MILITARY POLICE CORPS
1939-1946

     
World War Two SACMP Roll of Honour





South African Corps of Military Police
On 30 December 1938 in the South African Government Gazette printed that day, Proclamation 290 allowed for the establishment of the South African Corps of Military Police (Suid-Afrikaanse Militere Polisie Korps) as a unit of the Permanent Force. This proclamation had effect from 1 November 1938 and the official birthday of the SACMP is that date. A sun helmet flash of red, black and red vertical bars, together with a flag of orange with a black bar from the second to third quarters was probably allocated soon afterwards.

SACMP Helmet Flash
Two to three years previously a cap badge for the SACMP had been devised by a Lt-Col J.M. de Klerck. Depicting the hand and scales of justice it was made from bronze, brass, lead and blackened metal in both solid and hollowed versions.

Brass shoulder titles using the letters SACMP - SAMPK in two arcs were also taken into use. These were worn on an orange cloth epaulette strip by volunteerrs to the Union Defence Force.

Military Police Corps
Shortly after the outbreak of war, on 10 November 1939, in terms of Proclamation 276 of Government Gazette 2699, the title of the SACMP was changed to that of Military Police Corps (Militere Polisiediens). The title on the cap badge and the shoulder titles remained unchanged.

Proclamation 276 brought all Military Police detachments under the control of one Commanding Officer, the first a Lt col (later Col) R.D. Pilkington-Jordan E.D. This improved discipline and assured uniformity in procedure. The essential duty of the Military Police was to maintain discipline by:
  • Establishment of examining piquet's at vital centres such as Defence Headquarters.
  • Institution of day and night patrols, and visits to places frequented by the military.
  • Control of spectators and traffic at military functions
  • Supervision of traffic along roads in collaboration with civilian police
  • Investigation of complaints against military personnel when unit enquiries were unsuccessful
  • Apprehension of absentees from the UDF
  • Policing of trains, supervision of entrainment and detrainment of troops and other disciplinary tasks
The MPC were not to be responsible for the guarding or piquetting of unit lines, or the preliminary investigation of minor offences. These duties were to be undertaken by the units themselves which usually possessed their own Regimental Police.

All units of the MPC were self-accounting whilst the MPC itself was organised into:
  • Garrison Provost Companies
  • Field Provost Companies or Units
  • Training and Reserve Depot
The duties of these units were indicated by their titles. As could be expected the Military Policeman appointed to the Field Provost Companies had more strenuous work and were therefore younger and more physically fit than those in the Garrison Provost Companies.

Training was undertaken at the Training and Reserve Depot MPC. Where exactly the depot was sited is not known? Some sources say Voortrekkerhoogte (previously "Roberts Heights"), whilst other indicate Ladysmith, Natal1. An interesting point is that the outbreak of war had given a requirement for Military Policemen that could not be immediately filled and the early recruits found Lance Corporal chevrons in their kit when they received it. On completion of their training, all recruits were promoted to the rank of Corporal, unlike their counterparts in the British Corps of Military Police (CMP) who were given the appointment of Lance Corporal. This immediate promotion to Corporal caused problems due to inexperience and in later years recruits were only made Lance Corporals.

During World War Two another DB was built behind the present Provost School lines, together with an "DB" in Johannesburg. The former of these was nicknamed "Kelly's Home" during the war and remained in use until 1986 when it was finally closed due to structural dangers. The latter was used for the retraining of minor offenders. Other wartime Detention Barracks were set up at Spaarwater West, Clairwood, Durban, Kimberley, Ladysmith, Simonstown and Pietermaritzburg.

Up until April 1940, military police personnel were only members of the Permanent Force. This situation changed on 19 April 1940 when the Military Police Corps was also made a unit of the Active Citizen Force. This was authorised in terms of Government Notice 633 of 1940.

