Plans for the United States Army to organize its forces in Germany began early on during the middle of the Second World War. On 8 June 1942 the War Department officially established the European Theater of Operations United States Army. This group’s mission was to conduct planning for the eventual retaking of Europe from Nazi control and to exercise operational control over all U.S. forces in Europe. Its headquarters has its roots in Europe in January of 1942, when American soldiers opened a command post located in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Fittingly, those first arrivals were the advance party that would later become the Headquarters units of V Corps which even still remains the centerpiece of USAREURs combat forces.
Headquartered in London, European Theater of Operations United States Army’s first commander was Major General James E. Chaney, an experienced Army Air Corps officer. At the time Major General Dwight D. Eisenhower who would eventually become Supreme Commander of Allied Forces Europe would replace MG Chaney in late June, but in July he departed England to assume new duties as the commander-in-chief of the allied forces in Operation Torch. Operation Torch was the successful Allied invasion of North Africa in the wake of fighting to retake the northern part of the continent from Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps. Eisenhower would return to England later in January 1944 and the following month he was officially appointed the position of the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. He also maintained his leadership of European Theater of Operations United States Army, serving in a dual role until the end of hostilities with the German capitulation in May 1945.
European Theater of Operations United States Army expanded rapidly with more men and equipment being added under its authority. At the end of January 1942 there were 4,000 American soldiers stationed in the United Kingdom, this number would grow to 55,000 soldiers by the time the command was established in June, and by the end of the year 135,000 Americans were assigned to Great Britain to train for the assault on the continent that would take place two years later on the beaches of Normandy, France. When the invasion codenamed Operation Overlord was launched on 6 June 1944, more than 1.5 million United States Army personnel were available to land in France. In addition to overseeing the buildup and training of combat forces, European Theater of Operations United States Army was also responsible for logistics and administrative services, these functions would be inherited by United States Army Europe in today.
By the time of the German capitulation on 8 May 1945, the European Theater of Operations United States Army headquarters was transferred to Versailles, France just outside of Paris. With the war over, General Eisenhower and his support staff began to make preparations for the occupation of the defeated Germany. Plans were made and the headquarters staff was soon relocated to Frankfurt, Germany and situated along with the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces and the Office of Military Government, United States. The command was soon redesignated as United States Forces, European Theater on 1 July 1945, with its headquarters remaining in Frankfurt.
Now in a state of peace in the postwar years, the total United States Army strength in Europe was numbered at nearly 1.9 million soldiers: organized into two Army groups, the 6th and 12th, complete with four field armies, the First, Third, Seventh, and Ninth, 13 Corps headquarters, and nearly 62 combat ready divisions of 3 infantry, 16 armor, and 3 airborne. The year 1946 brought about a rapid restructiuring of forces which brought the occupation forces available for occupation duties in the German territory was down to fewer than 290,000 personnel. Many of the larger combat formations departed elsewhere or were inactivated. The United States Seventh Army headquarters would remain in control of the western portion of the American zone of occupation, and the Third Army controlled the eastern portion. Back in November 1945, the two field army commanders in Germany had organized district "constabularies" based on cavalry units, and on 1 May 1946, the United States Constabulary headquarters in the American zone was activated at Bamberg. From the establishment of the Constabulary headquarters in 1946 up until the early 1950s the structure of the American occupation forces revolved primarily around the 1st Infantry Division, a separate infantry regiment, and the U.S. Constabulary of 10 cavalry regiments.
On 15 March 1947, United States Forces European Theater was reorganized as the European Command (not to be confused with the present joint command, USEUCOM), and between February and June 1948 the headquarters of European Command was relocated to Campbell Barracks in Heidelberg, where it remains in the present day.
