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The White Mice
July 1, 2004, by Bill Cawthon
It's the early 1950s. A truck barrels down a busy highway; the driver is speeding and doesn't notice the black-and-white sedan parked along the side of the road. Lights flashing and siren wailing, the sedan pulls onto the road, accelerates and quickly catches up with the truck. In moments, the chase is over.
Sounds like a scene right out of the old "State Trooper" or "Highway Patrol" TV shows, right? Almost: but the highway is one of Germany's autobahns and the truck is probably a U.S. Army deuce-and-a-half. The black-and-white looks much like a typical American police car, but the doors say "Military Police" and the driver is a member of the elite 62nd Military Police Highway Patrol.
The 62nd Military Police Company was created on November 30, 1943 and activated in North Africa a day later. Originally, it was a standard combat MP unit, and participated in the campaigns in France, the Rhineland and Ardennes-Alsace. Following the end of the war, the unit was reorganized twice, first as the 62nd Military Police Service Company in June 1948 and then as the 62nd Military Police Highway Patrol Company on September 20, 1951, when it was reattached to the regular Army forces occupying American Zone of Germany.
Unlike standard military police units, the Highway Patrol was created not only to enforce laws and regulations, but to handle other duties typically handled by civilian police agencies. These included assisting motorists and promoting traffic safety. On a given day, a trooper might work traffic, investigate a crime, or perform escort duty for a convoy. Or all three, just like his civilian counterpart.
The 62nd Military Police Company was just one of the organizations put into place by the military after the German surrender. At the time, Germany was in ruins with little real civil government. Millions of people were destitute and homeless. As Germany was still considered an enemy power, the allies had to take over all responsibility for both military and civil law enforcement when they assumed supreme authority in June 1945.
After the division of Germany, the American Zone in Southern Germany was about the size of Pennsylvania. Sixteen million Germans lived in 40,000 square miles bounded by Austria, Czechoslovakia and the French, British and Soviet Zones. Among the inhabitants were thousands of people the Allies described as "Displaced" and "Undocumented." Not surprisingly, with so much desperate need, there was a flourishing criminal element that included black marketers, thieves and smugglers. Plus, there were the problems of wanted war criminals who were trying to make their ways to safe havens beyond the reach of military justice and Nazi sympathizers who could not accept the cause was lost.
It was the U.S. Army's responsibility to handle all the jobs that, in more normal times and conditions, would have been handled by a variety of government agencies. In addition to providing military protection, soldiers would need to become policemen, customs inspectors, border patrolmen and immigration officers.
To handle the job, senior Army officers were ordered to study the feasibility of creating a different kind of military police force; one based on an organization like an American state police agency. In late October 1945, General Dwight D. Eisenhower announced the American Zone would be under the authority of a new unit, the United States Constabulary (which will be a topic for a future column).
From the summer of 1946 to the end of 1952, the Constabulary kept the peace and maintained order. By that time, the Basic Law for the new Federal Republic of Germany had been adopted and the American, British and French governments declared Germany was no longer an enemy. This paved the way for the restoration of German sovereignty in 1955.
Until 1951, there was no particular unit charged specifically with patrolling roads and highways in the American Zone. Usually, the local regular military police units, which had training in traffic control and enforcement, handled most of the needs, but Charlie Company of the 508th Military Police Battalion based in Munich reportedly made highway patrol functions a regular part of their job in late 1948, even adopting special markings for vehicles and the brassards worn by the patrolmen.
With the growth of both military and civilian traffic on German roads, there was clearly a need for a designated highway patrol force. Major General John L. McKee, USAREUR (U.S. Army Europe) Provost Marshal, and Deputy Provost Marshal Brigadier General Herbert Norman Schwarzkopf, the father of "Stormin' Norman" of Gulf War fame, organized a unit which was modeled after an American state police force.
The elder Schwarzkopf was an ideal man for the job. After serving as provost marshal of a German town after World War I, he left military service. In 1921, New Jersey Governor Edward I. Edwards selected him to organize the newly created New Jersey State Police.
From 1921 to 1936, Col. Schwarzkopf served as superintendent of the NJSP, building the force into a respected law enforcement agency. When politics caused his replacement, Schwarzkopf traded public service for show business and became the narrator of the popular radio show "Gangbusters."
Col. Schwarzkopf was recalled to active military duty in 1940. During the war, he performed a variety of roles, from helping supply aid to the Soviet Union to serving as a military attaché in Iran. After the war ended, Schwarzkopf was transferred to the USAREUR headquarters as Deputy Provost Marshal. Recognizing Schwarzkopf's achievements in civilian law enforcement, General McKee quickly drafted him to form a similar agency for the Army.
Schwarzkopf used the New Jersey State Police as the basis for organizing his force. Instead of the standard OD green, Highway Patrol vehicles were painted white with matte black hoods. The new unit's insignia was also borrowed from the NJSP's distinctive logo: a black-bordered yellow triangle with a star in each of the corners and a block "HP" in the middle. Incidentally, the New Jersey badge was designed by Schwarzkopf's father, Julius George Schwarzkopf, a Newark jeweler.
The emblem was also incorporated into the shoulder crests worn by unit members and the brassard worn by troopers on duty. In the beginning, troopers wore standard military police uniforms, with a Sam Browne belt loaded with a Model 1911A1 .45 caliber pistol, spare clips, first aid pouch, handcuffs and other paraphernalia. Later, the load was lightened to just the pistol and other items went into the patrolman's personal kit in the cruiser.
