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World War Two: Britain's Secret Army

Updated on February 2, 2014

Discover how Hitler planned to conquer britain and the clandestine army who had been trained to repel any Nazi attack. Did the British Government hush up a German assault and why did church bells ring out to signal a Nazi invasion in 1940.

The evacuation of Dunkirk, 1940
The evacuation of Dunkirk, 1940

The Defence Of Britain

In June 1940, the British Army had suffered a humiliating defeat in France, the exhausted men were rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk, leaving vehicles, weapons and supplies behind.

Britain was virtually defenceless as the Nazis prepared for invasion, so what turned Britain into a fortress?

Well, Prime Minister WInston Churchill ordered that the vulnerable south-eastern coast of England be fortified with trenches, anti-tank guns and 18,000 pill boxes were to be built to house gunners.

The British Government also mobilised the civilian population to help defend the country and by July 1940, 1.5 million men had joined the Home Guard.

However, many of these were poorly equipped and shambolic, earning themselves the nickname "Dad's Army".

But every last one of them was willing to do his bit to defy a German invasion.

In 1940, the sound of church bells had a sinister significance, as it signalled the arrival of a German invasion.

On Saturday 7th September, widespread reports of church bells ringing and sightings of parachutists were recorded around the country.

Was Britain under attack?

Hitler surveys the coast of Britain in 1940
Hitler surveys the coast of Britain in 1940

Is this it?

Could the Nazis have landed in Britain? there are some people who believe they did indeed land on British soil and that this was hushed up by the British Government. At a seaside town in Suffolk, residents of a small hamlet were forced out of their homes by the British military. The area became a closed military zone with an extensive minefield along it's coastal frontier.

One particular member of the Home Guard at the time (whose identity I'll keep anonymous), believes he witnessed a German invasion of the area. He states that whilst out on patrol near the beach, he and a colleague witnessed a stretch of the sea was on fire. Shortly after this, there was explosions and gunfire that went on throughout the night.

He believes that a German raid had failed, as the British had set alight an oil pipeline along the seafront. He also claims that the next morning, a number of bodies were picked up along the shoreline and these corpses had been unceremoniously buried in pits at secret locations.

The former Home Guard soldier also claims that a force of 3,000-4,000 Germans fought a running battle with British soldiers for around nine hours through the night. It is alleged that this information isn't to be made public until the year 2021, the official file however, has already been declassified since 1993.

The file clearly does not state that any invasion force landed that night and only complaints regarding damage to private property by British soldiers is noted. In essence, the secret is that there is no secret, but what about those church bells?

Eyewitness accounts state the ringing of invasion bells and in some cases, reports of bridges being blown up to halt any German advance, was also recorded.

Operation Sealion was the codename given for the planned German invasion of Britain. It was originally planned for the 15th of August 1940, and would consist of 180,000 German troops, the equivalent of D-Day in reverse.

The second wave would have been 160,000 strong plus a further 10,000 paratroopers landing between the Dover and Folkestone areas. Although Britain managed to get it's troops back from Dunkirk, they had left behind 500 tanks and 1,000.heavy guns and this had left them critically short of the arms needed to withstand a German invasion.

D-Day Artwork

 Day of Days by Dave Harris
Day of Days by Dave Harris
The German invasion of Britain guidebook for German troops
The German invasion of Britain guidebook for German troops

Ready For The Huns?

In 1940, the Germans published huge volumes of geographical and military information concerning the British Isles. These were full of aerial reconnaisance photographs and maps and indicated every individual defensive position in Britain.

If an invasion had taken place, the Home Guard would have been on the frontline, they may have been depicted as a bit of a joke and nicknamed "Dad's Army", but they were actually well trained in combat situations, the use of explosives and the techniques of sabotage.

Thankfully, the Home Guard were not alone in their efforts to repel a Nazi invasion, Churchill had also put together a secret underground army whose soul purpose was to cause as much disruption as possible to occupying Nazis.

One of Churchill's Aux Units, 1940
One of Churchill's Aux Units, 1940
Coleshill House, Wiltshire, England
Coleshill House, Wiltshire, England

Churchill's Secret Army

In the summer of 1940, this secret resistence force was formed as a last line of defence in an occupied Britain. These highly trained elite units were known as the Auxiliary or Aux Units, if Britain had been invaded, their mission was to kill and sobotage.

In Parham, Suffolk, the only museum dedicated to these men, houses an Aladdin's Cave of their unique weapons and personal effects. Their objective was to destroy ammunitions and fuel dumps, vehicles, stores, bridges, canals, rolling stock, communications and to kill as many German troops as they possibly could.

Churchill was insistent that these troops had everything they needed and this force of around 6,000 men operated around 30 miles inland from the coast of England, all the way up to Scotland and across to Wales.

They were even trained to assasinate high ranking British dignitaries who might "know too much" and it was believed were maybe weak enough to give away sensitive intelligence when under interrogation.

The secrecy of these Aux Units was paramount and is still not discussed in public to this day. Not even the troops' families knew of their clandestine operations. They were trained to kill with their bare hands using the same coaching manual as used by the SAS, SOE and commandos. They were prepared to die to protect their country and disrupt the enemy as best they could.

Recruits to these Aux Units were hand selected and vetted, on acceptance they were to sign the Official Secrets Act and told to make their way to a village in Wiltshire named Highworth.