Tensions heightened in the postwar years when the Soviet forces in eastern Germany initiated the Berlin Blockade on 24 June 1948. The Soviet Union mobilized its military forces to install a blockade tasked with blocking the Western Allies' railway and land access to the sectors of West Berlin under Allied control. The theory was to effectively cut off the flow of supplies to West Berlin and force the western Allies out of Berlin completely. Outnumbered by odds of roughly 50-1, the Allied forces in West Berlin began to formulate plans to defy the Soviet forces. General Lucius D. Clay, the commander in charge of the United States’ Occupation Zone in West Germany, gave the order to initiate the aerial resupply of beleaguered West Berlin in an operation that would become the Berlin Airlift. The humanitarian effort codenamed Operation Vittles was headquartered out of Wiesbaden Army Airfield in Wiesbaden. Throughout the duration of the operation, the Allies delivered almost 9,000 tons per day of supplies including food, fuel and medicine amongst other necessities to the beleaguered city until the Soviets relented and the blockade was finally lifted on 12 May 1949. 31 American personnel were killed and 17 aircraft were lost during the resupply operation.
From 1948 to 1950 the Cold War began to heat up and by the outbreak of hostilities in Korea when communist forces in North Korea invaded the South. This event heightened East-West tensions further in Europe. The Seventh Army which had been lying in inactive status was effectively reactivated at Stuttgart in November of 1950 and the V and VII Corps headquarters were established soon after. Four divisions were alerted for transition to Europe from the United States. The first to arrive in Europe were elements of the 4th Infantry Division in May of 1951, followed soon after by the 2nd Armored Division and the 43rd and 28th Infantry Divisions during summer and fall of 1951.
A new joint United States European Command known as USEUCOM for short was established in Frankfurt, West Germany on 1 August 1952. On that day, the Army headquarters located in Heidelberg that was formerly known as EUCOM effectively became Headquarters, United States Army Europe.
With the cease of hostilities on the Korean peninsula in 1953, and the signing of the Korean War Armistice tensions began to ease somewhat in Europe. There were about 13,500 soldiers assigned to each of the corresponding USAREUR divisions. New equipment fielded at the time included the latest tanks such as the M-48 Patton tank, the M-59 family of armored personnel carriers and tactical nuclear weapons. On 15 July 1958 USAREUR forces were deployed to assist the Lebanese government. The contingent known as Task Force 201 was the Army component of Operation Blue Bat. USAREUR rapidly deployed more than 8,000 Soldiers from Europe to Beirut by air and sea. The situation in the Middle East improved subsequently and forces were redeployed to Europe within a spectrum of only four months.
Although the open East-West conflict had ended, political tensions remained high in Europe. Particularly troublesome was the friction between the Federal Republic of Germany known as West Germany, the former British, French and U.S. zones of occupation and the German Democratic Republic known as East Germany, the former Soviet zone of occupation. Berlin posed an additional problem in itself; as it was surrounded by the territorial integrity of East Germany, but Great Britain, France, the United States, and the Soviet Union all occupied sectors in the city. Up until the 1960s, travel between the corresponding sectors of Berlin was unrestricted and unregulated. By the time Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev announced in June 1961 that the Soviet Union was planning to conclude a peace treaty with the East German government almost 3,000 East German refugees fled into West Berlin from the East daily.
Overnight on 12 August 1961, the East German government and their Soviet supporters closed the border crossing points into West Berlin and construction began on the long standing symbol of the Cold War, the Berlin Wall. The construction of the Wall effectively isolated the three western sectors of the city both from East Germany and its neighbor the Soviet sector of East Berlin. This made West Berlin an enclave of democracy deep within the communist sphere of influence and soldiers of the United States Army Berlin Brigade held the unique distinction of being positioned deep behind enemy lines.
In response to the construction of the Wall, the United States deployed an additional armored cavalry regiment to Europe, along with additional support units. USAREUR strength reached a high of almost 277,342 soldiers in June 1962 as the crisis in Berlin deepened. The Army command dispatched a reinforced infantry battle group to West Berlin to strengthen the existing garrison in place.
