Starting already during the second world war, opening the sea lines of communications in the Channel and Belgian and Dutch waters was seen as essential for the access to the largest ports in Europe. This access was paramount for the success of the allied operations in the last years of the war.
But with the expulsion of the enemy from our territory, we were not yet ready to turn this dramatic chapter in our history.
Europe and the Allied Tropics needed access to the sea and free access to ports for the supply of troops and later for the reconstruction of battered countries. That is why it was so important that, in the wake of the liberators (once again, a little literally), mine clearance operations should continue …
Immediately after the liberation of the Belgian coastline cities, Ostend hosted the first fleet of minesweepers, sometimes not more than modified fishing trawlers. And so it was that in 1944, the first Royal Navy Section Belge minesweepers entered the port of Oostende. The importance of the port of Oostende cannot be underscored enough; its central location and connection with the hinterland.
Two years later, at the official founding of the Belgian Navy, Ostend was a logical choice for a garrison town with direct access to the sea and the subsequent growth of the naval presence. It is in Ostend that The Belgian Navy received its official standard and it is not a surprise that Ostend was chosen for the inauguration of NATO’s Standing Naval Force Channel in May 1973, a standing force of minewarfare vessels, still active today!
EGUERMIN – ECOLE DE GUERRE DES MINES
The “Ecole de Guerre de Mines” EGUERMIN has been a binational school since 1965 but fully integrated with the Belgian-Netherlands Naval Mine Warfare School in 1975. That same year the Mine Staff Officer Course (MSOC) and the Wargaming System (WG) became available to all NATO nations. From that moment on EGUERMIN was the “Principal Advisor to NATO on Naval Mine Warfare” to CINCCHAN, the NATO commander in the region at that time. In 1996, courses at EGUERMIN also became available to Partnership for Peace (PfP) countries.
The Belgian and the Netherlands Ministers of Defence decided to offer EGUERMIN as Centre of Excellence (COE) in the field of Naval Mine Warfare (NMW) in December 2003. The three parties (BEL, NLD and HQ SACT) signed a functional Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in April 2005 to that effect. In November 2006, the North Atlantic Council (NAC), the highest political body within NATO, accredited EGUERMIN as a COE in the field of Naval Mine Warfare.
NATO NMW COE 2.0 with Italy and Poland
One of the consequences of the new NATO Command Structure (NCS) is that there is a larger demand for knowledge and manpower from the COE’s. Therefore the Framework Nations (FN) of the NMW COE, BEL and NLD decided to transform EGUERMIN from a Bi-National COE in the field of NMW, to a Multinational NATO Naval Mine Warfare COE. After lengthy negotiations, Italy (ITA) and Poland (POL) decided to join the NMW COE as Sponsoring Nations (SN). This resulted in the signing of a new MOU in December 2018.