• Kagohl3 War Diary •

• Airfields •


All the airfields used by Kagohl 3/Boghol 3 and Rfa 501 when attacking England were located in East Flanders, at least forty miles behind the front line, and in close proximity to the Belgian city of Ghent which is about 170 miles, or some 2½ hours flying time, from London for a fully loaded Gotha.

Gontrode

Gontrode aerodrome, located to the south-east of Ghent, was laid out in 1914 by the German occupation forces. Although a satellite of St Dinijs-Westrem, it was a fully fledged airfield, and was initially used to undertake operations over the Western Front. In 1915 it was expanded to include an airship base, Gontrode being chosen rather than St Denijs-Westrem because the latter was too small, bombed too often by Allied aircraft, and Gontrode was further away from centres of population. A massive hangar was built to house an airship, known by locals as "Het Kot" (The Shack) or "De Tent" (The Tent). Depending on the source, it measured 180 meters in length, had a height of 15 or 49 meters and a width of 40 or 86 meters. Initially intended for the use of Zeppelin airships, the hangar was later used to house all the aeroplanes on the aerodrome. On the opposite side of the airfield, near the windmill at Lemberge, a large balloon, locally known as "'t Verken van de Keizer" (the Kaiser's Hog) was often flown. It served as a beacon, initially for airships, but later also for pilots of bomber aeroplanes trying to locate their home base.  On 22 February 1915 the first Zeppelin (LZ 33) landed at Gontrode, but only as it approached the hangar did it turn on its floodlights. It was not until 6.30 the next morning that local people saw the airship, which was already setting off for Brussels. From then on the night skies were frequently disturbed by airships. LZ 33 was shot down shortly after, and its replacement, LZ 235, was used mainly to bomb targets on the Western Front. In the course of an attack on Paris during the night of 20/21 March 1915 LZ 235 was severely damaged, and it only just managed to limp back to Gontrode. Shortly after, LZ 37 was shot down over Gontrode while returning from a night attack on London. The aerodrome then ceased being a support base for Zeppelins as it was deemed to be no longer safe from enemy attack. Consequently, only emergency landings were permitted. On 18 April 1915 Gontrode was bombed by a B.E.2c from an altitude of below 200 feet. In spite of heavy AA and machine-gun fire being put up, it managed to escape, but the pilot had succeeded in dropping two hand grenades, and although one fell just short of the hangar, the other hit it severely damaging the roof. For this action Captain Lanoe Hawker, of No.6 Squadron RFC, received the DSO on 22 April. It appears that he had used the tethered balloon to help shield him from enemy ground fire as he made successive attacks. In early April 1917 Kagohl 3 took over Gontrode aerodrome from where, in late May, Kasta 15 and Kasta 16 began daylight attacks on England with their Gotha G.IV bombers. To operate these aircraft two crossed runways were specially constructed on the airfield. In early September, at a time when the first Gotha G.Vs were starting to be issued to Kagohl 3, a switch was made from daylight to night time attacks on England. On 22 September 1917, the first of Rfa 501’s Staaken R-planes had arrived at Sint Denijs-Westrem, and these R-planes later moved to Gontrode. However, beginning on 25 September Kagohl 3’s aerodromes were attacked by the Allies nearly every day and night for over a week. The RFC concentrated on Gontrode dropping hundreds of darts in addition to high explosives, and on 29 September the old airship hangar was set on fire. Gontrode was raided the following evening while the Gothas were attacking England, although damaging hits were few. This steady Allied bombing forced the dispersal of the Kasten concentrated at Gontrode, and so Kasta 15 and Kasta 16 were moved to Mariakerke, causing Kasta 17 and Kasta 18 to relocate from Mariakerke to Oostakker. In addition, Stab Kagohl 3 moved from the Villa Drory, near Gontrode, to a large house owned by Countess Hemptin in Ghent itself. This left some of the R-planes of Rfa 501 still at Gontrode, where they remained until 7 March 1918, when the increased intensity of Allied raids obliged them to transfer to Scheldewindeke, which was equipped with a specially constructed concrete apron. The Germans finally vacated Gontrode in October 1918, and after the ceasefire they destroyed most of what was left, including the large hangar. In 1920 the airfield was almost completely demolished leaving only two concrete shelters, which can still be found just west of the village of Gontrode.

