Role of LDV

“L.D.V manning their defences should realize they are part of the Army and must stay put and defend their post to the last man. There can be no retreat” – Commander, 7th Bttn. L.D.V, 31st July 1940

The LDV role was at first primarily patrolling and manning observation posts, on the look out for parachutists (especially in the more rural areas) and Fifth Columnists. Church bells were to be rung as a warning of the decent of parachutists.

Subsequently on parachute troops landing, the role of the LDV was to form a network of posts to help prevent enemy groups moving around freely and forming into larger bodies, when they would then move onto their objective e.g. aerodrome, bridge, railway station etc. Instructions issued from LDV East Suffolk Zone specified that posts should consist of six men; Boy Scouts, cyclists, special Constables could be at the post to act as messengers. The posts were not to move – if parachutists landed nearby they were to be fired on but not pursued. The posts were regarded as adding depth to the defences already established along the coast and various stop lines. The LDV were informed that assistance would come from Field Forces in the general area or from troops moving up from the rear (although in 1940 this was surely wishful thinking).

Lt-Col Ovey, D.S.O., 7th Battalion Suffolk Home Guard, notes that posts in the early days were of a “somewhat flimsy” sandbag erection with boxes of home made Molotoff cocktails at hand. During ‘scare’ periods, these ‘forts’ were manned during the night.

Right: A "somewhat flimsy" sandbag post somewhere in
Britain, 1940

The posts were often established with accompanying road blocks. Blocks were intended to be strong enough to stop a lorry moving at average speed and at first consisted of anything the LDV could lay their hands on. If a shotgun was available this should be detailed to fire at the tyres, or, if the vehicle had solid tyres then the radiator or windscreen. The road block post was instructed to “TREAT ANYONE APPROACHING YOUR POST AS A POTENTIAL ENEMY.”

The LDV took over many road blocks constructed by the Army on the main Stop Lines, in most cases consisting of concrete blocks and holes dug in the road for the insertion of steel rails. Concrete cylinders were also used as blocks on both the Command and Corps Line. Concertina wire laid out in a “U” shape was probably the most common type of road block. Most such blocks were covered by either a pillbox or sandbagged emplacement. In some cases the LDV had apparently helped the Army in the construction of these pillboxes and blocks, obtaining materials locally without reference to the Military authorities.

The shift in the view of the use of pillboxes was explained to the local Home Guard organizers in a conference on 18th July 1940. It was noted that road blocks were often covered by a pillbox which had not been carefully sited and would undoubtedly draw fire. The pillbox, if used was to be regarded as a keep (where troops could shelter during air attacks), connected to weapons-pits by narrow communication trenches. Camouflage was recommended for pillboxes – painting with adverts or in the countryside made to resemble rubbish piles or haystacks.

These posts were frequently manned during Alert periods at the peak of the invasion scare with instructions to stop and check all vehicles. This often lead to confusion, with some LDV (as well as regular Field Forces) interpreting the instructions in such a manor that, once a block was closed, it was to stay closed and all approaching it were to be fired on! It had to be repeatedly made clear that blocks should not hinder the movement of military traffic and civilian traffic should face only the minimum delay i.e. that required to check identity.

During August 1940, at the height of the Battle of Britain, LDV posts were given the all clear to engage low flying aircraft with automatic weapons in order for “the Army to do all in its power to destroy hostile aircraft, and so help the Royal Air Force in maintain air superiority”, subject of course to the usual restrictions of not opening fire on aircraft until confirmed as hostile or committing a hostile act. This practice certainly continued into the War, E Company, 11th Suffolk Home Guard noted that a small party of Browning Automatic riflemen paraded every Saturday and Sunday afternoon, ready to fire on enemy aircraft who were dropping anti-personnel bombs on Ipswich at the time.

Also at this time, Eastern Command had to remind the LDV (as well as the Field Forces) to exercise the greatest care not to shoot at our own airmen who were bailing out of an aircraft. It was also pointed out that some allied airmen were foreign nationals and that everyone with a foreign accent was not necessarily hostile. As a general rule, any more than six parachutists descending at one time could be considered as being hostile. Any less than six may be friendly and were not to be shot at unless confirmed as hostile and showing signs of fight or attempting to escape.

