Soesterberg

Validation date: 30 05 2012
Updated on: 18 01 2021
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52°07'63"N 005°16'59"E

crest
Soesterberg Air Base station crest.

Runway 09/27 - 3000x50m/9840x150feet - asphalt (CLOSED 2008)
Runway 13/31 - 2132x45m/...feet - asphalt (CLOSED ca. 1998)
Runway 16/34 - 1600x45m/...feet - asphalt (CLOSED ca. 1970)

Soesterberg Air Base (ICAO: EHSB) was a Royal Netherlands Air Force military airbase located in Soest, 14 kilometres (8.7 mi) eastnortheast of Utrecht.
In 1910 two car dealers from The Hague decided to set up an airfield on a moor outside the village of Soesterberg. Soesterberg was established as an airfield in 1911, and in 1913 the Dutch Government bought the field and established the Army Aviation Branch (dutch: Luchtvaartafdeeling). The "Military Aviation Branch" eventually became the Koninklijke Luchtmacht (English: Royal Netherlands Air Force - RNLAF). It's first commander was a captain of the Engineer Corps: Henk Walaardt Sacré.
Throughout World War I Soesterberg served as the main airfield of the Luchtvaartafdeeling with several types of aircraft. Some were bought outright from their manufacturer, while others were interned when they diverted to Holland due to battle damage or other reasons.


Soesterberg village and the Soesterberg heath in 1902

1915
Soesterberg, an RAF (Royal Aircraft Factory) BE-2 registered as LA24 (ex-RFC1677) an interned British aircraft during the Great War in 1915 (Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie).

1919
Aerial photo of a Handley Page V/1500 at Soesterberg, in 1919 during the ELTA (Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie).

1920s
Aerial photo of Soesterberg in the 1920s.


Queen-mother Emma at Soesterberg in June 1928. Queen Emma frequently stayed at nearby Palace Soestdijk, later the home of her granddaughter Queen Juliana.

Zweedse Junkers G-3
A Swedish Junkers G3 visiting Soesterberg in 1928 (NIMH)

After the war the airfield was slowly expanding. The Dutch government did not spend too much money on its air force however, until the second half of the 1930s. Recognising the threat of Germany in particular, it embarked on a modernisation programme. New fighters such as the Fokker D.XXI and G.1 were ordered, along with batches of Douglas DB-8a and Fokker T.5 bombers. All aircraft were delivered to Soesterberg to be sent to their units.


The Soesterberg "Vliegheide (flying heath) and Vliegkamp 'Flying camp'). The name of the airfield and the village come from De Soesterberg (the mountain of Soest), a distinct bump in an otherwise fairly flat dutch landscape.

1938
Fokker T.5 medium Bomber '852' at Soesterberg, in 1938 (Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie).


Fokker G.1 Mercury '302' at Soesterberg in 1939 (NIMH)


Douglas DB-8A/3N's at Soesterberg, March 1940 .

1940
Map of Soesterberg, on the eve of World War II (10 May 1940, image via Peter van Kaathoven).

At the beginning of World War II the German force's blitzkrieg overran the country in five days, and Soesterberg was occupied by the German Luftwaffe on 15 May 1940. They built three hardened runways in addition to a large dispersal area to the north, a small dispersal area on the northwest side and a large dispersal area on the east side of the airfield.


Allied map of Soesterberg Air Base in 1942 (NIMH)

A variety of German aircraft was stationed there during the war, initially flying missions during the Battle of Britain, and later to practice bombing missions on nearby ranges and provide fighter defence against Allied bombing missions. 
From 1944 onwards, Allied Air Forces caused enormous damage to the airfield by bombing it relentlessly. By September 1944 the Luftwaffe acknowledged Soesterberg airfield to be more or less useless. Still, what had not been destroyed by Alllied raids the Germans managed to destroy in the final months of the war.


The result of an Allied air strike on Soesterberg in March 1944 by B-26 Marauder bombers (Soestercourant)


Dornier Do217s prepare for takeoff during the German occupation of Soesterberg

Aerial reconnaissance photo showing the damage to Soesterberg Air Base on 9 February 1945. By this time, the Axis had next to no fighting force left, because of the combat pressure by the Allies (NIMH)

It took 6 years to rebuild the air base, which was finally declared operational in August 1951. The air base got an Air Defense tasking, and the first jet fighters of the Netherlands found their way to Soesterberg.


KLM Douglas C-54 Skymaster PH-TSA (ex-NGAT NL-540, ex-USAAF 42-72293) thundering over the 09 runway, ca. 1950. If you look across the runway, you see area where the original Vliegkamp Soesterberg was located before the war. Also worth noting are the two individuals sitting right next to the runway! 