Sint Denijs-Westrem

Set in the Flanders plain a little over four miles to the south-west of Ghent, with woodland on two sides, was Sint Denijs-Westrem aerodrome, designated Armee Flugpark IV. It was built in 1917 during the German occupation of Belgium, to act as the main airfield to house half the Gotha bombers initially assigned to Kagohl 3, which were to undertake raids on England. It was first occupied in early April 1917 by the Gotha IVs of Kasta 13 and Kasta 14 units which, from late May until late August 1917, undertook daylight attacks. In early September, at a time when the first Gotha G.Vs were starting to be issued to Kagohl 3, a switch was made from daylight to night time attacks on England, while on 22 September 1917, the first of Rfa 501’s Staaken R-planes arrived at Sint Denijs-Westrem, only to be redeployed later to Gontrode. However, beginning on 25 September Kagohl 3’s aerodromes were attacked by the Allies nearly every day and night for over a week, and Sint Denijs-Westrem received eight tons of bombs from the RNAS. On the evening of 30 September, while the Gothas were attacking England, Sint Denijs-Westrem was bombed, and as a result a blazing hangar could be seen nearly 50 kilometers away. The Germans finally vacated the aerodrome in October 1918. In 1940 the airfield was briefly used by a Flying School transferred there from Wevelgem, while during the occupation the Germans enlarged the airfield considerably, and converted it into a fighter base. It also acted as a repair depot for the fighters of JG 26 at Wevelgem and Moorsele en Rijsel. The airfield never became abase for offensive operations, but was instead used by liaison aircraft in support of the Luftwaffe headquarters at the Palace Hotel in Ghent. Later poles were driven into the field to hinder Allied landings. After being liberated in 1944 it was pressed into British service as Advanced Landing Ground B-61, and converted into a major forward operating base. On 11 October 1944 three Polish squadrons from the RAF’s No. 131 Wing landed their Spitfire IXs at Sint Denijs-Westrem. Because of the proximity of the airfield to a hospital many USAAF bombers also used the airfield as an intermediate to bring wounded airmen in for medical treatment. On 1 January 1945 the Luftwaffe managed to launch a massive attack on the airfield using Focke-Wulf 190s, and countless aircraft were destroyed on the ground. Near the end of the raid the Polish fighters that had been flying over the Netherlands during the attack returned just as the Germans were starting to fly home, and a massive aerial battle ensued in the skies over Ghent, despite both sides being short on fuel. In total 32 Polish and 21 German aircraft were lost in the battle, which killed 11 Germans, two Polish, one Canadian and three ground support crew. In 1946 the military handed over control to civilian authorities, and the airfield became Ghent’s official airport. However, it shrank considerably with the construction of the E40 motorway to the south in 1954, and again when the Ring Canal on the north side of the airport was completed in 1969, while the airport closed completely in 1985 to make way for the Flanders Expo. Today nothing remains of the former airfield. Nevertheless, a monument to commemorate the Polish airmen was erected in 1974, and local people and businesses began calling a nearby street Poolse Winglaan (Polish Wing Lane), a name that became official on 27 September 2010.

Mariakerke

Mariakerke airfield, set in rich agricultural land just to the north-west of Ghent, was completed in July 1917 to house the Gotha IVs allocated to Kagohl 3’s newly formed Kasta 17 and Kasta 18. However, beginning on 25 September Kagohl 3’s aerodromes were attacked by the Allies nearly every day and night for over a week. This forced the dispersal of the Kasten concentrated at Gontrode, and so Kasta 15 and Kasta 16 were moved to Mariakerke, causing Kasta 17 and Kasta 18 to relocate from Mariakerke to Oostakker. Mariakerke was abandoned after the war, and although there was a memorial column which recalled the presence of the German airfield, in the 1958 the construction of a housing estate swept away the last remnants of the aerodrome itself. Nevertheless, nearby a single street is named the Vliegpleinkoute, while there can still be found the remains of a destroyed bunker in the front garden of a house.

Oostakker

Oostakker airfield, located three miles north-east of Ghent, was opened in July 1917 as an additional satellite aerodrome of Sint Dinijs-Westrem, and by early October had become home to the Gothas bombers of Kagohl 3’s Kasta 17 and 18. By the end of World War I the airfield had been closed, and in the 1930 the site was used to store a large quantity of sand from the dredging of the Sifferdok in the port of Ghent. During World War II the Germans used a small part of the former airfield as a camp, and after the war the dredged sands were slowly removed. Consequently, today the area is officially known as "Zandontginning 't Vliegveld te Lochristi en Oostakker (Gent)", the ‘airfield sandpit at Lochristi and Oostakker (Ghent)'. The old aerodrome site is now probably bounded by Veldstraat and Oude Veldstraat on the north side; by Driesselstraat the Volvo Trucks premises to the west; the current N70 to the south; and on the east by the current Hijftestraat.

Scheldewindeke

The aerodrome was located to the south-east of Ghent, and south of a cobbled road between Dendermonde and Oudenaarde called the Lange Munte. The airfield actually lay between the current smaller roads named Keerken, Schaperstraat and Munckbosstraat. It was built during the winter of 1917/18, and on 7 March 1918 the increased intensity of Allied raids on Gontrode obliged Rfa 501 to transfer their Staaken R-planes to Scheldewindeke, which was equipped with a specially constructed concrete apron. It was abandoned after the war, and today the only thing left to remind us of the presence of the aerodrome are the substantial remains of the concrete foundations of the large hangar sticking out of pasture land.