R.A.F. Laarbruch Station History ( Written before the station closed )

"EINE FESTE BURG". It means "a strong fortress" and has been the motto of R.A.F. Laarbruch since the first R.A.F. fighter flew into the newly built Station back in 1954.

Boldly displayed on the Station's badge, the motto speaks volumes about the role of the base in the time since that first flight - for R.A.F. Laarbruch is one of the key locations from which the Cold War was "fought" and won.

Located in the town of Weeze in the rural Niederrhein region of Germany and adjacent to the border with The Netherlands, the Station has been at the forefront of NATO defences for over four decades. In that time, the Station has consistently operated some of the most capable and effective aircraft in Europe, including Canberras, Buccaneers and Tornado GR1s.

The Station is now the home base for Harrier, Chinook and Puma aircraft, R.A.F. Regiment Rapier surface-to-air missiles, an R.A.F. Regiment Field Squadron and an Army Signals Squadron, accommodating over 2300 uniformed personnel in addition to around 1570 families, over 2300 children, 2 schools, 5 shops, 2 post offices, 2 banks and a building society, R.A.F. Laarbruch is the equivalent of a small town.

Indeed, our population exceeds that of several of the local German and Dutch towns and we are the largest employer for over 40 kilometres in any direction.

From the original concept of a reconnaissance base, operating Meteor and Canberra aircraft, to the home, since 1992, of the Harrier and Support Helicopter forces in Germany, Laarbruch has come a long way.

Although the Cold War is now over, the role of the Station remains as vital as ever; indeed the Station is as busy now as it has ever been. NATO too has come a long way over the last 40 years. Having re-assessed its role after the fall of Communism, the result is "Reaction Forces".

This means a change from the old concept of fighting from fixed "strong fortress" home bases, to a new regime where forces have to be prepared to deploy elsewhere to defend N.A.T.O. interests either inside or outside Alliance Boundaries. In short, we now go to where the action is, rather than wait for the action to come to us and it is for this role that R.A.F. Laarbruch is optimised.

The mix of forces now at Laarbruch is one of the most mobile in the R.A.F., with the Harrier and Support Helicopter forces, our 3 Regiment units and our engineering, logistics and administrative elements are able to operate as effectively from a field as from a fixed base. As if to prove this new concept, it is in peacekeeping or defensive operations outside the Alliance boundaries in which all of Laarbruch's units have been recently involved.

Since equipping with the new Harrier GR7 aircraft, No 3(Fighter) Squadron and No IV(Army Co-operation) Squadron, based at R.A.F. Laarbruch, have seen active service over Iraq as part of Operation PROVIDE COMFORT (the no-fly zone in Northern Iraq) and more recently over Bosnia as part of Operation DECISIVE EDGE (formerly DENY FLIGHT).

The Harrier Force has a third Squadron, No 1 (Fighter) Squadron based at R.A.F. Wittering in the UK, and the 3 Squadrons have shared the commitment to Operation DECISIVE EDGE between them, deploying to Gioia Del Colle in Southern Italy for two months at a time.

The Harrier Force assumed the peacekeeping duties over Bosnia in August 1995 and, almost immediately, IV (AC) Squadron was involved in Operation DELIBERATE FORCE, the bombing campaign against the Bosnian Serbs, which ultimately led to the signing of the Dayton peace accord, which brought peace to the war-torn region. Flying over 180 missions with 12 Harrier GR7 aircraft, the Harrier Force proved beyond doubt both its operational effectiveness and its outstanding reliability.

The Harrier GR7 is the most modern aircraft in the R.A.F.'s inventory. Able to take off from an extremely short emergency landing strip, hover motionless in the air and come in to land vertically, it is also the most flexible. Optimised for low-level attack by day or night, its capability to carry and deliver weaponry cannot be matched by any other Close-Air-Support aircraft and its combat radius is equally impressive.

Recently, the Harrier Force has been exercising a further capability - operating from Royal Navy carriers alongside the Sea Harrier FA2. This mix of aircraft will be most potent indeed. With the GR7's capabilities for ground attack and reconnaissance and the FA2's impressive air defence abilities, RN carriers will certainly pack a mighty punch.

Supporting Roles

But it is not just the Harrier Force that has been busy; indeed the support helicopters of No 18 (Bomber) Squadron are among the most sought after assets in the R.A.F.

