Tag Archives: home guard

‘Who do you think you are kidding, Mr. Hitler?’: So Long, Dad’s Army, 75 Years Ago

LDV ( Local Defence Volunteers – the forerunner of the Home Guard) in instructed on how to fire a rifle at the National Shooting Centre in Bisley, Surrey, 22 June 1940.  

On 31 December 1945, with Hitler long gone and Tojo under Allied custody, the final, skeletonized units of the British Home Guard were formally disbanded.

Initially founded as the Local Defence Volunteers, or LDV, on 14 May 1940, the force took on a new urgency and

meaning after Dunkirk when it became seen as very real insurance against a looming German invasion (Unternehmen Seelöwe) that never left port. From motley beginnings, they grew to a peak strength of 1.6 million men and boys.

Their most common tasking was in guarding downed Luftwaffe aircraft and UXO, and rounding up German aircrews that hit the silk over the British Isles.

They did, reportedly, down at least one Dornier with “concentrated rifle fire.”

One of the most popular arms in the Home Guard, at least after 1941, was the M1917 “American Enfield,” with a whopping 500,000 transferred, replacing the sorry state of affairs the lads began with that included everything from old fowling pieces and Napoleanic War relics to homemade pikes and fireplace pokers. 

The December 1945 disbandment was quiet and without much ceremony. The closest that Dad’s Army came to a public farewell was when a massed 7,000-man force paraded through Hyde Park the year prior as the operations were increasingly being drawn down.

Service was unpaid, although men who completed three years with the Home Guard could petition for a Defense Medal in recognition of their, wholly voluntary, service. 

Most were simply mustered out with a handshake, a bit of kit they were able to squirrel away as a memento, and a certificate that read simply:

In the years when our Country was in mortal danger, (name) who served (dates) gave generously of his time and powers to make himself ready for her defence by force of arms and with his life if need be. George R.I.

 

Bumping into Dad’s Army in the local pub

The Royal Armouries this week posted a great 6-minute short film. Shot from the first-person perspective, the viewer bumps into a shotgun-equipped Local Defense Volunteer– soon to be a Home Guardsman– in late 1940.

It is pretty informative, and entertaining.

Enjoy.

If you like the above, the National Army Museum has also been doing a similar program as part of the 75th VE Day Festival.

Check out this detail of the 1940s Tommy’s marching kit.

Sabotage! 41 Rem Mag edition

Bloke On The Range is a great gun channel run by a British expat in Switzerland and he posted a few shots of this bad boy last week.

Meet Präzisionsgewehr (Precision-rifle) G 150:

This integrally suppressed “sabotage rifle” with a folding stock is chambered in the squat .41 Remington Magnum (10.4x33mmR) which fired a 409-grain bullet “at subsonic velocity for quietly messing with communications equipment, power transmission and so on in case of Soviet occupation of Switzerland.”

As the round was developed in the 1960s by accomplished red-blooded shootists Elmer Keith and Bill Jordan, they would probably have liked that concept.

Used by Projekt-26, Switzerland’s formerly top-secret (and still very hard to nail down even today) Cold War-era “stay behind” force, the G 150 is very interesting in an of itself. Built on a German-made Sauer rifle action, the rotary bolt action weapon had a three-round magazine and an unmarked 4-6X scope made by Schmidt & Bender, according to Maxim Popenker.

A Präzisionsgewehr G150 inside one such cache

The concept reminds me of the British Auxiliary Units or GHQ Auxiliary Units, “stay behind” cells consisting of some 500 independent patrols of 5-10 volunteers attached to Home Guard battalions 201 (Scotland), 202 (northern England), or 203 (southern England) during WWII. While most were equipped with Tommy Guns, P14/17 Enfields, and others, they also stockpiled a number of Winchester Model 74 rifles with a Parker Hale No.42 optic and a silencer (suppressor) to muffle its gentle .22LR report.

The more things change…

Of Dad’s Army and donated bangsticks

With the release of the latest Small Arms Survey data that puts most firearms (8.4 out of 10) in the hands of civilians worldwide, I thought the below artifacts from the Imperial War Museum would be interesting.

