Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe

Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe
Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe
Shape big.png

SHAPE Emblem.
Active 1951-present
Country NATO
Location Paris, France (1951-1967)
Mons, Belgium (1967-present)
Motto Vigilia Pretium Libertatis, Latin for "The Price of Freedom is Vigilance."
Supreme Allied Commander Europe Admiral James G. Stavridis, USN
Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe General Sir Richard Shirreff, British Army,

Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) is the central command of NATO military forces. It is located at Casteau, north of the Belgian city of Mons.[1] From 1951, SHAPE was the headquarters of operational forces in the European theatre (Allied Command Europe, ACE), but since 2003 SHAPE has been the headquarters of Allied Command Operations (ACO) controlling all allied operations worldwide.

SHAPE retained its traditional name with reference to Europe for legal reasons although the geographical scope of its activities was extended in 2003. At that time, NATO's command in Lisbon, historically part of the Atlantic command, was reassigned to ACO. The commanding officer of Allied Command Operations has also retained the title "Supreme Allied Commander Europe" (SACEUR), and continues to be a U.S. four-star general officer or flag officer who also serves as Commander, U.S. European Command.



An integrated military structure for NATO was first established after the Korean War raised questions over the strength of Europe's defences against a Soviet attack. The first choice for commander in Europe was U.S. Army General Dwight D. Eisenhower, as he had successfully directed the Allied landings and subsequent march into Germany during World War II,[2] amid many inter-Allied controversies over the proper conduct of the campaign in the western theatre. On December 19, 1950 the North Atlantic Council announced the appointment of General Eisenhower as the first SACEUR. Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery moved over from the predecessor Western Union Defence Organization (WUDO) to become the first Deputy SACEUR, who would serve until 1958. Volume 3 of Nigel Hamilton's Life of Montgomery of Alamein gives a good account of Montgomery's exacting, tireless approach to improving the command's readiness, which however caused a good deal of bruised feelings in doing so. In establishing the command, the first NATO planners drew extensively on WUDO plans and personnel.

Another emblem for SHAPE, featuring the flags of the full members of NATO.

General Eisenhower arrived in Paris on January 1, 1951 and quickly set to work with a small group of planners to devise a structure for the new European command. The Planning Group worked in the Hotel Astoria in central Paris while construction of a permanent facility began at Rocquencourt, just west of the city, at Camp Voluceau.

In December 1950 it was announced that the forces initially to come under General Eisenhower's command were to be the Seventh United States Army in Germany, the British Army of the Rhine, with 2nd & 7th Armoured Divisions, to be bolstered by 11th Armoured Division and a further infantry division, three French divisions in Germany and Austria, the Danish, Belgian, and the Independent Norwegian Brigades in Western Germany, and the American and British garrisons in Austria, Trieste, and Berlin. Four days after Eisenhower's arrival in Paris, on 5 January 1951, the Italian defence minister, Signor Pacciardi, announced that three Italian divisions were to be formed as Italy's 'initial contribution to the Atlantic army,' and that these divisions would also come under Eisenhower's control.[3]

Initial command structure 1951

On April 2, 1951 General Eisenhower signed the activation order for Allied Command Europe and its headquarters at SHAPE.[4] Headquarters, Allied Forces Central Europe (AFCENT) was activated in Fontainebleau, France in 1953.[5] On the same day ACE’s subordinate headquarters in Northern and Central Europe were activated, with the Southern Region following in June.

By 1954 ACE's forces consisted of Allied Forces Northern Europe, at Oslo, Allied Forces Central Europe (Fontainebleau), Allied Forces Southern Europe (Paris/Naples) and Allied Forces Mediterranean at Malta.[6]

The commanders and commands in 1957 were:[7]

The initial plans saw the defence of Western Europe from a Soviet invasion resting heavily on nuclear weapons ('Massive retaliation'), with conventional forces merely acting as a 'tripwire.'[8] The policy enunciated in Military Committee document MC14/1, issued in December 1952,[9] saw the defence of Germany as principally a delaying action, to allow a line of resistance to be established along the lines of the IJssel and Rhine rivers. The conventional forces would attempt to hold this line while the allied strategic air forces defeated the Soviets and their allies by destroying their economy and infrastructure.

