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Cold War NATO Army Groups

A particularly important development was SHAPE's announcement in September 1963 that NATO's first line of defense was being moved forward to the demarcation line dividing the FRG from the GDR and Czechoslovakia. With this change, which had been approved only grudgingly by Britain ane France, NATO officially committed itself to a forward defense of all of the FRG's territory in ways that precluded an early resort to the fluid, mobile, retreat-oriented tactics of the 1950s.

The United States traded endorsement of forward defense for the FRG's support of flexible respone. While the new doctrine called for a strong defenseeffort at the inter-German border, it did not mandate the use of nuclear weapons until Soviet forces had ruptured NATO's frontal positions and had advanced far enough tobegin approaching the rear boundary of NATO's forward corps sectors. This concept placed the point of escalation somewhere in the vicinity of the Weser-Lech river line, the same line that had previously been the location of NATO's defense positions, and therefore the escalation trigger, under the old doctrine.

In the 1950s, the French Army had been responsible for helping defend the area where West Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia met, the least dangerous area in West Germany. Consistent with the "Weser-Lech" concept at the time, their defense positions were located well in the rear areas about one-half the distance between the inter-German border and the Rhine River. When NATO's forward defense concept was moved forward, the French declined to shift their defense positions into the frontal zone. In 1963, the French declined to assign their Army's newly created First Corps to NATO (the already-existing Second Corps remained under NATO command).

NATO's peacetime posture by this time was beginning to approach the 30-division level that had long been mandated by official force goals for a nuclear strategy. But the Germans now insisted that the new doctrine would require 35-40 divisions. France's withdrawal from NATO's integrated military structure in March 1966 complicated NATO's defense plans by removing, on paper, several divisions that were important to the conventional defense. Although France remained in the Alliance itself, NATO's forces, headquarters, and logistic facilities in France were compelled to leave French soil. Meanwhile French forces were entirely removed from assignment under SACEUR's command.

During the Cold War a German four-star officer commanded Allied Forces Central Europe (AFCENT), stretching some 700 kilometers from the Elbe River in the north to the Austrian border in the south. Immediately subordinate to him were the Northern and Central Army Groups (NORTHAG and CENTAG) and Allied Air Forces Central Europe (AAFCE), with its subordinate 2nd and 4th Allied Tactical Air Forces (ATAF).

In Germany the British commanded the Northern Army Group (NORTHAG) (Rheindalen, Germany) the US commanded the "Central Army Group" (CENTAG) (Kassel, Germany). When deGaulle withdrew France from NATO Military Command in the 1960's the Central Front in Germany was weakened when most of the Southern Army Group (SOUTHAG) disappeared back into France. American, West German, and Canadian ground and air forces were concentrated on the right flank of the Central front, while French forces were in the southwestern region. In the course of operational and combat exercises, they closely coordinate with Joint NATO armed forces. The commander of French forces in the FRG, Corps General Ude, declared that training in the 1980s had been conducted with the goal of significantly increasing the possibility of conducting joint operations with the Bundeswehr. In his words, such closeness was "necessary to ensure the necessary merging of French forces into NATO operations in the event of a crisis."

During the Cold War, integration of NATO land forces in the Central Region was effected at the national corps level by two Army Groups: Northern Army Group (NORTHAG), which included the British Army On The Rhine (BAOR), and Central Army Group (CENTAG). These two Principal Subordinate Commanders (PSCs) had only limited peacetime authorities, and issues such as training, doctrine, logistics, rules of engagement (ROE), etc., were largely a national, rather than Alliance, responsibility. Boundaries between them extend along the line Gottingen (FRG)-Liege (Belgium). The area of responsibility ws bounded on the north by the Elba River.

By World War II standards these two formations were only armies, as they contained four corps each. NORTHAG consisted, from north to south, of I Netherlands Corps (I (NE) Corps), I German Corps (I (GE) Corps), I (BR) Corps, and I Belgian Corps (I (BE) Corps). Its commander was the British commander of the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR). CENTAG consisted, from north to south, of III GE Corps, V US Corps, VII US Corps, and II (GE) Corps in the extreme south of the Federal Republic of Germany. The commander of the U.S. Army Europe and Seventh Army commanded CENTAG.

Western European forces held most of the responsibility for defending the West German border - six of the eight corps sectors. They also hold most of the forces which were deployed or are planned to be deployed from the beginning of the war in the Central Region. Allied ground forces in the 1980s totaled roughly 600,000 men against 200,000 U.S. troops. Allied air forces had more than 1,000 aircraft compared to approximately 300 U.S. aircraft. Allied countries also maintain substantial additional active forces and reserves. Although many of these forces are not officially committed to the Central Region, they presumably would have been used in a NATO war. France, which withdrew from the military alliance in 1966 but still maintains forces which would presumably be used for the defense of CENTAG, is included in these counts.

Three land corridors cut across the Iron Curtain from Warsaw Pact countries into West Germany, which was AFCENT's forward line of defense. The most dangerous avenue, tailor-made for armored thrusts, traversed the North German Plain over first-rate highways and rolling farmlands that facilitated cross-country movement, whereas rough, wooded terrain farther south generally restricted vehicular traffic to the Fulda Gap, which points toward Frankfurt-am-Main, and to the Hof Corridor which heads for Munich.

Although NATO military authorities designed this layer cake concept, severalarguments were directed against it. NATO's dispositions athwart those three approaches resulted from historical accidents rather than design, because British, French, and U.S. areas of responsibility generally paralleled their respective occupation zones at the end of World War II and all Allied forces took full advantage of West German peacetime garrisons. It left the powerful U.S.Army in southern Germany and entrusted the defense of the more dangerous northernareas to presumably less capable Allied forces.

Northern Army Group (NORTHAG) covered the crucial North German Plain with four corps, of which the Netherlands, West Germany, Britain, and Belgium provided one apiece. Central Army Group (CENTAG), in sharp contrast, was positioned on far more defensible terrain and possessed far greater combat power that included two U.S. corps, two more that belonged to the West German Bundeswehr, and a Canadian mechanized brigade in reserve. Defense of the Fulda Gap might best have rested with a single command, but German and U.S. Army formations shared responsibility for that high-speed approach, which straddled the boundary between them. Such maldeployments were militarily unsound, but no adjustments of much consequence took place before the Cold War ended, because exchanges would have weakened defenses while in progress, diplomatic objections were discouraging, and moving costs would have been enormous.

Instead of enhancing the effectiveness of the defense, the NATO intelligence system - which exists more by accident than design - seemed to offer more opportunities for dysfunction than for positive support of the enterprise. In the corps sectors of the less well endowed nations, allied forces charged with serious defensive responsibilities have little intelligence support and no way to connect with the US system to enhance their combat effectiveness. Not only is the operational command system virtually blind, but the subordinate national entities have intelligence capabilities so varied as to promote conflicting views of the battlefield among the various national and international headquarters.

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Page last modified: 03-02-2019 19:05:33 ZULU