Rothwesten Air Base, Germany
601st AC&W Squadron
Information about the construction of the flying facilities at Rothwesten and subsequent events there, was taken mainly from a series of articles which appeared in the pages of the Transmitter, the monthly unit magazine of the 601st AC&W Squadron. Unit history material was supplied by Todd Appleton and various 601st alumni.
Rothwesten And Its Tenants
The relatively remote Reinhardswald Forest in the State of Hesse bordered the quiet rural German village of Rothwesten. In early 1935 the area had been selected by the Air Staff of Hitler's Air Marshall, Herman Goering, for the clandestine construction of post WW I Germany's first Army Flying School. The secret flying school was considered to be a key element first step in Hitler's plans for the future domination of Europe. Such a facility had been clearly forbidden under the country's Surrender Treaty with the Allied Forces.
The site was heavily wooded and the air base structures
were designed and built to resemble a series of harmless appearing apartment
buildings, particularly from the air. The new secret base was first known
as Rothwesten Reichsfliegerhorst, and it became the Alma Mater of many
Luftwaffe pilots. Most of them went on to instruct others who were to fight
in what history would record as World War II.
Typical of the period's customs, many of the base staff, flight instructors and fledgling pilots were immortalized in colorfully painted humorous caricatures on the walls of several buildings, particularly in the NCO and officer recreation areas. A base community of homes for families of German Officers and NCO's was added in 1936. A German two star general lived in the same quarters, destined to occupied much later by a series of US Air Force commanding officers.
Rothwesten & The Americans
Rothwesten Reichsfliegerhorst was partially destroyed by retreating German forces on March 31st, 1945. Six days later the US Army Infantry troops took the area. At this point what was to become the 601st AC&W Sqdn. and a Rothwesten tenant, was still An Army Signal unit fighting somewhere else in Germany. The base became the home of the 36th Fighter Group in April of 1945, under the command of Lt. Paul Douglas. It was the first American unit to operate aircraft from German soil. In that day's report to higher command they noted that they had "just moved into a recently abandoned German Fighter Strip just north of Kassel".
During it's very brief stay there, the 36th shot down ten and damaged four German 190s without a single American casualty. It was later replaced by the US 22nd and 32nd Fighter Groups. They were in turn succeeded by the 417th Starlight Night Fighter Squadron and the 155th Photo Recon Squadron which both remained there until shortly after the "shooting war' with Germany finally and officially ended.
In April 1945, units of the 501st Tactical Control Group moved into Bad Wildungen, near Kassel as well as Gottingen and Nehra, near Weimar. On May 1st it's A Company advanced to Eger (Cheb) Czechoslovakia, only to find their newly established tech site to be within the German's range of artillery fire. What quickly followed wasn't officially recorded, but it appears the American unit probably pulled back from Eger to a safer area.
May 7th, 1945 had turned out to be a memorable day for the US troops at Rothwesten. That day a German plane circled over the field and landed. Out stepped a German Luftwaffe Sgt. who surrendered to the surprised Americans who had quickly surrounded him. He explained his commanding officer had told all his men even though the other units were still fighting, their country had already irretrievably lost the war. And so, each man was free to go wherever he liked. The Sgt. who had just landed, explained he had picked this spot to land in hopes of being able to reunite with his wife who lived in the nearby, virtually destroyed city of Kassel.
On V-E Day, May 8th, A Company's tech site was
overrun by liberated multi-national prisoners of war and its personnel
were forced to operate a camp for these unfortunates in addition to their
normal unit duties. The A Company of the 501st Tactical Control Group moved
back to Kassel - Rothwesten during June and July of 1945.
The shooting war was over, and the "cold war' was starting to take shape. In 1948 secret negotiations took place which soon made Rothwesten unexpectedly world famous. Held in tightest security measures, early in 1948 the Base's Building No. 1 was a conference site for the Allied Occupation Powers who were exploring a number of possible changes in West Germany's currency system. They deemed it necessary to conduct these sessions at a remote US installation to escape notice and discovery by the both the public and the headline hungry press. Building No. 1 was unoccupied during the 601st AC&W Squadron's use of the base.
Discussion and negotiations were conducted by the Allied Committee on the German Economy, headed by the US Army's General Stocker. The group made world headlines when later in 1948 it announced Germany's historic change from the Reichmark to Deutschmark for its metal and paper money.
The 601st main unit were based at Rothwesten,
first on July 24, 1947 and then again on July 20, 1956.
