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Base Aérienne d'Étain-Rouvres; August 24, 2016

3 Régiment d'Hélicoptères de Combat; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

The French airbase Étain-Rouvres is currently used by the French Army. The third Régiment d’Hélicoptères de Combat (3RHC) is stationed on this airbase. This unit is operating the Sud Aviation AS330 Puma and the Aerospatiale AS341/342 Gazelle. Étain is located in northeast of France near the border with Luxembourg.

The airport Étain-Rouvres was built by the French Air Force in 1937. The first plane which was stationed at the new airbase was a tactical reconnaissance aircraft of the type Bloch MB.131. During the Battle of France in 1940, the RAF no 72 Squadron was stationed at this airbase operating the Hawker Hurricane. After the defeat of France in June 1940, the airfield was taken over by the German Luftwaffe. After the liberation of the area by the Third Army of the United States, three squadrons of the 362nd Fighter Group (362 FG) were stationed at Étain; the group was flying the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt between November 5, 1944 and the beginning of April 1945. The airbase was in January 1945, attacked by aircraft from JG-53 during the operation Bodenplatte 1 when Germany launched a counteroffensive. After the Second World War, the 362FG received an award for its work in the area of the Mosel-Rhine triangle. The airfield Étain-Rouvres was not used until the early 50s when the negotiations began between NATO and the United States. The United States wanted to station aircraft from that moment in France to support Europe. The modernization of Étain took place after the selection of the airbase was proposed in May 1952. Eventually an agreement was signed on the establishment of a NATO base and a squadron of tactical fighter-bombers of the USAF was based at Étain at the end of 1954. The renovation of the airbase was delayed almost a year due to budgetary issues. Although the facilities were there for the USAF by the end of 1954, the base became only fully operational in the summer of 1956.

The "Flight C 'of the 73rd Support Group from Chateauroux-Deols Air Base was the first USAF unit which started to work at Étain from February 1, 1953. The mission of this unit was preparing the airport and building new facilities for the USAF. The 7005th Air Base Squadron was activated for setting up the airbase. The airbase was organized according to the classic pattern of a NATO airfield in that period. Étain Air

base got therefore three ovals shelter areas and a runway in the middle of the new airbase. The 388th Fighter Bomber Wing (388FBW) was the first operational unit of the USAF which would use Étain Air Base. The unit came from Clovis Air Force Base in New Mexico and moved to France in December 1954. The wing consisted of three squadrons, namely; the 561, the 562 and the 563 Fighter Bomber Squadrons. The main mission of the 388FBW was to use tactical nuclear weapons against the enemy when this was needed. The secondary mission of the unit was the use of conventional ground weapons. The 388 FBW began its conversion to F-100D Super Sabre in the autumn of 1956. The unit was relieved from duty on December 8, 1957, by the 49th Fighter Bomber Wing which came from Misawa Air Base in Japan. The three squadrons were renamed to the 7th, 8th and 9th Fighter Bomber Squadron. From July 8, 1958, the name of the wing and its squadrons were renumbered to the 49th Tactical Fighter Wing. Following a ban on the deployment of nuclear weapons in France in 1957, the 49th TFW had to leave Étain. The 49th TFW moved to Spangdahlem.

During the Berlin crisis in 1961, the 7121st Tactical Fighter Wing was activated on September 5, 1961. Also the 121st Tactical Fighter Wing of the Air National Guard of Ohio was for a period of 12 months stationed at Étain. The first unit of the Air National Guard of Ohio arrived at Étain on November 4, 1961. The 121 TFW was equipped with the F-84F Thunderstreak. Eventually the Thunderstreak was permanently stationed on Étain. The squadrons of the wing were 24 hours a day ready to attack the enemy from the Warsaw pact with their armed F-84Fs. The 7121 TFW started to move its personnel to Ohio in July 1962. All materials, including the Thunderstreaks were used to create the new 391th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Étain. The 391st Tactical Fighter Squadron was based on Étain on May 8, 1962. The unit was related to the 366th Tactical Fighter Wing at Chaumont-Semoutiers Air Base. This unit would continue to fly from Étain until July 19, 1963. From that moment the US authorities decided to deploy the 366th Tactical Fighter Wing at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. The French President Charles de Gaulle announced the American withdrawal from France on March 7, 1966. The United States had to retried all military troops from France before April 1, 1967. Étain was from that moment handed over to France.

Since the departure of the Americans, the French stationed the 3rd Regiment d’Hélicoptères de Combat (3RHC) at Étain. This unit was equipped with the Puma SA330 and the SA341 & SA342 Gazelle and is still using these types nowadays. The 3RHC currently consists of two large flying battalions. The first battalion was the battalion reconnaissance and attack helicopters (Bataillon d’Hélicoptères de Reconnaissance et d'Attaque, BHRA) and is equipped with the SA341 and SA342 Gazelle. The battalion consists of three squadrons of reconnaissance and attack helicopters (Escadrille d’Hélicoptères de Reconnaissance et d'Attaque, EHRA) and a maintenance squadron for light helicopters (Escadrille de Maintenance Hélicoptères Légers, EMHL). The second major battalion is the battalion transport helicopters (Bataillon d’Hélicoptères the Manœuvre et d'Assaut, BHMA). This battalion consists of two squadrons with transport helicopters (Escadrilles d’Hélicoptères the Manœuvre, EHM) and a maintenance squadron of transport helicopters (Escadrille the Maintenance Hélicoptères de Manœuvre, EMHM). At Étain there is also an airmobile support battalion (Bataillon d'Appui Aéromobile, BAA) stationed. This battalion consists of a commando and logistics squadron (Escadrille de Commandement et Logistique, ECL), an airport services squadron (Escadrille de Services d'Aérodrome ESA) and an air defense and security squadron (Escadrille de Defense et Protection EDP). Étain is today one of the most important helicopter airfields of the French Army.

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