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|Branch||Heer (Originally, later came under the control of the RSHA though were still at least nominally part of the Wehrmacht.)|
|Role||Security, counterinsurgency and counter-espionage|
|Nickname(s)||Gestapo der Wehrmacht|
|Disbanded||8 May 1945|
|Heerespolizeichef||SS and Police Leader Wilhelm Krichbaum|
The Geheime Feldpolizei (help·info) (Secret Field Police) or GFP was the secret military police of the German Wehrmacht until the end of the Second World War. These units were used to carry out plain-clothed security work in the field such as counter-espionage, counter-sabotage, detection of treasonable activities, counter-propaganda, protecting military installations and the provision of assistance to the German Army in courts-martial investigations. GFP personnel, who were also classed as Abwehrpolizei, operated as an executive branch of German military intelligence detecting resistance activity in Germany and occupied France. They were also known to carry out torture and executions of prisoners.
The need for a secret military police developed after the annexations of the Sudetenland in 1938 and Czechoslovakia in 1939. Although security Einsatzgruppen (or security task forces) belonging to the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA) had been used during these operations, the German High Command felt it needed a specialist intelligence agency with police functions that could operate with the military but act like a security service to arrest potential opponents and eliminate any resistance. After studying data collected in Spain, Austria and Czechoslovakia, Generaloberst Wilhelm Keitel, commander in chief of the OKW, issued the "Dienstvorschrift für die Geheime Feldpolizei" (Regulations for the secret police). The GFP was created on 21 July 1939.
Although officially part of the Wehrmacht, its personnel were mainly recruited from the criminal branch of police officers who had been assigned to the armed forces. They were assigned the legal status of Wehrmachtsbeamte auf Kriegsdauer (military officials for the duration of the war) and retained the authority of other police agencies as well as the Sicherheitsdienst (SD). Initially the Geheime Feldpolizei were exclusively Wehrmacht security units, but in 1942 they were absorbed by the RSHA.
GFP agents could wear either civilian clothes or uniforms in the course of their duties. A GFP official was also entitled to pass through any military roadblocks or enter military buildings. They could also utilise military signals and communications equipment, commandeer military vehicles, procure military supplies and accommodation wherever necessary in execution of their duty. In occupied areas, the GFP also provided personal escort to military VIPs, assistance to state security agencies in counter espionage, interrogation of suspects, prevention of sabotage and the detection of enemy agents.
In practice, GFP activity depended on the region in which it was operating. Work in occupied northern and western Europe was markedly different from operations conducted on the Eastern Front. In the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway, GFP agents were mainly confined to the secret police protection of senior Wehrmacht officers. In Belgium and France, the GFP became an executive part of the civilian police service, working alongside the military authorities to combat acts of resistance, the British Special Operations Executive and sabotage using terror tactics such as detentions, deportations and the execution of hostages.
Operations in occupied France
Following the defeat of France in 1940, the GFP established its main headquarters at the Hôtel Bradford on the rue Saint Philippe du Roule in Paris (8ème arrondissement). Other sections for the departments of Nord and Pas de Calais were based at rue de la Traversière in Brussels. Despite their small numbers, the GFP constituted the "root" of the German police organ which terrorized the French people for four years of occupation.
Each GFP Gruppe consisted of a fifty-man unit until May 1942 when the entire command was restructured by SS-Brigadeführer Karl Oberg, the Higher SS and Police Leader (Höhere SS-und Polizeiführer, HSSPF) "Frankreich" (France). This reorganisation created the "Group 6/10" which contained the Kommando für Kapitalverbrechen (Capital crimes unit). It ran the infamous Balard shooting range at Issy-les-Moulineaux in the 15e arrondissement which was used to torture and execute 143 prisoners (though at the hands of the SS rather than the GFP).
The GFP also oversaw the work done by the French Brigades Spéciales part of the Renseignements généraux. These units, which were part of the French police's intelligence service, specialised in tracking down "internal enemies" (e.g. the French Resistance, the Comet Line that aided shot down Allied aircrews), Jews and those evading work conscription. The Special Brigades were based in room 35 of the Paris police headquarters. The Brigade Spéciale N°2 was notorious for using torture as well as leading investigations, manhunts, surveillance and interviews of suspects in Occupied France.
