Churchill Created a Secret 12 Day Life Expectancy Army to Fight the Nazis on British Soil

Churchill Created a Secret 12 Day Life Expectancy Army to Fight the Nazis on British Soil

Patrick Lynch - February 16, 2017

Members of the French Resistance have gone down in history as brave souls who were willing to sacrifice their lives for their country. Their activities are well documented. But did you know that Britain also had resistance? It was set up in total secrecy in 1940 when Britain was at risk of a Nazi invasion. Victory at the Battle of Britain in October 1940 ensured the volunteers of the Auxiliary Units never had to fight, but they were ready to die for the cause.

Guerrilla Warfare

It was the summer of 1940. Britain was in chaos after the retreat at Dunkirk, and a Nazi invasion seemed inevitable and imminent. Prime Minister Winston Churchill attempted to rouse the country with a series of energetic speeches, but behind the scenes, he was worried. He knew the Nazis were planning an invasion and he started preparing for the eventuality. Churchill ordered the formation of a guerrilla movement that would harass the Germans from behind their lines. Approximately 3,500 men were recruited for the cause.

After Dunkirk, Churchill was concerned that Britain was almost defenseless, so he felt the need to prepare a specially trained unit for a last stand against the Nazis. The volunteers didn’t exist in an official sense and used the Home Guard as cover for their training. They were called the Auxiliary Units, and details of their activities didn’t come to light until the 1960s. Much to the chagrin of survivors and relatives of these soldiers, the British Government still doesn’t acknowledge the role of the Unit. However, veterans from the 640 patrols finally received some recognition in 2013 when they took part in a Remembrance Sunday parade.

Churchill Created a Secret 12 Day Life Expectancy Army to Fight the Nazis on British Soil
Spetisbury Patrol, Dorset.

Secret Bravery

The Auxiliary Units were formed in July 1940 in the midst of the Battle of Britain; a significant conflict during World War II where the Germans tried and failed to gain control of British airspace. Hitler’s plans for Operation Sea Lion, the invasion of Britain, were ready once Germany took control of the skies. If they were successful in the Battle of Britain, the Nazis believed Britain could be conquered within a month.

With Britain in dire straits, Churchill launched his resistance plan with Coleshill House near Swindon picked as guerrilla HQ. Colonel Colin McVean Gubbins was selected as the leader of the Auxiliary Units. He was a World War I veteran, an expert in the use of explosives and had written a handbook on the use of guerrilla tactics.

The volunteers were divided into small patrols of six men; each group had a leader, and the troops knew their surrounding area like the back of their hand. The majority of volunteers were poachers and farmers with the ability to live off the land. The Auxiliary Units focused on the coastal parts of Britain as they would obviously be the first point of contact with the enemy. The network stretched from Cornwall to Scotland, and every single man was prepared and ready to die to protect their country.

The 12-Day Army

The patrols wore the army of the Home Guard as a disguise to ensure no one outside the unit knew of their existence. In the event of an invasion, the men wouldn’t fight the Germans face-to-face. Instead, church bells would signal the arrival of the enemy and the soldiers would slip away from their civilian jobs and start the resistance in plain clothes so as to be indistinguishable from the rest of the population.

Each patrol had its secret base several feet underground. Every member was trained in the use of explosives, and the men used weapons such as guns, knives and sniper rifles. Bomb training included the use of phosphorus bombs, booby traps, and Molotov Cocktails. They were ordered to cause as much disruption to the Germans as possible. This involved ambushing the enemy and sabotaging their installations for as long as possible. The men were also shown how to attach magnetic clamps fitted with gelignite to railway lines and tanks.

Although the troops were never called into action, their bravery can not be understated. Any German invading force would have numbered at least 200,000, and the resistance members were told not to surrender or get captured. If they were surrounded by the Nazis, they had to die fighting or commit suicide. Unlike regular army grenades, which had a seven-second fuse, the Auxiliary Unit had four-second fuses. This increased the risk of death to the thrower but decreased the possibility of the grenade getting thrown back. Also, each man was given a gallon of rum.

The volunteers were under no illusions as to their fate in the event of an invasion. They were given an average life expectancy of just 12 days, so every single person viewed it as a suicide mission. Other tasks included killing collaborators and key figures such as police chiefs because they could be tortured into revealing crucial information.

Churchill Created a Secret 12 Day Life Expectancy Army to Fight the Nazis on British Soil
Resistance Members in a Bunker. Daily Mail

A Tragic Lack of Recognition

The very nature of the Auxiliary Unit meant the men never received credit. They couldn’t even tell their families about the resistance, so the soldiers were often subject to abuse in their local areas. Other residents would mock them for not joining the war effort. In some cases, the auxiliaries were handed a white feather, a sign of cowardice. On Thursday evenings, the men would leave their homes and travel to Coleshill for a weekend of intense training.

There are probably fewer than 100 veterans alive today, and they are still bitter over the lack of recognition from the British Government. After World War II, the only acknowledgment the men received was a small badge bearing the number of one of the three battalions (201, 202, and 203). Finally being allowed to march past the Cenotaph in 2013 during Remembrance Sunday was an emotional day for the remaining resistance members. It is a shame that their efforts have been overlooked for so long but as more details emerge, the brave members of the Auxiliary Units may finally get the credit they deserve.