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After an original idea by Paul Freeman.
First published 7 Nov 2010. This collection of airfields is © 2010 - 2018 RonaldV
fr

Laon-Athies

24-11-2013

10-04-2014

579

09°35'47"N 003°42'31"E


Runway: 17/35 - 1600m - concrete (CLOSED)
Runway: 08/26 - 1600m - concrete (CLOSED)
Runway: 02/20 - 2550meters/7,900feet - concrete (CLOSED)


Airfield Laon-Athies (french: aerodrome de Laon-Athies or Base Aérienne Laon-Athies, also known as ALG-69 Laon-Athies and Laon-Athies Air Base) is an airfield located northeast of the city of Laon in the Aisne department, Picardy, France.
The airfields history began before the outbreak of World War II, when it was an Aerodrome, laid out in markers on the grass.

Laon-Athies_IGNF_01-10-1937_800px.jpg
In 1939, Laon-Athies was little more than a grass field with horse shoe shaped markers and a set of arrows in the northernmost corner of the field (IGN).

The German invasion during the battle of France in 1940 meant a major update to the airfield, because the Luftwaffe developed it into a major military airfield, as well as using it as a maintenance and supply depot. The Germans improved the facility by expanding the support area with numerous maintenance shops, hangars, and laying down three 1600m concrete all-weather runways, aligned 02/20, 17/35 and 08/26. Additionally, the Luftwaffe established a maintenance repair and supply depot at Athies. The airfield was initially used as a bomber base for night bomber operations by He-111s and Ju-88s, attacking targets in England until late 1943. Many units of the Luftwaffe Luftflotte3 (3rd Air Force) Fliegerkorps IV used the airfield during the war.
Known units are:
Kampfgeschwader4 (KG4), from July 1941 until January 1942, flying Heinkel He-111H light bombers
Kampfgeschwader2 (KG2), from 30 September 1941 until 25 November 1942, flying Junkers Ju-88A attack aircraft
Kampfgeschwader76 (KG76), from 15 July until 25 November 1943, flying Junkers Ju-88A attack aircraft
When Luftwaffe bomber activities ended, Athies became a night interceptor base against Royal Air Force bombers flying over Occupied France on their way to targets in Germany. It appears that SG 4, a Fw-190F/G unit, was brought to Athies from the Eastern Front, where it was a dive-bomber unit. Other units known to have used the base were:
2Staffel/Nachtjagdgeschwader2 (2/NJG2), from August until September 1943, a single Staffel (squadron) flying Dornier Do-217 night fighters
3Staffel/Nachtjagdgeschwader4 (3/NJG4), from August until September 1943, a single Staffel flying Junkers Ju-88A
Kampfgeschwader54 (KG 54), from 23 December 1943 until 6 April 1944, flying Junkers Ju-88A attack aircraft
Schlachtgeschwader4 (SG 4), from December 1943 until February 1944, flying Focke-Wulf Fw190F/G fighters
Nachtjagdgeschwader1 (NJG1), from March until May 1944, flying Messerschmitt Bf-110 night fighters
Nachtjagdgeschwader5 (NJG5), from May until August 1944, flying Messerschmitt Bf 110 night fighters
The airfield was attacked on several occasions by Eighth Air Force heavy bombers in 1943 and 1944.


3046444879_cf9c7f2b34_z.jpg
Laon Athies Luftwaffe Airfield in Occupied France, April 23, 1944, taken by Lt John S Blyth on his first operational flight on a USAAF reconnaissance Spitfire XI from 30,000ft. During his mission he proved that Allied bombers had mistakenly bombed another airfield, and that Laon Athies was filled with fighters hidden in the nearby woods. The north is to the right of the photo (Flickr). (Many thanks to Scott Blyth for the update on the Spitfire and the mission, flown by his father.)


During the Liberation of France the Luftwaffe abandoned the base airfield at the end of August. The Germans then sent in demolition teams to blow up hangars, buildings, electrical generators, water treatment and other facilities to keep those out of the hands of the Allied Forces.
It was seized by Allied Ground Forces in early September and turned over to the United States Army Air Force (USAAF). IX Engineer Commands 820th Engineer Aviation Battalion moved in around 7 September 1944 and started a quick rehabilitation of the base to allow use by American aircraft. Designated Advanced Landing Ground "A-69 Laon/Athies Airfield" it was declared operationally ready for combat units on 9 September, only a few days after having been captured from German forces.
Although operationally usable with one 5386x163feet runway (17/35), Athies was still a wrecked base from the Allied air attacks and what was blown up by the Germans as they withdrew. The Americans worked with what could be repaired and moved in what equipment was necessary to conduct combat operations.Under American control, Ninth Air Force used the base for several units from 7 September 1944 until closing the base in July 1945.
Known units assigned to the base were
368th Fighter Group (368FG), from 11 September until 2 October 1944, flying P-47 Thunderbolts
323d Bombardment Group (323BG), from 13 October 1944 until February 1945, flying B-26 Marauders
416th Bombardment Group (416BG), from February until May 1945, flying A-20 Havocs
Because each combat group had three fully-equipped squadrons, the airfield at Laon-Athies was one of the busiest American bases on the continent.
When the war was over Laon/Athies airfield was closed on 23 May 1945 and turned over to the French Air Ministry.