During the confusion caused by the issue of the code word “Cromwell” on September 7th most of the LDV in Suffolk manned its posts. No 6 Group LDV, Ipswich noted that “all volunteers were called out and positions manned. Rifles, ammunition and equipment were issued indiscriminately to the men and it took months to get the Quartermasters books straight again!”

Patrols may have had the luxury of being based at local village church halls etc but not all were so lucky. Piper Vales LDV started its first duties with the duty section being based in the paddling pool shelter with a tarpaulin across it and in a small bivouac tent.

At first Works Units were banned, this was not lifted until June 1940, when many works Units were then immediately raised – for example what eventually became “B” Company, 11 battalion Suffolk Home Guard was made up entirely of employees from Ransomes and Sims and Jefferies throughout all stages of its development. Such units mounted “anti-sabotage guards” of their own Works unit at first, but in most cases their role was eventually enlarged to share in the defence of their towns.

In first days, the LDV had very little in the way of equipment – Lt.Col Ovey, D.S.O., notes that they had very few rifles (with only five rounds of ammunition each) and only an LDV armband in the way of uniform. Other weapons included a few shotguns issued and home made Molotoff Cocktails (made from old wine bottles filled with a mix of tar and paraffin and a red rag tied round their necks which was dipped into a bucket of paraffin and lit with a match before throwing).

To show just how bad things were in the first days, one Commander from the 6th (34th G.P.O) Cambridgeshire Battalion recalls how he armed one guard he detailed in May, “in the absence of anything more lethal, handing them packets of pepper, short lengths of lead cabling and iron tubing.”

Equipment sharing was the order of the day - issued to patrols, guards and those manning roadblocks as they went out on their shift of duty, to be handed over to the next shift when theirs finished. Not surprisingly there was some irony expressed at the time about the role the LDV was expected to perform:

  • “There were some doubts as to the practicality of mopping up armed bodies of desperate men through the medium of quasi civilians equipped with rifles and 10 rounds of SAA”
  • “Get the paratroopers before they have time to form up, with a few old rifles and the village poachers’ shot guns”
  • “Home–made Molotov Cocktails to stop tanks, and a few outmoded Ross rifles to face the latest machine guns and mortars”
    • Despite this irony, there is no doubting the enthusiasm that these duties were undertaken with at the height of the invasion scare.

      By 1941, with increased equipment available and more structured training in place, the Home Guard became more integrated with the Field Forces in terms of Home Defence. Its role was still limited, each platoon and section having its specific task, but it could now perform a much wider role than in 1940, helping to free up troops for other duties and overseas deployment. The greatest strength of the Home Guard was local knowledge, and the Home Guard could utilize this knowledge of the natural defences in their area to allow them to perform this role. In order to differentiate its limited operational role Home Guard platoons and sections were referred to as follows:

      • Squads (the equivalent of the infantry section)
      • Battle Platoons (the equivalent of infantry platoons)
        • The squad normally consisted of a squad leader and seven men. The battle platoon was normally two or more squads working together.

          During the “Invasion” period of 1940 – 42, the type of attack the Home Guard was expected to meet is what is widely referred to now as “Blitzkrieg”. The enemy would rely on the surprise and speed of mechanized forces to press onto the objective, regardless of flank protection. An air-blitz and airborne troops may be employed in advance of the spearhead to secure or neutralize important objectives. Specially trained infantry following behind the spearhead would deal with defended localities by-passed, widening the lane and allowing the exploiting forces to pass through.

          The defence system to meet such tactics was referred to as the “island” system. Islands of resistance should command the road network which the enemy would have to pass along. Villages, hamlets and towns through which the road network ran, were obvious localities to be defended. These islands of resistance would slow down and weaken the enemy forces, allowing the mobile reserves time to concentrate for a decisive counter-attack. The Home Guard was part of this “island” system and was to disrupt the enemy invasion by:

          • Preventing surprise by observation of beaches, all suitable landing areas for transport planes and keeping a watch for parachutists.
          • Preventing speed by holding up the mechanized forces by making it difficult or impossible for them to pass along roads, by either the defence of towns and villages through which the road network ran or by harassing the enemy with fighting patrols. Although tanks were not road-bound, the artillery and supply columns were. As long as the Home Guard held communication junctions, the enemy would have to divert forces to destroy the defence or risk defeat of his spearhead through lack of supply.
            • Villages and towns were defended primarily by covering all approaches and blocking all roads leading into the village/town. In larger towns, a series of inner blocks were sited to further slow down any enemy which penetrated the perimeter. The principles of Home Guard defence as outlined in Instruction No 51 were:

