After an original idea by Paul Freeman.
First published 7 Nov 2010. This collection of airfields is © 2010 - 2014 RonaldV
de

Ahlhorn

20-12-2010

02-02-2014

291

52°52'54"N 008°12'53"E

Runway: 09/27 - 2101×45meters - Asphalt

Airport Ahlhorn (german: Flugplatz Ahlhorn, or Ahlhorner Heide, ICAO: ETNA, before 1993 EDNA) is an airport in Ahlhorn, Lower Saxony, in northwest Germany.
It was taken into service as Airship Port (german: Luftschiffhafen) Ahlhorn in of the German Imperial Navy (german: Kaiserlichen Marine). At the time the German Navy considered airships the best option for naval reconnaissance, so they built several airship ports along the North Sea coast.. Construction began in the summer of 1915. Four large airship hangars were built, in two pairs, measuring 240meter in length, 60meter in width and 35meter in heigth. To differentiate between them al four were given names: the northern pair "Albrecht" and "Aladin", and the southern pair "Alrun" and "Alix". On the southwest end they built the operations and command buildings, on the north side in the forest the barracks and officers mess (german: Offizierskasino) were built. To this day the forest to the north is called the Kasinowald (Casino forest). Because not enough labour was available in the area, a camp was built on the northwest side which housed POWs from Russia, France and Great Britain which were used to build the base.

The first airship landed in Juli 1916, and the base was ready for action a month later. Over time 25 airships used the base, which housed some 1,200 men. On 5 January 1918 an accident happened: due to a fire a hydrogen-filled airship (LZ-87, Marine L47) exploded, reducing it and the surrounding area to rubble within 40 seconds. The blast was so enormous fragments fell as far as Wildeshausen, and the resulting pressure wave was said to have been felt in Bremen, 40 kilometers (about 25 miles) away. When it was all over the hydrogen plant and hangars III (Alrun) and IV (Alix) were fully destroyed, hangars I (Aladin) and II (Albrecht) were severely damaged, while hangars 5 and 6 had received minor damage. Altogether the Marine had lost airships L46, L47, L51, L58 and SL20 and suffered 15 killed, 30 severely wounded and 104 lightly wounded. In order to get operational again hangars 5 and 6 were rushed back into service, allowing operations to resume in April. The event appeared to be an accident, but sabotage was never fully dismissed.
When the war ended the two remaining airships were handed over to England.

ahlhorn-2.jpg
The airship hangars at Alhorn after the disaster. Sheds I (Aladin) and II (Albrecht) in the foreground were repaired, unlike III (Alrun) and IV (Alix) in the background (also see below, photo via Olivier)

ahlhorn-1.jpg
Hangars III (Alrun) and IV (Alix) were damaged to such an extent that rebuilding them was not considered (photo via Olivier).

After the war began the conversion to civilian use. In the barracks a childrens home was opened and the officers mess was converted into a lung health institute. It later became a home for elderly people. The gas plant was converted into a plant that produced herbicides. The former airfield was converted into farm land.

At the start of 1938 the military came back to the field, but this time the Luftwaffe was in charge. They however used up much less land than the airship port did before. Ahlhorn was quickly converted into an Operational Field (german: Einsatzhafen). Its codename was "Akademiker".
Three hardened runways were built in the then usual triangle shape, and to the north concrete stands were build for the aircraft. Several buildings from the airship era were pressed back into service, and new ones (including a hangar) were erected.

Einsatzhafen Ahlhorn saw, like so many airfields of the time, many different units pass through. Several Attack Wings (german: Kampfgeschwader, or KG) flying Ju88 and Ju188 bombers have been on record, including KG55. KG55s mission was to fly He111 bombers with V-1 rockets across the North sea and launch them against Great Britain, thus flying the worlds first ALCM missions. Next to them several fighter and night fighter units were at the base.

