Chaumont-Semoutiers airfield (french: Aérodrome de Chaumont, also known as Chaumont Air Base, ICAO LFJA) is an airfield 3KM southwest of Chaumont, France.
The airfield was built around 1930, and used as an airfield for the Aéro Club de la Haute Marne. It was used as a training airfield in the mid 1930s by the French Air Force (Armée de l'Air). In May 1940, the Bombardment Group (french: Groupe de Bombardement) II/38 attached to the 3rd Air Division (french: 3e Division Aérienne) was based at de Chaumont-Semoutiers with Amiot 143 et Bloch 200 bombers.
The airfield was liberated by the US 3rd Army in September 1944. After the war, the airstrip was used again by the Aéro Club de la Haute Marne.
With the outbreak of the Cold War in the late 1940s, the Berlin Airlift and the ongoing threat from the Soviet Union to Western Europe, negotiations began in November 1950 between NATO and the United States to establish air bases and station combat wings in France to meet European defense needs. During the negotiations for selection of sites, the pre-World War II airfield at Chaumont was proposed for expansion into a modern air base. The airfield had been left abandoned since the war and there were no immediate plans for French civil or military use. An agreement was reached to develop Chaumont into a NATO facility and then station United States Air Force tactical fighter-bombers there by 1953.
The original pre-World War 2 airfield in 1948, well before it was decided it was to be extensively rebuilt in the 1950s (IGN, via Géoportail)
Chaumont from the air, believed to be around the time the airfield was completed around 1951-1952.
F-84Gs 51-890 of the 494th FFBS and 51-830 of the 493d FBS - 48th Fighter Bomber Wing - Chaumont AB France (United States Air Force Historical Research Agency, Maxwell AFB Alabama, via Wikipedia)
Reconstruction of the air base started on 25 January 1951, with much effort being made to have minimal facilities ready by November. Various delays, caused by issues such as the (un)availability of French heavy machinery, pushed runway construction back to October however. The design of the airfield was to space parked aircraft as far apart as possible by the construction of a circular or oval dispersal system of hardstands (marguerite) that could be revetted later with earth for added protection. Typically a marguerite consisted of fifteen to eighteen hardstands holding one or two aircraft, allowing the planes to be spaced approximately 150 feet (50 m) apart, around a large central hangar.
Minimum facilities, consisting of 255 tent frames built on concrete floors and 24 prefab wood buildings with utilities, were ready for USAF use by April 1952 but the entire facility was a work in progress until 1956. In May 1952, the 137th Fighter-Bomber Wing activated at Chaumont with the 125th, 127th, and 128th Fighter Squadrons flying the Republic F-84G "Thunderjet". The unit was part of the Oklahoma Air National Guard and was called to active duty on 10 October 1950 during the Korean War. Once activated, the Wing flew various versions of the F-84; the 125th FBSquadron flew F-84B's from Will Rogers Airport at Tulsa, the 127th FBS flew F-84Cs from Wichita Municipal Airport in Kansas, and the 128th FBS from Dobbins Air Force Base near Atlanta, Georgia flew F-47D's (redesignated P-47's). By 27 November, the wing assembled Alexandria Municipal Airport Louisiana for conversion training in the newer F-84Gs. Deployment of the wing was severely delayed by the need to transfer pilots to Korea from training and delays in receiving engines for the F-84Gs, as well as the ongoing construction at Chaumont.
Training and delays continued throughout 1951, resulting in most of the activated National Guard airmen being released from active duty, having never deployed to France. Filled with mostly regular Air Force personnel and with all the delays behind them, the Wing departed Louisiana on 5 May 1952 for Europe, but the 137th inherited a base that was little more than acres of mud where wheat fields used to be. The only hardened facilities at Chaumont were a concrete runway and a handful of tarpaper covered shacks. For their first two years of residence at Chaumont, the wing headed up an engineering project that resulted in the construction of permanent barracks, a wing headquarters, flightline shops and warehouses.
Runway and taxiway preparation, along with final negotiations with the French government to allow nuclear weapon capable F-84's on its soil, prevented the aircraft from being deployed to Chaumont. In the interim the 125th and 127th Fighter-Bomber Squadrons were stationed at Ramstein Air Base and the 128th at Neubiberg Air Base in West Germany until final approval was received.
The aircraft finally arrived at Chaumont on 25 June, being the first USAF tactical air fighters to be based permanently in France, albeit working mostly from tents and temporary wooden buildings on their new base. While at Chaumont, the 137th flew 61 F-84G's, approximately 20 aircraft per squadron, and in addition there were 2 C-47s, a T-6F, and 3 T-33A support aircraft. During the summer pilots of the 137th deployed to Wheelus Air Base, Libya to obtain air-to-air and air-to-ground bombing and gunnery proficiency..
