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NATO Commands

Command Structure | Multinational Reaction Forces | Northern Army Group 

Benelux Channel Command (NL)NATO Airborne Early Warning ForceNore Channel Command (UK)Allied Forces Southern Europe (US)Allied Land Forces South-Eastern Europe (TU)Fifth Allied Tactical Air Force (IT)ACE Mobile Force1 Canadian Air Group, Canadian Forces EuropeUnited States Air Force Europe (USAFE)German Air Force (GAF)United States Air Force Europe (USAFE)Belgian Air Force (BAF)Royal Air Force Germany (RAFG)German Air Force (GAF)II (GE) Corps4 (CA) Mechanized Brigade GroupAllied Air Forces Central Europe (US)Allied Forces Northern Europe (UK)Allied Command Europe (US)V (US) CorpsIII (GE) CorpsCentral Army Group (US)Allied Forces North Norway (NO)1 (BE) Corps2nd (US) Armored Division (Forward)I (GE) CorpsSecond Allied Tactical Air Force (UK)Allied Forces Baltic Approaches (DA/GE)Carrier Striking Group Two (US)Submarine Forces Command Eastern Atlantic Area (UK)Island Command Faroes (DA)Standing Naval Force AtlanticIsland Command Iceland (US)Maritime Air Command Central Sub-Area (UK)Central Sub-Area Command (UK)Striking Fleet / Special Task Forces (when assigned)Maritime Air Command Northern Sub-Area (UK)Iberian Atlantic Command (PO)Submarine Allied Command Atlantic (US)Western Atlantic Command (US)United Kingdom Air Forces Command / Royal Air Force Strike Command (UK)Allied Command Channel (UK)Standing Naval Force ChannelAllied Naval Forces Southern Europe (IT)Naval Striking and Support Forces Southern Europe (US)Maritime Air Command Nore Channel (UK)Allied Air Forces Southern Europe (IT)Sixth Allied Tactical Air Force (TU)Maritime Air Command Plymouth Channel (UK)Plymouth Channel Command (UK)Channel Committee (BE/NL/UK)1 (BR) CorpsIII (US) CorpsNorthern Army Group (UK)Maritime Air Command Eastern Atlantic Area (UK)Eastern Atlantic Command (UK)Striking Fleet Atlantic (US)Carrier Striking Group One (US)Northern Sub-Area Command (UK)Fourth Allied Tactical Air Force (GE)Carrier Striking Force (US)International Military StaffAllied Command Atlantic (US)VII (US) CorpsAllied Forces South Norway (NO)Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF)1 (NL) CorpsMilitary CommitteeAllied Land Forces Southern Europe (IT)Allied Forces Central Europe (GE)Allied Maritime Air Force Channel Command (UK)  
Command Structure 1

The organisational chart above outlines the NATO military command structure in 1985. Pointing your mouse to a field will display the name of the command in full, with the nationality of its commander in parentheses, abbreviated in the contemporary two-letter NATO country codeSome fields have a drop shadow, which indicates the presence of subordinate commands or forces not shown here. The fields with a double outline mark NATO's three major military commands:
  • Allied Command Atlantic (ACLANT), headed by Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic (SACLANT) and headquartered in Norfolk, United States;
  • Allied Command Europe (ACE), headed by Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), whose headquarters, designated Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), were located in Casteau, Belgium; 
  • Allied Command Channel (ACCHAN), headed by Commander-in-Chief Channel (CINCHAN), headquartered in Northwood, United Kingdom. CINCHAN was also Commander-in-Chief Eastern Atlantic Area (CINCEASTLANT).2
The four Allied Tactical Air Forces (ATAFs) would support the allied ground forces indicated by the upward arrows. It will further be noted that the army corps provided by the United Kingdom was designated '1st British Corps', abbreviated '1 (BR) Corps' rather than '1 (UK) Corps'.

