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Feldgendarmerie Unteroffizier carrying out a check on the rear lights of a naval staff car. (Josef Charita)

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Unit mechanics service the motorcycles of a Feldgendarmerie Trupp.

Introduction

It is probably true to say that in almost any of the World’s armies, the least popular troops in the eyes of the regular soldier will be that nation’s military police. Many servicemen seem to feel that the military police serve no other purpose than to make life difficult for them, conveniently forgetting that without the military police to plan and sign supply routes, defend vulnerable points, provide convoy escorts and a myriad of other essential tasks, the soldier’s life would be far more difficult and dangerous.

Many of the greatest soldiers of all time have been quoted complimenting the service provided by these little loved troops. Perhaps one of the most telling of such comments was made by Field Marshal Bernard L. Montgomery in 1945 when, talking of the momentous battle for Normandy in the summer of 1944 he said:

The Battle of Normandy and subsequent battles would not have been won but for the work and co-operation of the Provost on the traffic routes.

But what of Germany’s military police? Like Great Britain and other countries, Germany’s military police have had a long history, much of it perfectly honourable. It must be said however, that whatever the military achievements of the Feldgpndarmere, from 1939 to 1945 they, along of course with every other German soldier, served the Nazi regime. Along with every other branch of the military, there would have been those who served with honour, whilst others who fully believed in the ideals of the Third Reich were certainly less hesitant to become involved in war crimes and instances are documented of Feldgendarmerie units assisting SS and security troops in atrocities, particularly during ‘anti-partisan’ actions.

The study of the operational activities of individual units however is beyond the scope of this work the purpose of which is to describe the organisational structure of the many military police type units best described as Ordnungstruppe—or troops whose primary duty was to maintain order, of which the Feldgendarmerie was but one, and the uniforms and insignia that they wore. This book covers only the Ordnungstruppe of the military. The German police including the civil Gendarmerie maintained its own field units, but the Gendarmerie operating in the field were entirely different to the Feldgendarmerie, or military police proper, which of course was a branch of the German Wehrmacht, not the police.

Historical Perspective

In ancient times the task of maintaining order and discipline within Germanic armies tended to be carried out by a designated ‘marschall’(marshal). The term itself derives from two Germanic words marah meaning horse, and schalk meaning servant, as that individual was primarily responsible for ensuring measures were taken for the care, stabling and provisioning of the army’s horses, something essential for efficient movement of large armies at that time. The position was also sometimes referred to as the oberstallmeister.

The position of marshal was one of great responsibility and soon grew to encompass not just the care of the horses but general administration and policing of the armies. A royal edict of 1312 apparently also gave the marshal absolute legal power which made him a figure that generated considerable fear.

The title ‘profos’ (provost) entered German usage from France in the sixteenth century with a later document from the seventeenth century describing the provost’s tasks as punishing disobedient soldiers and dealing with ‘freebooters, robbers, vagabonds those who carried forbidden weapons ‘and what were termed’ lazy rogues’. The provost became, in effect, judge jury and executioner in one, with his mounted knights as his ‘enforcers’.

In 1577, the Reichspolizeiordnung was issued and in the various individual Germanic lands mounted police units were formed bearing a variety of designations, such as police dragoons (polizei-dragonen), police hussars (polizei-husaren) and police rifles (polizei-jäger)

These were turbulent times and through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, military discipline was brutal in the extreme. Although this changed in time, the terms remain to this day. In the British Army, military police are organised into ‘provost’ companies and the senior ranking military police officer is the provost marshal (a term also recently reintroduced into use in the US armed forces).

Back in the eighteenth century, Friedrich Wilhelm I used his Prussian hussars not as combat cavalry, but for apprehending deserters and other similar tasks of a police type nature. In 1740 they were officially established with the title Feldjägertruppe. By the middle of that century, such troops were also being used for tasks which would become common for military police in the future but were unusual for police type units at the time such as route planning and investigation, courier services and escort duties.

By the early nineteenth century things were beginning to change and in 1810 the Prussian Army received a new formation, the Armeegendarmerie which took over many of the tasks which had been performed by the previous Hussar units.

Leibgendarmes who were effectively police charged with close-protection duties for royalty, and were carefully selected from the best quality cavalry NCOs, were now part of the retinue of the king. To this day, the military police of many countries maintain sections that are trained in close-protection duties to maintain the safety of VIPs.

There also existed at this time, the Prussian Landgendarmerie, which would be under the command of an army general, and thus in both disciplinary and administrative terms a military unit, but whilst acting on civil policing type duties, would be under the control of the district authorities. Moves were beginning however, to differentiate between those police units with solely military functions and those which related to policing the civilian populace. One can already see the beginnings of what would grow to be a bewilderingly complex German police structure by the twentieth century.

Bavaria too, joined Prussia in creating a distinct military police formation and in 1813 the Gendarmerie im Felde (literally field-police or ‘police in the field’) was formed.

On the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war in 1870, orders were issued for the raising of Feldgendarmerie units. The purpose of these troops included—maintaining order in the areas around troop billets and garrisons, searching buildings, villages etc. for weapons, enemy soldiers, spies etc.—preventing the looting of villages along the army’s route of march—patrolling the battlefield, prevention of looting of the dead and wounded—support of requisitioning—serving with field courts martial—transport of condemned individuals—bringing prisoners to collecting points—collecting and passing on of stragglers—fighting against fifth columnists—keeping free the roads to the rear of advancing troops by patroling—protection of supply columns from looting and theft, particularly in the forest-rich areas of the Vosges and traffic control at bridges.

Following the successful conclusion of the short Franco-Prussian war, the various military police type units were disbanded and this situation remained until the outbreak of the First World War.

Germany entered the First World War in 1914 having formed a total of 33 Feldgendarmerie-Truppen, each with a strength of around 60 NCOs and men, usually built around a core of members of the Landgendarmerie drafted into the army and led by selected personnel from other branches of the army in particular officers and experienced NCOs from the cavalry. By the end of the war, the total number of Feldgendarmerie units had increased to 115.

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Two Feldgendarmerie NCOs in the peacetime dark green uniform, later replaced by field grey.

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The details of the gorgets worn by these Feldgendarmen show them to belong to VIII Armeekorps. Above the Roman numeral of the Armeekorps is the individual number of the Feldgendarm.

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A later wartime gorget with grey painted finish. The Arabic numeral without Roman numeral below shows this to be a gorget worn in a Prussian Gardekorps.

Approximately 35 per cent of Feldgendarmen were former senior NCOs from the civil police with the remainder evenly divided between junior NCOs and enlisted men transferred from the cavalry. Feldgendarmen normally operated in three-man patrols or Streifen consisting of one man from each of the rank groups.

In the late stages of the war Feldgendarmeriekorps z.b.V. was formed on the Western Front and by the end of hostilities, this had grown in strength to the size of a full Regiment, and was renamed Gendarmerie-Regiment 9.

Following Germany’s defeat in 1918, the Feldgendarmerie was once gain disbanded and from 1918 until mobilisation in 1939 Germany had no dedicated military police branch for its armed forces.

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A disarmed Feldgendarm, but still in full uniform, assisting US Military Police with traffic control in the American zone. (US Signal Corps Photo)

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Not Feldgendarmerie per se, but many former Feldgendarmen and police personnel such as this individual were trained and supervised by the British Corps of Military Police in the British zone of occupation. The armband text reads ‘M.G. Police’ ( M.G.=‘Military Government’ )

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