The Brabant village Oisterwijk and Operation Market Garden
Fliegerhorst Gilze-Rijen, part I
Airfield during the war
This airbase is situated on the former heath and airstrip called ‘Molenheide’ located
between the villages of Gilze and Rijen in the province of North-Brabant. The airbase
is also situated between the city’s Breda and Tilburg and was initially used for
civil aviation, but also the military aviation, active in the Netherlands since
1913, made use of it. When the first World War broke out the Dutch military aviation
became more and more active on Molenheide so at the end of 1930 the civil aviation
founded airfield Nerhoven situated more to the east. During the mobilisation in the
Netherlands in 1939 the airfield became military property but was soon after disabled
by the Dutch military to prevent that the German enemy would land their aircraft
here. During the Second World War the airfield was used by the Germans and build
into one of the biggest German airfields in Europe. The Germans also constructed
a fake airfield nearby that was named ‘De Kiek’ but referred to as ‘Kamerun’ by the
Germans. ‘Kamerun’ was located between the villages Alphen and Riel along the road
Airfield during wartime;
On 10 May 1940 between 04.00 hrs and 06.45 hrs Molenheide was attacked by Heinkel
He.111’s of the German unit KG4. During this attack many Dutch military aircraft
were destroyed though several managed to escape to airfield Heemstede in the Dutch
province of zeeland. During the attacks the French troops that where in the area
and allies to the Dutch were under continues attack by German Stuka’s. The French
troops withdrew themselves to Belgium followed by Germans forces occupieing the airfields
Molenheide and Nerhoven on May 13. They immediately started to remove obstacles and
barriers that were placed on the airfields to hinder the Germans and they prepared
the airfields to receive the first German aircraft. Those aircraft landed that same
day and comprised the Henschel He.126 and the Fieseler Fi.156 “Storch”. A day later
on 14 May German Donier Do.17 light bombers and Junkers Ju.52 ambulance aircraft
landed on the airfields.
It became quit evident that the Germans, by spying before the war, were well informed
and aware of the possibilities both airfields offered them. Immediately after their
main force had passed in to the direction of Zeeland and the Moerdijk bridges to
cross into the heart of Holland they brought in the people, equipment and materials
from Germany to turn Molenheide and Nerhoven into a fully operational airfield. Within
one day the German airfield was operational and thus gave the Germans the advantage
of an airfield close to the frontline's were they had light bombers, reconnaissance
and ambulance aircraft directly to their disposal.
Fieseler Fi.156 “Storch”
Donier Do.17 bomber
Junkers Ju.52 ambulance aircraft
In June of 1940, the Germans began to expand what they called "Fliegerhorst Gilze
Rijen". They immediately clamed local farms and fields in the area so many people
were forced to move and seek shelter somewhere else leaving behind most of their
possessions. It was clearly visible that the Germans were going to undertake a huge
project. They began with the construction of three runways of 3000 feet long and
55 yards wide of which two runways were extended up to 5.300 feet later during the
war. These two runways are still in use today and are named 10/28 and the 02/20.
To the north at the village of Dongen a big supply depot was build along the Wilhelminacanal
were the materials for the construction of the airfield were shipped to. Big maintenance
halls, the so-called ‘Junker-halle’, were built on the airfield and later in 1941
the even bigger ‘Oberhalle’ was build. These halls were still in use after the war.
The ‘Oberhalle’ was built after the ‘Junkerhalle’ had become too small for all the
maintenance. It was build along the road Molenschotsedijk and was 328 feet long and
196 feet wide. Here maintenance could be done to up to 10 to 15 aircraft. It was
so well camouflaged that it was hardly visible from the air. The ‘Oberhalle’ was
built on a small light collared dirt road. This small dirt road was painted across
the roof and the platform situated in front of the building was not recognisable
from the air after the adding of camouflage nets and bushes. In addition the Germans
also build many ammunition bunkers and other buildings that were needed for a big
and modern airfield. For their aircraft the Germans build special bomb and shrapnel
free parking spaces of which some are still to be found on the airfield today. The
many hangars and workshops and maintenance buildings were build to look like farm
buildings. The Germans were masters in concealment and everything was well camouflaged.
