Moments in MI history: European Theater Intelligence School opened at Oberammergau.
rebuilding of Germany. To ensure it had the right technical specialists on hand, the European Theater of Operations, US Army (ETOUSA) established a number of schools, including those for quartermaster, military police, engineering, and ordnance, in France and Germany.
The Army also recognized the need for personnel who understood the language, culture, and political systems of the countries they would be rebuilding as well as countries that could pose a future threat. As early as November 1944, a European Theater Intelligence School was established near Dreux, France. The school provided instruction on German armed forces, the political organization of Nazi Germany, and basic intelligence activities. The school also sent mobile training teams throughout the European Theater of Operations (ETO) to orient troops on the society they would face as they entered Nazi Germany.
Similarly, in February 1945, a U.S. Army Liaison Officers School was established in Le Vesinet near Paris. Here, students received training in the political and military aspects of the Soviet Union to prepare them for assignments as liaison officers and intelligence specialists throughout the ETO.
In November 1945, the European Theater Intelligence School moved to the Hoetzendorf Kasern in Oberammergau, Germany. During the war, the Kasern had housed a German mountain signal battalion and later an experimental jet engine lab for the Messerschmitt Corporation. The U.S. Army's 409th Infantry Regiment occupied the area in April 1945 and shortly thereafter the instructors for the Intelligence School moved in. Classes on denazification and the growing Soviet threat began in January 1946.
The school expanded in 1947 when Detachment R began a three-year immersion course in Russian language, culture, and politics to prepare Foreign Area Officers for diplomatic tours in the Soviet Union. Major Jane G. Brister, a Strategic Intelligence Officer, attended Russian language training at the school in the late 1950s. She remembered being one of only three women in a class of 30 students. Upon graduation, the students hoped for assignments as attaches or members of the U.S. Military Liaison Mission. Brister was instead assigned to work in the Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence, in the Pentagon compiling Soviet order of battle and intelligence summaries.
The Russian immersion course remained there until 1964 when Detachment R moved to Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The course subsequently became known as the U.S. Army Russian Institute and was later absorbed into the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies.
Back in Oberammergau, the Intelligence School went through additional changes when it was combined with the Military Police School in May 1948. The MP School had originally been established in France in 1945 but was later combined with the Constabulary School located in Sonthofen, Germany. When the latter school closed, the European Command (EUCOM, successor to USFET) Provost Marshal and G2 agreed to move the MPs to the Hoetzendorf Kasern. The school was then redesignated the EUCOM Intelligence and Military Police School.
Signifying the changes in world-power relations, the Intelligence School recommended and developed a two-week course in staff planning and procedures for nuclear war. The first class was held in January 1953. Shortly thereafter, a Special Weapons Branch was created to oversee the class. By the end of 1956, the school had been renamed the U.S. Army Europe (USAREUR, the Army component of EUCOM) Intelligence, Military Police and Special Weapons School.
Also in 1956, during festivities for the school's 11th anniversary, the Hoetzendorf Kaserne was renamed Hawkins Barracks in honor of Lieutenant Colonel Jesse M. Hawkins. A 1933 graduate of West Point, Hawkins was serving as Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence, 2nd Armored Division, when he was killed in action in France on August 31, 1944. For gallantry in action, Hawkins received the Silver Star.
The Intelligence School's 25-week course interspersed language instruction with detailed German and Soviet history, politics, and current conditions. Halfway through the course, students were introduced to combat intelligence topics, including map analysis, order of battle, intelligence sources, reporting, and interrogation.
Another course covered photo interpretation. One student, Bennett Young, remembered, "Class work was intense and we put in full days, but there was no homework and the instructors were well qualified officers who we all respected.... The curriculum consisted of plotting and identifying targets on the ground and writing reports about the terrain." Young returned in 1957 for an advanced photo interpretation course.
In I960, the U.S. Army School Command, Europe, was activated, with headquarters at Oberammergau, to provide centralized control over the various schools. At this time, the quartermaster and signal schools at Lenggries and the engineering and ordnance schools at Murnau were all consolidated. The Intelligence School became the Intelligence Department of the U.S. Army School, Europe. Its mission was to provide "specialist courses in intelligence subjects peculiar to USAREUR and in specialties in which shortages of trained personnel exist [as well as] refresher training languages peculiar to USAREUR." It is unknown when the last U.S. Army Intelligence course was taught at the school.
The Special Weapons Branch became the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Weapons Systems Department under the operational control of the Supreme Allied Commander Europe in 1966. It continues to operate today as the NATO School Oberammergau.
Author's Note: The Command History Office has an extensive historical document collection with some interesting items. Sometimes, however, those items come with little background and many questions. This week's article covers one of those history mysteries. The following is a bare outline of an intelligence school that began operations in Europe in 1944. Much of this story is yet untold, particularly for the period in the late 1940s. If you can help fill in some details about the Intelligence School at Oberammergau, please contact the author at (520) 533-4113.