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Airfields in Belgium during WWII

Sint-Denijs-Westrem RAF Air Base - B61

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Last update: 29/10/2019

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Elegy to
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airfields in Belgium

Situation

Set in the Flanders plain a little over four miles to the south-west of Ghent, with woodland on two sides, was Sint Denijs-Westrem aerodrome, designated Armee Flugpark IV. It was built in 1917 during the German occupation of Belgium, to act as the main airfield to house half the Gotha bombers initially assigned to Kagohl 3, which were to undertake raids on England. It was first occupied in early April 1917 by the Gotha IVs of Kasta 13 and Kasta 14 units which, from late May until late August 1917, undertook daylight attacks. In early September, at a time when the first Gotha G.Vs were starting to be issued to Kagohl 3, a switch was made from daylight to night time attacks on England, while on 22 September 1917, the first of Rfa 501’s Staaken R-planes arrived at Sint Denijs-Westrem, only to be redeployed later to Gontrode. However, beginning on 25 September Kagohl 3’s aerodromes were attacked by the Allies nearly every day and night for over a week, and Sint Denijs-Westrem received eight tons of bombs from the RNAS. On the evening of 30 September, while the Gothas were attacking England, Sint Denijs-Westrem was bombed, and as a result a blazing hangar could be seen nearly 50 kilometers away. The Germans finally vacated the aerodrome in October 1918.

WWII: Germans's use

In 1940 the airfield was briefly used by a Flying School transferred there from Wevelgem, while during the occupation the Germans enlarged the airfield considerably, and converted it into a fighter base. It also acted as a repair depot for the fighters of JG 26 at Wevelgem and Moorsele en Rijsel. The airfield never became a base for offensive operations, but was instead used by liaison aircraft in support of the Luftwaffe headquarters at the Palace Hotel in Ghent.

WWII: Allied's use

Later poles were driven into the field to hinder Allied landings. After being liberated in 1944 it was pressed into British service as Advanced Landing Ground B-61, and converted into a major forward operating base. On 11 October 1944 three Polish squadrons from the RAF’s No. 131 Wing landed their Spitfire IXs at Sint Denijs-Westrem. Because of the proximity of the airfield to a hospital many USAAF bombers also used the airfield as an intermediate to bring wounded airmen in for medical treatment.
On 1 January 1945 the Luftwaffe managed to launch a massive attack on the airfield using Focke-Wulf 190s, and countless aircraft were destroyed on the ground. Near the end of the raid the Polish fighters that had been flying over the Netherlands during the attack returned just as the Germans were starting to fly home, and a massive aerial battle ensued in the skies over Ghent, despite both sides being short on fuel. In total 32 Polish and 21 German aircraft were lost in the battle, which killed 11 Germans, two Polish, one Canadian and three ground support crew.

Post War

In 1946 the military handed over control to civilian authorities, and the airfield became Ghent’s official airport. However, it shrank considerably with the construction of the E40 motorway to the south in 1954, and again when the Ring Canal on the north side of the airport was completed in 1969, while the airport closed completely in 1985 to make way for the Flanders Expo. Today nothing remains of the former airfield. Nevertheless, a monument to commemorate the Polish airmen was erected in 1974, and local people and businesses began calling a nearby street Poolse Winglaan (Polish Wing Lane), a name that became official on 27 September 2010.

Sources:
www.sbap.be/events/2014/005wevelgem2014
www.mashpedia.net
www.sgkoksijde.be/index.php
http://www.airhistory.org.uk
https://www.27sqn.be/
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