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Orly Air Base
Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) A-47

United States Air Forces in Europe.png

Part of United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE)
Located near: Paris, France
Orly Air Base - Oblique Airphoto - 1955.jpg
Orly Air Base - 1955
Coordinates Latitude:
Built 1932
In use 1944-1967
Airfield information
Airport type Public / Military
Elevation AMSL 291 ft / 89 m
Coordinates 48°43′24″N 002°21′46″E / 48.72333°N 2.36278°E / 48.72333; 2.36278Coordinates: 48°43′24″N 002°21′46″E / 48.72333°N 2.36278°E / 48.72333; 2.36278

Lua error in Module:Location_map at line 510: Unable to find the specified location map definition: "Module:Location map/data/France" does not exist.Location of Orly Air Base

Direction Length Surface
ft m
02/20 7,874 2,400 Concrete
07/25 11,975 3,650 Concrete
08/26 10,892 3,320 Concrete

Orly Air Base was located at Aeroport de Paris-Orly, nine miles (15 km) south of Paris, France off Autoroute A6/A10m with a highway exit directly into the base.

Orly Air Base was developed after World War II when Orly Airport was used as a combat Advanced Landing Ground, designated as "A-47" by US Army Air Force's Ninth Air Force. Rebuilt after the war as a joint civilian airport/NATO facility, the primary use of Orly Air Base was to meet the needs of personnel supporting Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) at Rocquencourt, with secondary functions as a personnel processing center for inbound and outbound personnel assigned to France and as a limited operational transport base.

The USAF facilities at Orly were turned over to the French government in 1967 as a result of France's withdrawal from NATO's integrated military command, and all non-French NATO forces were asked to leave France.


Orly Airport was opened in 1932 as a secondary civil airport to Le Bourget. Before this two huge airship hangars had been built there by the famous engineer Eugène Freyssinet in 1923.

German use during World War II

After the 1940 Battle of France, the airfield at Orly was used by the occupying German Luftwaffe shortly after its seizure in June 1940. The Luftwaffe moved elements of two fighter wings, Jagdgeschwader 21 (JG 21) and Jagdgeschwader 54 (JG 54), in June, both equipped with Messerschmitt Bf 109Es, and a bomber wing, Kampfgeschwader 51 (KG 51), equipped with Junkers Ju 88As taking part in the battle until the armistice on 22 June.[1]

After the armistice, the fighter units moved out, while KG 51 remained with its Ju 88s at Orly until March 1941, taking part in the Battle of Britain.[1] When the bombers moved out, for about a year it was used by the Luftwaffe as a rest and rearmament airfield, with units from combat areas being withdrawn and stationed at Orly briefly until being redeployed. However, as part of the "Defense of the Reich" campaign by the Luftwaffe to defend against Allied bomber attacks, Orly in 1942 became a combat interceptor field, with Zerstörerschule 2 (ZG 2), flying Messerschmitt Bf 110 heavy twin-engine day interceptor aircraft.[1]

Beginning in early 1944, Kampfgeschwader 6 (KG 6) and Kampfgeschwader 30 (KG 30) operated Junkers Ju 88As from Orly as part of Operation Steinbock, a late war German operation carried out by the Luftwaffe between January and May 1944 against targets in southern England, mainly in and around the London area during the night. The offensive marked the Luftwaffe's last large-scale bombing operation against England, and afterward only the V1 cruise missiles and V2 ballistic rockets were used for hitting the British Isles.[1]

The American Eighth Air Force carried out several heavy bombing raids against Orly beginning in late 1942. By mid-July 1944, the advancing Allied forces in Northern France, and Ninth Air Force B-26 Marauder light bomber and P-47 Thunderbolt fighter-bombers began more frequent attacks, to deny the Luftwaffe use of the airfield as ground forces moved out of Normandy and into the Paris area. German use of the airfield ended in August when KG 30 pulled out and moved east to Achmer in northwest Germany.[1]


After the Battle of Normandy and the liberation of Paris by Free French Forces in late August, elements of the IX Engineering Command 826th Engineer Aviation Battalion arrived at Orly on 27 August 1944. The two concrete runways were patched and the airfield was made operational as Advanced Landing Ground A-47 for transport units to fly Resupply and Casualty evacuation flights by the next day.[2] It took until 5 September until the 50th Fighter Group could move in and begin combat operations with P-47 Thunderbolts, however they only remained for a week until they moved out and Orly became a command and control field, with Liaison units using the field with light aircraft until October 1945.[3]