What this strategy meant for the land battle in the central region was described for publicity purposes in January 1954 by then-Supreme Allied Commander Europe General Alfred Gruenther as:[10]

We have... an air-ground shield which, although still not strong enough, would force an enemy to concentrate prior to attack. In doing so, the concentrating force would be extremely vulnerable to losses from atomic weapon attacks... We can now use atomic weapons against an aggressor, delivered not only by long-range aircraft, but also by the use of shorter range planes, and by 280 mm. artillery... This air-ground team constitutes a very effective shield, and it would fight very well in case of attack.[10]

In 1957, SACEUR General Lauris Norstad, USAF, noting the numerical superiority of Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces over NATO ground forces, called for "about 30 divisions” to augment NATO’s central European front.[11] That year Allied Command Europe carried out Operation Counter Punch, which involved AFCENT forces on the European mainland, and two other major military exercises in September 1957. Operation Strikeback was a series of multilateral naval exercises that concentrated on NATO's eastern Atlantic/northern European flank. Operation Deep Water involved NATO carrier and amphibious assault forces operating along NATO's southern flank in the Mediterranean Sea.[12][13]

To improve alliance military readiness and integration, NATO continued to hold annual alliance-wide military exercises each autumn (FALLEX) that was jointly planned and executed by SACEUR and SACLANT forces.[14]

From 1967 however, under 'flexible response,' the aim became to build up conventional forces so that, if possible, nuclear weapons might not be needed. However it was made clear that first use of nuclear weapons might be necessary if the conventional defences were being overwhelmed. Eventually SACEUR was allocated planning control of a small number of US and all the British ballistic missile submarines,[15] and some 7,000 tactical nuclear weapons were deployed in Europe.[16]

Relocation to Belgium

One of the most significant events in the history of Allied Command Europe (ACE) was France’s withdrawal from NATO’s integrated military structure. This move forced SHAPE and several other ACE headquarters to leave French territory.[17] France's resentment over NATO’s military structure had been brewing for a number of years, as successive French governments had become increasingly incensed with Anglo-American domination of the command structure[18] and insufficient French influence. In February 1966 President Charles de Gaulle stated that the changed world order had "stripped NATO of its justification" for military integration, and soon afterward, France stated that it was withdrawing from the NATO military structure. SHAPE and all the other NATO installations, including NATO Headquarters and Allied Forces Central Europe (AFCENT), were informed that they must leave French territory by April 1967.

Belgium became the host nation for both NATO's political headquarters and SHAPE. General Lyman Lemnitzer, SACEUR at the time, had hoped that SHAPE could be located near to NATO Headquarters, as had been the case in Paris, but the Belgian authorities decided that SHAPE should be located at least 50 kilometres from Brussels, NATO’s new location, because SHAPE was a major wartime military target.[19] The Belgian government offered Camp Casteau, a 2 km² Belgian Army summer training camp near Mons, which was an area in serious need of additional economic investment. In September 1966, NATO agreed that Belgium should host SHAPE at Casteau. SHAPE closed its facility at Rocquencourt near Paris on 30 March 1967, and the next day held a ceremony to mark the opening of the new headquarters at Casteau.

The drawdown of the British Mediterranean Fleet, the military difficulties of the politically-decided command structure, and the withdrawal of the French from the military command structure forced a rearrangement of the command arrangements in the southern region. Allied Forces Mediterranean was disbanded on 5 June 1967, and all forces in the south and the Mediterranean assigned to AFSOUTH in Naples.[20] This left SHAPE and Allied Command Europe with three commands: AFNORTH covering Norway and Denmark, AFCENT most of Germany, and AFSOUTH Italy, Turkey, Greece, and the rest of the southern region.

