Supreme Allied Commander

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This article is about Supreme Allied Commander. For Commanders of Military Forces, see Commander-in-chief.

Supreme Allied Commander is the title held by the most senior commander within certain multinational military alliances. It originated as a term used by the Western Allies during World War II, and is currently used only within NATO.

World War II[edit]

During World War II, the Allied leaders saw fit to appoint a Supreme Allied Commander to manage the multi-nation, multi-discipline fighting forces for a particular theatre of war. These Supreme Allied Commanders were given operational control over all air, land, and sea units in that theatre.

These Supreme Allied Commanders – in some cases called Commander-in-Chief – were drawn from the most senior leaders in the British Armed Forces and United States Armed Forces. These commanders reported to the British/American Combined Chiefs of Staff, although in the case of the Pacific and South East Asia, the relevant national command authorities of the American Joint Chiefs of Staff or the British Chiefs of Staff Committee had responsibility for the main conduct of the war in the theatre, depending on the Supreme Commander's nationality.

General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower served in successive Supreme Allied Commander roles. Eisenhower was the Commander-in-Chief, Allied Force for the Mediterranean theatre. Eisenhower then served as Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Force (SCAEF) in the European theatre, starting in December 1943 with the creation of the command to execute the Battle of Normandy and ending in July 1945 shortly after the end of the war in Europe. In 1951, Eisenhower would again be a Supreme Allied Commander, the first to hold the post for NATO (see next section).

Field Marshal Henry Maitland Wilson succeeded Eisenhower in the Mediterranean theatre, given the title Supreme Allied Commander Mediterranean. Wilson was succeeded by Field Marshal Harold Alexander, who continued in charge of those Allied forces until the end of the war.

Admiral of the Fleet Lord Louis Mountbatten was Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia (SACSEA) throughout most of its existence.

General of the Army Douglas MacArthur was Supreme Allied Commander in the South West Pacific Area (SWPA). During the Allied occupation of Japan following World War II, MacArthur held the title of Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP).

Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz was Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas (CINCPOA), through the war.


The term came into use again with the formation of NATO in 1949.

The current NATO structure is divided into two commands, one for operations and one for transformation. Each has a Supreme Allied Commander as highest-ranking military officer.


Until June 2003, the operational structure of NATO was divided into "Europe" and "Atlantic". Correspondingly the commanders were known as Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) and Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic (SACLANT).

The Supreme Commander has always been an American, with a deputy officer from another NATO member, though only British and Germans have held the post. The first SACEUR (1951-1952) was General Dwight Eisenhower. The current (since 2013) Commander is General Philip M. Breedlove (Air Force), who succeeded Admiral James G. Stavridis (Navy). All who have held the position appear on the list of Supreme Allied Commanders Europe.

In June 2003, the SACLANT organisation was decommissioned and Allied Command Transformation was established. This is a transformational command, intended to reshape the NATO command structure to respond to rapidly changing world situations and technology. The commander of the organization is General Jean-Paul Paloméros of the French Air Force,[1] who succeeded General Stéphane Abrial. Abrial was the first non-American to hold a supreme commander role within NATO. The headquarters of ACT is at the former SACLANT headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia, USA.

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