On the same day, in terms of Notice 636, five ACF Provost Companies were established with effect from 1st March 1940, and were allocated to Voortrekkerhoogte and Transvaal Command . These companies were based at Voortrekkerhoogte, and for administration and control purposes were organised as a unit. The forming of these companies was not to interfere with any other Military Police establishments, with the exception that posts at Premier Mine, Potchefstroom, Ladysmith and Pietermaritzburg (56 men in total) were to be included in the strengths of the five Provost Companies. Further the Provost Unit (as it was called) would be administered as being totally separate from the MPC. Members of the MPC could however still be transferred to the Provost Unit and vice versa as required. This in effect meant that the Garrison and Field Provost Companies of the Permanent Force MPC could also include ACF MPC members, also the ACF Provost Companies could also include Permanent Force MPC members. 1 Special Service Battalion was responsible for the quarters, rations, administration and the accounting of this Provost Unit.

On 1st June 1940 the first South African units arrived in Mombasa and were followed by the 1st SA Infantry Brigade Group at the end of July. The 1st SA Infantry Division, comprising the 1st, 2nd and 5th SA Infantry Brigade Groups was formed on 13th August. Once it had settled in, the Division was given responsibility for a 400km sector stretching from the Sudan border eastward to Myale.

1 SA Infantry Division

1st SA Infantry Division
A Provost HQ Camp was set up in the Nairobi area and it can be assumed that No 1 SA Field Provost Company was there as it had left the Union during June 1940. On 24th October 1940 the Assistant Provost Marshal (APM) Mobile Field Force (MFF) complained to Colonel Jordan of severe personnel shortages in all areas except Mombasa. At this time the Military Police strength in East Africa was two officers, two warrant officers and 138 other ranks. One of these officers was a Capt Cilliers, later to become OC of the 2nd SA Field Provost Company.

The APM was responsible for policing the town of Nairobi and 12 camps nearby, a Detention Barracks, the road to Gilgil, 64 camps in the Nanyuki area and the town of Mombasa. He stated that his minimum needs as at least a Divisional ("Field") Provost Company and two Provost Companies MPC. His intention was to place No 1 SA Field Provost Company at Gilgil in order to work the roads and areas of Juba, Lodwar, Thompson Falls and Nakura whilst a second company would be at Nanyuki and would work the roads of Wajir, Marsabit and Garissa. These companies would also cover the road traffic from Nairobi to Gilgil and from Nairobi to Nanyuki. An additional company was wanted as a reserve in Nairobi for the eventuality of POW's and any other unforeseen needs. It would seem that the APM's request had some effect as during November 1940 the 2nd Field Provost Company left the Union for war.

Kenya
The APM complained further that a better class of men to be recruited into the MPC as he had found too many men unreliable and unable to work without supervision. His final complaint was that the recruits not be promoted above the Lance Corporal whilst in the Union. He would promote men under his command when they had gained sufficient experience and self-confidence.

On 11 October 1940 in terms of War Measure No 1 of 1940, members of the ACF military police were given powers as peace officers in terms of the Criminal Procedure and Evidemce Act.
In February 1941 British and SA forces began to move against the Italians. Progress was rapid, hindered more by demolition's than by combat, and the 1st SA Brigade entered Addis Ababa on 6 April. After some further righting the Duke of Aosta surrendered on 16 May and the Brigade moved to Egypt, where the division HQ and 5th Brigade had already arrived. The 2nd SA Brigade, meanwhile, had been engaged in clearing up eastern Somaliland, and elements were involved in operations against Italian forces south of the capital before their own departure for Egypt.

At this time relations between the MPC and the rest of the Union Defence Force were apparently not at their best. On 6th June 1941 a letter sent to all OC's of Divisions, Commands, Troops and Training Centres gave instructions for general distribution. The instructions were as follows:
  • "The relationship between the UDF and the Military Police was to be the same as that between the SA Police and citizens within the Union.
  • All ranks of the UDF were to comply with instructions given by Military Police without question. The UDF members were to realise that a situation was not affected by their rank or that of the Military Policeman.
  • If the request of a Military Policeman was considered an improper one or was not given in a courteous manner, then an argument was to be avoided and the matter reported to higher authority. A refusal to carry out an instruction from an MP would be regarded as a breach of discipline and treated as such.
  • The OC's of Units were to review reports on breaches of discipline carefully and not adopt a defensive attitude towards their subordinates.
  • Lack of courtesy and consideration on the part of a Military Policeman would result in the immediate dismissal of that member from the MPC".
1941 further saw the appointment of Lt Col H.P. Rogers DSO as Officer Commanding of the MPC and as Senior Disciplinary Officer of the UDF. (Colonel Jordan went on to become Assistant Adjutant General of the UDF and a Senator after the war.

