Contact Us   |    Join   |    Donate


NATO Naval Planning 1948-1954

Published in 1995
Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD
ISBN 1-55750-562-4
Reviewd by RADM Sam Packer, USN(Ret.)

This is a unique and interesting historical reference book, interesting more as a report of the convoluted development of the military organization of NATO in the early years than from the point of being a significant contribution to the bibliographic record of submarine-related material. Having said that, the book contains several references to submarine matters and a short Appendix which provides an assessment of the Soviet Submarine Threat, 1945-1956.

A useful contribution of this book is to detail the evolution of naval commands in the North Atlantic and Mediterranean, and to a lesser extent in other areas such as Korea and the Middle East, starting with the World War II days and continuing up to the mid 1950s. Added to this is mention of the changes which have taken place in NATO more recently. The author documents the changes, and relevant proposals which were discarded for a variety of reasons, discusses the interplay of political-military activities (with emphasis on the political), and provides insights of circumstances which did not see the light of day until much later.

The title indicates the period covered in the book is 1948-1954 and that is in fact the primary case, but there is also detailed linkage provided as to bow the experience of World War D military organizations and command and control led to many of the developments of the early years of NATO, and, of current interest, how those developments relate to the post-Cold War period in the 1990s as military organization changes occur within NATO in an attempt to keep pace with the changing political events of recent years. One must wonder how the current NATO enlargement process will affect the present organizations.

The author makes the point that in fact NATO was in disarray in the formative years to the extent that it might have been at risk to adventurism on the part of the Soviet Union. However, as pointed out in the Forward to the book by Admiral of the Fleet Julian Oswald, Royal Navy, even though there may have been risk, the Alliance did provide the backbone which prevailed. Another viewpoint is that clear cut and established military command and control organizations are extremely important elements of planning and operations; however, successful operations are perhaps more dependent on the strength of national leadership and commitment to the mission, and often effective political and military organizations can be developed or modified as a crisis develops.

It is also interesting to note that, although the emphasis in this book is on organization for command of the sea, clearly the other major functional areas of air and ground operations and their command organizations were closely related, as was the determination of the principal joint and combined regional commanders or commanders-in-chief, and the expansion which materialized in NATO in the offices of the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) and Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic (SACLANT). An interesting portion of this book is devoted to the extensive debates which eventually led to the creation of and determination of responsibilities (both functional and geographic) for the latter commander, Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic. As the book reports, there were also, in the early days of NATO, strong arguments that there should also have been a Supreme Allied Commander Mediterranean (vice the ultimate designation for that region of a NATO Major Subordinate Commander, Commander in Chief Allied Forces Southern Region, a subordinate of SACEUR).

For those who are aficionados of the development and establishment of military organimional charts or wiring diagrams (and of the proliferation of military command acronyms), this book contains enough of that aspect of military planning and operations to delight the most dedicated. The author has described extremely well both in the text and in accompanying diagrams and geographic chartlets how the NATO organizational concepts developed, what were the issues and conflicting views, and how they were resolved. A thread which runs through the majority of these vignettes of changing organizational structures is bow susceptible they are to political influence, often at some odds with military considerations. And, as indicated, senior military officers become key players on the political side as well as the military in debates concerning developing organizations.

As indicated above, the author commences with a report of command organizations, mostly those which related to the conduct of naval warfare, which existed during World War II, not only in the Western Hemisphere, but also in the Pacific. In the Western Hemisphere, to include the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, the organizations were led by senior officers from the U.S. or Great Britain, which some participation by the Canadians. Issues to be satisfied included the protection of the sea lines of communication to Britain, defense against the German submarine threat, routing and defense of convoys, and coordination of land based air with naval operations. A theme which runs through this section is the difficulty in establishing clear organization command and control relationships in a combined organization, even when there are really only two key players (in this case, the U.S. and Britain). This section provides a very useful lead into the rest of the book and explains not only what were the principal WWII organizations, but why they were created as they were and how they accomplished their missions.

Next the author describes the initial development during 1947- 49 of NATO strategic concepts and identifies the relevancy of developments of the period-the increasing intransigence of the Soviet Union (i.e., the Berlin Blockade) and various coups and crises in Eastern Europe, the Eastern Mediterranean, and the Middle East-while at the same time the Western World was trying to get its act together in the North Atlantic Alliance. One must remember that during this period the nuclear weapon capability resided entirely in the U.S., although the British and the Russians were working hard to develop their own. This chapter is particularly useful in clarifying how the organization of NATO did not just happen out of whole cloth; there had been a series of preliminary steps such as bilateral agreements between the Western nations and then the signing of the Brussels treaty in 1948 which evolved into the creation of NATO. The creation of the political body of the North Atlantic Council (NAC) was the significant political step, but there was still a long way to establish the viable military organization of NATO which served as the supporting capability throughout the Cold War. From a submarine aspect, several mentions are made of the concern for the growing Soviet submarine capability as well of the consideration being given within NA TO for the control of Alliance submarines.

