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AUX. UNITS WEAPONS 1942

By 1942 the threat of invasion was rapidly diminishing and, in searching for a new purpose to prevent disbandment,  the Auxiliary Units were now tasked with acting as reconnaissance patrols to the Home Guard in hunting down potential ‘spoiling raids’ by German raiders.  They were ill-prepared for this role, lacking the fundamental requirement of wireless sets to communicate intelligence of enemy movements back  to army commands. Morale was beginning to suffer in the Auxiliary Units as they sensed a drift of purpose. One way of compensating for that was to issue new weapons that seemed to recognise their special status.

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Sten Mk II (bottom) and the simplified  Mk III (top). Both versions were issued to the Home Guard and Auxiliary Units.  

Sten gun

The  Sten gun, firing a 9mm round from a 32 round magazine cost just £3  compared to the price of $225 paid for each US Thompson sub-machine gun. It was a simple blowback design, weighing just 6.5lb and  at one point a single factory was producing 20,000 per week. Despite its reputation for misfires (largely due to faults in the magazines or poor handling)  and accidental discharges, the  Sten became the standard sub-machine gun of the British army and an iconic weapon of European resistance movements.  An early myth was that it was specifically designed for the Home Guard – possibly because the crudity of what was nicknamed the ‘Plumber’s Nightmare’ (some made by Lines Bros – the Triang toy company), seemed to be the vein of the rushed designs of sub-artillery that became particularly associated with the Home Guard.

 

The  issue of the Sten gun to the Home Guard  from March 1942, just a few months after its first issue to the regular army,  was taken as a final sign of the acceptance of the Home Guard by the military establishment. Eventually distribution reached a ratio of one per six men. The Auxiliary Units were progressively issued with the Sten gun as their Thompsons were withdrawn. The Home Guard and Auxiliary Units  were issued with both the Mk II version and the simplified Mk III, which could be produced from just five man-hours of work and comprised only 47 different parts. 

 

The Auxiliary Units did not receive any of the silenced Mk 2 Sten guns

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Silenced .22 Rifles 

In June 1940 there were over 7,000 .22 calibre rifles privately owned by Home Guard members.  During the Second World War the War Office purchased thousands of .22 calibre rifles to use as short range training rifles for the forces, including the Home Guard. These avoided the use of expensive .303 or .300 ammunition whilst providing experience in a bolt action in rifle as used on service rifles.  They came from the stocks of British gun dealers, from the USA through the Lend-Lease scheme or by direct purchase from the US manufacturers. In all, 47,400 .22 calibre  rifles of all models were successfully shipped to the British Empire (excluding Canada) between 1941 and 1945 under the Lend Lease Act of March 1941 alone. 

 

Both scopes and sound moderators ('silencers') were  commercially available pre-war and examples of both on 22 rifles are found within the Home Guard ('silencers' being used to reduce noise in indoor ranges). But by the end of 1941, with over 874,000 .300 and .303 calibre service rifles now in the hands of the Home Guard, together with over 26,000 sub-machine guns and 43,000 machine guns, the significance of the .22 calibre rifle in the Home Guard armoury had massively diminished and only 2,541 .22 calibre rifles were now  tallied in their monthly returns. In 1940 the Auxiliary Units similarly unofficially acquired .22 rifles with scopes and sound moderators yet it was only in March 1942 that the Auxiliary Units were officially issued with what has become perhaps their most iconic weapon. These have been seen as evidence of a ‘sinister’ assassination function - something  that maverick Section D / Auxiliary Units Intelligence Officer John Todd did indeed mention when giving  a .22 rifle to one of his hybrid units in Wales in 1940. The fact that there was not an official issue of 'silenced'  .22 rifles until 1942 suggest this was not considered a priority. The legend was greatly encouraged by David Lampe in The Last Ditch in 1968. Describing them as a 'powerful' weapon, he claimed that such rifles, despite their small bore, had a range of up to a mile. In fact, their accurate range was just 100 yards and the Auxiliers were tested in competitions at only 20 yards. The myth of the one mile range derived from the warning on the packs of cartridges that they were ‘dangerous to one mile’ – this being their maximum duration in flight. Their reputation was enhanced by the publication of a supposed illustration from an OSS manual showing a Winchester 74 with No.42 scope and sound moderator described as being used by SOE and linking them also to the Auxiliary Units  Unfortunately this illustration was a modern construct and no evidence has been found for this particular  rifle’s use  in OSS or SOE. Neither OSS or SOE  used .22 rifles as a sniper rifle but rather  (as did the Auxiliary Units) to shoot ‘for the pot’. 

