Malcolm Atkin  Military Research

Planning for British Resistance in the

Second World War



In recent years, the Auxiliary Units of the War Office have been popularly labelled as Britain's 'Resistance Organisation'. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of their role and is in danger of creating a modern myth.  Justifiable admiration for the work of the Operational Patrols and Special Duties Branch has, in some cases, slipped into an unquestioning adulation.  Fact and fiction has merged. Confusion has been increased by the fact that most modern accounts have been written 'bottom up',  relying heavily on the testimony of local volunteers who were not necessarily told the full story of their work by their superior officers.  In some cases there was also a deliberate attempt to distance their story from that of the Home Guard as a consequence of the distorted impression presented by the popular 'Dad's Army' TV series.  


In fact, the War Office were not in the business of creating resistance organisations. For some generals, the whole concept was anathema and smacked of defeatism.  The  real role of the Auxiliary Units was as a short-term commando force to operate (in uniform) behind enemy lines in the first few days following invasion.  They evolved out of both the XII Corps Observation Unit and the SIS Home Defence Scheme.  Their intelligence arm - the Special Duties Branch -  was, indeed, directly inherited from SIS, who continued to manage it during 1940. The SDB again was designed to act as a very short term early warning system for enemy troop movements, but proved to be most important as an internal security body.


By contrast, the brief of SIS was to plan for operations after any long-term occupation of the country.  This would involve civilians bearing arms and was therefore highly contentious amongst government and the War Office.   Some elements in the rushed Home Defence Scheme were chaotic and were seized upon by the War Office in order to quash what was seen at the time as an attempt to create an SIS private army. However, in line with their established policy of creating layers of secret organisations as a security blanket, there was already in existence a second organisation  based at the heart of SIS HQ and given a cover within the accountancy branch (Section VII). This was  shrouded in the utmost secrecy and continued in existence for most of the war.  This was to be the real resistance organisation - so secret that volunteers were never told for whom they worked!  The Auxiliary Units have provided a useful diversion from this aspect of the secret war.


Fighting Nazi Occupation provides the first comprehensive account of the plans for irregular warfare to counter a Nazi occupation, and the plans for resistance if those plans failed. It concludes with a re-evaluation of the role of the Home Guard in the plans for secret warfare.  As well as the direct recruitment of members of the Home Guard by SIS, this includes the relationship of the Home Guard to  the Auxiliary Units and also the role of the Guerrilla Warfare school at Osterley Park and its intriguing connections to XII Corps Observation Unit and SIS. The story of ruthlessness and cunning takes us as far as it is possible to get  from the bumbling Home Guard of 'Dad's Army'!


It is hoped that the publication of Fighting Nazi Occupation will encourage further research on the topic This website will be regularly updated to incorporate new information as it becomes available.


See also 'Myth and Reality: the Second World War Auxiliary Units' (2016) an on-line article hosted by Academia.edu.

©  Copyright  Malcolm Atkin 2015.    Contents not to be copied or otherwise reproduced without permission.

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