Laarbruch through the years

RAF Laarbruch

Remembering the Ghosts of the past...

In june 1943, a tactical air force was formed under the royal air force fighter command. It was composed of the 2nd, 83rd and 84th Group. The last two groups were called ground and flying units, because their location constantly changed. On 15 November 1943 the second Tactical Air Force became part of the Allied Forces wich were formed to liberate europe. During the early stages of the invasion, the second tactical AF provided fighter cover and air support. In august 1944, the 85th group was added to the Second Tactical AF. These groups operated with aircraft such as, Spitfires, Mosquitos, Bostons and Typhoons. In april 1945 the headquarter of the RAF was based on german soil. First in Süchteln and later in Bad Eilsen. The Second Tactical AF became known as the british air force of occupation on 15 july 1945. In October 1954 the RAF's headquaters moved to Rheindahlen near Mönchengladbach. On 1 january 1959 the command received the name Royal Air Force Germany (RAFG). Today, the complete Royal Air Force has been disbanded due to threath increasements. The Cold War has ended...

RAF Laarbruch, was one of RAFG's largest airbases. Here the air is filled with the ghosts of past wars: there was action here during the hundred Year War, Marlbourough fought here, the Siegfried line ende here, and, towards the end of World War II, heavy fighting took place around this area. From the opening of the base on 15 oktober 1954 to the closure in 1999, RAF Laarbruch saw action of the most modern airplanes. From Canberra to the Tornado and Harrier, we now take a look at Laarbruch's history:

"Building the station"
After the dust from WW II was cleared, NATO had approved the construction of 126 airfields, of wich 100 had to be in the central region. 41 in France, 31 in Germany, 14 in Belgium, 13 in The Netherlands and on in Luxemburg. These new airfields  were founded on the "basic operating platform" of an 8000ft by 150ft (2400m x 45m) runway with a parallel taxiway wich could double as a emergency runway. RAF Laarbruch was one of the last airbases to be constructed in the series of "Clutch Airfields". The first RAFG bases to be constructed, were RAF Wildenrath, Geilenkirchen, Gütersloh and Brüggen. 

"Snuffling Eyes"

Primary task of the squadrons wich were based at Laarbruch, was photo-reconnaisance  (PR). Therefore 3 squadrons were transferred from RAF Gutersloh to RAF Laarbruch in the period of november-december 1954 to fullfill Laarbruch's reconaissance assignment. These squadrons consisted of 79sqn with Meteor FR.9's for tactical low-level reconnaisance, 541sqn with Meteor PR.10's and 69sqn with Canberra PR.3's for tactical strategical reconnaisance. The Canberra's of 69sqn were also tasked with PR on vessels in the Mediterrainian Sea and were therefore also detached to RAF Luqa at Malta

This Meteor from 541sqn crashed in Horst, (NL) during a sortie from Laarbruch. 14/04/55 Foto: Dagblad De Limburger
 

"Royal Netherlands Air Force, the dutchies"                                                                                   

To understripe the role of RAF Laarbruch as a PR-airfield, 306sqn of the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF), was assigned to Laarbruch's flying squadrons. 306sqn became equipped on 9 november 1954 with the Republic F-84E thunderjet. These aircraft had been 'in the open' at Volkel AB, and were not in the best condition. 306sqn operated from Laarbruch next to it's british counterparts. The Thunderjets and the RAF's "photo-meteors" became known as the 34rd recce-wing. Besides the Thunderjets the squadron had also some RT-33's for training purposes and even some T-33A's came on strenght. In April '56 the Thunderjets of were replaced by the far more modern RF-84F "Thunderflash". The first thunderflash arrived at Laarbruch on 4 april '56. In december 1957 there came an end to the activities of 306sqn at Laarbruch and 306sqn left its base at Laabruch and was transfered to Deelen AB in the Netherlands. 