The book then describes the early development of NATO’s strategic concepts and of the organizations to accomplish its missions. This period was characterized in part by the development of Regional Planning Groups, the predecessors of the military organizations which provided the strength of the NATO military planning capability and then the command and control of the forces ear-marked by the Allies for employment by NATO. In a relative sense, the establishment of NATO’s European command and its commander, SACEUR, was somewhat easier than completing the same process for SACLANT. In the case of the latter, it was far more difficult to obtain agreement on the nationality of the commander (U.S. or British) and on the geographic area of responsibility. One of the key areas of dissension was the establishment of the Iberian AtlanticSub-Area (IBERLANT), again both as to who would command it and what would be its area of responsibility.

The remaining sections describe the excruciating political military throes which NATO endured as it stood up its structure and developed its plans and capabilities. It is interesting to note that the Allied Command Atlantic was in effect without a subordinate organization of established commands for a period of many months after its establishment. Throughout the final chapters, there are several themes woven into the development of the NATO military organization: these included debate as to whether the Middle East Area should be included within the NATO geographic limits; to whom such commands as the Striking Fleet Atlantic aircraft carrier force should be assigned; how to accommodate the interests and desires of the other NATO Allies such as Turkey, Greece, and very significantly France; and bow (in the case of the U.S.) to ensure that the requirements of the McMahon Act concerning the control of nuclear weapons would be satisfied in a multinational combined organization such as NATO. The author describes how these issues played in the continued development of the command and control organizations of NATO. He also describes quite well the U.S. organizational structure, including such national things as unified commands and Sea Frontiers, and how they played in the development of NATO. In this section of the book, reference is again made to considerations for command of submarines provided by the Allies as well as to discussion of the various strategies for combating the Soviet submarine threat.

Both in his conclusion and throughout the main text, one message which comes clear is that a major strength of the Western World was the strong, special relationship, albeit often stormy, between the U.S. and Great Britain. This element proved to be key to the development of the NA TO structure for command and control; it was tested under fire in Korea as the author describes it; it has adapted to the changes in the relative military dominance of the two nations.

The author provides two Appendices. To take them in reverse order, Appendix 2 notes some of the highlights of Fleet Structure and Technological Change in the period 1945-56 to include the start of the shift in emphasis from heavy guns to missiles, advancements in ASW capabilities, and the development of nuclear propulsion for ships, particularly submarines. Appendix 1 is an assessment of the Soviet Submarine threat during the period 1945- 56 and identifies the types of submarines and knowledge which the Soviets obtained from the Germans. Although in today’s terms the increase in the threat may not seem so impressive, one must recall that the Soviets went from a situation of having almost no capability for submarine operation other than coastal at the end of World War II, to a situation in the 1956 time frame in which they had developed the Whiskey and Zulu classes which could make deployments, albeit still not so extensive as those of the Western navies. Continued submarine development led to more capable diesel electric and then nuclear powered boats. The trend of Soviet naval operations from a strictly defensive role to one which included capabilities to conduct offensive operations was commencing.

In a book such u this with its many references to complex and changing military command structures, including both national and coalition/combined organizations, there are bound to be some instances where there may be a bit of confusion. Two instances of that problem appear to be in Figure 4.10 and accompanying text where, by juxtaposition, the U.S. unified commanders are shown as subordinate to the fleet commanders, and in Figure 6.2 and accompanying text where SUBLANT is shown u a subordinate to SACLANT, whereas SUBLANT (Submarine Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet) was U.S. and SUBACLANT (Submarines Allied Command Atlantic) was NATO. Contributing to this confusion was the practice of double and even triple hatting commanders within national and NATO organizations and, in the cue of ACLANT, using the acronym sub both in the submarine organization titles and in titles of subordinate geographic regions (e.g., sub-area). Also, command names and acronyms often changed over time.

In summary, this is an interesting boolc which captures, in a unique and comprehensive fashion, the history of the early development of NATO and its military, primarily naval, structure. The book is extensively foot-noted and a comprehensive bibliography is provided.

Naval Submarine League

© 2022 Naval Submarine League