Looking on the base from the air one had the impression of dealing with a farmers
village. The total area of the airfield was much bigger in size than what the airbase
Throughout the entire airfield taxiways and roads were constructed and south of the
village Hulten and south-west of the runways the Germans build approximately 95 wooden
hangars. By January of 1944 another 75 hangars were build in the vicinity of the
"Prinsenhoef". Concrete parking spaces to shelter the aircraft were built in the
edge of the treeline surrounded by sand covered sidewalls. The Germans also constructed
a railway line from the Rijen train station to the airfield for transportation of
supplies, equipment and petrol. In the line of the runways a radio beacon and light
masts were placed for a clear approach navigation. Red navigation lights were placed
on high buildings such as factories, churches and wind mills. In September most of
the constructions were finished so the Germans had build a complete airfield in only
four months. The two airfields were now build into one big German airfield. For the
people of Gilze and Rijen this meant that traveling between the villages had become
rather difficult and they were forced to make a large detour to reach their destination.
Heinkel He.III bomber with squadron code ‘1H’ The ‘Lowen-geschwader’, Lion squadron.
On 2 September 1940 the II/KG26, (KG, Kampfgeschwader=fighter squadron) arrived at
Gilze-Rijen from Norway with Staffel 4,5 and 6 (staffel,St=unit) totalling 40 aircraft.
This geschwader copromized Heinkel He.III bombers. They carried ‘geschwader’ squadron
code 1H and named the ‘Lowen-geschwader’ Lion squadron. They were only based at Gilze-Rijen
for one moth and mainly used for bombing raids on Londen. These raids took places
both during the day and during the night. On 4 September 1940 a German bomber would
crash in the village of Gilze. A Heinkel.III of 6/KG26 took of during the evening
on the north-south runway, fully loaded with bombs and fuel for a raid on England.
During take off the Heinkel lost altitude fast and crashed on café ‘De Kronen’ in
street Nieuwstraat in Gilze. Eight civilians, four crew members and a couple of German
soldiers were killed in crash. It would be one of the many terrible events that the
population in the area around the airfield had to endure during the course of the
war. In August 1944 again several Heinkel He.III’s were based on the airfield. They
were stationed in the south-west corner were also the hangar was located were the
V1 flying bomb was mounted on these aircraft. The Germans used their converted Heinkel
He.III, referred to as H-22, to mount the first V1 flying bombs under the wing to
launch the weapon during flight. One of those He.III’s, the H-22 reportedly was lost
near the airfield after it crashed on its way back from an attack on enemy territory.
During the end of September 1940, II/KG30 arrived at Gilze-Rijen consisting of Junkers
Ju.88 fighter bombers. The geschwader code of KG30 was 4D. Also nightfighters of
I./NJG2 (NJG=Nachtjagdgeschwader) with code R4 arrived on Gilze-Rijen in September.
This unit flew the Donier Do.17 the Messerschmitt Bf109 and the Junkers Ju.52 aircraft.
Every day and night dozens of aircraft fully loaded with bombs took off heading for
England. Lots of aircraft were shot down on the way to and back from England or were
lost near the airfield. Many were also lost during take off and landing on Gilze-Rijen
with 40 German aircraft crashing on and around the airfield between September 1940
and April 1941. Around the airfield the Germans had installed lost of anti-aircraft
to protect the airfield. The RAF regularly attacked the airfield which sometimes
resulted in a British aircraft being shot down by the Germans. But in the end more
German than RAF aircraft would be lost around airfield Gilze-Rijen. In May 1941 Germany
began its war against Russia causing many bombers to leave Gilze-Rijen to be stationed
in the East. Though many aircraft had left for the East the German attacks on England
proceeded nevertheless and many raids on the enemy were flown from airfield Gilze-Rijen.
One of the few buildings that remained of the former German fliegerhorst after the
war is this hangar. The hangar is in use to store gliders and its situated on the
outside of the current airbase alongside the old road from Hulten to Gilze.