GHQ AUXILIARY UNITS
Over the past 70 years a wide range of myths have grown up around the Auxiliary Units and these have become fossilised in the historical recording and have taken on an emotional attachment. The problem is not least on internet sites, where descriptions are 'cut and pasted' from one account to the next
The Auxiliary Units are popularly labelled as the 'British Resistance Organisation' or a 'last ditch' movement. Virtually any media story will automatically describe them as such and as such it has become an advertising and marketing label. This is a fundamentally flawed concept – which is not to downplay in any way the contribution to defending the country that its volunteers were prepared to make. One problem is that there are three stories to be told of the Auxiliary Units history - the official view of their role, what the Intelligence Officers told their men, and how this was interpreted by the volunteers. Before the release of primary documents from The National Archives, early researchers were perhaps too ready to accept the vision of local volunteers, who themselves were influenced by the rash of books and stories highlighting the work of the continental resistance organisations. Fundamentally, a distinction must be made between organisations designed to operate in a military capacity during an active anti-invasion campaign and those who would mount resistance after occupation. This distinction was explained in Fighting Nazi Occupation (2015), where the history of the Auxiliary Units is presented in detail, and was a theme returned to in To The Last Man (2019) and Secret Warriors (forthcoming 2021)
Sometimes the Auxiliary Units are even claimed to be the first 'resistance' movement that was created before a Nazi invasion of that country. This nationalist perspective ignores the much earlier plans for Czech and Polish resistance, which provided inspirations for Section D of SIS and MI(R) as well as the operations of SIS in Belgium and Norway. D for Destruction: forerunner of SOE (2017) shows how the 'blueprint' for the multi-layered British resistance and guerrilla system relied heavily on precedents set in Poland and Czechoslovakia, as well as planning for the occupation of, among other countries, Norway and Greece.
The founders of the Auxiliary Units, Colin Gubbins and Peter Wilkinson, were both clear that the organisation was only intended as a short-term expedient to hinder the movement of the invasion army away from the coast (it was not a national organisation). The Auxiliary Units were a military expedient to operate as uniformed commandos within what was anticipated to be a month-long campaign, rather than an attempt to create an organised resistance organisation to operate under enemy occupation. Gubbins concluded that the Auxiliary Units were 'designed, trained and prepared for a particular and imminent crisis: that was their specialist role.’ He added, ‘We were expendable. We were a bonus, that’s all.’ Peter Fleming of XII Corps Observation Unit concluded that their life expectancy would be around 48 hours. After the initial fear of invasion in 1940 dissipated, the Auxiliary Units survived largely through bureaucratic inertia as the War office did not know what to do with the volunteers, who had been promised that they would not be returned to normal Home Guard duties. As their anti-invasion role dissipated, the interest of the men was maintained by delivery of an increasing range of weaponry, which reassured them of their status. Thus the main order for the famous .22 sniper rifles with silencers and telescopic sights - in themselves pretty useless as a sniper rifle (although also offered to SOE) - were only issued in 1942, well after a realistic prospect of invasion had passed. Similarly it was only in 1942 the the decision was made to build underground hides for the Special Duties Branch IN Stations.
Much of the modern romance surrounding the Auxiliary Units surround their use of secret underground 'hides' or 'operational bases'. These provide an element of fascinating mystery that have distorted an objective analysis of the role and significance of the Auxiliary Units. Yet, despite their carefully- constructed secret trap doors and escape tunnels, post-war exercises in Germany in 1973 (involving 23 SAS) suggested that such hides could be located in jless than an hour by sniffer dogs (see HERE).
The Auxiliary Units were not, therefore, the 'last ditch' of Britain's defence by the simple fact that they were intended to support a still active British field army - buying valuable time for the latter to regroup and, in General Thorne's view at least, to cover the flanks of a British counter-attack. Their potential as a resistance organisation was discussed - and dismissed - at the time as this was not the task of the War Office. The actual British Resistance, organised by the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS ask MI6) was organised on a very different basis but has remained largely unknown (see HERE).
An on-line article explaining the development of the mythology that gave rise to the mistaken assumption that the romanticised Auxiliary Units were the 'British Resistance Organisation'.
Quotes from tose involved in the formation of the Auxiliary Units that explains the purpose of the organisation.
SEE ALSO ...
FIGHTING NAZI OCCUPATION: BRITISH RESISTANCE IN THE SECOND WORLD WAR
Ground-breaking study of the complex network of secret organisations designed to combat any Nazi invasion of Britain The book contains the most detailed modern analysis of the organisation of the GHQ Auxiliary Units and their Special Duties Branch, based on newly-released documents in The National Archives.
Published in 2015 by Pen & Sword
TO THE LAST MAN: THE HOME GUARD IN WAR AND POPULAR CULTURE
Chapter Four - 'The Secret Home Guard' builds on 'Myth and Reality' in discussing the role of the Auxiliary Units Operational patrols.
Published in 2019 by Pen & Sword
THE MILITARY INTELLIGENCE (RESEARCH) DEPARTMENT
IN THE SECOND WORLD WAR
Contains a new appraisal of the role of MI(R) and Colin Gubbins in the formation of the Auxiliary Units.
To be published by Pen & Sword in late 2021