Home Guard Defences

The Home Guard’s role in defending towns and villages was to deny the use of the road network to the enemy. The defence of these series of “islands” was to be based on all round defence, usually by strong points covering the main roads entering the village or town and a series of smaller posts between the strong points established in larger villages and towns.

The defence of towns and villages by the Home Guard is outlined in two widely circulated war time booklets written by Col. G. A. Wade, M.C. – “The Defence of Bloodford Village” which had a forward by the Director General of The Home Guard and “The Defence of Villages & Small Towns”, one of the Gale & Polden Training Series. These booklets explain the type of attack the Home Guard was expected to face in 1940-41 as well as the principles of defence. The booklets describe hypothetical “beautiful English villages, the picture of peace and contentment” and although they do conjure up a vision of idyllic English countryside that must be defended against the invader, this does not detract from their content. Another key publication, although issued to the Home Guard much later in the war was “Home Guard Instruction No. 51 Part IV – The Organization of The Home Guard Defence” published by GHQ Home Forces in November 1943.

In “The Defence of Villages & Small Towns” the strategic importance of village defence is described:

“If you picture the onslaught of the Panzer division as like the impact of a bullet, then loose, clinging resistance is like the sand in the sandbag which will stop it in a much shorter distance than other substances offering considerably harder resistance.

When the invader bursts into our countryside those who are defending our villages will have a role of absolutely primary importance. Every centre of resistance the enemy meets will slow him down and use up a little of his impetus. If these strongholds are distributed right across his path, as villages will be, before he has travelled far his pace will be slowed, his initiative gone and the way prepared for action by our own shock troops”.

The book “The Defence of Bloodford Village” has as its central character the local Home Guard Commander, Skipper Gee. Through a series of Skipper Gee’s dreams, the methods of attack expected and how to counter them are described. The threat of the Fifth Column and tanks are highlighted as well as the fear of airborne troops prevalent at the time:

  • “Then came a tinkle-tinkle-tinkle getting gradually louder and louder and coming from the Wallop Road. A boy on a bicycle, wild with excitement, pedaling furiously and ringing his bell all the time, streaked into the square, fell from the cycle, picked himself up and yelled:-“Murder! Murder! Murder! Germans! Parachutes! Parachutes! Hundreds! And hundreds! Help! Help!””.
  • “Every face on the Green suddenly looked up towards HAG’S POND and with a sweep a huge camouflaged aeroplane skimmed the water, bounced across the Green, knocked over a number of people, and came to a stop. Instantly, two machine guns opened fire and a crowd of grey figures swarmed from the plane and advanced on the remains of the Home Guard, firing from the hip with light machine guns”.
    • The Home Guard could thus expect to have to deal with sabotage from the “Fifth Columnists”, armoured spearheads penetrating inland after successfully landing on the coast or airborne troops attempting to land in the rear of the beach defences in order to secure aerodromes, carry out sabotage or secure vital communication points for advancing armour.

      The Home Guard had largely a static defence role, centered on their village or town, although it did contain a mobile element to the defence with active patrolling. The two booklets described above highlight the key elements to the defence of villages and towns:

      • Strongpoints or keeps which the garrison would defend. These should be capable of all-round defence, be mutually supporting and sited where they cover approaches to vital parts of the defended area.
      • Road Blocks which should be easy to defend and hard for the enemy to attack. They should block every road into the village/town and be placed where the enemy comes across them unexpectedly and where they can be defended with A.W. Bombs or Molotov Cocktails etc.
      • A reserve should be available to re-establish the defences if they are penetrated.
      • An element of active and aggressive defence with fighting patrols.
      • Dominant ground should be occupied by the defence.
        • Right - Village roadblocks
          and strongpoint, "The Defence
          of Villages & Small Towns"

          Right - Road block and
          Company Locality in a town,
          Home Guard Instruction No.51
          Part IV

          These principles remained largely true during the course of the war, and by 1942, when the Home Guard was well equipped, trained and led, it was part of a fully integrated defense system designed to frustrate any invasion or large scale raid. The only real change to the scenario outlined in the two booklets, was that by 1942 due to much improved home defences, the old picture of small isolated parties of Germans landing by parachute or aircraft throughout the length and breadth of the country was not now a practical proposition. Fighting patrols and guerilla tactics became secondary to a “base” defence, observation being obtained by a network of recce patrols operating from these bases.