United States Air Force use

Remaining in American hands after the war, the first postwar unit at Orly was an Air Transport Command (predecessor to MATS) unit, the 1408th Army Air Force (AAF) Base Unit which arrived in early 1945. After Orly was turned back to the French government in 1946, the 1630th Air Base Squadron (ATC) took over the American Mission and operated a terminal for the USAFE European Air Transport Service. Orly was reactivated as a commercial airport on 1 January 1948, however the United States Air Force's 1630th Air Base Squadron (MATS) leased a small portion on the east side of the Airport and operated the American military air terminal.[4]

Post World War II international diplomatic and military travel was changing from ship and rail to aircraft transportation, requiring a special air terminal in the Paris area for NATO meetings. The first NATO tenant at Aeroport Orly-Paris was the United States Air Force Military Air Transport Service in June 1950. Agreement was reached on 10 November 1950 on a new lease to allow for aircraft parking. Also located on this parcel were five usable Quonset huts.

On 1 April 1951 the Air Base Squadron was expanded to support the air transport needs of Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), which was activated on the same day in Fontainebleau. Another important mission developing at Orly Air Base was providing aircraft and facilities to maintain the flying proficiency of USAF pilots assigned to the Paris region. On 10 October 1951 the 1630th AB Squadron was upgraded to the 1606th Air Base Group.

By October 1951, the expansion of Orly's facilities was so great as to require a higher headquarters organization; accordingly the 1630th was upgraded to the 1606th Air Base Group (Military Air Transport Service).

On 1 July 1952, HQ USAFE assumed command of Orly Air Base because the majority of its work was in support of USAFE missions. The 7415th Air Base Group was formed as part of USAFE, the MATS unit was reduced to a detachment and made a tenant of the 7415th to manage passenger traffic. Its new designation was the 1602d Air Transport Wing Detachment. The 1606th ABGp was redesignated as the 7415th Air Base Group.

The 1950 lease was expanded to provide additional property for a headquarters building. officers club, NCO club, airmen's service club, personnel office, a new passenger terminal, billeting for 450 troops, a 500-man mess hall, motor vehicle shop, aircraft parking apron for fifteen assigned aircraft, and an expanded dispensary with twenty-five hospital beds. Additional construction during 1954/55 completed the largest USAF air terminal in France, a new AFEX snack bar, a large service club, group headquarters building, fire station, Air Police center, officers open mess, BOQ, VIP billets, and a vehicle repair shop. Most buildings were single story concrete masonry construction, however a few portable prefab buildings were erected to save construction time and funds.

In July 1952 when t Through the years, the detachment grew in importance and in January 1957 it became the 1622nd Support Squadron (MATS). The 1622nd was responsible for handling passengers, cargo and mail passing through the base. During its first year (1957) the 1622nd processed a total of more than 103,000 passengers, 49,000 tons of cargo, 4,290 aircraft and 12,100 tons of mail.

Also present at Orly AB was Detachment 2 of the 7370th Flight Service Squadron with headquarters located at Rhein Main AB,Germany. Other detachments of the Flight Service Squadron were located in Uxbridge (London), Rome, Madrid, Istanbul, Casablanca (Morocco) and Wheelus AB, Libya. The various centers maintained control over US Military air traffic. The center processed flight plans, monitored departure and arrival information and oversaw diplomatic clearances.

Clearances for diplomatic flights were processed through Chateauroux AD prior to 1 July 1957. After that date Orly AB was designated as a foreign clearance base, thereby reducing request time for diplomatic clearances into the Middle East and Africa.

The primary mission of the 7415th ABG was meeting and. greeting VIPs visiting the Paris region. VIPs were later defined as distinguished visitors (DV). DVs included President Eisenhower, the Secretaries of State and Defense, and an army of curious visitors to attend international meetings and attend NATO meetings in Paris. From 1955 through 1959 approximately 800 DV per month passed through Orly AB. Some summer months over 200 Congressmen would stop in Paris. A summit meeting in Europe could draw 1,100 to 1.350 DV guests. The 7415th protocol officers would have to provide aircraft parking, transportation and drivers, luncheons, photographers, press rooms, secure telephone communications, and security police. There are no reports of any Congressman requesting a driver and staff car to visit a main USAF air base in France. At four summit meetings, arrangements were made with Orly Airport management to close an active runway and use it for DV aircraft parking. Space at Orly was becoming critical in the late 1950s.

An official base newspaper "The Orly Diplomat" (6 pages 13 by 8 inches) was begun in June 1953 by TSGT John R. German, off a "rickety, ink-stained mimeo machine. The publication was renamed "The Orly Oracle" in 1955 and grew gradually until its final edition on September 15, 1958. TSGT John R. German, presided over the final, "souvenir" edition.

