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1953-1975 Into the Nuclear Age:
Commencement of NATO Training at Oberammergau

Into the Nuclear Age:
Commencement of NATO Training at Oberammergau

In September 1952 the Intelligence Division US Army Europe (USAREUR) recommended to the Chief of Staff, USAREUR, that a two week course of instruction for US personnel has to be established to cover staff planning and procedures for nuclear war.

This course was to be established at the US Army Intelligence and Military Police School in Oberammergau and the Intelligence Department was given the mission of conducting
these classes.

Nuclear Policy Training

On 30 January 1953, a conference was held at Heidelberg to plan special weapons courses for NATO commanders and staff officers. There were two courses: a broad orientation course of three or four days duration for Senior Allied Commanders and a more detailed course of two weeks to qualify key staff officers for the necessary planning for the tactical use of and defence against
nuclear weapons.

Special Weapons Branch

In March 1953, the NATO courses were established and the Special Weapons Branch was activated.

Academics Building

In December 1955, the Special Weapons Branch moved into a new building- Building 630 – now the recentlyrefurbished ‘Academics’ Building.

In June 1956 simultaneous translation equipment was installed by NATO’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE).

Surface to Air Missile training

The curriculum of the Special Weapons Branch included a nuclear Surface-to-Air-Missile Orientation Course from August of 1960, because of the deployment of US-controlled Nike Zeus nuclear armed surface to air

Consolidation and Reorganisations –
Hawkins Barracks and US Army School Command Europe

In 1953, USAREUR operated ten specialist schools offering 101 courses, with Seventh Army operated a further two including an NCO School in Munich.

However a change of policy emphasising training at unit level saw five schools close by early 1955. The remaining schools were controlled by the appropriate USAREUR staff

  • The Hoetzendorf Kaserne was renamed as the Hawkins Barracks on 20 September 1954, in honour of Lt Col Jesse M. Hawkins US Army, who was Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence (ACOS G2) of the 2nd Armoured Division, who fought gallantly and was killed in France in September 1944.
  • In 1956, when the schools experienced serious budgetary difficulties, the number of courses was reduced - in some cases halved.
  • USAREUR placed greater emphasis on unit schools and on-the-job training. To prevent over-programming, control of the school quota system was passed from the
    USAREUR staff division to the schools.
  • In early 1958 USAREUR took control of the newly established Weapons Assembly School from Seventh Army, based at Oberammergau. Later in the year, the NCO Academy was moved from Munich to Bad Tölz.

The Ordnance, Engineer, Quartermaster and Signal Schools were consolidated and instruction in Adjutant General Subjects was discontinued. At the same time a special weapons department was added to the Intelligence and Military Police School at Oberammergau.

US Army School Command, Europe

The US Army School Command, Europe was established at Oberammergau on 1 April 1960 to provide centralized control of the major elements of the school system.

The five remaining USAREUR schools were assigned to the new command, thus removing USAREUR staff divisions from direct management of the courses.

  • Consolidation. The reorganisation led to consolidation of schools at fewer locations. One of these schools, the Medical Service School, was phased out entirely in July 1960. The first consolidation occurred on 1 October 1960, when the Weapons Assembly School moved from Pirmasens to Oberammergau and became a department of the Intelligence, Military Police, and Special Weapons School. The number of courses offered by the school system was also reduced from 87 to 48.
  • Centralised at Oberammergau. On 1 July 1961, the four remaining schools were organized into the US Army School, Europe, at Oberammergau. Thereafter, the USAREUR school system consisted only of the school at Oberammergau; Seventh Army operated the NCO Academy, the Aviation Training Center, and the Combined Arms School, having evolved from the old Task Training Center.
  • Operational Readiness. In 1962 and 1963 the USAREUR schools, though austerely manned because of funding, continued to contribute to the command's operational readiness. Thirteen new courses were added in 1962, making a total of 61; but in late 1963 due to further funding reduction another reduction in courses was being planned.

Weapons Assembly School

A key element of the nuclear deterrent was to have a force at near-instant readiness to retaliate if attacked by the Soviet Union. US forces had a variety of tactical and theatre nuclear weapons available and constant training was required to ensure that they were stored and handled safely, yet were available for deployment if tensions rose. One weapon was the MGR-1B (M50) ‘Honest John’ tactical nuclear missile, which was deployed across Europe from 1955–1975. At Oberammergau, missile operators were trained in the preparation of the warheads (principally the installation of the ‘physics package’, fitting this to the launch body and the pre-fire sequence). Only ‘drill rounds’ were used at Oberammergau – no nuclear warheads or chemical agents were stored here.

The Weapons Assembly Department moved from Piramens, south of Ramstein, to Oberammergau on 7 September 1960. On 1 October 1960 the school was redesignated as the Weapons Assembly Department of the US Army Intelligence, Military Police and Special Weapons School, Europe and further redesignated as the Weapons Assembly Department, US Army School, Europe on 1 July 1961, reflecting the overall reorganising and concentration of the School at Oberammergau.

