Search our content

Home  /  History of SHAPE  /  1952-1965: Early Years of SHAPE and Allied Command Europe

1952-1965: Early Years of SHAPE and Allied Command Europe

Allied personnel at SHAPE and its subordinate headquarters continued to refine the plans and preparations for the defence of Western Europe, while the senior officers of Allied Command Europe - SACEUR Eisenhower and Deputy SACEUR Montgomery - made a number of visits to the member nations to raise their spirits and encourage them to increase their defence efforts.  When General Eisenhower left SHAPE in May 1952 to begin his successful candidacy for the presidency of the United States, much progress had already been made and there was a new, optimistic mood in Europe.
Just a few months earlier the North Atlantic Council, meeting at Lisbon, had agreed to very ambitious force structure goals that included a total of up to 90 divisions for NATO, but these goals were never achieved as the alliance soon began to look for less costly ways to defend Europe - the so-called "New Approach” - that relied more on the use of nuclear weapons.

                "Honest John" Rocket                                                    SACEUR Ridgway with DSACEUR Montgomery

These changes began under Eisenhower's successor, Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway, who had gained fame as the commander of United Nations forces during the Korean War, and they continued under Gen. Alfred M. Gruenther, who became SACEUR in July 1953 after having served as Chief of Staff for both of his predecessors. By 1957 the switch to the doctrine of "massive retaliation” in the event of aggression had become officially recognised in NATO's new strategy document, MC 14/2.
During this period ACE grew larger as three new members joined the Alliance - Greece and Turkey in 1952, followed by the Federal Republic of Germany in 1955. History was made in 1956 when the first Air Force officer, General Lauris B. Norstad, became SACEUR. General Norstad skillfully led ACE through a difficult period marked by a dangerous Cold War confrontation in Berlin that began in 1958 and reached a high point with the construction of the Berlin Wall in August 1961.

     Soviet tanks near Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin                                        SACEUR Norstad                      
SACEUR Norstad also oversaw the beginning of the evolution of NATO's strategy away from complete reliance on nuclear weapons to defend Europe against aggression and towards a more flexible policy in which forward-deployed forces would serve as NATO's "Shield”, while the nuclear retaliatory forces remained NATO's "Sword” for use in defending against a major attack.

Following General Norstad's retirement in January 1963, General Lyman L. Lemnitzer took over the leadership of ACE. He played an important role in the further development of NATO's strategy away from "massive retaliation” and towards the new doctrine that became known as "flexible response”. But his tenure as SACEUR became increasingly characterised by the growing estrangement between French President Charles de Gaulle and the Alliance.

Search our content:


Rue Grande
7010 Mons

Media Operations

Public Affairs Office
Attn: Media Section
7010 Mons