Runway: 01/19 - 3000x30m/8000x98ft - tarmac (CLOSED)
Runway: 05/23 - 1000x..m - surface (completely disappeared)
Runway: 09/27 - 3000x..m - surface (completely disappeared)
Runway: 16/36 - 1000x..m - surface (completely disappeared)
Hopsten airfield (also known as Flugplatz Hopsten, Fliegerhorst Hopsten, Advanced Landing Ground B-112 "Hopsten" or Hopsten Air Base, ICAO: ETNP (pre1992: EDNP)) was an airfield near Rheine, 400 kilometers west of Berlin.
Construction of the airfield began in 1938 and it became operational the following year. Interestingly, given the time of events, there were problems to name the airfield during that time. The town of Dreierwald refused to give its name to an airfield. It was not until the airfield was expanded onto the territory of Hopsten in 1940 that it received the name Hopsten. Hopsten was not a front line base during the eraly years of World War II. It was only used as a temporary home to various units. It featured three hardened runways, with its main (east-west) runway at 1800meters, the other two (north-south and northeast-southwest) at 1000 meters. As a result of Allied air strikes over Nazi-Germany it became an important and modern airfield, however.
Its strategic location on the main entry routes of Allied heavy bombers meant it would be an important base in the defence of the Reich. The worlds first operational jet fighters (Me262's of KG51 'Edelweiß') were operating from Hopsten from September 1944. They had been forced to leave their previous station Chièvres near Mons in Belgium by the advancing Allied forces. Jet reconnaissance-bombers (Ar234's of KG76) were operating from Hopsten from December 1944. Initially only used as reconnaissance platforms, they were soon flying attack missions too, amongst others on the Remagen bridges. To facilitate the jets, its main runway had been lengthened to 3000 meters on the east side, again onto Hopsten territory.
Towards the end of the war the air base was regularly bombed by the Allies. To counter this threat the airfield was defended from the airfields at Hesepe, Nordhorn, Plantlünne, Rheine-Bentlage, Fürstenau, Varrelbusch, Vörden and Hopsten itself. Heavy AAA defenses (up to 500 guns) and well dispersed airfcraft, combined with quick repair of damaged runways, ensured it remained operational.
The end of the war and the Luftwaffe began to show through from Operation Bodenplatte, which began on 1 Jan 1945. The operation was a failure however and the remaining Me262s of KG-51 were moved to Giebelstadt on 30 March 1945. Jagdgeschwader26 (flying Bf-109G/K and FW190A), Jagdgeschwader27 (flying Messerschmitt Bf 109G/K) and parts of Nachtjagdgeschwader1 (flying Bf 110 and Heinkel He 219) remained stationed at the base. After a few days German sappers blew up the remaining infrastructure of the airbase. When they were done, the airfield was no longer usable. British forces captured the airfield on 6 April 1945 without a fight.
The Royal Air Force established a temporary presence at the base and it was designated as Advanced Landing Ground B-112 Hopsten.
After the war ended in May, the British decided it was not worth the effort to rehabilitate the base and it was abandoned. When the British had left the airfield, its lands were retuned to the local communities. The grounds were returned to agricultural use.
Allied reconnaissance photo of Hopsten in 1944. The straight lines, indicating the runways, were drawn in by photo interpreters (Muenstersche Zeitung, in German).
Wreckage of Luftwaffe aircraft at Hopsten in the summer of 1945 (Muenstersche Zeitung, in German).
Ten years after the war had ended the Allies allowed the new Federal Republic of Germany (a.k.a. West-Germany) to rebuild its armed forces. Only months after the Bundeswehr (Federal Armed Forces) was formed in 1956, its new Luftwaffe began to reinstate some of its former airfields and Wings. However, it took the new Federal German Government another 3 years to decide to rebuild Hopsten Air Base.
Funded by NATO, companies from the region began to build a completely new airfield by the latest NATO standards of the time. Its new runway would be running North-South at a length of 3000 meters at 30 meters wide. Although it was a completely new airfield, it was built at the exact location of the Nazi-era airfield, and therefore it retained the name of Hopsten.
The first 40 quartermakers of Jachtbombergeschwader (JaBoG) 31 arrived in April 1961. They were to prepare the airfield for use by the new JaBog 36 "Westfalen", of which the first Staffel (squadron) arrived at the airfield on 1 Septmeber 1961. On 12 December 1961 the airfield was offically inaugurated and its first squadron (1./JaBoG 36) of F-84F Thunderstreaks was declared operational. JaBog 36 was to have two Staffeln (squadrons) of F-84Fs, 6 T-33 trainers and two Piaggio P.i49D liaison aircraft.