If a .22 rifle was used as a sniper rifle, it was vital to engage the target at as  short a range as possible, as a guaranteed kill with a head shot on a human, so immediate that they could not cry out a warning, had many variables including range and angle.  The best chance with a bolt action rifle was a shot through the eye socket. A semi-automatic rifle (such as the Winchester 74) offered the alternative of a ‘double tap’ to the heart – presupposing the target was not wearing a heavy greatcoat  and other equipment).  Auxiliary Units patrols were expected to operate at night and were trained to avoid even stepping on a dry twig to maintain silence.  In these conditions, the suppressed .22 calibre rifles could not guarantee a quick, silent, kill on a human wearing a steel helmet and wrapped in a thick greatcoat, who might not be directly facing the shooter. The firm advice from SOE on the use of its .22 pistols for assassination was that they should be pressed against the skull of the target.  It is important to realise that the contemporary sound moderator was not a true 'silencer' of movie legend. At best,  the ‘silenced’ rifle might be able to confuse the enemy  as to where the shots might be coming from, with the sound masked or bounced around by solid objects. The use of such a rifle as an assassination weapon on a sabotage mission would therefore have been a last resort only if an attacker could not get close enough to use the more reliable knife or garrotte.   Auxilier Bob Millward was realistic about their chances of success with a .22 calibre rifle. 'Two of us were rifle club members so 100 yds with target sights was standard. Rabbits at 75 yds with a scope was also a familiar shot. However, these were shots taken at leisure and under no stress. We practised in a quarry at about 100 yards and with a scope I could make a head shot in twilight conditions BUT no stress, a still target and a comfortable firing position. A sentry is not going to be standing in the open with the moon behind him'. They would have been more use against targets such as guard or search dogs and consequently some Auxiliers carried one while on duty at  the Observation Posts that guarded their buried Operational Bases.

 

Some of the thousands  of .22 rifles purchased  by the Ministry of Supply as training rifles had been delivered with scopes but there was no  general use for these in the forces. The Auxiliary Units were one potential way of finding a use at a time when morale was suffering and a new weapon that had an echo of a military sniper might provide a boost.  In March 1942 Parker Hale were therefore contracted to fit 'silencers' to 600 .22  rifles already supplied to Auxiliary Units HQ but not yet delivered to the patrols.  Some of these were already been factory-fitted with scopes, although Training Officer considered these unnecessary and unreliable. These rifles  were a miscellany of Remington snd Winchester models and the only specific model referenced in surviving documents is the Winchester 69 – which might therefore be taken as being common.  A small number were given the semi-automatic Winchester 74 'cobbled up' with a No.42 artillery scope but this lacked any means of accurate correction.  Meanwhile the army  Scout Patrols of the Auxiliary Units had been equipped with the standard .303 sniper rifle with scope but no 'silencer'. 

Such rifles had a practical use in 'shooting for the pot' which both allowed the men to supplement the wartime food ration and practice their stalking skills but in 1942 any serious intent for the rifle as an assassination weapon must be doubted although, if all the stories were to believed, the Auxiliary Units would have wiped out a significant proportion of the local police and army commands! The patrols already had better options available to them to reliably silence a sentry at close range.  It should also be noted that there is no evidence for any other interest in the supply of available silenced weapons such as the pre-war .22 Colt Woodman pistol, the SOE .22 Hi-Standard pistol, the .32 silenced Webley Scott 1908 pistol or the silenced 9mm Sten gun. Although in 1944 Oxenden recommended  the new silenced Welrod as the only weapon the patrols needed to carry, there is no evidence that this was implemented before the Auxiliary Units were disbanded.