At the end of the war the British Army took over the base, who used it as a vehicle depot. In 1951 it was again converted into an air base, called RAF Ahlhorn. The British began enlarging the base, to allow the construction of a larger east-west runway, capable of handling jets. On the east side the northern runway was lengthened, while the west runway was widened to serve as a platform in front of 4 new hangars. The east runway was torn up, as it no longer had any use. As the buildings were not sufficient to house all personnel, the British built new housing in their typical H-shaped blocks which can easily be identified from photos.

ahlhorn_lubi-1950.jpg
Flugplatz Ahlhorn in the 1950s (RAF)

In January 1952 the RAF based a fighter unit flying Gloster Meteors at Ahlhorn. They were replaced in 1955 by BAC Canberras, which left the base (along with the other RAF units) in 1957. In 1958 the airbase was transferred to the new Luftwaffe, who based Fighter Wing (german: Jagdgeschwader) 71 "Richthofen" at the base. Their first commander was the highest scoring WW-II fighter ace, LtCol Erich Hartmann. During their stay at Ahlhorn "Richthoven" was flying the F-86 Sabre in their colourful WW-II squadron markings.

GAFSabres.jpg
Sabres of JG71 "Richthofen" at Flugplatz Ahlhorn in the late 1950s

In 1962 the Luftwaffe had the runway lengthened once more, this time to its final length of 2100meters. JG71 however moved to Wittmundhafen in anticipation of their new mount: the F-104G Starfighter. 
Ahlhorn became home to Air Transport Wing (german: Lufttransportgeschwader, or LTG) 62, flying the Nord 2501 Noratlas. On 26 April 1968 the fist all-new Transall C-160 was handed over at Ahlhorn to the French and German Air Forces, but LTG62 did not receive this aircraft. The increased capacity of the C-160 meant that LTG62 was to disband in 1971.
Earlier, in 1961 the first SAR helicopters in the form of Bristol Sycamores had arrived at Ahlhorn to be used by 3 Air Rescue and Liaison Squadron. In 1968 the squadron was added to II Flying Group of Helicopter Transport Wing (Helikoptertransportgeschwader, or HTG) 64 and moved to Diepholz. HTG64 itself moved to Ahlhorn in 1971 from Bavaria, bringin along their Bell UH-1D Medium transport helicopters. In 1975 HTG64 took on the role of helicopter flying school in addition to their SAR tasking.

By the late 1970s NATO developed different concepts to station different units throughout Federal Germany. USAFEs 81st Tactical Fighter Wing was stationed in Great Britain, but set up detachments at four Forward Operating Locations. The unit, flying A-10A Thunderbolt IIs (better known as Warthogs) had one of these detachments (Det3/81TFW) at Ahlhorn. The double use of the base was known as Collocated Air Base in NATO. As a result Ahlhorn was partially rebuilt and received 17 (out of 22 planned) Hardened Aircraft Shelters (HAS). On the east side of the airfield a squadron building, a command bunker and a Wing Operations Center were built. At the former airfield of Bissel a munitions complex was built.

At the end of the Cold War Ahlhorn faced rapid changes. In 1991 the USAF left the base, and two years later HTG64 was disbanded. Only a Patriot Missile unit remained at the base, but they left in 2006. Recently the base was used for an airborne landing axercise, but the airfield is for sale.

At the base remnants of the airship era can still be found. Other facilities stem from World War II. Obviously the larger part of the airfield shows the signs of the Cold War. In that sense Ahlhorn covers the combined periods of military aviation.

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Flugplatz Ahlhorn in 2009 (Google Earth)

From 2005 the Aircraft Maintenance Service GmbH provided services on widebody aircraft. The company went bankrupt in 2009 however. At a cost of 30 million Euros, 76,000 solar panels totaling 17.5 MW were added onto 32 acres of land near the runway from 2011 to 2012. The airfield is still active, as well as private property and therefore strictly off limits!

Solarpark_Ahlhorn_Luftbild_2012_web.jpg

Solarpark Ahlhorn in 2011; only the runway and the platform (at the far end) are still usable (johann-bunte.de)


(much of the information on Ahlhorn was taken from Relikte.com).



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