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Étain-Rouvres Air Base

United States Air Forces in Europe.png  Flag of France.svg

Part of United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE)
Located near: Étain, Meuse, France
F-86F-35NA 53-1117 of the 388th Fighter-Bomber Wing, 1955
Coordinates Latitude:
Built 1953
In use 1954-Present
Controlled by Armée de Terre
Garrison 3e Régiment d'Hélicoptères de Combat (3e RHC)
Airfield information
Elevation AMSL 766 ft / 234 m
Direction Length Surface
ft m
2/20 7,900 2,407 Concrete

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Étain - Rouvres Air Base (ICAO: LFQE) is a base of the French Army Light Aviation. It is located on the Lorraine Plateau in northeastern France, 1 mile (1.6 km) to the west of Étain; on the west side of the Départemental 906 (D906) (Meuse) road, adjacent to the village of Rouvres-en-Woevre in the Meuse département about 12 miles east of Verdun. During the Cold War, Étain-Rouvres was a front-line base for the United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE).


P-61 Black Widow with rockets installed at Étain-Rouvres Air Base, c. 1944.

Rouvres airdrome was built by the French Air Force in 1937. They flew Bloch-131 tactical reconnaissance aircraft. When World War II began, the Royal Air Force moved in flying Hawker Hurricanes of 73 Squadron.

After the fall of France, the Luftwaffe used the base, flying Focke-Wulf Fw 190D's.

When the German Army was driven out by the U S Third Army in early September 1944, the airfield was put back into operational service by the United States Army Air Forces IX Engineer Command 926th Engineering Aviation Regiment. On 9 September the combat engineers arrived to lay down a temporary airfield to support the ground forces in their advance against enemy forces.

The 926th EAR laid down a 5000' grass runway aligned roughly east-west (08/26), along with a small support area. The 7th Field Hospital was stationed here on 13 Sep 1944, where C-47 transports of the IX Air Support Command evacuated wounded to General Hospitals in the rear.[1]

In late October 1944, the 825th Engineering Aviation Regiment returned to the airfield and improved the facility, laying down an all-weather Pierced Steel Planking (PSP) runway for Ninth Air Force combat fighter use along with upgrading the support site with tents for billeting and also for support facilities; an access road was built to the existing road infrastructure; a dump for supplies, ammunition, and gasoline drums, along with a drinkable water and minimal electrical grid for communications and station lighting.[2]

The United States Army Air Forces Ninth Air Force 362d Fighter Group used the captured airfield from 5 November 1944 until early April 1945. Its USAAF designation was A-82, Verdun/Etain Advanced Landing Ground (ALG). Three squadrons of P-47 "Thunderbolts" bombed and strafed such targets as flak positions, armored vehicles, and troop concentrations during the Battle of the Bulge. There was some controversy at the time as stationing a hospital and a combat unit on the same airstrip was a violation of the Geneva Conventions, but the 7th Field Hospital was not relocated until 15 Jan 1945 after Metz was taken.[1]

The 362d received a Distinguished Unit Citation for action over the Moselle-Rhine River triangle. Despite the intense anti-aircraft fire encountered while flying armed reconnaissance in close cooperation with infantry forces in that area on 16 March 1945, the 362d hit enemy forces, equipment, and facilities, its targets including motor transports, armored vehicles, railroads, railway cars, and gun emplacements.

In addition P-61 "Black Widows" from the 425th and 416th Night Fighter Squadrons operated from Verdun/Etain until moving into occupied Germany in 1945. By mid-April the airfield had become redundant combat needs and the facility was returned to being a S&E (Supply and Evacuation) airfield, and was used until being closed on 22 May 1945. The wartime airfield was then turned over to French authorities.[3]

In the immediate postwar years, Etain Air Base was unused.

NATO acquisition

With the outbreak of the Cold War in the late 1940s, with 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 sites, in May 1952 the World War II airfield at Etain was proposed for expansion into a modern air base. An agreement was reached to develop Etain into a NATO facility and station United States Air Force tactical fighter-bombers there by the end of 1954. However budget restrictions delyed major construction for about a year. Although a base facility was ready for the USAF to use at the end of 1954, the facility was not ready for full acceptance until the summer of 1956 with the railroad spur into Etain not being completed until June 1955, and underground fuel storage was delayed until 1956.