On 10 July 1952 the 137th handed over its aircraft and crews to the 48th Fighter-Bomber Wing (with the fighter squadrons 492, 493, and 494 FBS respectively) and the 137 FBW was reassigned without personnel or equipment, back to the control of Oklahoma Air National Guard. The few National Guardsmen still with the wing departed and the last were released from active duty on 9 July, although a few reserve officers remained on active duty for an additional six to twelve months.
The 48th developed into the premier fighter wing in France, serving the longest, from 10 July 1952 through 15 January 1960. The men and women of the 48th worked hard to develop Chaumont-Semoutiers Air Base into one of the best air bases in Europe. Its squadrons remained unchanged while flying three different type of fighters, the F-84G, F-86F and the F-100D, and maintaining the capability to fight either a conventional or nuclear war if need be. Within a year of activation at Chaumont, the wing had become so proficient with the F-84 that it formed an aerial demonstration team known as “The Skyblazers.” In 1953 the wing transitioned to the F-86F Sabre, as did the aerial demonstration team. The F-86 team became USAFE’s official aerial demonstration team in May 1954.
In just over three years since construction began, Chaumont Air Base became an important part of the Haute-Marne region, and to bolster Franco-American relations, the 48th Wing Staff came up with the idea of changing the wing insignia. Chaumont AB is located not far from the workshops of Frédéric Bartholdi - the French architect which designed the Statue of Liberty- so the new design was to incorporate the Statue Of Liberty. On 4 July 1954 the mayor of the town of Chaumont bestowed the honorary title of the 'Statue de la Liberté (Statue of Liberty) Wing' upon the 48th, and throughout Europe the 48th became known as the "Statue of Liberty" Wing, making it the only USAF unit with both an official name and a numerical designation. In addition, the town of Chaumont donated a 9-foot (2.7 m) bronze statue to the wing which was cast from an original Bartholdi mold built for creating a design model of the Statue of Liberty, which still exists on Chaumont Air Base today.
Statue dedication ceremony, Chaumont Air Base, 4 July 1956 (USAF, 48FW PDF)
In November 1953, the wing exchanged its F-84Cs for newer F-86F "Sabres", receiving 75 aircraft, 25 per squadron, which were exchanged only 3 years later for a newer aircraft: the F-100D "Super Sabre". 90 single-seat F-100D aircraft were received, along with 13 F-100F dual-seaters. The Liberty Wing was USAFE’s first unit to convert to the F-100 Super Sabre, but at this time the Chaumont runway was closed for repair, resulting in the wing deploying to Bulo, Morocco (near Casablanca), to train with its new aircraft. The wing began realigning its units 15 March 1957, as part of an Air Force worldwide reorganization combat groups were inactivated, and the unit's fighter missions were assigned directly to the wing. As part of yet another organization change, the 48th dropped the "Fighter Bomber" designation 8 July 1958 and became the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing, with the three flying units also changing designators, becoming tactical fighter squadrons. A change in residence, however, loomed on the horizon for the 48th. In spite ot the good relations with the surrounding communities disagreements arose on a national level concerning atomic storage and custody issues within NATO, resulting in a decision to remove all Air Force atomic-capable units from French soil. In the early morning of 15 January 1960 the wing's three fighter squadrons lifted off Chaumont's runway and, after making farewell passes over the outlying village, headed toward the English Channel and RAF Lakenheath, UK, effectively placing Chaumont-Semoutiers Air Base in reserve status. The base became a satellite of Toul AB, being maintained by the 7544th Combat Support Group.
F-86F Sabre 53-1222 of 48th FBW at Chaumont, 1955 (United States Air Force Historical Research Agency, Maxwell AFB Alabama, via Wikipedia)
Chaumont air base in 1956 with 55 fighters of various types dispersed around the airfield and two C-47s on the platform (IGN, via Géoportail).
F-100Ds of the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing - Chaumont Air Base France, 1957 Aircraft in foreground, Serial 54-2222 is Wing Commander's Aircraft (United States Air Force Historical Research Agency, Maxwell AFB Alabama, via Wikipedia)
After almost two years without any permanent flying units, in 1961 Chaumont Air Base was reactivated as part of Operation Tack Hammer, the United States response to the Berlin Crisis. On 1 October 1961, as a result of the crisis, the New Jersey Air National Guard (ANG) 108th Tactical Fighter Wing was ordered to active duty. When activated, the 108th consisted of three squadrons, the 119th TFS at Atlantic City Airport, the 141st TFS at McGuire AFB, New Jersey, and the 149th TFS at Byrd Field, near Richmond, Virginia, all flying the F-84F Thunderstreak.
