The British Resistance The little-known Auxiliary Units were well prepared for an invasion that never came.


The British elaborately and in deep secrecy trained a large resistance movement.

We Never Stood Alone refers to the existence of a resistance movement in place in southern England, prepared for an invasion that never came. The activity the book talks about is peripheral to the activities of the Auxiliary Units, but accurately reflects their ways of operating. The Auxiliary units were divided between well trained and effective operational cells and equally effective intelligence and communication operatives. They hid themselves so well among the population that even the British did not suspect their existence and they would no doubt have been an unpleasant surprise for the Germans.

Auxiliary Unit Intelligence Officers (from "Last Ditch, Gary Sheffield, 1968)

Auxiliary Unit Intelligence Officers (from “Last Ditch, Gary Sheffield, 1968)

The blandly named Auxiliary Units were developed in the first months of the war under the aegis of MI(Research), the Military Intelligence unit that eventually became the famous MI6. Their first commander, Major Colin Gubbins (top of page), laid out a plan that culminated in 600 or so independent ‘hideaways,’ mostly in coastal areas. These housed 3600 trained saboteurs who would emerge behind the German army and wreak as much destruction as possible in what was expected to be a short lifespan. These locals, who knew their own home ground intimately, became extraordinarily good at remaining undetected even under operational conditions. They were often used to test the defense of regular British Army bases:

On one training exercise Calvert and Fleming [brother of Ian Fleming of James Bond fame] managed to creep into General Montgomery’s 3rd Division HQ at Steyning, near Brighton, to put delayed-action charges inside a row of flower pots around a terrace. When they told the General what they had done, he insisted that his security was too good, that nobody could possibly have got past his guards. Then the first time pencils fired. [Time pencils were small sticks used as fuses for plastic explosives.](from Last Ditch by David Lampe, 1968)

The second organization, also innocuously name ‘Special Duties’ was designed as a post-invasion intelligence gathering operation. These ordinary citizens, who knew nothing of the Auxiliary Units among them, were to continue their daily routines while noting the positions and strengths of German occupying forces, key communication centers, etc. This information would be placed in ‘letterboxes’ (dead drops), where cutouts would collect the notes and pass them along to ‘zero stations’ where radio transmitters would pass the information along to ‘control stations.’

Beatrice Temple SeatedThe radio operators, who knew that their jobs were especially dangerous, were mostly women of the Auxiliary Territorial Service, the ATS, which was the women’s division of the British Army. They were called the “Secret Sweeties” and were prepared to live for weeks or months at a time, in underground hideaways, manning the crucial radios, which were very likely to be discovered. Their leader was Senior Commander (Major) Beatrice Temple, left, who often recruited her operators through an initial interview at Harrod’s in Knightsbridge (London).

These organizations reached a peak of preparation in late 1940 and 1941 and only after the threat of invasion began to subside did some of the key personnel move into other roles, often with the nascent Special Operations Executive (SOE). The organization itself remained in place throughout the war and remained a closely held secret for decades. More information can be found at the British Resistance Archive, which also has a nice YouTube Channel.

Many have speculated about what would have happened had the Germans invaded Britain in 1940. Winston Church famously said, “we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” He was obviously not the only Brit to believe these words. If the Germans had invaded, the British people were prepared to make things very nasty for them.

cover finalAnd what of We Never Stood Alone? I do not have a plot element that delves deeply into the Auxiliary Units. Stokely is not close enough to the coast to have had much in the way of active elements. However, one of the key headquarters of the Auxiliary Units was in nearby Swindon, and I have speculated about what would be needed to supply the patrols closer to the coast. More here I will not say – read the book!

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