The highest military authority in NATO was the Military Committee (MC). It was composed of the chiefs-of-staff of the member nations (with the exception of Iceland and France);3 for the Netherlands this was the Chief of the Defence Staff (Chef Defensiestaf).4 The chiefs-of-staff would meet at least twice a year, or whenever deemed necessary. To enable the MC to function on a continuous basis with effective powers of decision, each chief-of-staff appointed a permanent military representative in the rank of lieutenant-general or equivalent rank.5 The chairman of the MC was elected by the chiefs-of-staff for a period of three years; in 1985 this was a Netherlands general.6      

The International Military Staff (IMS
) formed the executive agency of the MC. It was headed by a director in the rank of lieutenant-general or equivalent rank, selected from the member nations. The director was assisted by a secretary and six assistant-directors, each heading one of six divisions: Intelligence; Plans and Policy; Operations; Logistics and Resources; Command, Control and Communication Systems; and Armaments, Standardisation and Interoperability. <  

Multinational Reaction Forces

The armed forces of member countries normally remained under national command in peacetime, with the exception of air defence forces and four integrated multinational reaction forces:
  • Standing Naval Force Atlantic (STANAVFORLANT);
  • ACE Mobile Force (AMF);
  • NATO Airborne Early Warning Force (NAEWF);
  • Standing Naval Force Channel (STANAVFORCHAN).
These forces (displayed in purple in the chart above) were meant to provide a quick reaction to emerging crises as well as a display of allied solidarity and military integration.7

STANAVFORLANT was a permanent peacetime naval squadron that usually included five destroyers or frigates, one each from Canada, West Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States, with periodic additions from Belgium, Denmark, Norway and Portugal. In wartime the squadron would be disbanded
.8 The Netherlands contribution to STANAVFORLANT in 1985 comprised, subsequently, the Kortenaer class frigates Hr.Ms. Jan van Brakel and Hr.Ms. Pieter Florisz.9 STANAVFORLANT normally fell under the command of SACLANT but was detached to CINCEASTLANT when operating in European waters.10 Squadron command rotated annually between the regular contributing navies, passing from a West German to a British captain in April 1985.11

AMF was an on-call task force, comprising a land and an air component, AMF(L) and AMF(A) respectively. It was primarily intended for deployment at ACE's 
northern and southern flanks: northern Norway and Denmark; and Italy, Greece and Turkey respectively. Though available at relatively short notice, most units assigned to AMF were stationed in their home countries and would, following a request from SACEUR, first have to assemble and move to the deployment area. The brigade-sized land component consisted chiefly of light infantry battalions from Belgium, Canada, West Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the United Kingdom and the United States, most of which were specialised in airborne operations and mountain or arctic warfare.12 Command over AMF(L) normally rotated every three years, being held by a Canadian major-general in 1985.13 The air component did not have a permanent commander or headquarters; when activated in support of AMF(L) it would be placed under the operational control of the local ATAF or Regional Air Commander. AMF(A) consisted of seven squadrons, one each from the Belgian, Canadian, West German, Italian, Netherlands, British and United States air forces.14 The Netherlands contribution to AMF(A) was 314 Squadron, equipped with NF-5 fighter aircraft. It was deployed to Denmark or Norway at least three weeks a year to exercise with other AMF units.15

NAEWF was a multinational force operating a fleet of 18 Boeing E-3A 
Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft (AWACS), the command position of which was held alternately by the West German and United States air forces; in 1985 the Force Commander was a West German major-general.16 Operational command over NAEWF was shared between SACEUR, SACLANT and CINCHAN, with SACEUR acting as executive agent.17

STANAVFORCHAN was a permanent naval squadron consisting 
of mine-countermeasure vessels of the Belgian, West German, Netherlands and British navies, with occasional contributions from Denmark, Norway and the United States.18 In 1985 the Netherlands contribution to STANAVFORCHAN subsequently comprised the mine-countermeasure vessels Hr.Ms. Ommen and Hr.Ms. Sittard, Hr.Ms. Delfzijl, and Hr.Ms. Haarlem.19 Command rotated annually between the Belgian, British and Netherlands navies, passing from the British to the Netherlands navy in May 1985.20 <