1951
20 Sep 1951 aerial photo of the three Soesterberg runways. The repairs of the bomb damage from World War II are clearly visible (Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie).


A formation of 15 B-47s overflies Soesterberg to celebrate 40 years of military aviation on 18 July 1953. Two Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcars and the prototype Hawker Hunter are visible on the ground. 

1954
Meteor F.8s of 327Sqn demonstration team 'Diamond Four' at Soesterberg in 1954 ( Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie).

1954
Soesterberg in 1954 ( Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie / NIMH).

1950s
Birds eye view of Soesterberg Air Base, after lengthening the main 09/27 runway, which occurred somewhere in the early 1950s. On the west side of the field the old third runway is just visible (NIMH).

In 1954 the United States and the Netherlands signed a bilateral agreement that covered the stationing of a squadron of air defense fighters of the USAF. Against all US policy the squadron was to be placed under daily operational command of the Royal Netherlands Air Force.
As a result of the stationing, the airbase was expanded to the east to make use of the single German-built flattened marguerite-like dispersal area and a longer NATO standard runway. 
The parkings in the dispersal aera went by three names: The area that later became the 334 Sqn platform was known as 'Near-East'. The semi-marguerite became 'Middle East', and the area to the extreme east became the 'Far East'.
The bilateral agreement only covered the stationing of one squadron, althoug a second squadron was discussed. The offer for the second squadron was turned down however, when the Dutch government realised that the second squadron would only be stationed at Soesterberg in peace time. Under threat of war they would be taken from daily operational control by the Dutch and deployed elsewhere. The squadron brought F-86 Sabres of the 512 FIS with them, but 512FIS was soon redesignated 32 Fighter Day Squadron.


The arrival of the first F-86 Sabres of the 512th FIS -led by '52-5384'/'FU-384'- at Soesterberg Air Base (NIMH)


After only one year after their arrival, they traded in their F-86 Sabres for F-100 Super Sabres and were redesinated 32 Fighter quadron, with the squadron enlarged to 24 aircraft. In 1960 the 'Huns' were replaced with F-102 Delta Daggers, redesignating the squadron to 32 Fighter Interceptor Squadron. In 1968 it became 32 Tactical Fighter Squadron with the arrival of the F-4E Phantom-II.  The F-4s were relieved by 4 models (A,B,C and D) of the F-15 Eagle, which remained in service until the unit was disbanded in 1994.


airfield spectators at Soesterberg, watching from the Van Weerden-Poelmanweg, just north of the "Middle East" dispersal area in 1956.

1940
Resident aircraft and squadron members of -left to right- 700Sqn (RNLAF), 32FIS (USAFE) and 322Sqn (RNLAF) join for a photo at Soesterberg in 1958 ( Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie).

Soesterberg AB in 1960. Notice the new runway overruns on the 09/27 runway ends (NIMH)

Sep 1970
Vertical aerial photo of the three Soesterberg runways after the lengthening of the 09/27 runway, rotated by me to show the north side up
(RNLNavy collection via Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie).


Skyblazers F-100s at Soesterberg (notice the 32FIS lettering on the bumper of the truck), early 1960s (photo by Bill Snell, via Mario Warnaar).

Delta Dagger 'FC-163'/'61163' taking off from Soesterberg in the early 1960s. The aircraft had arrived devoid of unit markings, but were soon given a green band with the squadron emblem above the serial number (NIMH)

F-102s
Eight Delta Daggers of 32 TFS on the Soesterberg flight line in the mid 1960s. Although the red-white-blue tails proved to be very popular with the Dutch, they weren't carried all that long. ( Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie).


