Exercise Mainbrace

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Exercise Mainbrace
Part of Cold War (1947–1953)
NATO Northern Flank.png
NATO Northern Flank
TypeNATO combined naval training exercises
ObjectiveDeployment of NATO anti-submarine warfare forces, aircraft carrier strike forces, and supply convoys
DateSeptember 14–25, 1952
Executed byAdmiral Sir Patrick Brind, RN (CINCNORTH)
OutcomeExercise 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.

Naval activities in north Atlantic, 1946-1951[edit]

Operation Frostbite (1946)

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 during World War II confirmed the importance of the region, as Germany was able to establish bases 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 multinational 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]

Operational history[edit]

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.[4] 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.[5][6][7][8][9]

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.[4] 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.[5][6][7][8][9][10][11]

Force composition[edit]

Seas break over the bow of HMS Vanguard making a high speed run

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."[12][13]

Naval Forces - Operation Mainbrace, 1952[citation needed]
NATO member Aircraft carriers Battleships Cruisers Escorts MCM Submarines Torpedo boat squadrons Motor ships/Naval trawlers 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 with Carrier Air Group 17 (CVG-17):[14]

  • 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 with Carrier Air Group 6 (CVG-6):[15]

  • 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 and Carrier Air Group 1 (CVG-1):[16]

  • 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:[17]

HMS Illustrious:[18]

Light aircraft carriers
Escort aircraft carriers
Amphibious force flagship


Other NATO Military Exercises - Fall 1952[edit]

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.[6][8]

Two exercises were conducted by NATO's Allied Forces Southern Europe during the Fall of 1952.[19] Ancient Wall was a series of military maneuvers involving ground small unit tactical training, land-based tactical air support, and carrier-based air support.[20] 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.[19][21]


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.[6][8]

See also[edit]


  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. ^ a b c "SACLANT: Guardian of the Atlantic" All Hands, October 1952
  4. ^ a b Thompson. Lessons Not Learned, p. 15 - 16
  5. ^ a b Time, September 22, 1952
  6. ^ a b c d Time, September 29, 1952
  7. ^ a b NATO Military Command Roster
  8. ^ a b c d "NATO Ships Enter Baltic Sea" - Sydney Morning Herald, p. 2
  9. ^ a b "The NATO Exercises, Part 1" Flight (September 26, 1952) p. 402-404.
  10. ^ "HMS Vanguard: A short history of Britain’s last battleship", p. 18
  11. ^ "USS QUINCY CA-71", p. 34
  12. ^ Baldwin, Hanson (September 28, 1952). "Navies Meet the Test in Operation Mainbrace". New York Times: E7.
  13. ^ "The Bridge in Troubled Times: The Cold War and the Navies of Europe", p. 318
  14. ^ Carrier Air Group Seventeen
  15. ^ Carrier Air Group Six
  16. ^ Carrier Air Group One
  17. ^ "Royal Navy Aircraft Carriers Part 3". Archived from the original on February 25, 2009.
  18. ^ Audio # 564735: OPERATION MAINBRACE - ContextDescription dated 9/1952 - Imperial War Museum Collection (U.K.)
  19. ^ a b "A Big Step Forward: Operation Longstep" (PDF). All Hands. BUPERS - U.S. Navy. January 1953. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2004-11-20. Retrieved 2010-08-01.
  20. ^ "The NATO Exercises, Part 1". Flight: 402–404. September 26, 1952.
  21. ^ "Official Biography - General Robert E. Hogaboom, USMC". Manpower & Reserve Affairs. United States Marine Corps. 2010. Archived from the original on 2007-08-20. Retrieved 2010-08-01.

Sources and references[edit]

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

External links[edit]