Fliegerhorst Woensdrecht (Luftwaffe)
Woensdrecht airfield wasn’t (operationally) in use by the Dutch air force during the German invasion of May 1940. The Germans were very interested in the airfield because of its strategic location. Around the 10th of May 1940 the first Bf109E landed on the airfield and shortly after the entire I./JG20 Gruppe would move to Woensdrecht airfield. For 10 days the I./JG20 Bf109E’s flew combat missions over Brussel, Dunkirk and Calais. After this short FOB period the airfield was being constructed on a larger scale, with help of Dutch firms. Buildings, a perimeter road, taxiways, aircraft shelters, reinforcement of the grass runway with additional turf, building Flak emplacements were among these constructions.
German station personnel were mostly housed in nearby Hoogerheide and Huijbergen. Runway boundary lighting, a flare path, refueling points and ammunition storage were all created. Fliegerhorst Woensdrecht had 1 small repair hangar in the East dispersal area and a small cluster of barrack-type huts in the NW corner that housed the station HQ, fire station and billets.
There were three dispersals – East, North and West – with a total of at least 56 small aircraft shelters (Mar 43). By 20 Jun 44, these had been increased to 40 covered shelters, 24 open but mostly covered with camouflage netting and 8 parking sites for a total of 78. Defenses consisted of 2 heavy Flak positions, one with 6 guns, and 14 light Flak positions, all but a few of which were emplaced in Flak towers.
Besides I./JG20 (during which I./JG21 also flew out of Woensdrecht with their Bf109’s) operating shortly out of Woensdrecht for daily combat missions over the close by battlefields, some other units also used the Fliegerhorst for a short period of time in 1940. Among these were three different reconnaissance units which all operated the Hs126 light reconnaissance aircraft. These were 1.(H)/Aufkl.Gr.21, 2.(H)/Aufkl.Gr.21 and 4.(H)/Aufkl.Gr.31. Also III./JG54 operated from July until August 1940 out of Woensdrecht flying combat missions with Bf109’s. The I./Sturzkampfgeschwader 1 with their Ju87 StuKa’s were based for a short rest&refit in between fighting on the French battlefields and being transferred to the Eastern Front.
In Februari 1941 the first unit operated out of Fliegerhorst Woensdrecht for a longer period of time: Bf109’s of I./JG52 and II./JG52. They would fly missions over the UK and at the end of April 1941 the entire unit left Woensdrecht. I./JG52 operated out of Woensdrecht again for two weeks in September 1941, after which the unit was relocated to the Eastern front.
I Gruppe/ JG52
II Gruppe/ JG52
Around January/February 1942 7 Bf109F’s of II./JG3 operated for a short period out of Woensdrecht after which the airbase had a more permanent detachment: II./JG1 would be based here from May 1942 until September 1943.
JG1’s early objectives were defending/ patrolling the Hoek van Holland area and fly recce missions towards the British coast. The fighters would fly low level over the sea to avoid radar and back again. Later in 1943 the allied air campaign was expanding and JG1 would by missions in groups of 20-30 fighters to attack allied bombergroups and their escorts.When arriving in May 1942 JG1 flew Bf109’s, at arrival the transition to the FW190 started and was completed in June 1942.
In 1942 JG1 flew many combat missions. They would suffer losses but would also gain victories. Among allied aircraft opponents were Spitfires (222sq, Norwegian 331&332sq), Mustangs, Mosquitos, Mitchels, Wellingtons and Ventura’s.
At the start of 1943 the Americans started a B17 mission against Rotterdam – which was in the defensive area of JG1. This was the first but not the last fight against B17’s. The FW190’s found out that it was hard to down a B17, and later in Spring 1943 the new P47’s were escorting them. The fights became very intensive and hard for both sides. After a period of heavy losses as well as successes JG1 was relocated to Rheine (Westfalen, Germany) and Woensdrecht became the base of another unit: the JG26 “Schlageter”.
II Gruppe / Jagdgeschwader 1 "Tatzelwurm"
Newly arrived FW190 at Woensdrecht - although it still carries its Focke-Wulf registration it already has its "Tatzelwurm" emblem on the front.
Spitfire MkIX BS450/AH-E of (Norwegian) 332sq shot down by II./JG1
Group of FW190's of II./JG1 are ready for departure: during summer 1942 every afternoon just before nightfall all (!) FW190's flew to Venlo airfield for protection against aerial night bombing (which occured at Woensdrecht). Every morning they all flew back to Woensdrecht. This was a logistical nigthmare and it did not favour their daytime operational actions. In September 1942 all FW190's this daily procedure was cancelled.
FW190A2 weisse 3 (Buno 0336) of 4./JG1 crashed on Fliegerhorst Woensdrecht after an engine failure, its pilot did not survive
JG26 was named after a famous pre-ww2 Freikorps soldier and thin unit was before commanded by ace Adolf Galland. I./JG26 moved into Woensdrecht almost direct after JG1 left and they immediately had combat victories and downed 4 Spitfires in a single combat.
The USAAF heavy bomber wings went into their finest hour sending in huge formations. This made the Luftwaffe relocate II./JG1 and III./JG3 also to Woensdrecht, packing the airfield litterally with Bf109’s and FW190’s. On a single day a huge aerial combat errupted in which 58 aircraft from these units of Woensdrecht were involved. The USAAF dealt with high losses. Around this same time allied squadrons started attacking Woensdrecht airfield; these attacks intensified after it was obvious that the Luftwaffe units based there formed a huge threat for the heavies. Typhoons, Spitfires and B26 Marauders inflicted heavy losses on German side. For this reason JG26 left Woensdrecht at the end of August 1943.
Jagdgeschwader 26 "Schlageter"
Gruppenkom. of I./JG26 Hauptm. Karl Boris shakes hands with one of his pilots after a successfull mision, his FW190 is in the background. To the right JG26 crew helps him getting out of his gear.
From September 1943 the allied air forces kept bombing Woensdrecht airbase, which was only used by the Luftwaffe for emergency landings and short stops. Around July 1944 the German started to dismantle the airbase. A couple of months later the area all around Woensdrecht airbase became the scène of very heavy figting between elite Canadian en German army units. The area was very important because of the fact that those who held it also regulated the passage towards the Beveland and Walcheren peninsula, which on their turn made it possible to either block or open the passage to the Antwerpen harbor. Which, as history tells us, was very important for the allies in order to supply and allow their advances into Holland and Germany. Woensdrecht seized to be a German base.
All images by "Collectie Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie" unless stated otherwise. Alle images have their original NIMH.beeldbank entry number as title.