The Feldgendarmerie, formed in the middle of the 19th Century, was originally the military police of the Imperial German Army, having authority solely within the army and charged with enforcing the army's military law and regulation on its own soldiers.
After Germany's defeat in the First World War, the Feldgendarmerie was disbanded, with the small-scale army which the Weimar Republic was allowed to posses under the Treaty of Versailles having no such body.
After the rise of the Nazis and the establishment of the Wehrmacht, the Feldgendarmerie was re-established. Also in Nazi Germany its primary duty was to act as a military police empowered toward the Wehrmacht's own soldiers. As such, it was notorious in the latter stages of World War II for harsh treatment of deserters, keeping them in prison camps and sometimes executing them out of hand.
After the invasion of the Soviet Union, the Feldgendarmerie was known to have ruthlessly rooted out partisans and resistance fighters within occupied civilian populations. The Feldgendarmerie carried out this function as the German military moved into occupied territories, and was then replaced by the Gestapo and the SS while the Feldgendarmerie advanced further forward.
The extent of Feldgendarmerie involvement in WWII war crimes is one of the least investigated areas in the historical research of the Nazi state apparatus.
After the fall of Nazi Germany, the Feldgendarmerie was dissolved permanently. After West Germany formed its own army in the 1950s, it took care to give a new name (Bundeswehr) to the military police to emphasize that there was no continuity of any kind between it and the Feldgendarmerie.
Feldgendarmerie in Curious Notions
After the German Empire's overwhelming victory in the brief war of 1914, it controlled large territories in Europe - either an officially proclaimed military occupation or a tutelage amounting in practice to occupation.
Such territories seethed with opposition and resentment of German dominance, with various nationalist die-hard groups manifesting their resistance by political or military means. The German authorities felt an urgent need to hunt out and put down such manifestations. No specialized new body was created for the purpose; rather, the job fell to the Feldgendarmerie, which was given a wide berth to deal with occupied civilian populations and destroy any manifestation of opposition.
This role of the Feldgendarmerie was extended after Britain and France's last attempt to defeat Germany in the late 1930s. Instead, the two countries fell completely under Germany's power, exercised in daily life by the Feldgendarmerie. After Germany defeated the United States in 1956, the power of the Feldgendarmerie was extended across the Atlantic Ocean and became worldwide.
The original role of the Feldgendarmerie as a military police within the German armed forces became a marginal part of its duties. It developed into a formidable and greatly feared Secret Police, whose "midnight knock on the door" was the worst nightmare most people could conceive of.
The Feldgendarmerie maintained a worldwide network of "Penal Colonies" - located in distant areas with inhospitable climates - where prisoners had little chance of long survival. These were located in such places as Siberia (using facilities taken over after Russia's defeat), New Guinea, Patagonia and the Mojave Desert. A prisoner could be taken out of his or her country and shipped halfway around the world, at the Feldgendarmerie's discretion, after a perfunctory trial or without any trial at all.
The threat of being sent to such a colony was often enough in itself to make a prisoner confess and cooperate with the Feldgendarmerie. For those who continued to be recalcitrant, there were methods ranging from late-night interrogation with a strong light shone in the prisoner's eyes to outright torture, using thumbscrews, electric shocks and various other methods.
Members of the Feldgendarmerie, wherever they were, outranked the local police forces and could order them about. Nevertheless, long-serving local police officers (such as Captain Fatty Horvath of San Francisco) could develop extensive contacts with the Feldgendarmerie and gain some influence with it. Such officers could serve as conduits through whom the release of prisoners held by the Feldgendarmerie might be sometimes secured for a suitable bribe.
In the United States as in other parts of the world, "Feldgendarmerie" was one of the German words which everybody could correctly pronounce, having so often heard Germans pronounce it.
Feldgendarmerie in "Uncle Alf"
After the fall of Paris in 1914, France was defeated and placed under German occupation. The French resented German rule and often engaged in subversive activities. Agitators such as Jacques Doriot combined elements of French Nationalism and Revolutionary Socialism into a single incendiary mix.
To maintain German rule, units of the Feldgendarmerie were established in all French cities, ranging the streets with their Alsatian dogs and known by locals as "The Green Devils" because of their uniforms. However, when remaining for a long time in a single location, they tended to become "soft" and corrupt, living with French mistresses and apt to take bribes.
Such was the situation in Lille - an industrial French town constituting a hotbed of strong anti-German feeling. The local Feldgendarmerie proved unable to capture Jacques Doriot, known to be active in the city. Therefore, the German government in 1929 sent into the town Sergeant Adolf Hitler, an operative used to acting on his own and guided by his fanatic nationalism, who could be relied on to embark on a relentless hunt.
- See e.g.: Atlantis and Other Places, pgs. 337, HC.
- Ibid., pgs. 364-366.
- Ibid., pgs. 337-339.