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Auxiliary Units (WWII British)

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Auxiliary Units were a formation of partisans set up in 1940 by the British to harass any German invasion. They were not expected to survive long, but to harass invaders until overseas forces could come to Britain's aid.[1]

At the same time as the Home Guard were established so was an organization known as the auxiliary units. an offshoot of Secret Intelligence Service section D that was formed in 1938, only one of these early units has come to light. Formed in Feb/May 1940 at Eastbourne. They were organized into three battalions 201 (Scotland), 202 (Midlands), and 203 (South) of the Home Guard.

In May 1940 Colonel Colin Gubbins formed the first of the Auxiliary units, their members vetted by the local police. They wore standard Home Guard uniforms, the only distinguishing feature their battalion shoulder flash.

In August 1940 Coleshill House became both the central HQ and training centre, it was not far from Swinden. When arriving new recruits went not to the house, but instead to the local post office. The post mistress would then phone Coleshill house to arrange pick up. Theses units were trained by veterans of the Spanish Civil War, and some saw them as the future of war, a true citizens' army (this in the end led the army to remove most of the Spanish war veterans). The school later went on to train the Special Air Service and Special Operations Executive.


Their training was necessarily limited, but came from Gubbins, Peter Fleming, and others who had been studying guerrilla operations. Major-General H.L. "Pug" Ismay, Churchill's representative on the Chiefs of Staff Committee, drew from experience with Irish guerrillas in the 1920s:

"Our object would be to keep the enemy continually), on the jump as we were in Ireland during that period. There seem to be three main roles: (I)Intelligence. (2)Sabotage. (3)Assassination.... We should have a nucleus who would presumably disappear into the civilian population when the tide of battle moved forward across them. Selected characters should be trained in the use of the pistol and the hiding of weapons. The same sort of man couht be valuable for sabotage work, but he must be trained in carrying out his job so that it appears as much like an accident as possible. "

Hand-to-hand combat training, especially with the Fairbairn-Sykes knife, came from Bruce Fairbairn of the Hong Kong Police. [2]

Potential effectiveness

How effective the "Aux units" would have been is open to doubt[3], although dedicated and well trained, a few men (patrols were 6 men strong, with only a few patrols to a county) they would have at best been a brief nuisance. Also German reprisals would have undermined the 'Aux' units morale, and on those civilians who knew of each patrols whereabouts[4]. The patrols were expected to last about two weeks[5]. Though former members believed that they could have caused the Germans considerable damage[6].

Special Duties Section

Operating in the same areas, but independent of the Patrols, was the Special Duties Section. Its units were not to engage the enemy, but to provide secure communications for Auxiliary Unit headquarters and to conduct human-source and communications intelligence. It was established, by the Royal Corps of Signals, at Bachelors Hall at Hundon in Suffolk.[7] It is the ancestor of the communications support units in U.K. Special Forces, and the standing SOT-A communnications/communications intelligence augmentation teams of United States Army Special Forces.

Unlike the Aux units its members were not expected to wear a formal uniform. They were set up as independent cells, and their function in the event of invasion was to act as spies. SDS personnel were controlled by a local intelligence officer, like the communication officer often a prominent local. They were also required to sign the official secrets act. They would leave messages in dead letter drops to be taken by young messengers to a prominent local figure that had been selected to act as a radio operator (Doctors or Vicars because of their ability to move around without arousing suspicion were often selected). They were passed on up to higher HQ’s by Royal Corps of Singles ‘Zero stations’.[8]


Another clandestine reconnaissance unit was called Phantom. It was born out of the chaos of the battle of France. Its task was forward area reconnaissance and it reported direct to GHQ.[9]


  1. "Churchill's secret army in Coleshill", BBC Wiltshire
  2. Stephen Budiansky (2008), Churchill's secret army: Britain's last resort against a Nazi invasion was a guerrilla force trained to carry out suicidal missions of terror and sabotage, The Free Library
  3. Resisting the Nazi invader, Arthur Ward, page 122
  4. Stewart Angell (1996), The secret Sussex resistance 1940-1944, Middleton Press, ISBN 1873793-820, p. 59
  5. Angell, p. 11
  6. Angell, p. 58
  7. Auxiliary Units Signals, David Waller
  8. Britains Home defences 1940-1945, Bernard Lowry, page 41
  9. Britains Home defences 1940-1945, Bernard Lowry, page 41