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Remembered Today:

Summary execution


PhilB
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Browsing through "War Slang" on http://www.wakefieldfhs.org.uk/War%20Slang.htm, I came across this definition of Battle Police, allegedly supplied by veterans.

BATTLE POLICE:-

Armed military police patrols deployed in the trenches following an attack to deal with (often by summary execution) stragglers and men who had refused to go over the top.

After the recent discussion about WW1 executions, it is surprising that more fuss has not been made about these "summary executions" where there was not even the pretence of a trial. Can this procedure have been legitimized by military law? Has anything official ever been written about these procedures? Who did the shooting? Was it NCOs of the Regimental Police?

Does anyone have any info? Phil B

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RMP maintained straggler posts in all mahjor battle areas. They rounded up and helped organise stragglers who had been cut off, had been assisting with the wounded or were simply lost. There's been a lot of talk over the years about summary executions but so afr no evidence. RMPs did wave revolvers about and shots were fired into the air especially during the Spring 1918 retreats but so far no one seems to have found cast iron evidence of soldiers being shot on the spot. The only account I personally know of where soldiers were shot for running away was again during the Srping 1918 retreat when a very young Lt got the VC for rounding up troops and quelling a semi-mutiny in his compnay (artillery I think). It later emerged that he had shot two men, killing one who refused to obey orders. If I remember his name, I'll post a link but I think he was one of the youngest ww1 recipients.

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Phil,

As you are probably aware Battle Police were not the same as the CMP (Modern day RMP).

There is a huge misconception as to what the duties of Corps of Military Police involved during the Great War. There is also a tendency to group Battle and Regimental Police under the the heading of "Military Police", which of course is also incorrect.

This link gives a good idea of the MFP and MMP roles during the Great War.

Sorry not quite an answer to your quetion, but related all the same!

Cheers,

Ski :)

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Thanks, Mcderms and ski. I assumed it wasn`t RMP or CMP involved, but regimental police. Would there be enough RPs for this or do you think men would be drafted in? How many RPs would there be in "normal" times? How many would you estimate would be required for Battle Police duties?

I have actually spoken to several veterans who said that one of the (many) reasons for going over the top was the fear of getting shot by their own side if they didn`t. Phil B

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90th Brigade orders (repeated in those for the 17th Manchesters) issued for the 1 July 1916 attack contained the ominous sentence "TRENCH POLICE WILL TAKE ALL POSSIBLE STEPS TO TURN BACK STRAGGLERS". I think I could take a hint!

John

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Phil,

As i understand it, Battle Police were often made up of "spare" Divisional, Corps, and Army troops such as Yeomanry and Cyclist Battalions.

Ski

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From memory, I believe Middlebrook mentions such an incident in 'First Day on the Somme'

Des

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It would make sense, ski. More likely to exercise their "licence to kill" than the battalion`s own men.

As you say, John - ominous. Probably as far as they could go in an official document? And if it`s in brigade orders, it`s official from at least brigadier level. Phil B

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The only account I personally know of where soldiers were shot for running away was again during the Srping 1918 retreat when a very young Lt got the VC for rounding up troops and quelling a semi-mutiny in his compnay (artillery I think). It later emerged that he had shot two men.

There was a similar incident on Gallipoli in June 1915, when G.R.D. Moor became the youngest Army officer to be awarded the VC.

“When a detachment of a battalion on his left, which had lost all its officers, was rapidly retiring before a heavy Turkish attack, Second Lieutenant Moor, immediately grasping the danger to the remainder of the line, dashed back some 200 yards, stemmed the retirement, led back the men and recaptured the lost trench.”

“Stemmed the retirement” actually means that he shot two or three

I think that he was put up for the VC by the regiment in a near-by trench who would have certainly been lost if he had not brought these men back

Regards

Michael D.R.

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Des

The incident I recall reading was of two guys going back, wounded, through the trench system and coming across another couple "hiding". Minute later they pass trench police going towards the stragglers. Minute later,they hear shots. Is this the Middlebrooke story?

Problem is that you don't know for definate who shot who!! Any bets, though?

John

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John - Happy Birthday - nail on the head re Middlebrook.

I knew it wasn't a clear cut description.

Cheers Des

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I knew it wasn't a clear cut description.

Thats the problem with descriptions of instances such as this, there is never anything definitive.

Andy

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It would be interesting to know what the men thought about Trench Police at the time. Would they think "Anyone who doesn`t go over the top with his mates deserves to be shot out of hand" or " If they did their best but couldn`t face it, that`s all you can expect or ask of a soldier"? Phil B

PS anybody ever read a memoir of anyone who served as Battle Police?