Winchester M1894 sporting takedown rifle .30/30 Winchester (FIR 5292) This rifle was one of a number of weapons provided for Home Guard use in 1940 by an American organization called the American Committee for the Defence of British Homes. They mounted a public appeal for firearms and binoculars which could be sent to aid the defence of Britain.  Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30035096

Springfield Model 1878 rifle (FIR 7917) This rifle was one of a number of weapons provided for Home Guard use in 1940 by an American organization called the American Committee for the Defence of British Homes. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30032392

While of course, on the outset the pair of smoke-poles above would seem hard-pressed to arm a British store clerk or country gentleman against a Fallschirmjäger with an MP38 and some potato masher grenades, they were better than nothing. In the early days of the Local Defence Volunteers and Home Guard firearms of any sort were a rarity. Remember the fictional Sergeant Wilson’s weapon report to Captain Mainwaring in the hilarious “Dad’s Army” sitcom that they stood ready to meet Hitler’s parachutists with “15 carving knives, one shotgun, a No. 3 Iron, and Lance Corporal Jones’ assegai.”

The first muster from the fictional Dad’s Army

Yes, the program was a slapstick comedy, but it should be noted that it was based partly on co-writer and creator Jimmy Perry’s own experiences in the LDV during the War and in many respects is dead-on.

The 1940 British Local Defence Volunteers, not far off from the above image

At one point, pikes were famously planned to arm the local militia force.

Yes, Pikes. Via Home-Guard.org.uk

It wasn’t until 1942 that quantities of Lend-Leased Great War-era M1917 Enfield, Lewis guns and M1918 BARs in 30.06s, mixed with newer weapons such as Thompson submachine guns started arriving in force.

A long service sergeant in the Dorking Home Guard cleans his Tommy gun at the dining room table, before going on parade, 1 December 1940. He likely went “over the top” along the Somme some years earlier.

British Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service members unloading a fresh shipment of lend-lease crates ca. 41-42. The boxes contain Model 1894 Winchester lever action cowboy guns

By 1943, the possibility of outright German invasion had atrophied although the need to have armed locals in place to police up spies, saboteurs and shot down Luftwaffe aircrews would remain very real.

Three soldiers of the Home Guard pose with a wrecked Messerschmitt shot down over south-east England during the Battle of Britain. Note the Lend-Lease M1917 Enfields

The “Baby Blitz” of Unternehmen Steinbock saw He 177A’s, Do 217s and Ju 88A-4s flying over London as late as May 1944. In that point, 800,000 unarmed volunteers of the ARP and another 1.6 very feisty Home Guard stood ready to defend the Home Isles out of a population of about 49 million, which is impressive especially when you keep in mind that the country at the time fielded a 3-million man Army, a 1.2-million strong RAF capable of pulling off 1,000-bomber raids, and a million-man Royal Navy that included 78,000 Marines and 50 (albeit mostly escort) carriers.

The humble plinker vs. invading Germans

With most of the heavy equipment of the British Army left on the beaches of Dunkirk in June 1940 and a German invasion of the Home Islands likely, the Home Guard was set up and creatively armed with all sorts of terrible ideas such as the Smith Gun and others to help keep the Jerries at bay.

LDV ( Local Defence Volunteers – forerunner of the Home Guard) in instructed on how to fire a rifle at the National Shooting Centre in Bisley, Surrey, 22 June 1940. Note the P14 Enfield. jpg

LDV ( Local Defense Volunteers – forerunner of the Home Guard) in instructed on how to fire a rifle at the National Shooting Centre in Bisley, Surrey, 22 June 1940. Note the P14 Enfield.

The Home Guard was even extensively armed with donated guns shipped to the country by the NRA from the U.S. and other drives.

More background from Lost Glasgow:

By late 1940, the Home Guard had amassed 847,000 rifles, 47,000 shotguns and 49,000 machine guns of various kinds. However, as there were more than 1,682,000 volunteers at the time, this meant that 739,000 men were without a weapon. There was little improvement in June 1941 when Prime Minster Winston Churchill wrote to the War Office saying that “every man must have a weapon of some sort, be it only a mace or a pike.”

The civil servants took Churchill at his word and ordered 250,000 pikes from the Ministry of Aircraft Production, each consisting of a long steel tube with an obsolete bayonet welded to the end. When the first of these reached the Home Guard, there was uproar and it is thought that none were actually issued to Home Guardsmen.