Operations in the east
The Geheime Feldpolizei first began their pacification and security duties in 1939 following the Blitzkrieg into Poland, often times directed by SS personnel since they were integrated into the administrative fold of the other police organizations under Heinrich Himmler's control. Logistical support for these police units was frequently supplied by the local military commanders, which helped the GFP facilitate the process of transporting civilian prisoners "to places where they could be murdered." Original jurisdiction between the GFP and the Einsatzgruppen in the Eastern theater was supposed to be clearly delineated and mutually reciprocal, but when the final negotiations about identified areas of responsibility took place in May 1941 between Generalquartiermeister Eduard Wagner and Heinrich Müller, there was serious disagreement. Due to his expertise in matters of protocol, Walter Schellenberg replaced Müller and subsequently made important changes to the original draft, alterations which allowed the Einsatzgruppen to operate in both the rear areas of the army group and in the corps areas of the front. At the end of May 1941, Wagner and Reinhard Heydrich signed the agreement between the SS and the OKH, sealing the cooperative arrangement between the two organizations.
Throughout Eastern Europe and the Balkans, the GFP used constantly escalating terror against partisans, Jews and arbitrary "suspects". One particular event, which illustrates the complicity of the GFP in atrocities, was recorded by Lieutenant Colonel Helmuth Groscurth in August 1941. Near Kiev lies the town, Belaya Tserkov; it was here between 20–22 August 1941 that Groscurth learned from two chaplains that the GFP had turned over ninety children to Sonderkommando 4a, who were then placed under guard outside the city awaiting execution. After some delay, since Groscurth wanted the decision to kill the children to come from his superiors in the Sixth Army, they were shot.
Joint pacification programs were carried-out in the Zhytomyr region of the Ukraine during the summer and fall of 1941 by combined units of SS and Wehrmacht Security Divisions. Participating in this campaign were Geheime Feldpolizei units 708, 721, and 730; their mission included pacification of areas behind the front, protecting military installations as well as transportation routes. Additional activities consisted of pursuing the enemy into remote locations, carrying out arrests and reprisals, and executing partisans–such actions were directly related to Operation Barbarossa and the infamous Commissar Order and as time went on increasing numbers of Security Divisions like the Geheime Feldpolizei contributed to more comprehensive "cleansing operations." Another task of the GFP was to help establish a new political administration in occupied Russia which implied a political purge of Russian candidates and the "extermination" of an entire societal layer. Due in part to the expediencies of German war policy, the GFP operated outside the constraints of legal norms, as dealing with Bolsheviks and Commissars was not brought before military courts but was handled instead by the troops with OKW approval. As an anti-partisan group, the GFP collaborated with the SD to execute and torture captured fighters and civilians suspected of helping the Soviet resistance. Officers in the Red Army and commissars were handed over to the SD, while known Communist party members and Jews were used by the Wehrmacht to clear minefields.
One of the more innocuous sounding bureaucratic expressions used to describe the "security" enterprise of the GFP was that they were tasked with “the general supervision of the population” but this understatement cannot conceal the murderous operations in which they engaged. Persons simply found wandering in the occupied regions of Russia were turned over to the Geheime Feldpolizei or the SD since even the elderly, as well as women and children were suspected of conducting enemy reconnaissance. Anyone caught walking around and not promptly vouched-for by local authorities met a certain death as a result.
Segments of doctrine about combating potential partisans, guidelines which directed the actions of both the SD and the Geheime Feldpolizei stated that, "The enemy must be completely annihilated…The constant decision between life and death for partisans and suspicious persons is difficult even for the hardest soldier. It must be done. He acts correctly who fights ruthlessly and mercilessly with complete disregard for any personal surge of emotion." Eliminating "security" threats entailed the eradication of captured Jews; 10,000 of whom GFP unit 721 killed from October 1941 through January 1942 in the Ukrainian areas around Khmil’nyk, Lityn, and Brailov. To this end—in some places in the Ukraine—the GFP operated independently in shooting Jews. The anti-Semitism of GFP members is typified by the observation of Unteroffizier Bergmayer, who in late March 1944, witnessing the evacuation of Jews in northwestern Greece wrote,
- The Greek population in the meantime had assembled in the streets and squares. With silent joy that one could read in their expressions they followed the departure of the Hebrews from their city. Only in a very few cases did a Greek permit himself to wave farewell to a member of the Jewish race. One could see clearly how the race was hated by old and young alike. Sympathy with their plight or unfavourable reactions to the action were not observed…. Altogether 1,725 members of the Jewish race were deported.
With the help of collaborators, the GFP also mounted operations to systematically burn down homes and entire villages. The GFP was also responsible for summarily executing prisoners before they could be liberated by the advancing Red Army. For example, in 1943 a GFP report to SS and Police Leader William Krichbaum stated that 21,000 people had been killed "some in combat, and many shot after interrogation" on the Eastern Front.