Photo: www.sberg-sixties.nl

1940
USAF F-4D Phantom II '65-0749' with external tanks, napalm canisters (possibly used as travelpods) and a gunpod on the centerline on display during the July 1968 Open Week (!) at Soesterberg AB (Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie).
Although looking rather average in this photo, this particular Phantom-II actually had an interesting carreer. It was almost new when this photo was taken, having been delivered on 1 Dec 1966 and allocated to 50th Tactical Fighter Wing (USAFE) at Hahn AB (Germany) later that month. She went to 78th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 81st Tactical Fighter Wing, RAF Bentwaters, Suffolk (UK) in 1969. From there it went to 78th Tactical Fighter Squadron RAF Woodbridge UK, in June 1969 and on to 401st Tactical Fighter Wing (USAFE) Torrejon AB Spain. 
When it's active Air Force carreer was over, she transferred to the 184th Tactical Fighter Group (Kansas ANG) at McConnell AFB, Jan 1980. In 1986 she came on strength with the 147th Fighter Interceptor Group 111FTS (Texas ANG) Ellington ANGB. Ultimately, she was flown to and stored at AMARC (todays' AMARG) as FP426 on 12 January 1990. Her flying days over, she seemed destined to become a spares source, like so many other aircraft at AMARC.
However: this Phantom was not done yet. In February 1997 she was taken out of the desert to be transferred to the Collings Foundation in October 1998 and she was returned to flying status as N749CF in August 1999.  Repainted to replicate the Phantom Capt Steve Ritchie had used to achieve his fifth kill in Vietnam and based at Ellington Field, Houston(TX), Gen. Ritchie would take the aircraft to selected venues around the country as part of the Vietnam Memorial Flight until 2007. She was then repainted to match '63-7680'/'FP', the F-4C flown by Colonel Robin Olds on Operation Bolo. The Collings Foundation F-4D Phantom II was still active at the time this text was written.

1940
Convair F-102A Delta Dagger of the 32 FIS (USAF), reg. 0-60977, on the platform. In 1968 the KLu (Royal Neth. Air Force) celebrated it's 55th anniversary ( Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie).



1969
The control tower at Soesterberg AB in 1970 (Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie).

1980
Ca. 1980 photo of Alouette III 'A-247' at Soesterberg (Photo: collection Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie).


Introduction to the 32TFS in the 1970s, when 32 TFS still operated the F-4E Phantom-II. Note that in the refuelling part of the video, Phantoms are in some shots refuelling from KC-97Ls!  (34:30min)


Soesterberg Air Base tower in 1976 (NIMH)


Soesterberg in 1978 (NIMH)


RNLAF 334Sqn Fokker F-27 Troopships at Soesterberg in 1978. Notice a USAF Phantom-II at the bottom of the photo (NIMH).


An RAF Alconbury based F-5E agressor lifts off from runway 27 at the intersection with 13/31 in 1981 (unknown photographer, collection Hermen Goud/Facebook, used with permission).


USAF Thunderbirds on the 13/31 runway after their display in 1984 (NIMH)
Undated map of Soesterberg, presumably late 1980s, as the A-28 highway (in red) is already shown, via Peter van Kaathoven.
 

Thunderbirds 1984
USAF Demonstration team The Thunderbirds at Soesterberg 1984 (Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie).


Soesterberg Air Base on a 1987 Soviet military map. While the map may seem remarkable, it is important to know that during the Cold War, Soviet (and other Warsaw Pact) airlines were not as limited in their movements in European airspace as western aircraft were in Eastern Europe. Still, the map does contain errors, some of them very obvious. For instance: the railway line west of the airbase (thick black line) did not exist since 1972. At the point where it crosses the A-28 highway a bridge was built, which for years was rumoured to contain the DPO/NATO fuel line to Soesterberg. Although technically possible (it is hollow), it did not (in Dutch). A bridge one kilometer to the east, much wider than required and partially covered by a green berm contains the NATO pipeline (atlassen.info)

'The 32nd', as they were known for short by the Dutch, or 'the Queens Own' as they called themselves, deserved a very good reputation within NATO and the Netherlands. In 1959, the 32d received the signature "Royal", the crown and wreath of the Dutch Royal Family (the House of Orange) were added to the emblem, giving it its unique look.  This unique honour was granted in recognition of the unit's contribution to the defence of the Netherlands, and graphically illustrates the 32d's close ties with the Royal Netherlands Air Force. 32TFS had the unique distinction of being the only unit in the USAF whose emblem included the royal crest of another nation. This addition was only authorised as long as 32TFS remained in the Netherlands. The stand down ceremony of 32FW/32FS on 19 April 1994 was held in the presence of members of the house of Orange.

1993
All-white Fokker F.27 Troopship 'C-11' on the Soesterberg platform in 1993 (Photo: collection Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie).


Soesterberg, ca. 1992 (Terraserver, via Soesterberg.net).

1990s
Nearing the end of their careers in the early 1990s, many of the F.27s were painted white for UN missions, like this example at Soesterberg (Photo: collection Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie).

The F-15A(MSIP)s of the 32nd Fighter Squadron commander and the 32nd Fighter Group commander pass over Camp New Amsterdam, the "American" side of Soesterberg Air Base, sometime in 1993 (NIMH)


The final three F-15s (two F-15A MSIPs and a single F-15B MSIP) at Soesterberg left the airfield for the USA on 13 january 1994. They can be seen taxying to the runway. After take off the three did a formation flight over the airfield accompanied by RNLAF F-16s as a farewell to their home for 40 years. 32FS officially stood down 3 months later. (photo RonaldV).