USAF use

The first contingent of USAF personnel to Etain Air Base was Flight "C", 73rd Support Group (Depot) from Chateauroux-Deols Air Base on 1 February 1953. This advanced group was tasked with safeguarding USAF property and to coordinate construction activities. In addition, the 7005th Air Base Squadron was activated to bring the base up to operational status.

The design of the airfield was to space parked aircraft as far apart as possible by the construction of a circular marguerite system of hardstands that could be revetted later with earth for added protection. Typically the margueriete consisted of fifteen to eighteen hardstands around a large central hangar. Each hardstand held one or two aircraft, and allowed the planes to be spaced approximately 150 feet (50 m) apart. Each squadron was assigned to a separate hangar/hardstand complex. This construction can be seen clearly in the satellite image link at the bottom of this article.

388th Fighter-Bomber Wing

The first USAF unit to use Etan AB was the 388th Fighter-Bomber Wing, deploying to France from Clovis AFB, New Mexico in December 1954. The 388th FBW's flying elements consisted of the 561st, 562d, and 563d FB Squadrons, each equipped with 26 F-86F "Sabres". Wing support aircraft consisted of 4 C-47s of various types, one L-20A, and 5 T-33s.

The mission of the 388th FBW was to train for and conduct tactical nuclear weapons delivery. Its secondary mission was to conduct non-atomic tactical air operations. Upon arrival of 388th Wing Headquarters at Etain, the construction delays and other problems seriously hampered the ability of the Wing to use the base for its flying operations. The 562nd FBSquadron was forced to operate from Spangdahlem Air Base, the 563rd from Bitburg Air Base and the 561st from Hahn Air Base in West Germany for the winter of 1954-55.

In April and May 1955, rotational deployments to Wheelus Air Base, Libya began for their first gunnery and bombing training since their arrival in Europe. In the fall, with enough facilities construction completed, the three flying squadrons were transferred from Germany and took up their home assignment at Étain. In August 1955, First Lt. Philip Ortego was assigned to the 562nd Fighter Bomber Squadron as its Intelligence Officer.

On 22 November 1955, Det #1, 388th FBGroup was activated at Hahn Air Base to stand nuclear alert with the Wing's F-86's. Personnel and aircraft primarily came from the 561st FBS. In February 1956 the detachment was transferred to more spacious facilities at Spangdahlem Air Base. Rotational deployments of 8 F-86's and support personnel to Germany continued until the fall of 1957 when the 388th was inactivated.

In the fall of 1956 the 388th began planning for conversion to the F-100D/F "Super Sabre" Due to the adverse flying conditions at Etain for conversion training, the new aircraft were deployed to Nouasseur Air Base in Morocco, with the squadrons deploying their F-86's to Nouasseur, then returning to France or Spangdahlem in their new F-100's for Zulu Alert duties.

During this transition period, the 388th experienced a significant personnel crisis, with many of its officers and NCO's completing their two year unaccompanied tour in France. The personnel problem became worse in the fall of 1957 with many single airmen completing their three years of overseas service and were rotating back to the United States (CONUS). The manning of the 388th fell to about 65 percent when on 8 December 1957 HQ USAFE inactivated the 388th FBW due to budgetary and personnel constraints.

On 9 December the personnel and assets of the 388th were transferred to the 49th Fighter-Bomber Wing.

49th Fighter-Bomber Wing

North American F-100D-40-NH Super Sabre Serial 55-2760 assigned to the 562d TFS/388th TFW, then to 7th TFS/49th TFW

Headquarters, 49th Fighter-Bomber Wing was assigned to Étain Air Base, absorbing the assets of the 388th FBW. The wing was relocated to France from Misawa Air Base, Japan. Worldwide DOD Budget restrictions during FY 1958 affected PACAF as well as USAFE and the 49th FBW based in Japan had to be retired. As the 388th was originally formed in December 1942, and the 49th was formed in January 1941, the older wing's heritage was preserved by transferring its lineage to Étain.

The transfer was a strict designation change with no personnel, equipment or aircraft being transferred. All 388th FBW wing units, personnel, equipment and aircraft were redesignated to the 49th FBW and the mission of the 49th FBW was exactly the same as the 388th's. The fighter squadrons were redesignated the 7th, 8th and 9th Fighter-bomber Squadrons.

On 8 July 1958 the name of the wing was changed to the 49th Tactical Fighter Wing as a result of an Air Force wide redesignation. Its squadrons were renamed Tactical Fighter Squadrons.

