An Elite Force—Adapting Reality
Article by Tom Rozman
Perhaps I was not the typical young person growing up in the immediately post World War II period in that I was more aware of things military and very particularly as the military experience applied to Germany. I spent almost seven years prior to my 19th Birthday in that country as a U. S. Army dependent. I had more than a little sense of what was happening in post World War II Germany, especially the extent of the destruction that had occurred in many of the major cities, than most Americans of my generation.
As well, my father was an active duty officer in the Army who had served in the pre-war Army and fought through the war in the South Pacific. In the sense of growing up in the household of a soldier of the times, I had a much better idea, as with the status of Germany post war, about the Army establishment than most people of my age except those sharing the Army dependent experience in those days.
But there was a difference even with my dependent contemporaries. In addition to my father, six of his brothers and one of his sisters served in the armed forces during those years, all of the brothers at one point in their service in the Army, one going on to an Air Force career. His uncle and all five brothers-in-law served. My mother’s four brothers and seven of her eight brothers-in-law served. Five of my mother’s uncles served and eleven known cousins served—and I am sure there are others not identified.
Though the experiences of many of this very numerous family’s unusually large number of service veterans were known to me to a degree, there was much of the extended story that was not known and still isn’t. Part of this lack of knowledge stemmed from often being overseas or at Army posts elsewhere in the United States than where most of the family was located. Had I been more exposed to the family get-togethers where the experiences of the past were shared, I would have been better versed in the stories, especially those with a leadership teaching point.
One experience in retrospect that would have been a superb window into leadership in a dynamic change environment, one that demanded high standards of performance at a most essential time in post war Europe, were those of my mother’s sister Norma’s husband, Louis S. Griffing. My uncle served as a U. S. Constabulary soldier in Troop C, 16th Constabulary Squadron in West Berlin in 1946-47. A tall, athletic and well set up young man he was selected for service in the “elite” Constabulary force in the early post World War II occupation years in the U.S. sectors of West Germany and Austria. I had not reviewed his story in detail with him but did take notes from several conversations and researched his unit.
I had seen the unique insignia of the embroidered shoulder patch worn by members of the Constabulary on their uniform painted on the facing wall of the reviewing dais at Zeppelin Feld in Nürnberg in 1953. The faded patch image was still visible on the wall in 1984 when I was at the site for my oldest son’s Nürnberg American High School soccer games while stationed in Erlangen. It came to assume an almost iconic sense in my memory. But just who were and what was this Constabulary that my Uncle Lou had been part of? What insights of leadership at any level did the story of the Constabulary offer?
The Constabulary was a force embodied from wholesale appropriation of U. S. Army units in 1946 that were operating in occupied Germany and Austria. Major General Ernest N. Harmon is considered the moving force behind the formation of the Constabulary. It was a force that existed from its initial organization until its final disestablishment in 1952. As noted it was initially formed from reorganized U. S. Army units then garrisoned in Germany and Austria at the time, many from the 1st Armored Division. Its peak strength ranged up to some 38,000 though its usual operating strength, due to massive soldier end of service returns to the U.S., was between 20,000-30,000.
The force was initially organized into a headquarters and special troops, ten regiments, nine of which were brigaded into three brigades of three regiments each. The tenth regiment was a separate regiment, the 4th Constabulary Regiment, whose units operated in Berlin and Austria. The 16th Constabulary Squadron was a squadron of the 4th Constabulary Regiment. The 16th Squadron would operate in the U. S. Zone in occupied Berlin. This squadron’s Troop C was the unit my Uncle Lou was assigned to.
The regimental squadrons were organized on a cavalry footing with three squadrons of initially a headquarters troop and four patrol troops. This was later reduced to three patrol troops. The latter were equipped usually with jeeps, M8 armored cars or M24 light tanks. Spread among several of the squadrons were 10 horse platoons of 30 mounted troopers each, some 300 horse cavalry dedicated to patrolling in more broken terrain along the eastern frontier and where necessary in built up areas to make a desired impression and establish presence.
Because of the nature of the duties and mission to provide essentially police support in the U. S. occupied German territories and frontier integrity of these German territories, police and patrol capabilities with a force that presented the highest standards of appearance, physical presence, discipline, integrity and competence possible were considered essential by the U. S. command in Germany and Austria. In a word, it was to be an elite force targeted on the mission of maintaining order and the peace during the period that Germany was doing what was necessary to establish a new and viable German Government and restore an economy. In keeping with this mission, the motto of the Constabulary was “Mobility, Vigilance, and Justice.”
The then built in difficulty of a U. S. national service draft system for force manning however, made it almost a mission impossible to build an elite and competent force and sustain that force. Given the highly changeable and fluid situation personnel and policy wise, reality would have to be adapted to achieve an elite force.
In this sense and playing on the cavalry élan and concept, despite the travails, an elite highly trained force did develop and operate until replaced by the tactical formations of 7th U. S. Army in 1950.
In the case of Berlin, the 16th Constabulary Squadron, initially formed from troops of the 16th Cavalry Reconnaissance Group on 1 May 1946, met the designated mission. The Squadron as previously noted was an element of the Austrian based separate 4th Constabulary Regiment until 1 February 1949 after which it became a separate squadron under the Constabulary’s command. It operated in Berlin until the squadron redesignated as the 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry on 27 November 1950. The two other battalion size formations in the U. S. Zone of West Berlin redesignated as the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 6th Infantry.
