Rhine army gives way to new multinational force

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THE LAST vestige of the British occupation of Germany after the Second World War began to disappear yesterday and a new multinational military force under British leadership was born at a colourful ceremony in Germany.

The First (British) Corps was yesterday placed in suspended animation and the headquarters of the British Army of the Rhine began to be run down. These organisations were the last remnants of the occupation forces of the 1940s, although the British have been in Germany as Nato allies since the federal republic acquired full sovereign status and Nato membership in May 1955.

The new Rapid Reaction Corps - the ARRC or 'Ark', as it is known - reflects the transformed strategic environment of the new Europe. Although its motto, Audentis Fortuna Iuvat - fortune favours the bold - suggests a more aggressive role in heading off trouble, the force, which became operational yesterday, will not move to Bosnia, nor, indeed, anywhere outside Nato territory. Under current guidelines it will be deployed only inside Nato borders and will not be fully operational until 1995.

Manfred Worner, Nato's Secretary General and General John Shalikashvili, its Supreme Allied Commander Europe, were present at the ceremony. General Shalikashvili said: 'The history of First British Corps is in many ways the history of this bloody century. How fitting that this formation should form the framework of the alliance's new centrepiece.'

Mr Worner said his presence in Bielefeld yesterday underlined the importance which the political authorities of the Nato alliance attached to the Rapid Reaction Corps. 'It will be the centrepiece of our force posture,' he said.

'The alliance is adapting swiftly and correctly to these sweeping changes. This corps is capable of a multitude of missions from humanitarian missions to peace- keeping, to - God forbid - defence in full-scale conflict.'

Asked whether the new corps might be used outside Nato borders, Mr Worner said: 'The new strategy clearly focuses on crisis management and our alliance has offered to participate in peace- keeping operations under the mandate of CSCE (Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe). I can imagine that in certain situations parts of the corps could be used in such situations.'

The ARRC will be commanded by a Briton - Lt-General Sir Jeremy Mackenzie - who took command yesterday. Its multinational headquarters will be about 60 per cent British. It is a permanent Nato formation, not a British formation, although Britain is the 'framework nation'.

Only two divisions - multinational division centre, due to form by April 1994 and MND South, to be formed a year later - will be permanent parts of the ARRC. All the other divisions, each comprising up to 30,000 troops from one country at full combat strength will be 'assigned' to the ARRC and Nato will call on them as necessary.

Contingents from 12 nations were drawn up on the square at Bielefeld yesterday for the ceremony marking the end of First British Corps and the creation of the radically different force. The Corps' flag was handed to General Sir Peter Inge, Chief of the General Staff, who will give it to the National Army Museum for safekeeping in case First British ever has to be reconstituted.

The flag of the new corps, a silver spear on dark green, failed to unfurl at the critical moment. The minor embarrassment was overlooked, however, the assembled crowds fascinated by the spectacle of 12 national groups marching past with radically different marching styles. Finally, the Italian Bersaglieri band performed its spectacular run-past, playing music as it went.