athies1944.jpg
Martin B-26 Marauder of 323rd Bomb Group while stationed at A-69 Laon-Athies in the winter of 1945 (coll. Doug Sheley)


After the war, the airfield was used to store surplus war stocks. In aerial photography, row upon row can be seen along the 02/20 and 17/35 runways and a number of taxitracks. 5 years after the war, as a result of the perceived Cold War threat of the Soviet Union, the air base at Laon-Athies was upgraded by the French Air Ministry by renewing the 02/20 runway surface and by adding QRA dispersals on the other runways on both ends of the  02/20 runway. It was then offered by the French Air Ministry  to the United States Air Force as part of the French commitment to NATO in order to establish a modern Air Force Base at the site.
Although the site was accepted and expanded further by lengthening the runway and adding Marguerite disperesals, it was not upgraded to full airbase. Instead, it was decided to use Laon-Athies as an emergency "backup" airfield, consisting of a "bare bones" facility of a runway with minimal facilities intended for use by all NATO air forces to disperse their aircraft in case of all-out war.
Around 1954 French construction companies came to Laon-Athies to begin rebuilding the German infrastructure at the World War II air base. A modern all-weather concrete NATO-standard jet runway of 2550m/7,900feet was laid down over the former German 02/20, along with taxiways and dispersal areas for three fighter squadrons. 3 dispersal areas (one per squadron) were designed in a (semi-)circular system of hardstands which could be revetted later with earth for added aircraft protection. Typically the (semi-)circle consisted of fifteen to eighteen hardstands, with each hardstand capable of parking one or two aircraft, allowing the planes to be spaced approximately 150feet (50m) apart.
Other than the occasional touch-and-go landing of NATO (mostly USAF) aircraft, Laon-Athies Air Base was never used, not even for exercises. When the French decided to withdraw from the integrated military component of NATO in 1967, the base was abandoned completely.

Laon-Athies_IGNF_13-03-1955web.jpg
Laon-Athies in 1955, as photographed by IGN. Clearly visible are the French built QRA dispersals and the remains of the German runways, which were closed off by large painted + signs (Géoportail). 

Laon-Athies_IGNF_21-04-1957web.jpg
although it looks like the marguerites are still under contruction in this 1957 IGN photo, this might actually be caused by using a different type of film compared to the 1955 photo above (Géoportail). 

Laon-Athies_IGNF_02-03-1963web.jpg
This 1963 photo shows that even almost 20 years after the end of World War II, a lot of the German-built infrastructure (runways and dispersal areas) were still easily recognisable. Strangely enough, the runway by this time was formally closed, as could be seen by the large white painted + markins on both ends of the runway (Géoportail).

Laon-Athies_IGNF_1973.jpg
It appears that Laon-Athies was sold off almost immediately after the French left NATO in 1967. In this 1973 detail photo of the south side of the base, newly constructed roads bysecting the southern 'marguerite' and extensive damage to the southern end of the runway can be seen. Additionally, a large portion of ground between the 'margerite' and the runway appears to have been dug up (Géoportail).

Laon-Athies_IGNF_15-05-1980web.jpg
The damage to the airfield was clearly halted, as no further changes can be seen in this 1980 photograph (Géoportail).

Laon-Athies_IGNF_24-04-1985.jpg
By 1985, most parts of the old German infrastructure (the dispersals mainly) had overgrown (Géoportail).

Laon-Athies_IGNF_30-08-1991web.jpg
Brush is beginning to grow along the runway sides in this 1991 photo (Géoportail).

Laon-Athies_IGNF_24-05-2001web.jpg
This 2001 colour image shows that the airfield is still largely intact, in spite of over 30 years of neglect and abuse by agricultural vehicles (Géoportail).

Laon-athies-2006.jpg
Laon-Athies Air Base in 2006 (Google Earth)


Today, the former airport and military air base are used for agriculture (farming). The NATO runway, dispersals and taxiways remain in place, and although severely deteriorated after 40 years of abandonment, they are most likely usable for emergency aircraft landings or use by tactical airlifters such as the C-17A, C-130 and similar types. All three dispersal circles (marguerites) and their pads remain, some removed, the concrete of most in decayed condition.
The most obvious remaining features of Athies wartime past are the two German-built concrete runways, which are still still largely intact.
Some taxiways built by the Germans remain as single-track agricultural roads. Due to the extensive tree canopy it cannot be discerned from aerial photography, but it is suspected that many former wartime buildings and structures are in the wooded area to the southeast of the airfield, including the bomb dump. Several wartime taxiways can be seen leading into the wooded area, probably leading to dispersals, revetments and other abandoned concrete structures.
Until the end of 2010 a local RC-model club was flying model aircraft at the base, but the permission to use the old runways was revoked by the military in january 2011 (link in French). This suggests that the land is still formally a military property.





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