Approach chart for Soesterberg, mid 1990s

1996
The first Cougar-II to arrive at is new home plate at Soesterberg in 1996 (Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie).

The final 5 RNLAF Alouettes overfly Soesterberg in 1998. At the time, the Alouettes were expected to be withdrawn before the end of the century. Events would take a different turn however, and with the exception of the lead helicopter (A-253, which went into storage at the Millitaire Luchtvaart Museum), this formation (center row A-275, A-292, rear row A-247 and A-301) soldiered on until 2016, although they were upgraded to SA316B helicopters in 2014 and painted dark blue to reflect their new non-combat support role (NIMH)

In addition to the Americans (who referred to Soesterberg AB as 'Camp New Amsterdam' in honour of the first Dutch settlers in 'New Amsterdam', present day New York) the Royal Netherlands Air Force had continued to use Soesterberg. They based jets, helicopters and transport aircraft at the air base. Their jets left in the 1960s and the transport aircraft left in the early 1990s.
Finally in late 2008, after all the helicopter units had moved to Gilze-Rijen, a final ceremony was held to close the air base for good. The last jet aircraft to leave the base was a Greek F-4E Phantom, and the base formally closed on 31 December. Upon its closure in 2008 Soesterberg was the oldest active airfield in the Netherlands, and one of the oldest in the world. For much of its history (almost 40 years) the air base was linked to the United States Air Force, holding a front line squadron of jet fighters at the base.


Former 32FS operations room, which still existed just before the airfield closed (SlobberinWolfhounds.com).

tabvee ehsb
One of the tabvees when the airbase was still active (2006-2007?) (SlobberinWolfhounds.com). 

Part of the base is still in use as a glider field. The rest of the airfield is under conversion: part (the 'American side') will be restored as a nature preserve, although some HASes will remain, another part (the 'Dutch side' with the Group Helicopters hangars) will become the new Netherlands Defense Museum. Runway 09/27 will remain, to remind the people of the old air base.

2007
USAF C-17A Globemaster III at Soesterberg in 2007 (Ton Vogels, via Panoramio).

2006
Soesterberg, around 2006. Clearly visible is the original NATO semi-marguerite dispersal on the east side of the airfield. Somewhere between 1990 and this photo Soesterberg lost the use of runway 13/31 The outline of the old third runway can also still be seen, it ran from the end of runway 13 over the 09/27 into the later 32FG dispersal area (Bing maps).

2011
View down the Soesterberg 09/27 runway, March 2011 (RonaldV.nl).

2011
Monument for fallen comrades roughly halfway the 09/27 runway, March 2011 (RonaldV.nl).


view of the hangar area in March 2011


Visitor platform, March 2011 (RonaldV)


The former information office at the visitor platform in March 2011 with Soesterberg's tired and rusty aircraft stairs which surely should've deserved better (RonaldV).

2011
Soesterberg southern taxitrack towards the tower and USAFE area, March 2011 (RonaldV.nl).

2011
Soesterberg tower as seen from the visitors platform, March 2011 (RonaldV.nl).

2011
Soesterberg, taxi track towards the 'Middle East' and 'Far East' dispersal areas, March 2011 (RonaldV.nl).


Undated photo of a tabvee being demolished (photo via Mario Warnaar)


August 2013 - in an Alouette III (once a well known sound over the airbase...) over former 'Home Plate' Soesterberg, while construction of the National Military Museum was underway


Photo taken from a glider on 29 Aug 2015, showing the main runway of Soesterberg. Although Dutch newspapers reported (in Dutch) that the main runway would remain, it seems dismantling of the runway is instead taking place: the concrete of the western runover (some 350m) has been removed (photo: Andras Brandligt, AfterburnerPhotography).


Photo taken on 29 Aug 2015, showing the new Defence museum where there was previously a row of RNLAF hangars. Runway 13/31 has almost completely disappeared, as have most of the taxitracks and the visitor platform (photo: Andras Brandligt, AfterburnerPhotography).


View from the ground in July 2017: the taxitrack towards 09 was completely removed (RonaldV)


View of the location of the visiting platform in July 2017 (RonaldV)


The hangar area was completely removed to make room for the National Military Museum, which incorporates the collection of the former Military Aviation Museum that used to be located at nearby Kamp van Zeist. It is seen here in July 2017 (RonaldV)


Monument for fallen comrades, cleaned up and relandscaped in July 2017 (RonaldV.nl).