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Association of the United States Army

Mobility, Vigilance, Justice


In the grand scheme of things two events that took place in June were relatively minor in nature, but to a group of aging Cold War warriors, who still often refer to themselves as the Circle C Cowboys, the ceremonies were historic, memorable and a long time in coming.

On June 1 at Fort Riley, Kan., Maj. Gen. Thomas F. Metz, commanding general, 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized) and Fort Riley, chose the day of his post open house to open the United States Constabulary Museum. He and I cut the ceremonial ribbon. Three weeks later, on June 21, before dozens of former constabulary troopers and their families, the museum was dedicated. This time the ribbon was cut by the museum committee of Bill Tevington, Ray Thomas and myself. In his remarks, on that occasion, Gen. Metz said that he was immensely pleased that he was able to play an important role in helping to keep the United States Constabulary from slipping through the cracks into oblivion. The great significance of these events at Fort Riley was that there was finally something tangible, a legacy, to prove that there had, indeed, been an organization in our Army called the U.S. Constabulary.

The day after the ceremony, an active duty major, a friend of the family, said to me, "I know that you are here for a Constabulary event, but just what is the Constabulary?"

Fifty-seven years before, Lt. Gen. Joseph McNarney, American military commander in Europe said to Maj. Gen. Ernest N. Harmon, "Harmon, you are going to be the head of the Constabulary." Harmon’s blurted response was, "What’s that?" Today, there is virtually no one in our nation or in our Army aware that such an organization actually existed. The United States Constabulary was a special organization created specifically for service in the occupation of Germany.

When World War II ended, the victorious nations jointly assumed the occupation of Germany by dividing it into four zones of occupation: the Russian, British, French and United States. In its zone of occupation the United States Army was faced with difficult and unprecedented challenges. There was no functioning border and no municipal, state or national police forces.

There were no governing bodies of any kind -- no burgomeisters, Kreis commanders or Lander leaders in control. Further aggravating the situation, the beaten country was flooded with thousands of refugees and displaced persons desperately looking for food and shelter. As could be expected, crime was rampant.
It was the tactical units put into place right after the war that prevented total chaos. One of those elements was the 4th Armored Division.

That division had distinguished itself by spearheading the advance of Gen. George Patton’s Third Army across Europe. As the war was ending, it was told that it would be a permanent occupation division. After V-E Day, the battalions of the division were spread throughout its occupation zone and were bringing law and order to the communities and assisting the demoralized German population in getting their lives back together.

During the early weeks of the occupation, I moved successively from tank battalion commander to chief of staff of the division, and had a pivotal role in what was soon to develop. At division headquarters we were busily involved in carrying out our assigned mission, when, without any warning, we were hit by a combination hurricane, cyclone and tornado. We were told that the division would be summarily deactivated and would be a division no more. This was staggering, unbelievable news. (So much for "permanent" and "division.")

What came next was even more astonishing. The division was directed to proceed with utmost urgency to divest itself of all the items that had made it a fearsome power during the war -- its tanks, half tracks and armored artillery, as well as heavy engineer and ordnance vehicles and equipment. We were informed that the elements of our division would become the nucleus of a brand new organization.

Senior officials had apparently determined that, to have a successful occupation, the United States required an entirely different military force that would have to be created almost from scratch. That force had to be lighter, faster and more mobile -- able to move quickly and cover lots of ground. It would be akin to mechanized cavalry. It would have a strength of about 38,000, and its missions would be incredibly challenging and demanding. It would have to control the population of a defeated and occupied territory by maintaining general security in the U.S. occupied zone of Germany. That meant that it would be maintaining order in an area equivalent to the size of Pennsylvania. That region was home to 16 million Germans, and had over a half million refugees, as well as thousands of U.S. troops within its sector. The new unit would operate under a banner which proclaimed its credo, its motto -- Mobility, Vigilance and Justice.

In the reorganization, the 4th Armored Division Headquarters would become Headquarters, First Constabulary Brigade; its Combat Command A, Headquarters, Second Brigade; Combat Command B, Headquarters, Third Brigade. There would be three regiments in each brigade. Each regiment would have three battalion-sized units called squadrons (after the Cavalry) with troops instead of companies. Thus, in the three brigades there would be a total of 27 squadrons.

All battalions of the 4th Armored Division, regardless of what they had been before, became squadrons and were scattered throughout the three brigades. There were not enough battalions in the 4th to flesh out all the regiments, so battalions from the 1st Armored Division and separate tank, field artillery, tank destroyer and antiaircraft battalions were gathered throughout the theater and integrated with those of the 4th Armored.

There was a tenth regiment, designated the 4th Constabulary Regiment. Although it was organized like the other nine, it had a different command structure. The regimental headquarters, with two squadrons, was located in Austria. It came under the operational command and control of the area commander in Austria. A third squadron, the 16th Constabulary Squadron, was loosely under the 4th Regiment’s umbrella, but it was located and operated in Berlin under the Berlin Command. It considered itself the 16th Constabulary Squadron (Separate).

VI Corps Headquarters provided the resources for the Constabulary headquarters.

As all this reorganizing was taking place, each unit had to shuck its TO&E (tables of organization and equipment) and acquire the new Constabulary TO&E.

Among the more significant changes were the replacement of medium tanks, half tracks and howitzers with light tanks, M8 armored cars, motorcycles, large numbers of jeeps and even horses.

