Hitler’s Germany was known for its organization and efficiency, as well as its deprivations, terror, and cruelty. This was exemplified in its security forces.
Among the many Third Reich police and security organizations were several military police types, the Feldgendarmerie, Geheime Feldpolizei, Heeresstreifendienst, Marinekusten-Polizei, and numerous police-security regiments and divisions. In addition to the military police there were state security organs such as the SS, SD, and the Gestapo, which were also found to operate in combat zones as well as in Germany and the occupied territories.
The Rise of Nazi Paramilitary Police
The Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I, imposed limits on the manpower of the German Army, and military police units were disbanded. With the Nazi rise to power and the start of World War II, the floodgates were opened for numerous police organizations to be formed and also the creation of a chaotic hierarchy of security forces.
The seed of the German military police began with state police organizations. The various state police battalions across Germany in the early 1930s were, in effect, paramilitary organizations, which allowed the Nazis to quickly expand both the Army and the military police by converting these units to national service once the party came to power.
In January 1934, the Nazi regime began unifying the various state police forces into the Landespolizei by transferring police powers to the national level. The post of chief of the German police in the Ministry of the Interior was created with Heinrich Himmler appointed to the position, thus blurring the lines between the police and the SS. As a result, the position of SS and police leader was created in 1938. The purpose of the SS and police leader was to be a direct command authority for every SS and police unit in a given geographical region, answering only to Himmler and Adolf Hitler.
The Feldgendarmerie: Equipment and Duties
The Feldgendarmerie was the regular military police arm of the Wehrmacht. Not only was it associated with standard military police duties, but some Feldgendarmerie units were assigned occupation duties in the territories controlled by the Wehrmacht. Their missions ranged from traffic control and civilian policing to suppression and execution of partisans.
Military police schools taught a wide range of subjects including criminal code, general and special police powers, forestry, fishery and waterway codes, traffic codes, industrial codes, passport and identification duties, folk culture, first aid, weapons drill and instruction, shooting, self-defense techniques, and criminal police methodology. There were also lessons in air defense, animal protection, and typing and stenography courses.
After examinations candidates spent time working at a police station. It was no easy feat passing the requirements and becoming a police officer. From one batch of 219 trainees, only 89 made it as far as the final examination. Former civilian policemen drafted into the Feldgendarmerie acquired military ranks in keeping with their former police status.
Within the German Army, the Feldgendarmerie received full infantry training besides having extensive police powers. They were employed with Army divisions and higher formations.
Each field army of the Wehrmacht had under its command a Feldgendarmerie battalion and each division a Feldgendarmerietrupp. A typical Feldgendarmerie battalion included a command group with one officer, one warrant officer, two noncommissioned officers, three other ranks over three platoons each with an officer, three noncommissioned officer drivers, 17 more noncommissioned officers, and 10 other ranks. A Feldgendarmerietrupp, attached to an infantry or panzer division, would usually comprise three officers, 41 noncommissioned officers, and 20 men.
Military policemen were armed with Walther pistols that had been designed for use by civilian police, either the model PP (Police Pistole) or PPK; they were favored by officers over the Luger PO8 and Walther P38 used by other ranks. Machine pistols were carried by noncommissioned officers, while the Mauser 98K rifle was issued but not widely used. Heavier weapons included the MG34 and MG42 machine guns, often mounted on vehicles for use in defending roadblocks.
The Feldgendarmerie had the authority to pass through roadblocks, checkpoints, and secured areas and were allowed to conduct body and property searches and obtain the assistance of any other military or civilian personnel. They also had seniority over every other soldier, up to their own rank, whatever their branch of service. In the wake of combat operations they acted as temporary town police, rounded up enemy stragglers, dealt with guerrillas, collected refugees and prisoners, guarded captured booty, ensured that civilian weapons were surrendered, were responsible for the organization of civilian labor, and erected military and civil signs.
On the Front Lines
Members served on every front. Toward the war’s end, they were more often employed as frontline troops and were involved in many desperate operations. Many were decorated for bravery. During the last days of the war, Feldgendarmerie caught by Soviet troops, who had been offered a bounty for their capture, could expect to be shot on the spot. Many were issued with a second Soldbuch (paybook) and matching identity tags that could be used to identify them as regular soldiers.