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U Boat crew in WW2 caught watering on the rugged Devon coastline – a possible Home Guard scenario?


Interesting snippet from Wild Guide: Devon, Cornwall and the Southwest

I have found several articles on this Heddon’s Mouth and Sherrycombe (Devon) U-boat Story. This would make in future some good Dad’s Army type ambush scenarios for the Home Guard on patrol meeting or ambushing a U boat watering party.

Can they capture and take any crew prisoner for questioning?

Such a skirmish scenario need not be too tied to this exact geographical location.

Source Material:

Exmoor’s rugged and uncompromising coastline for long sheltered one of the best-kept secrets of World War Two.

It was not until a decade after World War Two that the truth emerged about visits paid by German U-boats in the dead of night to isolated inlets along the North Devon coast, in search of fresh water supplies.

The wartime escapades came to light through a moving human story, which illustrated how one man’s attachment to the beautiful Exmoor landscape survived the cramped on-board conditions and the dangerous missions synonymous with the legendary German submarines.

Alan Kift of Ilfracombe was owner and skipper of the Devonia Belle, a pleasure boat which specialised in carrying up to 75 passengers along the coast between the resort and Lynmouth Bay.

A regular companion of Alan on the trips was a fellow boatman, the late Les Gear, who in the 1950s had been chartered by a German visitor to take him to the waterfall at Sherrycombe, under the Great and Little Hangman cliffs, near Combe Martin.

Alan recalls: “Les was a plain-speaking sort of chap and he asked the German why on earth he wanted to go to that particular spot, and how he knew exactly where the waterfall was located.

“The visitor, a Captain Martens, said that during World War Two he had been the captain of a U-boat operating in the Irish Sea and the Bristol Channel.

His vessel, and other U-boats, would lay up off the beach, probably during the spring tides, and land sailors by dinghy to fill casks and other containers with fresh water.

“The submarines were not only cramped but also stank of things like diesel fuel and battery acid. Not only was the fresh water needed by the crew, but the sailors also welcomed the chance of fresh air and exercise.”

“Captain Martens was very emotional when the boat reached Sherrycombe and had tears streaming down his face when he told Les Gear that although he had landed at night, by the moonlight that often accompanies spring tides, he had been so impressed by the beauty of the scenery and the height of the cliffs (at 800 feet or 244 metres Great Hangman is the highest sea cliff in England) that he wanted to come back and see it again in the daylight.”

The 1950s incident had a sequel some years later, involving a major coincidence. The Devonia Belle was a favourite with the Country Cousins Language School and Alan Kift used to relate the story of the U-boat landings during his commentary to the passengers.

On one occasion, during the cruise, he was approached by the man in charge of a party of German students on board that day, who introduced himself as Captain Martens’ son, Wolfgang.

“It was such a coincidence that not only was Wolfgang Martens a passenger, but that Les Gear was also on board that day. I was able to introduce them and Les was able to give Wolfgang a first hand account of how he had taken his father to Sherrycombe. It was an unbelievable coincidence, and in many ways an unbelievable but moving story, but one that is completely true.”

Copied for research purposes from the Archant magazine group Devon Life web story so that it doesn’t disappear as website stories tend to do when you go looking for them again.

Heddon’s Mouth


This story reminds me of a similar eyewitness story from WW1 by a British schoolboy, Arthur Madge told in 2014 when he was 107 years old about spotting a U boat sheltering on the Cornish coast in WW1.

This story emerged during the WW1 centenary. It would suit a Scouting Wide Games type scenario with Boy Scout / Sea Scout coast watchers.

Listen on BBC Sounds / online:

If you can’t listen to this online, here is the outline of this remarkable story with Arthur Madge at 107, telling his U-boat story in person about 13 minutes into the feature:


Blog posted by Mark Man of TIN, January 2022

Airfix 1:32 WW2 British and German sets of Infantry and Paratroops reissued for Summer 2021

Excellent for later Home Guard and 1940 / 41 British infantry

German Paratroops available again! Reinforcements for my childhood painted ones

Blog posted by Mark Man of TIN 8 January 2021

Useful German phrases for the Home Guard

Not taken from a Home Guard Manual (as far as I know) but from the WW2 Blitz 1940 version of Jo Foster’s imaginative children’s history books in her Time Spies paperback series c. 2009/10.

I have flashbacks to Battle and Victor comics of the 1970s and also to Corporal Jones in the BBC Dad’s Army series, ordering German prisoners of war (captured pilots, U Boat crews) around with his fixed bayonet. (The wonderful “Don’t Tell Him, Pike!” Episode)

Blog posted by Mark Man of TIN, 8 January 2020

Auxiliary Unit OB underground base uncovered in Scotland 2020

AOC / FLS / FOC report Photographs reprinted in the Daily Mail.

Scallywags! I had heard of “Stay Behinds” but not heard of this term for the secret Auxiliary Home Guard units.

An OB underground base has turned up in good condition in a recently cut forestry areas of Southern Scotland and been surveyed by an archaeology team. It is now officially closed and a bat roost entrance put in place.

