshill House where he served as an Intelligence Officer for a short time - along with someone who was very soon to follow Gubbins into SOE full-time...


    A young Captain ANTHONY QUAYLE!!!

    Quayle later had some bad experiences when acting as a British Liaison Officer with Tito's partisans in Yugoslavia, which he refused ever to talk about in detail....

    Strangely enough, one of his most famous war movie roles was as an SOE British Liaison Officer in the Eastern Med in "The Guns Of Navarone"!!!
  10. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Very Senior Member

    The organisation was formed by local authorities - lord Lieutenants, senior policemen, people like that - recommending individuals who fitted the criteria as "patrol leaders" in an unspecified organisation. They were vetted, then visited by an Intelligence Officer, and if they volunteered were told to report to Highworth Post Office, in the village beside Coleshill House...


    ...where the LAST line of security was provided by Margaret the village Postmistress who was in on the secret! If SHE didn't like the look of you - you didn't get in! :)


    SHE then called Coleshill House and an unmarked Army lorry picked up each party of trainees and took them to the big house!

    After their training - which would be over a series of weekends - the Patrol Leaders were to find their own patrol members and cascade the training.
  11. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Very Senior Member

    Peter Fleming died in 1977, while his brother died in 1964 of a heart attack. Before the war they had both been journalists, though Peter started writing books first. In fact - in the few years prior to WWII he was arguably one of britain's most popular travel writers as a result of a long trip through China and Tartary in 1935, through parts of the interior that had formerly been closed to foreigners!


    Problem is - the Chinese weren't aware that at that time Fleming was in British Intelligence!!! :lol::lol::lol: It was an British Intelligence-sponsored recce expedition through China!

    Like Ian Fleming during the war, Peter was one of those guys who just THRIVED on covert ops of any sort! Arguably Fleming brought the whole idea of LITERALLY "underground" Operational Bases - "Ops Bases" - to the organisation; his Kent-based stay-behind group had already created several VERY professionally-sited and built bunkers on the Downs when he was interviewed by Gubbins. After the idea was adopted, each Patrol Leader was responsible for scouting a location, and either the Royal Engineers or civilian contractors from outside a particular area were responsible for construction...and in several known instances, Patrol members themselves plied the elbow grease!
  12. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Very Senior Member

    Originally covering rural areas, the Auxiliary Units were eventually extended into major cities and factories. It's some of the "urban" Patrols that have left the most in the way of pictorial evidence...


    ...with a number of group shots taken on the Standdown of the Home Guard "parent" organisation in late 1944. Spot the general lack of unit or other insignia!!! ;)
    Drew5233 likes this.
  13. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Well Done for posting all that mate !
  14. Mike L

    Mike L Very Senior Member

    I have always found the 'Auxiliary units' history very interesting since I first heard of them several years ago, but the thread was, unless I am mistaken, about how effective they might have been.
    I should point out that I have no military experience but I think, due to the quirky British selection and recruiment methods as well as a 'network' basis they might have been initially very effective (on a small scale) on 'soft' enemy targets in case of invasion. Thereafter the success and capture rate would have probably been very high, in fact I believe most units were given a 'life expactancy' of weeks rather than months. In addition, given the German tendancy to select and execute civilian hostages for acts against their military in occupied countries the Auxiliary units and their actions might well have lost local support and lead to a reduction in operations. There would always have been the 'die hards' who resisted to the last of course, and I imagine the selection process was partly to identify those individuals.
    Had Op Sealion been a success (which I very much doubt) I suspect there would have been a good deal of collaboration with the German Army of Occupation from some elements of the UK population, a large element of reluctant acceptance and a small minority of active resistance. Pretty much the same as most of the Occupied Countries. Is there any reason to think otherwise? (opinions sought).
    Thank God that through Dunkirk and the RAF it never happened.

    Mike L
  15. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Very Senior Member

    One (sad) aspect of the Auxiliary Units that's often forgotten, or simply not that it wasn't by ANY means the nucleus of any form of long-term British Resistance in the event of invasion.