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There`s a subtle difference, though, DC. The commissars were presumably highly trained and of reasonably high rank and responsibility. Battle police on the other hand sound as if they might have been an ad hoc group of rather low rank. Whether they were trained to the task is open to question. Phil B

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There`s a subtle difference, though, DC. The commissars were presumably highly trained and of reasonably high rank and responsibility. Battle police on the other hand sound as if they might have been an ad hoc group of rather low rank. Whether they were trained to the task is open to question. Phil B

Well, the commissars were "highly trained" to the extent that they were Party members who had "made their bones" and could be trusted to carry out the orders of Stalin and the Politburo. But beyond that they had very little true military training, I believe. The members of the Battle Police had presumably seen action on the Western Front and had certainly been through some form of military training.

I agree, it may be a strained analogy. ;)

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They had this in common, though, DC - they were "licensed to kill". It`s perhaps not surprising that little or nothing survives in writing to show how battle police were trained or what their orders were. One reads of families devastated by formal execution of their menfolk but not of families whose men were shot out of hand - executed without the sometime dubious benefit of trial. Phil B

PS Could battle police, with power to kill, exist in a modern British army?

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PS Could battle police, with power to kill, exist in a modern British army?

Is there actually any hard evidence that they ever did? I've gone through this thread carefully but I really don't see any.

Regards

Anthony

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Nobody seems to have turned any up, Anthony, other than some veiled references and that may be as much as there`s going to be considering the nature of the beast. It may be, of course, that these reports are apocryphal, but I have heard it direct from several veterans and if I had to bet, I`d bet it was true. Since it appears to have come from at least brigadier general level, it may be a reflection of the pressure the brigadier was under to get results irrespective of losses. It would be interesting to know when the practice first appeared and if it coincided with the wholesale firing of unsuccessful commanders. I don`t recall anything similar in previous wars, or the US Civil War/War between the States/ War of Northern Aggression. Phil B

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Nobody seems to have turned any up, Anthony, other than some veiled references and that may be as much as there`s going to be considering the nature of the beast. It may be, of course, that these reports are apocryphal, but I have heard it direct from several veterans and if I had to bet, I`d bet it was true. Since it appears to have come from at least brigadier general level, it may be a reflection of the pressure the brigadier was under to get results irrespective of losses. It would be interesting to know when the practice first appeared and if it coincided with the wholesale firing of unsuccessful commanders. I don`t recall anything similar in previous wars, or the US Civil War/War between the States/ War of Northern Aggression.    Phil B

It's obviously not impossible, given the often rather desperate environment.

However, I can think of a few reasons why it might not be true (I'm just trying to apply a little logic without much knowledge):

The fact that stories and hints were put about (and believed) may have just been to 'encourage' potential waverers - it doesn't mean it actually happened.

Those asked to carry out such instructions might well have been very reluctant to do so without tangible orders to do so - otherwise they would lay themselves open to charges of murder.

There's really little point in shooting odd stragglers in secret - they're not going to contribute once shot and if you want to make an example of them, it would be better to court-martial them. Shooting one or two out of a mutinous group would be a different matter.

Just my twopen'orth. :unsure:

Anthony

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The following is not strictly in keeping with the thrust of this thread.

British troops were, on at least one occasion, ordered to fire on other Britsh troops members of a British battalion fresh from the UK and undergoing their first taste of holding the Line. Unfortunately they decided to retreat and the neighbouring battlion was ordered to fire on them. My source is a BBC Radio broadcast of the late 1980s' fronted by a poet and a folk-singer whose fathers had both served in the same battalion (the one which fired). The father of of one was ashamed of the episode to the end of his days, not because he obeyed orders, but that he enjoyed doing it. I have a tape of the broadcast.

I know this is all very vague. It is quite intentionally so. I know the identity of the battalion that fired but I have never tried to find out who they fired on, and I still don't want to know.

Regards

Jim Gordon

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If that had happened, Jim, wouldn`t the two regiments involved have been bitter enemies thereafter? And we`d know about it? Phil B

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It would be interesting to know when the practice first appeared and if it coincided with the wholesale firing of unsuccessful commanders. I don`t recall anything similar in previous wars, or the US Civil War/War between the States/ War of Northern Aggression. Phil B

It's interesting that you bring up the US Civil War. There are numerous reports of soldiers who "skedaddled" the first time they were "going up to see the elephant", but then came back and fought valiantly in subsequent battles. Read "The Red Badge of Courage" for instance. I wonder where that motivation came from.

Some type of battle police would be completely outside of the American military tradition, even in the days of the War of Secession.

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Yes, DC, skedaddling seems to have been a feature of many Civil War battles. As you say, it didn`t mean the men wouldn`t subsequently fight. No mention of battle police, though, in a situation where it might have been indicated? I believe the Australians had a "system" where it was no disgrace to retire if you couldn`t face it, so long as you were thought to be doing your best. Phil B

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