Graves Registration Units / Rhine Crossing

Discussion in 'NW Europe' started by alberk, Nov 5, 2022.

  1. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    I am trying to find out what the exact work of Graves Registration Units (GRU) was. Aftre the Rhine crossin by XII and XXX Corps two GRU were active in the area just east of the Rhine: 33 GRU and 35 GRU. Those two appear on some of the crosses that were placed on graves. Here's an example of a list made by the German local authorities in the summer of 1945 (see bottom).
    Bildschirmfoto 2022-11-05 um 16.29.26.png

    Nor all graves if British servicemen are marked with the unit number of the GRU, in fact, most are not.

    My question: What's the procedure?
    The combat units buried their war dead on the battlefield - correct?
    They also placed crosses with names on the graves - correct?

    Then the GRU appears - 35 GRU only starts its work on the battlefield on April 1st, 1945 - that's a week after the Rhine crossing. Here's the page from the war diary:
    IMG_9343 Kopie.JPG

    All it says about their work is: "registrations continue"

    So, this means they go around the battlefield and register the graves that had previously been created by the units who had buried their dead? No further identification of unidentified was undertaken by GRUs - correct?
    Who reported back to "above" that a man had been killed - his original unit? Or the GRUs? And how long after his death would this have happened?

    GRUs consisted of 4 officers/NCOs and 17 OR:
    IMG_9333 Kopie.JPG

    I am trying to find out the systematics behind this whole process and would appreciate any further information.

    Thank you!
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  2. papiermache

    papiermache Well-Known Member

    If you search Australian Archives for "graves" there are downloadable files on policy which can give you links to British and American graves registration practice. For example, this pamphlet is available on the file detailed below:

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  3. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    Excellent advice - many thanks, papiermache!
  4. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery

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  5. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    Ok, there's some basic information in the pocket book - see below. But the question remains: What exactly did the Graves Registration Units do? Did they search for unburied victims, unidentified or isolated graves as the last paragraph suggests?

    Graves 1.png
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2022
  6. AB64

    AB64 Senior Member

  7. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    Hi CL1
    thank you. The CWGC seems to come in at a later stage. On their website they describe various forms used by them.

    There also appears a new (at least to me) entity: The Army Graves Service

    Any idea what they did?
  8. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

  9. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    The Graves Concentration Units - according to Reinders - searched the battelfields, exhumed bodies and concentrated them on proper (and permanent) cemeteries.

    In my area of Germany - just east of the Rhine, on the former battlefield of Operations Plunder and Varsity - this work was done between the autumn of 1946 and the spring of 1948. These dates appear on the concentration forms avalaible on the CWGC website.

    I am interested in the immediate wake of the fighting, when 33 and 35 GRU appear in my area. Their war diaries which I consulted at TNA only state "normal routine" or "registration continues" for the relevant dates in April/May 1945. They also relocated, going further east and north while following the advance of the fighting troops.

    In fact, 33 GRU moves to Muehlheim (near Essen in the Ruhr district) - I assume that they started to look for British RAF casualties whose aircraft were downed over the Ruhr. Just my hypothesis, their war diary offers no details.
  10. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member


    It's earlier in the war but I found this in an Admin Order of 167 Bde at Salerno - 14 Sep 43 (WO169/8966)

    13. Burials.
    In addition to 56 Div Cemetery at 747233 a cemetery has been opened in 3 Beach Gp area 758187. 3 Beach Gp will provide Chaplain and Burial parties and will arrange marking of graves.
    Separate plots will always be maintained for Allied Tps, for German Tps and Italian Tps. Under no circumstances will enemy dead be buried in the same plot as Allied Tps.

    14. Burial Returns.
    AF W3314 (Individual Burial Return) and AF W3314A (Multiple Burial Return) will be rendered by chaplains or Os i/c Burial parties.
    In the case of own tps, in addition to 3 copies for the branches as stated on the form, a further copy will be sent to Rear 56 Div for forwarding to 5 GRU.
    For enemy dead, these forms will be prepared in triplicate and marked clearly at the head “ENEMY DEAD”. Two copies will be sent to GHQ O2E, CMF and one copy to Rear Div for 5 GRU.
    The location of graves will be given by six figure ref on map of scale 1/50,000 or 1/100,000.


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  11. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    Thank you, Tom! This helps to find out more about the pattern and the procedures.
  12. papiermache

    papiermache Well-Known Member

    Regarding international treaties concerning the fallen the downloadable US version of the rules of war 1940 is useful ( extracts below ).

    File series WO 361 contains over 2200 files regarding Army "missing men" and letters and statements concerning burials, etc.

    United Kingdom Treasury files ( Series identifier T/.....) have a great deal to say about allowances and pensions payable to relatives of the missing. This thesis is excellent on how relatives of missing men as Prisoners of War were treated. This may touch upon what you are looking for.

    For RAF missing this book is very good and second hand copies are available very cheaply:

    "Missing Believed Killed: the Royal Air Force and the search for missing aircrew 1939 - 1952
    Hadaway, Stuart

    ISBN 10: 1844157342 / ISBN 13: 9781844157341
    Published by Pen & Sword Aviation, 2008"

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  13. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    This is the excerpt of a list made by the German local authorities in the summer of 1945 - they had been ordered to doe so by the British occupation authorities. Thus the Germans sent out people to record Alliied field graves - the "researchers" wrote down everything they found of the crosses/grave markings.
    Apparently 35 GRU left a mark on all the graves they registered (which was before the German "reseachers" went to work). The example given are not isolated graves but a concentration of graves on a temporary cemetery created by the the airborne troops.
    Bildschirmfoto 2022-11-06 um 15.05.12.png

    As a contrast 33 GRU apparently only left very few marks of their work - as this excerpt below shows:
    Bildschirmfoto 2022-11-06 um 15.15.59.png

    So, where does this leave me? 35 GRU and 33 GRU had a different approach... and i conclude that their work was not only about finding isolated graves or unburied or unidentified victims.
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