Detachments of the 49th TFW were established at Chambley Air Base on 15 February 1958 and at Vouziers-Sechault DOB (Dispersed Operating Base) on 1 January 1958.

In 1957, the French Government decreed that all nuclear weapons and delivery aircraft had to be removed from French soil by July 1958. As a result, the F-100's of the 49th TFW had to be removed from France. On 25 August 1959, the 49th Tactical Fighter Wing relocated to Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, replacing the 10th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing which was moved to RAF Alconbury England.

However not all personnel from Etain were transferred to Germany as some 10th TRW personnel at Spangdahlem stayed to complete their overseas tour of duty and HQ USAFE did not want to pay for two PCS moves for married personnel. Sufficient 10th personnel remained at Spangdahlem to support the 49th TFW at its new home.

As a result many personnel from Etain were transferred instead to RAF Lakenheath in the United Kingdom to which the 48th TFW at Chaumont-Semoutiers Air Base was being transferred. The 48th also suffered from the same manpower problems as the 49th and the transfer of personnel to Lakenheath brought the 48th TFW to full strength. In addition, some personnel from Etain were transferred to other USAFE wings in France to fill manpower shortages.

U.S. Army

After the departure of the 49th TFW, no USAFE wings operated from Étain AB. The base was maintained by Detachment 1, 7514th Support Group, headquartered at Toul Air Base. Étain AB was put into a standby status by the USAF. However, U. S. Army units were moved onto the base from the Verdun area to relieve overcrowding there.

In the spring of 1960 Company C and Headquarters & Service Company of the 97th Engineer Battalion (Construction) relocated to Étain AFB from the Maginot caserne in Verdun. They provided general engineering services in the area including in Verdun, the old Maginot Line (NATO facilities), and in Etain. The 249th Engineer Battalion (Construction) also was assigned the base to build a railroad spur line to a munitions dump near the old World War I battlefield. In late summer of 1961 the 249th relocated back to Germany while the 97th moved to Sidi Brahim Barracks in Étain town proper, freeing up the base for Air Force reserve use during the Berlin Wall crisis.

In addition to these Army units, some small USAF weather, civil engineering and postal squadrons were assigned to the base.

1961 Berlin Crisis

After two years without any permanent flying units, on 5 September 1961 Étain Air Base was reactivated as part of Operation Tack Hammer, the United States response to the Berlin Crisis.

7121st Tactical Wing

Former Ohio 166th TFS Republic F-84F-40-RE Thunderstreak, Serial 52-6526. Today, this aircraft is on permanent exhibit at the Museum of the United States Air Force Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio

The 121st Tactical Fighter Wing of the Ohio Air National Guard were called to active duty for a period of twelve months on 1 October. When activated, the wing consisted of three operational units, the 162nd TFSquadron, based at Springfield Municipal Airport, Springfield Ohio; the 164th based at Mansfield-Lahm Municipal Airport, Mansfield Ohio, and the 166th based at Lockbourne AFB, Ohio. However, due to funding shortages, only 26 F-84F's of 166th TFS was deployed to France, although several ground support units from the 162nd and 164th were also deployed.

On 4 November the first ANG T-33 aircraft arrived at Etain, with the F-84's arriving on 16 November. On 11 December, the deployed units of the 121st TFW were redesignated the 7121st Tactical Wing. Ground shipments of equipment and supplies arrived from Ohio during January 1962 along with additional supplies and equipment from Chateauroux-Deols Air Depot.

The mission of the 7121st TW was tactical air support of US Army units in case of an armed conflict with the Warsaw Pact, and alert began almost immediately upon arrival. Four F-84F's were loaded with armament and maintained on alert 24/7 for continual launch preparedness. However, as the F-84 was a day fighter only, its night alert was of limited use if necessary.

Rotational deployments to the gunnery range at Wheelus AB were also made, where the excellent weather and ranges there provided the Air National Guard pilots an opportunity to re-qualify in air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons delivery. Weather permitting, daily missions at U S Army training ranges in West Germany were also flown to exercise with ground units there. Several ANG fighter pilots were detached as Forward Air Controllers and Air Liaison Officers to work with Seventh Army units, and additional pilots were deployed from Ohio to keep the squadron at full strength.

A NATO exchange program was conducted with the West German Air Force, with 4 F-84's being deployed to Hopsten Air Base, West Germany with an equal number of German personnel and aircraft being deployed to Etain to fly missions with the 166th. This was the first German Air Force deployment to France since the end of World War II.

