Military History Books
by Harold A. Skaarup   
1 Canadian Air Group, Canadian Forces Europe

RCAF Canadair CL-13 Sabre formation  in European camouflage pattern.  (RCAF Photo)

1 Canadian Air Group, Canadian Forces Europe (CFE)

Canadian Forces Europe (CFE) was the Canadian Forces military contribution to NATO in Europe during the Cold War.  The CF stood alongside its other NATO allies in being prepared to counter the military activities of the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies.

CFE consisted of two formations in West Germany, Canadian Forces Base Lahr with 4 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group (1957-1993), and No. 1 Air Division RCAF at Canadian Forces Base Baden-Soellingen, which later became 1 Canadian Air Group.  Both formations closed in the early 1990s with the end of the Cold War.

Royal Canadian Air Force elements in CFE

To meet NATO's air defence commitments during the Cold War, No. 1 Air Division RCAF was established in Europe in the early 1950s with four Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) bases in France and West Germany.  These included RCAF Station Marville, No. 1 (F) Wing and RCAF Station Grostenquin, No. 2 (F) Wing in France, RCAF Station Zweibrücken, No. 3 (F) Wing and RCAF Station Baden-Soellingen, No. 4 (F) Wing in West Germany.  The wings consisted of three fighter squadrons each for a total of twelve squadrons.

Canadair CL-13 Sabre Mk. 5 (Serial No. 19250),  No. 416 Squadron at RCAF Station Grostenquin, No. 2 (F) Wing, France, 1953.  (RCAF Photo)

The four fighter wings were part of a group of bases which also included American and French installations, all of which came under the jurisdiction of NATO's Fourth Allied Tactical Air Force (4 ATAF) which, in turn, was commanded by Allied Air Forces Central Europe (AAFCE).  Components located in Metz included Air Division Headquarters, an air traffic control centre, a telecommunications centre, a combat operations centre, and a support unit. 

RCAF Canadair CL-13 Sabres from 439 Sqn, 1 (F) Wing, ca. 1958.  (RCAF Photos courtesy of Gerry McCully)

Initially the RCAF fighter squadrons flew Canadair CL-13 Sabres, but in 1956 one squadron of each wing was upgraded with the Avro CF-100 Canuck all-weather fighter.

Avro CF-100 Mk.4B (Serial No. 18321), 1 (F) Wing Marville landing.  (RCAF Photo)

Avro CF-100 Mk.4B (Serial No. 18364).  (RCAF Photo)

Avro CF-100 Mk.4B (Serial No. 18399).  (RCAF Photo)

RCAF Avro CF-100 Canuck pair in flight.  (RCAF Photo courtesy of the Canadian Aviation Preservation Association)

Canadair CF-104 Starfighter (Serial No. 12770).  (RCAF Photos)

In 1962, the Sabre squadrons were replaced with (nuclear) strike/reconnaissance Canadair CF-104 Starfighters.

Headquarters No. 1 Air Division located in Paris, France was activated on 1 October 1952, but relocated to Metz, France in April 1953. 

No. 1 Wing, Canada's first NATO fighter wing, was initially located at North Luffenham, England since its French base was not ready.  The first of the wing's three fighter squadrons (all squadrons flying Canadair CL-13 Sabres), No. 410 Squadron, arrived at North Luffenham in November 1951.  The squadron and its aircraft, along with those of No. 441 Squadron, were ferried across the Atlantic to Glasgow, Scotland aboard HMCS Magnificent.  The personnel of 441 arrived by ocean liner in February 1952.  In May–June 1952, No. 439 Squadron flew from RCAF Station Uplands via Bagotville, Goose Bay, Greenland, Iceland and Scotland, in an exercise known as “Operation Leapfrog”.