Primarily tasked with supporting the British Army in Germany with trooping, logistic re-supply and casualty evacuation, it is support for peacekeeping operations that has been the real focus of activity for the Squadron.

Since January 1996, 18(B) Squadron has maintained two Chinook aircraft, two crews and engineering personnel in Split, Croatia. Flying alongside four more Chinooks from R.A.F. Odiham and four RN Sea King helicopters, the helicopters based at Split have provided essential support for the British and other troops involved in "IFOR", the NATO Implementation Force, which has brought peace to Bosnia. The Squadron also supplies a Chinook crew for 78 Squadron in the Falkland Isles.

18(B) Squadron is unique in the R.A.F., being the only unit to operate a mixed fleet of Chinook and Puma aircraft. The Chinook is the mightiest helicopter ever to see R.A.F. service, able to carry loads of up to 10 tonnes or 54 troops. The Chinook can fly for 8 hours and 45 minutes (with the assistance of ferry tanks) giving it a range of almost 1000 nautical miles.

The Puma is smaller but more nimble and can carry loads of 2 tonnes or an infantry section - 16 troops. Both helicopters can be operated at night at low level, giving them a useful capability to support Special Forces operations - a capability which is often trained for with the Forces of other NATO countries, most notably Denmark and The Netherlands.

In order for our aircraft to operate effectively in the air, they must have a safe "base" on the ground, at which they can land, refuel and, when necessary, be repaired. In order to ensure the security of such a base - wherever that may be - R.A.F. Laarbruch has three R.A.F. Regiment units to do just that.

The Tactical Survive to Operate Headquarters is a headquarters unit which deploys with the Harrier and helicopter forces to provide command and control for all "survive to operate" assets - such as ground defence, air defence, military police, fire and explosive ordnance disposal units. Laarbruch's field squadron, No 1 Squadron R.A.F. Regiment, the longest-standing Regiment squadron in the R.A.F., is equipped to provide effective ground defence with over 160 men and powerful 81mm mortars.

Recently, the Squadron has seen service in the Former Yugoslavia and Northern Ireland and it is also declared to NATO as a Reaction Forces (Air) unit, which stands ready to deploy anywhere to make ready and secure a base prior to the deployment of NATO aircraft.

Air defence is provided by No 26 Squadron R.A.F. Regiment, which was the first unit, Army or R.A.F., to equip with the new Rapier Field Standard "C" short-range air defence missile system. The Squadron has 6 Rapier Filed Standard "C" systems, which can deploy in a ring around an aircraft base, either in the field or at a fixed main operating base to provide an imposing air defence barrier, which potentially hostile aircraft attempt to breach at their peril.

Earlier this year, 26 Squadron returned from a deployment to the Falkland Islands, where it installed Rapier Field Standard "C" at R.A.F. Mount Pleasant to replace the older and less capable Rapier Field Standard B1.

Of course, all of this operational capability can be maintained only when the aircraft and equipment are in tip-top condition and this is ensured by the Station's Engineering and Supply Wing, with almost 900 engineering and logistics personnel. Responsible primarily for the maintenance of Laarbruch's aircraft, Engineering and Supply Wing also looks after all the Station's ground support equipment, communications equipment, radar, aircraft navigation aids and weaponry, and operates the largest vehicle fleet in the R.A.F., with almost 1100 vehicles.

Operations Wing is responsible for providing an excellent airfield for the flying squadrons and visiting NATO aircraft. From Air Traffic Control to the Fire section, the airfield at Laarbruch has all the facilities you would expect to find at a civilian airport of this size.

The third functional Wing at R.A.F. Laarbruch, Administration Wing, is as vital to the Station as any other asset, being responsible for providing all the accommodation, catering, personnel, administration, education, medical, and dental services and security.

This is an especially large task here in Germany because the R.A.F. has a duty to care for the families or our personnel, which, at UK stations, is carried out by local civilian authorities. For example, R.A.F. doctors and dentists treat our families as well as the Servicemen, there are two schools on base providing education for our children and our R.A.F. Education Centre is used by Servicemen and families to study for, and take, language or UK examinations.

Naturally, the most unusual aspect of life here at R.A.F. Laarbruch is the fact that we live in Germany. The differences in language and culture between the UK and Germany add an interesting dimension to life in the R.A.F.. Our presence here also enhances the lives of our local community - with whom we enjoy an extremely good relationship - both economically and culturally.

