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The 6685th military police traffic platoon (provisional).

On 8 November 1942, the military forces of the United States and the United Kingdom launched an amphibious operation against French North Africa-- in particular, the French-held territories of Algeria and Morocco. That landing was code-named "Torch." The final plan was for the Allies to transport 65,000 men, commanded by Lieutenant General Dwight D. Eisenhower, from ports in the United States and England and to invade French North African possessions at Casablanca, Morocco, and Oran and Algiers in Algeria.

The primary mission of Center Task Force, under the command of Major General Lloyd R. Fredendall, was to capture Oran. The task force was to be composed of the 16th, 18th, and 26th Regimental Combat Teams from the 1st Infantry Division; a combat command from the 1st Armored Division; and the 1st Ranger Battalion--all of which were to be transported from the United Kingdom in 13 infantry landing ships, 23 motor transport ships, seven personnel ships, three tank landing ships, and one gun landing ship. (1) By the morning of 10 November, the 1st Infantry Division was in position on the eastern edge of Oran and the armored combat command was drawn up on the southern outskirts of the city. At 0737, they launched a coordinated attack. By 1100, armored units had penetrated the city, which surrendered at noon. Major General Fredendall received the formal capitulation of the French commanding general at 1230. (2) The city of Oran was to become a major port for the influx of men and materiel to support the invasion troops. The need arose for a specialized military police organization to control traffic from the port to the forward areas and facilitate the unloading, storage, and distribution of military necessities.

A 4 September 1943 order issued by Headquarters, North African Theater of Operations, titled "Constitution, Activation and Organization of 6685th MP Platoon," made that organization a reality. With an authorized strength of one officer and 55 enlisted Soldiers, the unit was authorized the following equipment:

* 10 1/4-ton, 4x4 trucks (three of which were to be equipped with 12-volt electrical systems).

* 11 motorcycles.

* One .45-caliber pistol.

* 55 Model 1903, .30-caliber rifles.

* Three SCR 294 radio sets.

In addition to normal personnel administration, the duties of this organization consisted of traffic regulation enforcement, traffic control for convoys moving through and around the city, control of radio communications between patrols and headquarters, operation of two parking lots in Oran, control of traffic and policing of convoy embarkation and debarkation to and from the ports, installation of new traffic signs throughout the city, cooperation with French police at checking stations for civil vehicles, and operation of a military police wrecker service. (3) A three-page set of traffic regulations showing speed limits and routes to be followed by various convoys was adopted. In cases of delay or obstruction, routes barred from use were outlined and alternate routes were provided.

Quartered in the Caserne Nouve area formerly occupied by the French military, the unit was commanded by First Lieutenant Earl A. Robertson, Corps of Military Police, from its inception. Two other officers, Second Lieutenant Arthur L. Trenam and Second Lieutenant Frank J. Robinson, were assigned shortly thereafter. On 31 December 1943, First Lieutenant Robertson requested a reorganization of the unit, which would increase its size to 75 enlisted Soldiers. This request was denied. (4)

Manpower was a constant problem, and training newly assigned personnel was an ongoing process--especially for those with no military police training or experience. Each platoon member was required to undergo a thorough orientation of the city and its surrounding area and at least rudimentary training in operating all of the vehicle types assigned to the unit. The platoon was sometimes able to obtain assistance from motorcycle-mounted military police Soldiers from other units in the city to perform their mission.

For a 5-month period beginning on 1 January 1944, the number of vehicles in regular convoys escorted or moved under guidance from platoon personnel amounted to nearly 40,000. Most of this traffic moved between the port and outlying staging areas and back, in all types of weather and road conditions. Many other smaller, irregular movements in, through, or around Oran were policed and escorted by the platoon; and all were accomplished without any accidents. During the same period, 1,772 traffic violators were cited. There was an average of 144 vehicles per day in the two parking lots operated by the platoon. (5)

In addition to their traffic posts and convoy escort duties, the platoon was also tasked with the responsibility for escorting visiting dignitaries, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lieutenant General Eisenhower, General George C. Marshall, Admiral Ernest J. King, Lieutenant General Mark W. Clark, and Lieutenant General George S. Patton. Foreign dignitaries included French General Charles de Gaulle and General Georges Catroux, governor general of Algeria.

During December 1942, reports from concerned commanders were compiled to critique Operation Torch, with the intention of correcting plans for future similar operations. Reports relating to military police operations concluded that--

* The strength of the division headquarters company military police platoon was inadequate. It was recommended that a military police platoon be added to the headquarters company of each infantry regiment.

* The motor equipment setup in military police table-of-organization units was at least 50 percent inadequate for any operation.

* Corps and division military police companies were not organized to allow operation as prisoner-of-war escort guard companies, so such units must be provided in troop lists of participating units in actions such as Operation Torch.

* Sand on the bolt face of the .45-caliber Ml submachine gun prevented the bolt from closing completely, thereby causing misfires. Reports also stated that the gun was too heavy and, therefore, handicapped military police Soldiers in performing their duties. (6)

The provost marshal for the North African Theater of Operations, U.S. Army (NATOUSA), during the time of the 6685th Military Police Platoon service was Colonel Joseph Vincent DePaul Dillon, a career military police officer. As the war progressed, he served as provost marshal general for the Services of Supply, NATOUSA. After the invasion of Italy, he moved on to provost marshal general for the Communications Zone, Mediterranean Theater of Operations. By war's end, he moved to the same position for the entire European Theater of Operations. (7)

Endnotes:

(1) A combat command was a combined arms military organization, comparable in size to a brigade or regiment, employed by armored forces of the U.S. Army from 1942 until 1963.

(2) "Report of the Commander in Chief Allied Forces to the Combined Chiefs of Staff on Operations in Northwest Africa", <http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USA/rep/TORCH/DDE -Torch.html>, accessed on 26 June 2014.

(3) Historical Records and Administrative History of the 6685th Military Police Platoon, National Archives and Records Administration, 17 June 1944.

(4) Earl A. Robertson, "Request to Commanding General NATOUSA for Additional Strength," 31 December 1943.

(5) Historical Records and Administrative History of the 6685th Military Police Platoon, p. 3.

(6)"Lessons of Operation Torch," Allied Force Headquarters APO 512, 19 January 1943.

(7) "The Generals of WWII," <www.generals.dk/general/Dillon /Joseph_Vincent_DePaul /USA.html>, accessed on 26 June 2014.

By Master Sergeant Patrick V. Garland (Retired) and Mr. Mark S. Lindsay

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.

Mr. Lindsay began his career in law enforcement in 1972 as a military police Soldier. In 1978, he left the military to enter civilian law enforcement. After retiring from the Baltimore City Police Department in 1999, he entered federal law enforcement as a criminal intelligence specialist assigned to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. In 2008, he came back into military law enforcement, assigned to the Command Intelligence Operations Center, U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command (commonly known as CID), where he finished his career working cold cases for CID.

"Doctrine is indispensable to an Army. Doctrine provides a military organization with a common philosophy, a common language, a common purpose, and a unity of effort. "

General George H. Decker, U.S. Army Chief of Staff, 1960-1962
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Author:Garland, Patrick V.; Lindsay, Mark S.
Publication:Military Police
Geographic Code:6ALGE
Date:Sep 22, 2014
Words:1395
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