• Last updated: 11 Feb. 2021 17:25

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"Forging the weapon"

The origins of SHAPE


In February 1951 Lieutenant Colonel Roy Lamson, a university history professor who had served as a military historian during World War II, was recalled to active duty at the request of SACEUR Dwight D. Eisenhower. When Lamson arrived in Paris to join the small multinational team that was setting up the new Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), Eisenhower explained to Lamson why his new post as the first SHAPE Historian was so important:

“If SHAPE succeeds, it will be a model for future cooperation,
and even if it fails, we should know the reasons why.”

As we all know, SHAPE did succeed, and Colonel Lamson and his successors produced a series of SHAPE Histories to document the activities and decisions taken each year. These classified histories drew on the wide range of documents that had been collected and preserved by the SHAPE Historical Office and SHAPE Central Records. These documents were subsequently microfilmed for preservation, and the paper copies were then destroyed.

The historical records dating back to the beginnings of SHAPE remained classified long past the normal 30-year period for consideration for declassification due to the difficulty of declassifying microfilm reels that contained large numbers of documents from a wide range of sources, not just SHAPE and its subordinate commands but also NATO headquarters and the member nations of NATO. With the support of the North Atlantic Council and the NATO Archives Committee, digital preservation of the microfilm reels has helped overcome these difficulties. At long last, the SHAPE Histories from the 1950s along with the large numbers of related documents can finally be disclosed to the public, offering researchers a key source of information for this important period of the Cold War.

We hope these documents provide an enticing sampling for further exploration into the rich collection of NATO historical documents that are available online at the NATO Archives website (www.nato.int/archives).