The risk of enemy agents being landed on Britain’s shores was a concern from the start. It was recognised that this would be relatively easy on sections of undefended coasts. Since September 1940 it was fact that a few enemy agents had been landed by seaplane and fishing cutters. There were also numerous reports of abandoned or washed up small craft which may have been used for this purpose. German intelligence was known to maintain a number of specially equipped fishing cutters on the French Coast for landing enemy agents; there was also the possibility of the use of submarines for this purpose.
The arrangements for guarding the coast were of two categories:
Sections of the coast guarded by beach battalions – these sections of the coast were also heavily wired and often mined.
Sections of the coast watched only – these were sections of the coast were the landing of an invasion force was unlikely and were only watched by occasional military patrols or through the Coast Guard supplemented by the Auxiliary Coast Guard .
In addition there was the inshore motor boat patrol organised by the Admiralty but this did not operate in bad weather.
The Auxiliary Coast Guard was an entirely civilian force numbering some 4,500 men by the end of 1941 recruited on a local footing from fishermen, small farmers and other people well acquainted with coastal areas. The majority were full time and employed on similar conditions to the Civilian Defence Services.
The Coast Guard had been taken over by the Admiralty during the summer of 1940, putting them under Naval discipline, but also making them part of the Armed Forces with powers of arrest of suspect persons and to search vehicles. Although the Auxiliary Coast Guard had been armed and given a distinguishing badge to conform to International Law, they were still civilians. In order to give them the same powers as the Coast Guard, the Admiralty took steps to declare the Auxiliary Coast Guard part of the Armed Forces at the end of 1941. A suitable uniform was also provided consisting of:
Blue peaked cap of Naval design with Coastguard badge
Shoulder flash on Battledress and Greatcoat with the word “COASTGUARD” in white.
The Coast Guard was armed typically with Ross rifles for defence of their Lookout Stations and communications but shortages meant their were only rifles for about 65% of the Auxiliary Coastguard, although this was sufficient to ensure all those on duty were armed.
Right: Coastguards on Watch.
There was some confusion in Home Forces as to the role of the Coast Guard, leading to claims of their unreliability. At first the problem of watching the coast arose when it was realised that those sections not defended were merely watched and not adequately patrolled. The Security Services considered it desirable that the whole of the East and Southern coasts of Britain should be patrolled, together with the Bristol Channel as far as Burnham on the south shore and Barry on the north shore. It was thought enemy agents could slip in at dark and hide any evidence of landing. In order to discover evidence of this, dawn patrols were required as experience showed that such agents typically laid up until dawn, when they would get their first opportunity to acquaint themselves with their surroundings and checking their whereabouts. It was at this moment that the agent was most vulnerable.
At first it was thought the military assisted by the Home Guard could carry out these patrols. During the winter months however it was found the Home Guard assistance dwindled away due to the few hours of daylight available.
Scottish Command suggested the Auxiliary Coast Guard be responsible for the searching of the entire coast for signs of enemy agents, even those sections defended by the military. Also by 1942, when the Military was being withdrawn from some areas of the Coast, it was assumed the Auxiliary Coast Guard would step in.
The Admiralty had to remind some in Home Forces that the primary role of the Coast Guard, augmented by the Auxiliary Coast Guard, was too report on the movement of shipping to the Naval authorities and in particular the approach of enemy vessels or any hostile action near the coast. This was best carried out from fixed lookout stations with telephone communications. A watch was carried out from some 760 War Watching Stations situated at about 3 to 5 miles distance apart.
In order to cover areas not patrolled by the Military, a dawn Patrol carried out by HM Coastguard was organised in 1942, but this Patrol was limited to examining suitable landing beaches for signs of enemy agents having come ashore and challenging and arresting suspicious persons encountered. It still had to be pointed out to some in Home Forces that the Coast Guard could not provide patrols throughout the night or engage and hold any enemy armed forces landing.
Above: Coastguard Observation Posts, Suffolk. In early 1942, Eastern Command noted that assistance in patrolling was required at Shingle Street, Aldeburgh to Thorpeness, north of Thorpness and north of Sizewell. The Coastguard already patrolled Orfordness to Aldeburgh, but increased numbers of Coastguard was desirable. .