Soesterberg Air Base station crest.
Runway 09/27 - 3000x50m/9840x150feet - asphalt (CLOSED 2008)
Runway 13/31 - 2132x45m/...feet - asphalt (CLOSED ca. 1998)
Runway 16/34 - 1600x45m/...feet - asphalt (CLOSED ca. 1970)
Soesterberg Air Base (ICAO: EHSB) was a Royal Netherlands Air Force military airbase located in Soest, 14 kilometres (8.7 mi) eastnortheast of Utrecht.
In 1910 two car dealers from The Hague decided to set up an airfield on a moor outside the village of Soesterberg. Soesterberg was established as an airfield in 1911, and in 1913 the Dutch Government bought the field and established the Army Aviation Branch (dutch: Luchtvaartafdeeling). The "Military Aviation Branch" eventually became the Koninklijke Luchtmacht (English: Royal Netherlands Air Force - RNLAF). It's first commander was a captain of the Engineer Corps: Henk Walaardt Sacré.
Throughout World War I Soesterberg served as the main airfield of the Luchtvaartafdeeling with several types of aircraft. Some were bought outright from their manufacturer, while others were interned when they diverted to Holland due to battle damage or other reasons.
Soesterberg, an RAF (Royal Aircraft Factory) BE-2 registered as LA24 (ex-RFC1677) an interned British aircraft during the Great War in 1915 (Photo: collection Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie).
Aerial photo of a Handley Page V/1500 at Soesterberg, in 1919 during the ELTA (Photo: collection Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie).
Aerial photo of Soesterberg, in 1921 (Photo: collection Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie).
After the war the airfield was slowly expanding. The Dutch government did not spend too much money on its air force however, until the second half of the 1930s. Recognising the threat of Germany in particular, it embarked on a modernisation programme. New fighters such as the Fokker D.XXI and G.1 were ordered, along with batches of Douglas DB-8a and Fokker T.5 bombers. All aircraft were delivered to Soesterberg to be sent to their units.
Fokker T.5 medium Bomber '852' at Soesterberg, in 1938 (Photo: collection Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie).
Three Fokker D.XXI of 3 JaVA (3 Fighter Sqn) 227, 234 and 226 at Soesterberg in October 1939 (Photo: collection Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie).
Douglas DB-8A/3N '392' at Soesterberg, March 1940 (Photo: collection Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie).
Fokker G.1 '302' with Mercury engines at Soesterberg (Photo: collection Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie).
Map of Soesterberg, on the eve of World War II (10 May 1940, image via Peter van Kaathoven).
At the beginning of World War II the German force's blitzkrieg overran the country in five days, and Soesterberg was occupied by the German Luftwaffe on 15 May 1940. They built three hardened runways at the airfield.
A variety of German aircraft was stationed there during the war, initially flying missions during the Battle of Britain, and later to practice bombing missions on nearby ranges and provide fighter defence against Allied bombing missions.
From 1944 onwards, Allied Air Forces caused enormous damage to the airfield by bombing it relentlessly. By September 1944 the Luftwaffe acknowledged Soesterberg airfield to be more or less useless. Still, what had not been destroyed by Alllied raids the Germans managed to destroy in the final months of the war.
It took 6 years to rebuild the air base, which was finally declared operational in August 1951. The air base got an Air Defense tasking, and the first jet fighters of the Netherlands found their way to Soesterberg.
20 Sep 1951 aerial photo of the three Soesterberg runways. The repairs of the bomb damage from World War II are clearly visible (Photo: collection Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie).
Meteor F.8s of 327Sqn demonstration team 'Diamond Four' at Soesterberg in 1954 (Photo: collection Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie).
Hunter F.6 N-216 of 325 Sqn during a nighttime refuelling at Soesterberg (Photo: collection Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie).
Refuellling an F-86K at Soesterberg in 1956 (Photo: collection Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie).
In 1954 the United States and the Netherlands signed an agreement that covered the stationing of a squadron of air defense fighters of the USAF. Against all US policy the squadron was to be placed under daily operational command of the Royal Netherlands Air Force.
As a result of the stationing, the airbase was expanded to the east to make room for a single marguerite-like dispersal area and a longer NATO standard runway. The airbase did not get a full marguerite however, possibly because the terrain to the north was not suitable.
As a result the dispersal marguerite was 'flattened', with only the lower (southern) half built and the rest expanded to the northeast of the runway.
The parkings in this aera went by three names: The area that later became the 334 Sqn platform was known as 'Near-East'. The semi-marguerite became 'Middle East', and the area to the extreme east became the 'Far East'. Because the agreement only covered the stationing of one squadron, no further marguerites were required. The squadron brought F-86 Sabres of the 512 FIS with them, but 512FIS was soon redesignated 32 Fighter Day Squadron.
After only one year after their arrival, they traded in their F-86 Sabres for F-100 Super Sabres and were redesinated 32 Fighter quadron, with the squadron enlarged to 24 aircraft. In 1960 the 'Huns' were replaced with F-102 Delta Daggers, redesignating the squadron to 32 Fighter Interceptor Squadron. In 1968 it became 32 Tactical Fighter Squadron with the arrival of the F-4E Phantom-II. The F-4s were relieved by 4 models (A,B,C and D) of the F-15 Eagle, which remained in service until the unit was disbanded in 1994.