Union Defence Force MP uniforms - 1940-46

NORTH AFRICA

By this time war was in full swing in North Africa and the North African order of battle included the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Field Provost Companies as sub-units of the South African divisions. The first of these units, the Headquarters 1st Division and the 5th Infantry Brigade disembarked at Suez on 3rd May 1941 and were moved to Mersa Matruh where they were joined by the 1st and 2nd Infantry Brigades at the end of June 1941. The 2nd Division began concentrating in Egypt at the end of June 1941 and moved to El Alamein during the last weeks of July.

Sun helmets were still being worn in the Union but these were soon discarded or "lost" on arrival in Egypt and replaced with Service Dress caps together with a detachable red cap cover of a pattern similar to those of the British CMP. The shoulder title also changed with the letters MPC-MPK being used on the orange shoulder tabs that signified a volunteer in the UDF.

The whitened webbing so common to the British CMP was also taken into use as it aided the recognition of the Military Police whilst they controlled traffic on the dusty and sandy tracks of North Africa.

Uniforms in North Africa
Armlets were worn by both the officers and other ranks. The official armlet was dark blue (black?) with red letters MP.

Officers appointed as Assistant Provost Marshal (Major) and Deputy Assistant Provost Marshal (Captain) wore red armlets with black lettering APM and DAPM respectively.

The 1st SA Field Provost Company (also believed to be known as the 1st Line of Communication Provost Company) was a non-divisional unit and was stationed at Helwan in the Cairo-Alexandria area whilst the 2nd and 3rd SA Field Provost Companies were attached to the SA divisions on the front line. At this time Major Cilliers was OC of the 2nd SA Field Provost Company.

 
Tasks in Cairo and Alexandria were primarily disciplinary in nature checking on dress, passes and conduct together with the enforcement of out-of-bounds regulations regarding bars and brothels.

The most important duty, and one where the Military Police were often exposed to extreme danger, was traffic control - guiding units to their positions and the recovery of personnel lost in the desert. The Military Police quickly earned themselves the nickname of "St Bernhards of the Desert". Any operation was dependant on the Military Police control of convoys of food, water, ammunition and fuel. Additional tasks were route marking and aid with Prisoners of War.

 

Traffic control in North Africa

On 27 January 1942 1st SA Division, with the 2nd SA Provost Company, took up positions in the Gazala area to stem the renewed enemy advance. In March 2nd SA Division moved to Tobruk, having detached 3rd SA Brigade. By March 1942 the South African divisions in North Africa had been moved forward, the 1st SA Division holding part of the line at Gazala whilst the 2nd SA Division was defending the port of Tobruk.

It was at this point in time that the escorting of VIP's became a task of the military police. The first man to be so escorted was the Duke of Gloucester, and within weeks General Smuts. With the visit of Winston Churchill to Egypt during 1943 and 1944, it was the military police who escorted him and who were responsible for his safety.

UDF Military Police with Field Marshal Jan Smuts

UDF Military Police with Field Marshal Jan Smuts

Rommel finally attacked on May 26th. British armour suffered several heavy defeats in June, which finally led to a general withdrawal. Heavy fighting around Bir Hacheim made withdrawal inevitable by June 14th, and on that day 1st SA Division was ordered to evacuate the Gazala Line. In order to facilitate the withdrawal of certain British units from the 50th Division, a group of Military Policemen from the 1st SA Division was detached to bring up the rearguard of the retiring troops from Gazala to Tobruk on June 15th. This was a distance of just over 32 kilometers.

At 06h00 the demolition of the pass was delayed as certain units had not yet moved through. The detachment eventually left at 09h00. That same morning a group from the 15th Panzer (Armoured) Division broke through and pursued the detachment for over four hours. Tobruk was finally reached at 19h00, an average speed of three kilometers per hour. A bonus was the 41 POW's that had been captured en route.

