An Augsburg Garrison Extension
A short prefix
When in the summer of 1860 the first shooting attempts of the Royal Bavarian Artillery were made on the Lechfeld, no one of the military originators could have guessed in advance the later development in Augsburg’s South. Already in 1866, Bavarian troops gathered on the Lechfeld with Austrian troops for the war against Prussia. The infantry of those times extended “Lager Lechfeld” step by step to a vast military installation. Around the change of the century, the training area had a capacity of about 9.000 personnel and more than 1.800 horses.
In 1891 also began the aviation with blimps and balloons. This was ordered by Prinzregent Luitpold of Bavaria. The development of motorized aviation however displaced from 1912 on conservative aviation technics. In May 1916, the first flying school was founded, leading to the construction of numerous new buildings. With the end of WW I, military aviation was suspended on 11 November 1918, the Air Force buildings were demolished per the 1919 Treaty of Versailles.
With the beginning of WW I, the training area was also a camp for thousands of POWs. Beginning in 1919, the camp was dissolved; but this took until 1922. After the official closure of the training area on May 24, 1919, the question for the further usage of the area came up. From 1932 until 1933 there was, per order of Reichspräsident Hindenburg, a government supported outdoor sports school. In the time between the two WWs, the Lechfeld had a politically changing phase of usage, full of contrasts.
After the National Socialists’ seizure of power, the former airfield was revived as a military site with aviation school and base. There was even an estate for the installation’s supply with agricultural goods. The nearby Messerschmitt plants in the South of Augsburg left the well-known mark of a test area for the hoped for “Endsieg” (ultimate victory) airplane inventions of WW II on the Lechfeld. This did not remain a secret to the Americans. A synonym for technical superlatives was the testing of the first rocket-powered fighter aircraft Me 163 “Komet” and the serial production of the jet fighter Me 262 “Schwalbe”, who could, however, not reverse the outcome of the war.
After numerous heavy Allied air raids, the 4th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army peacefully occupied in the afternoon of 27 April 1945 the installation that had been shaped by Bavarian and NS military history. The American era with not less facetted events began. “The Lechfeld”, as the airfield was concisely called, was apart from the usage by the German Luftwaffe also an extension of the Augsburg U.S. garrison from 1945 until 1998.
The Americans on the Lechfeld
The history of the Americans on the Lechfeld began with the day after its occupation. Air Force specialists examined the state of the heavily damaged runway for the restoration and utilization by two U.S. bomber squadrons. Already on 1 May the 833rd Engineer Aviation Battalion arrived at the Lechfeld and started at once with the utilization of the airfield. Not only the actual airfield required repair, but also the buildings including their technical infrastructure. Besides, tanks for 180.000 gallons of aviation fuel had to be repaired. To cope with this extensive challenge, the 351st Transportation Truck Company as well as a company of the 825th Engineer Aviation Battalion came to assistance. In the end three additional U.S. companies, 700 German civilians and 600 German POWs supported the Lechfeld mission. 40 new hardstands were constructed on the apron. From May 1945, the U.S. designation was Airfield R-71.
Already in July 1945, the Americans wanted to station only one bomber squadron on the Lechfeld. In the end of August, several Engineer Aviation units left the airfield and returned to the USA. Then, in December 1945, the complete 305th Bomber Squadron with three squadrons from Belgium arrived on the Lechfeld. Their B-17 bombers belonged to the 8th USAAF and were specialised in aerial photography. Only on 18 May 1944, they had bombed the very same airfield. The photography project observed all U.S. occupation zones in Germany, Austria and Italy and was called “Casey Jones over Europe and North Africa”. The unit was decommissioned in December 1946 and their Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bombers were turned into scrap on the Lechfeld.
Immediately after the end of the war, the American forces hoisted their flag in front of the tower to make their presence felt. The former command building had gotten reasonably good over the air raids. (Photo: U.S. Army)
At the same time, a completely different business took place on the Lechfeld: the “Operation LUSTY". Per order of 4-star General Carl A. Spaatz, an intelligence unit was founded, whose purpose was to track down high quality technical achievements of the German aircraft construction after the war and to transfer these to the USA. A wish list with 31 key areas was called “Operation LUSTY” (LUftwaffe Secret TechnologY). Team One of two teams under the leadership of Colonel (temporary) Harald Ernest Watson collected German aircraft and weapons. The objects he found on the Lechfeld were actually of extreme interest for his commission. So all machines intended for the transportation to the USA were collected there. Nine Me 262 jet fighters were flown to Cherbourg by German pilots. With 64 airplanes on board, the British aircraft carrier HMS Reaper left France on 19 July 1945 and arrived in New York on 31 July 1945. The freight consisted of more than 6.200 tons of military aviation equipment of extreme value to the American aviation industry.
