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796th military police battalion during world war II.

On 29 June 1942, cadres were drawn from the 726th and 745th Battalions, Camp Beauregard, Louisiana, and transferred to Dodd Field, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where the 796th Military Police Battalion was activated on 1 July. The commander of the new battalion was Major Arno Von Koenneritz, who was supported by an adjutant, First Lieutenant Vernon H. McClintock, and a logistics officer (S-4), First Lieutenant Stephan C. Henley. Companies A and C were commanded by First Lieutenant Paul L. Heilman, and Companies B and D were led by First Lieutenant Rufus A. Hirsch. Once the battalion was organized, members completed a basic training program. Personnel also performed administrative and security duties at the alien internment camp at Fort Sam Houston. On 24 July, Lieutenant Colonel John W. Fletcher assumed command of the battalion.

In November, the 796th Military Police Battalion was moved to Fort McIntosh, Texas, where it remained until February 1943, when it was moved to Camp Shanks, New York. At that time, the battalion--which was under the direction of the Director of Intelligence, Security Division, New York Port of Embarkation--consisted of 29 officers and 729 enlisted men. The 796th received a contingent of new Soldiers in December, elevating the unit to its authorized strength. The battalion was then sent to Fort Custer, Michigan, where Soldiers received 3 months of additional training before returning to Camp Shanks.

On 31 March 1944, the 796th Military Police Battalion left Camp Shanks, traveled down the Hudson River via ferry, and boarded the Queen Elizabeth--one of Britain's finest luxury liners. The ship was divided into red, white, and blue areas; and at 1300, the battalion crowded into the converted "after salon" within the blue area. The Queen Elizabeth then set sail, carrying the men of the 796th to war.

The 796th arrived at Gourick, Scotland, with no casualties (except possible seasickness). The men remained onboard until 7 April, when Company A, one platoon from Company B, and an advance party of headquarters and medical detachment personnel boarded a train and left for the staging area at Parkhouse, Tidworth, Wiltshire, England. But when the train arrived at its destination, an air raid was underway. The British trainmen uncoupled the engine and left the American Soldiers locked in the train. Fortunately, the train was not hit by bombs. However, when the trainmen returned, a heated discussion between the Americans and the British ensued. The British explained that, due to a huge engine shortage, they needed to remove the engine to prevent it from being hit. After all, although the Soldiers could be replaced, it might not be possible to replace the engine! Shortly after the advance party arrived at Parkhouse, the rest of the battalion followed.

At Parkhouse, various companies of the battalion performed town patrol, convoy escort, and traffic control duty in and around the 18th District-Southern Base Section, which encompassed Hampshire, Berkshire, and Wiltshire Counties. Company B was assigned to Hampshire County, which included the towns of Romsey, Winchester, Basingstoke, Reading, and Salisbury. The battalion was then moved to Chilworth Park--a staging area near Southampton.

On 18 August. the 796th Military Police Battalion left Chilworth Park for Southampton. where the Soldiers boarded a British troopship, His Majesty's Ship (HMS) Hampshire. which set sail for France shortly thereafter. The trip across the English Channel was uneventful until disembarkation--a process that required the Soldiers to climb down cargo nets into a Higgins boat. which was designed to carry a platoon, but looked more like a canoe. The swells in the channel were reaching heights of more than 15 feet, so the sailors marked a point below which the Soldiers should not proceed. Instead, the Soldiers were instructed to catch the Higgins boat as it rose. With equipment, weapons, and ammunition, this proved to be somewhat tricky. The 796th suffered its first loss during these maneuvers. In his haste to board the Higgins, one of the Soldiers descended below the designated line and when the Higgins rose, it smashed him into the side of the troopship--and down he went, with no chance for recovery.

Once established in France, the companies of the 796th were assigned to a variety of locations. Company D left Transit Area Number 2 for the city of Rennes, which was located in Northwest France. Company B moved to Fougeres, Ille-et-Vilaine, Brittany, France. In addition, the battalion provided detachments to the towns of Saint-James, Plestin-les-Graves, Lannion, Laval, Vitr6, Saint-Brieuc, Nantes, and Dinan.

Military police began a period of intense, around-the-clock activity in support of the Red Ball Express, which was a huge truck convoy system that was created by Allied forces to supply forward-area combat units which were quickly moving through Europe following the 6 June 1944 D-Day invasion of Normandy. A fast, but limited, reconnaissance was conducted. Advance engineers furnished special Red Ball Express directional signs. Static traffic posts were selected and manned, and patrols in 1/4-ton trucks and on motorcycles were stationed in readiness. Military police posted and maintained signs. Pointsmen assumed duties at major crossroads, entrances and exits to traffic control-regulating posts, and blind comers in urban districts.

