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The RMP in the Cold War- an overview and a little history...

The Royal Military Police (RMP) is the branch of the British Army responsible for the policing of service personnel and providing a military police presence on service property, operations and exercises. Originally formed from the Military Mounted Police and the Military Foot Police in the latter part of the Great War (WW1), the Corps of Military Police was granted it's Royal prefix on 28th November 1946 by King George the Fifth, in recognition of its' outstanding work and support of the Army, becoming the Corps of Royal Military Police (RCMP already having been taken up by the Canadian Mounties many many years before!).

Its members are generally known as Redcaps because they wear scarlet-topped peaked caps or scarlet berets. In the period 1980-1989, the RMP stable belt was also scarlet. The RMP motto is Exemplo Ducemus, Latin for "By example, we lead", and the Regimental March of the RMP is the "The Watchtower" or "Die Wacht Turm" originally an 18th century German Army marching tune.

One of the nicknames for the RMP is the "Monkey Hangers" (in modern times shortened to "Monkey"). While the exact origins of the nickname are not known, one possible origin comes from the time of the Napoleonic Wars, when a merchant ship docked at Hartlepool; on board the ship was a small monkey dressed in a sailor's costume. The local people who saw the monkey were convinced that it was a French spy and demanded its demise. The local Provost Marshal hanged the monkey to avoid a riot taking place.

A second story arose with the formation of the MFP (Military Foot Police) in 1885 for service in Egypt, where the local traders and beggars often had monkeys on their shoulder; each wore a small pillbox hat similar in style and colour to that worn by MFP NCOs.

Whatever its origins, the nickname has stuck for the RMP (whose members may choose to wear a monkey tie pin), the citizens of Hartlepool and the wider British Army.

A gentle hint, however: It is not wise to call an MP a "Monkey" (especialy to his or her face), as it is considered an insult by many, not just RMP personnel - it's most likely, in fact, to get the speaker reported under section 69 of the Army Act - "Conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline"!

Role

The present-day RMP's principal duties are "To provide the Provost Support that the Army requires meeting operational demands and legal obligations". To fulfil this role their functions are:

  1. To provide Operation Policing Support;
  2. To prevent crime;
  3. To uphold the Law within the Military Community and assist with the maintenance of Military Discipline;
  4. To provide an Assistance, Advice and Information Service to the Military Community and public.

During the Cold War (which perforce included the period 1960-1989, which we cover in Cold War Provost) the approach of the RMP, like other members of NATO, to military policing was to provide Military Police support to National Forces by:

  • Traffic Control
  • Military Policing in general
  • Maintaining Law & Order

The operational, or conflict, role of the RMP is not just to provide support in rear areas. RMP detachments are often in the vanguard of any advance by British military formations. For example, during Operation Granby (the first Gulf War), RMP personnel followed Royal Engineers combat units from the form up points to mark out safe routes through minefields. Indeed, one SNCO won the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) for his actions in that regard!

As soon as the first combat troops begin to advance, the RMP guides and marshals other combat and support units toward the front of the advance. As the forward units advance, the RMP sets up traffic posts so they are able to maintain major supply routes.

Other wartime roles for the RMP are:

  • Prisoner handling
  • Maintenance of law and discipline
  • Investigating crime
  • War crime investigations

The Cold War in Europe and the RMP

Cold War Provost primarily represents the European (BAOR) and mainland UK theatres of Operations; as a result, we will not be delving into the Middle Eastern operations and conflicts that headlined the Cold War, such as Seuz, Kenya, and Aden.

Instead, we will concentrate on how the RMP conducted themselves, and assisted the Armed Forces in BAOR, West Germany, and the UK and (to a very much lesser extent for us) Northern Ireland.

BAOR and West Berlin

Europe, following the cessation of hostilities of the Second World War, was, frankly, a mess of the first order. Chaos tended to rein, and sorting order out of this chaos was the unenviable task of the Allied powers, whose main tool in this was their provost branches. For Great Britain, this was the then CMP (later in 1946 re-created as the RMP).

To add to the problems the RMP faced in it's policing and Provost roles, in 1946, the Robertson-Mallinin agreement introduced Military Missions into the post-war Control Zones of Germany. The Soviet Union maintained missions (SOXMIS) in the U.S., French and British zones. In the British sector the Soviet Mission was based in BŁnde near Herford. British Forces maintained a mission (BRIXMIS) in the Soviet Zone (East Germany).

The RMP had the task of policing the Soviet mission in BŁnde, and this was tasked to 19 (Support) Platoon RMP, who became known as "white mice". This unit's job was to wait outside the Soviet mission until a SOXMIS vehicle appeared and then follow it.

In restricted areas, Soviet vehicles were not permitted to leave the autobahns (not even in parking areas) unless accompanied by U.S., British or French military police.

The agreements remained in force until 2 October 1990, when all three missions were deactivated on the eve of Germany's reunification.

In general however, the RMP Role in BAOR wasn't that much different to the RMP's UK-based units: Providing the peacetime Army with Operation Policing Support, and to prevent crime. Its' Provost Operations role came to the fore during the many exercises that were held in Germany, most notably the massive and unrepeated Lionheart '84 exercise, that involved just about every Allied Serviceman in Germany, bar none!

In West Berlin, within 2 Regiment RMP, 247 Provost Company RMP was responsible for manning the British Sector checkpoints and Border Patrols. As part of 2 Regiment, an armed unit of German nationals, 248 German Security Unit, was maintained; its commander was a German national in the rank of Major and an RSM from a British infantry regiment acted as liaison officer. This was disbanded in 1994, when the British Garrison in Berlin was closed. A third company within the 2 Regiment was 246 Provost Company in Helmstedt.

Falklands Conflict: Operation Corporate

After the Argentine forces surrendered, 5 Infantry Brigade Provost Unit RMP remained on the islands, sworn in as Special Constables until the Falkland Islands Police Force were able to become operational again. After the re-capture of South Georgia (Operation Paraquat), the Argentine commander Lieutenant-Commander Alfredo Astiz was taken to the UK and questioned by the RMP and Sussex Police at the Keep, Roussillon Barracks, Chichester about the murder of Swedish and French nationals several years before. As there was, at the time, no jurisdiction for extradition to Sweden or France, he was repatriated to Argentina by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Northern Ireland: Operation Banner

A sore topic with many - not just those who live and lived there, Operation Banner was the operational name for the British Forces' anti-insurgency/anti-terrorism campaign in Northern Ireland between 1969 and 2007. At the height of the "troubles" (the period 1970 - the mid 1980s) RMP were actively involved, and RMP personnel could expect 12-month "Emergency Tours" in the province at any time past age 18, once training was completed at Roussillon Barracks in Chichester. During this, the longest continuous deployment in the British Army's history, lasting some thirty-eight years, 4 RMP personnel lost their lives, and several others were seriously injured.

The information on this page came in no small part from Wikipedia, and thus may be used without restriction, provided that the original source (Wikipedia) is credited.

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