View Full Version : Britains secret army

01-22-2006, 03:47 AM
The Auxiliary Units or British Resistance Organisation in World War 2 - 1940-1944.

"Auxiliary Units" was the innocuous codename given to a force of civilian volunteers intended to carry out sabotage, guerrilla warfare and spying from behind the enemy lines in the event of a successful German invasion of the British Isles during World War 2.

They are also connected with the only MI (once up to 20 MI branches now only MI5 and MI6 are commonly remembered) branch not to be designated by a number refered to as MI (R). More and more info is coming to light about these unknown warriors who, often, met with dirision being fit men, capable of being called up but forced to stay at home carring out mundane tasks - even the bovvy boys (conscripted miners) had more kudos!!!

Following the fall of France in May 1940, Winston Churchill ordered Colonel Colin Gubbins (later to "set Europe ablaze" in SOE) to create a force of civilian volunteers, recruited primarily from the ablest Home Guard personnel, to operate from secret underground bases located behind the enemy lines of occupation.

Initially, Gubbins was aided in this by a few "Intelligence Officers" responsible for setting up fighting patrols of six to eight men, led by a Sergeant and co-ordinated by a local commander, usually a Lieutenant or Captain, in their designated regions.

The organisation consisted of 3 main groups Fighting Patrols, Special Duties and Signals.

Ideal recruits were countrymen, farmers, foresters and gamekeepers although eventually all occupations, factory and office workers and students were represented. The main requirements were fitness, knowledge of their own areas and an ability to be trained in the necessary skills for guerrilla warfare.

Volunteers were uniformed for cover as "Home Guard", latterly being absorbed into one of three "GHQ Special Reserve Battalions" with the distinctive numbers of 201 (Scotland and the North) 202 (The Midlands) and 203 (Southern Counties)

Final numbers were in excess of 3000, located mainly in coastal areas but covering the whole of the British Isles.

They created underground O.Bs (Operational Bases or bunkers) from which to carry out attacks and acts of sabotage against enemy targets (supply dumps, railway lines, convoys and enemy occupied airfields) in the event of over run. Their stores were also kept in such bunkers.

In 1940, Britain was at her most vulnerable, and a successful German invasion at that time was considered highly likely.

The Regular Forces, depleted in men and equipment after Dunkirk, may not have withstood an attack on the South Coast and would have withdrawn to the so-called "G.H.Q.Line" just south of London. The Auxiliary Units were intended to harry and disrupt the enemy supply and lines of communication to relieve some of the pressure on the opposing forces.

Operational stores and rations were sufficient for 14 days only - the anticipated useful life of the fighting patrols. Those auxiliers who survived this period would have reverted to their civilian occupations in the hope and anticipation of a successful British counter attack.

The Operational Bases were built, either by the Royal Engineers or by civilian contractors. They, and any curious locals were told that these were to be emergency food stores. Situated usually in dense woodland, these O'Bs were constructed of pre-formed corrugated iron segments, sunk into the ground with concrete pipe access and escape tunnels.

Ingenious methods were used to camouflage and operate the entrance trap doors. Accommodation included wooden bunks for the patrol members, heating, ventilation and ration and water stores. Explosives and ammunition were stored separately.

Most O.B's were destroyed at the end of the war, although the remains of many still exist throughout the country and have been identified by the "Defence of Britain" project.

Formed in May 1940 they were maintained until Stand Down in November 1944, despite the receding risk of invasion. Before D Day, additional Auxunits were deployed on the Isle of Wight in the event of a German counter invasion against the Overlord ports.

At the time of Stand Down, volunteers were told that "no public recognition would be possible due to the secret nature of their duties" and that, since no written records of service had been kept, they were not eligible for the Defence Medal. Subsequent events have shown this latter statement to be false and belated awards have been made to some auxiliers.

Concurrently, but entirely separate from the Fighting Patrols were the Special Duties personnel, men and women recruited secretly and intended to provide an intelligence gathering service, spying on and observing enemy formations and troop movements. They were provided with insignia recognition information and individual "Dead Letter" drops from which their intelligence reports would be collected.