MATS air terminal

The air terminal at Orly replaced the troopship as the common carrier for USAF personnel heading to France. The 7113th Personnel Processing Squadron operated the Paris Air Passenger Center (PAPC) in Paris. PAPC processed 15,300 inbound and 21,100 outbound personnel during the last six months of 1957. Outbound Air Force troops were given a three hour time block to report to PAPC, then moved by bus to Orly AB for their flight back to CONUS. The average processing time for inbound troops assigned to France was three hours. This time was measured from aircraft off-loading at Orly to bus off-loading at a Paris train station for their trip to their new assignments in France.

By 1955 there were forty units attached to the 7415th ABG for administrative and logistical support around France. The 7415th operated fifteen C-47A Skytrains, one C-54G Skymaster, one C-121A Lockheed Constellation, and one Convair C-131B Samaritan aircraft based at Orly for VIP transportation within Europe (Special Air Support), and for proficiency flying. The 7415th Food Service section was always busy, preparing 4,600 in-flight meals per month for passengers on outbound military flights as well as operating the base mess hail for unit and transient personnel.

Photos of Orly AB MATS Terminal - 1955

MATS terminal counter, April 1955

AFEX Snack Bar, April 1955

MATS waiting room, April 1955

Operational transport use

French military personnel board a Douglas C-124C Globemaster II (53-004) at Orly Field, Paris, bound for Indochina, May 3, 1954

Several special airlift operations were conducted from Orly Air Base. In 1954 USAF C-124 transports assisted the French by airlifting 500 paratroop/commandos and their equipment to Indochina, landing at Da Nang's Tourane Airfield. It was the longest troop airlift in history at that time.

The troopers wore civilian clothes and departed Orly AB at 0310 hours in the morning. The C-124s continued across the Pacific to their home base, making the airlift an around-the-world flight.

A second airlift, "Operation Wounded Warrior'," made the longest medical evacuation flight when the first C-118Bs from Westover AFB, Massachusetts, landed at Orly on 3 July 1954. The aircraft was returning forty-seven wounded French soldiers from Saigon. These veterans had fought in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu. After boarding the wounded in Saigon, the C-118 "Liftmaster" flew eastward to Japan, Hawaii, California, Massachusetts, across the Atlantic to the Azores, and on to Paris. A total of 500 seriously wounded men were returned by USAF-MATS. The French Army and government officials were deeply appreciative of the airlift effort supplied by the United States.

From 1953 through 1958, USAFE operated "Kinderlift" flights during the months of July and August. This program flew about 2,000 underprivileged German children each year from Berlin to West Germany for a month's vacation in German and American homes. The 7415th ABG supplied aircraft and crews for 100 of these missions in 1957, flying 160 hours between Berlin and Rhein-Main Air Base or Hanover.

Phase-out and closure

The 7415th ABG was informed in November 1955 by Aeroport d'Orly officials that most of the USAF facilities would have to be abandoned at the end of 1957 to allow for planned airport expansion. USAFE and the French Government could make no agreement for a replacement airfield near Paris. Évreux Air Base was considered as a replacement for the Orly operations but no decision occurred. Orly International Airport was reworked several times during the late 1950s and 1960s, but the Orly Air Base operation continued until March 1967 when it was closed as part of the general American withdrawal from France as part of operation FRELOC.

Today a few of the former USAF buildings are still in use for industrial purposes, however most of what was Orly Air Base has been absorbed into Orly Airport and is used as a cargo handling and civil aircraft maintenance facility.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 The Luftwaffe, 1933-45
  2. IX Engineering Command ETO Airfields General Construction Information
  3. Maurer, Maurer. Air Force Combat Units of World War II. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History, 1983. ISBN 0-89201-092-4.
  4. AFHRA Orly Search
Other sources
  •  This article incorporates public domain material from the Air Force Historical Research Agency website
  • Boka, Jon A. (2008). US Air Force in France 1957-1961 (Orly AB) and 1965-1966 (Chateauroux AB). Las Vegas, Nevada: Orly Oracle final edition of Sept. 1958.
  • 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.
  • Maurer, Maurer. Air Force Combat Units of World War II. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History, 1983. ISBN 0-89201-092-4.
  • McAuliffe, Jerome J. (2005). US Air Force in France 1950-1967. San Diego, California: Milspec Press, Chapter 14, Paris-USAF Operations. ISBN 0-9770371-1-8.

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