United States Air Force in France

During the early years of the Cold War, the United States Air Force deployed thousands of personnel and hundreds of combat aircraft to France to counter the buildup of Soviet forces in Eastern Europe.

In the autumn of 1967 all foreign military bases were closed down and since then only French military bases exist within the borders of the French fifth Republic (date=nov 2012).

The Cold War that developed in Europe during 1948 and escalated into the attempted seizure of West Berlin, convinced the western nations to form a common defense organization. Discussions led to a multinational defense agreement that evolved into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). A central NATO defense strategy was the use of tactical air power to offset the Soviet Union.

Due to the vulnerability of West Germany to Soviet attack, USAF planners did not want any new tactical air units moved into the US "Zone of Occupation" there. By 1950, the United States Air Force in Europe (USAFE) wanted all tactical air units to be located west of the Rhine River to provide greater air defense warning time and France agreed to provide air base sites.

Between 1950 and 1967 the United States Air Force operated 11 major air bases in France. They were:

  • Bordeaux-Mérignac Air Base
  • Chambley-Bussières Air Base
  • Châteauroux-Déols Air Base
  • Chaumont-Semoutiers Air Base
  • Dreux-Louvilliers Air Base
  • Étain-Rouvres Air Base
  • Évreux-Fauville Air Base
  • Laon-Couvron Air Base
  • Paris-Orly Air Base
  • Phalsbourg-Bourscheid Air Base
  • Toul-Rosières Air Base

There were other communications sites, NATO Dispersed Operating Bases, Sub-Depots and minor facilities at several French Airports, such as Paris-Orly Airport and Marseille which are not shown on this map. The United States Army also established a significant presence in France, and was responsible for much of the construction and maintenance of the Air Bases established there.

The NATO Dispersed Operating Bases was a programme begun in 1953 by USAFE. They were constructed in France and were completed in about two years. Each was built to a standard NATO design of a 7,900-foot (2,408 m) runway. Four DOBs were built for USAFE use. They were designed to have the capability to base about 30 aircraft, along with a few permanent buildings serviced with utilities and space for a tent city to house personnel.

The first NATO tenant in France was the USAF Military Air Transport Service (MATS) 1630th Air Base Squadron, activated in June 1950 at Paris - Orly Air Base. On 28 February 1958 the official name of Orly Air Base was changed to Orly Airport and most MATS flights were routed to Chateauroux-Deols Air Base.

After 15 years of USAFE basing in France General Charles De Gaulle decided end end the integration. On 7 March 1966, he announced that France would withdraw from NATO's integrated military structure but not leave the political organization. He gave NATO forces one year to depart France.

The State Department, Department of Defense (DOD), and Air Force carefully managed the news about the American departure from France, and the attendant problems of an integrated NATO air defense for western Europe and the decrease in tactical airpower. Due media was focus on Vietnam the removal of NATO forces from France went virtually unreported in the US.

During 1966-67 all USAF offices and facilities in France were closed and personnel and equipment moved to other NATO countries. The last USAFE activities were the 1630th Air Base Squadron at Orly Airport and the Paris Administration Office. Both were closed in June 1967. A C-47 variant, the C-117B "Super Skytrain" Serial 45-2549 was the last USAF aircraft to leave France, departing from Orly on 31 May 1967.

On 23 October 1967, all foreign flags were furled and after 17 years the last NATO forces departed France.

Today most of the old USAF air bases in France are being used by the French military and are not accessible to tourists.

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