Origins and History of The 501st Tactical
The 601st AC&W Squadron
from Dec 31, 1945 to Mar 31, 1995
Soon after the U.S. entered WW II, the Headquarters Company of the 555th Signal Aircraft Warning Battalion was formed from personnel of the New England Telephone & Telegraph Company. The "triple nickel" unit as it quickly nicknamed, was put on active duty June 9, 1942 at Drew Field, Florida. In Nov. 1943 it was redesignated as Companies A, B, C and D; and sent to Camp Myles Standish near Taunton, Mass., to be processed for overseas shipment. Departure was Dec. 1943 with arrival at the Army Signal Camp, Pepham, England.
In May 1944, the 555th was moved to a Staging Area near Plymouth, England. On D-Day, June 6th, a small unit crossed the Channel in the transport ship "Bayfield", with the remaining personnel following in LCT's. During initial operations, the unit became widely scattered. Company A wound up in the Netherlands. It was the unit destined some years later to become the 601st AC&W Squadron. Company B had ground observer posts far ahead of the main U.S. forces in Germany.
During July 1944, one of the War Department's few recognized radar experts, Maj. Albert J. Gilardi, was appointed the 555th's Commander. Units advanced to an area near Versailles, France and finally to Paris in September. Company C had moved into Belgium. As a result of the Germans counterattack and dropping of paratroops in the "Battle Of The Bulge', the unit was forced to withdraw to Gesselies.
When the Allied breakthrough occurred, troops moved swiftly. The 555th's mobile vans followed Allied Military Government teams into forward areas. By March its advance posts had moved into Bruhl, Germany, and in April into Bad Wildungen. The unit and its detachments provided an early warning radar and direction finding network to support USAFE tactical operations, and navigational aids to friendly aircraft.
In June of 1946, the first elements of the 555th Army signal Aircraft Warn-ing Battalion arrived in the Kassel area. This unit, A Company, was eventually to become the 601st AC&W Squadron. A radar operations crew was quartered in the nearby village of Simmerhausen, housed in what had been a home for aged and infirm German ladies. The crew personnel commuted daily to a radar site on the Rothwesten hilltop.
For the first time on July 5th, 1946, organization records refer to the 555th as the 501st Aircraft Control & Warning Battalion. Its companies become the 601st through the 604th respectively. At the same time, minus person-nel and equipment, Battalion Headquarters and the 603rd were transferred to Wiesbaden, and then inactivated. The remaining Squadrons (601st, 602nd and 604th) were assigned directly to Headquarters USAFE, and they too were inactivated. By September 25, 1947 the 501st AC&W Battalion was history.
The Battalion's record showed over 3 years on the continent, through the thick of the fighting in Europe, earning five "battle streamers" in five major campaigns. These were:
Normandy, Northern France, Ardennes Alsace,
Central Europe and the Rhineland.
Additionally noteworthy was the award of the Belgian Fourragere to the original unit for action on the Normandy Beaches, their subsequent advances into Belgium during the period from D-Day to Sept. 30th 1944, and for unit action in the Ardennes Sector from Dec. 16th, 1944 to Jan. 25th 1945.
During the Berlin Airlift in 1948 - 1949, the unit helped guide air transports along the Berlin Air Corridor.
In the early months of 1949, a worsening of the Russian and World situation occurred. These changes resulted in the 501st Tactical Control Group, Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, being reborn on May 18th, 1949 as the 501st Aircraft Control and Warning Group. The newly christened unit was assigned to USAFE 2nd Air Division. On May 25th the 603rd AC&W Sqdn. was activated at Hof, Germany. By June 10th, 1949 also activated were the 601st AC&W Sqdn. at Rothwesten, near Kassel Germany (American Zone), the 602nd AC&W Sqdn. at Birkenfeld, Germany ( French Zone ), and the 604th AC&W Sqdn. at Friesing.
The 601st's Airman's' Club was housed in the base
building which formerly served as the German NCO's mess. The former German
Enlisted Man's Mess became the 601st's Snack Bar. The Officer's Club building
had the distinction of having echoed to laughter and good times of both
the losing and the winning officers of WW II.
In Jan. 1951 the 501st Tactical Control Group was assigned to the Twelfth Air Force, under the command of Lt. Col. Fred J. Collin. It's 807th Tactical Control Sqdn. was activated on Aug. lst, 1951 at Landsberg, Germany, under command of Lt. Col. Charles G. Whitley.
In August 1952 Col. Robert C. Sexton assumed command
of the 501st Tactical Control Group. Other
changes were soon to take place.
