By the spring of 1940 the phoney war suddenly became very real. In April Hitler’s forces invaded Norway and a month later began their assault on France and the Low Countries. The Anglo/French allies were routed. The British escaped to fight another day after evacuating the bulk of their armies at Dunkirk.
When on 10 May Winston Churchill became Prime Minister he soon discovered that the nation’s defences were in a parlous state and a Nazi invasion was a very real possibility. By the end of the month nearly a million British citizens had joined the Local Defence Volunteers, soon to become the Home Guard, of Dad’s Army fame. Churchill, however, realised the Home Guard was initially of little more than PR value, an important morale booster. A more serious deterrent needed to be created if Hitler’s panzer divisions and the full might of the blitzkrieg was to be thwarted. Consequently, to supplement the sorely ill-equipped regular forces (all of their tanks and most of their artillery had been abandoned in France) a new, British resistance force was required. The intentionally blandly named ‘Auxiliary Units’ might have been the answer. Formed in the Summer of 1940, in great secrecy, this force of ‘stay behind’ saboteurs and assassins was intended to cause havoc behind the German front line should the Wehrmacht gain a foothold in Britain. Their mission was to go to cover, hiding in underground bunkers for the first 14 days of invasion and then springing up, at nightfall, to gather intelligence, interrogate prisoners, destroying fuel and ammunition dumps as they went about their deadly business.
Each Auxilier knew his life expectancy was short, a matter of weeks. He also knew he could not tell a soul about his activities, even his spouse. ‘Dads Army’ they were not. Following the publication of his 50th anniversary history of the Battle of Britain, A Nation Alone, written in association with the RAF Museum, Arthur Ward looked deeper into the story of the Invasion Summer of 1940 and enjoyed unique opportunities to interview those involved with Auxiliary Units at the very top and in the front line, as volunteers in a six-man cell.
By Arthur Ward (17 Jan 2013)