Only a portion of the 108th TFW actually deployed to France due to DOD budget limitations, consisting of 28 F-84F's of the 141st TFS and officers and airmen from all three squadrons, while the remaining aircraft and personnel remained on active duty at their home stations. The first elements of the 108th deployed to Chaumont from McGuire AFB on 16 October with the last aircraft and personnel arriving on 6 November, while the ground units deployed by sealift reaching Chaumont by 17 November.
In France, the deployed elements of the 108th TFW were designated the 7108th Tactical Wing on 20 November due to the reduced strength of the wing in Europe. Their primary mission was to provide close air support to the Seventh Army in Europe under the direction of Ground Forward Air Controllers, and to accomplish this mission, up to 30 sorties were flown each day. Pilots and aircraft were rotated back and forth from Atlantic City and Richmond in order for all pilots in the wing to become familiar with flying conditions at Chaumont and to teach USAFE operational procedures.
The 106th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron from the 7117th Tactical Wing at Dreux-Louvillier Air Base spent all its time in France flying from Chaumont. The 7117th was also an Air National Guard wing called to active duty during the Berlin Crisis, but it was prohibited from flying its RF-84s from Dreux Air Base due to flight restrictions in the Orly Airport area. The 106th remained and operated from Chaumont until its deactivation and departure for CONUS in July 1962.
In April 1962 as the Berlin Crisis subsided, plans were being made to return the activated squadrons to the United States, but on 7 June the 7108th TW received orders directing the wing to return to CONUS with all personnel, but leaving the 24 F-84s in place at Chaumont.
Additionally, the deployed personnel would assist in the smooth transition of the base to the newly activated 366th Tactical Fighter Wing to be permanently based at Chaumont after their departure. The 7108th departed from Chaumont and was relieved from active duty in August 1962. All personnel were released from active duty and returned to Air National Guard status.
The entrance to Chaumont Air Base in 1962 (Wikipedia).
On 8 May 1962 the 366th Tactical Fighter Wing was activated with four Tactical Fighter Squadrons, formed by absorbing the assets and personnel of the Air National Guard squadrons rushed to Europe in the wake of the Berlin Crisis, then as the ANG personnel were demobilized, personnel were drawn from the active-duty ranks.
With its Wing Headquarters at Chaumont, the 366th TFW was organized as follows:.
389th TFS (Chaumont AB, Blue striping).
390st TFS (Chambley AB, Yellow striping).
391st TFS (Etain AB, Red striping).
480th TFS (Phalsbourg AB, Green striping).
The 480th TFS operated at Chaumont until runway repairs were completed at Phalsbourg and then deployed there on 20 December. This multi-base organizational structure was unique in that it was the only tactical fighter wing in USAFE with four squadrons at four different air bases in Europe. The 366th was also the last USAFE tactical fighter wing formed in Europe, and each squadron flew 20 F-84F's left by the departing Air National Guard Units. In addition to the flying units being dispersed, the 366th also formed Combat Support Groups at each base to support the flying operations.
The decision to form, organize, equip and train the 366th at four different bases was a poor decision by USAFE. The first major problem being the simple logistics needed to operate the squadrons, as deliveries of services in France had always been a problem since the USAF bases were established in the early 1950s, with deliveries of supplies and equipment sometimes taking months, instead of weeks.
In addition, the F-84G was being phased out of the USAF since 1958 and there was a shortage of pilots and trained mechanics in USAFE for the model, which was aggrevated by personnel issues such as married personnel avoiding assignments in France due to poor housing conditions, which meant that most assigned personnel were first-term airmen with little, or elementary job skills. Also, the cost of maintaining USAFE bases in France were significantly higher.
Transition to the newer F-84F began in the fall of 1962. However, in the middle of the pilot upgrade training, the 366th was needed to respond to the Cuban Missile Crisis, assuming a 24/7 alert posture for two weeks beginning on 23 October. Some deployed aircraft were called back from Wheelus Air Base Libya where they were undergoing training. Targets in Eastern Europe were identified and changed on a daily, sometimes hourly schedule. Two KB-50 tankers were flown into Chaumont to provide aerial refueling to the tactical aircraft if necessary. On 5 November, the 24/7 alert was stood down and operations returned to normal peacetime levels.
