Fort May
66th Squadron
By Gordon Beld

  Gordon Beld

  The 66th Squadron was based at what was called Fort May, formerly a German Army camp at the small village of Degerndorf in the southeastern corner of the U. S. Zone.  The area controlled by the 66th bordered Austria and included Berchtesgaden and Hitler's nearby Obersalzberg retreat.  Degerndorf is south of the Munich-Salzburg autobahn, about midway between those two cities (due south from Rosenheim). It's on the Michelin map (#987) of Germany.

   Below is a feature that I wrote at the time of the 50th anniversary of the Constabulary's inception, June 30, 1996, Jackson, Miss., Clarion-Ledger in which it appeared.

Peace Police

Fifty years later, few remember the enforcement efforts of the colorful United States Constabulary.
By Gordon G. Beld
Special to the Clarlon-Ledger

     To German civilians, they were the Blitzpolizei, or Lightning Police.  Other soldiers called them the Circle C Cowboys.  Officially, they were troops of the United States Constabulary, one of the most colorful units in U.S. military history.
     Hardly anyone remembers them today, and they weren't even well known on this side of the Atlantic during the six years they served as peacekeepers amid the rubble of Europe after World War II.  But after the Constabulary was activated on July 1, 1946, the unit's soldier-police were familiar sights throughout the American Zone of Germany and Austria, where other U.S. military personnel, as well as Germans and displaced persons, were under their jurisdiction.
     Troopers of the elite force were readily identified by the distinctive patch on their left shoulders -- a "circle C" disc pierced by a bolt of lightning.  Their helmet liners, bordered by blue and yellow stripes, had the same insignia on the front.
     The brightly colored emblem also emblazoned the Constabulary jeeps, tanks, trucks and M-8 armored cars that patrolled the zone and its borders.
     A spit-and-polish outfit from the start, the Constabulary awed German devotees of military precision with periodic shows of force.  It's distinctively decorated vehicles would roll ominously through city streets, followed by platoons of stern troopers in dress uniform.
     In their more typical day-to-day operations, Constabulary troopers manned border checkpoints; kept an eye on other American troops for disciplinary and traffic violations, as well as crimes against civilians; and tracked down Germans and displaced persons suspected of smuggling, black marketeering or possessing weapons.  They also were poised to respond quickly to riots, uprisings or other threats to the security of U.S. forces in the zone.
     To carry out these functions, Constabulary outposts were scattered throughout the zone.  The commander's headquarters was at Bamberg and brigade command centers were at Stuttgart, Munich and Bierbrich near Mainz.  Each of the brigades contained three regiments and each regiment had three squadrons.  The 27 squadrons each consisted of a headquarters and service troop, plus five line troop, designated by the letters "A" through "E."
     It wasn't the Germans or the even more restive displaced residents who presented the most pressing problem for the newly organized Constabulary in 1946.  Rather, it was the anxious-to-get-home American GI, bored and restless after winning the war in Europe.  Among remnants of the Army that had conquered the Third Reich were several undisciplined, carousing soldiers who, by 1946, made the U.S. Army the object of jokes and ridicule in Europe.
     Even more damaging to American prestige were the many incidents of GI crime, ranging from looting to rape and murder.  At one point, before activation of the Constabulary, military police in the Munich area were averaging 200 arrests per night.
     Something had to be done.  Gen. Joseph T. McNarney, who commanded American troops in Europe after Dwight Eisenhower left to become Army Chief of staff, needed someone who could quickly organize and develop the new unit he hoped would redeem the reputation of the American soldier and create an efficient occupation force with slightly more than 30,000 men.
     His choice was Maj. Gen. Ernest N. Harmon, commander of the First Armored Division in the North African and Italian campaigns [19443-44] and the Second Armored Division in the Battle of the Bulge [1944-45].  Often compared to Gen. George Patton because of his showmanship and propensity, Harmon insisted on strict discipline and soldiering by the book.
     "It ought to be smart and snappy."  That required rigid discipline, and the only way to get it, he claimed, was to "keep raising hell, day after day, with everything that isn't perfect.  I know that, to an outsider, it looks like [foolishness] to chew up a man for having wrinkled pants.  But if I didn't, everybody would have wrinkled pants.  And we'd have a sorry looking outfit."
     Describing the Germans as a particularly critical audience when it comes to soldiering, the general claimed that, in their presence, there was no pretending to be a soldier.  "You've got to be one.  And the first step toward being one is to look like one."
     The unit's attire included the long-skirted, brass-buttoned service coats of prewar days, rather than the traditional waist-length Eisenhower jackets popularized during World War II.  Even brighter than the gleaming coat buttons were yellow silk scarves tucked neatly beneath the lapels.
     To make sure his men looked an dated like soldiers, Harmon conducted frequent inspections, roaming from base to base throughout the zone on a streamlined diesel train that some tagged the Blue Blazer and others called Harmon's Lightning Bolt.
     Harmon's troopers, on the other hand, used almost every form of transportation except trains to patrol the 1,600 miles of frontier and the interior of the zone.  Most frequently, they rode in jeeps, trucks and armored cars.  But in populated areas and border regions where mobile units weren't practical, foot patrols were common.  Along the border, surveillance was also conducted from the air in L-5 cabin-type planes and by troopers on horseback.
     On at least one occasion the Constabulary used boats.  That was when troopers teamed up with French soldiers, in August 1946 to patrol the Rhine as part of Operation Fox, the first joint effort of that sort by international forces in postwar Germany.
     Troopers, for the most part, lived in barracks formerly occupied by German soldiers.  The Constabulary School, where many officers and non-commissioned officers trained, was established at Sonthofen in an impressive structure originally built for the education of future Nazi leaders.  Part of Adolf Hitler's vision for a Thousand-Year Reich, was that selected 12-year-olds would undergo six years of intensive training at the school for positions in a continuing Nazi regime.
     Instead, Sonthofen's postwar students went out to police the defeated Reich and through the U.S. Army's German Youth Activities program, plant seeds of democratic ideals among the young Germans.  Many Constabulary troopers, by late 1946, were involved in establishment of the voluntary recreational youth groups that stressed constructive use of leisure time and the application of democratic principles.
     The hope of the Constabulary's GYA participants was that , through their efforts to re-educate German youth, a lasting democracy would be established in Germany.
     Fifty years later, it seems their dream has come true.


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