On arrival they would check in at the local post office, they would then be picked up by a discreet truck and taken to the nearby training camp. At a countryside estate known as Coleshill House in quiet rural surroundings, their training would begin.

The men were billeted in the stables of the country house and intensely trained in the arts of concealment, sabotage, explosives and hand to hand combat. They also built an underground operational bunker known as an O.B. This would be the underground base that they would use to spring surprise attacks on any invading Nazi forces.

Concealed in the nearby woodland and 12 feet below the ground, it is estimated that 1,000 of these bases may have been built around Britain, but their locations were kept secret even after the war and many have not even have been discovered to this day.

The Aux Units would have stayed underground for around two weeks at a time and so may not have even been aware of what was going on above ground concerning their colleagues, families and the country as a whole. Their would also have been the strongest kind of reprisals against them and the country once they had started to carry out their planned objectives.

The Black Book

Other people too were particularly vulnerable, Hitler had devised his own personal hitlist, his "Black Book", which is housed at The Imperial War Museum in London.

People including Winston Churchill, Neville Chamberlain, Anthony Eden, Virginia Woolfe, Noel Coward and J.B. Preistley were just some of the famous names on a list of 2,820 individuals selected for "protective custody" which would no doubt have meant detention at a concentration camp and ultimately, execution.

Holding Back The Tide

In that summer of 1940, Britain's future had been perilously uncertain, but the war in the skies was already underway. The brave men of Fighter Command, "The Few",  in their Spitfires and Hurricanes, would ultimately stave off the Luftwaffe and Hitler would eventually postpone Operation Sealion indefinitely.

Were we ready, thankfully we will never know.

Could Britain have repelled a Nazi Invasion?

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    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      3 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Hello Dave, a latecomer here... The subject of Auxiliaries cropped up in one of the episodes of 'Heartbeat', in that one of his neighbours believed he had been 'swinging the lead' during the war years. These men (were there women as well?) couldn't tell their kith and kin, so it was well within the realms of possibility they were suspected as being 'war shy'.

      Interesting piece of writing. I've got a few of the 'Dad's Army' episodes on dvd, as well as 'Allo Allo' (good for a few belly laughs, both).

    • Dave Harris profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave Harris 

      7 years ago from Cardiff, UK

      Hi house-of-cards, really appreciate your comments. i am a big Dad's Army fan, still makes me laugh today, did you know the writer Jimmy Perry was actually in the Home Guard?

      Many of the sitcoms Perry co-wrote with David Croft drew from his own personal experience. At 16 he joined the Watford Home Guard, two years later he was called up into the regular forces, and was sent to Burma with the Royal Artillery, where he joined the Royal Artillery Concert Party. His experience of this led him to write It Ain't Half hot mum.

    • house-of-cards profile image


      7 years ago from England

      What a fantastically in-depth article. Nice Dad's Army clip! I found your article after having written my own re: Dad's Army memorabilia. Check it out if you get the chance; some awesome Home Guard-style products for those who loved the iconic British TV sitcom!

    • Dave Harris profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave Harris 

      8 years ago from Cardiff, UK

      Thankyou Darren, I feel the same, there were so many fascinating stories to be told, It actually amazes me sometimes how the Allied nations pulled together, got to wonder really what would happen these days!!

    • profile image

      Darren Morris 

      8 years ago

      What a great article I love reading about world war 2 I find it fascinating not just the fighting on the front line but on the home front too. to hear stories of what life was like and the amazing way the nation stood together to do there bit was outstanding. Many thanks for a great read

    • Dave Harris profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave Harris 

      8 years ago from Cardiff, UK

      Thanks Wesman,I shall look forward to viewing some military hubs by yourself then!

      Thanks for your comments and stopping by rcgal

    • rcgal profile image


      8 years ago

      Interesting! As an American, I usually hear about war history from an American point of view.

      PS I love your profile image - very appropriate.

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      8 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      You are definitely going to inspire me into publishing some military history stuff. :-;

    • Dave Harris profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave Harris 

      8 years ago from Cardiff, UK

      Thankyou Moxyl, really appreciate your comments. I have many more WW2 stories to publish which I hope you will also enjoy. Thanx for stopping by!

    • Moxyl profile image


      8 years ago

      Very informative reading. The other night I was watching a BBC program on WWII memorizing a Polish Composer, and now reading your site, which is again mind-blowing.

      Thx for sharing.

    • Dave Harris profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave Harris 

      8 years ago from Cardiff, UK

      Thankyou Errol, glad you enjoyed it. I didn't have any relatives in the war Errol, but I had a Great Grandfather who was a policeman during WW1. My Grandfather worked for the BBC during World War Two and my father was in the Royal Air Force his whole working life.

      I couldn't tell you much about the bombing of London in the Blitz Errol, but LondonGirl who i am following has I believe written a hub on that very subject.

      Unfortunately I have not seen Mrs Miniver, so I wouldn't presume to make comment on it, I'll have to check it out though. Thanks for your comments!

    • profile image

      Errol Kane 

      8 years ago

      Nice article Dave and very interesting reading. Now I take it that, you are British. Tell me, did you have relatives that fought in the war or someone that was in the Royal Air Force and what information can you share that you know personally of the bombing of Londdon and taking shelter in the subways? Also, Dave, the movies during the War Years kept many people hopes up such as 'Mrs Miniver'. What were the British people feelings of that American made movie during the Blitz, if you have any information on that? Just courious.


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