A network of underground radio stations was established which, following a successful invasion would have been manned by men and women of the Royal Signals, who would transmit the intelligence gathered by the Special Duties to the Headquarters of the opposing forces.
Their operational bases were similar in construction to those of the Auxunits, with the addition of electricity generators for their radio equipment.

Highworths' Fertilizers catalogues

do their stuff unseen - until you see results!
This was printed on a booklet resembling an agricultural catalogue, issued to all Auxunit volunteers. Its innocent title covered a handbook on explosives, timing devices and suitable sabotage targets. Selected recruits would be sent to Highworth, Wilts, where, after reporting to the then Postmistress, they would be collected and taken to nearby Coleshill House, their secret H.Q. for a weekends training in fieldcraft, sabotage and unarmed combat, before returning to their patrols to pass on this training.

A museum situated in Parham, Suffolk, where a group of enthusiasts have set up a museum dedicated to the 390th. Bomber Group, U.S. Air Force that operated there during the war. The land is owned by the Kindred family, who were members of an Auxunit patrol in the area, and an adjoining museum has now been created to honour the British Resistance Organisation. This contains many artefacts relating to the Auxiliary Units and has an extensive amount of archive material. A replica Operational Bases is under construction. The museum collection is superior to that in the Special Forces section of the Imperial War Museum.

Most of the above taken from http://www.warlinks.com/pages/auxiliary.html

01-22-2006, 03:49 AM
Further info from

The Auxiliary Units (or Auxunits) were specially trained highly secret units created with the aim of resisting the expected invasion of the British Isles by Nazi Germany during World War II. Britain was the only country during the war to create such a resistance movement in advance of an invasion.

The units (occasionally known as the British Resistance Organisation) were initiated by Winston Churchill, who appointed Major Colin Gubbins (an expert in guerrilla warfare who would later head up the Special Operations Executive), to found them, attached to GHQ Home Forces. They were concealed within the Home Guard.

Approximately 5000 units were formed, consisting of Special Duty Sections, Signals and Operational Patrols. Auxiliary Unit members were vetted by a senior local police chief (who, according to sealed orders given to the Operational Patrols to be opened only in case of invasion, were allegedly to be assassinated to prevent the membership of the Auxiliary Units being revealed).

The units were stood down only in 1944. Their existence did not generally become known by the public until the 1990s. Several of their members subsequently joined the Special Air Service and saw action in France in late 1944.

Special Duty Sections and Signals
The Special Duty Sections were largely recruited from the civilian population, with around 4000 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. From these they 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 4 and 8 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 3500 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, 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 sniper's rifle and Fairbairn-Sykes "commando" knives, quantities of plastic explosive, incendiary devices, and food to last for two weeks. It was not expected that they would survive for longer. 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.

See also
Special Operations Executive
British military history of World War II
British military history
special forces
Further reading:

A. Ward. Resisting the Nazi Invader (Constable, 1997)
Stewart Angell. The Secret Sussex Resistance. (Middleton Press) ISBN 1873793820
Roger Ford. Fire from the Forest (Orion, 2004), ISBN 0304363367
Donald Brown. "Somerset versus Hitler" (Countryside Books, 2001) ISBN 1853065900
John Warwicker. With Britain in Mortal Danger: Britain's Most Secret Army of WWII ISBN 1841451126

External links
Auxunit News: Record of the Auxiliary Units 1940 - 1944
Photos of UK World War 2 Invasion Defences - includes Aux Unit hideouts
Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auxiliary_Units"

nom de guerre
02-21-2006, 07:51 PM
Very interesting stuff.

It's also interesting to note that, according to a book titled 'Fire From the Forest' by Roger Ford, these AU's were later heavily recruited by the SAS as they tried to increase their ranks. According to this book, the AU's, while still an entity, was a shell of it's original self after the threat of invasion passed and remained that way until the Stand down.

08-26-2006, 10:06 AM
John Warwickers book, 'With Britain in Mortal Danger', is an excellent read.