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Escadron de Chasse 1/30; Colmar-Meyenheim, August 25, 2008

The Mirages of Normandie-Niemen; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

On Monday, August 25, 2008, I had a base visit at the French airbase Colmar-Meyenheim. Escadron de Chasse 1/30, nicknamed “Normandie-Niemen”, is based at this base. The unit is operational with the Mirage F-1B and the Mirage F-1CT. This field will be closed due to cuts in funds at the beginning of 2009.

Colmar-Meyenheim is also referred to as Base Aérienne 132 (BA132) and it is located near the French German border in the northeastern part of France. The base is located next to the city of Meyenheim between Colmar and Mulhouse in the Haut-Rhin region. Escadron de Chasse 1/30 is based at this French base. This unit is a descendant of the famous Regiment “Normandie-Niemen” which was founded in 1942. The Hunting Party "Normandie-Niemen" was founded in late 1942. The unit was deployed in Lebanon under the name "Normandie". The unit consisted of a group of French fighter pilots and technicians. They were all volunteers from the Normandy region. The unit was sent to the eastern front to support the Soviet army. General de Gaulle thought it was important that French soldiers were fighting against the Nazis on all fronts during the war. The first group consisted of 14 pilots and 58 technicians. There were also 17 Soviet engineers delegated to the unit. The unit moved on November 12, 1942 from Lebanon to settle in Ivanovo after long negotiations with the Soviets. This base was located 250 km northeast of the Russian capital Moscow. The unit fought over there on Russian side during the battle of Kursk-Orel. Joseph Stalin insisted that the French-Russian union would fight for dominance over the river Niemen in July 1944. The unit received many military honors from both the Russian and the French side during this battle. The unit was renamed to "Normandie-Niemen" since that battle. The pilots of this unit were the first soldiers to invade Germany on behalf of France at the end of 1944. The unit returned to France in June 1945. They were received as true heroes during their return at Le-Bourget near Paris.

The unit stayed at Le-Bourget for a short period and later moved to Tousses-Le-Noble. The unit moved to Rabat-Salé in Morocco in 1947. The regiment was based in Saigon during the Indochina War. Subsequently the unit was established in Algeria in North Africa. In 1953 the regiment was split into two separated divisions, namely; an army

division and an air force unit. The air force unit became the Escadron de Chasse 2/6 “Normandy-Niemen”. The unit became a part of Escadron de Chasse 30 after the disbandment of the Escadron de Chasse 6. The unit became Escadron de Chasse 2/30 “Normandie-Niemen”. The squadron returned to France in 1962 when it was based at Orange in the southeast of France. Again, the unit did not stay here for a long period, because in 1966 the unit moved to Reims. The unit stayed at Reims for almost 30 years. The unit is operational with the Mirage F-1 since the moment it came to Reims until today. The unit celebrated its fiftieth anniversary on September 18, 1992. In 1993 the unit was moved again to another location. This time it was moved from Reims to the current location Colmar-Meyenheim. The unit still kept the name of Escadron de Chasse 2/30 when it moved to Colmar. In 2008 the name of the unit was changed to Escadron de Chasse 1/30 “Normandie-Niemen”, because the unit Escadron de Chasse 1/30 “Alsace” was disbanded. The future of the unit is nowadays uncertain. The French will close Colmar-Meyenheim due to cuts in funds in 2009.

I arrived at Colmar-Meyenheim at 10 am after a drive of more than 6 hours by car. My visit at the base was planned at 1 pm and therefore I had enough time to take pictures of the landing Mirages during the morning flight. There was not much flying activity during the morning hours. The first Mirage F-1 was ready for departure thirty minutes after my arrival. The red special paint Mirage left the base. This was unfortunately the only Mirage which left the airbase. This Mirage F-1B made more than 10 approaches at Colmar and therefore it was not difficult to capture the machine on photo. I was luckier later in the morning. Two Mirage F-1CT’s were inbound the base. It seemed these machines had left the base before I arrived today. Two Mirage F-1CT's approached the runway for landing. The two aircraft were flying in a tight formation during the landing. This resulted in a number of beautiful shots. The morning flight was back at Colmar after the landing of these three machines. Therefore I moved to the main gate of the base for my visit in the afternoon. I did not have to wait for a long time before I was picked up by my guide. The guides were a Mirage pilot and a lady of the PR section. We received a short presentation about the base and its tasks, its equipment and its personnel in a small briefing room. The presentation did not last long and soon we moved towards the flight line. There were a few Mirages on the platform and I was able to take photos of them.

A few Mirages left Colmar earlier during our presentation. These two Mirages came back to Colmar when we stood along the runway. The two Mirage F-1CT's were both equipped with a large centerline tank. This centerline tank is characteristic for the Mirage F-1CT. The aircraft appeared on the taxi track at the left side of the shelter camp and it is connected to the runway system. The Mirages made a right turn and they both taxied toward us. This resulted in very nice photos. We had a beautiful green background. The first Mirage taxied along us and it turned towards the sun shelter where we were located. I was therefore able to shoot photos of the Mirage when it taxied into the sun shelter. This gave me some unique photos and the light on the Mirage was great. The second Mirage was parked in front of a normal shelter next to the sun shelter where we stood. I was able to shoot nice photos of this machine as well. When we photographed the two Mirages, we walked to the hangar where the special paint Mirage was located. This machine was pulled out of the hangar especially for us and we had the chance to shoot the Mirage F-1B from all sides. Another amount of Mirages were starting up in the meanwhile. After a while two Mirage F-1B’s appeared. I took a few photos of these light blue machines. This variant of the Mirage F-1 is very old and it was good to see these aircraft. My visit at Colmar was over after the departure of those Mirages. It was a short but good visit with good pictures.

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