Northern Army Group

The Northern Army Group (NORTHAG), headed by Commander, Northern Army Group (COMNORTHAG), was part of Allied Forces Central Europe (AFCENT), headed by Commander-in-Chief Allied Forces Central Europe (CINCENT), which in turn fell under the ACE major military command. COMNORTHAG's area of military responsibility comprised the northern half of West Germany, as shown on the map below. For the defence of this area the following forces would be placed under his operational command in wartime:
  • 1 (NL) Corps, headquartered in Apeldoorn, Netherlands;
  • 2 (US) Armored Division (Forward), the brigade-sized forward-deployed element of III (US) Corps, headquartered in Garlstedt in the Netherlands corps sector;
  • I (GE) Corps, headquartered in Münster;22
  • 1 (BR) Corps, headquartered in Bielefeld;23
  • 1 (BE) Corps, headquartered in Junkersdorf, near Köln.
III (US) Corps, headquartered in Fort Hood, Texas, was earmarked for deployment to the NORTHAG area as strategic reserve for AFCENT. This corps would subsequently deploy 2 (US) Armored Division in the rear of 1 (NL) Corps as reserve force for NORTHAG.24

COMNORTHAG was a British general who was also commander-in-chief of the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR), of which 1 (BR) Corps was the main component.25 BAOR headquarters was co-located with that of NORTHAG in Mönchengladbach-Rheindalen, West Germany. The Second Allied Tactical Air Force (TWOATAF), which would support the operations of NORTHAG, was also headquartered in Mönchengladbach-Rheindalen.26

The map below shows the NORTHAG area of responsibility, with its four national corps sectors and the peacetime locations of the relevant major headquarters. In the north the Netherlands corps sector formed the left flank of both NORTHAG and AFCENT, bordering with Allied Land Forces Schleswig-Holstein and Jutland (LANDJUT), a joined Danish-German command that fell under Allied Forces Baltic Approaches (BALTAP), which was subordinate to Allied Forces Northern Europe (AFNORTH). In the south NORTHAG bordered with AFCENT's Central Army Group (CENTAG).

The four national corps sectors together constituted NORTHAG's Forward Combat Zone. The area between the Forward Combat Zone and the Netherlands and Belgian borders formed the Rear Combat Zone, which fell under the responsibility of Northern Territorial Command (Territorialkommando Nord) (GE), headquartered in Mönchengladbach-Windberg. The national territories of the Netherlands and Belgium comprised AFCENT's Communications Zone, vital for all logistic support operations and reinforcements, both from those countries and from overseas.27 <

NORTHAG Area of Responsibility in West Germany, 1985 28
Staff Northern Territorial Command (GE) [Mönchengladbach-Windberg]Staff 1 (NL) CorpsHQ 2 (US) AD (Fwd)HQ 1 (BE) CorpsHQ 1 (BR) CorpsStaff I (GE) CorpsHQ Second Allied Tactical Air Force [Mönchengladbach-Rheindahlen]HQ Northern Army Group [Mönchengladbach-Rheindahlen]HQ North Atlantic Treaty OrganisationHQ Allied Forces Central EuropeHQ Allied Command Europe (SHAPE)1st German Corps sector (Forward Combat Zone)1st Belgian Corps sector (Forward Combat Zone)Central Army Group (CENTAG) area of responsibilityFRANCEAllied Forces Northern Europe (AFNORTH) area of responsibilityGERMAN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLICPOMCUS site for III (US) CorpsPOMCUS site for III (US) CorpsPOMCUS site for III (US) CorpsPOMCUS site for III (US) CorpsRear Combat ZoneRear Combat Zone1st British Corps sector (Forward Combat Zone)1st Netherlands Corps sector (Forward Combat Zone)Rear Combat ZoneNETHERLANDS (Communications Zone)BELGIUM (Communications Zone)
In the 1980s concerns over the forces available to COMNORTHAG had led the United States to undertake measures to improve the reaction speed of III (US) Corps.29 Being based in the United States (apart from the aforementioned forward-deployed element in Garlstedt) this corps would need to be transported across the Atlantic Ocean with all its heavy equipment before it would become available to CINCENT: a time-consuming and, once war would have broken out, hazardous affair. To counter this problem the US Army began to pre-position materiel in West Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands according to the POMCUS concept (Preposition of Materiel Configured in Unit Sets), which allowed troops to be flown in with airliners in a matter of hours, rather than having to travel by sea for ten days or more.30 During 1980-1981 a division's worth of equipment had thus been pre-postioned in Mönchengladbach, West-Germany, and in the following years two more Division Sets were stored in POMCUS-sites, one Division Set in Belgium and one in the Netherlands. The sites in the Netherlands, at Ter Apel, Coevorden, Vriezenveen and Brunssum, were or became operational in 1985.31 <