              • Defence is final – a defence post must fight to the last man and round
              • Defended localities must be sited in depth – the enemy may penetrate between localities or even capture one, but the impetus could be slowed down by vigorous counter attacks
              • All-round defence – every defended locality must be sited for all round defence
              • Aggressive defence – defence must not be static, every commander should have a mobile force for counter-attacks and harassing the enemy
              • Defence must be concentrated – concentrated fire power destroys the enemy; defended localities should be no larger than needed to deliver concentrated weapon fire. It was also impossible to defend everything, only the essential was to be defended.
              • Mutual support – machine guns and anti-tank weapons were to be sited to fire in enfilade to be most efficient and this also allowed one locality to support another
              • Concealment is paramount – a post located can be neutralized. A vital element in defence was surprise; the post was not to allow the enemy to draw its fire but to hold it until the enemy attacked in force.
                • Where villages had a platoon that was too small to defend the village, such platoons were given specific roles such as observation patrols or forming the mobile reserve of a neighboring defended locality.

                  As outlined above, the Home Guard was to now fight to hold a netwok of isolated localities spread over the whole country, with the object of breaking the cohesion of the enemy’s advance. Offensive defence consisted of small parties, or patrols, of men who “seize every opportunity to sally forth from these localities, relying on their battle craft and local knowledge to observe and report movements and to hunt him {the enemy} down and kill him”.
                  Patrols were of four types:

                  Reconnoitering patrols – the object of these patrols was to gain knowledge of the enemy without being noticed by him and to report back to HQ. They were not to fight unless forced to do so in self defence. The strength of a recce patrol seldom exceeded a squad; in some circumstances it could be as low as three well trained scouts. Some roles of a recce patrol were:

                  • To keep in touch with the enemy and give early information which may disclose his movements or plans
                  • To maintain touch with neighboring defended localities
                  • To gain information on receipt of which a fighting patrol can be sent out to destroy the enemy
                  • To discover before dawn whether the enemy has moved towards the position during the night
                  • To secure the position from surprise by day or night from front, flanks or rear
                    • Fighting patrols – this type of patrol was to act offensively and had to be strong enough to attack isolated posts, deal with any enemy patrols it encountered or to infiltrate between enemy posts and capture prisoners. It was to consist of battle platoon, commanded by an officer.
                      Some roles of a fighting patrol were:

                      • To get information of any kind that can be obtained by fighting
                      • To encounter enemy patrolling between or in front of localities
                      • To discover and destroy enemy near our defended posts or vital points in ground not under observation by our own troops.
                      • To secure identification or prisoners.
                      • To cover demolition parties during their work
                      • To harass he enemy
                      • Tank hunting
                      • Destroy parties of parachutists
                      • To destroy a party of enemy holding a vital post, e.g. a house or small hill that was causing problems to our positions from observation or fire.
                        • Standing patrol – these were sent to watch approaches which the enemy was likely to use such as fords, bridges, or likely assembly positions not watched by the main defence. They could also be ordered to hold a position that the enemy must capture before his main attack with the object of delaying the enemy. The strength of a standing patrol depended upon the role assigned to it and could be up to the size of a battle platoon.

                          Mobile patrols – some Home Guard garrisons maintained fully mobile patrols mounted on bicycles, motor-cycles, motor cars and lorries. They often had a role to deal with air landed troops. The strength of such patrols was up to battle platoon. If it did not detract from mobility, weapons such as medium machine guns and Northovers could be added to the patrol.

                          The same principles of battle craft and fire and movement applied to patrols in either town or village fighting. The fundamental difference of town fighting compared to village fighting was that routes and fields of fire were restricted. The four types of patrol outlined above applied equally to village or town fighting.

                          Due to the growing number of airfields in Suffolk, many Home Guard units had an airfield defence role by 1943. This was provided by Fighting and Recce patrols and manning observation posts for their allotted airfield.

                          By 1944 the threat of invasion had passed, but the risk of sabotage just before and just after OVERLORD was considered a high. During the hours of darkness, the Home Guard had an anti-sabotage role during this period by:

                          • Mounting patrols to areas as ordered and looking for signs of interference.
                          • Guarding certain Public Utilities
                          • Maintain the state of readiness to defend Defended Places, airfields and other Vulnerable Points as before.
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