The Supreme Allied Headquarters (SHAPE) was established on 2 April 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 June 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 Commander Allied Powers 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-December 1950, the Allies asked President Truman to nominate a candidate for SACEUR. He agreed to nominate General Eisenhower as the first Supreme Commander Allied Powers 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 2 April 1951. It comprised 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 23 July 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 21 February 1966, President de Gaulle publicly stated he intended to radically alter France's participation in the Atlantic Alliance. Shortly after, on 10 March 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 1 April 1967.
In mid-September, the Belgian govermnent agreed to build by 1 April 1967, adequate buildings to accommodate SHAPE's immediate occupancy and operational needs, and complete other construction by 1 September 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 autoroute 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 14 October 1966. The first building to be completed was the Communications Centre on 15 December 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 22 November 1966. On 30 March 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 8 September 1967, and the last household goods were transferred on 14 December 1967.