On Jul. 15, 1953 the 604th AC&W Sqdn. was
transferred to the 155th Tactical Control Group. The 603rd
AC&W Sqdn. moved from Hof to Giebelstadt early in 1953, and eventually in the winter moved again to
Langerkopf, near Kaiserslautern, Germany. The 807th Tactical Control Sqdn. moved from Landsberg to
Kaiserslautern during the summer and fall of 1953; and Group Hdq. was also moved there in September of
that year. In 1953 the 3rd Shoran Beacon Flight became a tenant at Rothwesten, receiving logistical support from the 601st AC&W Sqdn. there.
In May 1954 an unwelcome reminder of the war occurred
in the Rothwesten Base Community. Capt. Kenneth Holloway, as president
of the Community's Ground Safety Council, announced that still another
quantity of undetonated explosives had been found in their residence
grounds. Until a complete search and
removal effort could be conducted of the area (the apple orchard), all families were warned to keep their children and pets well clear.
In Aug. 1954, Lt. Col. Daniel Wolf announced a reorganization of the 601st, under which Lt. Col. Walter E. Coddington was named as Commander of the 601st's radar work site, "Gunpost'. Captain Holloway was named Operations Officer, Captain Schremp as Communications Officer, Captain Presley as Electronics Officer and Master Sgt. Metras as Site Chief. The Communications Office and Operations were moved from Rothwesten base to a new prefab building on the Gunpost' site.
In Sep 1954 Fox-Movietone-News was on hand at 601st Hdq to record the day's doings of S/Sgt. Norman Illing who had been chosen "601st Commander Of The Day". With a newsreel camera rolling, Lt. Col. Wolf turned over the command to Sgt. Illing, who immediately convened a staff officer meeting and received their section reports. Later for the cameras, Illing met with Lt. Jack Tuzinski and Master Sgt. Obee. As soon as filming was completed later in the day, the two German camera men packed gear and film into their car and raced to Frankfurt to a plane on which the film would be rushed to New York for editing. The finished product was seen next day on TV news programs throughout the US, and also as part of the 5 or 10 minute movie theater newsreel segments shown nationally during the next month.
At 19:20 hours on Oct. 19th 1954, a Gunpost site guard saw a great red flash of light, followed by the sound of a huge explosion coming from the direction of Holzhausen, just northeast of Rothwesten. He immediately notified the base Air Police who rushed to the area and found a large deep crater with smoking metal scraps of wreckage.
Cursory investigation by flashlight proved it to be the remains of an F86D fighter, which had taken off earlier from the British Royal Air Force Base at Bruggen, near the Dutch boarder. The pilot had been on a routine night cross country navigational exercise. The 601st Air Police cordoned off the area and mounted guards until daylight when it would be possible to search for the pilot's body. Early morning, the Royal Air Force Liaison visited the crash site and asked that Air Police A/lC Herbert, Bennett and Stell be officially commended for their unbroken 18 hour guarding of the site.
As of November 1954, the 501st Tactical
Control Grp command line up was Col. Robert C. Sexton heading the Group.
Commander of the 601st AC&W Sqdn. was Lt. Col. Daniel C. Wolf. Lt.
Col. Toy B. Husband commanded the 602nd AC&W Sqdn., and Major Donald
H. Brown commended the 603rd AC&W Sqdn. Commander of the 807th Tactical
Control Squadron was Lt. Col. Charles G. Whitley.
On a lighter historical note, in Dec 1954 a stunned Gunpost Controller guiding an Pan Am aircraft on its way back from Berlin in the Air Corridor, heard a sultry feminine voice ask for a 'course check". It was quickly given and the voice announced that "the gang at Gunpost should be looking for something in the mail very soon".
Miss Ava Gardner, the movie actress had taken part in a special Christmas Berlin USO troop entertainment event. The "something special' was a photo of her, suitably adorned with a signed message of thanks to Gunpost. The photo was published in the unit's Feb. 1955 Transmitter magazine issue.
In January 1955, Col. Robert C. Sexton, Commander of the 501st Tactical Control Group, was assigned to the position of Chief, Special Activities Directorate, in Operations at Headquarters 12th Air Force. Col. Sexton had commanded the 501st since 22 Aug. 1952. Succeeding Col. Sexton as 501st Commander was Col. Thomas S. Bond Jr. who had moved from his position as Chief Of The Communications Systems Directorate, in the Office of Asst. Chief of Staff for Communications, Hdq. 12th Air Force.
In March 1955, Major Robert J Murphy, newly transferred from Ent AFB, Colorado, arrived at Rothwesten to take charge of the Gunpost site. And a happy 601st Theater Officer, Lt. Jack Russell proudly announced the impending reinstallation of 35 mm film equipment in the base movie theater which was expected to include the brand new Cinemascope Wide Screen process.
