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Dad's Army - How useful would the Home Guard have been?


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Sqn Ldr B #1 Posted 18 November 2016 - 07:10 PM

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If you're from the UK, you've almost certainly heard of the Home Guard, or "Dad's Army" as it was often called. If you're not from the UK, the Home Guard was a volunteer force set up in May 1940 to bolster defence against German invasion, recruiting people too old, too young or otherwise exempt from being called up to the regular army. The result was basically a force of mostly old men, many of whom had served in the First World War, and a fair few in the earlier Boer Wars and even in African campaigns, like the Sudan. The initial equipment situation was pretty poor, with many having to wear a simple armband rather than an actual uniform, and many equipped with surplus WW1 rifles, Canadian and American imports, civilian shotguns, rifles and pistol, improvised weapons and museum pieces (and there's also the whole Croft's Pikes debacle*). Manpower was no issue though. In the first seven days of the initiative being announced in May 1940, 250,000 men signed up. By July 1,500,000 had joined. However, by 1942 the Home Guard was actually pretty well equipped; with the introduction of the Sten Gun, they could be issued with more modern No.4 rifles. Lewis guns and Bren guns were issued, as were the American Thompson SMGs and BARs. Many units had basic mortars, and some were even issued armoured cars. Training began to improve with time as well, as men of as old as 70 years of age were taught how to deal with tanks and enemy paratroopers (there's that old joke that they were told Germans might dress as nuns to avoid detection). Notable members included George Orwell and C S Lewis.

 

Anyway, my point is, how effective would they have been? After all, how much use would a poorly equipped, if spirited, band of boys and old men have been against a German Blitzkrieg across the countryside of Southern England? Don't get bogged down in how the Germans got there in the first place, I know they probably couldn't, just assume they did. I'd say it depends a lot on when the Germans invaded. If it was immediately after the Fall of France, in 1940, it'd probably be a total wipeout. 739,000 of the Home Guard were still without weapons in late 1940, and training hadn't quite got off the ground yet. However, if the invasion came in 1942 or 1943, it'd probably be a different story. The Home Guard by then were adequately armed and reasonably trained. Thoughts?

 

*The Croft's Pike debacle refers to Churchill's order that "every man must have a weapon of some sort, be it only a mace or a pike", at which point the War Office took him literally and ordered 250,000 crude pikes, made of a length of steel tube with a bayonet on the end. It's thought that few were actually issued, and a Home Guard officer, also an MP, said in the House of Commons that the issue of the pikes "if not meant as a joke, was an insult".

 

 


Those videos provide a pretty good picture of what the Home Guard looked like early on.


Edited by Sqn Ldr B, 18 November 2016 - 07:14 PM.

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NimoysHeadinJar #2 Posted 18 November 2016 - 08:17 PM

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Indigenous guerrilla style defense forces are usually fairly effective at harassing, stalling, and interrupting invading forces long enough for allied relief troops to arrive. Providing, of course, there are organized allied relief forces that would come to assist. 

In that regard, I think the Home Guard would have been able to hold long enough for eventual victory.


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Uranprojekt #3 Posted 18 November 2016 - 08:31 PM

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I was about to just say "look at the Volkssturm", but then I decided against it.

 

I decided against it because, whilst they were similar organisations, they'd have been fighting under entirely different circumstances. The Volkssturm had the full brunt of the Red Army bearing down on them during the Battle of Berlin, there was a greater shortage of just about everything (except the Panzerfaust, plenty of those to go around) and the Germans were rather war-weary by 1945, not willing to whip up the storm of fanaticism the Nazi officials were expecting.

The early days of the Home Guard saw similar shortages, though nowhere near as severe. The Wehrmacht certainly would've had the advantage in training and weapons over the Home Guard, that much is certain, but measures had been taken to confuse any potential invaders of Britain. When maps and surveillance photos tell you one thing and the road signs tell you another because they've all been either been removed, replaced or simply turned around, you start to doubt just how reliable your intelligence is. Troops doubting their commanders isn't exactly conducive to fighting spirit.

 

The biggest factor between the Volkssturm of 1945 and the Home Guard of 1940/41 is that the British people wouldn't have anywhere near as war-weary as the Volkssturm were. British pride and stubbornness would've dictated that the ordinary civvie fight tooth and nail to prevent the Germans from making any headway in an invasion of Britain. The Home Guard also would've been able to count on effective air, ground and sea support, something the Volkssturm sorely lacked.