Canadair CL-13 Sabres en route to Bagotville, 1952.  (RCAF Photo courtesy of Bob Jackson)

RCAF Canadair CL-13 Sabre Mk. 2 flight line, preparing to fly to Europe in May–June 1952.  No. 439 Squadron flew from RCAF Station Uplands via Bagotville, Goose Bay, Greenland, Iceland and Scotland, in an exercise known as “Operation Leapfrog”.  (RCAF Photo courtesy of the Shearwater Aviation Museum)

Canadair CL-13 Sabre, Keflavik, Iceland, 1952.  (RCAF Photo)

Canadair CL-13 Sabre (Serial No. 19198), 1 (F) Wing Marville, France, May 1954.  (RCAF Photo)

No. 410 and 441 Squadrons left North Luffenham in 1954 for temporary bases in Germany (410 Squadron was relocated to Baden and 441 to Zweibrücken).  They finally arrived at the completed Marville base in 1955.  No. 439 Squadron flew directly from North Luffenham to Marville in 1955.

Avro CF-100 Mk. 5 (Serial No. 18551).  (RCAF Photo)

Avro CF-100 Mk. 5 (Serial No. 18631).  (RCAF Photo)

Avro CF-100 Mk. 5 (Serial No. 18532).  (RCAF Photo)

Avro CF-100 Mk. 5 (Serial No. 18556).  (RCAF Photo)

NATO identified a shortage in all-weather fighter/interceptor aircraft in 1955 and in 1956 the RCAF responded by providing the Air Division with four squadrons equipped with the Avro CF-100 Canuck.  This aircraft had all weather and night operation capabilities.  One Sabre squadron in each wing was replaced by a CF-100 squadron.  At Marville, 445 Squadron replaced 410 Squadron.  In 1962, the two remaining Sabre squadrons converted to Canadair CF-104 Starfighters, as did all the other Air Division Sabre squadrons.  The CF-104 supported Canada's new and controversial nuclear strike role since it could be equipped with nuclear weapons.  The Starfighter also had a reconnaissance role.  No. 445 Squadron was disbanded in December 1962.

Canadair CL-13 Sabres from No. 439 Sqn in flight.  (RCAF Photo)

Canadair CL-13 Sabre (Serial No. 23512), No. 439 Sqn.  (RCAF Photo courtesy of Bill Bristow)

Canadair CL-13 Sabre (Serial No. 23604), No. 439 Sqn.  (CF Photo courtesy of Bernie Lind)

NATO bases in France, including Marville, were short-lived.  In 1963 the Government of France announced that all nuclear weapons in France were to be placed under French control.  This was unacceptable to the RCAF (and other NATO units stationed in France), so the two nuclear strike squadrons at 2 Wing were hastily moved to Zweibrücken and Baden-Soellingen while remaining non-nuclear armed units in France were repositioned to Marville.  RCAF Station Grostenquin was closed in 1964.  Marville's two remaining squadrons converted to a strictly reconnaissance role.  In March 1966 the Government of France announced that it would be withdrawing its military forces from NATO and that NATO units based in France would have to leave or fall under French command.  In April 1967 Marville was closed and the RCAF moved 439 and 441 Squadrons to CFB Lahr (now Black Forest Airport), West Germany. 

No. 2 Wing's three squadrons also flew from Canada between 28 September 11 October 1952 during Operation Leapfrog II.  They were the first of the Canadian Air Division squadrons to arrive in mainland Europe, and the first RCAF squadrons to be based on the European mainland since March 1946.

Canadair CL-13 Sabre (Serial No. 23338), 2 (F) Wing, Grostenquin, France, ca 1962.  (RCAF Photo)

Canadair CL-13 Sabre .50 cal machine guns being serviced.  (RCAF Photo)

 (RCAF Photo)

Canadair CL-13 Sabres of No. 430 Squadron, on Zulu alert at RCAF Station Grostenquin, France, June 1960.

The squadrons originally based at Grostenquin were Nos. 416, 421 and 430. 

RCAF Avro CF-100 Canuck flight line.  (RCAF Photo courtesy of the Canadian Aviation Preservation Association)

 (RCAF Photo)

Two RCAF Avro CF-100 Canuck Mk. 4Bs of No. 423 Squadron in 1962.  CF-100 (Serial No. 18364) with F/O Saunders and F/O Maltais breaks away from CF-100 (Serial No. 18330) with F/O Stannes and F/L Mack.  Photo was taken while the aircraft were participating in training at the Air Weapons (training) Unit in Sardinia.  These CF-100s were based at RCAF Station Grostenquin, No. 2 Fighter Wing, France.  Front-line CF-100s were used by the RCAF in Europe from 1956 to 1962.

