CHIEVRES

 

The first airfield at Chièvres was established at the end of 1917 by the Germans who flew fighters from the unprepared grass field. In 1939, the Aéronautique Militaire/Militair Vliegwezen planned to turn Chièvres into a diversion airfield for which first work started by the end of that same year.  Overtaken by the events in May 1940 construction was left unfinished and in June 1940 the Germans started rebuilding and expanding the airfield, calling it "base 404". On 27 September 1940, the Italian Air Force stationed Fiat BR.20M “Cigogna” bombers (43° Stormo) and Cant Z.1007bis reconnaissance aircraft (172° Squadriglia Ricognizione Strategica Terrestre) at the base.  The 43 Stormo participated in several air raids over Britain, bombing the ports of Ramsgate, Harwich and Ipswich. Many of these raids did not end well for the Italians mainly due to the inexperienced pilots in combat situations and difficult weather conditions.  At the end of December 1940, the Italian government recalled the Italian Air Corps from Belgium as the military situation was becoming increasingly worse in the Mediterranean area and by 10 January 1941 all Italian troops had left the base. Later on, numerous Luftwaffe bomber-units equipped with aircraft such as the Ju 88, Ju 188, He 111 and Ju 86 were stationed at Chièvres to attack targets in England and the same time the base also served as diversion field for Luftwaffe fighter units. On the 14th of June 1944, approximately thirty German aircraft of Chièvres based K.G. 6 bombed the landing beaches in Normandy. By the first of September 1944 the last Luftwaffe aircraft left Chièvres for Holland and the installations were destroyed. Two days later the Allied troops took over command of the airbase and the Army engineers of the USAAF immediately started rebuilding the infrastructure. By October 1st, the Republic P-47D Thunderbolts of the 361th Fighter Groups arrived at Chièvres (by now designated A-84) to attack the retreating Germans and to bomb positions in the Ardennes during the Battle of the Bulge. To give assistance during the Ardennes offensive (12/1944) the base was also used by the Hawker Typhoons of 123 Wing RAF (including semi-Belgian operated 609 Squadron).  By March 1945 it was the sound of the Packard-Merlin engines of n° 352 Fighter Group's P-51D Mustangs who filled the skies over Chièvres. In all, Chièvres airfield was bombed over 30 times during the war. With the end of the hostilities, Chièvres became a transit station for US soldiers retuning home to the States as well as being a German POW camp.  By the end of 1945 almost all activity had stopped and the base was turned over to the Belgian authorities. Two years later the Aviation Militaire/Militaire Vliegwezen (the term "Belgian Air Force" was only introduced from 15 January 1949) started an ambitious rebuilding and expansion plan to turn Chièvres in a modern post-war jet-fighter base. On 1 December 1950 the 7th Fighter Wing was officially established at Chièvres through IA/AO n° 32/50 while its first Gloster Meteor jet-fighters arrived by May of the following year in order to equip N°s 7 and 8 Squadrons. On 29 October 1951 the three squadrons of the newly created 10th Fighter Wing (N°s 23, 27 and 31st Squadrons) were stationed at Chièvres to start their operations with Spitfire F(R).14 aircraft awaiting their transfer to Kleine Brogel airbase and reception of the first Republic F-84E/G Thunderjet fighter bombers. By 23 February 1953 all 10th Wing Thunderjets had left Chièvres for Kleine Brogel. In June 1956 the resident 7th Wing Squadrons converted to the very elegant Hawker Hunter Mk. 4 only to replace it by the more advanced Hunter F.6 two years later. N° 7 Wing finally met its end on 28 October 1963 with the disbandment of N° 7 Squadron. This by no means was the end of military flying for Chièvres as the Blind Flying Squadron (VZZ - Vliegen Zonder Zicht/VSV -Vol Sans Visibilté) transferred on 14 November 1963 to the base from Kleine Brogel. On 3 July 1967 even this squadron left the base and on 31 December 1967 the Belgian Authorities officially turned over Chièvres Airbase to the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe [SHAPE.]. The Americans established on January 1st 1968 the "NATO SHAPE Support Group (U.S.), a U.S. Army unit now known as 80th Area Support Group (NSSG). Chièvres air base was operated by a US Air Force unit to provide logistic support to NATO and SHAPE, and welcome its distinguished visitors. The first U.S. Air Force unit was Det 4, 7104 Air Base Wing which became the 7104 Air Base Squadron, then Det 1, 52nd Tactical Fighter Wing Det 1, 86 Operations Group.

 

Situation Map

 

Daniel Brackx

 

Chièvres Airfield

Mike Terlinden Collection

 

Interesting view of the south-western side of Chièvres airbase taken at 14h30 on 13 October 1953 by a Gloster Meteor FR.9 of N° 2 Squadron

RAF based at Wahn (Germany). Many Gloster Meteor F.8 fighters and a single Airspeed Oxford "base hack" can be seen in front of the main hangars.

 

 

 

 

Last updated 10/06/12 07:55   Daniel Brackx

brackda@gmail.com