 

In short, I think that, despite their shortcomings in training and weaponry early on, the Home Guard wouldn't have a pushover by any stretch of the imagination. Non-British people may disagree that civilians with little training who were armed with whatever they could find would've been effective against a German invasion force, but such people don't have the same understanding of British tenacity in the face of adversity that we Brits do.


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Sqn Ldr B #4 Posted 18 November 2016 - 09:20 PM

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View PostUranprojekt, on 18 November 2016 - 08:31 PM, said:

I was about to just say "look at the Volkssturm", but then I decided against it.

 

I decided against it because, whilst they were similar organisations, they'd have been fighting under entirely different circumstances. The Volkssturm had the full brunt of the Red Army bearing down on them during the Battle of Berlin, there was a greater shortage of just about everything (except the Panzerfaust, plenty of those to go around) and the Germans were rather war-weary by 1945, not willing to whip up the storm of fanaticism the Nazi officials were expecting.

The early days of the Home Guard saw similar shortages, though nowhere near as severe. The Wehrmacht certainly would've had the advantage in training and weapons over the Home Guard, that much is certain, but measures had been taken to confuse any potential invaders of Britain. When maps and surveillance photos tell you one thing and the road signs tell you another because they've all been either been removed, replaced or simply turned around, you start to doubt just how reliable your intelligence is. Troops doubting their commanders isn't exactly conducive to fighting spirit.

 

The biggest factor between the Volkssturm of 1945 and the Home Guard of 1940/41 is that the British people wouldn't have anywhere near as war-weary as the Volkssturm were. British pride and stubbornness would've dictated that the ordinary civvie fight tooth and nail to prevent the Germans from making any headway in an invasion of Britain. The Home Guard also would've been able to count on effective air, ground and sea support, something the Volkssturm sorely lacked.

 

In short, I think that, despite their shortcomings in training and weaponry early on, the Home Guard wouldn't have a pushover by any stretch of the imagination. Non-British people may disagree that civilians with little training who were armed with whatever they could find would've been effective against a German invasion force, but such people don't have the same understanding of British tenacity in the face of adversity that we Brits do.

 

Plus the fact that the Volkssturm was basically a conscripted-on-pain-of-death "here, here's a gun, go shoot the Russians" kind of force, pretty much formed up with the Red Army a few miles away.

View PostNimoysHeadinJar, on 18 November 2016 - 08:17 PM, said:

Indigenous guerrilla style defense forces are usually fairly effective at harassing, stalling, and interrupting invading forces long enough for allied relief troops to arrive. Providing, of course, there are organized allied relief forces that would come to assist. 

In that regard, I think the Home Guard would have been able to hold long enough for eventual victory.

 

That's the thing, what relief forces were present is dubious. Most of the regulars were either deployed overseas in Africa or Asia, or on the British coast itself or in the cities, not really leaving much in the way of relief forces. The best you could hope for would be Royal Marines, and armed sailors and RAF ground personnel (or the RAF Regiment, depending on the year). I could envisage some kind of rag-tag fighting withdrawal northwards into Northumberland and Scotland. I challenge the Wehrmacht to exert any sort of control over the Highlands and the Grampians and the Pennines and all those other northern mountain ranges, when they're full of British troops. Maybe a similar sort of thing in Wales as well. It'd be Yugoslavia all over again. And if it got to that point I imagine the US would be starting to see to getting involved.

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NimoysHeadinJar #5 Posted 24 November 2016 - 01:14 AM

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View PostSqn Ldr B, on 18 November 2016 - 03:20 PM, said:

...

 

That's the thing, what relief forces were present is dubious. Most of the regulars were either deployed overseas in Africa or Asia, or on the British coast itself or in the cities, not really leaving much in the way of relief forces. The best you could hope for would be Royal Marines, and armed sailors and RAF ground personnel (or the RAF Regiment, depending on the year). I could envisage some kind of rag-tag fighting withdrawal northwards into Northumberland and Scotland. I challenge the Wehrmacht to exert any sort of control over the Highlands and the Grampians and the Pennines and all those other northern mountain ranges, when they're full of British troops. Maybe a similar sort of thing in Wales as well. It'd be Yugoslavia all over again. And if it got to that point I imagine the US would be starting to see to getting involved.

