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1949-1952: Creating a Command Structure for NATO

On April 4, 1949 twelve nations from Western Europe and North America signed the North Atlantic Treaty in Washington, D.C.  A key feature of this treaty is Article 5, in which the signatory members agreed that "an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all.” Initially, however, the alliance was not very well prepared to carry out the mission of defending its territory. In addition to grave shortages of troops and equipment, there was no command structure to direct the overall defense of Western Europe, just committees - known as "Regional Planning Groups" - that were charged with drawing up plans for the defence of their regions.

All this changed after the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950, which raised fears that Europe could face a similar threat over divided Germany. The nations of the alliance agreed to increase their defence efforts and began working on the creation of an integrated military command structure with an overall commander for NATO forces in Europe.

Selecting the first Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) was easy, since everyone's first choice was the popular and respected U.S. Army Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had led allied forces in Europe during World War II. On December 19, 1950 the North Atlantic Council announced the appointment of General Eisenhower as the first SACEUR.


DSACEUR Montgomery The Hotel Astoria SACEUR Eisenhower

General Eisenhower arrived in Paris on January 1, 1951 and quickly set to work with a small multi-national planning group to devise a structure for the new command, Allied Command Europe (ACE) and its new headquarters, the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE).  This "SHAPE Planning Group” worked in a temporary headquarters located in the Hotel Astoria in central Paris while construction of a permanent facility began in the Parisian suburb of Rocquencourt. The SHAPE planners benefited greatly from the existing plans, headquarters, and personnel of the Western Union Defence Organisation (the military arm of NATO's European predecessor, created by the Brussels Treaty of 1948), which were all incorporated into ACE, so within a few months the basic plans for ACE were ready.  The former senior officer of the WUDO, Field Marshal the Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, became the first Deputy SACEUR.

On April 2, 1951 General Eisenhower signed the activation order for Allied Command Europe and its headquarters at SHAPE. On the same day ACE's subordinate headquarters in Northern and Central Europe were activated, with the Southern Region following in June. In July 1951 SHAPE's new headquarters complex in Rocquencourt opened for business.
SACEUR Eisenhower signing the activation order for SHAPE (shown at right) on April 2, 1951
Political disagreements over the rest of the new NATO command structure delayed until April 1952 the activation of the headquarters of the second NATO supreme commander, the Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic or SACLANT, located in Norfolk, Virginia, USA.  His command, Allied Command Atlantlic or ACLANT, was repsonsible for the defense of the vital shipping lanes between Europe and North America. 
1952 also saw the creation of a third major NATO operational headquarters, but one with a much narrower geographic focus.  In March 1952 the Allied Command Channel (ACCHAN) came into existence to supervise the very important English Channel.  Due to the much smaller size and responsibility of this headquarters, its commander was not a supreme commander but bore the title of Commander-in-Chief Channel Command or CINCHAN.  He was not, however, subordinate to either SACEUR or SACLANT.

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