Dealing with desertion or former captives
From mid-1943 onwards, the GFP was ordered to track down and capture all deserters after some Wehrmacht soldiers in France and the Soviet Union had begun joining partisan groups. By 1944, desertion rates rapidly rose following the major retreats of Operation Bagration and the Falaise pocket. The Geheime Feldpolizei arrested 3142 Wehrmacht personnel for desertion from Army Group Centre in 1944. But many troops were victims of increasingly confused rear areas where competing, often overlapping responsibilities of many military departments meant soldiers did not have the correct papers or were in the wrong locations. Convicted soldiers were either shot or sent to Strafbattalione. The GFP also investigated any claims of defeatism talk in line infantry.
Another specialist unit called Gruppe 729 was created to interrogate all Wehrmacht soldiers who had managed to escape from Soviet captivity. The general fear was that the NKVD may have "re-educated" these former captives to spread defeatism and anti-fascist propaganda (see Wehrkraftzersetzung). Soldiers suspected of being Soviet spies were sent to a special GFP camp at Danzig in present-day Poland. By 1944, the camp held 400 prisoners.
The Geheime Feldpolizei was commanded by the Heerespolizeichef (Chief of Army Police), who initially had the equivalent military rank of major. Subordinate to the Heerespolizeichef, but equivalent to the rank of major, was the Feldpolizeidirektor who was in charge of a GFP unit or Gruppe. On 24 July 1939, the title of Heerespolizeichef was upgraded to the military rank of Oberst.
A GFP unit in the Wehrmacht consisted of 50 personnel. This included:
- 1 Field director
- 32 Military police officers (higher and intermediate ranks)
- 17 Military support staff (e.g. drivers, clerks etc)
However, after 1941, units sent to the Soviet Union were strengthened to 95 personnel.
- 1 Field director
- 54 Military police officers (higher and intermediate ranks). These could also include hilfsfeldpolizeibeamten (auxiliary field police officers) recruited from suitable soldiers.
- 40 Military support staff (e.g. drivers, clerks, security staff)
All groups were fully motorized. Their armaments were limited to light infantry weapons. In 1943, the Luftwaffe was given its own version of GFP. This resulted in another reorganisation of the ranks structure.
- Feldpolizeichef der Wehrmacht - General Major
- Heerespolizeichef - Oberst
- Oberfeldpolizeidirektor - Oberstleutnant
- Feldpolizeidirektor - Major
- Feldpolizeikommissar - Hauptmann
- Feldpolizeiobersekretär/Inspektor - Oberleutnant
- Feldpolizeisekretär - Leutnant
- Feldpolizeiassistent - All other NCOs.
Although the GFP was a distinct military organisation, from its inception it generally carried out the same duties as the Gestapo and the Kripo. Operations directed against populations in occupied countries employed methods similar to the SD and SS. This earned it the nickname "Gestapo der Wehrmacht". In 1942 the GFP units were absorbed by the RSHA.
Ironically at the end of the war, former Reichsführer-SS, Heinrich Himmler, posed as a member of the GFP named Heinrich Hitzinger in an attempt to avoid capture, but unbeknownst to him, the GFP was on the Allied list of criminal organizations so he was detained at a checkpoint, and later committed suicide while in British custody.
After the war, the police organizations of Nazi Germany like the Gestapo and the Order Police (Orpo) Battalions were classified as criminal in their general disposition for the wide array of crimes they committed. Despite the fact that the GFP dealt with security matters within the occupied territory for the army, during which they committed war crimes and even crimes against humanity to a wide degree, the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg could not prove it was part of the notorious Gestapo. This meant the organization (while under suspicion) did not come "within the charge of criminality contained in the Indictment, except such members as may have been transferred to Amt IV of the RSHA or were members of organisations declared criminal by this Judgment."
For a number of years, many former members of the GFP were able to return to a normal life, but this changed for some, as in April 1966, a trial was conducted in Vitebsk against four former Soviet POWs who had previously been assigned to a Geheime Feldpolizei; they had apparently taken part in the execution of "Soviet citizens" from 1941 through 1942 in Nevel, Polotsk, Smolensk, and Shumilino (Vitebsk oblast). Ten more former members of the Geheime Feldpolizei were brought to trial in Gomel during November and December of 1967 and were alleged to be living in (then) West Germany; another trial was conducted against six members of the 57th Police Battalion during which ninety four witnesses appeared and named the German officers who committed the crimes. In 1973, an additional trial against seven members of the same battalion was conducted, and while no explicit crimes against Jews were mentioned, the defendants "were accused of having exterminated peaceful Soviet citizens."
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- Feldjägerkorps, formed in 1943, it became the senior military police service within the Wehrmacht.
- Kempeitai, the military police of the Imperial Japanese Army from 1881 to 1945.
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