The 1970s and After

The headquarters' new home in Mons, Belgium, was the center of international attention from time to time as new Supreme Allied Commanders came and went, with one of the more notable being General Alexander M. Haig, Jr. Haig, who had retired from military service in order to serve as White House Chief of Staff for President Richard Nixon during the depths of the Watergate crisis, was abruptly installed as SACEUR after Watergate's denouement. A creature of habit, Haig took the same route to SHAPE every day – a pattern of behavior that did not go unnoticed by terrorist groups. On June 25, 1979, Haig was the apparent target of an assassination attempt in Mons, Belgium. A land mine blew up under the bridge on which Haig's car was traveling, narrowly missing Haig's car, but wounding three of his bodyguards in a following car.[21] Authorities later attributed responsibility for the attack to the Red Army Faction (RAF). Haig's successor, General Bernard Rogers, became somewhat of an institution in Europe as the former U.S. Army chief of staff occupied the office for nearly eight years; a brief outcry arose from the other NATO capitals when Rogers was slated for retirement by the U.S. administration in 1987.

Command Structure 1982

Source: IISS Military Balance 1981-82, p. 25 ACE in 1986 had three major subordinate commands (MSCs), one each for Northern, Central, and Southern Europe, as well as smaller commands.

  • Allied Forces Southern Europe HQ Naples, Italy
    • Allied Land Forces Southern Europe Verona, Italy
    • Allied Land Forces Southeastern Europe Izmir, Turkey
    • Allied Air Forces Southern Europe Naples, Italy
    • Naval Striking and Support Forces, Southern Europe Naples
    • Allied Naval Forces Southern Europe Naples, Italy
      • Maritime Air Forces Mediterranean
      • Submarine Force Mediterranean
      • Naval On-Call Force Mediterranean
      • Commander Western Mediterranean
      • Commander Central Mediterranean
      • Commander Eastern Mediterranean
      • Commander Northeastern Mediterranean

After much discussion within the Alliance, ACE's three-command system was reduced to two commands after 1996, one for north of the Alps and one for south of the Alps. The United States had wished to retain three commands, arguing that 'the span of control might be excessive.'[22] It was feared by Pentagon officials at the time that if the two-command structure was adopted, some functions at the MSC level would have had to be moved 'downward' in the new structure. But while the United States eventually had to give in on a reduction to two commands, it was successful in that a European officer was not placed in charge of the new southern command (now Allied Joint Force Command Naples), a move which France and Germany supported. Despite French President Jacques Chirac exchanging letters with Bill Clinton personally over the issue in September–October 1997,[23] the United States stood firm and today an American admiral remains in charge of the Naples command.[24]

An early retirement again disrupted the Mons headquarters in 2000 as General Wesley Clark was shunted aside in favor of Air Force general Joseph Ralston. Although the move was publicly characterized as a purely administrative move necessitated by Clark's approaching retirement and the lack of an open four-star slot for the highly respected Ralston [a reality which would have compelled him to either accept a temporary demotion to two-star rank or retire from the service], Clark's relief has been often seen as a slap at the general on the part of a Pentagon leadership that had been very much at odds with him during the Kosovo war the previous spring.[25]

In 2003, a French flag was set up in the SHAPE headquarters in Mons following the return, after almost forty years, of French military officers to the HQ.[26] Fifteen French military officers, including General Jean-Jacques Bart, work there, of a total amount of 1,100 personnel.[26] They are however considered as "inserted," and not as "integrated," as they can not be ordered to move without previous French approval.[26]

Structure today

Main building at SHAPE
The NATO logo displayed on a roundabout at SHAPE, 2009

Today Allied Command Operations (ACO), is one of the two supreme commands of NATO (the other being Allied Command Transformation, ACT).

There are three main headquarters under Allied Command Operations:

Between 2003 and 2006, a new category of forces, the NATO Force Structure, was created, principally to improve the flexibility and reach of land forces. The structure incorporates six "NATO Rapid Deployable Corps headquarters,"[27] and two lower readiness land headquarters. Three naval headquarters are also part of this structure, with two other naval headquarters, contributed by France and the USA, also affiliated. Formed from October 2003, the NATO Rapidly Deployable Corps are designated High Readiness Forces (HRF), designed to be able to react on short notice. Although these forces can not deploy on five days warning like the NATO Response Force (NRF), they have a longer than 30 days sustainment capability in combat than the NRF.

