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311 ”Ut Aquila Praedans”, 1951 – 2011; Volkel, May 8, 2011

The End of the Brabant Eagle; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

The no 311 Squadron at Volkel Air Base was the next victim of the major cutbacks of the defense department on April 8, 2011. The Royal Netherlands Air Force was forced to disband again another F-16 squadron. On May 8, 2011, the no 311 Squadron at Volkel Air Base was disbanded after a history of more than 60 years.

In 1940 the Germans began constructing an airfield near the village of Odiliapeel. It was a night landing spot for fighters of the German Luftwaffe. This air base was an important strategic position during the Second World War. The Allied bombers followed the major rivers in the Netherlands to the Ruhr area in Germany during the war. This happened mostly in the night. The rivers were a major landmark at that time. Deelen Air Base had the same task as Volkel Air Base on the north side of the big rivers. Volkel was used by several German units during the Second World War. Volkel Air Base was officially re-established on April 1, 1950 as an air base of the Royal Netherlands Air Force. The 1st Tactical Fighter Group was founded in 1951 at Volkel. The group consisted of the no 311 Squadron and the no 312 Squadron. The no 311 Squadron was the first flying squadron at Volkel Air Base and it was founded on May 1, 1951. The unit flew during its first year with the Republic F-84E Thunderjet. The tasks of the no 311 Squadron at that moment were; air defense, ground attack and support of ground troops. The unit was equipped with the Republic F-84F Thunderstreak from 1955. The no 311 Squadron received together with the no 312 Squadron a new task from 1960. This task was a strategic task. The Americans decided to support the European air forces against a possible mass attack by the Soviets. The support came as a part of the NATO program for the protection of Europe. For this reason, the NATO decided to place multiple nuclear weapons on several air bases in Europe. Volkel was one of those airfields. The Americans placed several bunkers at Volkel to maintain these weapons at the air base. The aircraft of no 311 Squadron were prepared for operating during the doomsday scenario for a nuclear attack on the east. The Dutch government denies the existence of nuclear weapons at Volkel until today.

In 1962, the SACEUR (Supreme Allied Commander Europe) requires that Volkel needed a Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) facility. Aircraft were standby for action 24 hours

a day, 7 days a week. This authority made also the recommendation to build concrete aircraft shelters in 1969. The no 311 Squadron was the first squadron at Volkel Air Base which received the F-104G Starfighter. The Starfighter arrived at Volkel Air Base in 1965. In total, the unit flew 17 years with this type of aircraft. The Starfighter was replaced by the F-16 Fighting Falcon in 1982. The unit is still operational with this type. The no 311 Squadron has with the exception of the NATO Response Force (NRF) task, the same tasks as no 312 Squadron and no 313 Squadron. The NRF is a part of the NATO which can be deployed rapidly and globally if politics demands it. The organization can mobilize up to 25,000 NATO troops within five days around the world if the NATO requires that the NRF is needed. The unit is used for both the air support task and the air defense task; this is called the 'swing role' principle. This means that the unit can switch very rapidly between these tasks. The badge of the unit consists of a blue circle with a picture of a hunting eagle. The eagle on the emblem of the no 311 Squadron symbolizes the determination and speed during the executing of its duties. The text "Ut Aquila Praedans" means "Watch the Eagle in Action". This statement symbolizes how the squadron is operating.

The no 311 Squadron was sent abroad several times just like the other F-16 units in the Netherlands. The relations between countries changed much after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The task of the Air Force changed dramatically. Volkel Air Base was confronted with this for the first time in 1994. 250 people were sent to the Italian air base Villafranca. The Dutch detachment took part in the operation "Deny Flight" in the former Yugoslavia. The Dutch F-16s patrolled over the no fly zone over Bosnia to guard the area which was under UN control. The Dutch F-16s operated over the former Yugoslavia until 2000. In October 2002, several F-16s from Volkel Air Base had a contribution to the international operation "Enduring Freedom". The no 311 Squadron flew several bombing missions in the fight against international terrorism. Dutch troops were operating together with Danish and Norwegian colleagues from Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan. Dutch F-16s provided close air support to ground forces in Afghanistan from the international airport in Kabul from 2006.

On April 8, 2011, the Minister of Defense Hans Hillen announced the upcoming cuts to defense. The Cabinet agreed to these major cutbacks. Minister Hillen has to save 1 billion Euros the next few years. Switching off the equipment is already being implemented on May 8, 2011. The Defense department will shrink with 18%. Almost 30% of all staff functions will disappear next year. 12,000 positions of 69,000 will disappear within the Defense department. In reality this means that over 6,000 people are forced to leave the army. The remainder will be natural attrition. The amount of 119 generals will be reduced to 80. 70 to 100 positions in the German-Dutch Corps headquarters will disappear. Also, there are about 100 Dutch jobs in the command structure of NATO which will disappear. In total 4 of the 10 Navy mine hunters, 2 of the 2 patrol ships and 1 of the 2 supply ships will be withdrawn from use. All the Leopard tanks of the Army will be retired. This means that the 2 tank battalions will be disbanded and the 60 tanks will be sold. Besides this, also 6 Howitzer tanks will be sold. The Air Force will not be spared in this operation. The no 300 Squadron Gilze-Rijen will retire all Cougar helicopters. A total of 19 F-16s will be withdrawn from use at Leeuwarden and Volkel. A total of 69 F-16s will remain in active duty. Finally, the third DC-10 which was recently purchased will be rejected immediately. The divestiture of the F-16 has big consequences for the no 311 Squadron at Volkel Air Base. The unit will be disbanded due to these cutbacks on May 8, 2011. The unit will be disbanded after a history of 60 years.

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