HOME GUARD GUERRILLAS
1943 London Home Guard in urban warfare camouflage. Armed with an M1928 A1 Thompson sub-machine gun. Ths tough-looking, well-armed. Home Guard is very different from the popular image promoted by the TV series Dad's Army.
3rd Pattern Fairbairn-Sykes (top) and Southern and Richardson (bottom) fighting knives.
An April 1943 article in Parade, repackaged a January 1943 article from Picture Post, describing a training course organised by 28 Bn, London Home Guard. Describing the use of camouflage and ambush hides, the articles proclaimed the role of the Home Guard 'To snipe, harass and kill an enemy at every turn, from hedges, trees, wall, windows, slag heaps, rubbish heaps, that is the intention: continuous killing and the invader never seeing the defender'.
By 1943, however, the War Office was trying to downplay any guerrilla role of the Home Guard. The invasion threat had largely disappeared and the priority now was for the Home Guard to take over regular army guard and ant-aircraft duties from troops training for D Day.
In the more desperate days of 1940, propagandists had promoted, internationally, Tom Wintringham's exhortations for guerrilla warfare, as a means of convincing the Nazis that any invasion of Britain would be more difficult and costly than anything they had faced previously. Around 5,000 potential guerrillas were trained by the Osterley Home Guard Training School and students were then sent back into the regions to extend their knowledge base to others. Even officers from the regular army were discretely sent here to observe this new form of training.
The approach of Osterley was uncompromising. Students were advised to file their bullets into illegal 'dum-dums'; to bury their uniforms and blend back into the local community; to fight on with revolvers and explosives in secret teams of 2 - 3; trained to destroy ammunition dumps and poison wells. This was an aggressive approach: 'Since offence is the best form of defence, operations against such units must be carried into areas which may be overrun by the enemy'. Wintringham also warned 'Remember that the guerrilla has to work like a ghost'. Some of this is similar to what was taught to the Auxiliary Units (whose training in 1940 was arguably not much more than was taught at Osterley). There are, however, two key differences. There was an expectation that the guerrillas would fight on without uniform and therefore the protection of international law. The course also made virtue out of necessity and students were taught how to make home-made explosives and time delay devices. This had the advantage on not making the guerrillas reliant on official supplies, meaning that they could continue their sabotage after any enemy occupation. This was exactly the methodology that SIS promoted in encouraging European resistance movements. The contents of 'Yank' Levy's Guerrilla Warfare also suggests that they were taught techniques of longer-term resistance, including those of non-cooperation, underground newspapers and graffiti campaigns.
The concern of MI5 (though not necessarily SIS - whose Section D was described as being without morals or scruples) was that such techniques of underground warfare, taught by ex-members of the Communist Party and spread beyond official controls, might be used against the State in the future (see Socialism and the HG). For the War Office Osterley presented the risk of the Home Guard developing beyond its control and weakening its strategic focus on static defence. As a result, the Osterley School was closed down as soon as the immediate invasion threat declined in October 1940. Its successor at Denbies was instructed not to court the same degree of public attention for its methods.
With the media lauding of the new Commandos, many Home Guard sought to share in some of their reflected aura and created its own local 'commando' units from some of its younger and fitter volunteers. Several of these units were trained in the real commando schools or by local army PT instructors. As a mark of their status, some such units wore distinctive lanyards and all sought a version of the iconic commando fighting knife. As many of the Home Guard were in reserved occupations in the engineering sector - some simply made their own out of industrial hacksaw blades or cut-down WW1 bayonets! The Fairbairn Sykes knives themselves were soon put on public sale and Sheffield cutlers also made their own versions to meet demand. By the end of the war, the now mass-produced 3rd Pattern FS knife was being widely sold in regimental stores as a prestige item. The discovery of an old 'commando' knife in a dusty attic might therefore have a complicated story to tell!
This is indeed a very different picture of the Home Guard than that presented by TV's Dad's Army. Think Captain Wintringham rather than Captain Mainwaring!