The Allied units continued their withdrawal leaving the mostly South African garrison to defend Tobruk. By the 17th the Germans had isolated Tobruk, which was held by 2nd SA Division - less 3rd Brigade, 201 Guards Brigade and 11 Indian Brigade. Short of transport and ammunition, with the Guards Brigade diminished by heavy casualties and the minefields seriously depleted, Tobruk's defence was not as strong as it might have appeared on paper. On 20 June the Germans overran the Indian Brigade and then destroyed the Guards Brigade and what armour there was, reaching the town by 1600 hours and overrunning the fortress HQ. In all, they took more than 25000 prisoners, including 10722 South Africans, and 2000 vehicles and over 1350 tons of fuel.

By the end of July the 1st SA Division had been ordered back in the line to El Alamein, where 2nd Division had spent its first weeks in the theatre preparing a position. The 1st SA Division was together with the British 50th Division who had spent time in the rear being replenished. August saw it in the centre of the XXX Corps front on the northern sector of the El Alamein line. Here it remained until the Second Battle of El Alamein when it formed part of the assault force of four divisions. The last of the Allied rearguard passed through the position around midday on 30 June, and 3rd SA Brigade found itself under heavy attack soon after. Attacks and heavy shelling continued until 3 July, which brought a lull. Another heavy attack followed on the 13th; then Rommel made his final unsuccessful bid on 30 August. The Second Battle of El Alamein opened with a massive artillery battery on 23 October 1942.

The 4th and 6th SA Armoured Car Regiments were instrumental in disrupting the enemy's rear areas and were the first Eighth Army troops to enter Tobruk on 12 November.

2 SA Infantry Division

2nd SA Infantry Division
In 1942, Lt-Col E.H.M. Hardiman DSO, MC took over as Officer Commanding of the MPC and as Chief Disciplinary Officer. At this time at least the following Provost Units are known to have existed in the Union.
  • 7th Garrison Provost Company - Bloemfontein
  • 11th Garrison Provost Company - Johannesburg (?)
  • 7th Brigade Provost Unit
    Stationed in Barberton, this unit was attached to 7th Armoured Brigade Group (part of Mobile Field Force).
  • 6th Brigade Provost Unit
    Stationed in Piet Retief, this unit was attached to 8th Armoured Brigade Group (part of Mobile Field Force).
  • 3rd Field Force Provost Unit
    Stationed in Ermelo, but was detached to Carolina until February 1943, when the entire Mobile Field Force took the General Service Oath and was transferred to the 6th SA Armoured Division.
During 13 August 1942 authority was given to the MPC in terms of UDF 408/3/6 Q to wear "Orange Cap Covers".

The North African units began returning to the Union in November 1942 with the 2nd SA Field Provost Company returning during January 1943. Early in 1943 1st SA Division then returned home to South Africa.

Ladysmith, Natal MP detachment 1942

Military Police Detachment, Ladysmith (Natal) - 1942



ITALY

6 SA Armoured DivisionThe 6th SA Armoured Division was formed in February 1943 and began training. During this period of training Mrs Hardiman, wife of the SDO, presented an MPC flag to the members of the 6th SA Field Provost Company after her husband had inspected the unit. On this flag Mrs Hardiman had embroidered the MPC cap badge and the units designation.

Early in 1943, a new oath was instigated for service outside Africa, and 6 SA Armoured Division and a number of engineer units were offered to the British for service in Italy. The British willingly accepted the South African engineers, but were at first reluctant to accept the division as the real need in Italy was for more infantry. The potential of the division could not be overlooked for ever.

During April 1943, 6 SA Armoured Division left its base camp at Zonderwater and set forth for Egypt where it began serious training for its new role at Khatatba. Comprising 11th Armoured and 12th Motorised Brigades with various supporting units, this division was the most powerful SA formation of the war, and was also possibly the most powerful formation to be used later in Italy.

