Post-War Organisation

The European war ended on 8 May 1945. The conquest of Germany culminated in the division of the country into four Zones, governed by the Russians, the Americans, the French, and the British.

Hamburg was ostensibly the most important city of the British Zone, but much of the most important administrative work was done elsewhere, ‘in the mysterious towns of Bad Oeynhausen, Bünde and Herford, where the greatest decisions and most solemn decrees are enacted’.* These three towns were at the centre of a vast network of British organisations which dealt with the occupation of Germany, the programme for the military dead, and the investigation and prosecution of war crimes, the exposure of which so strongly emphasised that the British had fought a just war against a monstrous evil.

21 Army Group (soon to be reconstituted and renamed the British Army of the Rhine, the BAOR) was at the hub of this network.** It was based at the spa town of Bad Oeynhausen, in Westphalia, because that is where it had been located when the war ended. BAFO, the British Air Forces of Occupation, was stationed about 16 miles to the east at Bad Eilsen.

As the position in Germany was consolidated, a civilian organisation gradually began to take over many of the BAOR’s governing functions. Known somewhat long-windedly as the Control Commission for Germany and Austria (British Element), its name was usually abbreviated to CCG (BE). The Control Commission’s offices were based close to the BAOR, mainly at Lübbecke, Minden, Herford and Bünde. Its Search Bureau was closely involved in the search for missing British servicemen.

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* Geoffrey Cotterell, Randle in Springtime (Eyre and Spottiswoode, London, 1949), p.86.

** 21 Army Group was known from 25 August 1945 as the British Army of the Rhine, the BAOR. The date of the name change is given in Field Marshall the Viscount Montgomery, Normandy to the Baltic: the Personal Account of the Conquest of Germany (Hutchinson and Co, London, 1947), p.225.

 

The American Programme for the Dead

The Americans were running a parallel graves and missing research programme over much of the same territory as the British. They carried out similar procedures, but performed an additional, highly extensive series of duties because bereaved relatives were offered the choice of having their dead repatriated. (No repatriation in any circumstances was permitted for the British dead.)

The two American services which carried out the care of the American dead were the Graves Registration Service and its successor the American Graves Registration Service. Both organisations wrote an account of their work, but whilst that of the Graves Registration Service is short and to the point, that of the American Graves Registration Service, published in 1957, is 700 pages long and immensely detailed.*

The Americans made both an art and a science out of their burial and identification procedures, which formed a strong contrast to the frequently ad hoc arrangements of the British.

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* Study Number 107: Graves Registration Service, Reports of the General Board, United States Forces, European Theater, undated but around November 1945 (see Appendix 1, letter from QMG, Chief of Staff, dated 24 November 1945).

Edward Steere and Thayer M Boardman, Final Disposition of World War II Dead 1945-51, US Army, Quartermaster Corps, QMC Historical Studies, Series II, No. 4 (Historical Branch Office of the Quartermaster General, Washington, D.C., 1957).