Sunday, June 10, 2012

U.S. Air Force in Europe (USAFE)

U.S. Air Force Bases in Germany during the Cold War

Since 7 May 1945 The United States has maintained air bases in Germany initially beginning as postwar occupation forces. During the Cold War, the number of bases was expanded to support NATO.

At the end of World War II United States Army Air Force bases in the U.S. Zone of Occupation in Germany were selected when there were absolutely no requirements for tactical defensive planning. Army Air Force planners simply selected usable former Luftwaffe bases in the American Zone which were repaired and used for transport and occupation duties.

The initial USAF bases and units in the American Occupation Zone in 1947 were:

    Erding (Fliegerhorst) Air Depot (7485th Air Depot Group)
    Fürstenfeldbruck Air Base (36th Fighter Group)
    Landsberg Air Base (7280th Air Base Group)
    Kaufbeuren Air Base (7320th Air Force Group)
    Neubiberg Air Base (33d Fighter Group)
    Frankfurt/Main Airport (469th Air Base Group)
    Tempelhof Airport (American Zone Berlin) (7350th Air Base Group)

With the exception of Frankfurt/Main Airport and Tempelhof Central Airport, these bases were all in Southern Bavaria.

With the advent of the Berlin Blockade and the chilling of relations with the Soviet Union by 1948 it became obvious to USAF planners that these bases were tactically untenable because of their proximity to the East German and Czechoslovakian borders.

With the creation of NATO in response to Cold War tensions in Europe, USAFE wanted its vulnerable fighter units in West Germany moved west of the Rhine River to provide greater air defense warning time. France quickly agreed to provide air base sites within their zone of occupation in the Rheinland-Palatinate as part of the NATO expansion program. These new sites would all be fifty miles or more west of the Rhein River and most were located on rolling hilltops in rural settings.

Land acquisition in the Rheinland-Palatinate was rapid, and during 1951 construction began on six new air bases. These bases were not funded by NATO, but by USAF money partially offset by German war reparation payments, and construction was performed by West German contractors. Completion was on time and the quality was high. Bases at Pferdsfeld and Zweibrücken were built with USAF funds, but were assigned to the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) in 1952.

In 1968 the RCAF moved its forces south to Lahr and Söllingen in Baden-Württemberg. Pferdsfeld AB was turned over to the West German Air Force, and Zweibrücken AB to USAFE.

Major USAFE Air Bases and units in West Germany during the Cold War were:

    Rhein-Main Air Base (469th Air Base Group)
    Sembach Air Base (601st Tactical Air Control Wing)
    Hahn Air Base (50th Tactical Fighter Wing)
    Bitburg Air Base (36th Tactical Fighter Wing)
    Ramstein-Landstuhl Air Base (86th Tactical Fighter Wing)
    Spangdahlem Air Base (52d Tactical Fighter Wing)
    Tempelhof Central Airport (West Berlin) (7350th Air Base Group)
    Wiesbaden Air Base Lindsey Air Station (7100 Air Base Group)
    Zweibrücken Air Base (26th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing)

HQ USAFE was at Wiesbaden Air Base until 1973, then moved to Ramstein Air Base. Wiesbaden Air Base was turned over to the Army in 1975 in exchange for Army facilities in the Ramstein-Kaiserslautern area. The USAF, however, remained at Lindsey Air Station in Wiesbaden until 1993.

These bases served the USAF well for over 40 years, keeping the peace in Western Europe.
After the Cold War

With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, there was a drawdown of United States tactical aircraft and personnel in Germany. In accordance with the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany (also known as the Two Plus Four Agreement (German: Zwei-plus-Vier-Vertrag)) of 1990, no foreign armed forces and nuclear weapons or their carriers would be stationed in former German Democratic Republic (East Germany) or deployed there, making it a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone.

This treaty paved the way for German reunification on 3 October that year, and the many changes in Europe during the 1990s.

The air bases at Hahn, Bitburg, Wiesbaden and Zweibrücken were closed by USAFE and turned over to the German government by 1993. In July 1994, with President Clinton in attendance, the British, French, and American air and land forces in Berlin were deactivated in a ceremony on the Four Ring Parade field at Tempelhof Central Airport. With this ceremony the last vestige of World War II in Germany officially ended. Rhein-Main was closed at the end of 2005, its logistics missions being transferred to Ramstein and Spangdahlem.

Sembach Air Base is still active as a support facility for Ramstein Air Base called "Sembach Annex". The runway and operational facilities at Sembach were turned over to the German government. Only the base support facility is still in use by USAFE, and is in the process of being closed.

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