1. NATO Facts and Figures (1984), 101, 105, 107, 109. NATO Handbook, 35-39, 56-58. Cordesman, Central Region Forces, 14, 20, 24-25. Helfferich, Nederlandse Koninklijke, 140, 142. Isby and Kamps, Armies, 29, 32, 80, 86-87. Martin, Before the Day After, 12-15. Mechtersheimer und Barth, Militarisierungsatlas, 16-21. Miller, Cold War, 47-51, 238-240, 297. Bautista Jiménez, Los Mandos Operativos, 1121-1134.  Pedlow, NATO Command Structure, 4, 9-11. <
2. CINCHAN was assisted by the advisory and consultative Channel Committee (CHANCOM) which consisted of the naval chiefs-of-staff of Belgium, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. NATO Facts and Figures (1984), 111. <
3. France left the NATO integrated military structure in 1966, Iceland had no military forces. However, France was represented by the Chief of the French Military Mission to the MC, and Iceland could be represented by a civilian. NATO Handbook, 35. Miller, op. cit., 45-46. <
4. In 1985 this was General G.L.J. Huyser (Royal Army). HTK 1985-1986, Aanhangsel handelingen Tweede Kamer nr. 501. <
5. For the Netherlands this was Lieutenant-General B. Mus (Royal Air Force) in 1985. NATO Handbook, 9. <
6. General C. de Jager (Royal Army). Ibid. Miller, op. cit., 403. <
7. NATO Facts and Figures (1984), 140. NATO Handbook, 36. Isby and Kamps, op. cit., 32. Miller, op. cit., 172. There was also a Naval On-Call Force Mediterranean (NAVOCFORMED) which as the name implies was not a permanent force, its ships remaining under national command between exercises. In 1989 the regular contributors to this force were Greece, Italy, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States. NATO Facts and Figures (1989), 352. <
8. Schoonoord, Pugno, 215. <
9. Jaarboek KM 1985, 21, 109-111. <
10. Miller, op. cit., 172-173. <
11. Jaarboek KM 1984, 169. Smith, Thursday War. <
12. NATO Facts and Figures (1989), 351-352. Creasy, ACE Mobile Force, 17-19. Schultze, Freedom's Thunderbolt, 3. Regarding reaction speed, deployment of AMF(L) to Norway was estimated to take between two and six days. Lund, Don't Rock the Boat, 66. <
13. Anonymus,  NATO Senior Officials 1949-2001, 7. <
14. Creasy, ACE Mobile Force, 17. Note that this describes the situation in 1975; I have as yet not been able to retrieve more contemporary data. <
15. Helfferich, Nederlandse Koninklijke, 143. Helfferich, Squadrons (1983), 90. The squadron was frequently deployed to Bodo Air Force Base in Norway. In October 1988 the AMF role was passed on to 315 Squadron, by then equipped with F-16 fighter aircraft. Helfferich, Squadrons (1994), 152, 154, 156. <
16. Cordesman, op. cit., 113. Helfferich, Nederlandse Koninklijke, 151. Miller, op. cit., 296. West German NAEWF Commander in 1985: the position of NAEWF's E-3A Component Commander likewise alternated between a West German and American, but in reverse order to the position of NAEWF Commander (Van Harmelen en Hop, AWACS, 253); in 1985 the E-3A Component Commander was an American brigadier-general. NATO website, E-3A Component Commanders since 1981. <
17. NATO Facts and Figures (1989), 346. NATO Handbook, 37. <
18. NATO Facts and Figures (1984), 110-111, 140. NATO Facts and Figures (1989), 352. Cordesman, op. cit., 25. Hoole, Stan's Navy. Martin, op. cit., 14. Miller, op. cit., 173. These sources all disagree on which countries were the regular contributors to STANAVFORCHAN; after comparing I chose what seems most likely (Miller). <
19. Jaarboek KM 1985, 21-22, 124-126, 129-130. Jaarboek KM 1984, 217. During the NATO exercise Ocean Safari '85 (in September of that year) Hr.Ms. Maassluis, Hr. Ms. Naaldwijk and Hr. Ms. Naarden were added to STANAVFORCHAN. Jaarboek KM 1984, loc. cit. <
