Know Before You Go

Name: Flugplatz Finsterwalde
(Sonderlandeplatz Finsterwalde Schacksdorf)
Date of Construction: 1934 – 1935
Status: Special Airfield, Partially Repurposed, Partially Demolished
Address: Am Tower, 03238 Lichterfeld-Schacksdorf
Geo Coordinates: 51.60316029053489, 13.744639589344349
Date Of Visit: July, 2023
Legal Visit: Yes. The hangars and tower were closed to the public, but the buildings in the surrounding forest are “freely” accessible.

Flugplatz Finsterwalde – 1934 to 1945

The Flugplatz Finsterwalde – like so many of the Luftwaffe Airfields of the Third Reich – was purpose built between 1934 and 1935. While the Flugplatz Finsterwalde only had a grass runway – roughly 1000x400m in size (not uncommon for the time), it did have 6 large aircraft hangars and an aircraft maintenance hall, each equipped with concrete aprons.

luftwaffe flugplatz finsterwalde postkarte
Flugplatz Finsterwalde in the mid 1930s

The adjacent forest was deemed a suitable location to construct offices, the airfield command, barracks, a mess hall, the officers casino as well as a sportsground and even a 50m long pool. Of course the Flugplatz also had its own railway connection to facilitate the transport of fuel and munition.

Luftwaffe formations were very often split, renamed and regrouped, especially in the early 1930 and mid 1940s – making it quite tedious to track the changes. The Fliegergruppe Finsterwalde was formed in February 1935, but was renamed April 1935 to II./Kampfgeschwader 153.

This unit was then split in March 1937, with one unit being renamed II./Kampfgeschwader 255 (later known as III./Kampfgeschwader 77) and being moved to Leipheim, while the other unit remained in Finsterwalde under its “original” name. The II./Kampfgeschwader 153 in Finsterwalde was restored to its full strength and received its final name change to II./Kampfgeschwader 3 “Blitz”.

II./Kampfgeschwader 3 “Blitz”

Ive decided to add a little section about the II./Kampfgeschwader 3, as my Grandfather was a Squadron Leader in the II./Kampfgeschwader 3, before being transferred to the IX. Fliegerkorps at the end of 1942, before ultimately ending up as a Major in the staff of the commanding general of the Luftwaffe in central Italy.

As mentioned in the preceding section, the II./Kampfgeschwader 3 was formed in 1935 under the name II./Kampfgeschwader 153 in Finsterwalde. Many of the aircrew – including my grandfather – would end up joining the Legion Condor in 1936 and 1937 to assist Franco and the Spanish fascists during the Spanish civil war (as well as gain valuable combat experience).

After initially being equipped with Junkers Ju 52 and Dornier Do 23 bombers, the II./KG 153 transitioned over to the Dornier Do 17 and Do 17 E by 1937. The squadron emblem was a singing bird, known as the “Sänger von Finsterwalde”. The name was derived from an immensely popular folk song – Finsterwalder Sängerlied – from 1889, which made the city of Finsterwalde known across all of germany.

The II./KG 153 was moved to Heiligenbeil in East Prussia and was officially renamed to II./Kampfgeschwader 3 “Blitz” on the 1st of May 1939. It was from Heiligenbeil where the II./KG3 would launch some of the first attacks against Poland, specifically Tczew (Dirschau), Grudziądz (Graudenz), the battle of the Bzura, Praga, Warsaw and Modlin. The II./KG3 was moved to Schweinfurt after the end of the Poland campaign in October 1939, and would then be redeployed in 1950 for the Western Campaign (Battle of France).

The II./KG3 conducted operations against the Belgian fortifications and in the Ardennes, supported the crossing of the Meuse River and the pursuit of the French army up to the Aisne-Oise as well as participating in the major air assault on the French Air Force in the Paris region and attacking the English withdrawal movements at Dunkirk.

Further attacks were carried out against Ostend, Zeebrugge, and Thourout. In June, the squadron conducted attacks to support the Wehrmacht in the Battle of France. After the Western Campaign, the squadron, set up camp in Antwerp-Deurne. By June 23, 1940 – the squadron began its bombing campaigns against Britain, where my grandfather earned himself this piece of silverware.

The II./KG3 (as well as the Squad Command and I./KG) were pulled from the Battle of Britain in mid March 1941 and moved to Oldenburg to retrain on the Junkers Ju 88 A bomber. From here the entire wing would be involved in the attack on the Soviet Union on the 22nd of June 1941. The II./KG3 moved towards the east via Deblin-Irena, Bojary, Orscha and finally setting up camp in Schatalowka – all the while talking part in missions to support the Wehrmacht during the encirclement battles of Kiev, in Demjansk, and throughout the defensive struggles around Rzhev, Velikiye Luki, Vyazma, Smolensk, and the first Battle of Kharkov. Additionally, the wing carried out air raids against Moscow.

After briefly being relocated to Poznan (Posen) to regroup in December 1942, the II./KG3 returned to the eastern front in early 1943, with stations in Poltawa (Operation Citadel), Kirowograd, Orscha and Terespol. By early 1944, the II./KG3 made a hasty retreat back west via Baranowitschi, Burg bei Magdeburg, and finally ending up in Lübeck by July 1944. That same month the Kampfgeschwader 3 was disbanded and all personnel were moved to other units. My grandfather at this point had already been reassigned to another post in Italy where he would end up being captured by the allies. But that’s a story for another post.

