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RAF Wildenrath

The first ‘clutch’ station that placed the RAF at the Cold War frontline

IN the late 1940s as the Cold War intensified, the Treaty of Dunkirk was signed by the UK and France, an alliance formed under the pretext that Germany could launch a future offensive against either country.

With Germany still suffering the after-effects of WW2, and little chance of any short-term return to its previous might, it was clear the real reason behind the move was the need for a combined defence against the growing military power of the USSR.

Soon after, the Treaty of Brussels was ratified, incorporating several more European countries including the Netherlands and Belgium, with talks beginning almost immediately after in the US on an extension of the countries involved – the US’s concern growing as the Communist Party assumed control in the Czech Republic in 1948.

The North Atlantic Treaty was signed by US President Harry S. Truman in Washington, DC, on 4 April 1949.
(The North Atlantic Treaty was signed by US President Harry S. Truman in Washington, DC, on 4 April 1949.)

On April 4, 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty was signed, with the US and Canada amongst those joining a combined force which issued a declaration signalling that any attack on any country under the NATO umbrella would be seen as an attack on all NATO countries.

The launch of NATO was followed by an increase in the military defence of European countries, with the rapid expansion of RAF operations in Germany, 25 squadrons deployed in the country by the end of 1952.

As well as using existing airfields, new stations were constructed, with Wildenrath the first of these, forming part of four ‘clutch’ stations constructed close to the Dutch border – Wildenrath opened in January 1952, followed by Geilenkirchen and Bruggen (1953), and Laarbruch (1954).

Among the first units to arrive were two North American F-86E Sabre Squadrons, Nos. 67 and 71, along with a Sabre conversion flight. A communications flight was also provided by 60 Squadron (RAF Germany Communications Squadron), initially operating Hunting Percival Pembrokes, whose role included clandestine missions to photograph Soviet and East German armed forces.

From 1956 through to the 1970s Wildenrath was home to No. 88 Squadron (later becoming No. 14) and No. 17 Squadron, both flying Canberras, No. 14 as part of the NATO’s tactical nuclear strike force.

In the 1970s Wildenrath served as the home of the RAF Harrier force, receiving Nos. 4 and 20 Squadrons, the first squadrons of V/STOL (vertical short take-off and landing) aircraft in Europe. They were soon joined by No. 3 Squadron and when the Harriers were moved to RAF Gütersloh in 1976 (at the time the nearest RAF station to the East German border), Squadron Nos. 19 and 92 were formed at Wildenrath flying Phantoms – part of a changing role for the station as it switched from strike operations to provide defence for RAF Germany and its allies.

RAF Phantom FGR2 of 19 Squadron in front of its hardened aircraft shelter at RAF Wildenrath in October 1991.

(Phantom FGR2 of 19 Squadron in front of its hardened aircraft shelter at RAF Wildenrath in October 1991)

An Army Air Corps flight was also located at the station with its own hangar facilities, operating light helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft such as the Westland Scout and De Haviland Beaver.

Growing concerns over the potential of the Soviet Bloc to launch an attack on stations in Germany saw a detachment of No. 25 Squadron, based in nearby Laarbruch, operating the Bristol Bloodhound surface to air missile defence system at Wildenrath. In the 1980s, No. 16 Squadron RAF Regiment took over the station defence role using the Rapier Missile system, operating under No. 4 Wing RAF.

The 1980s also saw tragedy strike twice in successive years, with military personnel from Wildenrath and Laarbruch targeted by IRA killers. The first attack took place in Roermond, a Dutch city just over the border from Wildenrath, on May 1, 1988. Two airmen from the RAF Regiment were ambushed by armed assailants while sitting in their car – one dying of gunshot wounds and the other seriously injured. Shortly afterwards, a bomb placed under a car in the nearby town of Nieuw-Bergen exploded, killing two RAF airmen and injuring two others from Laarbruch station.

Eighteen months later in October 1989, an RAF corporal and his infant daughter were shot dead at a petrol station near the station.

A month after the attack in Wildenrath village, the Berlin Wall came down, spelling the end of the Cold War. Wildenrath was soon deemed surplus to requirements, closing to flying on April 1, 1992 – the last flying squadron still present was No. 60, relocating to Bruggen.

Pembroke C1 of 60 Squadron landing at RAF Wildenrath in August 1983
(Pembroke C1 of 60 Squadron landing at RAF Wildenrath in August 1983)

Final closure came in November 1992, the site initially used to stage rock concerts before later becoming home to Siemens AG Transportation and Automotive business arm. With a massive site to work with, Siemens used it to test railway vehicles, and by 2007 railway tracks had taken over a considerable area of the former station.

The housing area built for Wildenrath personnel and their families was initially used as accommodation for RAF Bruggen staff, before other UK military personnel took it over when Bruggen closed in 2001. In 2012 that land was handed back to the German authorities, ending 60 years of the British military based at Wildenrath.

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4 comments

  • Worked there in the 50s VAF & Comm.Sdn. Bev’s.& just about everything else.Great mares😆😀

    Dave Hyne
  • Wife posted to Wildenrath 1987 – 1989 ( supplier )
    Being ex RAF, I became civilian storeman at GEF 1988 – 1989 .
    Great bunch of guys/girls, loved my time there.
    Quarterd at Geilenkirchen

    Chris Heys
  • Wife posted to Wildenrath 1987 – 1989 ( supplier )
    Being ex RAF, I became civilian storeman at GEF 1988 – 1989 .
    Great bunch of guys/girls, loved my time there.
    Quarterd at Geilenkirchen

    Chris Heys
  • Wildenrath was a super posting spent 3 years on 60 squadron from 1978 to 1981. Not only did we operate the “Pemmys” we also handled all of the visiting aircraft including the daily Britania Airways B737 trooper.

    Roy Brookes

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