Then were the Auxiliary Units or GHQ Auxiliary Units, “stay behind” cells consisting of some 500 independent patrols of 5-10 volunteers attached to Home Guard battalions 201 (Scotland), 202 (northern England), or 203 (southern England).

A replica of an operational base British auxiliary service unit

A replica of an operational base for a British auxiliary service unit

They used hidden underground bases known only to them, which cached their arms and equipment for “the day” and expected to fight as a uniformed partisan force until eliminated.

“Not only were Auxiliary Units given a life expectancy of 12 days, but they were also under orders not to be captured. If surrounded, they would need to shoot each other or blow themselves up with their own explosives.”

Here is a photo of one such patrol, from Leiston in Suffolk, shows a rough looking bunch of scoundrels armed with STENs, a P14 or M1917 Enfield rifle, and…something else.

wwii-home-guard-ww2-auxiliarys-stay-behind-sten-p14-p17-enfield-winchester-mod-74-22-semi-auto-with-parker-hale-silencer-fed-from-a-20-round-tube-magazine-located-in-the-stock

That “something else” is a Winchester Model 74 with a Parker Hale No.42 optic and a silencer (suppressor) to muffle its gentle .22LR report.

An interesting little semi-auto that was introduced in 1939, Winchester made something like 406,574 of these popguns by 1955 and their long barrels made them extremely accurate. The U.S. sent several thousand to the UK for use as a trainer, and 660 were converted to their more covert use, envisioned to be used to take out German sentries and guard dogs as needed.

winchester-mod-74-22-semi-auto-with-parker-hale-silencer-fed-from-a-20-round-tube-magazine-located-in-the-stock

From Rifleman.org who has a lot of information on these guns.

winchester-mod-74-22-semi-auto-with-parker-hale-silencer-fed-from-a-20-round-tube-magazine-located-in-the-stock

More on the Model 74 in the video from The Gun Guy below.

Hell for leather

The Great War saw the U.S. Army balloon from 100,000 regulars who were spending most of their time in the Philippines and along the border with Mexico, to a modern fighting force of nearly 3 million– and this from a country that had a population less than a third of what we have today.

With so many hardlegs pulled from the fields, factories, police forces and offices, many women stepped forward to do their part for the war effort. While Germany was still an ocean away, very real threats of sabotage by enemy agents and U-boats stalking towns up and down the East Coast led to mobilization of home guards and auxiliary police units.

One of the most interesting is the “Cavalry Corps of the American Woman’s League for Self Defense” in New York City.

A troop-sized unit of some 20 horse-mounted uniformed women organized by one Ethel May Schiess, the group performed messenger and scouting duties in the city through the end of 1918. If there were serious landings in the NYC area by the Germans, they no doubt would have become a noteworthy irregular partisan unit.

Original Caption: Cavalry corps of the American Women's League for Self Defense. Cavalry Corps of the American Woman's League for Self Defense held its first public drill in the 1st Field Artillery Armory, Broadway and 60th Street, New York. Miss Ethel May Schiess, who is seen in the front, put the 20 prospective scouts and message bearers through their paces, while the 1st Field Artillery band played. Photographer: Kadel and Herbert

Original Caption: Cavalry corps of the American Women’s League for Self Defense. Cavalry Corps of the American Woman’s League for Self Defense held its first public drill in the 1st Field Artillery Armory, Broadway and 60th Street, New York. Miss Ethel May Schiess, who is seen in the front, put the 20 prospective scouts and message bearers through their paces, while the 1st Field Artillery band played. Photographer: Kadel and Herbert

Original Caption: New York's female cavalry drilling in city streets. The American Woman's League for Self Defense who have organized a cavalry troop, started outdoor drilling in the streets adjacent to the 1st Field Artillery at 67th St. & Broadway, New York, where their first lessons were received under the supervision of army officers. Photo shows Captain Ethel Schiess giving orders to the troop. Photographer: Western Newspaper Union

Original Caption: New York’s female cavalry drilling in city streets. The American Woman’s League for Self Defense who have organized a cavalry troop, started outdoor drilling in the streets adjacent to the 1st Field Artillery at 67th St. & Broadway, New York, where their first lessons were received under the supervision of army officers. Photo shows Captain Ethel Schiess giving orders to the troop. Photographer: Western Newspaper Union

For an article I did on the similar and very well-armed women’s machine gun squad police reserves of New York City over at Guns.com, click here.