Lockdown 1940 style? A spirited reconstruction sketch of life which makes it look less cramped than it would be for seven men for weeks. Illustration: The Craigielands Auxiliary Unit Operations Base as it may have looked in WW2. © FLS / Alan Braby.

More of the archaeology report photos can be seen here in this Daily Mail article:

Interested? You can check what is known about your local auxiliary units and surviving OB bases at the wonderful Auxiliary Unit / Home Guard CART Coleshill House website:

An excellent skirmish game scenario for a forested area and an underground base of a small number of seven Auxiliaries in civvies or Home Guard uniform against Operation Sealion German forces would be an interesting What If? Scenario.

Demolition. Return unobserved to the OB. Breakout from the surrounded OB. Lots of ideas

Two old boxes of Airfix and a lot of trees – A handful of British Infantry or commando figures versus the Nazi hordes – you have an interesting game. Your rules …

Blog post by Mark Man of TIN, 13 August 2020

Sci Fi 1930s German Paratroopers?

Typical German parachutist by Stead above (from Home Guard by John Brophy c. 1940)

The new type of Blitzkreig warfare – Panzer tanks, motorised Infantry, dive bombers, gliders and paratroops – seemed to have an unfamiliar, almost awed and futuristic feel in 1940. This seems to be reflected in some illustrations at the time.

John Brophy writes ” … the author of this Handbook has a “hunch” that adolescent enemy agents may be dropped in the uniforms of Boy Scouts and Sea Scouts …” – readers of my Scouting Wide Games for the Tabletop blog please note!

Brophy continues describing this new form of airborne soldier – “Any LDV seeing a man or men thus garbed will know what has happened and will act accordingly. But it well to keep an open and alert mind …”

“Enemy parachutists may be garbed and equipped, if and when they try to land in this country, very differently from when they operated in Holland, Belgium and France.” (Brophy, Home Guard, p.50)

This unfamiliarity and awe at these new enemy troops seems to have affected this sci-fi tinged looking illustration.

Parachutist from the Dad’s Army Home Guard Manual (their image source uncredited)

It is not said where this German parachutist illustration came from, but it has the look of 40s magazine and one unfamiliar with the uniform itself.

These new troops from the skies have the slight look of 1930s space troopers from Flash Gordon – is it the helmet?


Early LDV or Home Guard units were nicknamed by the Press ‘Parashots’ or ‘Parashootists’, even mentioned in Hansard and Parliament – LOCAL DEFENCE VOLUNTEERS. HC House of Commons Debate 22 May 1940 vol 361 cc238-76

Sir Edward Grigg: “They [the LDV] have another function to perform, a very important function, which is described to some extent by the name popularly given to them of “parashootists“. They are wanted to deal with small enemy parties landed from the air. We have seen what the effect of the landing of small groups by parachute or aircraft has been in other countries, and it is important to organise means of local action against the measures which these small parties landed in various places may take.”

“The three main purposes for which the Local Defence Volunteers are wanted are these:

First, observation and information. We want the earliest possible information, either from observation posts or from patrols, as to landings.

The second purpose is to help, in the very earliest stages, in preventing movement by these enemy parties landed from the air by blocking roads, by denying them access to means of movement, motors and so on, and by seeing that they are hemmed in as completely as possible from the moment they land.

Their third purpose is to assist in patrolling and protecting vulnerable spots, of which there is a great number everywhere, particularly in certain parts of the country where the demands for local guard duties are really greater than the present forces can meet.”


Paratroops were all very new and unfamiliar form of war that had overwhelmed well prepared but old fashioned defensive positions across France, Holland and Belgium.

The Imperial War Museum has in its WW2 Home Front poster archive this often reproduced ‘Spot at Sight Chart Number One’ poster showing a typical German parachutist and infantryman. This has no date on it but looks Operation Sealion era c. 1940/41.


What German paratroopers really look like (in my head) – my childhood Airfix 1:32 / 54mm figures.

Interestingly, toy soldier manufacturers like Britain’s did not manage to produce these new enemy paratroop figures before wartime events shifted them by 1941 to production of munitions elements.

“Production at Britain’s continued until 1941 when it began making munitions. After 1945 it returned to the manufacture of toy soldiers and other toys but with limited output due to labour shortages. From 1942 metal was completely banned from use in toy making.”

Hollowcast German Paratroops, even post war, seem a bit of a rarity.

Whilst Home Guard figures existed (Britain’s set 1918, produced 1940/41) and Britain’s produced modern WW2 British troops in steel helmets by 1939, children at the time and postwar would have had to make do with Britain’s 1930s German Infantry as opposition. German pilots were a rare Britain’s issue, repainted from RAF pilots. Even these pilot figures with flight suits (and parachutes?) had a futuristic look.

Britain’s German Infantry Pre and postwar WW2 Detail from Andrew Rose, Toy Soldiers (1985)

Blog posted by Mark Man of TIN, 3 June 2020.

Steve Weston WW2 British Infantry 54mm as Home Guard?


There are a host of useful plastic and metal figures in 54mm that you can use for Home Guard games.

