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Malcolm Atkin Military Research
GHQ AUXILIARY UNITS
KEY QUOTES ON THEIR FORMATION
Many misconceptions have arisen over the origin and role of the GHQ Auxiliary Units through uncritical repetition of material from earlier works. Often, these did not include reference to source material and their conclusions could not be tested. Objective history has now been replaced by a romantic, now deep-seated, myth. The following are a selection of pertinent quotes from those men concerned with the initial foundation of the Auxiliary Units, and from modern historians. See also Citizen Army for a summary of evidence for the military status of both Home Guard and Auxiliary Units.
The reasoned conclusion is that the Auxiliary Units were not intended as a long-term national resistance to operate after occupation (the task of SIS) but rather as a short term military commando expedient around the coast, to assist regular forces during the anti-invasion campaign. Thus, for CO, Colin Gubbins they were 'a bonus, that's all' and for his GSO2, Peter Wilkinson they were not expected to survive 'the first few days of invasion'.
Laurence Grand, head of Section D, SIS
'as far as civilian obstruction was concerned, the organisation on which D officers had been forming was no longer necessary, and its place could now be taken by Auxiliary Units working openly and using as recruits uniformed LDVs'.
Section D Report VIII, July 1940: TNA HS 8/214. quoted in Atkin, Malcolm (2017), Section D for Destruction: forerunner of SOE
Nigel Oxenden, Intelligence Officer and Training Officer, Auxiliary Units
'..most officers were assisted by introductions to one or two men who had already been chosen by MI5 [sic - actually SIS, Section D] ... These were generally outstanding individuals, who eventually became group commanders. Meanwhile their local knowledge made them invaluable in finding the right recruits.' (Nigel Oxenden, Auxiliary Units History and Achievement 1940-44, p.2.
Colin Gubbins, 1st CO of Auxiliary Units
'Their role will be to take action against the flanks and rear of such forces as may obtain a temporary footing in this country …The personnel will consist of existing LDV volunteers and others who will be enrolled therein for the purpose… The raising of these special sub-units will be decided between the local military commander and the LDV commander.
[The Auxiliary Unit Intelligence Officer was to] work in the closest touch with the military commander and the LDV commander so as to assist in every possible way the selection, training and organisation of these sub-units, and the provision and storage of equipment.' Letter of Gubbins to LDV Area Commanders, 5 July 1940: TNA CAB 120/241. quoted in Atkin, Malcolm (2015), Fighting Nazi Occupation, p.69
'The object of the Auxiliary Units, Home Forces, on the fighting side, is to build up, within the general body of the Home Guards, a series of small local units whose role is to work offenseively on the flanks and in the rear of any German troops who may obtain a temporary foothold in this country.'
Auxiliary Units, Home Forces A. Organisation, July 1940: TNA CAB 120/241
'in order to ensure the necessary degree of secrecy, the sites of the dumps of special stores for these units are not disclosed except to the local leader, and the units are given the general title of 'Observation Units' to mask their real role. Secrecy beyond this degree would merely handicap efficiency.'
Auxiliary Units, Home Forces. Organisation, July 1940: TNA CAB 120/241
'They were something additional – don’t forget we hadn’t taken men from regular formations, but from depots. We were expendable. We were a bonus, that’s all.'
Gubbins, quoted in Pryce-Jones, David (1975), Britain’s Secret Resistance Movement, p.184
'they would have justified their existence … But my judgement is based heavily on the fact that they were costing the country nothing either in man-power or in weapons. … their usefulness would have been short-lived, at the longest until their stocks were exhausted, at the shortest when they were caught or wiped out. They were designed, trained and prepared for a particular and imminent crisis: that was their specialist role.'
Gubbins Private Papers, quoted in Wilkinson, Peter and Astley, Joan Bright (1993), Gubbins and SOE, p.74.
Peter Wilkinson, GSO2 Auxiliary Units (Organisation and Planning)
By mid-August 1940 a disillusioned Peter Wilkinson believed that, as the organisation expanded, it became ‘virtually a guerrilla branch of the Home Guard’.
Wilkinson, Peter (2002), Foreign Fields, p.104.