The British aircraft carrier HMS Reaper (top) shipped the aeronautical booty across the Atlantic, amongst them nine Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighters (below). (Photos: U.S. Army).
Colonel (temporary) Harold E. Watson, headed the LUSTY-team for jet aircraft. He had a special power of attorney by General Dwight D. Eisenhower, written in three languages, to ensure legitimization of the absolute enforcement of the operation. (Photo: U.S. Air Force).
In November 1946, the Air Force presence changed once again for a short time. A unit of the 86th Fighter Group with heavy P-47 Thunderbolt fighter aircraft, including a service group, was stationed on the Lechfeld. These P-47 had also attacked the Lechfeld airfield during the final days of the war. On 5 March 1947, the Thunderbolts left the Lechfeld. For the time being, this was the end of the U.S. Air Force post-war appearance. From August 1947 thru March 1951, there was also a camp with about 3.000 Jewish displaced persons.
In the post-war vacuum era, the U.S. Army constructed a military prison on the airfield in October 1951. At first intended for the rehabilitation of one-time criminals with short-term prison sentences (7727th European Command Retraining Center), from October 1952, due to the closure of military prisons in Nürnberg and Frankfurt, there was an extension as a strict military prison with up to 1.661 prisoners. The staff consisted of 212 soldiers and 4 officers. In September 1953, the military prison, now called 7727th USAREUR Retraining Center (7727th Army Unit MP), was relocated to Kaufbeuren - per an unsecured statement probably because of space problems.
With the arrival of fighting units (from 1951 the 43rd Infantry Division) considerable space requirements for suitable training areas became evident. Obviously, the Deuringen heath and the Haunstetten forest rifle range were no longer sufficient. That is why the units commuted between the Augsburg installations and the Lagerlechfeld Training Area for decades. This training area was unproblematic for the public, not visible, and the noise of the rifle range did not molest the neighbours. Already in the 1950s, the former Wehrmacht rifle range was altered to meet American requirements and was extensively utilized, especially by the 24th Infantry Division and later also by the “Augsburg units”. In this way, the Augsburg garrison tied an extensive military complex together. For large scale maneuvers with live ammunition, tanks and howitzers were moved to the Grafenwöhr and Hohenfels Training Areas. Also VII Corps Artillery units, e.g. the 17th Field Brigade, had their maneuvers with M109 and M110 Self-Propelled Howitzers from the end of the 1960s until 1991 on the Lechfeld.
A M26 Pershing medium tank turning off at Königsbrunn/Neuhaus to the road to Bobingen in 1952. The photo verifies the early commuter traffic between the Augsburg kasernes and the Lechfeld Training Area. (Photo: Stadtarchiv Königsbrunn).
The 19th Infantry Division occupied the extended rifle range near Schwabstadl. (Photos: James Turner).
Brigadier General Bernard Rogers visits the soldiers of the 19th Infantry Div. at the Lechfeld/ Schwabstadl rifle range.
Bürgermeister-Aurnhammer-Straße in Göggingen was a predestined road connection between the Augsburg kasernes and the Lechfeld Training Area. This city district was considerably encumbered by the frequent military traffic. (Photo: G. Mayer).
At the end of the Augsburg garrison time, the 66th Military Intelligence Brigade (Group since 1995) with Headquarters (HQ) and the 18th, 204th and 527th MI Battalions utilized the area in the East of the airfield for war-near training. For this purpose, Lechfeld Training Area was divided into nine areas.
Rifle range activities at Schwabstadl.
The “Quick Snack” wagon provided the catering for the soldiers at the Lechfeld Training Area.
Several activities at the Lechfeld Training Area. (All photos: Michael Leary).
Nuclear Weapons at the Lechfeld
With the Bundeswehr Jagdbombergeschwader (JaboG) 32 in service in the summer of 1958, the nuclear age was to originate on the Lechfeld. It began probably at this point with the American-built Republic F-84F Thunderstreak fighter-bombers, which were able to deliver a bomb of eight kilotons yield within the “Massive Retaliation” strategy per NATO Military Committee MC-14/2. The respective bomb depots were located in the North of the airfield. In 1964 began the exchange of the nuclear fighter-bomber for the legendary Lockheed F-104G Starfighter, which, at first, were armed with a Mk-28 thermonuclear bomb with 1.1 mt yield. In 1968, the aircraft were re-equipped with Mk-43 thermonuclear bombs with the same yield, developed especially for low-flying fighter-bombers (also within the now valid strategy of “Flexible Response”). At the same time, a re-equipment with Mk-61 thermonuclear bombs, being at hand at the Jagdbombergeschwader, took place. Storage, guarding, ammunition-handling and release of nuclear weapons were at each squadron in the hands of the U.S. Air Force MUNSS (Munitions Support Squadron). Every squadron maintained a force of two files of nuclear-armed Starfighters on Quick Reaction Airborne Alert, 24 hours / 365 days which had to be airborne within five minutes. Targets were handed out to the pilots in sealed envelopes. The authorization and codes for the arming of the nuclear bombs were in the hands of U.S. officers.