While units were being transformed, so were the individuals who would no longer be only soldiers, but Constabulary troopers. Each individual faced a psychological challenge. He would no longer be in a tactical unit, was no longer a warrior, a fighter. He had to turn his back on his specialty -- tanker, infantryman or artilleryman -- and train hard in his new role -- that of soldier/policeman.

Almost at once and everywhere, it seemed -- on every vehicle, every sign and on the shoulders and helmet liners of every trooper -- appeared the then famous Constabulary patch. It was a bright yellow circle with a narrow blue border; centered on the yellow was a large, bold, blue C through which thrust a red lightning bolt. These three distinctive colors represented the Cavalry, Infantry and Artillery. The most prominent color, however, was Cavalry yellow. In addition to the patch, helmet liners were encircled by yellow stripes. All vehicles had large circle Cs, and the larger the vehicle the larger the C. They also were encircled by broad, yellow stripes. Men and vehicles were so colorful and so distinctive that they were easily and readily recognized. They made a most significant and startling splash when they first appeared in the German cities, towns and countryside.

The selection of Maj. Gen. Ernest N. Harmon to be the first commanding general and organizer of the U.S. Constabulary was a stroke of genius. He was just finishing his assignment with the XXII Corps in Czechoslovakia. He had broad combat experience, was a most successful armored division commander, had a colorful personality and was a demanding and no-nonsense disciplinarian. He was absolutely the right man for the job. He assumed command in early January 1946. He was given what appeared to be an impossible mission. That mission was to have the Constabulary operational in six months, a most ambitious undertaking. On July 1, 1946, it was operational -- off and running -- from concept to reality in six months, a staggering achievement.

The big question mark, what appeared to be the Achilles heel of the organization, was the individual Constabulary trooper. During the period the Constabulary was being organized and after it began its operations, there was great personnel turmoil in Europe. The warriors of World War II were returning home in droves. During the first two months of its operations, the Constabulary lost 14,000 men, close to half of its authorized strength. Their replacements were 18-, 19-, 20-year-old troopers and young officers, all with limited military service and experience. These would become the backbone of the Constabulary. Upon their shoulders would rest the fate of the Constabulary mission.

They faced a situation that had never existed before and were confronted with unbelievable, demanding challenges. They had no preparation for their jobs. There were no field manuals to study, no precedents. They were given tremendous responsibilities and very little direction or supervision. The entire effort was peculiarly dependent upon the good judgment and sensitivity of the individual trooper. Their operations covered lots of ground and took them far and wide in small groups, long distances from their headquarters and very often only two to a jeep. They operated an active system of motorized patrols that carried them regularly to virtually every comer of their area of responsibility.

The troopers controlled the borders, established temporary and permanent road blocks, conducted small and large scale raids and involved themselves deeply in the suppression of black marketing and all types of crime. They possessed the power of arrest, search and seizure. Most important, they established and maintained an ideal and secure environment for the military government to do its critical work.

As they carried out their duties, these young, impressionable, often naïve, Americans were confronted with every temptation known to man. They were exposed to a society which for them was beyond comprehension. An ingenious black market flourished. The offering of substantial bribes was commonplace. Germany was filled with desperate people eager and willing to pay high prices for permission to cross borders illegally and to escape detection in the black market.

Yet these young Americans successfully resisted those temptations and did not succumb to the heavy pressures often applied to them. My service was during the first year and a half, the formative months of the Constabulary. During that period, I was not aware of a single serious incident involving a Constabulary trooper -- truly remarkable under the circumstances. We had defeated Germany; we were the victors, the conquerors. In previous centuries, conquerors were known to pillage, loot, rape and burn. The Constabulary troopers, however, were anything but swaggering, overbearing, chest-thumping conquerors.

They performed in a responsible manner, and toward the defeated, demoralized Germans they were sensitive, caring and compassionate. When the Germans saw the yellow colors and the Circle C, they did not recoil in fear and run and hide. Rather, they watched the approach of the Constabulary troopers with gratitude and respect, even admiration, for they knew the young men were there to help.

The United States Constabulary existed as an organization and served for the brief period of six and a half years. After that, it was no more. Why such an unbelievably short time? Was it a failure? The answer: anything but. This was a great success story. After six and a half years, the United States Constabulary had accomplished the United States Army’s mission of ensuring the success of the American occupation of Germany. After that relatively short period of time, our leaders decided that Germany was in control of its own destiny and the Constabulary was no longer required.

Our leaders at home had recognized the tremendous value of the U.S. Constabulary. It was acknowledged in the Congressional Record of the 81st Congress as "probably the keenest, most vigilant eye we possess -- ready to live up to (its) mission." Live up to its mission it did. As we look at Europe and see the Germany of today, great credit has to be given to the U.S. Constabulary for helping that country pick itself up off its knees and giving it a jump start to become the great nation it has become.

The establishment and opening of its museum is a unique Constabulary achievement. Its members have been well aware that museums are traditionally established by organizations with decades of service in order to depict long periods of history. The Constabulary’s history extended a mere six and a half years, and its existence ceased 50 years ago. Its significance, however, cannot be measured on a calendar.

The aging Constabulary veterans are justifiably proud of what they and their organization accomplished. This museum preserves their legacy, which had been rapidly disappearing from sight. As an off-shoot of the cavalry, it is appropriate that the museum should be at Fort Riley, the "Home of Cavalry."

BRIG. GEN. ALBIN F. IRZYK, USA Ret., served in the Fourth Armored Division during World War II. He also commanded the 14th Armored Cavalry Regiment during the Cold War and served in Vietnam. He is the author of the book He Rode Up Front for Patton.

United States Constabulary Official Home Page

Fort. Riley Museum