The mission of the Weapons Assembly Department was: 'to teach forward assembly, handling and prefire procedures to personnel of delivery and support units within USAEUR and to familiarise commanders and selected staff personnel with regard to required procedures and standards.'

The Department had five academic branches covering:

  • MIM-14 ‘Nike-Hercules’ surface-to-air nuclear armed missile;
  • Atomic Demolition Munitions (Engineer)’ nuclear land mines;
  • MGR-1B (M50) ‘Honest John’ tactical surface-tosurface nuclear missiles;
  • W-48 & W-74 6 inch (155 mm) and
  • M-33 8 inch (203 mm) nuclear artillery shells

US Army Schools Administered From Oberammergau

Ordnance School

Ordnance training (ie the storage and handling of conventional munitions) was initially conducted in Eschwege, and moved from Füssen to the Kimbro Kaserne in Murnau. The Ordnance School closed in c 1970 and the barracks was dismantled in 2008.

Signal School

The Signal School was activated on 1 November 1945 at Neuendettelsau, Bavaria, to train US military personnel in the operation and maintenance of communication equipment and systems in the European Theatre.

In February 1958, the Signal School also moved to Lenggries and was consolidated with the Quartermaster School. In 1960, both were under the control of Oberammergau.

Quartermaster School

The Quartermaster School was activated in England in 1944 and after four moves on 1 July 1962 it consolidated with the Signal School and was redesignated "Logistics" Department. It transferred from Lenggries, south of Bad Tölz to Kimbro Kaserne, Murnau.

Engineer School

On 24 January 1947 the Engineer School was moved from Butzbach, north of Frankfurt, to Murnau.

In September 1957 the decision was made to combine the US Army Engineer and Ordnance School.

Life on Post

The 1950 - 1970s represented a period of continuous change as US forces across Europe consolidated their positions and rationalised facilities. This culminated in the command of US Army Schools being relocated in Oberammergau in 1960, remaining there until 1974.


To accommodate the expanding education and training role of the Barracks, in 1950s and early 1960s a number of new facilites were constructed:

  • Billeting. Staff lived in the Government housing to the north of the Kaserne (built in c 1953) and personnel on courses were accommodated on post, although Flag and General Officers stayed in the Armed Forces Recreation Center lodges in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, whilst women soldiers and civilians were put up in local guest houses.
  • Headquarters. Building 601 - now the BWVS Headquarters - contained the HQ Company for USASCE, as well as shops, Post Exchange, tailor shop, US & German post offices and barber.
  • Recreation. Buildings 615-617, known collectively as the 'Hilltop Lodge' contained recreation facilities, including a snack bar, games room, photo lab, craft shops, a theatre (in what is now Manfred Werner Hall), a bowling alley and a rod & gun club.
  • Support. Building 604 was the HQ Supply Company and also contained the basement armoury; in the early 1950s it had been accommodation for Military Police students. Building 622 - the former blacksmith and saddlery shop - was the 'ammo store'. Meals were taken in the various snack bars, in the Enlisted Mess (Building 602 - now the BWVS Mess) or the Officers' Mess (now the NSO Community Centre & Lodge), as appropriate. Building 635, at the top of the hill (now used as offices for academic staff) was 'Enlisted Men's Quarters' and buildings 603 (now dormitories for the BWVS) were 'Bachelor Officers' Quarters', as was building 629.

Uneasy Peace

In spite of the relaxed life at Oberammergau, the threat of conventional or nuclear war was ever-present. There were particular concerns that Warsaw Pack forces would surge through neutral Austria and penetrate Bavaria, thus Oberammergau would be vulnerable.

During TTW (transition to war) with the Soviet Union, families would be moved west, to be repatriated to the US, whilst service personnel would take up war appointments with fielded forces and headquarters.

Students on courses would 'make haste' and return to their units; accordingly, many students would routinely travel to Oberammergau with their service weapons in case of such an eventuality.


Another visitor to Oberammergau was General Dwight D Eisenhower (1890-1969). After a period as the Military Governor of the US Zone of Occupation in Germany, he became Supreme Allied Commander Forces Europe in 1950. He was elected as the 34th US President in 1952 and re-elected in 1956. He came to Oberammergau to paint, draw and hunt - occasionally using the Forsthaus guest house (originally a staging post used by King Ludwig II) in nearby Unternogg.

Increased NATO Training Role

NATO Weapons Systems Department. In 1966, the Special Weapons Branch became the NATO Weapons Systems Department (NWSD) and was placed under the operational control of the SACEUR. The curriculum was expanded and additional courses were introduced.

In 1972, the NWSD became the NATO Weapons Systems School (NWSS) and remained under the operational control of SACEUR, but was designated as a separate, joint-service, multinational United States European Command (USEUCOM) activity.