In his autobiography, A General's Life, General Omar N. Bradley wrote, "On both fronts, an acute shortage of supplies that dull subject again!--governed all our operations. Some 28 divisions were advancing across France and Belgium. Each division ordinarily required 700-750 tons a day a total daily consumption of about 20,000 tons." (2) More than 6,000 trucks kept gasoline and other vital supplies rolling in as American troops and tanks pushed the Germans back toward their homeland. One Red Ball Express veteran recalls kicking ration boxes off the truck to demoralized military police who had no rations and had not been relieved of their duties for days.

Military police were usually stationed at intersections to ensure that convoys stayed on course, or they directed traffic at blown bridges or through the narrow streets of villages such as Houdan, where medieval timbered houses crowded the main, winding thoroughfare. And they were always on the lookout for pilferage. When military police were not around, large, rectangular signs with huge red balls in the center kept the convoys rolling on the right roads. And convoy directors always carried maps to their destinations.

By 2150 on 26 September 1944. three platoons from Company B had established traffic control detachments on the Red Ball Express highway. Part of Company B also aided the 26th Infantry Regiment with the evacuation of Waffen-Schutzstaffel (SS) prisoners of war to the rear. The prisoners of war were loaded onto trucks in a standing position, chest to back. facing forward--and as many as possible were put on a truck to prevent even the remote possibility of an escape. This arrangement allowed for a smaller security detachment to control the convoys. Two points along the Red Ball Express highway where combat units picked up their supplies--Chartes and Dreux--became targets of the infamous French Forces of the Interior, which constantly tried to steal equipment from Allied trucks. The French Forces of the Interior posed a major problem when they physically attacked prisoners of war who were being readied for transport to the rear; in a couple of instances, the skirmishes evolved into French Forces of the Interior shootings.

New express lines with different designations some for specific tasks--began to form. For example, the White Ball Express was established in early October, with routes extending from Le Havre and Rouen to the Paris area. By the end of the month, Company B was in full control of the White Ball Express highway between Le Havre and Beauvais. The Company B headquarters was located in Yvetot, and men were detached to Totes, Saint-Saens, and Neufchatel-en-Bray. Six men were stationed in the village of Totes; their only connection with the company or battalion was via a "bikie" (motorcyle rider) who came by about once a day.

On 16 December, there was a German breakthrough in the Ardennes area of Belgium and the Battle of the Bulge began. Paratroopers were dropped behind friendly lines in Germany to destroy communications and supply lines in the area occupied by the 796th Military Police Battalion. The battalion was alerted, crossroads were blocked, numerous roadblocks were established, and guard strength was increased at all bridges and vital installations. All personnel were checked for proper identification, as some enemy personnel wearing American uniforms or civilian clothing were working within American lines. Due to immediate security measures enacted by the battalion, no serious disruptions of communications or supply lines occurred.

During the Battle of the Bulge, the Germans launched Operation Greif--a special German, false-flag operation, which was the brainchild of dictator Adolf Hitler. The operation--commanded by the notorious Waffen-SS commando Otto Skorzeny--consisted of using specially trained German soldiers in captured Allied uniforms and vehicles to cause confusion in the rear of the Allied front. A lack of uniforms, transport aircraft, and English-speaking soldiers limited the operation; however, this so-called Trojan Horse Brigade caused considerable confusion.

In the initial confusion at the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge, about two dozen German soldiers--most of them in captured U.S. Army jeeps--managed to get through the lines and begin changing signposts, creating panic among the American troops they encountered. However, some of the saboteurs were captured by the Americans. Because they were wearing American uniforms, their interrogators threatened to execute them as spies unless they divulged their mission. Figuring that they would meet that fate anyway (which they did), the Germans falsely told the Americans that their mission was to go to Paris to capture or kill Allied commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower.

American military police were put to work trying to hunt down Skorzeny's men. Checkpoints were soon established throughout the Allied rear, greatly slowing the movement of personnel and equipment. Military police drilled personnel on facts that every American could be expected to know, such as the name of Mickey Mouse's girlfriend, well-known baseball scores, or the capitals of specific states. General Bradley himself was briefly detained when he correctly answered that the capital of Illinois was Springfield; apparently, the Soldier who had questioned him mistakenly believed that the capital was Chicago.

In the Red Horse assembly area, which extended from Le Havre (along the Seine River) to Mantes-Gassicort, the 796th Military Police Battalion painted and posted more than 2,000 informational and route marking signs. The signs served their purpose under the most difficult weather conditions-often with temperatures below 0 [degrees]F and with 2 feet of snow on the ground. The men found it difficult to properly perform their duties under such extreme conditions; however, they completed their assigned mission.