The Multinational Corps Northeast (MNC NE) headquartered in Szczecin, Poland, is seen along with the downgraded Greek NRD, as the third echelon deployable force in the NATO rapid deployment capability. The Eurocorps HQ, in Strasbourg, France, is nominally an EU force with a technical agreement linking it to NATO.

Certification of the following High Readiness Forces (Maritime) Headquarters took place in 2004:[30]

Naval Striking and Support Force NATO (STRIKFORNATO), homeported at Gaeta, Italy, whose lead nation is the USA, is commanded by Commander United States Sixth Fleet, and is also part of the NATO Force Structure. STRIKFORNATO is the only command capable of leading an expanded maritime task force.[31] The final formation is Commander French Maritime Forces, initially aboard the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle but now aboard the amphibious ship Mistral. The French naval component is drawn from the Force d'Action Navale, the French Navy's surface fleet.

Island Commander, Iceland, remains in existence as a detachment of HQ ACO,[32] as does Allied Submarine Command, a NATO command based on the United States Navy's ComSubLant. A special operations coordination centre and an intelligence fusion centre have also recently been formed within SHAPE.

As more capable rapid reaction forces were established, earlier 'fire brigades,' including the Allied Command Europe (ACE) Mobile Force - Land (AMF(L), were disbanded; AMF(L) was disbanded on 30 or 31 October 2002.[33]

SHAPE's Structure

In addition to this Allied Command Operations has at its disposal standing forces such as:

  • NATO Airborne Early Warning Force (NAEWF)
  • Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 (SNMG1)[34]
  • Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2)
  • Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 1 (SNMCMG1)
  • Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 2 (SNMCMG2)

Airlift support for SACEUR's travels is provided by the USAF's 309th Airlift Squadron at Chièvres Air Base, Belgium.

Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR)

Since 2003 the Supreme Allied Commander Europe has also served as the head of Allied Command Europe and the head of Allied Command Operations.

Name Photo Branch Term began Term ended
1. General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower EisenhowerChiefofStaffPortrait.jpg U.S. Army April 2, 1951 May 30, 1952
2. General Matthew Ridgway Matthew Ridgway.jpg U.S. Army May 30, 1952 July 11, 1953
3. General Alfred Gruenther GenGruenther NATO.jpg U.S. Army July 1, 1953 November 20, 1956
4. General Lauris Norstad Lauris Norstad NATO photo.jpg U.S. Air Force November 20, 1956 January 1, 1963
5. General Lyman Lemnitzer Lyman L. Lemnitzer.jpg U.S. Army January 1, 1963 July 1, 1969
6. General Andrew Goodpaster Andrew Goodpaster NATO photo.jpg U.S. Army July 1, 1969 December 15, 1974
7. General Alexander M. Haig, Jr. Alexander Haig DF-ST-84-00129.jpg U.S. Army December 15, 1974 July 1, 1979
8. General Bernard W. Rogers Bernard W. Rogers.jpg U.S. Army July 1, 1979 June 26, 1987
9. General John Galvin John Galvin, official military photo, 1991.JPEG U.S. Army June 26, 1987 June 23, 1992
10. General John Shalikashvili John Shalikashvili.jpg U.S. Army June 23, 1992 October 22, 1993
11. General George Joulwan George Joulwan, official military photo, 1991.JPEG U.S. Army October 22, 1993 July 11, 1997
12. General Wesley Clark General Wesley Clark official photograph.jpg U.S. Army July 11, 1997 May 3, 2000
13. General Joseph Ralston Joseph Ralston, official military photo.jpg U.S. Air Force May 3, 2000 January 17, 2003
14. General James L. Jones James L. Jones 2.jpg U.S. Marine Corps January 17, 2003 December 7, 2006
15. General Bantz J. Craddock Bantz J. Craddock EUCOM.jpg U.S. Army December 7, 2006 July 2, 2009
16. Admiral James G. Stavridis Stavridis EUCOM.jpg U.S. Navy July 2, 2009 Present

Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe (Deputy SACEUR)

The position of deputy head of Allied Command Europe, since 2003 deputy head of Allied Command Operations has been held by the following officers. From January 1978 until June 1993 there were two Deputy SACEURs, one British and one German, but from July 1993 this reverted to a single Deputy SACEUR.

