After several allied bombardments - among others - between February 1944 and February 1945, Augsburg’s Messerschmitt Airfield on the northern perimeter of Haunstetten was almost completely a rubble heap. Augsburg’s aviation-era was, at least temporarily, finished. With the take off of Hermann Göring’s plane on March 21, 1945 to a Luxembourg camp center for Nazi big wigs, the Americans terminated also the grievous history of the NS rule in Augsburg. At that time Göring was, for a short duration, put up under American custody in Augsburg’s Bärenkeller district.
After a stopover on July 18, 1947, Military Governor General Clay and U.S. Ambassador Murphy inspected units of the 5th Constabulary Regiment, stationed at the former Luftnachrichtenkaserne, later part of Sheridan Kaserne. According to Military Government records, in 1948 the constabulary with a training center for pilots, a pistol firing range, an ammunition depot and an air strip were registered on the Messerschmitt Airfield. Already in 1952, civilian gliding and stunt-flight was allowed on the southern area of the airfield. In 1953, the first post-war aviation show - with U.S. participation - took place in front of 50.000 spectators. With his memo of September 18, 1950, James P. Hodges MAJ GEN USAF allowed, however, only the flight of glider models while the foundation of societies (e.g. gliding sports) had to be limited to social gatherings.
The Messerschmitt plant in ruins: view from the south towards the admin building
A New Beginning In Haunstetten
The airfield at the Haunstetter Street, located at 493 meters sea level (48o 20’ N; 10o 54’ E) had two grass airstrips, 1.000 resp. 650 meters long and 60 resp. 50 meters wide, the bigger one was marked. With the foundation of the Augsburger Flughafen GmbH in 1956, licensed for “parachuting sports, gliding, helicopter and airship landing, professional and non-professional air traffic as well as model airplane operation”, there was a second operation, parallel to that of the U.S. troops located in the north of the airfield. The latter utilized an undamaged hangar with an added tower at the Haunstetter Street and were authorized to terminate the civilian operation in case of an emergency or military requirements. In the south of the airfield existed a small civilian tower. Otherwise, there are almost no statements in regard to the U.S. activities in the 1960 utilization regulations. Licensed was aircraft with a weight of up to 5.700 kg (loaded). The landing fee for an aircraft with a weight from 1.2 to 1.4 tons was then DM 1,50. Night flights were prohibited.
Although it is said that the airfield had been officially confiscated by the U.S. until 1956, it is indicated that in 1945 the Americans had actually failed to forward an official detainer to the City of Augsburg, the owner of the property. Even the Messerschmitt plant paid a utilization fee for their flight activities to the City. This means that after the German sovereignty in 1955, the Americans would have been only guests on the Haunstetten Airfield. Hence the City hoped for their full authority in regard to the major part of the airfield area for a future civil extension.
1956: New Life “on Haunstetten”
Maintenance hangar at Haunstetter Street
The Helicopters Are Coming
However, in 1956, the approaching 11th Airborne Division installed their 11th Aviation Company on the former Messerschmitt Airfield. This unit had small single-engined type Beaver or Big Otter, as well as twin-engined L-23 aircraft. Far more conspicuous, however, were the helicopters, especially the big round bellied H-34 Sikorskys, used to demonstrate the military presence of the 11th paratroops as well as that of the 24th U.S. Infantry Division’s 24th Aviation from 1958 until the beginning sixties.
The – at first – informal stationing of the big Sikorskys caused a regular “Helicopter War” between Augsburg’s community politics and the commanding General Harris of 11th Airborne Division during the first half of 1957. As no side was willing to concede anything, the dispute finally escalated up to the German Bundesministerium der Verteidigung (Ministry of Defense) and the U.S. Headquarters Germany. Critical states reached from disturbance by the expected helicopters thru questions of security to restriction of the communal airfield disposal. The City’s politics culminated in the intent “to do everything that is suitable to prohibit the further use of the Augsburg Airfield by the U.S. Army”.
Besides, then flight control chief Kaden did not consider to quit his job on the airfield. The struggle was aggravated due to the impending atomic armament of the 11th Airborne Division. People were afraid of an endangerment of their health by the storage of nuclear weapons in the Siebentischwald ammunition depot and to be a prime target of a communist counter attack in case of a Cold War military emergency.
At first, 30 helicopters were planned, finally, 20 were announced for April 17,1957. But even these did not (yet) arrive. General Harris agreed to restrict Haunstetten Airfield to accommodation, maintenance and repair, while operation training would take place exclusively in Gablingen, which was soon opposed by the Gablingen neighbors. A helicopter collision in Flak Kaserne in the end of April 1957 added fuel to the debate.
The transition from temporary to permanent presence was fluent and is not reliably traceable now. The “Amis” just did fly. While the neighbors of the Hochfeld district complained continuously about the flight activities, finally, in February 1958 regular und legitimate circumstances in mutual interest were established within the valid stationing treaty.
In spite of prescribed aircraft routes , again and again single provocative flights took place , e.g. in the evening of August 6, 1959, when a helicopter disturbed for quite a while an open air theater performance on the Freilichtbühne at the Rotes Tor. That is why there was a single never-ending question in Augsburg: How can we get rid of the Americans on the airfield? Even the German workers’ labor unions cared about the want of rest for Augsburg’s shift workers, especially those of the Messerschmitt plant. Meanwhile, the Army carried out questionable noise polls in order to get an alibi on behalf of the relativity of the disturbances.
The awe of the neighbors: chopper invasion
1956 – 1958: 11th Airborne
H-34 Sikorsky on the vast Haunstetten Airfield
In spite of the above - during the aviation shows from 1959 until 1962, every year up to 10.000 Augsburgers crowded “their” Messerschmitt Airfield and looked with astonishment at the artistic flights of the U.S. helicopters. There was even a small helicopter (H-13 Sioux), painted like a clown, which was the # 1 attraction for the kids. Even Santa Claus insisted on using a helicopter when he brought the annual gifts for Augsburg’s children. And many a boy in Augsburg wanted to become a helicopter pilot for the Americans by all means.
A quite different spectacle offered the numerous parades in the early fifties, most because of changes of command. There was a big parade due to the reorganization of the 43rd Infantry Division into the 5th Infantry Division when 11 generals attended the one-hour pass in review of 8.000 GIs. For the farewell of General Derrill M. Daniel and the welcome of the new commander, Major General Hugh P. Harris, even 10.000 soldiers of the “Shield of Bavaria” attended on the Haunstetten Airfield. And every time, thousands of Augsburgers were allowed as spectators of the parades.
After 19 years, the final curtain for the Haunstetten Airfield fell in the spring of 1964. Now it was possible to construct a new airfield outside of Augsburg while usinutilizing the present area as a residential district and Augsburg University Campus.
The study of the numerous newspaper articles of that time makes clear hat evidently nothing was really clear on the Haunstetten Airfield. It was a curious chapter of military history in the shade of the East-West Conflict, typical for America in Augsburg.
(Sources: “Schwäbische Landeszeitung”, Airfield Utilization Regulation of 1960, and others)
1962: H-19 Sikorsky of 24th Infantry Division
Service scene on a Sikorsky helicopter of the 24th Infantry Division. Photo: Walter Elkins Collection.
Skyline of the Army Airfield with the administration building of the former Messerschmittwerk and the Tower in the background. Photo: Walter Elkins Collection.
2008: Last remains: old concrete airstrip
Special thanks for the historical photographs to Azie L. Magnusson, Dillon Prendergast and Hans Wohlmuth.