The Maryland Minute Men

Though this homeguard at the German POW holding faciity at Camp Fredrick Maryland is comparatively well equipped with an M1 Carbine late in the War, the early guards were not so lucky. (Image via German Pulse)

Though this sentry at the German POW holding facility at Camp Fredrick, Maryland is comparatively well equipped with an M1 Carbine late in the War, the early home guards were not so lucky. (Image via German Pulse)

Second Amendment luminary David Kopel has an interesting piece up at the Volokh Conspiracy about the Maryland Home Guard that sprung up in 1942.

On March 10, 1942, Maryland’s Democratic governor, Herbert O’Conor, called forth the militia of Maryland. In a radio address to the People of the State, O’Conor called for the creation of the Maryland Minute Men. They would provide “local protection against parachute troops, saboteurs, or organized raiding parties” — attacks that might be assisted by “by enemy sympathizers within our State.”

The U.S. military did not have arms or ammunition to spare. “Hence, the volunteers, for the most part, will be expected to furnish their own weapons. For this reason, gunners (of whom there are 60, 000 licensed in Maryland), members of Rod and Gun Clubs, of Trap Shooting and similar organizations, will be expected to constitute a part of this new military organization.”

“The Maryland Minute Men, armed with weapons with which they are thoroughly familiar from long use, operating in a community in which they are accustomed to every road and trail and stream, and aroused to fighting pitch by the knowledge that they are serving to protect their own homes, their family and all that they hold dear in life, will prove a staunch defense against any enemy activity.”

More here

Furs and Springfield T-guns…

73-years ago this week…

These Northwestern University girls brave freezing weather to go through a Home Guard rifle drill with Springfield Model 1903 Style T Target Rifles

“These Northwestern University girls brave freezing weather to go through a Home Guard rifle drill on the campus in Evanston, Illinois on January 11, 1942 (a month after Pearl Harbor). From left to right are: Jeanne Paul, age 18, of Oak Park, Illinois,; Virginia Paisley, 18, of Lakewood, Ohio; Marian Walsh, 19, also from Lakewood; Sarah Robinson, 20, of Jonesboro, Arkansas,; Elizabeth Cooper, 17, of Chicago; Harriet Ginsberg, 17.”    (AP Photo) (Hattip Georgy Zhukov)

These well-dressed undergrads are equipped with Springfield 1903 T-Models. These chopped-down target model rifles were shipped out through the U.S. Army’s Department of Civilian Marksmanship (now known as the CMP) in the 1920s and 30s to various school and private shooting teams to be used in DCM competitions and these ladies are likely of the school’s rifle team and deadly sharpshooters if they had to be..luckily no Axis paratroopers had to find out the hardway.

These 30.06’s are exceptionally rare today.

Early Springfield Model 1903 Style "T" Target Rifle with Winchester A5 Scope

Early Springfield Model 1903 Style “T” Target Rifle with Winchester A5 Scope

Mexican Government Adopts the Vigilantes, says they loved them all along

vigilantes

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mexico-vigilantes

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico essentially legalized the country’s growing “self-defense” groups Monday, while also announcing that security forces had captured one of the four top leaders of the Knights Templar drug cartel, which the vigilante groups have been fighting for the last year.

The government said it had reached an agreement with vigilante leaders to incorporate the armed civilian groups into old and largely forgotten quasi-military units called the Rural Defense Corps. Vigilante groups estimate their numbers at 20,000 men
under arms.

The twin announcements may help the administration of President Enrique Pena Nieto find a way out of an embarrassing situation in the western state of Michoacan, where vigilantes began rising up last February against the Knights Templar reign of terror and extortion after police and troops failed to stop the abuses.

“The self-defense forces will become institutionalized, when they are integrated into the Rural Defense Corps,” the Interior Department said in a statement. Police and soldiers already largely tolerate, and in some cases even work with, the vigilantes, many of whom are armed with assault rifles that civilians are not allowed to carry… (More in the AP story here)