    In fact - the Ops' bases were only equiped for a fortnight's operations at most; both in terms of food/water, and munitions. NONE of the Aux Units were expected to survive beyond that - and in fact most were expected to be attrited within the first 48-72 hours! :mellow:

    The Auxiliary Units were "stay-behind" ONLY in the sense that they were expected to go to ground while the forward echelons of the invading Germans passed over them...sitting in their Ops base while their friends and neighbours in the "regular" Home Guard were killed above them or simply brushed aside.

    They were ONLY to go into action on receiving orders and intelligence from the reporting and signals side of the organisation, down from wherever the GHQ was at that point. Then they were to emerge and find the targets they were notified of - SECOND-echelon German forces, supply wagons, petrol bowsers etc. Obviously these too would be guarded, and the Aux Units were expeced to take casualties infiltrating and exfiltrating - and once the wave of attacks began, they were to expect that the Germans would start hunting them...once someone started using silenced weapons and proper demolition munitions, it would be obvious there was SOME degree of pre-arranged organisation established ;)

    There was to be an absolutely minimal awareness of the existence of the Aux Units; husbands weren't to tell wives, brothers to tell brothers, sons to tell fathers. Apparently more than a few marriages floundered on the suspicions that trips to Coleshill House created!:D This was to prevent ANYONE being forced to betray the existence and location of the local Ops Base ;) But sooner or later, sheer luck if nothing else was BOUND to betray a Patrol, if not dogs/regular patrols/feldgendarmerie operating behind the lines etc.

    From everything I've seen or read - the two wings of the organisation - the Patrols and the reporting/signals side - were NOT actually aware of each other! The civilian intelligence gatherers and signallers who were to feed intelligence to GHQ were to be unknown to the active service Patrols and vice versa, so that the identifying of ONE segment of the local organisation wouldn't simply dump BOTH wings in the Germans' lap. It was all strictly compartmentalised. Thus the Patrols wouldn't actually know WHO was gathering the intel on targets, German movements etc. that was coming back down to them from GHQ! For all THEY would know - it COULD be....wives, fathers, brothers....:p

    There was an intermediate command layer for normal admin etc.; a lieutenant or captain per county over whatever Aux Units it contained. But I'm not aware what degree of knowledge THEY would have of the reporting side either - it's very likely...and logical....that the ONLY point at which knowledge would come together was the Intelligence and Liaison Officers responsible for original recruitment? Unless THAT was compartmentalised too! :lol: Leaving GHQ as the ONLY layer in the organisation who actually knew who was who.

    After that fortnight - if any survived, they were expected to try and melt back into the community, unless the Germans simply moved too quickly to issue ID cards, take a count of local residents, try to account for any mssing in the fighting, etc. And I would assume that once the attacks started, the Germans would have tried to locate and close down the reporting side of the organisation too. Hence the degree of autonomy afforded each patrol; they were expected to plan their own ops based on the intelligence they that they wouldn't necessarily be halted IF a few links in the sytem were broken. Given the environment they were to be operating in - "broken links" were to be expected...:(
  16. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Very Senior Member

    It MAY read like an awful lot of trouble and expense for very little gain - but in the "early" days of British defence thinking in 1940 - the "first period" of Gen. ironside's "coastal Crust" and Stop Lines plan - any delay the British could inflict on the enemy would valuable.

    The Stop Line plan depended on bogging the Germans down with a "traditional" infantry-manned defence line backed by divisional artillery...but in the early weeks after Dunkirk Divisional Artillery was one of the things in VERY short supply!:mellow: It wasn't until very recently that I discovered that aircraft and artillery production was given a MUCH greater emergency priority in the months after Dunkirk than tank production - even though the losses on the continent had left us with VERY few front-line tanks for Home Defence....only arond 100 IIRC.

    By the end of the summer the British Army was very nearly back up to establishment on divisional AND direct-fire (anti-tank) artillery - albeit by some rosters of BOTH classes being filled by the thousands imported American 75mm guns ;)...

    But UNTIL then....every second bought by the Auxiliary Units slowing down the German advance would allow the regular Army to identify likely German contact and pressure points on the various Stop Lines and thus be able to concentrate their scarce artillery as required :)
  17. Chats1

    Chats1 Junior Member

    Thank you so much for all of that information! Just how effective the units and the population in general would have been in the face of the German's gaining a foothold on the coast and moving inland is an interesting debate.