When four all-weather CF-100 squadrons entered service with Air Division in 1956, No. 416 Squadron was replaced by 423 Squadron at 2 Wing flying the Canuck. 

Canadair CF-104 Starfighter (Serial No. 100862) with recce pod.  (RCAF Photo)

Canadair CF-104 Starfighter (Serial No. 12758) with recce pod.  (RCAF Photo)

Canadair CF-104 Starfighter (Serial No. 12703), drag chute deployed.  (RCAF Photo)

In 1959 Canada adopted a new and controversial nuclear strike role in accordance with NATO's doctrine of “limited nuclear warfare” and began re-equipping with the new Canadair CF-104 Starfighter that could handle the delivery of nuclear weapons.  This aircraft also had a reconnaissance role.

In the fall of 1962 the remaining Sabre squadrons of the Air Division, including Nos. 421 and 430 Squadrons at 2 Wing, were re-equipped with the Starfighter.  Concurrently, CF-100s ceased operation in the Air Division and 423 Squadron was disbanded.


Canadair CL-13 Sabres, Sky Lancers in formation, 1955.  (RCAF Photos)

Pilots from all three Sabre squadrons at 2 Wing flew with 2 Wing's aerobatic team, the Sky Lancers.  The team was formed in March 1955 and performed throughout Europe until October 1955.  The following year the team was based at 4 Wing.

RCAF Canadair CL-13 Sabres over Europe in formation.  (RCAF Photo courtesy of the Canadian Aviation Preservation Association)

NATO bases in France, including Grostenquin, were short-lived.  In 1963 the Government of France announced that all nuclear weapons in France were to be placed under French control. This was unacceptable to the RCAF (and other NATO units stationed in France), so the two nuclear strike squadrons at 2 Wing (421 and 430 Squadrons) were hastily relocated; 430 Squadron moved to 3 Wing Zweibrücken and 421 Squadron moved to 4 Wing Baden-Soellingen. RCAF Station Grostenquin closed in 1964.

After RCAF left France it was reorganized and consolidated with Canada's other two services.  No. 1 Air Division was replaced by No. 1 Canadian Air Group (1 CAG) with its headquarters at CFB Lahr.

The three squadrons flying out of RCAF Station Zweibrücken, also known as 3 Wing or 3 (F) Wing operated Canadair CL-13 Sabres and included Nos. 413, 427 and 434 Squadron.  All three arrived at Zweibrücken in March 1953. 

Avro CF-100 Mk. 4B (Serial No. 18383), 440 Sqn 3 (F) Wing, Zweibrücken in flight.  (RCAF Photo)

Avro CF-100 Mk. 4B (Serial No. 18331), 440 Sqn 3 (F) Wing Zweibrücken in flight.  (RCAF Photo)

No. 413 Squadron was replaced in 1957 by 440 Squadron flying the new Avro CF-100 Canuck all-weather interceptor.

Canadair CF-104 Starfighter formation.  (RCAF Photo)

In the fall of 1962 the Sabre squadrons of the Air Division, including those at 3 Wing, began flying Starfighters.  No. 440 Squadron was disbanded in December 1962.  No. 430 Squadron moved to Zweibrücken from Grostenquin when 2 Wing closed down in 1964.

Canadair CF-104 Starfighter on approach to land.  (RCAF Photo)

The RCAF left Zweibrücken on 27 August 1969 as an austerity measure following unification of the Canadian Armed Forces.  Its units consolidated at CFB Lahr and CFB Baden-Soellingen.  Upon the departure of the RCAF, control of the station was transferred to the United States Air Force Sixteenth Air Force, USAFE.

With the end of the Cold War, the USAF presence at Zweibrücken was gradually phased out.  The 26th TRW was inactivated on 31 July 1991, and Zweibrücken Air Base was closed. The facility was turned over to the German government civil authorities.  Flughafen Zweibrücken is used as a regional airport.[1]

As an austerity measure, RCAF Station Zweibrücken was closed in 1969 and its two squadrons were moved to No. 1 (F) Wing and No. 4 (F) Wing.[2]  In 1969 the Canadian Forces in Europe were amalgamated into one command and two bases.  The Canadian army in northern Germany (Soest area) began its relocation south to Nos. 1 and 4 Wings.  This meant that No. 1 (F) Wing Lahr shut down as the air force elements in Europe were reduced in strength from six to three squadrons and concentrated at Baden-Soellingen as 1 Canadian Air Group (CAG).