‘it was, in fact doubtful whether many of them would have survived the first few days of invasion’
Progress Report on Auxiliary Units for period ending 1 September 1940 by P. Wilkinson: TNA CAB 120/241
'Originally, there was a slight muddle in the concept because nobody could quite make up their minds whether we were trying to set up something for immediate action against the Germans in the event of an invasion. Or, whether we were trying also to set up a nucleus of an English secret … a British Secret Army. If it was the former, which I think was probably the idea of the War Office and probably GHQ Home Forces, the security was not a paramount consideration. On the other hand, if you were trying to produce a ‘long-term’ organisation, then obviously one had to deal with an entirely different sort of clandestine technique. I certainly in the initial stages, adhered to the latter. Gubbins, I think, was about half way in between. … The War Office, and indeed GHQ Home Forces, I believe, saw the thing in the early stages, in the former sense. '
Peter Wilkinson interview in S. Sutton, ‘Farmers or Fighters. Dissertation on the existence and function of Britain’s ‘secret army’. Auxiliary Units in southern England during 1940-44’. Unpublished BA dissertation 1995, Canterbury Christchurch College.
'at the very best they would have been a ‘flea-bite’ behind the enemy lines. They might have sown a certain amount of confusion and insecurity but they were never on a scale that could have been of any decisive importance. And, I think that in the cold light of reason, it is at least arguable, as many senior officers held, that they were not worth the effort that was put into them!'
Interview with Peter Wilkinson interview in S. Sutton, ‘Farmers or Fighters. Dissertation on the existence and function of Britain’s ‘secret army’. Auxiliary Units in southern England during 1940-44’. Unpublished BA dissertation 1995, Canterbury Christchurch College.
'I think that both Gubbins and I took a very realistic view of the limitations of Auxiliary Units and their very short –term nature. It was for this reason that before I left in November, 1940, I was, with Gubbins’ knowledge and approval, planning a sort of ‘inner-circle’ of specially selected members of Auxiliary Units who would be really secret and who might form the nucleus of a future Resistance Organisation if they survived the first month. I saw myself as the Chief of Staff of this super-secret organisation and had planned a secret hideout for myself whilst masquerading as an engineering apprentice at Rugby … But this plan had not gone beyond a pipe-dream by the time Gubbins and I left Auxiliary Units and I doubt if the concept would have been acceptable to Colonel Bill Major.'
Interview with Peter Wilkinson in S. Sutton, ‘Farmers or Fighters. Dissertation on the existence and function of Britain’s ‘secret army’. Auxiliary Units in southern England during 1940-44’. Unpublished BA dissertation 1995, Canterbury Christchurch College
‘any suggestion that Auxiliary Units could have provided a framework for long term underground resistance is, in my opinion, absurd.’
Wilkinson, Peter (2002), Foreign Fields, p.104
'Sir Peter [Wilkinson] told it like it was, obviously irritated by the myth of a secret society of ninja-like assassins that was becoming an accepted part of Aux Unit folklore.'
Ward, Arthur (2013), Churchill's Secret Defence Army, p.xxii.
General Paget, Chief of Staff, Home Forces
'The object of these fighting patrols is to provide within the general Home Guard organisation small units of men, specially selected and trained, whose role is to act offensively on the flanks and in the rear of any German troops who may obtain a temporary foothold in this country. These men, being members of the Home Guard, will of course fight in uniform... being a uniformed and properly organised body, it's members are in no way violating 'international law' even if fighting behind the advanced elements of the invading forces, where units of regular troops will also be fighting ...'
Letter of General Paget to Duncan Sandys, 30 July 1940: TNA CAB 120/241, quoted in Atkin, Malcolm (2015), Fighting Nazi Occupation, p.74
Duncan Sandys, Ministry of Defence
'They are intended to provide, within the framework of the Home Guard organisation, small bodies of men specially selected and trained, whose role will be to act offensively on the flanks and in the rear of any enemy troops who may obtain a foothold in this country. ... The other function of the Auxiliary Units is to provide a system of intelligence, whereby the regular forces in the field can be kept informed of what is hapening behind the enemy's lines.'
Report to Prime Minister by Duncan Sandys, 8 August 1940: TNA CAB 120/241. quoted in Atkin, Malcolm (2015), Fighting Nazi Occupation, p.74
'It was never intended that the Auxiliers were to compare with the men and women of the European resistance movements…[they] were seen only as a short-term, expendable, harassing force intended – with the blessing of the British High Command – to be of some useful influence in local battles.'
Warwicker, John (2008), Churchill’s Underground Army, p.82
'The term BRO [British Resistance Organization] is frequently used today, I think principally because it conjures up a 007 stereotype beloved of so many ‘secret war’ enthusiasts.'
Ward, Arthur (2013), Churchill's Secret Defence Army, p.xii
See the on-line article Myth and Reality: the Second World War Auxiliary Units, available to read online, or for download as a pdf, on Academia.edu
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