The Western Alliance—More Symbol than Shield

Feb. 1, 1956
Last fall was probably the first time that anyone had gone from Washington to Paris by way of Smyrna, Tenn. A group of us were invited to accompany the 62d Troop Carrier Squadron, a unit of the 314th Troop Carrier Wing, on its trip from Sewart AFB, Tenn., to Dreux AB, France. The 62d was relieving the 778th Troop Carrier Squadron, based at Rhein-Main, Germany. (The move from Germany to France was made simpler by doing it while rotating squadrons.)

At Sewart AFB, our Washington group joined forces with radio, TV, and newspaper men from the Tennessee and North Carolina areas. We were briefed, watched some of the loading operations, and saw the last elements of the squadron’s C-119s taking off on the first leg of the 4,246 mile journey. The squadron’s own planes could not carry all the men and equipment, so four C-124s of the 62d Troop Carrier Wing (Heavy) of Larson AFB, Wash., were brought in.

We flew on Paris’s Orly Field with stops at McGuire AFB, N. J.; Harmon AFB, Newfoundland; and Lajes Field in the Azores. Only two overnight stops had been planned by bad weather and high winds stretched the trip to five days.

From Paris, where we went through customs, it was a short hop to Dreux AF, where the 62d was getting settled. In a ceremony there shortly after arrival, as a gesture of French-American friendship, the 62d presented several gifts, including a cedar chest (made in Tennessee, of course) to the French Perfect of Dreux. Dreux must have looked grim to the men of the 62d. The buildings are ugly and look old (though they are not), and the plumbing and heating are ancient in principle if not in age. Dreux is a NATO base, built by French labor with NATO funds on French-owned land. After seeing some of the other European bases, especially in Germany, Dreux looks even worse in retrospect.

On Monday morning, after a weekend in Paris, we went tot he Paris office of USAFE for a quick briefing on NATO and then boarded buses for SHAPE headquarters—a pleasant thirty-minute ride. SHAPE Commander Gen. Alfred Gruenther was out of town, but his air deputy, Gen. Lauris Norstad, and a French and British officer of his staff, gave us a good rundown.

NATO and SHAPE have had some shaky times since the North Atlantic Treaty was signed in April 1949. But those close to the alliance enthusiastically point to its positive accomplishment. Among these, according to the officers at SHAPE: we are still at peace; there has been no expansion of Communism to the west since Czechoslovakia; the participating nations have built up a high degree of unity by working together; and there seems to have been a change in Soviet tactics.

We were at SHAPE during the talk about a post-Geneva “relaxation” among member nations. Officials at SHAPE denied any let-down and said that “almost all the countries are maintaining their NATO budgets at the present time.” General Norstad said that Britain’s cutback of troops did not affect its commitment to NATO. Likening the Russians to a dancing bear, France’s Gen. Jean Nemo said, “We have to be ready to hit if the bear stops in his dance and starts biting.” He felt that neither the Soviets nor the West enjoyed any geographical advantage in Europe. A veteran of recent battles with the Reds, General Nemo said, “They are demons—but demons make good soldiers.”

The wheels of SHAPE were reluctant to make numerical comparisons. The Soviets are far ahead of us in numbers—about four to one. NATO has only about 5,000 aircraft, but General Norstad said the program is not yet complete. And that, according to him, is one of SHAPE’s biggest problems: “Doing in the next three or four years what we reasonably can and should.”

As for facilities, some tangible progress has been made. In 1951 there were fewer than fifteen NATO airfields. Now there are close to 160. According to General Norstad, “We now have a force which would make the Russians pay a hell of a price for aggression.” But he didn’t feel the Reds were ready to start anything—right now. He listed what he considers NATO’s principle problems. They are:

Survival—The enemy has the initiative. We must be able to absorb some blows before we can strike back.

Dispersal—With present aircraft, a workable program is expensive, in money and people. The wartime plan calls for spreading our forces over a wide area, using national and commercial fields, with sixteen to twenty-five airplanes on each field. One measure of defense is an increase in the number of targets that we present.

Air Defense—General Norstad called this one of the biggest problems at that time because each nation was responsible for its own air defense and the system suffered from a lack of unity. He was confident that the nations would agree to an integrated air defense system. Shortly afterwards, the North Atlantic Treaty Council approved a new air-raid warning system stretching from Norway to Turkey.

Intelligence information is available to member NATO nations on a “need to know” basis, and while General Norstad said that our allies now know enough about nuclear warfare “to carry out their missions,” he felt that “we haven’t done as well as we should have on exchange of information.” A big step in this direction was made by a US-British decision to inform their allies of new equipment as quickly as possible. As a result, the new air raid warning system may be supplied, funds permitting, with recently developed gear that bounces transmissions off the troposphere, making them tough to jam.