20. Hoole, op. cit. It may be that the West German navy participated in the command rotations as well, being a regular contributor to the force. The Netherlands commander taking over in May 1985 was Commander D.B. Sluijter. Jaarboek KM 1985, 22. <
21. Dragoner, Bundeswehr, Teil 2.1, 35. Isby and Kamps, op. cit., 29, 70, 195, 256, 373, 377-378, 455. Miller, op. cit., 238-240. <
22.For a detailed order of battle of I (GE) Corps in 1989, see Dragoner, op. cit., Teil 2.1, 36-89. <
23.For a detailed order of battle of 1 (BR) Corps in 1989, see Louis Vieuxbill, BAOR Order of Battle July 1989 (ebook, 2013). <
24.Isby and Kamps, op. cit., 455. Miller, op. cit., 239-240. For 2 (US) Armored Division (Forward) see also 41 Armoured Brigade, footnote 17. <
25. Anonymus, British Army Pocket Guide, 14-15. BAOR further included a small number of supporting units and the Berlin Infantry Brigade (stationed in West Berlin). Isby and Kamps, op. cit., 236, 256. 1 (BR) Corps was commanded by a General Officer Commanding-in-Chief who would serve in this role for about two years. From 1980 the CINCs 1 (BR) Corps would subsequently be assigned Commander-in-Chief BAOR / Commander NORTHAG for a similar period. Watson and Rinaldi, British Army in Germany, 143-144. <
26. Anonymus, British Army Pocket Guide, 14. Dragoner, op. cit., Beiheft Standortverzeichnis, 270-271. Isby and Kamps, op. cit, 256. Miller, op. cit., 238, 297. <
27. Communications Zone: "Rear part of theater of operations (behind but contiguous to the combat zone) which contains the lines of communications, establishments for supply and evacuation, and other agencies required for the immediate support and maintenance of the field forces." US Department of Defense Dictionary, 91. The Dutch term was "etappegebied". VR 2-1386, I-25. The role of the Netherlands and Belgian territories as AFCENT's Communications Zone became paramount when France left the NATO integrated military structure in 1966. Miller, op. cit., 246-247. Territorialkommando Nord responsible for NORTHAG's Rear Combat Zone: Isby and Kamps, op. cit., 228. Miller, op. cit., 240. For a detailed order of battle of this command see Dragoner, op. cit., Teil 2.2, 38-126. <
28. NL-HaNA 2.13.182, inv. nr. 584, slide D-24 "Bondgenootschappelijk vastgestelde verdedigingsgebieden", d.d. april 1984. British Army, SOHB 1988, 2. Hoffenaar en Schoenmaker, Met de blik, 164, 356. Isby and Kamps, op. cit., 15. < 
29. One of these concerns was the maldeployment and high mobilisation-dependency of 1 (NL) Corps; see 1 (NL) Corps, Maldeployment. <
30. Isby and Kamps, op. cit., 455. POMCUS was also known as POMS (Pre-positioned Organizational Materiel Storage). Roozenbeek, In dienst, 364. Transport by readily available sealift ships was estimated to take twelve to twenty-two days; transport by non-readily available ships (including requisitioned civilian ships) would take twenty-one to a hundred days. Martin, op. cit., 52. Under the POMCUS system transport by airliners was estimated to take one to three days, and eight to twelve days including warning time, preparation and deployment. Martin, loc. cit. Isby and Kamps, op. cit., 455. <
31. Roozenbeek, op. cit., 202. Hoffenaar en Schoenmaker give five rather than four, slightly different locations: Vlagtwedde, Coevorden, Vriezenveen, Brunssum and Eijgelshoven. Hoffenaar en Schoenmaker, op. cit., 347. The Royal Army's official order of battle also lists five sites, named slightly different again as Brunssum, Ter Apel, Coevorden, Vriezenveen and Eijgelshoven. NIMH 430, inv. nr. 54 (Slagorde KL stand 1 juli 1985). <

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