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Exercise Mainbrace
Part of Cold War (1947–1953)
NATO Northern Flank.png
NATO Northern Flank
Type NATO combined naval training exercises
Location North Atlantic Ocean, GIUK Gap, Norwegian Sea, Barents Sea, North Sea, Jutland Peninsula, and Baltic Sea
Objective Deployment of NATO anti-submarine warfare forces, aircraft carrier strike forces, and supply convoys
Date September 14–25, 1952
Executed by Admiral Sir Patrick Brind, RN (CINCNORTH)
Outcome Exercise successfully executed.

Exercise Mainbrace was the first large-scale naval exercise undertaken by the newly established Allied Command Atlantic (ACLANT), one of the two principal military commands of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). It was part of a series of NATO exercises jointly commanded by Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic Admiral Lynde D. McCormick, USN, and Supreme Allied Commander Europe General Matthew B. Ridgeway, U.S. Army, during the Fall of 1952.


Operation Frostbite (1946)

Naval activities in north Atlantic, 1946-1951

The strategic importance of control of Norway and the adjacent Norwegian and Barents seas was recognized by Anglo-American naval planners as early as the First World War. The invasion and Occupation of Norway by Nazi Germany Norway during World War II confirmed the importance of the region, as Germany was able to establish bases to be established for submarine and air operations against Allied convoys bound for the Soviet seaport of Murmansk.[1]

Following the Second World War, several former allied navies executed a number of individual and multi-lateral naval exercises, including:

  • Operation Frostbite (pictured), a 1946 naval exercise involving U.S. Navy Task Group 21.11 led by the aircraft carrier USS Midway (CVB-41) that operated in the Davis Straits between Labrador and Greenland;[2]
  • Exercise Verity, a 1949 combined naval exercise involving the British, French, and Dutch navies which carried out naval bombardment, convoy escort, minesweeping, and Motor Torpedo Boat attack evolutions;[3]
  • Exercise Activity, a 1950 Dutch-led naval exercise to refine combined communications and tactical procedures;[3] and
  • Exercise Progress, a 1951 French-led combined naval operation with Belgian, French, Danish, Dutch, Norwegian, and British naval units that participating in antisubmarine warfare operations, air defense maneuvers, minesweeping operations, and convoy exercises.[3]

Soviet containment strategy

Initially with his "long telegram" and subsequently in his article "The Sources of Soviet Conduct" that appeared in the July 1947 issue of Foreign Affairs, American diplomat George F. Kennan argued that Joseph Stalin would not (and moreover could not) moderate the determination of the Soviet Union to undermine and overthrow Western governments following World War II, noting:

"... the main element of any United States policy toward the Soviet Union must be a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies... Soviet pressure against the free institutions of the Western world is something that can be contained by the adroit and vigilant application of counterforce at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points, corresponding to the shifts and manoeuvers of Soviet policy, but which cannot be charmed or talked out of existence."[4]

Kennan's advocacy for a policy of containment against the Soviet Union formed the basis of American foreign policy during the Cold War, giving rise to the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and the formation of NATO.

NATO command structure

With the establishment of NATO’s Allied Command Atlantic (ACLANT) on 30 January 1952, the Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic (SACLANT) joined the previously created Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) as one of the alliance’s two principal military field commanders.[5] Also, a Channel Command was established on 21 February 1952 to control the English Channel and North Sea area and deny it to the enemy, protect the sea lanes of communication, and Support operations conducted by SACEUR and SACLANT.[6][7]

Operational history

Initial planning for Exercise Mainbrace was initiated by General Dwight D. Eisenhower prior to his resignation as NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) to run for the President of the United States.[8] The exercise itself was commanded jointly by SACLANT Admiral Lynde D. McCormick, USN, and SACEUR General Matthew B. Ridgeway, U.S. Army, with the immediate theater commander being Admiral Sir Patrick Brind, RN, who was in Commander-in-Chief Allied Forces Northern Europe.[9][10][11][12][13]

Mainbrace was conducted over twelve days between September 14–25, 1952, and involved nine navies: United States Navy, the British Royal Navy, French Navy, Royal Canadian Navy, Royal Danish Navy, Royal Norwegian Navy, Portuguese Navy, Royal Netherlands Navy, and Belgian Naval Force operating in the Norwegian Sea, the Barents Sea, the North Sea near the Jutland Peninsula, and the Baltic Sea. Its objective was to convince Denmark and Norway that those nations could be defended against attack from the Soviet Union.[8] The exercise featured simulated carrier air strikes against "enemy" formation attacking NATO's northern flank near Bodø, Norway, naval air attacks against aggressors near the Kiel Canal, anti-submarine and anti-ship operations, and U.S. marines landing in Denmark.[9][10][11][12][13][14][15]

Force composition

Eighty thousand men, over 200 ships, and 1,000 aircraft participated in the Mainbrace. The New York Times' military reporter Hanson W. Baldwin described this NATO naval force as being the "largest and most powerful fleet that has cruised in the North Sea since World War I."[16][17]

Naval Forces - Operation Mainbrace, 1952[citation needed]
NATO member Aircraft carriers Battleships Cruisers Escorts MCM Submarines Torpedo boat squadrons Motor ships/Naval trawlers Grand Total
United States 6 1 3 40 9 59
UK 3 1 2 31 17 4 8 + Trawlers 66
Canada 1 1 5 7
France 7 11 2 20
Denmark 3 2 2 7
Norway 2 16 2 3 3 26
Portugal 3 3
Netherlands 5 3 5 13
Belgium 2 2
TOTALS: 10 2 6 96 31 33 7 18 203
Blue Fleet Fast Carrier Task Force

USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42) with Carrier Air Group 17 (CVG-17):[18]

  • Fighter Squadron 171 (VF-171)
  • Fighter Squadron 172 (VF-172)
  • Fighter Squadron 174 (VF-174)
  • Attack Squadron 175 (VA-175)
  • Fleet Composite Squadron 12 (VC-12) Detachment 42
  • Fleet Composite Squadron 33 (VC-33) Detachment 42
  • Fleet Composite Squadron 62 (VC-62) Detachment 42
  • Utility Helicopter Squadron 2 (HU-2) Detachment 41

USS Midway (CVB-41) with Carrier Air Group 6 (CVG-6):[19]

  • Fleet Composite Squadron 8 (VC-8)
  • Fleet Composite Squadron 12 (VC-12) Detachment 41
  • Fleet Composite Squadron 33 (VC-33) Detachment 41
  • Fleet Composite Squadron 62 (VC-62) Detachment 41
  • Utility Helicopter Squadron 2 (HU-2) Detachment 41

USS Wasp (CV-18) and Carrier Air Group 1 (CVG-1):[20]

  • Fleet Composite Squadron 62 (VC-62) Detachment 18
  • Fleet Composite Squadron 12 (VC-12) Detachment 18
  • Utility Helicopter Squadron 2 (HU-2) Detachment 18

HMS Eagle (R05):[21]

HMS Illustrious (R87):[22]

Light aircraft carriers
Escort aircraft carriers
Amphibious force flagship


Other NATO Military Exercises - Fall 1952

Exercise Mainbrace was part of a series of NATO exercise jointly commanded by Admiral McCormick and General Ridgeway during the Fall of 1952 involving 300,000 military personnel engaged in maneuvers from the Arctic Circle to the Mediterranean Sea.[10][12]

Two exercises were conducted by NATO's Allied Forces Southern Europe during the Fall of 1952.[23] Ancient Wall was a series of military maneuvers involving ground small unit tactical training, land-based tactical air support, and carrier-based air support.[24] Longstep was a ten-day naval exercise held in the Mediterranean Sea during November 1952 involving over 170 warships and 700 aircraft under the overall command of Admiral Carney. The objective of the Allied ("Blue") forces was to dislodge enemy ("Green") invasion forces from their occupying positions in the Eastern Mediterranean. Blue naval forces were centered around the U.S. Sixth Fleet, under the command of Vice Admiral John H. Cassady, USN, and its two aircraft carriers, the Franklin D. Roosevelt and Wasp. Green forces included submarines and land-based aircraft. The exercise concluded with an amphibious landing at Lebidos Bay south of İzmir, involving 3000 French, Italian, and Greek troops, including the Battalion Landing Team 3/2, under the overall command of General Robert E. Hogaboom, USMC.[23][25]


The Soviet Union characterized Mainbrace, Holdfast, and other NATO military exercises as "war-like acts" by NATO, with particular reference to the participation of Norway and Denmark, while the USSR was preparing for its own military maneuvers in the Soviet Zone.[10][12]

See also


  1. Allard. "Strategic Views of the US Navy and NATO on the Northern Flank, 1917-1991"
  2. Midway History and Events: Shake Down and Operation Frostbite
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "SACLANT: Guardian of the Atlantic" All Hands, October 1952
  4. "X" (July 1947). "The Sources of Soviet Conduct". pp. 575–576. Digital object identifier:10.2307/20030065. ISSN 0015-7120. JSTOR 20030065. 
  5. "Chapter 7 - The Military Structure - Atlantic Command". NATO the first five years 1949-1954. NATO. Retrieved 2008-01-03. 
  6. "Chapter 7 - The Military Structure - Channel Command and Channel Committee". NATO the first five years 1949-1954. NATO. Retrieved 2008-09-03. 
  7. "Appendix 1 — Chronicle". NATO the first five years 1949-1954. NATO. Retrieved 2008-09-03. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 Thompson. Lessons Not Learned, p. 15 - 16
  9. 9.0 9.1 Time, September 22, 1952
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Time, September 29, 1952
  11. 11.0 11.1 NATO Military Command Roster
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 "NATO Ships Enter Baltic Sea" - Sydney Morning Herald, p. 2
  13. 13.0 13.1 "The NATO Exercises, Part 1" Flight (September 26, 1952) p. 402-404. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Flight1" defined multiple times with different content
  14. "HMS Vanguard: A short history of Britain’s last battleship", p. 18
  15. "USS QUINCY CA-71", p. 34
  16. Baldwin, Hanson (September 28 1952). "Navies Meet the Test in Operation Mainbrace". pp. E7. 
  17. "The Bridge in Troubled Times: The Cold War and the Navies of Europe", p. 318
  18. Carrier Air Group Seventeen
  19. Carrier Air Group Six
  20. Carrier Air Group One
  21. "Royal Navy Aircraft Carriers Part 3". Archived from the original on 2012-06-30. [dead link]
  22. Audio # 564735: OPERATION MAINBRACE - ContextDescription dated 9/1952 - Imperial War Museum Collection (U.K.)
  23. 23.0 23.1 "A Big Step Forward: Operation Longstep" (PDF). All Hands. BUPERS - U.S. Navy. January 1953. Retrieved 2010-08-01. 
  24. "The NATO Exercises, Part 1". September 26 1952. pp. 402–404. 
  25. "Official Biography - General Robert E. Hogaboom, USMC". Manpower & Reserve Affairs. United States Marine Corps. 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-01. 

Sources and references

This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.

External links

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