Overview and History
The School is located inside a barracks complex in the beautiful village of Oberammergau, Germany.
The barracks were built in 1935 and, after completion, always used for educational or training purposes. On 16 October 1937 the barracks were occupied by soldiers from the 54th Mountain Signal Company, which was part of the 1st German Mountain Division. They were instructed to defend communication lines during times of war and to destroy or jam enemy communications. One could call it the beginning of the electronic warfare era.
When the 54th Mountain Signal Company was at war in the Balkans during World War II, the barracks were used by the Messerschmitt Company which was developing rocket driven engines.
In 1945 the US forces found the barracks and re-designated them as an instructional facility by installing the 6819th Information and Education School.
Several courses were taught at this School, amongst them were courses for the military police, intelligence departments, signal squadrons, ordnance troops and weapon assembly personnel. Later the School was renamed to US Army Intelligence and Military Police School.
In September 1952, the Intelligence Division at USAREUR recommended to the Chief of Staff USAREUR that a two week course of instruction be established to cover staff planning and procedures for nuclear warfare. This course was to be established at the US Army Intelligence and Military Police School. The Intelligence Department was given the mission of conducting these classes which resulted in the first course to be taught in January 1953.
On 30 January 1953, a conference was held at Heidelberg to make preliminary arrangements for the establishment of special weapons courses for NATO commanders and staff officers. These courses were to be of two types: First, a broad orientation course of three or four days duration for senior allied commanders and, second, a more detailed course of two weeks to qualify key staff officers for the necessary planning for the tactical use of and defense against nuclear weapons. In March of 1953 the courses were established and conducted.
With the establishment of the NATO courses, the Special Weapons Branch, now called School, was activated. In December 1955, the Special Weapons Branch moved into a new building and to further facilitate the NATO programme, SHAPE installed simultaneous translation equipment in June 1956.
In 1966, the Special Weapons Branch became the NATO Weapons Systems Department and was placed under the operational control of the SACEUR. The curriculum was expanded and additional courses were introduced. In 1972, the Department became the NATO Weapons Systems School. The School remained under the operational control of the SACEUR, but was designated as a separate, joint-service, multinational United States European Command activity.
The School received its charter and name “NATO School (SHAPE)” in 1975. Today, the School is under the operational control of the Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (SACT). During a Transfer of Authority Ceremony in June 2003, SACT took over the responsibilities of the School and the School got her present name: “NATO School”. A Board of Advisers consisting of members of the ACT and SHAPE staffs provides assistance and guidance to the School. Germany and the United States Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM) contribute facilities and logistics support, however, the School’s operating budget is highly dependant on tuition fees from students, and in this regard, the NATO School is essentially self-supporting.
Since 1953, more than 185,000 officers, noncommissioned officers and civilians from all allied and national military commands within the NATO Alliance have attended courses at the School. In addition, students from the Alliance’s Partnership for Peace programme as well as students from nations composing the Mediterranean Dialogue attend the School. The School has grown from two courses in 1953 to 90 different courses in 2009. Today’s courses cover subjects ranging from basic NATO orientation, multinational forces, weapons employment, environmental protection, electronic warfare, command and control, psychological operations, logistic operations, mobilization forces, weapons of mass destruction, peacekeeping missions, crisis management and public information. The courses are continually revised and updated to reflect current developments in Allied Command Transformation and in NATO as a whole.
The expanded role of the School is reflected in its staff and faculty. The School employs more than 200 personnel including officers, NCO’s and civilians representing 25 nations. To ensure its students are kept current with the most recent information on alliance matters, faculty members remain in close touch with NATO, Supreme Allied Command Transformation (SACT), Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), other Allied Command Europe and Allied Command Atlantic headquarters and national capitals and commands. Students and faculty members also receive regular presentations from visiting political leaders and civilian and military experts.