In December of 1951, the most scenic airbase in the RCAF began to take shape. With the picturesque Black Forest hills to the east, and the majestic Rhine River, with its very busy traffic of barges and tourist boats, within hearing distance to the west, German contractors, under the supervision of French Engineers, began construction on what was to become one of the most outstanding units in the RCAF, and later the Canadian Armed Forces. Named #4 Fighter Wing, Baden-Soellingen because of its geographic proximity to the small farming community of Soelingen in the province of Baden, the Wing became a very popular port of call for many distinguished visitors, as well as vacationing servicemen from Canada and other parts of the Air Division.
Designed originally to accommodate a brigade of the French Armee de l'Air, the airfield's runway and hardstands were completed in June 1952, barely in time to meet the arrival of the first French aircraft. Two months later, the French Air Force, living under canvas, conducted the first air exercises from Baden-Soellingen. At approximately the same time as the initial operational activity, work commenced on the construction of the base buildings, these being built to meet the requirements of the Armee de l'Air.
Early in 1953 it became apparent to NATO Headquarters that the base which had been designed for the RCAF Fourth Fighter Wing (Pferdsfeld) would not be ready in time for the arrival of the Canadian Squadrons that summer. Since the airfield at Soellingen was already in an advanced stage of construction, it was decided that the Canadians would operate temporarily from this airbase until their own was ready. A few months later another change of plans made this a permanent arrangement, and the third phase of construction, the adaptation of existing buildings to RCAF needs began.
When the first RCAF vehicle appeared early in April 1953, the now familiar low pale green stuccoed buildings were already finished. The spacious aircraft dispersals and hangars were in the final stages of construction. On the 21st of April 1953, the total strength of 4 (F) Wing was ten airmen and two officers.
On the 22nd of April, W/C RO Stabler arrived to head the small advance party mentioned earlier and was appointed Acting Commanding Officer effective 26 April 1953. Additional personnel arrived to help with the task of taking over the property, building by building, preparing the way for those who were to arrive during the following weeks.
On the 3rd of May, W/C Malloy arrived and became the new Acting CO. From this time forward there was a gradual expansion and modernization, such as the removal of stand-up toilets, of facilities and the arrival, in stages, of more personnel. A temporary headquarters was set up in the supply building and countless tasks were performed before the wheels of the station could be set in motion.
Despite the heavy workload enjoyed by all, a most unusual festive evening was planned. The first mess dinner to be held at the new Wing was called to order by the Acting CO. He, as cook of the day, prepared an Italian spaghetti dinner second to none, and as a member who attended related, "It was probably the only mess dinner where seconds have been served".
By the first week of July, most of the work on the Headquarters and Administration building was completed. On the 8th of July, W/C Malloy handed the new Base over to G/C RS Turnbull, officially the first Commanding Officer of No. 4 Fighter Wing. W/C Malloy departed immediately for Canada to become Task Force Commander of Leap Frog IV, the air operation which brought three squadrons of Sabres from Canada to Baden-Soellingen.
Meanwhile, in Canada, the three squadrons which were to comprise the operational strength of 4 (F) Wing, 414, 424, and 444, flew together in a Coronation Day fly-past over Ottawa on June 2nd. In addition to the preparations for Operation Leap Frog IV, all three squadrons had been fulfilling, for some months, an important role in Canada's air defence and had taken part in a number of air exercises.
Under the leadership of W/C JF Allen, 63 F-86E Sabre jets roared into the air on the 27th of August 1953, from RCAF Station Uplands on the first leg of a Transatlantic flight which was to bring them to their new home at 4 (F) Wing.
Completed in a record time of eight days, Leap Frog IV encountered two close calls enroute, excluding the practice approach at Reykjavik by a section flight planned for Kefiavik. The first incident occurred at Greenland when one of the pilots unintentionally did a flapless landing and rolled off the end of the runway. The second occurred between Iceland and Scotland when the number two man in the lead section, F/O Durant, suffered an oxygen problem. The formation descended to a lower altitude for the remainder of the flight. The resultant increase in fuel consumption at this altitude left most of the section with four minutes or less fuel reserves when they landed at Lossiemouth, off the north eastern coast of Scotland. September 4th, 1953, 62 Sabres arrived at 4(F) Wing. They landed in sections of three and four, at five-minute intervals with the first aircraft, a Sabre of 414 Squadron, touching down at 16:28 hours.
On the ground the hard-working nucleus had grown to nearly full station strength. By the 8th of September there were 121 officers, 741 airmen and 226 civilians present on the station, the main bulk of the staff having arrived in three phases during the intervening months.
All essential services were in operation and the aircraft landed to find an atmosphere of enthusiasm pervading the new home.
