Document of the month

Document of the month celebrates archival documents within the PRONI collections that are particularly unusual or that tie in to notable dates in the calendar.

August 2017: Exercise Penguin

PRONI’s Document of the month is a file from the Ulster Home Guard Papers about Exercise Penguin – a special training exercise based on the scenario that German forces had invaded Great Britain and Ireland. The exercise took place on 11 – 12 July 1942 and is part of the Ulster Home Guard collection (HG/8/5/6).

Leona Taylor who chose the document explained:

“Exercise Penguin is an insight into how close a German invasion really was.  Similar defence exercises were undertaken in other counties; Exercise Pelican (counties Tyrone and Fermanagh), and Exercise Parrot (counties Antrim and Derry). There was a widely held belief that the Germans wished to distract British forces by creating a diversion through an invasion in Northern Ireland.  The level of detail to which defence schemes had been planned all indicate that was a widely shared belief.  The fall of France in 1940 no doubt aided such beliefs.

“I selected this document as the sense of fear of a German invasion is very real in the documents.  Although the exercise was entirely hypothetical and there was never a German Invasion in Northern Ireland, the documents provide a valuable insight into the workings of Northern Ireland during the Second World War.  From the papers there is a clear sense that normal life continued for many people, with many visiting the cinema or dances, all the while this imminent threat lingered.  The sense of normalcy for some people contrasted starkly with those who were preparing for this potential invasion and I think that’s what I like about this document.”   

This was one of many special exercises that the UHG undertook in 1942, when it was believed there was a real and credible threat of German invasion in Northern Ireland.  Exercise Penguin was based on the scenario that German forces had invaded both Great Britain and Eire.  British forces which had previously been defending Northern Ireland had moved south to fend off advancing forces.  The British Naval forces which had previously defended the Irish coast had been withdrawn to defend Great Britain itself.  Taking advantage of this, a German naval convoy advances up the Irish East coast to Dundrum Bay.  Under such circumstances it falls to the Ulster Home Guard to fend off the approaching German forces. 

Unlike the rest of the UK, the Ulster Home Guard consisted entirely of volunteers.  Many held full time jobs as well as their Home Guard duties.  Exercise Penguin illustrates the importance of the Ulster Home Guard at this time. 

  • The Exercise Penguin papers are amongst the Ulster Home Guard papers (HG/8/5/6)
  • The Ulster Home Guard was a force recruited by the Government of Northern Ireland to perform the role of the Home Guard in Northern Ireland during World War II.  It was formed from members of the Ulster Special Constabulary 'B' Specials on 28 May 1940.
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