From Paris, we flew to USAFE headquarters in Wiesbaden, Germany. Wiesbaden is a city of about 285,000, twenty-five miles from Frankfurt and only five jet minutes from the Iron Curtain. USAFE, once spread over thirty-three offices downtown, is now housed in a remodeled Luftwaffe and guard against a Nazi uprising. But things have changed considerably since 1945, and now USAFE’s job is to “deploy, train, and support US air forces in Europe.” It also trains and assists our allies through the Mutual Defense Assistance Program (MDAP).

USAFE is a big command. Its funds, inventories, equipment, aircraft, land, runways, and buildings are valued at $3.6 billion. Of this, USAFE actually owns $2.9 billion worth with the difference representing land and buildings scheduled to be returned to the Germans. Staff figures show that the USAFE economic impact in Europe amounts to $881.3 million annually, while the American tourist trade in Germany only contributes $319.9 million.

Most of our people stationed in Germany—especially near Wiesbaden—seem happy with their facilities. They do look good, especially compared with some facilities in France. However, in France, our bases are relatively new and raw while the ones in Germany are well established. The command still occupies many houses and building requisitioned from the Germans, but these are being returned as quickly as possible.

In line with US policy, USAFE employs 43,000 “native sons.” It cost an estimated $1,500 annually for a native employee, way under the figure for an American doing the same job.

USAFE’s command is Gen. William Tunner, a logistics expert (Berlin Airlift and Korean Combat Cargo), so it is natural to assume that the command’s supply system is efficient. It is. Use of air transport has cut the command’s pipeline for priority materials from seventeen days in 1953 to four days. This frees a lot of previously tied-up money for other work, when you figure that it takes $1.4 million to supply USAFE for one day. Aircraft out of commission because of parts have been reduced by ten percent in the same period. Officials at USAFE estimate that it would cost them $350,000,000 to but the numbers of aircraft this represents.

Housing has been a big USAFE headache—outside of Germany. Most housing is now obtained by giving private contract5ors a five-year guarantee for a ninety-five percent occupancy rate. The five-year limit is all the present laws allow, but USAFE would like to see this limit raised to ten.

“Project Caravan” has helped ease the housing pinch. It began early in 1954 when USAFE married personnel at Toul, France, faced the alternative of lousy housing at gouging prices or no housing at all. A trailer camp grew us near the base, but it lacked even such essentials as running water and sewage disposal. An AF committee studied the problem and came up with the present “Project Caravan.” General Tunner took the plan to Washington, where he got a green light. Under the plan, the AF buys trailers for about $2,900 and rents them for about $55 a month, including utilities. By the end of 1955 more than 1,600 trailers had been delivered to bases in France and almost 1,000 had gone to North Africa. The AF builds and operates the trailer parks, and each occupant is encouraged to plant shrubs, trees, and flowers to improve the appearance. The trailers are admittedly an expedient, but they provide temporary low-rental housing until something better can be built.

As previously mentioned, one of USAFE’s important missions is training our allies through the Mutual Defense Assistance Program. Our hosts felt that we should see that part of those program so they scheduled a flight to Furstenfeldbruck AB, near Munich, where the USAFE Training Hq., Provisional, is based and where foreign pilots check out in jets.

In Furstenfeldbruck our sources have taken over an old Luftwaffe base. It was here —in 1944—the Germans flew their first operational jets. Col. Mark H. Vinzant, Jr., commands the USAFE Training Hq., Provisional, and also the 7330th Flying Training Wing (MDAP), which does the actual training. Since MDAP students started training in the spring of 1954, more than 500 students, from Spain, Turkey, Holland, Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Norway, Pakistan, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and Iran have finished the course. The school offers instrument training, jet transition training, a jet instructor course, and a senior staff officer course. All students who come to Fursty are rated pilots in their own countries.

The language problem was overcome by requiring all of the first student group to be fluent in English. The outstanding ones were then picked to stay on as instructors.

Two other units, the 7351st Flying Training Group, based at Landsberg AB, and the 7331st Technical Training Wing, at Kaufbeuren AB, also train MDAP students. The 7351st trains pilots in conventional aircraft and the 7331st teaches aircraft engine maintenance and repair, communications and electronics, armament, traffic control, intelligence, supply, and photo interpretation.

