Friday, April 16, 2021

Bart van der Does: Invited by the RAF to play West Rhine at Elmpt Station

With pleasure I’m sharing my experience with you during my stay at Elmpt Station, formerly known as RAF Bruggen.
This article is about the golf charity event but also I deep dive into the Elmpt Station, formerly known as RAF Bruggen.

The former Royal Air Force Station Brüggen, more commonly known as RAF Brüggen (IATA:BN, ICAO: EDUR) in Germany was a major station of the Royal Air Force until 15 June 2001. It was situated next to the village of Elmpt, approximately 43 kilometres west of Dusseldorf near the Dutch-German border. The base was named after the village of Brüggen, the nearest rail depot. Construction began mid 1952 which involved the clearing of forest and draining of marshland. The station became active in 1953 during the rapid expansion of NATO forces in Europe. In 2002 it was handed over to the British Army and renamed Javelin Barracks.
The main paint shop situated next to the main runway was responsible for surface finishing of all aircraft, ground equipment and RAF Regiment rapier missile systems.

The 317 Supply & Transport column arrived in 1953 at RAF Brüggen. Throughout its life the 317 carried out a number of humanitarian operations, the first being medical supplies to Bergen-Belsen. This was followed by Operation Woodpecker in 1947 which timber and peat were supplied to the civillian population of northern Germany in one of the coldest winters on record.

1954-1998 – Strike/Attack role:
From 1954 – 1997 the fighter squadrons at RAF Brüggen were 67, 71E, 112 & 130, equipped initially with Canadair Sabre F4’s, later re-equipped with the Hawker Hunters. These squadrons were either redeployed or disbanded in 1957 with the arrival of 87 squadron, equipped with Gloster Javelins.
The initial strike capability at RAF Brüggen was provided by the English Electric Canberra from summer 1957. From 1969 to 1975 the Phantom FGR2 operated in the strike/attack role and was replaced by the SEPECAT Jaguar from 1975. The squadron jaguars replaced by the Panavia Tornado GR.1 beginning in 1984. With a total of four Tornado GR.1 squadrons at RAF Brüggen, and 2 more at it nearby sister airbase RAF Laarbruch. RAF Laarbruch & Brüggen formed the largest Tornado force in NATO. Hardened aircraft shelters were equipped with the U.S. Weapon Storage Security Systems (WS3), each able to store up to 4 WE.177 tactical nuclear bombs, for delivery by Tornado aircraft.

1998 -2001 – Strike/Attack role:
Following reunification of Germany, the RAF announced plans to reduce its presence in Germany by half. One major part of this was the reduction of Tornado squadrons in Germany from sever to four: No. 9, 14, 17 & 31.
Squadrons 9, 14 and 31 took part in the Gulf War and operated from the base during NATO’s air operations in the Kosovo War, supported by Vickers VC10 tankers.
The decision to remove all RAF assets from Germany was taken in 1996 as result of the strategic defense review.
Squadron 17 disbanded on 31 March 1999 and began the gradual drawdown of the base. Squadron 14 relocated to RAF Lossiemouth in January 2001. A formal ceremony on 15 June 2001 officially ended a continuous Royal Air Force presence in Germany since World War II and all of the remaining Tornados had left to RAF Marham by 4 September 2001.
Please see my military report at RAF Marham in the Military/Photography section of my website where I continue about this topic.

Handover to the British Army:
With the Royal Air Force having no use for site of the former RAF Brüggen, the base was handed over to the British Army on 28 February 2002 and renamed to Elmpt Station, Javelin Barracks. The golfcourse was also renamed this same date from RAF Brüggen Golf Club to West Rhine Golf Club.

Final closure:
The barracks was closed November 2015 and the site returned to German authorities. Since December 2015 the accomodation units have been used by the German government to house refugees but were cleared in 2019.

