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Bismarck Airbases
By Kristin Ann High
November 2015

One of the difficulties Avalanche Press’ Second World War at Sea series (SWWAS) has to deal with is the problem of scale. The seas and oceans of the world are truly vast spaces, dotted here and there by land masses, with the occasional continent to get around. To make an operational-tactical-level naval wargame workable, the basic scale must accommodate that staggering expanse of featureless sea while still providing important landmarks, naval bases, and airfields — all of which exist in a much more restrictive land environment.

One can shove a lot of airfields, ports, docks, and landing beaches into a 36-mile square. More and more, Avalanche Press games have moved to simply naming the major port facilities and using grid square references to identify airbases. This approach has numerous advantages and no real disadvantages, considering SWWAS is a naval game.

For a country like Great Britain, where the east, and most particularly the Midlands and the southeast, were positively overrun with airfields, shoving eighteen airfields into one of the few squares representing Norfolk or Kent would look flat-out ugly. The same holds true across the Channel, particularly as the Luftwaffe or German Air Force (GAF) moved up to wage the daylight air campaign against Great Britain, and later to defend the occupied West and the Reich against the American daylight bombing campaign.

Airbases therefore have numbers, not names. Very sensible. Within the SWWAS game engine it is a simple matter to give a single airbase an approximation of the air strength of the several airfields it represents, assign an Ack-Ack number roughly equal to the average strength of a typical airfield’s defenses, and call it good. This approach also avoids the problems of explaining, in the rules, where fighter aircraft may be based, versus bomber aircraft, versus reconnaissance aircraft, versus naval aircraft. And it obviates the problems of when airfields became active or were deactivated, or which airfields were turned over to the Americans — who also had separate fighter group and bomber group airfields — or were retaken by the Allies.

The trouble is, I just can’t stand it — there have to be names. I don’t want to order an air strike from Airbase AM47 against the German Naval Task Force counter sighted by the British Naval Task Force counter No. 7, attempting the passage of the Iceland-Faroes Gap. I want to order the Fleet Air Arm (FAA — technically replaced by the Air Branch of the Royal Navy in 1936 but still called by its old name) to launch an attack with all available strength from rnas Hatston (AM47), and request Coastal Command to launch every Beaufort, Anson and Hudson it has flyable at RAF Ronaldsway (AV42) at the German naval squadron spotted by Catalinas flying out of RAF Sullom Voe (AK50), less than four hours ago (this turn).

I want to request all battle-ready Bomber Command aircraft be made available to attack the German squadron, and wind up with ten grudging steps of Wellingtons, scattered all over Great Britain, requiring me to spend precious time concentrating them all on one airfield within strike range of my quarry, fighting the clock (daylight turns) and praying my Catalina recce flights do not lose contact, all the while raising steam in every available heavy unit in Home Waters, and ordering Force ‘H’ at Gibraltar to raise steam and sail towards Iceland as quickly as possible.

OK, so I’m a drama queen. You have to admit, it sounds exciting.

This article comprises the names I’ve chosen for the airbases in Bismarck. Where there were many operational airfields in the area encompassed by an airbase’s grid square, I tried to choose the largest, the most famous or the most representative. Sometimes I’ve had to just guess, and I’m good with that.

Generally, the airfields of continental Europe belong the German Air Force (GAF), and those elsewhere belong to the British Empire (the RAF or the FAA). All airbases portrayed on the Bismarck map comprise both fighter and bomber airfields, and therefore may have any sort of fighter or bomber aircraft based on them.

Flying boats — Sunderlands, Catalinas and the American PBM Mariner — are restricted to operating from seaplane bases; in general this means from Ports, but some of the airbases portrayed on the map do include nearby flying boat facilities, and these will be noted in the airbase descriptions.