Training continued at Khatatba for nine months with the Military Police of the division training in the handling of POW's, route marking and traffic control. For a while it looked as though the division would end up in Palestine. The problem was that infantry were needed in Italy and the newly formed South African division was an armoured one. Smuts would hear nothing of this move to Palestine and the division eventually received orders to embark for Italy.

On 23 July 1943, War Measure No 1 of 1940 was also amended by War Measure No 54 of 1943. This proclamation gave the ACF military police the same powers as police officers.
The most serious episode of misconduct by Native Military Contingent members was also the worst case of mutinous action on record in the UDF during WW2. This incident occurred during August 1943 at Garawi, Egypt, which was the main NEAS training and transit base for the NEAS in North Africa. The unit accommodated the reserve of soldiers who were awaiting postings to forward units, and was also the transit area for personnel being returned from units because of unsuitability or with disciplinary problems, all of whom were awaiting re-assignment or repatriation to the Union.

The riot, sometimes referred to as the "Battle of Garawi", which at times involved some 50-60 black soldiers, finally resulted in the death of 3 NMC members and left 9 others wounded. In addition, the destruction and damage of equipment and stores was severe.

The uproar apparently began when the NMC military police were escorting prisoners from the guard tent to the orderly room, and were set upon by some of the prisoners wielding sticks. A military policeman felled one of the prisoners with a blow to the head. Thereupon other NMC members flung verbal abuse and threw stones at the MP's. The ringleaders set fire to tents and later broke into the quartermaster's stores, stealing rifles and ammunition. All the available battalion NCO's were brought together and instructed to exercise the necessary control. A pitched battle between the NCO's and the NMC members ensured, and only after armoured cars arrived later in the day, was order finally restored, and the main agitators were rounded up.

The court found all of the accused guilty and sentenced five of them to death by firing squad. The sentences were later commuted to life imprisonment.

South African military police were included in the first official South African draft to Italy. This draft preceded the 6th SA Armoured Division by six months. They initially disembarked at Taranto and arrived in Naples on 23 October 1943, the day it was taken by the US forces. The 6th SA Armoured Division only disembarked at Taranto, Italy during 20 April 1944 and was initially attached to 8 Army.

British experience in Italy showed that armoured divisions, with one armoured and one infantry brigade, were too light in infantry. Independent infantry brigades were attached to their divisions and to 6 SA Armoured, the British 24 Guards Infantry Brigade joining the division's 11 Armoured and 12 Motorised Brigades in May. The brigade group remained key to the British and South African concept of fighting and by now divisional integrity was respected. So too was the need for all arms to operate together and it was common for the infantry battalions to operate with the division's tanks under command, after the fashion of the German Kampfgruppe or the American task force.

It was placed in the US 5th Army under the command of General Mark Clark, and fought with 5 US Army from August 1944 until the war's end. The US 5th Army was an international formation consisting of British, US and Dominion units, so the South African Military Police were soon involved with military police from other nations.The division faced a constant struggle for replacements, alleviated by the loan of additional British troops and, ironically for the race-conscious South Africans, an Indian infantry battalion, 4/13 Frontier Force Rifles. In February, general infantry shortages forced the removal of the Guards Brigade to reconstitute the British 56 Infantry Division, but the South Africans improvised 13 Motorised Brigade in its place.

When Europe was invaded by the Allies during 1944, commanders placed their accent on operations. Little or no attention was given to the results of these operations, and looting became a common occurrence. The local population were quick to exploit this situation by making false claims to cover their own looting efforts. The result of this was that anti-looting measures had to be instituted by the Allied military police and from then onwards "the Provost entered towns and villages hard on the heels of the forward fighting troops".

 
Making route marking signs - Italy

Making route signs - Italy

UDF MP Traffic post - Italy

UDF MP Traffic Post - Italy

Traffic control was the most important task carried out. Italy, unlike North Africa, was mountainous and any vehicle movement was forced to use narrow twisting roads which were dusty in summer and quagmires in winter, and which were furthermore totally unsuited to the fast movement from one place to another. This made the military police vital to the successful movement of formations. No longer could officers chose a compass bearing for an advance. Now they had to pore over large scale maps to find suitable routes.