In the summer of 1955, personnel of the 601st AC&W Sqdn. traveled with equipment laden trucks and vans to Lippe, Holland where they pitched tents to participate in NATO's "0peration Carte Blanche. Almost constant rain put both man and electronic gear to a severe but successful test.
On noon Friday, May 6th 1955, ten years of occupation by Allied Troops officially ended in West Germany. The Bonn Government's Federal Republic emerged a free nation with full authority to govern itself. One of the first things marking this change for 601st AC&W personnel was the immediate increase of their car insurance coverage and its cost, due to the new German government mandate.
In June, 1955 Lt. Col. Daniel Wolf, the 601st AC&W's Commander, received orders transferring him to the 615th AC&W Sqdn. in Prum, Germany, succeeded at the 601st by Capt. Blaine W. Sweitzer. Col. Wolfs military history dated back to 1942 when he received his wings and Lt.'s bars as an Army Air Force navigator. During WW II he spent 30 months on 40 combat missions in India, Burma, China and the Pacific Islands. He had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal, Reserve Medal and a host of battle stars and campaign ribbons. At the time of this transfer he held ratings of navigator-bombardier-radar observer.
Publication of the 601st AC&W Sqdn. monthly unit magazine, the Transmitter, was suspended with its July 1955 issue. With the splitting of the 601st, personnel and funds for its publication were no longer available. During its few years of publication, the magazine had won first place three times in 12th Air Force competition, besting unit magazines with much larger full time staffs and resources.
On July 31, 1955 the unit began performing installation and maintenance functions for C-E systems and facilities. And on July 20, 1956 the unit resumed its early warning radar role.
On November 18, 1960 it was redesigned as the 601st Tactical Control Squadron. From April 15, 1961 until June 15, 1962 the unit operated electronic target director posts m support of a tactical missile mission. From June 15, 1962 the 601st had won its first Air Force Outstanding Unit Award and became part of the USAFE TACS.
A unit milestone occurred Nov. 1, 1968 when its Detachment 3 received and put in operation one of the US Air Force's first new "two dimensional' AN/TPS-44radars.
On Jan 9, 1975 the 601 TCS becomes opera-tional at Pruem AS after moving from Wiesbaden.
On April 1, 1992 it was redesigned as the 601st Air Control Squadron, and operated as such until its deactivation on Mar 31, 1995, just a few month short of a full 50 years of service.
Where and when had been it's home?
The locations and dates deal with the main elements of the 601st, and not its detachments. Dates are when the unit arrived at its location.
Simmershausen.....Dec. 31, 1945
Kassel ...............Oct. 28, 1946
Rothwesten AB......Jul. 24, 1947 Pforzheim .........Jul. 31, 1955
Rothwesten AB......Jul. 20, 1956 Sembach AB.......Mar. 18, 1963
Wiesbaden AB ......Jun. 1, 1973 Pruem AS..........Oct. 15, 1975
Zweibruecken.........Jun. 15, 1989
The 3rd Shoran Beacon Squadron
A Rothwesten base neighbor had been the 3rd Shoran Beacon Squadron. It had been activated as a unit in Victorville, Calf. on Sept. 13th, 1950 with Capt. Edmund Jacobs as Commander, with personnel from the Tactical Air Force. Its unit mission combined Short Range Radar Support and Navigational Aids. The unit moved to Lawson Air Force Base, Fort Benning, GA where they participated in the "Southern Pine Maneuvers" in North and South Carolina. Due to their excellent performance, they were redesignated a Flight on Nov., 1951, and were put under the Command of Major Jene A. Knierim.
In Jan., 1952 they were assigned to Twelfth Air Force and stationed in Toules, France for 8 months. From there they moved to Bavaria and received logistical support from the 601st AC&W Sqdn. at Rothwesten, Germany.
In August 1953, the 3rd Beacon Flight became a Squadron. New personnel were assigned, and among its new expanded duties, enlarged the radar support given to units of Twelfth Air Force, Europe. Major Knierim married a Rothwesten area girl, and in December 1954 rotated back stateside.
In January 1954, on a Saturday all 3rd Shoran
Beacon Sqdn. personnel were restricted to the base, with orders to
pack enough supplies for a 45 day TDY to an unspecified location. When
the orders finally came, the unit convoyed to Rhine Main airfield.
The entire detachment was airlifted by aa C-124 to Sidi Slimane, North
Africa in one day. The plane carrying the advance party was fortunate in
having good flying weather; but the second plane ran into heavy rain storms
making it difficult for the pilots and unit passengers to retain
their composure, to say nothing of retaining their meals. After what was
regarded as a successful mission by all concerned, the unit returned in
a C-119 under more tolerable conditions than the flight from Germany.