          The defences constructed were a mixture of those inherited from the Army during the summer of 1940 and those constructed by the Home Guard themselves. In villages and towns designated Nodal Points and/or along the Eastern Command Line (and to some extent the other Stop Lines), a chronological order of the development of defences is clearly documented. In the summer of 1940, pillboxes and trenches were constructed by civilian contractors under the supervision of the Royal Engineers, although the siting of these was often unsatisfactory or haphazard. Road block construction was under the supervision of the Ministry of Transport; this was equally chaotic at times as described by 229 Filed Company, involved in constructing road blocks on the Command Line between Earls Colne and Lavenham:

          “Road blocks…..spent days trying to get a ruling. No one will give decision.”

          By 1941, Suffolk’s Stop Lines had been abandoned with the exception of the Command Line and the Back Line; although the Back Line was in reality a demolition zone rather than a defended continuous anti-tank obstacle such as the Command Line (the Home Guard had a role to provide a “skeleton” garrison for the Command Line and Back Line). Nodal Points were however maintained to act as a series of strongpoints in depth and in the spring of 1941 work was concentrated on developing the defences of these with the provision of all round wire obstacles, minefields and spigot mortar positions. Some key points, such as Wilfred Bridge, where made as tank proof as possible. Here anti-tank scaffolding was also erected and a 6pdr gun emplaced in a shell proof pillbox manned by the Home Guard covered the bridge. The Army carried out the majority of the work.

          Villages’ not designated nodal points also had their defences developed in order to give depth to the defence of nodal points or “defended places” as tnodal points were now referred to in Eastern Command. Such villages were termed “Hold up Villages”. It is unlikely the Home Guard would have received much in the way of military support in developing the defences of these villages, but would have undertaken the work themselves. Whether a village was to provide a patrol or was to be defended was no longer to depend upon the size of the garrison, but whether the position was defensible, even if this meant only a ”keep” in the village was held, provided the “keep” denied the route through the village.

          Certainly by the start of 1942, the defences of “defended places” were quite substantial. The defence radiated from a central “keep”, where the Home Guard commander could control the battle; the reserve was also based at the “keep” (instructions stated this should be 25% of the total force). A number of defended localities within the “defended place” were sited to control the main approaches. In larger towns the “defended localities” would be more heavily defended, each with its own stock of ammunition, food and water and more than one “keep” was required.

          Each defended locality was to be capable of all round defence. They were to be mutually supporting and have anti-tank weapons (Spigot mortars, Northover projectors etc) to cover road blocks situated at the main approaches. Road blocks were typically the rail, bent rail (often referred to as “hairpin”), cylinder or bent concertina wire type. As well as providing an obstacle to enemy armour, road blocks at “defended places” would also be used as “check points” to prevent the movement of unauthorized traffic.

          Right - Check Point, Home Guard
          Instruction No. 1 Part IV

          The whole “defended place” would be surrounded by an obstacle, making use of natural obstacles such as rivers if possible. Tactical wire obstacles were also erected in co-ordination with the weapons of defence. Anti-personal minefields were sited as booby traps or to cover dead ground. Anti-tank minefields were used to link up natural and artificial obstacles and used in conjunction with road blocks where it was possible for armoured vehicles to attempt, at close range, to by-pass blocks. Although mines for these purposes where issued to “defended places”, they were not to be laid before “Stand To”.

          Earth works (typically weapon-slits) were constructed for rifles and machine-guns. In towns or on ground which digging was not possible, breast works were constructed. If a pillbox had been constructed on the best fire position, it could be retained in the defence scheme but otherwise the Home Guard was encouraged to use them as dummy positions. Buildings chosen for defence could obviously not be put into a state of defence before “Stand To”. It was recommended to keep piles of shingle as near as possible to buildings to be used for defence, to fill sandbags with on “Stand To”. On “Action Stations” all windows of the houses in the village were to be opened but curtains kept close to conceal the actual sandbagged positions.

          Many “defended places” were situated on Demolition Belts (in 11 Corps District there were four designated Demolition Belts – Coastal Belt, The Corps Belt (the former Eastern Command Line) , the River Waveney Belt and the GHQ Belt(the former GHQ Line)). In the Corps Belt and GHQ Belt all bridges over the main lines were prepared for demolition and all rail crossing had rail blocks. Demolitions and the placing of rail blocks were only to be carried out under orders from 11 Corps. In the Coastal Belt, roads were mined with Canadian Pipe mines and bridges prepared for demolition. These were to be blown on the orders of local commanders; if possible Engineers were to carry out the demolitions although the Home Guard could be designated if no engineers were available.

Febdit Keep
Fendit Road Blocks
Town Roadblock
Town Locality
Check Point

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