The crisis cooled in Berlin from 1962 to 1963, and augmenting forces that were sent in response to the increasing crisis were redeployed to the United States. Because of the situation in Berlin, a period of equipment modernization programs began and new equipment was fielded in Europe. Some of the new introductions to troops in West Germany included the M-113 series armored personnel carrier, the M-14 rifle, the M-60 machine gun, the Grumman OV-1 Mohawk fixed wing observation aircraft, the Bell UH-1B Iroquois helicopter, the M-151 Military Utility Tactical Truck, and the M-60 Main Battle Tank.
On 1 December 1966, the separate headquarters of Seventh Army was disbanded, and USAREUR became Headquarters, United States Army Europe and Seventh Army. At the same time, due to disagreements of force projection France withdrew its forces from the military structure of NATO, and American forces were ordered to leave France. The communications zone headquarters was relocated from Orleans, France, to Worms, West Germany, and later to Kaiserslautern, where as 21st Theater Support Command it remains today. USEUCOM itself was moved to Stuttgart.
The first Redeployment of Forces from Germany took place in 1968, with the removal of about 28,000 military personnel from Germany. The units and personnel withdrawn remained committed to NATO and during REFORGER I the first ‘Return of Forces to Germany’ military exercise was conducted in January 1969, more than 12,000 soldiers were redeployed to Germany for the exercise using pre-positioned equipment. The REFORGER exercises would continue in subsequent years until the late 1990s.
The 1970s saw USAREUR continuing to improve its firepower and combat capabilities when its forces received the new M-16A1 assault rifle, the BGM-71 TOW wire guided anti-tank weapon, the Bell OH-58 Kiowa observation helicopter, and the Bell AH-1G Huey Cobra attack helicopter.
The needs of the war in Vietnam during the 1960s and into the 1970s saw a reduction of USAREUR's assigned personnel strength, sometimes drastically. As the war began to wane, and U.S. commitments in Southeast Asia were lessened forces began to be redeployed to Europe, and USAREUR adopted a new doctrine based upon the community commander concept. In 1974, efforts to streamline the headquarters resulted in the deactivation of the United States Theater Army Support Command, and its replacement by a smaller organization, the 21st Theater Army Area Command which would be known as the 21st TSC.
During the 1970s, force protection concerns grew as the threat of international terrorism began to appear across Europe. Palestinian groups brazenly conducted terror operations in Europe, such as the kidnapping of Israeli athletes during the 1972 Munich Olympics, and the Baader-Meinhof gang and Red Brigades (often funded and equipped by East German sources) targeted American facilities and personnel with coordinated bombings, kidnapping and assassinations. In May 1972 bombs exploded at V Corps headquarters in Frankfurt, killing an Army lieutenant colonel, and in nearby Heidelberg at Campbell Barracks, killing three Soldiers. American installations were attacked sporadically throughout the remainder of the decade, including a failed 1977 attack on the United States Army post in Giessen. On 15 September 1982 an assassination attempt was made on the USAREUR commander General Frederick J. Kroesen and his wife as they were driving through Heidelberg. The attack failed when the automobile trunk lid deflected the RPG-7 anti-tank projectile fired at the vehicle. Incidents continued and in 1985, a soldier was lured out of a Wiesbaden nightclub and murdered for his ID card which was then used to enter Rhein-Main Air Base the following day to plant a bomb that would kill two. In 1986 a bombing at a West Berlin disco frequented by American service members killed two Soldiers although this was later tied to terrorist sponsors in Libya leading up to the military response against Libya, Operation El Dorado Canyon.
With increased combat and support components emplaced in West Germany, the command undertook a wide-ranging modernization in the decade of the 1980s. More than 400 new systems were introduced to American forces, including individual weapons, the transition of field rations from C Rations to the new Meal Ready to Eat or MRE, the M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank, the M2 and M3 Bradley series Infantry Fighting Vehicle, the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System known as MLRS, the MIM-104 Patriot air defense system, the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopter and the McDonnell Douglas AH-64A Apache attack helicopter.