Malcolm Atkin BA, FSA, FRHistS, MCIFA
Welcome to my website, which outlines a series of linked projects on WW2 military history and their publication. The work arose out of an initial study of the GHQ Auxiliary Units and developed into a broader study of the Home Guard and the inter-relationship of early war British Intelligence organisations, which eventually led to the creation of SOE. The studies share a common theme of unraveling, and explaining, the mythology and mis-representation that has grown up over the past 80 years in both words and images - of the Home Guard and the Auxiliary Units, the organisation of the projected SIS British Resistance, the inter-relationship of the pioneering Section D of SIS and the War Office MI(R), and the background to the creation of SOE. The work seeks to go beneath the veneer of romanticism that surrounds such topics. It tests the received wisdom and assumptions, often accompanied by a high emotional investment, that have distorted their history. A current project shows how the innovative thinking of the early war years translated into the development of British Special Forces.
FIGHTING NAZI OCCUPATION:
PLANNING FOR BRITISH RESISTANCE 1939 -1945
Ground-breaking study of the complex network of organisations that evolved to combat any Nazi invasion of Britain and to provide the basis of a long term resistance movement. This is set within the context of a battle between the Secret Intelligence Service and the War Office for the control of irregular warfare. The book contains the most detailed analysis published to date, based on original documentary sources, of the organisation of the GHQ Auxiliary Units and their Special Duties Branch, together with the first in-depth publication of the shadowy SIS resistance organisation (known only as Section VII or 'DB's organisation'). The significance of the Home Guard industrial sabotage units and the innovative guerrilla school at Osterley Park is also considered.
Published by Pen & Sword, 2015
MYTH AND REALITY:
THE SECOND WORLD WAR AUXILIARY UNITS
One of the modern myths of WW2 history is that the operational patrols of the GHQ Auxiliary Units were the 'British Resistance Organisation' and a romantic 'Last Ditch' of the nation's defence. In reality, it was a hastily-constructed scheme to provide a military, uniformed, commando force based around the Home Guard, and which accidentally acquired an infant intelligence-gathering wing (which was converted into body that monitored the British population) from Section D of SIS. Myth and Reality, first published on-line in 2016, summarises the process by which this myth arose and still persists as a modern marketing tool and media sound-bite. The romance of the Auxiliary Units and their secret 'hides' or 'operational bases' tends to be more attractive than the objective facts.The theme was expanded in To The Last Man in 2019 (see below). Key Quotes also provides primary evidence from the original leaders of the Auxiliary Units on the true nature of the organisation. See also the Wireless Sets page for details on the TRD set.
First published online in 2016
SECTION D FOR DESTRUCTION:
FORERUNNER OF SOE
Section D, formed in April 1938, secretly went to war in March 1939 and, operating across over twenty countries, providing the inspiration for the Auxiliary Units and SOE. The subject of frequent complaints by contemporaries who disliked this new form of warfare, its officers were described as men 'without morals or scruples'. Political in-fighting and jealousies at the time has led to a considerable under-appreciation of their role and achievements. Also included is new documentary evidence on the relationship of the Home Defence Scheme of Section D to the Auxiliary Units. This is the first major publication of the work of Section D.
Published by Pen & Sword, 2017.
TO THE LAST MAN:
THE HOME GUARD IN WAR AND POPULAR CULTURE
The Home Guard was a key, if suicidal, element of the defences of Britain in 1940-1 and thereafter took on increasing responsibilities for air and coastal defence. During the war, the image of the Home Guard was carefully managed but was already creating its own myths. In the post-war period, the myth began to overtake reality and has had both a fundamental impact on the nature of research into the Home Guard and its specialist Auxiliary Units. This publication continues the re-examination of the roles of the Home Guard and Auxiliary Units, and dissects their image in popular culture. It also reassesses the scheme for the private donation of arms from the USA. and the role of women in the Home Guard. Also included is a study of the near-forgotten 1950s Home Guard.
Published by Pen & Sword, 2019.
PIONEERS OF IRREGULAR WARFARE:
THE MILITARY INTELLIGENCE RESEARCH DEPARTMENT
IN THE SECOND WORLD WAR
A history of the innovative work in irregular warfare undertaken by Joe Holland and the secret Military Intelligence (Research) department (MI(R)) of the War Office. This was not a body that was primarily concerned with conducting operations, but Holland established a key doctrine that led to the creation of the commandos and SAS, and even predicted the use of helicopters for the next generation of Special Forces. A central feature of the book is the relationship of Jo Holland to one of his deputies, Colin Gubbins (a future head of the Auxiliary Units and SOE), and how the ambition of the latter impacted on the relationship of MI(R) to SIS. The reputation of Gubbins as a pioneer of irregular warfare is dissected, with conclusions that may be surprising.
Published by Pen & Sword, 2021.
Work in progress continues the story of MI(R) into the Special Operations of WW2, tracing the practical application of the doctrine of Jo Holland. British Special Operations in the Second World War: by stealth and guile considers the strategic impact of the multiplicity of special forces that mushroomed during the Second World War. Focussed on the campaigns in Europe and the Middle East, itt outlines the origins and role of forces such as the Commandos, Long Range Desert Group and Special Air Service, telling their story through key operations and, in an echo of earlier tensions, explaining the partnership / rivalry between Combined Operations and SOE.
(for publication in January 2023).
I have a long-standing interest in the development of 20th century war photography and its cameras. The images taken by the brave and determined men and women, who went to war with a camera, have had a major impact in shaping our understanding of conflict. Some images reflect the honesty of a captured moment in time but others were carefully constructed for propaganda purposes at a time when all published photographs were subject to censorship. In other images, the original context has been lost and have been reinterpreted to match current preconceptions of the era. For an introduction to the topic, with a focus on the work of the Second World War AFPU, see HERE.