    My Grandad in 1940 was just too young to join up but always said he had first dabs on the kitchen knife to take out a German. I never really talked to him about how he would have got passed the guns and tanks etc, but it is this understandable spirit that Churchill and others were banking on - it was also this spirit that could have meant a slaughter of the population.

    The interesting example is of the Channel Islands occupation where the population entered into passive resistance (so daubing the 'V' symbol on German signs etc), and whether this is a more likely route for the mainland population to take?

    Despite this and even though, as has already been mentioned the German reprisals for 'resistance' activity was horrific, personally I think the auxiliaries would have continued, it's been documented that units had targets of people to assassinate who knew of their existence, and this kind of attitude would have continued for as long as they could.

    Any other thoughts or knowledge on this subject would be really useful, but thanks Phylo for all your help!
  18. urqh

    urqh Senior Member

    I see you mentioned this on ww2 forums also.Do a search on their forum for auxilleries under my addie urqh as well as a discussion few months ago I posted a fair few links a few years ago.
  19. Chats1

    Chats1 Junior Member

    Great, thanks mate!
  20. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Very Senior Member

    Resistance after a (successful) invasion is going to be influenced by a number of factors;

    1/ In France, there were numerous not-overly populated or mountainous areas that sheltered the original Maquis - groups of French Army veterans hiding up an alp somewhere, with VERY few weapons, half-starving, no medical care etc.

    The UK is - and was - a very crowded island ;) The so-called mountains of Wales don't cover much on the map, and only really the Highlands of Scotland would provide any "debateable country" for semi-organised bands...but they were and are also rather bare of tree cover, so it would be easy for the Luftwaffe to force any resistance groups to send more time hiding and running than actually striking back :mellow:

    2/ It would ALSO depend on how the Germans mop up after the invasion. Are they for instance going to simply sweep the Home Guard aside...or stop and kill them? Arguably by the time the Home Guard and regular British Army are beaten in the field...there are very few potential resistors left!!! :unsure:

    3/ How soon would the Germans get their plan to transfer all British males between 18 and 60 to the Continent as forced labour??? Again- very soon there simply might not be any people left with the motivation, stength and ability to resist in any way!

    So, what might happen?

    A/ first of all, sadly you have to discount the remains of the Aux Units - IF there are any personnel left :( They don't know about each other, they have no way of contacting anyone back UP the command chain until THEY might in some way disseminate orders/instructions DOWN whatever remains of the organisation.

    Secondly - look at WHO might be left in any community ;) Those who DIDN'T fight....or perhaps - wouldn't??? Any surviving Patrol members who suddenly materialise after two weeks believed dead...are going to stick out like a sore thumb :D Sooner or later SOMEONE will inform on them for SOME reason....profit, under threat, extra rations...

    Potentially, therefore, the Aux Unit survivors could be a millstone round the neck of any spontaneous resistance group getting off the ground!!! :unsure: Even if they identify themselves to any willing Resistors - they might be hounded off for the Resistor's own safety!!!

    B/ With Schellenberg's "Black Book" arrest list sweeping away great numbers of potential leaders of any public movement....the first groups, like in France, will be VERY low-key....

    And what happened in France to "grow" the Resistance and all its various groups? Simple - the BRITISH happened! SOE provided liaison officers who networked them across the whole country, organised weapons drops and funding etc....

    And with the battle lost, Britain invaded and occupied....there's noone to DO that for the British! The Americans MIGHT try, but I doubt it; any rump British government in exile that manages to surface in Canada MIGHT try at very long range to do something...

    But it's very possible the Americans might have something to say about the Canadians and Brits-in-exile bringing the war to "their" shores!!! :lol: They might start making things VERY difficult for anyone attempting to continue the struggle from North America!

    C/ Britain DOES have ONE major thing going in its favour - the very deep penetration of Trade Unions and militiant Socialism into British industry and society by WWII! Now - once again a LOT of its major leading lights will be arrested within hours of any armistice....but down at grassroots level, that's where you COULD see some resistance growing first. Spontaneous - by necessity - but what would THEN happen is the same as happened on France, Belgium etc.. - orders to the more militant socialist groups wouldn't come from LONDON....but from MOSCOW ;) Not much chance of getting them REAL aid and assistance - but at least getting them some level of direction.

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