Construction of the airfield at Baden-Soellingen began in December 1951 at a location between the Black Forest and the Rhine River under the supervision of France's Air Force (Armée de l'Air or AA).  The runway and associated facilities were completed by June 1952 and were intended to accommodate a brigade of the AA which arrived in August for the first operational use of the base.  At that point, support buildings were under advanced construction.

In early 1953, NATO headquarters determined that the base under construction at Pferdsfeld, which was originally planned to accommodate No. 4 Wing, would not be ready for arriving squadrons and personnel later that summer.  It was decided that France's units would transfer to another base to temporarily vacate their airfield at Baden-Soellingen since this base was almost complete.

Canadair CL-13 Sabre Mk. 6 (Serial No. 23757),  (RCAF Photo) 

Sixty-two RCAF CL-13 Sabres of Nos. 414, 422, and 444 squadrons arrived at Baden on 4 September 1953.  Several months after the RCAF units arrived, NATO headquarters made the RCAF move to Baden permanently and the facility was named RCAF Station Baden-Soellingen.  Dependents followed beginning in the spring of 1954.  Personnel at RCAF Station Baden-Soellingen worked quickly to make the base fully operational and integrate into RCAF operations within NATO for the defence of Western Europe.

Avro CF-100 Mk. 4B (Serial No. 18327), 4 (F) Wing, Baden-Soelligen.  (RCAF Photo)

The Sabres flown by 414 Squadron at Baden were replaced by Canucks flown by 419 Squadron in 1956.  The remaining Sabre squadrons of the Air Division were converted to Starfighters beginning in 1962.  The CF-100 squadrons were disbanded by 31 December 1962.  The Starfighter units changed the RCAF's original mission from fighter/interceptor to nuclear strike/reconnaissance.

Canadair CF-104 Starfighter (Serial No. 12868) with reconnaissance pod in flight over Germany.  (RCAF Photo courtesy of Bernie Lind)

In the fall of 1963 the nuclear-capable 421 Squadron at 2 Wing was moved to Baden and the similarly equipped 430 Squadron at 2 Wing moved to Zweibrücken.  Remaining non-nuclear armed units in France were repositioned to RCAF Station Marville.

In March 1966, when the Government of France announced that it would be withdrawing its military forces from NATO and that current NATO units based in France must leave or fall under French military command, the RCAF looked for a new home in Western Europe for 1 Wing and 1 Air Division Headquarters.  They settled on Base Aérienne 139 Lahr-Hugsweier which the Armée de l'Air was vacating as per the French government's announced withdrawal from NATO military integrated organisation.  RCAF personnel, aircraft and equipment were transferred to the new RCAF Station Lahr (now the Black Forest Airport) by March 1967 with dependents to follow later.

On 1 February 1968 the RCAF merged with the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) and Canadian Army to form the unified Canadian Forces. RCAF Station Baden-Soellingen was renamed Canadian Forces Base Baden-Soellingen, or CFB Baden-Soellingen.  As part of an effort to remove duplication and cut the defence budget following unification of the services, Zweibrücken was closed with its units consolidating at Lahr and Baden.

M113s, Fallex 82, Germany 14 Sep 1982.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4876348)

Further defence cuts and consolidation saw the Canadian Army (then renamed to Force Mobile Command) units of 4 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group based in Soest area of northern West Germany moved to Canadian Forces Base Lahr.  However, a mechanized infantry battalion was stationed alongside the fighter squadrons at Baden-Soellingen:

1970-1977: 3rd Mechanized Commando, The Canadian Airborne Regiment

1977-1984: 3rd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment

1984-1988: 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry

1988-1993: 3rd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment

In addition, there was also a communications squadron, and after 1987, an air defence battery.  A multi-force airfield repair unit was formed in the late 1980s to fix the runways if needed.

The cuts resulted in a drawback of the air force from 6 squadrons to 3 which were reorganized under the new 1 Canadian Air Group banner.