From Blitzgeschwarder to Flugzeugführerschule

After the Blitzgeschwarder left Finsterwalde, the missions of the Flugplatz Finsterwalde changed from hosting Bomber Groups to becoming a Flight School (Deutsch: Flugzeugführerschule). The flight schools that operated in Finsterwalde were the following:

  • April to August 1939 – Flugzeugführerschule A/B Guben (FFS A/B). A basic pilot training school to attain the A and B pilots license.
  • Juli to November 1939 – Flugzeugführerschule E A/B Finsterwalde
  • October 1939 to April 1943 – Flugzeugführerschule C Celle
    • November 1939 – Renamed to Flugzeugführerschule C Finsterwalde
    • January 1940 – Renamed to Flugzeugführerschule C 7
    • April 1943 – Relocated to Clermont-Ferrand-Aulnat, France

After the Flugzeugführerschule C 7 was moved to France, a training company for radio operators of the Luftwaffe Signals School moved in by August 1943 and stayed until at least 1944.

With the tide of the war having slowly turned by 1943, the Flugplatz Finsterwalde began seeing frequent rotations of Kampf, Schlacht, and Jagdgeschwader being stationed there. Some of the more notable ones were:

  • 6./Kampfgeschwader 200
  • Stab/Jagdgeschwader 11
  • II./Jagdgeschwader 27
    • Both the JG 11 and JG 27 would be moved further west in 1944 to take part in defensive operations against the allied “Market Garden” Operation.
  • Stab/Jagdgeschwader 300
  • 4./Schlachtgeschwader 151
  • II./Jagdgeschwader 5 “Eismeer”
  • 1. (Pz)/Schlachtgeschwader 9
    • This unit was retrained to use the Focke-Wulf Fw-190 F that was equipped with the newly developed “Panzerblitz” rocket.
  • Stab/Schlachtgeschwader 151

There has also been the longstanding rumor that aircraft belonging to the “Fliegerstaffel des Führers” (essentially Hitler’s private “airline”) were stationed here between March and April 1945.

The Flugplatz Finsterwalde continued its operations right up until the the soviets arrived on the 20th of April 1945. A german bomb squad hastily tried to destroy the aircraft maintenance hall before evacuating, but only half the bombs detonated causing a partial collapse of the building. The Flugplatz was fully captured by the Soviets on the 21st of April, 1945.

The Soviets in Finsterwalde – 1945 to 1993

The Soviets immediately made use of the Flugplatz Finsterwalde – which aside from the maintenance hall -survived completely intact. In the early 1950s, the Soviets began expanding Finsterwalde, adding a 2050m long runway, which allowed them to station over a dozen MiG-15 there by 1954 (which would later be extended to 2400m). After seeing a series of attack and bomber aircraft unit rotations, the 559th Fighter Aviation Regiment (559-й истребительный авиационный полк ) – equipped with the MiG-17 was “permanently” stationed in Finsterwalde from 1956 onwards.

Sonderwaffenlager Finsterwalde

The most important expansion to the Flugplatz Finsterwalde happened between 1961 and 1964, when the Soviets constructed the “Sonderwaffenlager Finsterwalde” – a nuclear weapons bunker. The official codename for the complex was “2952 Technical Repair Base of the Airforce” (РТБ ВВС 2952 | 2952 Reparatur-Technische Basis der Luftstreitkräfte), and apparently even the majority of the Soviet Military at the Flugplatz Finsterwalde had no real idea of what was going on there, as it was guarded and maintained by a 600 men strong KGB security troop.

The nuclear storage bunker – a type BASALT – was of the same construction type as the soviet nuclear storage bunkers at the Flugplatz Brandt and Lärz. The Soviets had at least 31 locations in East Germany where they maintained nuclear weapons, some of the more well known being located in Brand, Fürstenberg, Groß-Dölln, Großenhain, Himmelpfort, Stolzenhain, Vogelsang, Werneuchen and Wittstock.

While specific details are far and few between, we do know of some technical aspects. The front of the bunker was equipped with a massive loading crane, while the entrance was essentially sealed by 25 ton pressure gates. The front section of the Sonderwaffenlager was consisted of a two story technical section filled with all the equipment needed to keep the bunker running, cool, and secure – while the rear consisted of a 9 meter wide and 40 meter long storage room that could only be accessed through another set of pressure gates.

Interestingly enough, the entire Bunker was big enough – an intended for – trucks being able to drive directly through the building to unload the nuclear warheads. The entire bunker was roughly 70 meters long and covered by a substantial amount of dirt to aid in its camouflage. It’s assumed that the initially storage capacity of the Sonderwaffenlager Finsterwalde was initially 40 nuclear warheads, and towards the mid 1980s increased to roughly 80.

LABS – A Nuclear Attack Test Run

While the Americans were acutely aware of many of the Soviets doings in East Germany, they had little concrete information regarding Soviet nuclear capabilities outside of the Soviet Union up until the mid 1960s. A US Intelligence report stated that:

“We have been able to identify nuclear weapons storage sites only inside the USSR. If the Soviets did not already have nuclear weapons stored in Eastern Europe, a substantial logistical effort would be required to supply a reasonable quantity for the delivery systems currently in the area.”

Capabilities of Soviet General Purpose Forces, 1964 -1970

The americans did however get a massive clue in 1967, when they observed a Soviet LABS* maneuver over the Gadow-Rossow bomb range.

New bombing tactics by FITTER aircraft were observed for the first time over a bomb range. Low altitude, over-the-shoulder bomb-release techniques were observed with at least on clearly-viewed air bust seen erupting into a mushroom-shaped cloud. The appearance of larger training bombs and new delivery tactics suggest FITTERS may now be training for nuclear-bomb delivery missions.

USMLM, 1967

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