Allied Major Airbases Axis Major Airbases
AM47 RAF Wick AL52 Oslo
AP47 RAF Dyce AL57 Stavanger
AR45 RAF Leuchars, Scotland AN57 Bergen
AS47 RAF Drem, Scotland AV60 Nejle
AT41 RAF Aldergrove AZ57 Nordholz
AV47 RAF North Coates, England BB53 Soesterberg
AW44 RAF Hooten Park BE49 Abbeville
AY47 RAF Digby, England BE50 Lille
AZ47 RAF Bircham Newton, England BF44 Cherbourg
BB43 RAF Filton, England BJ39 Brest
BC45 RAF Tangmere, England BK39 Quimper
BC47 RAF Kenly, England BN43 Vannes
Allied Minor Airbases BX45 Bordeaux
AK50 RAF Sullom Voe Axis Minor Airbases
AL47 RNAS Hatston AR51 Aalborg
AV42 RAF Ronaldsway    
BC40 RAF St. Eval    
BC42 RAF Exeter    
U26 RAF Reykjavik    

1. Allied Airfields

1.1. Allied Major Airbases

The major airbases represent the group, sector and squadron airfields, satellite airfields, secondary and emergency landing fields, sector stations, RDF and HFDF networks, and listening posts and Observer Corps (OC), protecting major industrial, commercial, agricultural, or military centres throughout the United Kingdom. All RAF major airbases have an Aircraft Capacity of 60 steps, and an Anti-Aircraft (A/A) Defense of 20 A/A factors.

1.1.1. RAF Wick (AM47)

The airbase RAF Wick comprises the airfields defending the Upper Coast of Scotland, the Scottish Western Isles, and the Pentland Firth. In addition, RAF Wick provide both offensive and defensive striking power for the Home Fleet Anchorage across the Pentland Firth in Scapa Flow (AL47).

1.1.2. RAF Dyce (AP47)

The airbase RAF Dyce represents the group, sector and squadron airbases, secondary and emergency landing fields, sector stations, and rdf networks protecting the economic centre of the Scottish Highlands, the city of Aberdeen, Scotland.

1.1.3. RAF Leuchars, Scotland (AR45)

The airbase RAF Leuchars represents a ring of fighter, bomber and coastal command stations that surround the great industrial and naval centres of Dundee and Perth, Scotland, as well the fleet base at Rosyth (AR45) in the Firth of Forth. RAF Leuchars also operates land- and sea-based aircraft of the Royal Navy. Thus, RAF Leuchars may operate flying boats (‘S’ Type).

1.1.4. RAF Drem, Scotland (AR45)

The airbase RAF Drem represents the airfields defending the important industrial centre of Edinburgh, Scotland, and the coastline of East Lothian.

1.1.5. RAF North Coates, England (AV47)

The airbase RAF North Coates represents the airfields defending the coast of Lincolnshire, the northern entrance to the Channel, and watching the Northern French, Belgian, and Danish ports.

1.1.6. RAF Digby, England (AY47)

The airbase Digby represents the Fighter Command airfields defending southern Lincolnshire, northern Norfolk, and The Wash, and the offensive striking power of the many Bomber Command aerodrômes concentrated inland.

1.1.7. RAF Bircham Newton, England (AZ47)

The airbase Bircham Newton represents the airfields defending the coast of Norfolk, the Channel ports, and the approaches to London, as well as the offensive power of Bomber Command aircraft stationed inland, and the Coastal Command aircraft engaged in anti-shipping patrols, mine-laying and defense of the Southern entrance to the Channel.

1.1.8. RAF Kenly, England (BC47)

The airbase Kenly represents the massive air defenses of London, and the potential invasion sites of south-eastern England, particularly Kent. The defensive strength of Fighter Command in this region is the strongest of anywhere in Great Britain, and there are a number of important Coastal Command bases to provide offensive power and reconnaissance in this region, as well.