  "Full Canberra Base"
During march-august 1955, 3 more Canberra PR.7 squadrons were added to RAF Laarbruch's inventory. These new squadrons received the following numberplates: 31sqn, 214sqn and 80sqn. (There is a bit confusion in the literature about 214sqn, this squadron was based at Laarbruch from june-august '55 but had never received it's Canberra's!) Before the aircraft actually arrived, 214sqn was renumbered to 80sqn. 
Because of the Canberra activities it became to crowded at Laarbruch, so the two Meteor squadrons were transferred to RAF Wunstorf in November '55, leaving RAF Laarbruch to be a full Canberra-base. After two years, in july 1957, 80sqn was transferred to Brüggen. 69sqn was transferred to RAF Luqa in Malta in April '58 leaving 31sqn as the sole PR-unit at Laarbruch. 31sqn is now the unit wich has seen more RAFG years than any other RAF squadron.
A canberra PR.7 from 31sqn returning at RAF Laarbruch after a local excersise in 1972. 

 

"Night and All Weather Fighting and Flying"
In 1957 another task, the Air Defence task, was assigned to RAF Laarbruch besides the Tactical Reconnaissance, with the arrival of 68sqn with Meteor NF.11's wich came from RAF Köln-Wahn in Juli. Number 68sqn was renumberred into 5sqn in January '59.                                                                   After a year of flying the Meteor NF.11's the squadron received the far more modern Javelin FAW.5 and the squadron's strenght was brought up to 18 aircraft (instead of the normal 14) due to the Berlin crisis.   No 5sqn switched from Laarbruch in december '62 to RAF Geilenkirchen. 
A Javelin FAW.5 from 5sqn in a typical Laarbruch environment. Foto: MAP
"Canberra's continuing"
In between, in March '58, 16sqn came to RAF Laarbruch bringing the first Canberra BI.8's to the field. This unit was followed by number 3sqn (also Canberra BI.8) wich was transferred from RAF Geilenkirchen due to the closure of RAF Geilenkirchen as a RAF base.                            

During this Canberra era the Canberra squadrons always had some Canberra T.4's on strenght and on ocasion these T.4 aircraft were allocated to the Laarbruch Station Flight. 3sqn stayed until december '71 at Laarbruch and 16 months later 16sqn also replaced it's odd canberra's. The canberra period came to an end!! 

Canberra BI.8 XM277/U from 3sqn shortly after landing at Laarbruch.
"Bricks and Hunters"

After 15sqn was equipped with Buccaneers at RAF Honington (UK) the squadron came to Laarbruch in january '71 as the first  'brick'-squadron (The Buccaneer aircraft was in the RAF often called "Flying Brick".) to take over the nuclear bombing task from the canberra's.                    

In oktober '72, 16sqn, wich still operated the Canberra BI.8, started it's conversion to Buccaneers and became fully operational on the 'Bucc' in January 1973. The primary task of the buccaneers within SACEUR (Strategic Air Command Europe) was low-level overland interdiction and strike. They fulfilled this role within RAFG together with the Jaguars from RAF Brüggen. 

Buccaneer from 16sqn soaring over Germany during a sortie from Laarbruch

The standard armament of the Buccaneers at Laarbruch consisted of 1000pound bombs. However they could also carry the Paveway laser guided bombs as well as clusterbombs. Also ECM (Electronic Counter Measuring) pods were carried by the Buccaneers from 16sqn in addition to their nuclear task. 

The two Buccaneer squadrons were taking part in the famous "Red Flag" excersies in Nellis, Nevada and the "Maple flag" excersises in Cold Lake, Canada. For these excersises some of the "bricks" were painted in a Desert camouflage scheme. Because the Buccaneer was a very expensive aircraft to fly, both squadron were also equipped with modificated Hunter T.7's of wich their canopy lay-out was the same as the Buccaneers. 


"Real hot pipes"
For air defence, the C-flight of 25sqn (HQ RAF Brüggen) came to Laarbruch with it's Bloodhound Mk.2 missiles. The remains of the old bunker can still be seen today. 

"Eyes of the Phantom"
As stated earlier in this report, after 17(!) years of operations, the Canberra's of number 31sqn left Laarbruch in 1971. In the same year, the Phantom FGR.2's from 2sqn came to Laarbruch (They were based at RAF Brüggen) to take over the photo-reconnaisance role from 31sqn. These Phantoms were equipped with an state-of-the-art infra red line scanning SLAR (Side Looking Air Radar) centerline pod. Number 2sqn had made fame as an reconnaisance squadron within RAFG. The Phantom however, was only a temporarely solution untill the Jaguar Arrived in 1976.