Well, I meant long term and more in reference to supporting allies. Bringing UK troops back may have been untenable and counterproductive. I feel that it would have pushed the US to act sooner. It certainly would have mustered additional Canadian support. Would definitely have been a rally cry for western democracies. Depending on how early this scenario happened, the story would play in different ways. Either way, I think the Home Guard, being British and completely obstinate, would have held, even in an occupied resistance type of fashion, long enough to allow eventual victory so that the pints and the marmite sandwiches would flow!


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NSW Mntd Rifles #6 Posted 28 November 2016 - 02:14 AM

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During World War II Australia had three levels of armed forces. The first was the Australian Imperial Force (AIF), an all volunteer force which was used as an expeditionary force and served in the Middle East theatre, Malaya, the Dutch East Indies etc. The second was the Militia, or Australian Military Force (AMF), which was conscripted and by law was only available for home defence. The Militia was a fully trained, equipped and organised army force, and was larger than the AIF. The Militia fought the Japanese in New Guinea and actually inflicted the first ground defeats on the Japanese military at Milne Bay. The third level was the closest to the British Home Guard. It was called the Volunteer Defence Corps (VDC) and was organised like the home guard. Unlike the Home Guard it included specialist mounted infantry and tropical troops. The VDC would have been quite effective as they knew the country and would have been more capable of living off the land than any invading force. It also included many World War I veterans (the Old and Bold, or Rugged and Buggered) who knew how to fight.

 

I have read that the Japanese were reticent about invading Australia as they estimated that the population would fight to the last person. The Australian Government had also planned a Russian style scorched earth policy.

 

Guerilla warfare undertaken in many theatres of war shows how effective locally organised armed groups can be against an unwelcome invader.

 

Australia, of course, had a fourth line of defence - the multitudes of native critters that exist purely to kill you. 


Edited by NSW Mntd Rifles, 29 November 2016 - 12:02 AM.


NSW Mntd Rifles #7 Posted 28 November 2016 - 02:17 AM

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View PostSqn Ldr B, on 19 November 2016 - 07:20 AM, said:

 

Plus the fact that the Volkssturm was basically a conscripted-on-pain-of-death "here, here's a gun, go shoot the Russians" kind of force, pretty much formed up with the Red Army a few miles away.

 

That's the thing, what relief forces were present is dubious. Most of the regulars were either deployed overseas in Africa or Asia, or on the British coast itself or in the cities, not really leaving much in the way of relief forces. The best you could hope for would be Royal Marines, and armed sailors and RAF ground personnel (or the RAF Regiment, depending on the year). I could envisage some kind of rag-tag fighting withdrawal northwards into Northumberland and Scotland. I challenge the Wehrmacht to exert any sort of control over the Highlands and the Grampians and the Pennines and all those other northern mountain ranges, when they're full of British troops. Maybe a similar sort of thing in Wales as well. It'd be Yugoslavia all over again. And if it got to that point I imagine the US would be starting to see to getting involved.

 

Have just read "Dunkirk - Fight to the Last Man" by Hugh Sebag-Montefiore. The point he makes is that the British placed such a high priority on evacuating the BEF so it had the core of a defence force available to counter a possible German invasion of the UK. In effect that is the real success of Dunkirk. It preserved the fighting army so that it could keep doing its job.

Spookyrobbie #8 Posted 02 December 2016 - 02:43 PM

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Just an opinion here I think that there would have a been a strong resistance although I dare say had Hitler ordered the attack on Britain while we might have put up a great defence it might have been an initial victory for Germany but at high very cost with the Battle of Britain being won we would have inflicted a massive casualties on the on coming invasion force.  I've read that Nerve Gas was being readied in preparation and at a guess London would probably become Stalingrad as how would they manage to keep occupying divisions supplied with the British Navy still very much the power house and the RAF blitzing them on a daily basis?  But really Hitler had no coherent way of think about Britain and again with the Enigma code being broken what surprises would there have been ?  There is a reasonable argument that head he been swift and kept going it may well have been different but indecision is not a great asset full stop. I remember talking to this with my grandfather before he passed and although he was a man of few words he said that had the they invaded they would have done anything to stop them which I fully believe.