1.1.9. RAF Tangmere, England (BC45)

The airbase Tangmere represents the air defenses of the great English naval base of Portsmouth, and its surrounding commercial ports and sprawling industrial support, including Southampton and the Isle of Wight, across The Solent. The combined defensive strength of Fighter Command and offensive strength of Coastal Command in this region is the strongest of any locality in Great Britain.

1.1.10. RAF Filton, England (BB43)

The airbase Filton represents the air defenses of the Bristol Channel ports — Cardiff, Bristol, and Gloucester — and the offensive striking power of the Bomber Command bases in the areas between Bristol and the defenses of Portsmouth. Powerful land-based reconnaissance, patrol, and ASW strength is also represented, protecting the vital Bristol Channel and the southern entrance to the Irish Sea (a part of the much larger wwii ‘Western Approaches’ command).

1.1.11. RAF Aldergrove (AT41)

The airbase Aldergrove represents the air defenses, reconnaissance and patrol forces, and ASW forces concentrated around Belfast and Londonderry, Northern Ireland. The airfields and aircraft stationed in Northern Ireland were essential to the protection of commercial shipping and troop convoys bound for Home Waters. Also, after the examination of German magnetic mines, Belfast was a major degaussing station. Nearly all ships transiting to Great Britain for the first time — including the famous Town-class destroyers — went via Belfast to be degaussed, before proceeding to Liverpool, Bristol, or The Clyde, as the Germans had proven their ability to sow mines in these waters.

1.1.12. RAF Hooten Park (AW44)

The airbase Hooten Park represents the air defenses, reconnaissance and patrol forces, and ASW forces concentrated around Liverpool, England, the principal port of the Western Approaches, absolutely vital to Great Britain’s commercial cargo traffic.

1.2. Allied Minor Airbases

The minor airbases represent the squadron and satellite airfields, secondary and emergency landing fields, RDF and HFDF ("Huff Duff") networks, protecting restricted areas, smaller installations, or less vital centres of industry and commerce. All RAF minor airbases have an Aircraft Capacity of 20 steps, and an A/A strength of 14 A/A factors.

1.2.1. RAF Sullom Voe (AK50)

The airbase RAF Sullom Voe represents the the airfields defending the North Sea passages through or above the Shetland Islands, and the passages south towards the fleet base at Scapa Flow (AL47). Although comprised mostly of Coastal Command aircraft — primarily Catalina flying boats — the forces at Sullom Voe also include land-based reconnaissance and patrol aircraft, and land-based ASW aircraft were sometimes staged out of the Shetlands. The airbase was capable of supporting Fighter Command aircraft, though most single-engine fighters operating from the Shetlands were recce aircraft. Obviously, RAF Sullom Voe may operate flying boats (‘S’ type aircraft).

1.2.2. RNAS Hatston (AL47)

The airbase RNAS Hatston represents the airfields defending the Home Fleet anchorage of Scapa Flow (AL47), providing long-range reconnaissance and patrols guarding the German Navy’s access routes to the North Sea, which includes the Norwegian ports and fjords after April 1940. The Royal Naval air station at Hatston includes flying boat facilities, land-based facilities for FAA carrier aircraft, and facilities for land-based fighter, reconnaissance and patrol aircraft of the Royal Air Force. RNAS Hatston may operate flying boats (‘S’ type aircraft).

1.2.3. RAF Exeter (BC42)

The airbase RAF Exeter represents the airfields protecting the Devonshire coast between Portsmouth and Plymouth, and the land-based reconnaissance, patrol, and ASW striking power of Coastal and Bomber Command airfields.

1.2.4. RAF St. Eval (BC40)

The airbase RAF St. Eval represents the airfields protecting the southern Western Approaches. Primarily a series of Coastal Command airfields from which flying boats and land-based reconnaissance, patrol, and ASW aircraft range out into the North Atlantic, RAF St. Eval also represents a major Fighter Command base and a number of smaller Bomber Command bases. RAF St. Eval may operate flying boats (‘S’ type aircraft).