The 796th received its first group of reinforcements in January 1945; they were former combat men who had returned from the front lines due to injuries. By February, the battalion had entered Belgium and was again assigned to a variety of locations. In the area around Charleroi, Company A and part of Company B painted and posted more than 5,000 route marking signs. These units also established and operated the district bivouac area at Fontaine-l'Eveque. Company C moved to Antwerp--one of the most important continental ports of entry at that time. The Germans tried every means within their power to destroy the docks at Antwerp; they first sent bombers, then V-1 buzz bombs, and finally improved V-2 missiles. Company C personnel were subjected to numerous buzz bomb raids. Company D moved to Ghent, where it assumed normal military police duties. Later, companies from the battalion were ordered to support Operation Varsity, which was an American-British airborne operation that took place on 24 March 1945, near the end of World War II. (3) The operation, which involved several thousand aircraft and more than 16,000 paratroopers, was the largest airborne operation in history to be conducted on a single day in a single location. In preparation for the operation, Company C moved from Antwerp to Arras, France--a distance of 210 miles. There, the company established a security guard for 17th Airborne Division troops awaiting a tactical jump behind enemy lines at Wesel, Germany, along the Rhine River. The company headquarters was established at Airstrip B-48 at Amiens, France. Company B moved to an airborne encampment near the town of Poix, France, to reconnoiter the area and to establish and provide security for airfields and compounds for another section of the 17th Airborne Division, which was scheduled to arrive later. Members of the company were told that that their job involved a dual detail--they were to keep the paratroopers in and the nosy locals out. (4)

Following Operation Varsity, the 796th Military Police Battalion was relieved of duty in the Channel Base Section and began assembling at Charleroi and Mons, Belgium, to await movement orders. Rumors were rampant that the battalion would be transferred to the Pacific Theater. On 17 June 1945, the battalion departed the assembly areas for Arles, France--a staging area near Marseille. The distance of about 600 miles was traveled by train and motor convoy.

Shortly after arriving at the Arles staging area, Company B was assigned as the security force for the Delta Base Section Disciplinary Training Center--a prison facility for U.S. military personnel who had been convicted and sentenced by general courts-martial. Other members of the battalion were transferred to Detachment A, 2913th Disciplinary Training Company. (One of these, Glenn Snyder [whose family contributed to this article], was promoted to first sergeant and appointed as the administrative noncommissioned officer of the prison.) At these locations, selected prisoners were assigned to prisoner companies, where they underwent a rigorous training regime--which, if successfully completed, provided them with an opportunity to return to active duty status.

Following these assignments, most of the men from the battalion were returned to the United States. At that point, the battalion existed only on paper at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe and in the minds of the men who left it. The battalion was reactivated in 1946 and moved to Vienna, Austria, where it was repopulated with men from other military police units. Also in 1946, all disciplinary training centers in France and Italy were ordered closed; prisoners who were still serving sentences were transferred to a military prison in Wurzburg, Germany.

Author's Note: While performing research for a previous article, I realized that the early history of the 796th Military Police Battalion had been virtually lost. During a recent visit to the U.S. Army Military History Institute, U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, I was unable to locate any battalion records. In addition, letters that I have received from the U.S. Army Center of Military History and the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration indicate that those organizations hold very scant information regarding battalion World War II activities. Furthermore, the 796th Military Police Battalion Association Web pages lack any real history of the unit before its reactivation in 1946. Through contact with battalion veterans and their families, I have endeavored to reconstruct the history of the 796th in order to secure some recognition for those who so admirably served in this Military Police Corps unit. I would like to acknowledge the significant contributions of former First Sergeant Fred Waggett, who has been compiling data on his wartime buddies for more than 20 years. (1) He deserves most of the credit for this article; however, any mistakes are mine. I would also like to acknowledge the family of former First Sergeant Glenn Snyder, who kindly loaned personal records and photographs for this project.

Endnotes:

(1) Fred Waggett, chronology of the 796th Military Police Battalion, unpublished.

(2) Omar N. Bradley and Clay Blair, A General's Life. An Autobiography by General of the Army Omar N. Bradley and Clay Blair, Simon and Schuster, 1983.

(3) Waggett.

(4) Ibid.

By Master Sergeant Patrick V. Garland (Retired)

Master Sergeant Garland retired from the U.S. Army in 1974. During his military career, he served in military police units' and criminal investigation detachments and laboratories. At the time of his retirement, Master Sergeant Garland was serving as a ballistics evidence specialist at the European Laboratory. He remained in this career field until retiring from civilian law enforcement in 1995.
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Author:Garland, Patrick V.
Publication:Military Police
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Sep 22, 2013
Words:2701
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