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The U.S. Constabulary

At the conclusion of World War II, the Allied nations divided the former Nazi Germany into four occupational zones. The United States oversaw a 40,000 square mile area (the size of Pennsylvania) in southeastern Germany; the United Kingdom, France, and the Soviet Union controlled the other regions. The four Allied powers also divided Germany’s capital city of Berlin. With many American combat troops being reassigned to the Pacific theater or sent back to the United States, a less traditional force emerged to police the occupational zone.

Officially commissioned in 1946, the United States Constabulary replaced the combat troops in the region. Major General Ernest Harmon had the distinction as the first leader of the elite group-three others would eventually head the U.S. Constabulary during its over six-year history (Major General Withers A. Burress, Major General Louis Craig, and Major General I.D. White). As the de facto state police organization of the American zone of occupation, the U.S. Constabulary conducted raids of the black market, searched for Nazi war criminals, and coordinated patrols to maintain control of Germany’s borders. The troops of the new organization, numbering slightly over 30,000, received little training to prepare them for their challenging assignment of restoring and maintaining order and enforcing the law in the U.S. zone. Following its official campaign motto, “Mobility, Vigilance, Justice,” the U.S. Constabulary evolved into a flexible force capable of responding to a series of events rapidly. Many of the German people in the occupied zone recognized the efforts of the occupying force nicknaming them the “Lightning Police” due to the distinctive lightning bolt patch on their uniforms and for their uncanny ability to adapt and react quickly under pressure.

In an effort to take control of the German capital, Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union instituted a blockade on Western Berlin in June 1948 obstructing all surface transportation to the region. During the subsequent Berlin Airlift led by the American, British, and French during 1948 and 1949, the Constabulary transformed into an efficient combat force. The new armored cavalry regiments continued their law enforcement duties, but also stood guard along the border to repel a potential Soviet attack during the beginning of the Cold War.

Deactivated in 1952, the U.S. Constabulary transferred its duties to the German authorities once order had been restored in the region. The unique group with wide-ranging responsibilities successfully defended and policed the American occupation zone despite its minimal training and overwhelming circumstances following the end of the Second World War. As one of the earliest American Cold War forces, the Constabulary remains an unheralded organization. However, the efforts of this flexible and adept group played a significant role in the successful achievement of U.S. goals in Germany to help maintain world peace.

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