Sir Colin McVean Gubbins

Personnel header
Major General Colin McVean Gubbins, KCMG, DSO, MC
Life dates
02 Jul 1896 - 11 Feb 1976
Profile Picture
Profile picture

Major General Sir Colin McVean Gubbins KCMG, DSO, MC was the founder and first commander of the Auxiliary Units.

He then joined SOE in late 1940, initially to head up training,and then took overall command from 1943

Unit or location Role Posted from until
Coleshill House, GHQ Commanding Officer Auxiliary Units Unknown 03 Dec 1944

Normanton Grammar School, Yorkshire;

Cheltenham College;

Royal Military Academy, Woolwich;


Military number
Commissioned or Enlisted
16 Sep 1914

09 Nov 1914 Moved to France
09 Jun 1915 Promoted Lieutenant
26 Aug 1916 Acting Captain. Wounded 7 Oct 1916 returned to duty. 29 Brigade Royal Field Artillery 126 Battery
1 Nov 1917 Promoted Acting Major
02 Jan 1918 Returned to Captian

12 Feb 1918 Promoted Substantive Captain
07 Apr 1918 Served in France & Belgium (wounded)

22 Apr 1919 Aide-de-Camp to General Officer Commanding, Archangel Force, Russia

The Archangel Campaign in Russia was a difficult one with a reluctant ally and limited supplies. A number of those who served with Gubbins in Russia would later join him in Auxiliary Units

28 Nov 1921 Brigade Major, Royal Artillery, Irish Command (temporarily)

He arrived in Ireland shortly after the partition when Eire gained its independence, but before the withdrawal of the British Army. The withdrawal took over a year and the Irish Civil War took place during this time.

14 Jan 1925 Adjutant
21 Apr 1926 GSO3, Army Headquarters, India
1928-1929 Attended Staff College
01 Feb 1931 GSO3, War Office
08 Apr 1933 Brigade Major, Royal Artillery, Eastern Command
01 Jul 1933 Promoted Brevet Major
24 Feb 1934 Promoted Major
01 Jul 1938 Promoted brevet Lieutenant Colonel
01 Oct 1939 General Staff Officer Grade 2. War Office (Military Intelligence Department)
1939 Head of Military Intelligence mission to the exiled Poles and Czechs in Paris, France
20 Apr 1940 Acting Colonel. Commander, Independant Companies (North West Expeditionary Force), Norway (DSO)

The Independant Companies were the forerunners of the Commandos. However, they arrived late in the campaign and ending up committed largely to fighting conventially in the retreat. Those who served in the Independent Companies would form the backbone of many of the other Special Forces formed during the war.

25 May 1940 Acting Commander (Brigadier), 24th Infantry Brigade (Guards)  in Norwegian Campaign

Brigadier Gubbins conduct of a fighting retreat was recognised as a significant acheivement following a very poor initial performance by British Forces.


2 Jul 1940 Appointed to raise and command Auxiliary Units. 

He was resonsible for setting up the Patrols across the country and also aoversaw the absorption of the Home Defence Organisaiton to form the Special Duties Branch. He initiated the setting up of the wireless network to improve the speed of communications

20 Oct 1940 Appointed War Substantive Lieutenant Colonel as Director of Operations and Training, Special Operations Executive

21 Dec 1942 Promoted Temporary Major General

1943 Executive Head of Special Operations Executive 1943 (KCMG & CMG)

26 Apr 1946 Retired and appointed Honorary Major General

Other information


22 Sep 1916
Military Cross*. 1914/15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal.

*MC - For conspicuous gallantry. When one of his guns and its detachment were blown up by a heavy shell, he organised a rescue party and personally helped to dig out the wounded while shells were falling all round.

06 Aug 1940 Distinguished Service Order, for conduct in Norway
31 Jan 1941 Mention in Despatches
1 Jan 1944 CMG New Year's Honours List 1944
1 Jan 1946 KCMG New Year's Honours List 1946

Foreign Awards:

Officier Légion d'Honneur (France); Grand Officier Order of Leopold (Belgium); Croix de Guerre (Belgium); Order of Dannebrog, 1st cl. (Denmark); Commander, Royal Order of St Olav, with star (Norway; 26 Feb 1954); Grand Officer Order of Orange Nassau (the Netherlands); Polonia Restituta (Poland); Commander Legion of Merit (USA; 14 May 1948). Comdr Order of White Lion


Gubbins and SOE