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The Auxiliary Units or GHQ Auxiliary Units were specially trained, highly secret units created by the United Kingdom government during the Second World War, with the aim of resisting any eventual occupation of the United Kingdom by Nazi Germany, after a planned invasion which the Germans codenamed Operation Sea Lion. Having had the advantage of seeing the fall of several Continental nations, the United Kingdom was the only country during the war that was able to create such a resistance movement in advance of an invasion.

Winston Churchill (Prime Minister from 10 May 1940) initiated the units, sometimes referred to as a part of the British Resistance Organisation, in the early summer of 1940. He appointed Colonel Colin Gubbins to found them. The Auxiliary Units answered to GHQ Home Forces, but were organised as if part of the local Home Guard.

Gubbins, a regular British Army soldier, had acquired considerable experience and expertise in guerrilla warfare during the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War in 1919 and in the Anglo-Irish War of 1919-1921. Most recently, he had returned from Norway, where he headed the Independent Companies, the predecessors of the British Commandos. (In November 1940 Gubbins would move to the Special Operations Executive (SOE).[1])


Gubbins used several officers who had served with the Independent Companies in Norway, plus others he had known there. Units were localised on a county structure, as they would probably be fragmented and isolated from each other. Priority was given to the counties most at risk from enemy invasion, the two most vulnerable being Kent and Sussex in southeast England. The two best known officers from this period were Captain Peter Fleming of the Grenadier Guards and Captain Mike Calvert of the Royal Engineers. Fleming came from a famous banking family and was the elder brother of Ian Fleming. Calvert had recently served in the 5th Battalion, Scots Guards, which had been formed to fight as a ski-troop in Finland. Both of these men were too valuable to stay long, once the immediate threat of invasion was over, and both later served in Burma, Fleming in deception work, Calvert in the Chindits.

The 'combat units' were the Operational Patrols, but these were supported by Special Duty Sections, from the local civilian population. This group acted as the spotters for the action teams[Clarification needed]. In addition, a signals structure would attempt to link the isolated bands into a national network that could act in concert, on behalf of a British government-in-exile and its representatives still in the United Kingdom.

Some tales attached to the Auxiliary Units are of varying degrees of credibility. Members were supposedly vetted by a senior local police chief who was allegedly, according to sealed orders given to the Operational Patrols to be opened only in case of invasion, to be assassinated to prevent the membership of the Auxiliary Units being revealed.

The Auxiliary Units were kept in being long after any immediate Nazi threat had passed and were stood down only in 1944. Several Auxiliary Unit members later joined the Special Air Service. Many men saw action in the campaign in France in late 1944, notably in Operation Houndsworth and Operation Bulbasket.

The units' existence did not generally become known by the public until the 1990s, though a book on the subject was published in 1968.

Special Duty Sections and Signals

The Special Duties Sections were largely recruited from the civilian population, with around 4,000 members. They had been trained to identify vehicles, high-ranking officers and military units, and were to gather intelligence and leave reports in dead letter drops. The reports would be collected by runners and taken to one of over 200 secret radio transmitters operated by trained civilian Signals staff.

Operational Patrols

Auxiliary Units, Operational Base, emergency exit

Operational Patrols consisted of between four and eight men, often farmers or landowners and usually recruited from the most able members of the Home Guard, who also needed an excellent local knowledge and the ability to live off the land. As cover, the men were allocated to "Home Guard" battalions 201 (Scotland), 202 (northern England), or 203 (southern England) and provided with Home Guard uniforms, though they were not actually Home Guard units.

Around 3,500 such men were trained on weekend courses at Coleshill House near Highworth, Wiltshire, in the arts of guerrilla warfare including assassination, unarmed combat, demolition and sabotage. Recruits for Coleshill reported to the Highworth post office, from where the postmistress Mabel Stranks arranged for their collection.

Each Patrol was a self-contained cell, expected to be self-sufficient and operationally autonomous in the case of invasion, generally operating within a 15-mile radius. They were provided with a concealed underground Operational Base (OB), usually built by the Royal Engineers in a local woodland, with a camouflaged entrance and emergency escape tunnel; it is thought that 400 to 500 such OBs were constructed. Some Patrols had an additional concealed Observation Post. Patrols were also provided with a selection of the latest weapons including a silenced pistol or Sten Gun and Fairbairn-Sykes "commando" knives, quantities of plastic explosive, incendiary devices, and food to last for two weeks. Members anticipated being shot if they were captured, and were expected to shoot themselves first rather than be taken alive.

The mission of the units was to attack invading forces from behind their own lines while conventional forces fell back to the last-ditch GHQ Line. Aircraft, fuel dumps, railway lines, and depots were high on the list of targets, as were senior German officers. Patrols secretly reconnoitred local country houses, which might be used by German officers, in preparation.

Cultural references

An Auxiliary Unit arms cache features in the 1985 BBC TV series; Blott on the Landscape.

The Auxiliary Units feature in two UK films that imagine what would have happened if Germany had successfully invaded Britain: the 1966 film It Happened Here and the 2011 film Resistance.

The Auxiliary Units feature in the BBC programme Wartime Farm.

See also


  1. Lampe, David (2007). The Last Ditch: Britain's Secret Resistance and the Nazi Invasion Plan. MBI Publishing Company. p. 113. ISBN 9781853677304. Retrieved 2013-10-04. "In November 1940 [...] Colonel Gubbins was taken away from the auxiliary Units to be plunged into [...] the Special Operations Executive [...]." 

Further Information

  • Watson, Bill (2011) [2011]. Gone To Ground. Coleshill Auxiliary Research Team (Foreword by David Blair). ISBN 1-908374-06-3. 
  • Lampe, David (2007) [1968]. The Last Ditch: Britain's Resistance Plans Against the Nazis. Greenhill Books (Foreword by Gary Sheffield). ISBN 1-85367-730-2. 
  • Ward, Arthur (1997). Resisting the Nazi Invader. Constable. ISBN 0-09-476750-5. 
  • Stewart Angell. The Secret Sussex Resistance. (Middleton Press) ISBN 1-873793-82-0
  • Roger Ford. Fire from the Forest (Orion, 2004), ISBN 0-304-36336-7
  • Donald Brown. Somerset versus Hitler (Countryside Books, 2001) ISBN 1-85306-590-0
  • Warwicker, John (2002). With Britain in Mortal Danger: Britain's Most Secret Army of WWII. Cerberus. ISBN 1-84145-112-6. 
  • Warwicker, John (2008). Churchill's Underground Army: A History of the Auxiliary Units in World War II. Frontline Books. ISBN 1-84832-515-0. 
  • Sheers, Owen (2008). Resistance. Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-22964-6. 

External links

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