Churchill's British Resistance - The Auxiliary Units


Guns used by the Aux Units By CART CIO Peter Antill

This page was last updated at 8:24am on 20/9/13




General weapons of the Auxiliary UnitRanged Weapons

With such a pressing need for weapons of all sorts, it is remarkable that the members of the Auxiliary Units were the first units to be armed with the Thompson sub-machinegun, which was imported from the United States, along with the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR).They were also the first to get the PIAT anti-tank weapon, basically a tube with a firing mechanism and a huge spring inside it that would launch an high explosive anti-tank (HEAT) projectile up to 750 yards (effective range was only about 100 yards though). The PIAT entered service in mid-1943 and was first used in action by the Canadians during the Allied invasion of Sicily.

When first created, many Auxiliers, particularly those in the countryside, took along their own weapons, including shotguns, and were supplied solid-shot cartridges (to complement the usual ‘buckshot’ rounds) that could put a hole in a piece of steel up to 100 yards away. Other Auxiliers took along crossbows, which, not only had the advantage of being relatively quiet, could kill just as effectively (at shorter distances) as a firearm.

One sinister weapon which was given to the members of the Auxiliary Unit patrols was a special .22 rifle - usually manufactured by BSA, Winchester or Remington. A report by Duncan Sandys to the Prime Minister in August 1940, confirmed that sniping would be in the Auxiliary Units' remit. This rifle, which was fitted with a powerful telescopic sight and a silencer, could either fire high-velocity bullets for additional lethality at extended ranges or subsonic bullets for virtual silence if the target was relatively close. The Resistance men who received these weapons were told that they were for sniping at German officers and for picking off tracker dogs before they came too near, but several members of the Resistance have admitted that they were also intended to be used on British people in their areas who they thought might collaborate with the Germans. More recently, it is thought that this rifle was to be used for the assassination of Britons that might have proved to be "loose tongued" under interrogation or know too much about who was in each Auxiliary Unit, such as the Chief Constable.

The snipers' .22 rifle became Auxiliary Unit standard issue. In some instances it would be the only firearm carried on patrol because it was the only one that could be fired with a chance of continuing the mission afterwards – other weapons were carried as a 'last ditch' in the event the patrol needed to make a fighting escape. The wandering 'zero' of scopes was a problem but as the rifles generally retained their "iron sights", the scope could be removed if doubt about the zero was an issue. Officers sent out from Coleshill noticed that the telescopic sights needed constant realignment. Other silenced weapons that came into use later in the war were the Welrod pistol (designed by the SIS for SOE and produced initially at Station IX at Welwyn, Hertfordshire) and the DeLisle carbine (1942 onwards).

This video was shot at our Tottington Manor event. It is presented by Nick Marshall from 'Behind Enemy Lines' 

All Auxiliary Unit members were issued with pistols but not, as many of the members of the patrols believed, to use on themselves in a final moment of desperation. This was certainly not what Mr. Churchill had in mind when he pencilled in the margin of one of Colonel Gubbins’ weekly reports, “these men must have revolvers!” As a result of this, the Auxiliary Units received an upgraded status for pistols and were quickly equipped with such weapons being bought from the USA, including 400 Colt .32in semi-automatics. In one deal, a supply of pistols was sent from the New York Police Department which included ammunition, belts and holsters. There were a number of smaller deals in several countries, including Spain and Argentina for example, where British agents were buying weapons from just about anybody who was willing to sell them. This meant that a huge number of different makes and marques were included in the Auxiliary Unit’s inventories, such as Colt, Smith & Wesson, Webley and FN, as well as a number of old and obsolescent pistols collected in local law enforcement amnesties. Colonel Gubbins also checked out a number of British Constabularies as to weapons that had been handed in at the start of the war (after a call in from the Police due to a directive from the Home Office), but was disappointed (nay outraged) to find that most had been irretrievably disposed of.

Auxiliary Units could be expected to be equipped with any of the following ‘long’ small arms:

Sten Carbine used by the Auxiliary Unit



Sten Gun – a 9mm sub-machinegun (called 'machine carbines' in the UK) that was mass produced to be cheap and easy to manufacture. It operated from an open bolt using a blowback system, held a 32-round magazine and over 4 million were produced. For more information, click here

Thompson Sub Machine Gun

Thompson Sub-machinegun – this weapon was the original 'gangster gun', rising to fame during the 'Roaring' Twenties and used by such notables as Al Capone and John Dillinger. Originally it operated a modified form of blowback system, fired the .45 ACP cartridge and had a 50- or 100-round drum magazine. Over time, many were replaced by the Sten Gun. For more information, click here
Browning Automatic Rifle



Browning Automatic Rifle – a rifle capable of fully automatic fire, designed by the firearm maestro, John Moses Browning. The rifle, firing the Springfield .30-06 cartridge, saw action all the way from the last months of the First World War to the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. For more information, click here

Enfield Rifles used by the Aux Unit The ‘American’ Enfields – a British rifle design based on a Mauser-style action but with Lee-Enfield features, such as a ‘cock-on-closing’ bolt. It was originally designed to take a high-powered .276in rimless cartridge but was eventually produced during the First World War in both .303 (Pattern 1914 Enfield) and .30-06 (M1917 Enfield) calibres by Winchester, Remington and Eddystone under contract by the UK Government. It was also issued during the Second World War to units focusing on home defence. For more information, click here

Had the Germans actually invaded and the Auxiliary Units actually gone into action, it was very likely, given that they survived any decent length of time, that they would have captured German weapons and in all likelihood turned them on their former users.

Each patrol was (theoretically) to have received 1 x BAR, 1 x Thompson and 2 x M1917 Enfields. As time went on, the list of small arms allocated to each patrol grew, so that in 1941, during Colonel (later Brigadier) C R Major’s command, each fully manned patrol was expected to have:

• 7 x .38in revolvers (American);
• 2 x .30in rifles (American);
• 7 x fighting knives;
• 3 x knobkerries;
• 48 x No. 36 grenades (four-second fuses);
• 3 x cases of S.T. grenades ('Sticky Bombs');
• 2 x cases of A.W. bottles (Phosphorous grenades);
• 1 x .22in rifle (silenced) from various manufacturers;
• 1 x .45in Thompson SMG (American)

Ammunition was:
• 40 x .38in pistol rounds;
• 200 x .30in rifle rounds;
• 1,000 x .45in ACP rounds for the Thompson
• 200 x .22in rounds

Weapons & Explosives DVD