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Criminal investigation in the European theater of operations during World War II.

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While World War II was raging throughout Europe and the Far East, the United States tried to avoid taking sides; however, we were providing materiel support to our allies who were fighting. U.S. factories produced arms and munitions for the Chinese, Russians, French, and English. When we finally entered the war, we were woefully unprepared in many areas. Our standing Army was small, and the Navy was inadequate for taking on the massive German and Japanese fleets.

The Army had abolished the Corps of Military Police at the end of World War I; therefore, with the outbreak of World War II in Europe in 1939, a military police corps needed to be created virtually from scratch! In conjunction with rising national concern over possible subversion and the perceived need to control hostile aliens, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson appointed Major General Allen W. Guillon, adjutant general of the Army, as the acting provost marshal on 31 July 1941. To meet the demands associated with an army mobilizing for war, the War Department also recognized the need for a centralized authority above the corps level. On 26 September 1941 (now the official birthday of the Corps), the Military Police Corps was established as a permanent branch of the Army. (1)

Before the invasion of Europe, there were 236 criminal investigation agents--who were supervised by 20 officers who were also criminal investigators--operating in the United Kingdom (UK). These agents were under the staff control of the Criminal Investigation Branch, Military Police Division, Office of the Theater Provost Marshal, and were distributed by unit throughout the Western Base Section, Eastern Base Section, North Ireland Base Section, Southern Base Section, and Central Base Section (located in London). At that time, a basic criminal investigation unit consisted of a first lieutenant and 10 enlisted agents. In addition to the agents in the basic criminal investigation units, 36 individual agents were assigned to various headquarters within the UK. Several reorganizations and expansions of criminal investigation units took place from May 1944 to April 1945. (2)

Supplying these investigative units proved troublesome, especially in the area of photographic equipment. U.S.-based criminal investigation detachments were required to turn in their photographic equipment before they deployed and were unable to get the items reissued upon their arrival in Europe. Typewriters were also in short supply. While one typewriter per two-agent team was preferred, entire detachments often had access to only one typewriter. In addition, some of the handcuffs that were issued were of a British style and were cumbersome and difficult to use. (3)

Taking the crime rate and the number of available units into consideration, the theater provost marshal assigned incoming criminal investigation units as needed. Five detachments were assigned to the 12th Army Group and, in turn, distributed among the armies. Twelve detachments were maintained at the base sections in France, and six were retained in the UK. One specialized detachment--the 27th Military Police Detachment--provided technical support from Paris, but also had a mobile capability.

The five detachments assigned to the 12th Army Group proved to be inadequate. Consequently, in November 1944, the 12th Army Group urged all armies to use the organic criminal investigation section within each military police battalion (previously used only in the investigation of minor incidents) for the investigation of major crimes. In December 1944, all 11 -man criminal investigation detachments were converted to 14-man units commanded by captains. In addition, four more 14-man detachments were created by using qualified men from within the theater.

While Field Manual (FM) 19-5 indicated that "Criminal investigators should be provided separate billeting and separate mess," (4) such facilities were not always available. In many instances, agents were required to share quarters and mess with the men of military police battalions.

To more readily accomplish their missions, agents were given credentials and authorized to wear civilian clothing or the standard field uniform (minus the blouse) that was prescribed for civilians in the theater. When in the civilian uniform, agents displayed a metallic "US" collar ornament, but no insignia or rank. Agents generally did not wear civilian clothing outside the UK.

Due to personnel shortages, investigations in the European theater were restricted to major crimes--with some exceptions involving criminal investigation detachments along major supply routes. Investigators along major supply routes often conducted crime prevention surveys that extended to supply depots, railroad yards, and other locations where large concentrations of equipment and supplies were stored.