Three weeks later, on the 28th of September, 19S3, the official opening ceremony took place. As the dignitaries arrived on the scene, the flags of the 14 North Atlantic Treaty Organization nations were unfurled and the touring RCAF Band from Toronto played the Canadian, French and American national anthems.
Spectators received the biggest thrill of the day when 36 jets of the three Canadian squadrons of 4(F) Wing streaked across the skies, in a low formation, past the parade ground. Some 60 other aircraft scheduled to participate, including French aircraft and those of 1 (F) Wing and (2) F Wing, were unable to do so because of adverse weather.
General Norstad, Air Deputy Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, welcomed the newest group of Canadians into the family of NATO nationals. He told the Wing personnel they were entering a distinguished group and praised the Canadians for their efficiency. Rightly so, considering the Wing had been established three months in advance of its target date.
The first wedding conducted at the station chapels took place on November 16th, 1953. The RC Chaplain, S/L NJ Gallagher, conducted the service in which LAW Sheila Verrall became the wife of LAC James W Wright.
Towards the end of 1953 many families arrived from Canada. The hunt for accommodation in neighboring towns and villages grew more intense as the number of dependants increased daily and available apartments and rooms were snapped up. The following spring, however, a large construction project was initiated just outside the Hugelsheim gate. In the space of a few months four hundred apartments were completed in a pleasant setting on the edge of the airfield, flanked by fields of corn and spargel on one side and thick woods on the other. The trek of families from their temporary accommodation in nearby German communities to the modern married quarters began in October of 1954.
The new settlement was quickly christened "Rhine Valley Park" and before long electioneering was in full swing for a mayor and town council. This demonstration of civic consciousness impressed German visitors as did the married quarters with their white stucco exteriors, large picture windows, balconies and modern furnishings. Glowing articles in the local press acclaimed the nineteen room dependants' school as being the most modern in the Province, and eventually Rhine Valley Park received its second unofficial name of "Klein Kanada" by which it became known to the inhabitants of the nearby German towns and villages.
The impact of the new Canadian community on the local civic, social and commercial life was most noticeable. For instance, the Burgermeister of Soellingen found him self hard-pressed to cope with the increased business in registering the prodigious number of births and marriages among the residents of this new satellite town. Gasthaus and garage owners, shop keepers and taxi operators welcomed the rising tide of business resulting from the influx of Canadians. To Canadians, names such as "The Green Trees" (Gruencr Baum), Hirsch, Schwan, Kurhaus, and Hohritt became household words.
Meanwhile, Baden-Soellingen set out to catch up with the other three fighter Wings, all of whom had been in Europe some time and were already firmly established. During the day, the station concentrated on a program of consolidation and advanced operational training. While in off duty hours everyone pursued his own personal program of exploration and acclimatization. Nearby Gasthauses were discovered, newcomers were introduced to such items of local interest as "honey-wagons", German beer, and the remnants of old Siegfried bunkers which were found in surrounding woods and dotted along the airfield.
Meanwhile, the squadrons found themselves participating in training excrciscs with the air forces of other NATO countries. In May of 1954, the first squadron to take part in "Operation Weapon Fire" flew to French Morocco, in North Africa, to spend three weeks at the air firing range near Rabat Sale. Until the opening of Decimomannu in 1957, Rabat was the main weapon training range for Air Division squadrons. Many ex-Four Wingers will remember the "blood sheet" and that grand old desert sand-Vintage, El Moghrabi Vin Morocain, from the caves of Moghreb Meknes.
The toughest obstacle for most newcomers proved to be the language problem. German classes were organized and received an immediate response from servicemen and their wives.
The station store, with its stocks of clothing, gift articles, household appliances and other attractive wares, rapidly emerged as a highly successful enterprise, with sales of German cameras and photographic equipment high on the list of most popular items.
4 Wing continued to grow. Canadian Radio Broadcasting System (CRBS) was established and opened in May 1954, and helped to entertain Canadians away from home. A station magazine entitled "Schwarzwald Flieger" was published for the first time in July 1954, later followed by another publication "Stadmitte", with news of particular interest to residents of Rhine Valley Park.
Domestically the station became an almost independent Canadian community with its own cinema, swimming pool, tennis courts, ball diamonds, messes, library, post office, Bank of Montreal, hockey arena and PX facilities. The first school opened on 13 September 1954.
The pleasant attractions of the local and European communities did not prevent the Wing from catching up with the other Stations on the serious side of its activities. On April 6, 1955, The Lloyd Chadburn Trophy for proficiency in air firing was presented to the station by AOC A/B/M/Campbell, to be followed a few weeks later by the Wing Efficiency Trophy from the hands of A/V/M Kerr AOC of Training Command.
In April 1955 G/C Turnbull was transferred to Air Division Headquarters, giving command of the Station to G/C BE Christmas at a ceremonial parade. This marked the end of the Wing's early history.
|Return to Top of Page|
Updated: July 5, 2004