Administratively, the 16th Constabulary Squadron would be converted and redesignated on 9 March 1951 as Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 16th Armored Cavalry Group. The individual troops of the 16th Constabulary Squadron were disbanded on that date.
One of the young drafted soldiers assigned to the 16th Constabulary Squadron on its activation was my uncle then private Louis Sherwood Griffing of Connecticut. His story is emblematic of many of these young soldiers that maintained the peace in immediately post war Germany and Austria—young men cast onto a large international stage who demonstrated a form of individual and collective leadership that perhaps made a larger contribution to the peace of the following 73 years in Europe that we enjoy today that we may not fully appreciate in the present.
Louis Griffing was born in Hartford, Connecticut on 29 April 1927. He graduated from John Fitch High School in Windsor, Connecticut in May of 1945. Shortly afterward he was inducted into the Army of the United States and by late 1945 he had completed his initial training and was shipped to Europe.
U. S. forces in Europe were negotiating the huge draw down program for deployed combat units and return of national service soldiers to the United States. As well, The Federal Government along with allied counterparts was working through the occupation requirements for policy, government, law, security and necessary aid to the populations attempting to recover from the war. This was as noted above a particularly dynamic period, sometimes with multiple layers of policy change occurring in quick succession. It was a difficult environment to maintain a systematic cohesive approach to many aspects of operations.
It was into this environment that Louis Griffing embarked on his “hands on” experience with the Constabulary. As an 18-19 year old soldier he did very well.
During his service in Troop C, 16th Constabulary Squadron Lou Griffing was assigned to a platoon equipped with M8 Wolfhound 6 wheeled armored cars. The platoon was actively engaged in paroling operations throughout the Berlin U. S. Sector. Serving as police for the community in the area and apprehending persons attempting to enter the West zone without authority heavily engaged the platoon’s resources. But another important duty was locating and destroying large caches of munitions and weapons that were almost constantly being located in the U. S. Zone during the period Lou Griffing was a member of Troop C.
Over the period of Lou Griffing’s assignment to Troop C he rose to Technician 5th Grade, a rank in the Army at the time equivalent, but with slightly more pay, to a corporal. Soldiers in this rank typically were referred to as corporals. This was a significant achievement for a 19 year old with less than two years of service. It indicated Lou’s maturity and was a demonstration of early leadership ability.
Lou Griffing served his remaining tour with the 16th Constabulary Squadron in Berlin along with hundreds of other national service soldiers. These young men taken into service immediately on graduating from high school proved, on whole, to be the elite force envisioned by those U.S. commanders in Europe at the time who formed the Constabulary. Despite the turmoil of a recovering Germany, high personnel turnover and the ongoing sorting out of east and west that hardened into the following Cold War, these young national service soldiers met the challenge of forming an elite force and operating effectively at this critical time. They individually and collectively met a major international challenge and contributed to a restoration of order in a chaotic period. They were effective operators, leaders and emissaries.
Lou Griffing would return to his hometown in Connecticut after his service and marry his sweetheart. He would establish and own for over 60 years the very successful Griffing TV and Appliance Company in Windsor, a company still operating under his sons. He was active civically throughout his life becoming the oldest member of the Windsor Men’s Club.
He pursued a life long passion for the automobile especially Fords and was a member of the National Ford V8 Club owning many outstanding classic cars. Cars in his collection won many first place trophies at local and regional car shows. He loved nature and was an avid bird watcher. He also enjoyed being active in the environment taking many snowmobiling trips with family and friends.
But in keeping with the soldiers of his generation who served, his greatest achievement was his family. He remained married to his wife throughout his adult life. He raised six children who in turn formed and raised their families. All of his children were successful in their various fields, his five sons being successful businessmen. He was patriarch to 12 grandchildren and a great grandson at the time of his departure in December 2008.
As a young Constabulary soldier in the immediate post war Berlin, Lou Griffing answered the call of service and when selected to serve in the elite Constabulary met the duty. His character and ability led to rapid promotion in this elite force in the brief period of his service, the young soldier rising to Technician 5th Grade.
Without the individual leadership demonstrated by the young Americans graduating high school in 1945 and answering the call to serve, and serving well, the critical mission of the Constabulary in Germany and Austria would have been even more difficult if not impossible to achieve. Those who were selected for the elite Constabulary established in 1946 in Germany and Austria allowed reality to be adapted and under difficult circumstances, establish an elite force that accomplished a critical mission in time and place. The Constabulary was a major factor in helping to rebuild a stabilized post war Europe. Tech 5 Louis S. Griffing was an exemplar of these Constabulary troopers.
A postscript–when the Berlin Brigade was deactivated in late 1984, the brigade’s three battalions of the 6th Infantry that had formed from the Constabulary units in Berlin in 1950 were re-stationed. The brigade’s 2nd Battalion, 6th Infantry re-stationed to Erlangen, Germany as a mechanized battalion assigned to the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division. Lou Griffing’s nephew, then Major Thomas Rozman, was the battalion’s executive officer or second in command.