This good relationship is aptly demonstrated by the fact that Laarbruch was the first foreign military unit to be awarded the Freedom of its local German town, when in 1974, the town of Weeze awarded us that privilege and made all Laarbruch personnel Honorary Citizens of Weeze. Each of the flying squadrons at Laarbruch has formal twinning arrangements with a local town and Laarbruch remains the only foreign military unit ever to be invited to host the largest local festival in the North German calendar, the Kirmes Festival, which is held annually by one town in the Region in turn.

From its humble beginnings as a religious festival in the 11th century, Kirmes has grown in size to become a most important celebration and Laarbruch has hosted the Weeze Kirmes Festival on three occasions - most recently in 1986, when the Station Commander was the "Festkettentrager" (Chain Holder) or figurehead for the entire festival. This occasion reinforced the genuine friendship that exists between the British and German populations in this area and this friendship is a source of great pride to both communities.

Laarbruch's position on the Dutch border means that our economic influence extends into The Netherlands, and relations with the local Dutch towns remain excellent. This already excellent relationship was enhanced in 1995 when Laarbruch Regiment personnel were involved in saving two Dutch towns from devastation during flooding of the River Maas.

You may have heard that R.A.F. Laarbruch will close in 1999 after 45 years of continuous operations. The Harriers, helicopters and R.A.F. Regiment units and all Station personnel will return to the UK. This decision has been taken for simple financial reasons and does not alter the R.A.F.'s commitment to NATO one iota.

In the era of Reaction Forces, when our men and machines can be expected to deploy anywhere in the World at short notice and operate there as effectively as they would at home, it is no longer important to have forces forward deployed in Germany.

Despite the fact that the end of an era is almost upon us, the mood at R.A.F. Laarbruch has not changed. All of the forces here will continue to provide the UK and NATO with important military capabilities long after 1999. There is no time for sadness; there is still important work to be done.

The following paragraphs were translated from German and was first published in "Aktionsgemeinschaft pro-niederrhein" © Aktionsgemeinschaft pro-niederrhein

At the times of cold war the NATO decided to build up an "unsinkable flattop" in West-Germany, especially in the Rhineland. Royal Air Force (R.A.F.) built up the military infrastructure in the northern Rhineland. A lot of airbases like Wildenrath, Bruggen and Geilenkirchen were put up. In 1953 building of the airbase in Weeze-Laarbruch began. Before World War II the terrain has been used as an airfield for sailplanes.

Regular operation on the airbase began in November 1954. Normally three or four squadrons, sometimes even five, were stationed here. In the beginning of the 80's the airbase was widely upgraded so four squadrons with more than sixty jets could be sheltered at Laarbruch.

Beside R.A.F. Bruggen, Laarbruch was the best equipped NATO-airbase of the Royal Air Force in Germany, the more so as all squadrons became the Tornado-jet, state of the art at it's time. About 2.200 soldiers worked at Laarbruch, together with their families it were around 6.000 British people living at Laarbruch, at Goch and in the so called "Englaendersiedlung" in Weeze.

Many contacts and co-operations on all levels show the amicable relation between the British and their German hosts in Weeze and the surrounding townships. R.A.F.-Laarbruch was, referring to their own words, the biggest employer within the circumcircle of 40 kilometres. The number of civil employees was around 600. About 100 M DM of buying power was spent in the region.

At the time the eastern bloc crumbled, the R.A.F. began to disengage in Germany. First the British airbases in Gutersloh and Wildenrath were closed. In 1994 the R.A.F. decided to close Laarbruch as well.

In May 1999 the last jet planes left the airfield. On November, 30th of the same year the terrain of the airbase was handed over to the German authorities. But for many British personell, the area had become home and have stayed as civilian in the region.

After a while as sleeping beauty, about two years, working began to convert the former airbase into a civil airport. On May, 1st. the first civil aeroplane, operated by Ryanair, landed on the new "Airport Niederrhein", opening the new route connecting Weeze to London-Stansted. Meanwhile seven destinations are reachable from "Airport Weeze" as it has been named in between.

© MOD 2011

© Aktionsgemeinschaft pro-niederrhein - "Aktionsgemeinschaft pro-niederrhein"