My first visit at RAF Brüggen, Elmpt Station was in August 2015. (Just before final closure in November 2015) Over the years I visited Elmpt Station almost every 2-3 weeks to play golf.
The golf course is situated south west of the runway. Access to the golf course is to enter via the main gate and continuing on Ellington Road across the hangars & runway 09/27, when you pass the shelter area where the fighter jets were parked the golf course will be on your right hand side. During my 1st time there was hardly no flying activity. The British Army had their hand full on closure of the base. At that time I was there there was a tank on pole but over the years I visited the golf course everything was taken apart and being removed.

From my former professional golf career I meet many people. Some of them are military people I still have contact with them today. In the Netherlands I’m a member at the Royal Dutch Navy golf club and we exchange/host golf events between other military golf teams. This time I was invited by the RAF for the reunion and a golf match at West Rhine Golf Club which is today known as Europaischer Golfclub Elmpter Wald.

The first nine holes you play east of the facility (more up north towards the runway). Most of these holes have dog-log (left) and some blind shots. So placement from the tee is key. Also the fairways are very narrow guarded by long tall tries & oaks. As the back nine will feel a little wider as it’s a bit more open. Also the holes are a little longer and straighter. All the greens are super fast and they break a lot (slope). So green reading is key. I had a great fantastic day with my British mates. We shared experience, history and many many more.
Perhaps interesting to share is the experience of the 1984 – Nuclear Incident.

1984 – Nuclear Incident.
My flight member (names shall not be named to the privacy/safety reasons) told me on the 10th hole while we were waiting for the group ahead to clear out of our driving “landing zone”. That there was a Nuclear incident in 1984.
Some of the rumors on the 19th hole (the clubhouse) are going like, after a workday military staff was eager to play golf, and left a transport vehicle with the nuclear bomb parked at the driving range. After golf and a few drinks at the bar, it turned out that the vehicle was still there and some “work” was left to be done to secure it properly. As it was a rainy day the staff rushed to the truck and began finishing up their work. During the recovery the weapon fell on the ground. Now when I heard this story I was like, this must be one of the ghost stories remaining / floating around here on this empty base… but in fact. After deep diving into this I found out that on 4 September 2007, the British Military admitted that there had been a accident with a nuclear weapon at RAF Brüggen on 2 May 1984. As the British Military shared in a public news article:
The weapon fell from a transport truck, as the missile wasn’t securely attached to the truck. The weapon was 8 times more powerful than the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. The casing was x-rayed after the incident and found to have been undamaged. The six people who were responsible for the accident, received a reprimand for their actions in the incident.
Now, again I don’t believe in ghost stories or speculations (from hear..say) so I reached out to some people who were based in this period and they all shared the same story/experience what I heard on the golf course:

It happened on 2 May 1984. A nuclear warhead was being moved in a transport vehicle when it’s container slid off a wet trailer as it turned a corner on base (with too high speed). The warhead rolled onto the tarmac and has dented within its container. The base was shut down while the bomb was dismantled and scientists where flown in from the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston in Berkshire, UK to X-ray the warhead. The official release reports show that they were worried about the stability of the high explosives used to trigger the nuclear reaction and the appearance of a “crack-like-feature) on the X-rays. But after 23 days the bomb was safe to transport and was flown back to Aldermaston for decomissioning. Official reports reported wrongful act of failing the attach the bomb container to the trailer and actions were taken to six servicemen. Evidence to the inquire recealed that a regulartion saying that containers must be secured when moved had been routinely ignored since October 1981. Brüggen’s base commander at the time, whose names I’m not allowed to share admitted that the breach had almost become a standard operating procedure, though it was an “outrageously high risk practice”.

So with all these writted above and the 19th hole stories in the clubhouse I think I can safely say that this incident ended with a good turnout no-one got injured and bomb was safely dismantled. But it still is a fantastic story to share with your golf buddies are a round of golf…. Source: Copies of the reports released by the Ministry of Defence on the accident at RAF Brüggen can be downloaded here.

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