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SHAPE in France

Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) was established on Apr. 2, 1951 in Rocquencourt, France, as part of an effort to establish an integrated and effective NATO military force. In 1967, SHAPE was relocated to Casteau, Mons, Belgium.

Allied Command Europe is established

Fourteen months after the allies signed the North Atlantic Treaty the Korean war erupted in Jun. 1950, increasing fears of a Soviet attack on Western Europe.

The Alliance possessed an extremely limited structure. No NATO military commanders had been appointed, NATO military Headquarters or commands established and all the allies' military forces remained under national control.

In autumn 1950, the United States Secretary of State proposed to the NATO allies establishing a large integrated military force, consisting of units contributed by individual nations, including West Germany, controlled by a centralised military organisation which would administer and train those forces under a single NATO commander.

It was agreed to appoint a Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) supported by an international staff. He would be delegated limited authority to ensure that national units assigned to his command were organised and trained into an effective force.

The first SACEUR

In mid-Dec. 1950, the Allies asked President Truman to nominate a candidate for SACEUR. He agreed to nominate General Dwight D. Eisenhower as the first Supreme Allied Commander Europe.

Several countries were considered for the site of SHAPE's permanent HQ. However, countries in northern and southern Europe were considered too isolated from the rest of the command, Britain was not part of continental Europe and West Germany was not a NATO member and considered too close to Soviet-controlled territory.

Therefore, Eisenhower's staff recommended locating SHAPE in France because it was more central than other contenders. A site at Rocquencourt in the Versailles suburb of Paris was selected primarily because of the excellent communications it offered.

In February 1951, the French Minister of Defence approved the site at Rocquencourt as the location for SHAPE's permanent HQ.

Setting up the Headquarters

General Eisenhower established SHAPE on Apr. 2, 1951. It was comprised of 183 officers from 9 nations of the 12 NATO allies, Portugal and Luxembourg sent staff to SHAPE later, Iceland has no armed forces.

Buildings were quickly constructed and the new HQ was handed over to SHAPE on Jul. 23, 1951.

In 1952, Greece and Turkey, followed by West Germany in 1955, joined NATO and all three nations sent officers to SHAPE, bringing the number of nations represented at SHAPE in the mid-1950's to 12.

One of Eisenhower's major lasting influences on SHAPE was his exhortation that SHAPE staff's loyalty was not to their nation, but NATO and SHAPE. As he explained to Belgian leaders early in 1951 he considered himself "one twelfth Belgian"(at that time NATO comprised 12 nations).

Eisenhower emphasised that his staff represented all service and member nations. "Here we know ourselves as a single entity in carrying out the objectives of NATO and in building up a strong defence for the purpose of preserving the peace. Actually, for the purpose of this operation: we shall set aside our individual nationalities."

The Relocation - France to Belgium

On Feb. 21, 1966, President de Gaulle publicly stated he intended to radically alter France's participation in the Atlantic Alliance. Shortly after, on Mar. 10, 1966, the French government indicated France would withdraw from NATO's integrated military command structure.

NATO and other Allied military headquarters and installations therefore had to leave French territory by Apr. 1, 1967.

In mid-September, the Belgian government agreed to build by Apr. 1, 1967, adequate buildings to accommodate SHAPE's immediate occupancy and operational needs, and complete other construction by Sep. 1, 1967.

The Belgian government chose Casteau (near Mons) for SHAPE because: it comprised 200 hectares of "terrain militaire", land owned by the state, thereby eliminating the lengthy and expensive process of purchasing land; it could be served by the Belgian air base nearby at Chievres; and it would have rapid access to NATO HQ (which would move from Paris to Brussels) once work was completed on a new auto route between Mons and Brussels (planned to begin in late 1967). Last but not least, the Borinage region urgently needed "inward investment" to compensate for the decline and closure of its once famous coal mines and other traditional industries.

Construction work began at Casteau on Oct. 14, 1966. The first building to be completed was the Communications Centre on Dec. 15, 1966.

SHAPE's relocation was conducted in three main phases: the move of a reconnaissance team to Belgium; the deployment of the main staff body to Casteau (staggered throughout March 1967); and the final closure of SHAPE's facilities in France by the "Termination Group". The staff's main objective was to ensure a timely transfer of satisfactory command and control facilities from the old to new HQ.

The first equipment transfer occurred on Nov. 22, 1966. On Mar. 30, 1967, the flags were lowered at SHAPE-France, and the next day a flag raising ceremony took place at SHAPE-Belgium.

Camp Voluceau (the SHAPE Support Group) closed on Sep. 8, 1967, and the last household goods were transferred on Dec. 14, 1967.

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