The Home Guard: A squad of Home Guards prepare to deal with an invader by means of Molotov cocktails during training in the Dover and Folkestone area.

When Hitler invaded Russia in June 1941 Churchill had ordered defensive measures against an invasion of England to be stepped up. If Russia collapsed as quickly as the Germans expected then an invasion in the autumn of 1941 looked likely. That threat had now passed but it still seemed very likely that Soviet Russia would be overcome and that there would be a very real threat of invasion in 1942.

At 39 Richard Brown was too old for military service and as an engineer he was engaged in building defence equipment for submarines. Like many men of his generation he was a member of the Home Guard, the part-time volunteer force that would augment the regular Army in the event of invasion. On the 6th December 1941 he took part in an exercise when the Ipswich Home Guard had to defend the town against an ‘enemy force’ that attacked in Bren gun carriers, representing tanks. Richard Brown was manning the telephone exchange but he saw enough to get an impression of how effective the Home Guard might have been:

I got the first report through the report centre and had to wait 32 minutes before finding the six available lines disengaged and had express reports waiting too. While hanging on I heard the police had nobbled a fifth-columnist officer and had arrested him.

He yelled to two passing carriers who rescued him firing blank rifle shots. The police tried to truncheon one stopped carrier and I could stand the other chaps’ comments no longer. I dropped the damn phone, and my sense of duty, and had a glimpse in time to see the police attack repelled by rifle and revolver fire. One poor devil had a blank charge in the eye at about 1 ft range, and came to our post half-blinded.

The carrier passed, reports came in and eventually I got through to report centre. That seems a weakness which has been shown up very well. They must have more than six lines to deal with a blitz. I think there were 800 incidents over the whole weekend.

I came home to tea at 1715 hr and returned at 1800 hr to find the post surrounded, the enemy in charge and established at the Royal George, sentries along Sidegate Lane and Colchester Road with Brens in gateways and a soup kitchen in Bertie Beechener’s driveway. Our phone was officially out of order so we were instructed to man the post with two wardens till further instructions and discharge the others.

Was due on again at 1400 hr but found the post locked and the exercise over, and wasn’t sorry. I heard later that the enemy actually captured the post after we left at 0800 hr and made the wardens prisoners, even marching one over from along Colchester Road.

They couldn’t get out except by taking off their denims, coats and helmets and promising to take no further action in the affair, so I escaped something. Wasn’t sorry, having spent 11 hours there out of 20, and was real glad of a bath.

See Mr Brown’s War: A Diary from the Home Front





Five Stuka’s shot down in one sortie

A later official portrait of  Clive Caldwell in Australia, as a Wing Commander flying Spitfires in the defence of northern Australia.

At 300 yards I opened fire with all my guns at the leader of one of the rear sections of three, allowing too little deflection, and hit No. 2 and No. 3, one of which burst into flames immediately, the other going down smoking and went into flames after losing about 1000 feet. I then attacked the leader of the rear section…from below and behind, opening fire with all guns at very close range.




The British reinforce Singapore

The new British battleship HMS prince of Wales in Singapore Harbour, 4th December 1941. She had arrived with HMS Repulse, together forming 'Force Z' designed to deter Japanese aggression.

Bizarrely each day between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. the whole camp came to a standstill for a compulsory Siesta. Every man had to be in his bunk during that period. I disagreed with this from the start. The enemy seemed unlikely to suspend hostilities to allow us time to rest during the hottest part of the day.




British tanks still outgunned in the desert

There had been high hopes for the new Stuart 'Honey' tanks when they arrived in the desert in August 1941

Closer and closer the German tanks came, and miraculously our line held. Again, somehow, the enemy had been able to muster almost fifty tanks. Against the inferior armour and gun-power of our only slightly more numerous Honeys it was almost enough to give victory.




German families learn of their sacrifice for Hitler

German Panzer III assault gun and tank in the snow on the Eastern front, December 1941.

His heroic death occurred when he was fighting bravely for Greater Germany in the front lines during a heavy battle with Russian tanks. The entire company and I would like to extend our deepest sympathies to you for the terrible loss which has befallen you.




HMS Forfar sunk by Kretschmer’s U-99

HMS Forfar the armed merchant ship sunk by five torpedoes in the early hours of 2nd December 1940.

Two minutes later the 5th and last torpedo struck, again on the Port side. This was the final blow as the ship broke in two owing to the after magazine blowing sky-high. She was well down by the stern now and I remember the ghastly cracklings as the after end bent inwards crushing the decks like matchwood. She heeled quickly over on her Sta’b’d side, the after end disappeared, and as she settled, she turned right over and sank slowly and steadily by the stern.




The end of the Jews in Lithuania

Jews being rounded up in Vilnius - Wilna - under the escort of a Lithuanian policeman, earlier in 1941.

Today I can confirm that our objective, to solve the Jewish problem for Lithuania, has been achieved by EK 3. In Lithuania there are no more Jews, apart from Jewish workers and their families. . . I am of the view that the sterilization program of the male worker Jews should be started immediately so that reproduction is prevented. If despite sterilization a Jewess becomes pregnant she will be liquidated. . . .




Hitler rants and raves over progress in Russia

Hitler continued to urge his Eastern Front commanders to advance even as it became  obvious that that German army was ill prepared for the arctic conditions.

The Fuehrer is in a state of extreme agitation over the situation. … The interview appears to have been more than disagreeable, with the Fuehrer doing all the talking, pouring out reproaches and abuse, and shouting orders as fast as they came into his head. Regrettably, ObdH yielded to the Fuehrer’s insistence and has issued the order not to fall back to the aforementioned line in one move.




The torture and death of Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya

The Germans often made a public spectacle of partisans that were executed in an attempt to deter the local population from supporting them.

The threat to Moscow now seemed desperate. Many Soviet citizens were mobilised to build the city’s defences. Many volunteered for more dangerous duties. Eighteen year old Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya was still in college in Moscow when she volunteered to join a guerrilla group that would operate behind enemy lines.




USS Enterprise prepares for war

The USS Enterprise, sometime known as the 'Big E', pictured in 1939, put to sea on the 28th November, prepared for war.

The importance of every officer and man being specially alert and vigilant while on watch at his battle station must be fully realized by all hands. The failure of one man to carry out his assigned task promptly, particularly the lookouts, those manning the batteries, and all those on watch on the deck, might result in great loss of life and even loss of the ship.