The division soon found itself deployed in the vicinity of Monte Cassino on the western flank of Italy. Eventually the long awaited breakout took place and the thrust forward began. Rome fell to the US 5th Army on 4th June 1944 and on 6 June 1944 the 6th SA Armoured Division was the first dominion division to pass through it. Florence fell on 4th August when British troops and South African tanks finally entered, and Bologna fell on 21st April 1945.

A little known fact is that "Springbok" MP's solved the first murder of an Allied soldier (Chibiamar, a French Algerian soldier) in Italy. The investigating officer was Sgt J.D. Sowter, of 19 Detachment, 2 Line of Communications Provost Company (Volunteer), and the details were later published in the SA Forces newspaper "SPRINGBOK" on 13 August 1944. There was a little artistic licence as the murder had already taken place near Naples during late 1943!

An NMC member, Private John Ngama, who was seconded to 12 Squadron of the South African Air Force, armed with a Thompson sub-machine gun, broke into an Italian farmhouse at 04h00 in the morning, his intention being to abduct a twenty-six year old Italian. The sixty-year-old mother of the woman accosted him and, while trying to shield her daughter, was shot dead.

Ngama was tried by a Field General Court Martial and found guilty of murder. He was sentenced to death and was executed by firing squad at Foggia, Italy on 12 January 1944. The execution was carried out by his unit. According to the records of the Deputy Judge Advocate General at the end of August 1945, this was the only known case of 'UDF military jurisprudence in which a sentence of death had actually been put into effect' during the Second World War.

The commander of the 6th SA Armoured Division was of course General Poole, and at times when fighting was particularly fluid, his Tactical HQ consisted of himself, a driver and a signaller in a Jeep together with a Military Policeman on a motorcycle. It was often necessary for General Poole to ride pillion on the MP's motorcycle in order to surmount obstacles.

The 6th SA Armoured Division remained in Italy until the surrender of the German forces. The Provost Company, under the command of Maj R. Dreyer and WO1 J. Werner, finally arrived back in the Union on 27th September 1945.

The Military Police contribution to the conflict was not without its casualties. A total of 139 MP's lost their lives. Of this number five were killed in action; four were presumed dead after going missing and three died as prisoners of war. A full Roll of Honour can be found here

During World War Two, the following decorations were received by members of the SACMP:
  • 2 x MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire)
  • 2 x MC (Military Cross) - only awarded to officers
  • 3 x Kings Medal (Silver) for bravery
  • 4 x MM (Military Medal ) - only awarded to other ranks
  • 2 x BEM (British Empire Medal)
  • 1 x Bronze Star (USA decoration)
  • 24 x Mention in Despatches / Kings Commendation (SA)
South African Corps of Military Police
With the cessation of hostilities, changes were once again made. The WAMPC was disbanded, possibly before September 1945. The MPC also had its changes. This time the title returned to that of its original formation, the SACMP (SAKMP). This was authorised in terms of Government Notice 204 which was published in the Government Gazette No 3716 dated 18 October 1946. The familiar scales of justice worn throughout the war remained in use, but the shoulder titles were withdrawn in 1951 together with the orange strips of the war volunteer.

Sources:
Ellis, J., The Sharp End of War, David & Charles (1980)
Joslen, HF., Orders of Battle, Second World War 1939-1945, reprinted by the London Stamp Exchange (1990)
Martin, HJ and Orpen, N. South Africa at War, Purnell, Cape Town (1979)
Orpen, N., East African and Abyssinian Campaigns, Purnell, Cape Town (1968)
Orpen, N., The War in the Desert, Purnell, Cape Town (1971)
Orpen, N., Victory in Italy, Purnell, Cape Town (1975)
Perry, FW., The Commonwealth Armies, Manpower and Organisation in Two World Wars, Manchester UP (1988)
Pitt, B., The Crucible of War, Jonathan Cape (1980)
A Short History of the South African Army by Richard Allport
South African Army 1939-40 by David A Ryan

Footnotes
1 = South Africa at War indicates Ladysmith, Natal. The Nonquai indicates Voortrekkerhoogte.