Next day, a beautiful, clear morning, we took off from Fursty, and headed north toward Bitberg AB, near Trier on the Luxembourg border. The base is the home of the First Tactical Missile Squadron. Lt. Col. Walter Schlie, the commander, said their mission is to “destroy assigned targets within the guidance capabilities of the TM-61A (Martin Matador) weapon system in a minimum of time, in any weather condition, at any time of day or night.”

The Matadors, poised on their racks at the launching sites, look out of place in the peaceful German countryside. As Lt. Russell Selby ran his launching crew through its paces, we could see a German farmer plowing in an adjoining field. Against a backdrop of brilliant autumn colors, the deadly, but beautiful, missile looked incongruous. The crew went through a launching drill in jig time.

For actual firing practice, the Colonel takes his men to a range in Africa. They can also get some good simulated practice right at Bitberg by using a T-33 fitted with a Matador guidance system. The pilot flies the pseudo missile in response to the signals he receives from the ground crew—thus getting a pretty good picture of the guidance capabilities. Although the Matador is relatively crude as missiles go, its guidance system is so complicated that the AF is considering using contract technicians to maintain them. The TM-61 has a speed that compares favorably with the F-86, a range of approximately 500 miles (fuel range) and can carry a 3,000-pound warhead.

From Bitberg, I took a train to Paris to visit the offices of our Mutual Weapons Development Team.

In Paris I went to the office of Col. John J. Driscoll, AF member of the team, at 2 Rue St. Florentin, in the old Hotel Talleyrand. The team is headed by Lt. Gen. T. B. Larkin, USA (Ret.) and also includes members from the Army and Navy.

Their program began about two years ago under the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Development. Originally, it was set up to transplant US hardware into our allies’ military organizations, but experience showed that financial aid to the research and development programs of other nations fits their needs better than hardware assistance. Often countries can better develop weapons to fit their own military requirements and their production and maintenance capabilities. For example, the French had a good carrier airplane design, but needed help to get into production. We offered them some of our planes instead, and being a frugal people, the French accepted the offer. Some of our MWDT people feel that this can only result in slowing down the development capability of a country. Now the program is oriented toward putting our allies back on their R&D feet. They agree to make any developments available to NATO and us.

Right now, there are about sixty R&D projects among the various NATO nations in which we have an interest. These range from light fighter projects to photo reconnaissance equipment, plus Army and Navy projects.

Colonel Driscoll feels that a suitable light fighter is the most urgent requirement in NATO today. He puts it this way: In the West, our jets are anchored to permanent, and vulnerable bases. On the other side of the curtain, the Russians are training on grass fields with their MIG-15s, and if the bell rights, they will be dispersed in woods and cow pastures.

The type of light fighter visualized in one that lands and takes-off on skids. NATO has a requirement for a 3,500-foot take-off, but the experts hope to reduce this to 1,000 feet. A squadron of these planes could be dispersed over ten or twenty miles.

There is a tendency among some of our officials to drag their feet on the light fighter program because with no supersonic requirement for the aircraft, it represents a step backward to them. The avid supporters disagree, however, and say that the requirement for a good light fighter is going to be with us longer than the requirement for many of the hot jobs. They argue that the interceptor will bow out because o the ground-to-air missile and the bomber will go because of the ballistic missile, while ground support—because “we need a piloted vehicle for moving ground targets”—will be the last to go.

Dr. Theodore von Karman dropped in for a few minutes to discus light fighters while I was in Colonel Driscoll’s office. Doctor von Karman, as chairman of NATO’s Advisory Group for Air Research and Development (AGARD), coordinates the West’s research and development effort. Colonel Driscoll’s group works with AGARD on problems of mutual interest.

It is difficult to visit NATO, SHAPE, and USAFE headquarters and not become enthusiastic about what has been done since the end of World War II. NATO has struggled against terrific odds but can point to some definite accomplishments as can USAFE, handicapped by the traditional hostility of a conquered nation of occupation troops.

But have our efforts in Europe really paid off? The critics say that NATO is out of date, and to build it up into the force it should be, defense budgets would have to be doubled.

The real value of NATO has not necessarily been its physical strength, but the fact that it represents a line drawn across Europe which the Soviets have been warned not to cross. The Russians have probably never been too worried about the men, guns, and airplanes of NATO, but they are concerned that what is behind it. The reason they didn’t make a move was not because they were afraid of NATO. But they respected the deterrent capability of our Strategic Air Command.

We no longer enjoy a nuclear monopoly. The Russians are catching up, and may be headed in some respects.

It is in this light, under the new set of conditions that exist in Europe today, that they chalet reexamine NATO and Western defenses.