AUX. UNITS WEAPONS - 1941

1941

There was still a real chance of invasion but Home Forces had increased significantly in strength and the War Office did not feel so reliant on  the expedient of irregular warfare. Ironically it was now that the Auxiliary Units began to be equipped for a longer term organisational future.

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No.74 ST Grenade ('Sticky bomb')

 

No.74  ST Grenade ('Sticky Bomb')

Another weapon claimed by Lampe as being first used by the Auxiliary Units (p.78) without clear evidence, although their issue here does seem to precede the Home Guard. The ‘Sticky Bomb’ as it became popularly known had been under development by MI(R) since early 1940 and consisted of a glass sphere containing 1.25lb (0.57kg)  of nitro-glycerin and covered in a sticky stockinette, which was in turn encased in a protective sheet metal casing. When the user pulled a pin on the handle of the grenade, its casing would fall away. Pulling another pin would arm the grenade and upon being thrown, a lever was released on the handle that activated a five-second fuse.  It was a short-range weapon best used from ambush positions, the idea being to stick the glass sphere against the target - but one risk was that the sticky cover could easily stick to the thrower’s clothing. Originally designed by MI(R) specifically  for clandestine warfare, in early June 1940 Eden stressed in terms approaching panic that new anti-tank grenades for Home Defence were ‘vitally urgent and should be available in very large quantities. Churchill also leapt in to specifically demand to know why there was  a ‘great sloth’ completing the ST Bomb and demanded a report every three days. To Churchill’s annoyance, they could not be produced in any quantity until May 1941. Delays had been caused by the realisation that the prototypes would not stick to the side of a dirty tank! With the threat of invasion passing, most of the early production was sent to the 8th Army in North Africa, where it was used to some good effect. Some were also supplied to the Auxiliary Units around this time. The Home Guard only began to receive small quantities from July 1941. Between 1941 and 1943, approximately 2.5 million were produced and although the majority eventually came into Home Guard service, it continued to be used successfully in North Africa and Italy, and by the Australian Army during the New Guinea campaign.  One curious detail is that the syllabus for the Auxiliary Units weekend course on 4 September 1940 included a demonstration on ‘the effect of the sticky bomb’ as a taster for what was expected at the time to arrive shortly. This much the same as the demonstration weapons held well before general issue by the Denbies Home Guard School.

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Probably the earliest photo of a Thompson sub-machine gun in British service - and it is not the Auxiliary Units!

Officer of 52nd Highland Division, France, June 1940.

Thompson sub-machine gun

In 1944 Training Officer and Auxiliary Units historian Nigel Oxenden, in describing the  three phases of  the history of the Auxiliary Units declared ‘In  1940 there was  ‘a blaze of wild priority’ when, under the threat of imminent invasion he believed  they could get whatever they wanted’ .  Why then did it not get the Thompson sub-machine gun as Gubbins had pressed for when forming the Independent Companies in July 1940? Did they actually want it?

The Thompson M1928A1  sub-machine gun, firing a .45ACP round from a 20 or 30 straight magazine or a 50 round drum magazine,  began to be supplied to the British army in small numbers during January/February 1940, seeing  service in the battle for France in reconnaissance units and ‘fighting patrols’.. The ‘Phantom’ reconnaissance unit had one in each of their scout cars  after being re-deployed to Britain in June 1940 and they were used in the first commando raid in July. It is  therefore inexplicable how Lampe in 1968  could claim that the Auxiliary Units were the first to receive the weapon in British service – and even more remarkable that the myth is still repeated in 2022.  It is particularly curious that, although Colin Gubbins was a source for The Last Ditch, he had managed to acquire Thompsons for the deployment of the Independent Companies to Norway in May 1940 – not long  before taking command of the Auxiliary Units. Some of the army 'battle patrols' that formed the core of XII Corps Observation Unit were issued with the Thompson after Peter Fleming took charge and it may be that this was a source of the legend. It should, however be noted that these were battle-hardened troops from the West Surrey Regiment and an issue to them was in line with the earlier issue of Thompsons to 'fighting patrols' of the BEF. Although the March 1941 War Establishment for the HQ of the Auxiliary Units includes 5 Thompsons (presumably for training purposes), received at the same time as the issue to the Home Guard,  the  training notes for March 1941 still only mention the BAR, suggesting the Thompson had not yet been issued to the Home Guard  patrols. The latter did not receive an issue of Thompsons until May 1941 at the earliest – two months after they began to be supplied to the rest of the Home Guard. The Grange, Banffshire, patrol did not exchange their BAR for a Thompson until September 1942.

 

A sub-machine gun was not a priority at this stage in Auxiliary Units history and at least one patrol refused to have one.  The primary  role of the  operational patrols in 1940-1  was to be able to quietly enter and leave a target, unencumbered with heavy equipment,  and they were not expected to get into a firefight. They had their handguns as a last resort for personal protection and the  cumbersome, but longer range,  BAR for fire support at the rear  to cover a retreat if necessary. Nonetheless, from mid-1941  each patrol of 8 men was issued with a Thompson (later slowly replaced by the Sten gun). In one sense this was establishing parity with the infantry standard in 1941 of issuing one per section of 10 men. 

The Home Guard and Auxiliary Units received the M1928 A1 model of the Thompson.  A cache of weapons hidden in a well in Cheshire during  1943 that included an M1A1 Thompson may well have been from a cache of Section VII.