1940 - 1945: Fliegerhorst Deelen - from construction to dismantling
During the First World War, the Dutch Aviation Division (LVA) set up an airfield on the Kemper heath near Deelen for reconnaissance flights along the eastern border. After this war, Kemper heath was only an emergency landing area, which KLM used sporadically for roundtrips.
Deelen Air Base
Already at the beginning of the Second World War, the Germans made the Netherlands suitable as a ‘forefield' in the war against England. In May 1940 they occupied Deelen Air Base and the German Air Force immediately began their reconnaissance flights. After the Dutch surrender on 14th of May 1940, the occupiers started to repair the airfield and transformed it into a permanent airfield: Deelen Air Base. They begin with a makeshift runway, so that light aircraft can operate from Deelen, but soon thousands of Dutch workers began working on the A-shaped runway system, the shape of the German airfields. They are also improving the infrastructure: paved runways, supply roads, workshops and hangars are being built at a rapid pace.
The buildings, with walls about 50 centimetres thick, are built in a so-called Heimatstil to camouflage them. Heimatstil is a farmhouse style that was very popular with German architects.
In 1941, a railway connection was built with station Wolfheze, known as the 'bomb line', used for the supply of building materials, ammunition, artillery, fuel, aircraft parts and food. The 'Gross und Klein Heidelage’ (large and small heath) houses for the German Air Force staff were built on the edge of the site. At the current infantry shooting range 'Harskamp' the Germans build a mock airfield.
German Night Fighters
Deelen Air Base is growing steadily to become the largest German airport in the Netherlands. It is important for the so-called Nachtjags (Night Fights). Actions in which the Germans fight the British bombers that fly over the most important sector (the Netherlands and northern Belgium) for the German anti-aircraft system to Germany. On the 24th of June, 1940 the first night fighter unit of the German Air Force, called Nachtjagdgeschwader 1 (Wing of Night Fighters 1) (NJG 1), was established. This squadron is part of the Jagddivision (fighter division) of the German Airforce.
Colonel Josef Kammhuber leads this German night hunt. Major Wolfgang Falck, the head of NJG 1, and his staff are placed on Alster, the code name for ‘Deelen Air Base'. Falck is also the first commander of the airbase. From the beginning in 1941, his command post was housed in a building of the Klein Heidekamp complex.
The steady growth of the night hunting weapons led to the creation of the 'XII in August 1941. Air Corps' with General Major Kammhuber as commander, responsible for the entire night hunting weapons. General Lieutenant K.B. von Döring was appointed in command of the night hunting division. In May 1942 the Fighter Division 1, 2 and 3 formed the ‘XII Air Corps’ they carried out operations of the night fighters as well as the day fighters.
In October 1943 the The XII Air Corps is renamed to I. Hunting Corps and the First Hunting Division is renumbered to the Third Hunting Division. Commander Colonel Walter Grabmann was in charge here from the 12th of November 1943.
Diogenes Nerve Centre
In the autumn of 1943, the Third Hunting Division made use of an enormous bunker as the battle centre. Its code name is Diogenes. This became the nerve centre where all the connections of the German airfields and the ground stations of the German Air Force came together. Diogenes has direct contact with the headquarters of the German Air Force in Berlin. On the 24th of October Marshall of the Reich, Hermann Göring, Commander in Chief of the German Air Force, comes to visit and receives a tour from Colonel Grabmann, who is promoted to Major General on the 1st of August 1944.
Through the aforementioned 'bomb line' building material is supplied for the bunker, this bunker is 40 x 60 x 16 metres. The largest and most important room in the middle of the bunker is 15 x 20 x 12 metres: here dozens of 'grey mice’, German Air Force, Woman Signal Auxiliary, project the positions of the Allied and German planes from a grandstand onto a wall using a light dot projector.
Through Diogenes the Germans collect all of their information from a network of radio towers and radar stations. On Dutch territory there are five radio polling stations, which the Germans refer to as Y-Positions or Hunter Lead Positions. Two radio stations are located east of Deelen Air Base: on top of the Galgenberg near Terlet is Teerose I and on the Worth-Rhedense Heath is Teerose II. As British bombers fly exactly over this area to Germany, these two positions are the most important radio sounding stations for the Germans.
No Royal Air Force actions for the time being
Despite the fact that the German Air Force area Deelen and the surrounding area are often captured in (partly still available) aerial photographs, the Allies are still not bombing both Teerosen and Diogenes. Apparently they do not see the importance of the airfield. This is remarkable, because from March 1943, the Royal Air Force (RAF) does receive the numbers and types of aircraft, buildings and installations available from the Dutch resistance. Not all reports are immediately correct, but gradually the RAF has enough information to form a good picture of the Deelen Air Base. Striking reports about mysterious tank installations that most likely contain poison gas are found. Whether this was indeed the case has never become clear. However, it is thought to be a very dangerous fuel for the Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet, a German rocket-powered interceptor aircraft. The reports also mention the supply of 90 wagons with V-2 missile material, which was never put into use.
On the 15th of August 1944: 94 British Avro Lancasters of the RAF 5th Bomber Group, bombarded the airfield and the runways, causing serious damage. After more bomb damage on the 3rd of September, 1944, the German plane is moved and the German anti-aircraft gun, the FLAK (Flugzeugabwehrkanon), is dismantled. Teeroses I and II and Diogenes were spared.
On the 17th and 18th of September 1944, the liberation operation Market Garden begins and that marks the end of Deelen Air Base. On the evening of the 17th of September 1944, a German Demolition Command Unit destroys Diogenes, the once proud command centre of the German Hunting Division. Due to another major bombing at this nerve centre, the interior and equipment were destroyed beyond repair on 20th of September 1944, while the building itself was spared. As the Germans know that they are going to lose the war, they move the command centre to Duisburg.
On the 29th of September 1944, allied fighter-bombers attack Teerose I, after which the Germans dismantle it. Teerose II remains intact until the 14th of April 1945.
Airport Deelen has a interesting history. The German Luftwaffe Redid the simple gras lane from the thirties to a big night hunter basis. Fliegerhorst Deelen was in fact the birthground of the German Nacht Jagd Geschwader 1. The exposition in the museum shows the development of the Airforce base since wartime by various of interesting photo's and objects from the collections of DAEG-members (Dutch Aircraft Examination Group) and gifts from the local community and ex-Airforce staf members.