Edited by Spookyrobbie, 02 December 2016 - 02:45 PM.


Sqn Ldr B #9 Posted 02 December 2016 - 04:04 PM

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View PostSpookyrobbie, on 02 December 2016 - 02:43 PM, said:

Just an opinion here I think that there would have a been a strong resistance although I dare say had Hitler ordered the attack on Britain while we might have put up a great defence it might have been an initial victory for Germany but at high very cost with the Battle of Britain being won we would have inflicted a massive casualties on the on coming invasion force.  I've read that Nerve Gas was being readied in preparation and at a guess London would probably become Stalingrad as how would they manage to keep occupying divisions supplied with the British Navy still very much the power house and the RAF blitzing them on a daily basis?  But really Hitler had no coherent way of think about Britain and again with the Enigma code being broken what surprises would there have been ?  There is a reasonable argument that head he been swift and kept going it may well have been different but indecision is not a great asset full stop. I remember talking to this with my grandfather before he passed and although he was a man of few words he said that had the they invaded they would have done anything to stop them which I fully believe.

 

Churchill had absolutely no reservations when it came to what weapons to use against the invaders. Gas, petrol bombs, filling the Channel with blazing oil. probably even a bit of crude biological warfare, the whole shebang. The RAF blitzing them on a daily basis is a debatable possibility, assuming Fighter Command was destroyed in the Battle of Britain, the RAF would have been restricted mostly to small night missions and shuttling officials in and (mostly) out of the mainland, probably to Northern Ireland and then on to Canada. The Royal Navy would be practically indestructible though, the only foreseeable way of dealing with them is Japan joining in (as they doubtless would have done with the British Isles' capitulation) and sending a big fleet into the Atlantic to hunt them down.

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Niles Y93 #10 Posted 02 December 2016 - 04:37 PM

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View PostSqn Ldr B, on 02 December 2016 - 11:04 AM, said:

The Royal Navy would be practically indestructible though.....

 

Again, Force Z says hi.



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View PostNiles Y93, on 02 December 2016 - 04:37 PM, said:

 

Again, Force Z says hi.

 

Thats a different matter entirely. The IJN had been taught by the British in the art of Torpedo and Dive Bombing. Also it was sailing without Air Superiority. And by Adler Tag because of the change of targets to British Cities Luftflotten 2 & 3 were severely mauled. The RAF had Air Superiority and the British Home Fleet was the most powerful fleet in the world. 


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Sqn Ldr B #12 Posted 02 December 2016 - 05:58 PM

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View PostNiles Y93, on 02 December 2016 - 04:37 PM, said:

 

Again, Force Z says hi.

 

Yeah, sure, because a battleship, an old battlecruiser and four destroyers versus a couple of hundred aircraft is definitely comparable to a couple of hundred of the finest ships afloat versus the *cough* capabilities of the Luftwaffe regards naval strikes. It's never guaranteed to be a rock, paper, scissors sort of affair where aeroplanes will always kill ships all the time.

Edited by Sqn Ldr B, 02 December 2016 - 05:59 PM.

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Niles Y93 #13 Posted 02 December 2016 - 07:08 PM

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View PostSqn Ldr B, on 02 December 2016 - 12:58 PM, said:

 

Yeah, sure, because a battleship, an old battlecruiser and four destroyers versus a couple of hundred aircraft is definitely comparable to a couple of hundred of the finest ships afloat versus the *cough* capabilities of the Luftwaffe regards naval strikes. It's never guaranteed to be a rock, paper, scissors sort of affair where aeroplanes will always kill ships all the time.

But at some point the British Navy would have to deal with the Japanese (gotta protect the Indians, am I right?). Plus, the British were more keen to rely on warships than airplanes (I mean, why send some odd number of ships after the Bismarck instead of a carrier group if lessons were learned at Taranto?) during WWII. Another thing is that, due to mismanagement and Göring's larger-than-life ego, the Luftwaffe could not be able to carry out effective attacks, whereas the Japanese were able to figure out how to effectively use the carriers not just in surprise attacks (like your beloved Taranto or our Pearl Harbor) but direct, broad daylight, frontal attacks (again, Force Z says hi, and that they would like a carrier escort.). 