Name Photo Branch Term began Term ended
1. Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery Bernard Law Montgomery.jpg British Army April 2, 1951 September 23, 1958
2. General Sir Richard Gale Gale.jpg British Army September 23, 1958 September 22, 1960
3. General Sir Hugh Stockwell Hugh Stockwell.jpg British Army September 22, 1960 January 1, 1964
4. Marshal of the RAF Sir Thomas Pike Kammhuber and Pike.jpg Royal Air Force January 1, 1964 March 1, 1967
5. General Sir Robert Bray General RNHC Bray GBE KCB DSO.jpg British Army March 1, 1967 December 1, 1970
6. General Sir Desmond Fitzpatrick British Army December 1, 1970 November 12, 1973
7. General Sir John Mogg British Army November 12, 1973 March 12, 1976
8. General Sir Harry Tuzo British Army March 12, 1976 November 2, 1978
9. General Gerd Schmückle German Army January 3, 1978 April 1, 1980
10. General Sir Jack Harman British Army November 2, 1978 April 9, 1981
11. Admiral Günter Luther German Navy April 1, 1980 April 1, 1982
12. Air Chief Marshal Sir Peter Terry Royal Air Force April 9, 1981 July 16, 1984
13. General Günter Kießling Guenter Kiessling.jpg German Army April 1, 1982 April 2, 1984
14. General Hans-Joachim Mack German Army April 2, 1984 October 1, 1987
15. General Sir Edward Burgess British Army July 16, 1984 June 26, 1987
16. General Sir John Akehurst British Army June 26, 1987 January 17, 1990
17. General Eberhard Eimler German Air Force October 1, 1987 October 2, 1990
18. General Sir Brian Kenny British Army January 17, 1990 April 5, 1993
19. General Dieter Clauss German Army October 2, 1990 July 1, 1993
20. General Sir John Waters British Army April 5, 1993 December 12, 1994
21. General Sir Jeremy Mackenzie British Army December 12, 1994 November 30, 1998
22. General Sir Rupert Smith British Army November 30, 1998 September 17, 2001
23. General Dieter Stöckmann Dieter Stockmann.jpg German Army September 17, 2001 September 18, 2002
24. Admiral Rainer Feist German Navy September 18, 2002 October 1, 2004
25. General Sir John Reith British Army October 1, 2004 October 22, 2007
26. General Sir John McColl John McColl.jpg British Army October 22, 2007 March 2011
27. General Sir Richard Shirreff British Army March 2011 Incumbent
Flags of the Nato countries in front of SHAPE (Maisières - Belgium - 2006).