Investigative personnel throughout the theater were directed to carry concealed weapons. Various suggestions regarding the proper type of weapon were offered. Some agents believed that the M1911 .45-caliber, semiautomatic pistol was too cumbersome and difficult to conceal and, therefore, suggested that the .32-caliber Colt automatic pistol in a shoulder holster or the .38-caliber Colt Official Police or Detective Special Models would be better. (5)

Criminal investigation units were not assigned to echelons of command below the army level; however, agents operated within corps and division areas when requested and when operations permitted. This often caused discord between the provost marshals at different echelons of command. At the corps level, provost marshals were responsible for keeping commanding generals informed about the crime situation within their areas and, consequently, demanded case and progress reports from agents. Staff echelons settled these difficulties among themselves.

Tens of thousands of Soldiers were court-martialed in the European theater of operations. The branch office of the Judge Advocate General analyzed the trial records of more than 12,000 offenders who were court-martialed before 8 May 1945. The reasons for the excessive problem population are complex. Many of the offenders joined the Army before beginning their adult lives. Many were good citizens who--except for circumstances peculiar to military life in an active theater--may have lived out their entire lives without experiencing an appearance in a court of law. (6) However, a large percentage of the prison population could have been properly classified as psychopathic or psychoneurotic. One group of offenders was discovered to have civilian criminal records. These offenders had been found guilty of robbery, burglary, and other felonies in their civilian lives and had repeated these offenses after induction into the Army. Crimes investigated in the European theater of operations included assault, larceny, looting, black market activities, rape, murder, sodomy, and manslaughter.

The assault cases almost always included intoxication, and many included the use of weapons (some of which had been issued). Black market activities were rampant in the larger cities, and offenders who carried out those activities were often absent without leave--or were deserters. Rape became a big problem following the invasion of France, with a large increase in the number of rape cases from August to September 1944. A second increase in the number of rape cases took place from March to April 1945, following the large-scale invasion of Germany. Incidents of murder increased gradually after August 1944, with some acceleration in January to February 1945 and a greater increase as troops moved into Germany 2 months later. (7)

Many death sentences--most of which were for the crimes of rape and murder--were adjudged in the European theater of operations. However, a relatively small number of those sentenced to death (96) were actually executed. All of those who were executed had been convicted of murder or rape-with one exception (a deserter).

The organization and manning of additional criminal investigation detachments continued as the war progressed. By the end of April 1945, 585 agents and 39 supervising officers were working in the European theater. (8) That same month, it was determined that a mobile crime laboratory capable of offering the scientific evaluation of evidence in forward areas would be a valuable asset. Captain George R. Bird--an experienced criminalist from Illinois--obtained and outfitted a small arm repair truck to enable field examinations in the areas of ballistics, photography, fingerprinting, handwriting, and chemical analysis. From the beginning of April to 5 July 1945, the mobile laboratory had been used to examine evidence for 91 major crimes. This included the testing of 238 firearms, 228 bullets, and 749 cartridge cases. Laboratory reports and accompanying photographs were used as court exhibits at trial. (9)

Criminal investigation detachments in the European theater of operations performed their assigned tasks in admirable fashion, often overcoming shortfalls with equipment and supplies. Based on their firm footing, the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command (USACIDC), commonly known as CID, has become one of the country's premier investigative agencies and an asset of which the Military Police Corps can be proud.

By Master Sergeant Patrick V. Garland (Retired) Endnotes:

(1) Robert K. Wright Jr., compiler, Military Police, Center of Military History, U.S. Army, 1992, <http://www.history.army.mil/books/Lineage/mp/mp.htm>, accessed on 10 January 2014.

(2) Criminal Investigation, The General Board, U.S. Forces, European Theater, p. 4, <http://usacac.army.mil/cac2/cgsc/carl/eto/eto-102.pdf>. accessed on 10 January 2014.

(3) Ibid, pp. 4 and 11.

(4) FM 19-5, Military Police, 14 June 1944.

(5) Criminal Investigation, p. 11.

(6) The Military Offender in the Theater of Operations, The General Board, U.S. Forces, European Theater, p. 1, <http://usacac.army.mil/cac2/cgsc/carl/eto/eto-084.pdft>, accessed on 14 January 2014.

(7) Ibid, pp. 6 and 7.

(8) Criminal Investigation, p. 4.

(9) Criminal Investigation, p. 11.

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
Date:Mar 22, 2014
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