Nordholz Naval Air Station, Germany
Located on the North-Northwest Coast of Germany just 15 miles North of Bremerhaven lies the airfield of Nordholz/Cuxhaven, home to Marinefliegergeschwader (MFG) 3 and Marinefliegergeschwader (MFG) 5 of the German Navy. AIA were invited to the base during May 2016 as a part of the German Navy Veterans day to understand more about the role the German Navy undertake.
Naval Air Station Nordholz – An Overview
Naval Air Station Nordholz is situated in the Lower Saxony region of Germany and boasts being one of the oldest airfields in the country. Completed in 1914, flight operations begun when it was used during WWI as an airship port, becoming host to the first Zeppelin base for the Imperial Navy. Of all 76 airships built, 42 of these operated from Nordholz during WWI indicating the importance of the airfield. Following the Treaty of Versailles and the terms imposed four years later, all buildings and installations were subsequently dismantled.
In 1938 Nordholz was resurrected as an airfield when it was rebuilt with three runways just before the outbreak of WWII. Over the Second World War period, Nordholz hosted Bf109’s, He-111’s and towards the end of the campaign, the Me-163 Komet rocket aircraft utilised the base. Following the end of the war, American forces commandeered the facility, moving in with P-47 Thunderbolts until 1947 when it was then handed over to the RAF. With the RAF in residence, once again the airbase seemed to meet its end when the three concrete runways were dug up and all buildings were demolished.
In 1959 construction began on the airfield for the third time where installations and a single runway conforming to NATO standards were developed. By 1963 the airfield became fully operational once again when it entered service for the German Navy and MFG 2. 1965 saw the airfield officially handed over to MFG 3 and soon after, Breguet Br.1150 Atlantic’s.
Marinefliegergeschwader (MFG) 3
German Naval Air Wing 3, officially titled ‘Graf Zeppelin’, was first established back in 1964 in honour of the Zeppelin’s formerly stationed at Nordholz during WWI. The squadron was destined to be a sub-hunting unit following the re-organisation of the German Navy. The sub-hunting element was formerly incorporated into MFG 2, but in 1964 this element was split when MFG 2 was earmarked to become purely a jet Air Wing. Consequently, the newly formed MFG 3 was stood up at Naval Air Station Nordholz with the introduction of the Bruguet Atlantic, purchased to replace the ageing Fairey Gannet fleet.
Currently MFG 3 operates all of the fixed wing types in service with the German Navy, namely the Lockheed P-3C Orion and the Dornier Do-228LM, but the wing is also the lead unit responsible for daily operations at Nordholz. The Lockheed P-3C was introduced to the German Navy in 2006 when eight airframes were purchased from the Royal Netherlands Navy. These went on to replace the Bruguet Atlantic following over 40 years of service, although two Atlantic’s were kept operational for a few years longer under a Signals and Intelligence (SIGINT) role. The P-3C is the aircraft solely responsible for the sub-hunting task within MFG 3, but also carries out roles such as maritime patrol, reconnaissance, anti-piracy and occasionally search and rescue operations. Also embedded within MFG 3 as mentioned, is the Dornier Do-228LM. Two airframes currently operate with the wing carrying out anti-pollution tasking’s within German waters. This mission is undertaken on behalf of the German Government, but crews from MFG 3 with their maritime experience conduct the task.
Marinefliegergeschwader (MFG) 5
In 1958 the Bundeswehr activated a Naval Air Wing which stood up at Kiel-Holtenau with a specific task of Search and Rescue (SAR) operations. Following a few years of re-organisation, the unit was officially named Marinefliegergeschwader 5 in 1963. German Naval Air Wing 5 was established with both fixed wing and rotary aircraft, split into squadrons reflecting this. Alongside the air assets, MFG 5 also operated SAR vessels to enable both air and water based capability to assist SAR operations. The ships were eventually withdrawn in 1975 leaving only the airborne element going forward. MFG 5 operated the Sikorsky H-35G from 1963 as their primary SAR helicopter until 1975 when 21 Westland Mk.41 Seaking’s were introduced as a replacement.
Following a further reorganisation of the Bundeswehr, MFG 5 re-located from Kiel to Nordholz in 2012 after a fly-out event. Currently MFG 5 operates all rotary types in the German Navy, this following MFG 3’s transfer of the Westland Lynx fleet upon arriving at Nordholz. Amongst Search and Rescue, the Sea King undertakes a number of other roles for the German Navy such as surveillance and reconnaissance, crew transport, disaster relief and evacuation. Following over 40 years of service the Sea King’s days are however numbered, with plans to replace them with the NH-90 NTH ‘Sea Lion’ from the end of 2018; but it is expected the Sea King will be phased out and eventually retire in 2020.
As mentioned, MFG 5 operates all rotary aircraft in the German Navy after accepting 22 Westland Sea Lynx Mk.88A’s from MFG 3 in 2012 post relocation. The Sea Lynx is a ship-born aircraft utilised on Type 122 and 123 Frigates which solely undertakes the anti-shipping role for the German Navy in cases such as anti-piracy, close air support and maritime surveillance. Much like the Sea King though, the Sea Lynx will eventually be phased out and replaced by the NH-90 NTH ‘Sea Lion’ over the coming years.
Aviation in Action would like to extend our thanks to the following for their assistance in making this article possible:
Credits: Article and photography by Daren Eaton