Canadair CF-104 Starfighter, 439 Squadron based at Baden Sollingen.  (Photo courtesy of Mike Freer, Touchdown aviation)


Canadair CF-104 Starfighter, 439 Squadron based at Baden Sollingen.  (Photo courtesy of Mike Freer, Touchdown aviation)

The ramp-up in defence spending during renewed Cold War tensions in the late 1970s and 1980s saw CFB Baden-Soellingen receive much-needed new infrastructure, including updated quarters for its personnel and their dependents.  The year 1984 saw squadrons at CFB Baden-Soellingen begin to re-equip with the McDonnell Douglas CF-188 Hornet fighter with 1986 being the close-out year for the Starfighter on base. 

1 Canadian Air Group remained until 1988 when Canada increased her commitment to NATO with three squadrons in theatre and two squadrons in Canada, and No. 1 Canadian Air Division stood-up again. 

In October 1989 the Berlin Wall came down and by the end of 1990 Germany had reunited, thawing Cold War tensions and removing the role for Canada's active units stationed in Western Europe under NATO command.

McDonnell Douglas CF-188A Hornet.  (Photo courtesy of Patcard)

In September 1990 it was announced that an augmented 409 Squadron, and an infantry company from the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment, would deploy from CFB Baden-Soellingen to a base in Qatar as part of Operation Desert Shield along with some airfield security personnel.  In December it was announced that 439 Squadron would deploy from Baden Soellingen to replace 409 in Qatar.  Aircraft from 439 Squadron were involved in air patrols and air-to-ground missions during Operation Desert Storm in January–February 1991, firing the first war shots by a Canadian military aircraft since the Korean War.

The last major deployment from CFB Baden Soellingen occurred in April 1992, when infantry soldiers from November Company of The Royal Canadian Regiment were deployed to a United Nations peacekeeping mission in the disintegrating country of Yugoslavia.  November Company's deployment was the first of many that the Canadian Forces would undertake to the nation under the banner of United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR).  On the first night in Sira?, Croatia, November Company came under indirect mortar fire and was hit by 10-25 shells.  In July 1992, the company was re-located to Sector Sarajevo, and fell under the command of General Lewis MacKenzie.  November Company was ordered to break through to and seize Sarajevo International Airport for UNPROFOR to use for transporting food and supplies to civilians in the city.

The post-Cold War defence cuts of the early 1990s identified both CFB Baden-Soellingen and CFB Lahr for closure by 1994.  With the end of the Cold War, the Canadian government opted to withdraw its forces stationed in Europe.   The Air Division was reduced to three squadrons then to two and finally one, and ceased flying operations 1 January 1993.

The airfield at CFB Baden Soellingen closed on 31 March 1993 and several of its squadrons were disbanded with the aircraft mothballed in Canada.  By summer 1993 most personnel had vacated CFB Baden-Soellingen with the base becoming a detachment of CFB Lahr, whose personnel had also largely vacated by 31 August 1993.  During the final months, Baden-Soellingen operated largely as a detachment of CFB Lahr and was permanently closed on 31 December 1993.  CFB Lahr would continue on until being officially closed 8 months later on 31 August 1994.  The Baden Airpark GmbH took over the area in 1995 and commercial flights started in 1997.[3]

Canadair CL-13 Sabre formation.  (RCAF Photo)

Canadair CL-13 Sabre flight line - a sight this author saw many times as a boy with his RCAF father WO (Retired) Aage C. Skaarup at 3 (F) Wing, RCAF Station Zweibrücken, Germany from 1959 to 1963.  |(RCAF Photo)

Present Day

In the summer of 1997, the functionally based groups (Air Transport Group, Fighter Group, Maritime, Air Reserve, and 10 Tactical Air Group) were dissolved, and 14 Training Group was absorbed within Air Command Headquarters.  1 Canadian Air Division was stood up in Winnipeg to exercise operational command of all CF air assets.  Today based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the division is also the headquarters for the Canadian NORAD Region (CANR), commands 11 of the RCAF's 13 wings, and oversees the monitoring of Canada's airspace in support of the nation's commitments to the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD).  The division is staffed by 600 regular and reserve force members. In addition to military personnel the headquarters is also assisted by civilian personnel in the Operational Research and Analysis Directorate (ORAD).

[1] Internet:

[2] Internet:

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