Vertical aerial photo of the three Soesterberg runways after the lengthening of the 09/27 runway, rotated by me to show the north side up
(Photo: RNL Navy collection collection Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie).
Birds eye view of Soesterberg Air Base, after lengthening the main 09/27 runway, which occurred somewhere in the late 1950s. On the west side of the field the old third runway is just visible.
Six Delta Daggers of 32 TFS on the Soesterberg flight line (Photo: collection Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie).
Fokker F.27 Friendship and Troopships in the snow at Soesterberg in 1969 (Photo: collection Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie).
Ca. 1980 photo of Alouette III 'A-247' at Soesterberg (Photo: collection Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie).
Introduction to the 32TFS in the 1970s, when 32 TFS still operated the F-4E Phantom-II. Note that in the refuelling part of the video, Phantoms are in some shots refuelling from KC-97Ls! (34:30min)
An RAF Alconbury based F-5E agressor lifts off from runway 27 at the intersection with 13/31 in 1981 (unknown photographer, collection Hermen Goud/Facebook)
Undated map of Soesterberg, presumably late 1980s, via Peter van Kaathoven.
Soesterberg Air Base on a 1987 Soviet military map. While the map may seem remarkable, it is important to know that during the Cold War, Soviet (and other Warsaw Pact) airlines were not as limited in their movements in European airspace as western aircraft were in Eastern Europe. Still, the map does contain errors, some of them very obvious. For instance: the railway line west of the airbase (thick black line) did not exist since 1972. At the point where it crosses the A-28 highway a bridge was built, which for years was rumoured to contain the DPO/NATO fuel line to Soesterberg. Although technically possible (it is hollow), it did not (in Dutch). A bridge one kilometer to the east, much wider than required and partially covered by a green berm contains the NATO pipeline (atlassen.info)
32TFS F-15 landing at Soesterberg (photo: collection Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie).
'The 32nd', as they were known for short by the Dutch, or 'the Queens Own' as they called themselves, deserved a very good reputation within NATO and the Netherlands. In 1959, the 32d received the signature "Royal", the crown and wreath of the Dutch Royal Family (the House of Orange) were added to the emblem, giving it its unique look. This unique honour was granted in recognition of the unit's contribution to the defence of the Netherlands, and graphically illustrates the 32d's close ties with the Royal Netherlands Air Force. 32TFS had the unique distinction of being the only unit in the USAF whose emblem included the royal crest of another nation. This addition was only authorised as long as 32TFS remained in the Netherlands. The stand down ceremony of 32FW/32FS on 19 April 1994 was held in the presence of members of the house of Orange.
Fokker F.27 Troopship on the Soesterberg platform, ca. 1990 (Photo: collection Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie).
Nearing the end of their careers in the early 1990s, many of the F.27s were painted white for UN missions, like this example at Soesterberg (Photo: collection Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie).
The final three F-15s (two F-15A MSIPs and a single F-15B MSIP) at Soesterberg left the airfield for the USA on 13 january 1994. They can be seen taxying to the runway. After take off the three did a formation flight over the airfield accompanied by RNLAF F-16s as a farewell to their home for 40 years. 32FS officially stood down 3 months later. (photo RonaldV)
Approach chart for Soesterberg, mid 1990s
The first Cougar-II to arrive at is new home plate at Soesterberg in 1996 (Photo: collection Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie).
In addition to the Americans (who called Soesterberg 'Camp New Amsterdam' in honour of the first Dutch settlers in 'New Amsterdam', present day New York) the Royal Netherlands Air Force continued to use Soesterberg. They based jets, helicopters and transport aircraft at Soesterberg. Their jets left in the 1960s and the transport aircraft left in the early 1990s.
Finally in late 2008, after all the helicopter units had moved to Gilze-Rijen, a final ceremony was held to close the air base for good. The last jet aircraft to leave the base was a Greek F-4E Phantom, and the base formally closed on 31 December. Upon its closure in 2008 Soesterberg was the oldest active airfield in the Netherlands, and one of the oldest in the world. For much of its history (almost 40 years) the air base was linked to the United States Air Force, holding a front line squadron of jet fighters at the base.
Part of the base is still in use as a glider field. The rest of the airfield is under conversion: part (the 'American side') will be restored as a nature preserve, although some HASes will remain, another part (the 'Dutch side' with the Group Helicopters hangars) will become the new Netherlands Defense Museum. Runway 09/27 will remain, to remind the people of the old air base.
USAF C-17A Globemaster III at Soesterberg in 2007 (Ton Vogels, via Panoramio).
Soesterberg, around 2006. Clearly visible is the original USAF semi-marguerite dispersal on the east side of the airfield. Somewhere between 1990 and this photo Soesterberg lost the use of runway 13/31 The outline of the old third runway can also still be seen, it ran from the end of runway 13 over the 09/27 into the later 32FG dispersal area (Bing maps).
View down the Soesterberg 09/27 runway, March 2011 (RonaldV.nl).
Monument for fallen comrades roughly halfway the 09/27 runway, March 2011 (RonaldV.nl).
Soesterberg southern taxitrack towards the tower and USAFE area, March 2011 (RonaldV.nl).
Soesterberg tower as seen from the visitors platform, March 2011 (RonaldV.nl).
Soesterberg, taxi track towards the 'Middle East' and 'Far East' dispersal areas, March 2011 (RonaldV.nl).
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