Bordeaux-Mérignac Air Base
|Base aérienne 106 Bordeaux - Mérignac (BA 106)|
|IATA: BOD – ICAO: LFBD|
|Operator||French Air Force|
|Elevation AMSL||163 ft / 50 m|
Bordeaux-Mérignac Air Base originated in the 1920s, when a joint civilian/military air field was established there. The facility was a major hub for Air France, flying from Bordeaux to various destinations in Europe and North Africa. Military uses by the French Air Force was as a training center and also as a bomber base.
During World War II the German Luftwaffe took control of the base and used it as a center for maritime reconnaissance. German unit was based in the base, patrolling the Atlantic and engaging RAF and USAF planes. Focke-Wulf Fw-200 "Condor" aircraft flew from the base roaming the Atlantic Ocean looking for Allied shipping. Junkers Ju-88 long range fighters also operated from the base, protecting submarines and Condors and fighting Allied antisubmarine planes. Fights over the Gulf of Biscay were not strange.
After the war Air France resumed commercial operations out of Bordeaux and the reestablished French Air Force returned to use the facility.
In 1951 Bordeaux was turned over to NATO for use by the United States Air Force. Construction of a modern air base suitable for jet aircraft began on 1 August. Much evidence of the war remained with many warning signs still in German, scattered munitions around the facility; the perimeter was still mined; large quantities of practice bombs, and destroyed hangars and other buildings as a result of Allied air raids.
Site preparation and construction of the new runways was performed by the U.S. Army's 469th Engineer Aviation Battalion (EAB) -- a newly formed SCARWAF (Special Category Army With Air Force) unit.
126th Bombardment Wing (Light)
The 126th Bombardment Wing was the first USAF organization to arrive at Bordeaux AB on 7 December 1951. The wing flew the World War II vintage Douglas B-26C "Invaders". The 126th was part of the Illinois Air National Guard which was ordered to active service on 1 April 1951 as a result of the Korean War. The unit was initially assigned to Tactical Air Command at Langley AFB, Virginia.
The Korean War was a turning point for the U.S. military establishment including the Air Guard. The callup exposed the glaring weaknesses of the ANG. Units and individuals lacked specific wartime missions. Their equipment, especially aircraft, was obsolete. Their training was usually marginal. Once mobilized, they proved to be almost totally unprepared for combat.
The wing moved to Bordeaux AB, France from Langley AFB Virginia, with the first elements arriving in November 1951. The 126th BW was assigned to United States Air Forces in Europe. By 10 November, Bordeaux was considered an operational base and was assigned to the 12th Air Force.
At Bordeaux, the 126th BW consisted of the 108th, 168th and 180th Bomb Squadrons (Light). The aircraft were marked by various color bands on the vertical stabilizer and rudder. Black/Yellow/Blue for the 108th; Black/Yellow/Red for the 168th, and Black/Yellow/Green for the 180th.
It flew B-26's for training and maneuvers and stayed at Bordeaux AB until being transferred Laon AB, France on 25 May 1952 where it remained for the balance of the year.
The 126th was relieved from active duty and transferred, without personnel and equipment, back to the control of the Illinois ANG on 1 January 1953.
As a result of the uproar that the poorly managed reserve mobilizations during 1950-51 created. The Congress was much more willing than either the Department of Defense or the military services to fund the reserves properly. Moreover, beginning with the passage of the Armed Forces Reserve Act of 1952, a series of key laws eliminated most of the old inequities and fostered the development of more effective reserve components. It also permitted the use of Guard and Reserve volunteers to support the active duty forces.
Through the 1950s, the Air National Guard evolved into a force that was increasingly integrated with the planning and operations of the Air Force. By the end of the decade, the Air Guard had become a larger, more capable, and increasingly diverse organization.
7413th Air Base Group
After the departure of the B-26's, the 7413th Air Base Group was activated at Bordeaux AB in 1953. The 7413th provided support to transient aircraft for USAFE tactical fighters deploying to and from the desert gunnery range at Wheelus AB, Libya.
In November 1952, the 12th Air Rescue Group stationed the 81st, 82nd and 83rd Air Rescue Squadrons at Bordeaux, providing air/sea rescue service and practing pilot recoveries at Lake Cazaux near Arcachon. The squadrons flew Sikorsky H-19B "Chickasaw" helicopters and Grumman SA-16 Albatross fixed wing amphibian seaplanes.
The 12th ARG departed Bordeaux AB in July, 1953.
In late 1953 a joint-use gunnery range was established near Bordeaux at Cazaux AB, a French Air Force facility 34 miles to the southwest of the base. The facility had been used as a gunnery range by the French since the 1920s.
By 1955 Bordeaux had been developed into a major transportation portal for aircraft, material and personnel deploying from the United States, to be used in case of an emergency in Europe. The 7413th ABG had several C-47 Skytrain transport aircraft attached for various duties.
On 20 July 1955 Det. 2, 7413th Air Base Group was set up at Marignane Airport, (IATA: MRS, ICAO: LFML) near Marseille to set up a flight operations office and facilities to service transient aircraft. Marignane Airport was used at a refueling stop for USAFE aircraft in southern France on their way to North African gunnery ranges in Libya and Morocco.
The detachment at Marseille was considered to be a Geographically Separated Unit (GSU) and the USAF personnel there were paid in French currency and lived on the local economy.
The facilities at Marseille were used until the USAF withdrawal from France in 1966. Today, Marseille Provence Airport is the 5th busiest airport in France for passenger traffic and 2nd for cargo traffic.
By 1957, the suitability of the Cazaux range was becoming limited due to the upgrading of the USAFE tactical fighter forces. In January the use of the facility was discontinued. However, a Boy Scout facility was established on the former range and was used for many years by American scouts from all across France.
On 1 October 1958, Bordeaux Air Base was closed to reduce USAFE expenses and manpower. All ongoing activities were moved to Châteauroux Air Base. The U. S. Army operated the faclilty for a few years after the Air Force departed, but ended their activities in 1961 and the entire facility returned to French control.
Today Bordeaux Air Base has been incorporated into Bordeaux's civil airport. The old USAF facilities are indistinguishable from the current-day Bordeaux - Mérignac Airport (French: Aéroport de Bordeaux - Mérignac). It is one of the ten busiest airports in France.
As well as its civil use, the French Air Force designated Bordeaux Air Base BA 106, and it has been used in its strategic air force.
As a consequence of the temporary closure of the Cazaux military base, the civil authorities have been forced to share the runaway with the French Army since November 2005.
- McAuliffe, Jerome J: U.S. Air Force in France 1950-1967 (2005), Chapter 6, Bordeaux-Merignac Air Base.
- Ravenstein, Charles A., Air Force Combat Wings Lineage and Honors Histories 1947-1977, Office of Air Force History, 1984
- Endicott, Judy G., USAF Active Flying, Space, and Missile Squadrons as of 1 October 1995. Office of Air Force History
- 126th Bombardment Wing (Light)
- Aviation Photos: Bordeaux - Merignac (BOD / LFBD)
- History of aeronautics in Bordeaux and its area (In French)
- Bordeaux-Mérignac Airport Official Website (In French)
- Bordeaux-Mérignac: Airport information for LFBD at World Aero Data. Data current as of October 2006.