If Germany Had Invaded England in the Second World War, Who Would Have Fought Back?
Hare Warren Woods, Wilton, Wiltshire
NHLE entry: Listing details for Hare Warren Control Station
In Britain in the summer of 1940, the threat of enemy invasion and occupation was very real. German forces had taken France, and in June, the British were pushed back across the Channel. Munitions and supplies were woefully depleted, and intelligence indicated that Hitler planned to invade England in the autumn.
With this supposed threat at its height, Winston Churchill ordered preparations to be made for a secret resistance force to report on and agitate against any invasion force that might arrive.
In May 2014, English Heritage (now Historic England) scheduled an 'IN-station' at Hare Warren in Wiltshire. The site is the largest control station used by Churchill's network of auxiliary units. So what part did this underground structure play in the resistance to German invasion?
Saboteurs, spies and radio operators
The resistance force consisted of two extensive networks, one of saboteurs, one of spies and radio operators. Officially called the GHQ Auxiliary Units, they have been nicknamed 'Churchill's Secret Army' or the British Resistance Organisation.
Very little documentation about the networks survives, as their carefully planned operation was never needed. Due to the high level of secrecy, the story remains relatively unknown and it is only as buildings like Hare Warren are uncovered, that details of the recruits' courage and stamina are coming to light.
With one hand on a Bible
'Aux Unit' recruits had to verbally swear to secrecy, with one hand on a Bible. Most Auxiliers were civilians, and even their families knew nothing of the role that required them to leave their homes regularly at night.
There were two independent branches. The Operational Branch recruited and trained civilians who, after invasion, would have remained in German-occupied areas. Concealing themselves in underground hide-outs during the day, at night they would have emerged and attacked or otherwise disrupted the enemy.
The Special Duties Branch would have coordinated civilian spies reporting German troop movements to army command HQs via a network of wireless 'OUT' and 'IN' stations. They were usually concealed from view in underground dugouts - under garden privies and chicken sheds - and in overhead locations like church towers and pub attics.
SUB-OUT, OUT- and -IN stations
The civilian-run OUT-stations were located near coastal points of likely invasion (as the network expanded some were supported by SUB-OUT-Stations). These transmitted intelligence reports to IN-stations usually operated by female ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service) officers, where they were decoded and sent on to HQs. By 1944, there were 233 stations overall, employing 3,250 civilians as spies, runners and operators.
Because Hare Warren IN-station was close to the Southern Command HQ in Wiltshire, it may have played a part in relaying information prior to the Normandy D-Day landings. Constructed by the Royal Engineers, the station is in a pit with a concrete slab base and corrugated iron shelters forming the walls and roof. The roof was covered in earth to make it undetectable from ground level.
The underground operational area is subdivided into living, sleeping, cooking, wireless operation and generator areas, with the living area partitioned off by a concealed timber door and wall. An escape tunnel leads from the operations area to an escape shaft and hatch, whilst a further tunnel leads towards a steel tank which possibly situated chemical toilets.
Hare Warren today
After the success at Normandy, the threat of invasion was reduced, leading the Special Duties Branch and its facilities to be disbanded and decommissioned. Most of the stations we know about today are sealed and on private land; visiting them without a landowner's permission is illegal, and would be extremely dangerous due to their degraded structure and high levels of asbestos contamination.
Historic research is continuing to discover how much of this network has survived. If you would like to find out more, the Selected Sources section of Hare Warren's List Entry provides a good reading list.
Also of interest...
Scheduling is shorthand for the process through which nationally important sites and monuments are given legal protection.