Besides, as in the Warsaw Pact, there was a permanent development of the nuclear weapons arsenal. With the conversion to the Panavia Tornado on the Lechfeld in 1984, the nuclear participation of the Bundeswehr Starfighters was - per our information - dropped for the JaboG 32. This task was turned over to the JaboG 34 at Memmingerberg, together with the allocated 7261st Munitions Support Squadron.
A legend of success as well as sadness: The Starfighter F-104G, capable of nuclear bomb delivery, was deployed on the Lechfeld. 260 of this aircraft were manufactured under licence by Messerschmitt / Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm (MBB, later a part of EADS) in Augsburg! Numerous Starfighters crashed during armed training flights, killing many pilots. (Photo: AiA archives).
Besides the fighter-bombers that could be nuclear-equipped, the Lechfeld had a further nuclear burden to carry: this was, beginning in the middle of the 1960s, the warhead storage for the Pershing 1 Battlefield Support Missiles. The Flugkörpergeschwader 1 (FKG 1) of the Bundesluftwaffe, stationed at nearby Landsberg/Lech since 1963, was armed with surface-to-surface medium-range Pershing 1a missiles (mounted by a set of wheeled vehicles based on the M656 five-ton-truck) with a range of approx. 740 km. Their nuclear warheads (a minimum of 36) were stored in the Fliegerhorst Lechfeld area. The FKG 1 was disbanded on 31/12/1991.
The Special Ammunition Site (SAS)
In the faraway South-East of the Fliegerhorst existed a special weapons depot for the safekeeping of nuclear weapons. It was supervised by the 74th Field Artillery Detachment which was combined with 82nd FAD around 1971, located in a special custodial area in the outside situated Schwabstadl-Kaserne. The 74th USAFAD belonged to the 512th U.S. Army Field Artillery group with headquarters in Günzburg, the administration of nuclear weapons was the paramount responsibility of the 59th Ordnance Brigade in Pirmasens and was decommissioned after the withdrawal of the nuclear weapons on 15/07/1990.
An eye catcher of the SAS was the center located typical octagonal watchtower and the watchtowers positioned at the perimeter. The depot consisted of five grass-camouflaged bunkers, in the center was the accommodation for the personnel. The interior circle with the storage installations for the nuclear weapons was also extending beyond the “DDR-type border watchtower”- visible from far away - under the custody and control of a U.S. unit (74th FAD). The second fenced in area was controlled by the assigned Luftwaffen-Sicherungsstaffel S of the FKG 1, while the perimeter fence area was the playground of civilian guards with watchdogs. (Note: For security reasons, bombs as well as warheads were always stored separately).
This overview is intended to show the multi-facetted military history of the Lechfeld in connection with the Augsburg U.S. garrison. It was always inseparably connected with the industrial city of Augsburg and the garrison city of Augsburg. With the SAS closure in the summer of 1990 (end of the Cold War) the training area was only used by the 66th Military Intelligence Brigade/Group from Augsburg. From 1998 on the airfield and the kaserne installations were exclusively in the hands of the Bundeswehr. Schwabstadl Kaserne was demolished in 2013, in the meantime other no longer required airfield objects, too.
View of the abandoned Lagerlechfeld Special Ammunition Site. (Photo: Bing Maps)
Sad tristesse - the nuclear weapons depot on a rainy day. (Photo: usarmygermany).
View of the double fence and the security walkway. (Photo: usarmygermany).
Late views of SAS bunkers. Nature is already recapturing the once weapon-rich installations. (Photos: John Betty Jackson).
Left: The octagonal viewing turret in the center of the SAS. Right: The view of a perimeter watchtower. (Photos: John Betty Jackson).
Views of what once was Schwabstadl-Kaserne. (Photos: John Betty Jackson).
Empty expanse: The Lechfeld provided ideal conditions for jet-fighters. Nevertheless, as housing areas were in the immediate neighborhood, they were met with displeasure by the noise-plagued residents, especially by the typical howling sound of the Starfighter engine at certain throttle settings. But as people were mindful of the local jobs, the dependents of the aircrews took the noise calmly.