In July 1962 the deployed Air National Guardsmen were no longer needed in Europe and the 7121st began to redeploy its personnel to Ohio. All the aircraft and support equipment, however, remained at Etain to equip a new wing being formed threre, the 366th Tactical Fighter Wing.

The last of the ANG personnel departed on 9 August 1962. The 7368th Combat Support Group was activated to operate the base after their departure.

391st Tactical Fighter Squadron

The 366th Tactical Fighter Wing was a USAFE experiment. Wing Headquarters for the 366th was activated at Chaumont-Semoutiers Air Base on 8 May 1962, with 4 operational aircraft squadrons being equipped with the aircraft left behind by the deployed Air National Guard wings deployed to France as a result of the Berlin Crisis. The assets of the ANG 166th TFS at Etain were assigned to the 391st Tactical Fighter Squadron, with other squadrons being formed at Chambley, Phalsbourg and Chaumont Air Bases.

The ANG 166th TFS had transferred 25 F-84F's to the 366th at Etain, and the squadron allocation was 20, 5 aircraft were transferred to Phalsbourg. In addition, several pilots from the 166th remained on active duty in France performed instructor duty for the new pilots being assigned to Etain.

The 391st assumed the mission of the 166th, close air support of Seventh Army units in Germany and air defense. During the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, the squadron assumed a total alert posture with 18 F-84's on 24/7 alert for over two weeks.

The 366th TFW/391 TFS remained at Étain until 16 July 1963 when the 366th moved to Holloman AFB, New Mexico.

USAF closure

The 7368th CSG remained to maintain the base in a reserve status for the next several years. The Royal Canadian Air Force Wing 1 from Marville AB used Étain during May 1965 for NATO exercises, but otherwise the base remained largely unoccupied.


SA 330 Aérospatiale Puma Helicopter of the French Army 3e Régiment d'Hélicoptères de Combat (3e RHC) at Étain-Rouvres Air Base

On 7 March 1966, French President Charles De Gaulle announced that France would withdraw from NATO's integrated military structure. The United States was informed that it must remove its military forces from France by 1 April 1967.

By 16 November all American equipment was removed from the facility and on 15 March 1967 Étain Air Base was returned to the French.

Current Uses

After the USAF departure, Étain AB was used by the French Army as a helicopter base. Currently, the 3e Régiment d'Hélicoptères de Combat (3e RHC) Combat Helicopter Regiment operates from the base and flies SA341, SA342, SA 342L1 and 342M1 VIVIANE "Gazelles", and SA 330 "Pumas". About 1000 soldiers and participated operations in RCI, BALKANS, INDONESIA, LIBAN, TCHAD ... The 3e RHC will be the first numeric regiment of the brigade with systems as SIR and SIT.

The base is well-maintained and has been expanded over the years, and remains a front-line French military facility.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Knight, Ray (1992). Would you remember this? : a diary, August 23, 1943 to December 7, 1945, the 7th Field Hospital, ETO, World War II. (RFD no. 3, Box 22, Hudson, N.C., 28638): Hudson, N.C., U.S.A.. 
  2. "IX Engineer Command ETO Airfields, Airfield Layout". Retrieved 2012-07-07. 
  3. Johnson, David C. (1988), U.S. Army Air Forces Continental Airfields (ETO), D-Day to V-E Day; Research Division, USAF Historical Research Center, Maxwell AFB, Alabama.

 This article incorporates public domain material from the Air Force Historical Research Agency website

  • Endicott, Judy G. (1999) Active Air Force wings as of 1 October 1995; USAF active flying, space, and missile squadrons as of 1 October 1995. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. CD-ROM.
  • McAuliffe, Jerome J. (2005). US Air Force in France 1950-1967. San Diego, California: Milspec Press, Chapter 11, Etain-Rouvres Air Base. ISBN 0-9770371-1-8.
  • Ravenstein, Charles A. (1984). Air Force Combat Wings Lineage and Honors Histories 1947-1977. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-912799-12-9.
  • USAAS-USAAC-USAAF-USAF Aircraft Serial Numbers 1908 to present
  • Loubette, Fabrice (2008). Les Forces aériennes de l'OTAN en Lorraine, 1952-1967. Metz, France : Serpenoise, Part II, Chapter 5, Etain Air Base. ISBN 978-2-87692-763-6.

External links