  1. ^ SHAPE, 7010 Casteau Belgium "SHAPE on NATO homepage". Retrieved 2006-03-12. 
  2. ^ NATO, History of SHAPE and Allied Command Operations, updated 14 March 2007
  3. ^ Brian L. Davis, NATO Forces: An Illustrated Reference to their Organization and Insignia, Blandford Press, London, 1988, p.20
  4. ^ "Chapter 7 – The Military Structure – Allied Command Europe". NATO the first five years 1949–1954. NATO. Retrieved 17 June 2011. 
  5. ^ "Appendix 1 – Chronicle". NATO the first five years 1949–1954. NATO. Retrieved 3 September 2008. 
  6. ^ Lord Ismay, NATO: The First Five Years 1949-54, Chart 9: Allied Command Europe July 1954
  7. ^ "Who is who at NATO" (PDF). NATO. Retrieved 3 October 2008. 
  8. ^ David C. Isby & Charles Kamps Jr, Armies of NATO's Central Front, Jane's Publishing Company Ltd 1985, p.15, ISBN 0 7016 0341 X
  9. ^ For the original document see NATO, Military Committee 14/1. Retrieved June 2008.
  10. ^ a b "Chapter 9". NATO the first five years 1949–1954. NATO. Retrieved 3 November 2008. "Chapter IX-B". NATO the first five years 1949–1954. NATO. Retrieved 3 November 2008. 
  11. ^ "Emergency Call". TIME. September 30, 1957.,9171,891351,00.html. Retrieved 2008-11-03. 
  12. ^ "Emergency Call". Time. 30 September 1957.,9171,891351,00.html. Retrieved 3 October 2008. 
  13. ^ "All Ashore". Time. 7 October 1957.,9171,809962,00.html. Retrieved 7 November 2008. 
  14. ^ John Clearwater. Canadian Nuclear Weapons: The Untold Story of Canada's Cold War Arsenal, p. 121
  15. ^ IISS Military Balance 1982, p.24
  16. ^ 'US Security Issues in Europe,' 93rd Congress, 1973, p.13, cited in William Park 'Defending the West,' Wheatsheaf Books, 1986, p.30
  17. ^ NATO, Original SHAPE relocation article, verified August 2008
  18. ^ Sean Maloney, To Secure Command of the Sea, University of New Brunswick thesis, 1991, clearly depicts the predominance of US and UK officers in senior command positions
  19. ^ See also L. James Binder, Lemnitzer: A Soldier For His Time
  20. ^ Franco Veltri, AFSOUTH 1951-2004: Over Fifty Years Working for Peace and Stability, AFSOUTH, April 2004
  21. ^ "German Guilty in '79 Attack At NATO on Alexander Haig". The New York Times. November 25, 1993. 
  22. ^ Barbara Starr, 'Allies want a simplified command for Europe,' Jane's Defence Weekly, 16 October 1996, p.6
  23. ^ Cevik, Ilnur (1996-12-13). "Turkey eyes French-US NATO command debate with concern". Turkish Daily News. Archived from the original on 2008-11-13. 
  24. ^ For an American view of this dispute, see Ronald Tiersky, French Gamesmanship and the Future of the Alliance: The Case of Allied Forces Southern Europe, NDU/INSS, 1997
  25. ^ Sydney Blumenthal, The Clinton Wars, New York, Plume, 2003, p.650-1, cited in Dale R. Herspring, The Pentagon and the Presidency, University Press of Kansas, 2005, p.372-3. See also General's Early Exit Upsets NATO by Joseph Fitchett for the International Herald Tribune on July 29, 1999. Retrieved February 3, 2007.
  26. ^ a b c Arnaud De La Grange, La France amorce un "mouvement" vers l’Otan, Le Figaro, 26 September 2007 (French)
  27. ^ NATO, NATO's New Command Structure, verified September 2008
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^ International Military Staff, The New NATO Force Structure, updated 2006, verified September 2008
  31. ^ Naval Striking and Support Force NATO, Factsheet: High Readiness Force. Retrieved September 2008.
  32. ^ MC 324/1 “NATO Military Command Structure”, 2003
  33. ^ NATO, NATO Press Release (2002)098 - 12 August 2002
  34. ^ AMCC-Northwood, History of Standing NATO Maritime Group 1, verified September 2008
  35. ^ List of Former SACEURs

Further reading

  • Jordan, Robert S. Norstad: Cold War NATO Supreme Commander—Airman, Strategist, Diplomat St. Martin's Press, 2000. 350 pp.
  • Lt. Col. William A. Knowlton, Early Stages in the Organization of SHAPE, International Organization, Volume 13, No.1, Winter 1959
  • Jane's NATO Handbook Edited by Bruce George, 1990, Jane's Information Group ISBN 978-0-7106-0598-6
  • Jane's NATO Handbook Edited by Bruce George, 1991, Jane's Information Group ISBN 978-0-7106-0976-2

External links

Coordinates: 50°29′57.70″N 3°59′1.95″E / 50.499361°N 3.983875°E / 50.499361; 3.983875

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