HQ USAFE did not provide the 366th with a definitive mission statement, the wing simply continued to build on the Air National Guard 7108th Tactical Wing's missions. These were expanded to include the capability to receive and support dual-based CONUS tactical fighter squadrons and plans were made for the 366th to absorb up to four additional fighter squadrons and operate from three additional NATO Dispersed Operating Bases.
This was not to be, however. As a result of French president Charles de Gaulle's deep suspicion of "supranational organizations" and France's shift away from the NATO orbit in the early 1960s, ultimately the decision was made in November 1962 that Chambley, Chaumont, Etain and Phalsbourg air bases would be returned to reserve status. On 26 April 1963 the 366 TFW was notified of its pending relocation to Holloman AFB, New Mexico, and the initial deployment of personnel began on 4 June, either moving to Holloman, or reassigned throughout USAFE. The 366th officially departed Chaumont on 22 July 1963.
F-84Fs from the 7108th Tactical Wing in formation over Chaumont - 1962. With the end of the Berlin Crisis, these aircraft were reassigned to the 366th Tactical Fighter Wing (USAF-ANG photo via Wikipedia).
In the 1960s, the Thunderbirds took their F-100 Super Sabres to France for a performance at Chaumont AB. Here, the prefect of Haute Marne is taken for a ride (no sound, 4 minutes).
After the departure of the 366 TFW, Chaumont was in a reserve status, being used occasionally for NATO exercises and deployments, while a small USAF contingent group, the 7366th Combat Support Group operated at the base to maintain its facilities. Then by suprise, on 7 March 1966, French President Charles de Gaulle announced that France would withdraw from NATO's integrated military structure and the United States were informed that they had to remove their military forces from France by 1 April 1967. After initial disbelief, the US began to move all its supplies and equipment in the summer. By the end of 1966 all USAF equipment was removed from Chaumont and on 26 March 1967 the last American assigned to Chaumont left the facility after the base was turned over to French Control.
After the USAF withdrawal from France in 1967, the French Army took up residence at Chaumont, changing its name to Quartier General d'Aboville.
The 403e Régiment d'Artillerie (403e RA) operated from the facility until 1998, equipped with HAWK Surface to Air Missiles (SAMs).
Chaumont on the French National holiday (14 july) 1971. It seems the airfield was still in use, as all the runway markers are still there, and there are no 'X' makings on the runways.
The airfield was closed by the time this photo was taken in 1974. 4 'X'-markings were painted along the runways centerline in the high resolution version of this photo found at Géoportail. Additionally, some wharehouses had been built on all three 'marguerites.
Until 1992, the airfield did not really change. But in 1992 some construction took place juist outside the airfield perimeter on the northwest side of the airfield. A new civilian airfield was intended to use the runway of the airbase (Géoportail).
Using the northwest exit of the runway (which had been built, but not been used up to then), the runway was connected to the new platform. With its own control tower, a new civilian airfield 'Chaumont-Semoutiers' was created sharing the runway with the closed Chaumont Air Base. The complete airfield was photographed in 1995, with a shortened but active runway (IGN, via Géoportail).
In 1999, the French Army 61e Régiment d'artillerie (61e RA) Aerial Surveillance Regiment arrived at Chaumont equipped with CL 289 and SAGEM Sperwer drones. In addition to the Army, the French National Military Police Force (Gendarmerie Nationale) has also taken up residence at Chaumont and finally, the airfield serves as a civilian airfield for Chaumonts aeroclub.
The air field is currently (2011) jointly owned by the French ministry of Defense on behalf of the Armée de Terre (French Army) and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Haute-Marne.
Chaumont from the air, around 2001. If you zoom in on Google Earth you will still recognise a streetplan with a sportsfield and what appears to be the foundations of base housing. The complex on the right is the ammunitions complex. Even at this resolution, the two 'X'-marks on the runway are clearly visible, as is the expansion of the civilian side of the airfield (IGN, via Géoportail).
In 2010 the airfield served as the grounds for a 10-day evangelical meeting attended by between 20,000 and 30,000 people with 5000 caravans, creating the largest camping site in the world. Obviously the airfield was closed during the event. The video could not be embedded, so please click >>here<< to view it.
VILLIERS-LE-SEC, France -- Lt. Col. Raymond Reyes (left), 48th Contracting Squadron commander, and Maj. Ellis Kinzer, 494th assistant director of operations, stand with the original 48th Fighter Bomber Wing Liberty Statue on the former Chaumont Air Base, France, June 11, 2011. Colonel Reyes and Major Kinzer were invited from RAF Lakenheath, England, to represent the 48th Fighter Wing at a local exhibition celebrating the American presence at Chaumont, which lasted from 1952 to 1967. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman David Dobrydney, click the image for the full story)