By 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.
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
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