Sqn Ldr B #14 Posted 02 December 2016 - 07:22 PM

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View PostNiles Y93, on 02 December 2016 - 07:08 PM, said:

(I mean, why send some odd number of ships after the Bismarck instead of a carrier group if lessons were learned at Taranto?)

 

They did, they sent Force H, with Ark Royal.

 

View PostNiles Y93, on 02 December 2016 - 07:08 PM, said:

(again, Force Z says hi, and that they would like a carrier escort.). 

 

There wasn't a carrier to escort Force Z, and when you've only been at war for three days it's kinda hard to find one quickly enough.


Edited by Sqn Ldr B, 02 December 2016 - 07:23 PM.

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WidowMaker1711 #15 Posted 02 December 2016 - 07:34 PM

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View PostNiles Y93, on 02 December 2016 - 07:08 PM, said:

But at some point the British Navy would have to deal with the Japanese (gotta protect the Indians, am I right?). Plus, the British were more keen to rely on warships than airplanes (I mean, why send some odd number of ships after the Bismarck instead of a carrier group if lessons were learned at Taranto?) during WWII. Another thing is that, due to mismanagement and Göring's larger-than-life ego, the Luftwaffe could not be able to carry out effective attacks, whereas the Japanese were able to figure out how to effectively use the carriers not just in surprise attacks (like your beloved Taranto or our Pearl Harbor) but direct, broad daylight, frontal attacks (again, Force Z says hi, and that they would like a carrier escort.). 

 

Only the Imperial Japanese Navy learned anything from Taranto. They learned that contrary to Military Doctrine of the day Battleships at Anchor in a harbour were NOT safe from torpedo bombers. A lesson that the British Admiralty passed on to the USN in early 1941 along with Intelligence that Japan was gearing up for war AFTER rumblings had been heard in the Dutch East Indies. Intelligence the USN failed to act upon.

 


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Niles Y93 #16 Posted 03 December 2016 - 06:04 AM

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View PostWidowMaker1711, on 02 December 2016 - 02:34 PM, said:

 

Only the Imperial Japanese Navy learned anything from Taranto. They learned that contrary to Military Doctrine of the day Battleships at Anchor in a harbour were NOT safe from torpedo bombers. A lesson that the British Admiralty passed on to the USN in early 1941 along with Intelligence that Japan was gearing up for war AFTER rumblings had been heard in the Dutch East Indies. Intelligence the USN failed to act upon.

 

Depends on if you believe the theories or not.



WidowMaker1711 #17 Posted 03 December 2016 - 06:56 AM

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View PostNiles Y93, on 03 December 2016 - 06:04 AM, said:

Depends on if you believe the theories or not.

 

Conspiracy Theories?? Nope I dont believe any localised leader (mostly Admiral of the Fleet in Pearl Harbour) would have allowed all his heavy surface vessels be assaulted at the cost of several thousand trained sailors. Ships are replaceable trained crews arent.


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Niles Y93 #18 Posted 03 December 2016 - 07:13 PM

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View PostWidowMaker1711, on 03 December 2016 - 01:56 AM, said:

 

Conspiracy Theories?? Nope I dont believe any localised leader (mostly Admiral of the Fleet in Pearl Harbour) would have allowed all his heavy surface vessels be assaulted at the cost of several thousand trained sailors. Ships are replaceable trained crews arent.

I meant that Roosevelt knew....



WidowMaker1711 #19 Posted 03 December 2016 - 07:16 PM

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View PostNiles Y93, on 03 December 2016 - 07:13 PM, said:

I meant that Roosevelt knew....

 

He was POTUS. He knew what the Chiefs of Staff let him know. But even up that high I'm loathe to believe that anyone would let so many expensively trained sailors and airmen and so much valuable equipment and an entire fleet be destroyed just for the sake of money or reputation. 


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Niles Y93 #20 Posted 03 December 2016 - 11:23 PM

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View PostWidowMaker1711, on 03 December 2016 - 02:16 PM, said:

 

He was POTUS. He knew what the Chiefs of Staff let him know. But even up that high I'm loathe to believe that anyone would let so many expensively trained sailors and airmen and so much valuable equipment and an entire fleet be destroyed just for the sake of money or reputation. 

 

I could say something in regards to recent events, but I want to keep things civil so I shall not mention it. I trust you know what I refer to, Widow, and that I don't have to explain it.

 

All I will say is that it's possible, and has been proven.






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