Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Kings of the Air: Verdun airfields

In the course of any project, you accumulate all kinds of material that will never form part of the narrative proper, but you hang on to just in case. For a proposed series of maps, I wanted to locate the airfields used by French squadrons during the battles of Verdun and the Somme. Having located them (well, most of them), I found I had details of some of the squadrons that were based there, and was curious to know what the sites looked like these days. Unfortunately, I have not been able to place all the airfields precisely - after all, many were simply grass fields, with the air- and ground crews living in tents. I have placed them on a map here.

Most were temporary fields, built for the war, but two, Béhonne and Verdun, were created as part of a plan to create a network of permanent airfields throughout the country in the years before war broke out. Both survived the war - indeed, Verdun survived until the 1970s - but most were returned to agriculture.

There are a number of aerial photos of airfields in the Argonne here, and south of Verdun here, and in the Toulois here.

Ancemont: On 20 February, this was the home of C11, who stayed until 23 June; it also housed C4 (24 July-1 December) and F218 (spring).

Autrécourt-sur-Aire: F2 (23 March-16 August), C13 (28 August-6 December), F50 (in August, the squadron was billeted in barracks 500m of the eastern exit of the village, which might imply the airfield was on the higher ground, away from the river valley).

Auzéville-en-Argonne: F2 (19-22 March).

Béhonne: one of the airfields planned in 1911-12, it was located south-east of the village, on the south side of the Grande Rue (D116), close to the junction with the Rue Guynemer. There are now private houses where the hangars used used to be. The site was moved after the war to a site further to the south-west, now on the northern outskirts of Bar-le-Duc. It ceased to be used in 1937. During the battle, it was briefly the home of C104 (11 September-4 October).

Bellefontaine: this may be the second airfield near Brabant-le-Roi (q.v.), which was located at Bellefontaine Farm. C6 (16-28 June).

Boncourt: detachment N3 March 

Brabant-le-Roi: there were two airfields here. The first was located on the south side of the village, in the angle between the Ruisseau de Nausonce stream and the Rue Fayarde. This was replaced by a larger airfield to the north, somewhat outside the village, on Bellefontaine Farm between the D20 and the Roman road, the D1378.

Brocourt-en-Argonne: C13 (19 May-27 August).

Clermont-en-Argonne: on the north side of the village, on the Rue d'Aubreville, a site now partially occupied by a factory. F2 (Feb 1915-19 March 1916).

Commercy: C4 detachment December.

Erize-la-Petite: to the south-west of the village, on the high ground to the west of the D1916 / Voie Sacrée, near the junction with the D116 (the airfield was also known as Rembercourt-aux-Pots, within whose boundaries it actually was. The latter village is now called Rembercourt-Sommeaisne.).

Faubourg Pavé (aka Verdun): to the east of the town, on the site now occupied by the Désandrouins Hospital (thanks to Christina Holstein). It was one of the airfields planned in 1911-12. It ceased to be a military field before the Second World War, becoming civilianized field after the war (renamed Verdun-Fromeréville), and was closed in 1972. On 20 February, this was home to C18, N23, MF63, N67 and MF72. German artillery forced the squadrons to withdraw, although Jean Navarre insisted on basing his personal aircraft there.

Froidos: to the east of the village, close to the road to Ville-sur-Cousances. F44 (June-September 1917).

Julvécourt: to the north-west of the village, on the plateau to the west of the Rue Savary. F50 (perhaps September), S.A.L./F221 (October).

Laheycourt: F2 (end of August), F50 (July-August).

Lemmes: to the north-west of the village, between the Chemin des Aisances and the Route de Vadelaincourt. Since Vadelaincourt was just to the north, the landing ground must have been shared between the two stations. F1 (18 March-28 May), C4 (1 May-23 July); F5 June (15 September-December), C6 (5 May-15 June), MF7 (17 June-30 July), N15 (28 February-6 May).

Osches: to the north-east of the village, between the Grande Rue and the Mont d'Osches wood. The hangars were alongside the track that skirts the western edge of the wood.

Sainte Menehould: C6 (29 June-3 October).

Souilly: to the north of the village on the D159, north-east of the junction with the Voie Sacrée. It opened in early 1916. Souilly was also the location of Pétain's headquarters. C4 (2 December-4 January 1917), F63 (2 March-21 September), S.A.L./F221 (from January).

Toul: the site of Toul Croix-de-Metz airfield is to the north-east of the town, and is now an industrial estate. Like the airfield at Commercy, its location was too far south to have anything other than a marginal involvement with the battle. F1 (May-August), F63 (21-25 September), C228 (1 February-?)

Vadelaincourt: to the east of the village, between the Grande Rue and Route de Lemmes. The hangars were alongside the Grande Rue, extending almost to the junction with the Chemin des Aisances. F3 (detachment March-May), F8 (20 June-February 1917), F63 (24 February-2 March), F218.

In addition to the airfields, on 20 February RFV had three balloon companies under command - 28th (Bellevue), 52nd (Belleville-Froidterre) and 59th (Bethelainville). No.11 Aviation Park was based at Fort Regret.
Other airfields were built in the area later in the war, eg Beauzée, Froidos, Pretz en Argonne, Senoncourt-lès-Maujouy.

Much work remains to be done on locating these airfields and describing their daily work. The Association Ancien-Aerodromes continues to do much useful investigative work in this area, although not just confined to the Great War. There is also useful information here, and on Albin Denis' site here. The squadron carnets de comptabilité, which served as a kind of muster roll, but also give information about location, are here.

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