Considering the area it had to cover, the 62nd Military Police Highway Patrol Company was a small force with a maximum strength of 275 men. The first troopers were experienced military police non-commissioned officers. This core group trained new arrivals in necessary skills, such as advanced first aid, German and traffic investigation. The 62nd soon became an elite MP unit with high morale, whose members were accustomed to meeting the challenges of their unique duties. Assignment to the unit was limited to the top graduates of the Army's military police school at Ft. Gordon, Georgia.
Like the New Jersey State Police, the 62nd Military Police Highway Patrol was split up into smaller units to improve its effectiveness. There ten detachments based in larger cities with substations in or near smaller towns. Unit headquarters were in Heidelberg.
In 1954, the unit was reorganized as the 62nd Military Police (Highway Patrol). The headquarters remained in Heidelberg, but there were now only four primary detachments, in Darmstadt, Seckenheim, Augsburg and Vogelweh. Each detachment had one or more substations. Most Highway Patrol stations were located near the autobahns.
In the earliest days of the Highway Patrol, it had authority over both military personnel and German civilians. However, within a few months of its formation, authority over civilian traffic was returned to the German police and the Highway Patrol was free to concentrate on the thousands of military vehicles and their drivers. However, drivers of any nationality were free to call on the Highway Patrol for assistance and "Alpha Tango Tango" (Aid to Traveler) was a frequent call on cruiser radios. The Germans came to call the troopers "die weißen Mäuse" or "white mice" and thousands wrote letters of appreciation for the help they provided and the work they had done to make German roads safer.
As had the Constabulary before it, the Highway Patrol worked closely with local German police officials, both assisting them when needed and drawing on their intimate knowledge of the area to help solve crimes. When authority over non-military highway traffic was returned to German authorities, they adopted many of the things they had learned from the American troopers.
On September 20, 1958, the days of the 62nd Military Police Highway Patrol Company came to an end. The troopers, vehicles and equipment were reassigned to other military police units. At the time, it was thought the troopers would continue their work while training others in their new assignments, but that turned out to be more a matter of luck than policy. Often, the new units were undermanned and commanders had other priorities. In the end, one of the most unique operations in the annals of the U.S. Army Military Police passed quietly into history.
Modeling the vehicles of the 62nd Military Police Highway Patrol is fairly easy, if you're willing to make a few compromises. As I mentioned earlier, they were white with a matte black hood. Early warning lights and sirens were the same as used on other MP vehicles, usually a fender-mounted Federal siren-light with a red lens. Beginning in about 1954, primary warning lights were changed to a roof-mounted Federal Model 17 Beacon Ray. About that time, the color of the warning lights were changed from red to blue and the American-style siren was replaced by the two-tone horns used by German police.
Markings were black, except for the HP triangle which was black and yellow. I am not aware of any commercial decal sets for the Highway Patrol, but they should be comparatively easy to make with a home computer, printer and decal paper. The cars had markings on the front doors, the leading edge of the roof and the rear deck lid. Check the photos for placement. The jeeps and early sedans also had standard military unit markings on the front bumpers, but that practice apparently ended in the early 1950s.
The earliest vehicles were Willys MB and Ford GPW jeeps and Chevrolet sedans, some dating from the end of World War II. It would appear most of these were standard Army motor pool vehicles repainted to HP colors. The Chevys lasted until 1954, when they were replaced by Ford sedans. The last new vehicles issued to the Highway Patrol were 1957 Chevrolet sedans. Roco's Willys jeep is a perfect match for the early jeeps and Herpa makes a '57 Chevy. The Herpa model is based on the upscale 2-door Bel Air hardtop, instead of the base 4-door sedan used by the Army, but it will do for most modelers. Removing the side chrome moldings and adding a strip styrene B-pillar will go a long way in making the model resemble the prototype.
The vehicles that came between the jeep and last Chevrolet are going to be a bit more challenging, although there are models from CMW and Williams Brothers, among others, that will come close.
The Highway Patrol also used Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
For more information about the 62nd Military Police Highway Patrol Company, I recommend a visit to Dr. Larry Linville's excellent website. Dr. Linville is a professor of Criminal Justice and Sociology at Northern Virginia Community College. Teaching is actually his second career; he also spent more than two decades in law enforcement. When he retired, he was a senior bomb disposal technician with a large metropolitan department and had disarmed more than a hundred devices.
Dr. Linville was also one of the last new members of the 62nd MP Highway Patrol, reporting for duty in the last year of the unit's existence. Dr. Linville's website has a wealth of information, pictures and stories from Highway Patrolmen.
I want to express my thanks to Dr. Linville for his assistance and permission to use some of the photos from his website. Please note that all the photos are copyright © 2004 by Dr. Larry Linville and the 62nd Highway Patrol Association and all rights are reserved.
I also want to thank my good friend Jens Mehner, military information resource extraordinaire, for additional information about the White Mice and the wonderful job they did in difficult times.
See you next time!
- Bill Cawthon
Bill Cawthon is a modeler and collector. His primary hobby interests are vehicle models in 1:87 and 1:160 scales and model railroading. He is senior editor of Route 1-87, the magazine of the 1/87 Vehicle Club, and a columnist and product reviewer for Model Railroad News. He is one of the creators of the award-winning "Grimy Gulch" model railroad layout.
In real life, Bill is a marketing and public relations consultant for MARK III Systems, a successful information technology company. He also writes for just-auto.com, an international auto industry publication, reporting on the U.S. light vehicle industry.
He lives in Houston, Texas with his wife, Marge, and their children.
Bill's columns appear twice monthly on Promotex Online. To learn more about him, click here.
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