This thesis focuses on the attempt by the post-war British Labour and Conservative administrations to use the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) as a tool to improve relations with the German civilian population during the early stages of the Cold War. The original contribution to knowledge lies in the evaluation of the efforts made by both the British and the German administrations to transform the BAOR from an occupation army to a protecting force and utilise its presence to strengthen German integration into the Western defence against communism. Although historians have evaluated the BAOR’s role in Germany from a strategic and military perspective, the political and social contexts resulting from the presence of nearly 80,000 British troops and their families during the early period of post-war German sovereignty have so far been largely neglected. This study considers not only the official contacts between the Services and the Germans, but also the more individual levels of contact, including living conditions of troops, social interaction and points of friction between soldiers and civilians.
The thesis argues that the success of the transformation of the BAOR from a force of occupation to a tool of integration depended on two factors: the receptiveness of the German population to the new role of the BAOR and the attitudes of the British Services in conducting their new relationships with German civilians. It examines the German perceptions of the British Services by analysing hostile incidents between troops and civilians as well as comparing the popularity of the British Services with that of the other occupying powers in the young Federal Republic. Furthermore, it seeks to establish to what extent the widespread unwillingness of the Services to engage with Germans, which was evident in 1948, was transformed by the mid-1950s. This entails the analysis of the representation of Germany in British media and popular culture as an influence on troops in the BAOR as well as initiatives taken by the Services themselves to improve relations.
The main findings of the thesis are that, although significant changes were implemented by the British administration to improve relations, the BAOR was not an effective tool to strengthen the Anglo-German partnership. This was partly due to the organisational structure of the Services but also due to a widespread reluctance by British troops to engage with the German population. Despite some local successes, the main achievement of the British and German administrations throughout the period in question was not an improvement but rather the prevention of a deterioration of relations between British Servicemen and German civilians in a crucial period of German integration into the Western defence against Communism.