These 54mm 1:32 British Infantry figures are a useful set of figures, currently available from their creator Steve Weston of Weston Toy Co. via his Toy Soldiers web shop site:

There is a great (2020) deal of three sets of these for £10.00, which is 36 figures for £10.00. This is probably the cheapest new 54 – 56mm figures of this type and quality you will currently find, on special offer as they have had water damaged packaging.

They are described on their retail site as  British Khaki infantry, “scaled to sit nicely with Matchbox, TSSD (Toy Soldiers of San Diego), Conte and Austin Miniatures. Superb detailing, excellent quality plastic. Currently the only company currently producing 56mm WWII British figures in plastic!

This deal is also still available (mid 2020) through the related eBay shop chopped-merc

The twelve Steve Weston figure set, 6 poses x 2 in handy khaki plastic. Less painting needed.

These attractive plastic figures are steel helmeted, lightly equipped figures with no haversacks and only light webbing, ammunition pouches, water bottles and entrenching tools, which fits the mid to late Home Guard well.

Rifle armed figures, very Home Guard. 

SMG figures with Thompson SubMachine Gun and Sten Gun 

Eventually LMGs like this Bren Gun made it into the hands of some Home Guard sections. Still in use in the late 1950s when my late Dad was one of the last National Service cohorts.

Mills Bomb Grenade throwing figure, kneeling.

Some of my Eighties painted surviving Airfix British Infantry and Support Group for comparison with Weston Toy Co. 

Airfix British Infantry and Support Group with my battered childhood Timpo Bren Carrier, with modified Heavy Machine Gun.

The same Bren or Universal Carrier with Steve Weston Toy Co. figures

Finally a comparison photo L to R of  British Infantry a solid homecast Home Guard, Britain’s Deetail mortar, Airfix British Infantry Support Group and Weston Toy Co.

Blog posted by Mark Man of TIN on Home Guard founding day, 14 May 1940 / 2020.

Gaming The Home Guard with Sand Tables 1941

Some of my Home Guard gaming resources, originals and reprints

Home Guard Manual 1941

This reprint of an original has an Appendix on Training using a Sand Table, something familiar to readers of early Donald Featherstone Wargames books after his experience of training with them at Bovington Camp in his Tank Regiment days during WW2.

“Sections and men represented by pegs”, not model soldiers at the time – 1941

If you want the Answers or ‘Notes to Solutions’ look at the end of the Post.

‘Britain 1940’ as an ImagiNation?

Training the Home Guard 1940 and Gaming the Home Guard 2020

The fact that Britain wasn’t invaded in 1940/41 keeps this tabletop game of war as one of “what if?” historical fantasy, rather than gaming people’s difficult wartime lived experiences.

Gaming The Home Guard and the early war period of Operation Sea Lion, preparing for the invasion of Britain that thankfully never happened, is a different matter from many WW2 games. The Home Guard / Sealion type game are in many ways an ‘Imagi-Nation’, a fiction of Britain in 1940 and 1941, based on or inspired by historical events. So too was Dad’s Army. So too are most nostalgia filled model railways of this steam era.

What happened got four years from 1940 to stand down in late 1944 was effectively a series of mostly realistic gaming scenarios or live action role play, played with a deadly earnest and a determined purpose. These are set out in Home Guard training manuals (and often form the episodes of Dad’s Army).

Dad’s Army at the same time on TV also gives a key to how it is or was possible to explore this invasion scenario in a respectful but imaginative way. The show also gave the strong impression of the boredom, bravery and occasional buffoonery of Home Guard service life. Cartoonist (Carl) Giles found it so in his contemporary wartime cartoons of Home Front and Home Guard life, worth studying for his 1940s era ‘character types’ of old soldiers and Blimps .

The training against other Home Guard patrols and regular troops also gives some interesting possibilities for “non lethal warfare”.

Adapting rules from training exercises to the Tabletop should prove interesting. These are similar to the Scouting Wide Games that I have also been exploring on the Tabletop, working with fellow blogger and Tabletop gamer Alan Gruber, Tradgardmastre of the Duchy of Tradgardland who is also exploring 54mm Home Guard based games.

Home Guard 1941 Sand Table – the answers or notes to the Sand Table training game solution.

Sand Tables for training seem familiar?

One famous British wargames author and military historian seems to have spent his early postwar gaming years in the 1950s and 1960s recreating his wartime ‘miniatures gaming’ army training on his own sand table – Donald Featherstone.

Featherstone’s sand table with tanks, WW2 rules section War Games 1962

For comparison, Donald Featherstone’s Sand Table advice from War Games 1962

Donald Featherstone on sandtables, War Games 1962

Featherstone on how to make your own Sand Table for gaming, War Games 1962

Somewhere inside my head and in a now demolished house in Southampton, in a wistful end of The House at Pooh Corner kind of way, a former Tank Sergeant and a retired Brigadier General are forever playing toy soldiers on a large Sand Table in a vanished games attic of our dreams …

Donald Featherstone, War Games, 1962

Blog posted by Mark, Man of TIN, Home Guard founding day 14 May 1940 / 2020