A Jaguar and Phantom from 2sqn  on initials at Laarbruch.

"Beware of the Jaguars"
During a short period in 1976 the Jaguar was introduced to 2sqn and operated alongside the phantoms for a while. On 1 oktober  1976 the number 2 sqadron became fully operational on the Jaguar GR.1A. The Jaguars of 2sqn played an important part in RAFG's deep penetration reconnaisance role with a secondary "conventional" attack role. The 2sqn had also an "Army Cooperation" task, so mostly the unit was known as 2(AC)sqn. The Jaguar Pilots were able to pass on 'realtime' information on his briefed target to the Army commanders on the ground. After a PR-sortie the Jag's arrived back at Laarbruch were the exposed films was unloaded from the pod and rushed to the RIC (Recon Intelligence Center) for processing. The photo's were developped and ready in the PI's light-table withing 10 minutes after engine shutdown!



"Heavy Thunderstorms"
Wenn the Buccanneers from 15 and 16sqn came to the end of their operational life, it was now "Tornado-time". Ironically, the first tornado that ever landed at Laarbruch was a German Air Force aircraft. This aircraft was used to see if the Tornado could fit in Laarbruch's existing shelters. The first RAF Tornado arrived in september 1983 and was assigned to number 15sqn. The Tornado GR.1's for number 16sqn folowed in march '84. A third tornado squadron (20sqn) became operational at Laarbruch in june '84 after it was disbanded at RAF Brüggen in the same year. 

 

 

 

 

 

Tornado GR.1 from 20sqn on approach for RWY09.

As number 2sqn still was operating it's Jaguars, it celebrated it's 75th anniversary birthday by flying 6 Jaguars from Brüggen (the Runway at Laarbruch was under Maintenance at that time) to Farnborough (UK) for a celebration flypast. After these celebrations the time came for 2sqn to also replace the jaguars for Tornado's. In januari '89 the unit received it's first Tornado GR.1A (the reconaissance version of the GR.1). Laarbruch's tornados of all three squadrons played am important role in the war over Iraq. During 'Desert storm' it became quiet at Laarbruch as most of the aircraft were temporarely based in Saudi Arabia. For the occasion all aircraft were painted at Laarbruch in a temporarley "Desert-pink" camouflage scheme.  During the Iraq crisis Tornado's from most of the RAF's tornado units could be seen at Laarbruch.


"Going Vertical"
After the war over Iraq it became very quiet at Laarbruch with a year of almost no activities. The Bulldog T.1 aircraft wich came to Laaruch every year on their summer training camp had al the airpace for themselves... Also other training aircraft used the quiet period at Laarbruch for their approach trainings. An regular bases NATO's "AWACS" could be seen a well as the C-9's from Ramstein. After the closure of RAF Gütersloh, things were heating up again at Laarbruch with the arrival of 3 and 4sqn with their Harriers. In november 1992 the first Harriers landed at Laarbruch. For the Harriers and additional engine-test bay wass build on the North side of the Airfield. Another result of the closure of RAF Gütersloh was the arrival of 18sqn with it's helicopters. 18sqn was equipped during the Laarbruch-period with Chinook HC.1 and Puma HC.1's. These Helo's played an important role to support the BAOR (British Army On Rhine) forces. During this helo-period wich lasted until june 1997 an 
Gazelle HT.3 was also based. The Harrier period lasted until 1999 wenn the last Harrier of 3sqn left Laarbruch.

     Harrier from 4sqn on RWY09 Approach.         18sqn Chinook on RWY09 approach.                18sqn Puma on RWY09 approach.

 

"Battle Damage And Repair and Decoys" 
A whole range of non-flying aircraft had been 'based' at Laarbruch for the use of Battle Damage and Repair training and for the use as a decoy for enemy (aircraft) attacks. From the latest decennia it is known that the following aircrafdt where present at Laarbruch: Buccaneer S.1, Canberra BI.8, Hunter F.6 and FGA.9, Lightning F.2A and F.6, Wessex HU.5, F-4J(UK), Phantom FGR.2 and Harrier GR.3. 

 

 Laarbruch through the years