Malcolm Atkin BA, FSA, FRHistS, MCIFA
Projects on WW2 military history with a common theme of unravelling well-established mythology and establishing the context for plans to resist a Nazi invasion of Britain by clandestine means. 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. Topics includes the Home Guard and the Auxiliary Units, the organisation of the projected SIS British Resistance (including the first detailed account of Section VII - 'DB's organisation' - in 2015), the inter-relationship of the pioneering Section D of SIS and the War Office MI(R), and the politicking that led to the creation of SOE.
The work goes beneath the veneer of romanticism and un-sourced 'sound-bite' history that plagues such topics. It tests received wisdom and assumptions, often accompanied by a high emotional investment, that have distorted WW2 history. The conclusions are thought-provoking and will hopefully encourage research elsewhere. In 2022 long-disproved myths are still being circulated on-line and in print and risk being forever entrenched in popular memory.
This website was started simply to advertise my publications but I became aware many people assume they can more easily find the most up-to-date information on a topic via the internet - without realising the latter is littered with out-of-date text and ideas, endlessly re-circulated and repeated in chatrooms. The website now offers up-to-date information on the structure of British plans for guerrilla warfare and resistance in WW2 Britain. It includes case studies that expand on published research and strips away some of the mythology that has accumulated. This includes the much-misunderstood history of Auxiliary Units weaponry and revisits the contentious issue of whether the Home Guard and Auxiliary Units, whilst part of a 'citizen army', can be considered truly 'civilian'.
Follow the links at the top of page for further details.
COMING SOON! - May/June 2024
BRITAIN'S GUERRILLA ARMY
PLANS FOR SECRET WAR 1939-45
The most comprehensive account published to date of Britain's complex plans, both official and unofficial to fight a secret war in the event of Nazi invasion - and how this differed from what Britain was prepared to promote abroad. At the core of this was the battle between the concepts of civilian and military engagement in a total war. This builds on the 2015 Fighting Nazi Occupation and subsequent research to unravel the entwined efforts of the Secret Intelligence Service and War Office to prepare for a Nazi invasion. The crucial role of SIS is revealed throughout while the analysis of the role of the now-famous Auxiliary Units is challenging to modern preconceptions.
To be Published by Pen & Sword, 2024.
SECTION D FOR DESTRUCTION:
FORERUNNER OF SOE AND 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.
The first edition of this book (published in 2017) was the first major publication of the work of Section D. This updated edition was published in November 2023 by Pen & Sword. It contains expanded texts on the Technical Section and the relationship of Section D to the Auxiliary Units.
NO SCRUPLES, FEW MORALS:
THE ANARCHISTS OF BRITISH INTELLIGENCE
A short article in Aspects of History, Issue 20, providing a short introduction to the breadth and innovation of the work of Section D from 1938-1940.
Available from www.aspectsofhistory.com
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.
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 and fully-referenced, of the GHQ Auxiliary Units and their Special Duties Branch, forensically cutting through the mythology that this was the 'British Resistance Organisation'. The book also contains the first in-depth publication of the shadowy SIS resistance organisation (known only as Section VII or 'DB's organisation'), with hitherto unpublished documentary evidence. 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, from Section D of SIS, an infant intelligence-gathering wing (which was converted into body that monitored the British population). 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 and Citizen Army provide primary evidence from the original leaders of the Auxiliary Units on the nature of the organisation while Aux Units Thompsons is a case study in the the ease with which a legend of its weaponry has been perpetuated. Aux Units Weapons summarises the chronology of weapons supply with some surprising conclusions. See also the Wireless Sets page for details on the TRD set.
First published online in 2016
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.
The published books are supported by a number of on-line texts, hosted on https://independent.academia.edu/MalcolmAtkin as pdf files. Two of the most popular downloads are Myth and Reality: the Second World War Auxiliary Units (now also available HERE) and Appendix 2 of Section D for Destruction, which provided the first comprehensive list of the officers and agents of Section D. A new edition will be uploaded in October 2023. Coming soon is also a new study of the use of .22 rifles in the Home Guard and Auxiliary Units.
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 but they must be interpreted with care. 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.
Other images have been reinterpreted in the post-war period 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.