A Short History of the Royal Military Police Special Investigation Branch

The Special Investigation Branch (SIB) is one of a number of distinct elements of the Royal Military Police (RMP) which, along with the Close Protection Unit and the Specialist Operations Unit, provide specialist police support to the Army.  The SIB focuses on the investigation of serious criminal and military offences and other incidents that although not criminal offences nonetheless may impact on the reputation of the Nation’s Armed Forces.  In its investigation of serious criminal offences there are noticeable similarities with the United Kingdom’s Civil Police Criminal Investigation Division (CID) and frequently works alongside the CID and with the investigation departments of other nations’ police forces when British Service personnel are involved in incidents overseas.

There is some doubt as to the precise origins of the SIB, but there can be little doubt that the ‘Provost’ had been conducting investigations for hundreds of years (for a more detailed history of the Royal Military Police visit www.rhqrmp.org) and the term ‘military detective’; employed on both intelligence and police investigative work, became increasingly familiar during the First World War from about 1915 onwards.  Plain clothes military policemen were used for criminal investigations on the Home Front and also for undercover work behind the lines in France and it was in this covert role that military policemen would adopt the insignia and dress of another Regiment or Corps when conducting their investigations.  As the ‘Great War’ dragged on, some military police detectives were employed as ‘Special Agents’ whereby they elicited information on unrest amongst troops and agitation by alleged ‘bolshevists’ operating both at home and immediately behind the Front Line and in depots and rest areas.

During the Allied Occupation of the Rhineland (1918-1929) a Special Investigation ‘Branch’ or ‘Bureau’, organised into 3 ‘Sections’, operated from The Excelsior Hotel in Cologne.  1 Section dealt mainly with traffic accidents and kept records of British Rhine Army Absentees and Deserters and in so doing conducted liaison with Scotland Yard, which returned information on arrests of Rhine Army soldiers in the United Kingdom; 2 Section dealt with general crime including larceny (theft), forgery, burglary, smuggling, drug dealing and murder, complaints against German nationals employed by Rhine Army, the overcharging of the allies for goods in shops and insults made against a member of the Occupation Force; and 3 Section dealt with vice-related matters and making enquiries regarding any German woman who contemplated marrying a British soldier as to her character or who sort employment as a domestic help with Rhine Army Officers and Other Ranks wives. With the outbreak of the Second World War, the  British Expeditionary Force (BEF) landed in France with thousands of men and millions of pounds worth of equipment, much of it attractive to French criminals and dishonest British servicemen and large-scale theft of equipment and stores, the embezzlement of Service Funds and associated criminality was widespread and as a result,  the War Office requested help from Scotland Yard and  Detective Chief Inspector George Hatherill of the Metropolitan Police Service was sent to France in order to determine the scale of criminality and make recommendations for the prevention and detection of crime.  Hatherill recommended that the British Army establish an Investigation Unit, staffed with experienced detectives, who would travel to France to investigate alleged offences.  This new SIB Unit formed up on the 29th of February 1940, under the command of former Detective Superintendent Clarence Campion and head of the Scotland Yard Criminal Record Office, in the rank of Major.  A team of 19 experienced detectives were hastily assembled at the Military Police Depot at Mytchett and after a short period of military training were joined by a 20th founding member before, deploying to France.  Within a short period they were able to arrest many offenders and recover huge amounts of stolen goods.

At the beginning of May 1940, German forces overran Belgium, Holland and parts of France; the BEF, and the fledgling SIB, was forced to retreat to Dunkirk.  Sadly, Major Campion, who had been wounded previously, was killed when the German Air Force bombed the hospital in Boulogne thereby becoming the first fatality of the re-formed SIB.  The remainder of the SIB was evacuated to Britain along with 300,000 British and French personnel.  Despite its short service in France, the SIB had proved its worth and subsequently grew considerably in both size and capability with SIB personnel seen in all theatres of war in Europe and India, the Far East and the Middle East and the first SIB Training Centre was established in 1942, at Gatton Park in Surrey to enhance the skills of Provost Officers and Military Police NCOs.

Following the cessation of hostilities in 1945, and the subsequent reduction in the size of Britain’s military forces, the SIB also reduced in size.  However, during the past 78 years or so ‘The Branch’ has altered its size and composition repeatedly in order to be best placed to support military operations in conflict zones across the world including Palestine, Korea, Kenya, Suez, Cyprus, Aden, and Malaya and most notably in Germany during the ‘Cold War’.  SIB investigators have also deployed in support of the Army in the Falkland Islands, the Balkans, East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan.  Today, the SIB maintains a permanent presence in Cyprus and Kenya, in the Falkland Islands, Canada, in Germany and in the UK.  This has not come without cost and a number of SIB personnel lost their lives whilst on Active Service in Korea, in Northern Ireland and in Iraq.

The SIB of today remains the investigative arm of the Royal Military Police and continues to be a dedicated ‘detective’ capability, delivering across the spectrum of criminal investigations and it is the only British investigative organisation that has the authority and skills required to deploy with and in support of the British Army to an overseas combat zone.