Being the first NATO standard airfield in Germany, it introduced a new feature in the Luftwaffe: the arresting cable. It was taken into service on 23 July 1962. In 1963 the airbase hosted the first NATO Tactical Weapons Meet on German soil. Considering the new base was only 2 years in service, it passed its first NATO Tactical Evaluation with a very satisfactory B-rating.
'Sister'- Geschwader JaBoG-31 presented the first F-104G Starfighter at Hopsten in 1964 during the 'Open Door' days of the Luftwaffe. In addition to the purely conventional roles of the F-84F, it could also execute the Nuclair Strike role. The first of an eventual 52 Starfighters was to be introduced at Hopsten from 1965. The transition took 3 years to complete and the base was reassigned to NATO in December 1967.
Flying at a top speed of Mach 2, the 'Manned Missile' was to remain at Hopsten for 10 years. Although the Luftwaffe suffered great peacetime losses with the aircraft, the Hopsten pilots considered it a good and safe aircraft. Compared to the F-84F their Wing lost few aircraft (only 9 aircraft over a period of 10 years), costing the lifes of 6 fellow pilots.
To fulfill the Nuclear Strike role, a new 'special munitions' camp was built south of the airbase. The site was protected and operated by U.S. forces that were to transfer the atomic weapons to Luftwaffe pilots in case NATO suffered a surprise attack from the Warsaw Pact. They were then to attack the rear echelon of the attacking forces, in targets not disclosed to them until just before takeoff.
1./JaBoG36 had two (plus a single spare) available in a Quick Reaction Alert area, capable to launch two combat ready aircraft within 15 minutes from first alert.
Additionally, the Wing had two Do-28D-2 utility aircraft, replacing the P147D liaison aircraft.
Replacing the Starfighters by F-4F Phantoms was completed in 1976. In 1981 the decision was made to add a third Staffel to the Geschwader, which was to become the training Squadron for F-4F pilots. It was officially taken into service on 1 January 1984 and was to 'Europeanise' U.S.-trained aircrews.
As their Phantoms were going through an upgrade program, the Iron Curtain fell, and the two Germanies were reunited. As a result the JaBog36 Phantoms were re-roled to pure Air Defense. From December 1990, Hopsten became responsible for the defense of the 5 new federal states. To reflect the new air defense role, JaBoG 36 'Westfalen' was renumbered to Jagdgeschwader 72 'Westfalen' on 1 January 1991.
No photos or maps of the airfield during the Cold War have been made available.
Rumours about the move of the Wing to former East Germany began when the commander of the Luftwaffe brought a MiG-29 to Hopsten on 5 March 1991. Only weeks later the rumours were confirmed, when it was announced that JG 72 'Westfalen' was to move to Laage Air Base, the most modern airbase in former East Germany. There it was to merge with a MiG-29 unit. As a result of the decision, the third squadron of the Wing was disbanded and its aircraft transferred to 2 squadron. JG72 did not move to Laage however.
Military and political changes in 1993 dictated "Westfalen' was to remain at Hopsten and the airfield was to remain open. Four years later, it was decided to swap old and weary Luftwaffe F-4Es at George AFB in the US for more modern F-4Fs from Germany. JG72 was to collect their selected F-4Fs and fly them to their new base at Holloman AFB in New Mexico. While this program was underway, it was decided to consolidate the remaining ground attack Phantoms with 2 Staffel at Hopsten. This would ease the transition for pilots coming from the U.S.
By 2001 it was becoming clear however, that Hopsten was to loose its role. Phantoms were to be replaced with fewer numbers of Eurofighter Typhoons. On Monday 7 January 2002 the final 24 hour F-4F QRA mission began. Only a few days later, on 18 January orders were given to 1 Staffel to stand down its air defense role. 2 Staffel was ordered to continue its role of transition training for U.S.-trained aircrew until 2006. On 31 january 2002 JG72 was withdrawn from NATO and at the same time the unit was transformed into the Fluglehrzentrums F-4F (FlLehrZ-F-4F or F-4F Flying Training Center).
While it meant that Hopsten continued to be used, it was still clear how the airfield would fare, as it was used to slowly take the old ground attack machines from service. One by one they were shredded until on 18 December 2003 the last examples were permanently grounded.
All operations at Hopsten ended on 15 December 2005 when a pitch black Phantom (with a grey horse on its sides) made the final landing at the airfield. On 19 and 20 December the final F-4Fs left the base.
Hopsten as photographed from the south by Niels Eichhorn in 2003 (ETNP.de).
Hopsten in 2008, 3 years after the air base closed. Rows of trucks can be seen parked on the runways (Google Earth).
For some time the runways and dispersals were used to park trucks. Another part was used for driving courses. A German rock band used the airfield to film their music video for "Chase the dragon" and TV company RTL used it to film scenes of the movie 'Hindenburg'.
The airfield is still complete and the debate is still out on its future. At the time of writing the most likely options are conversion into a freight airport, an industrial area or a wind/solar array.