1.2.5. RAF Ronaldsway (AV42)

The airbase RAF Ronaldsway represents the airfields protecting the Scottish Western Isles and the northern entrance to the Irish Sea. Primarily a series of Coastal Command airfields from which flying boats and land-based reconnaissance, patrol, and ASW aircraft range out into the North Sea and watch the important Iceland-Faroes Gap, RAF Ronaldsway also represents Fighter Command and Bomber Command bases in the Western Isles. RAF Ronaldsway may operate flying boats (‘S’ type aircraft).

1.2.6. RAF Reykjavik (U26)

The airbase RAF Reykjavik represents the airfields of the Danish territory of Iceland. The principal bases in and around Reykjavik are primarily Coastal Command airfields, primarily tasked with patrol and ASW duties, although the airbase also represents land-based Fighter Command squadrons and offensive, anti-ship striking power, in case German commerce raiders should be sighted transiting the Denmark Strait, or heavy surface units of the German High Seas Fleet should attempt a breakout from the North Sea into the Atlantic. RAF Reykjavik may operate flying boats (‘S’ type aircraft).

2. Axis Airbases

Although the Luftwaffe or GAF was concentrated in the West during the days of the Battle of Britain, the degree to which it was available for employment in support of the Navy’s High Seas Fleet was even more capricious than is normally the case in a “unified air force”.

Unwilling to lose control of “All That Flies,” yet utterly uninterested in naval air support, Goering and his General Staff officers simply ignored the existence of the High Seas Fleet, unless the okm, in the person of Grand Admiral Raeder or Admiral Dönitz, was able to acquire the much-dreaded Führerbefel, a direct order from the Führer in writing. Even then, they spent more effort planning how to avoid performing the missions stipulated by their Führer than they did planning any coherent attempt to assist the Kriegsmarine in attacking Great Britain’s seaborne lifelines.

Only when the Führer bestirred himself to take an interest — usually too late — in naval operations did the gaf attempt to do its duty to German sea power. The powerful fighter defenses of the Channel Dash, 11th to 12th February 1942, showed what the Jädgwaffe, at least, was capable of, had their will matched even the meagre means of the West.

2.1. Axis Major Airbases

The major airbases represent the fliegerdivision, geschwader, and gruppe airfields, their satellite and emergency landing fields, luftflotte, fliegerdivision, and fliegerkorps headquarters elements, RDF and radio intelligence networks, and the listening posts and ground spotters of the German Air Force, arrayed to prosecute the war against Great Britain and protect the occupied territories of the West against the Royal Air Force. All GAF major airbases have an Aircraft Capacity of 60 steps and an Anti-Aircraft (A/A) Defense of 16 A/A factors.

2.1.1. Bordeaux (BX45)

The airbase Bordeaux represents the airfields defending the estuary of the Gironde, the naval base, repair facilities, and commercial docks of the city of Bordeaux, France. Airfields represented by Bordeaux airbase include the fields from which the GAF’s Fw.200 Kondor operated, and, later, the trouble-plagued He.177 Grief. Once the British blockade of Germany began to bite, Bordeaux airbase was home to many of the Ju.88s and Bf.110s assigned to act as long-range fighters assisting in escorting blockade-runners into Bordeaux. These same units began to escort U-Boats, especially damaged boats, in the Bay of Biscay once Coastal Command and the USNAS began to mount day-and-night patrols in the Bay.

2.1.2. Vannes (BN43)

The airbase Vannes represents the airfields protecting the German submarine bases of St. Nazaire (BO44) and Lorient (BM44). Vannes also represents the GAF bomber airfields providing offensive striking power against the southern coast of the British Isles, and Royal Navy units operating there.

2.1.3. Quimper (BK39)

The airbase Quimper represents the airfields protecting the important submarine base of Lorient (BM44) and the naval base of Brest (BJ39). Quimper also represents the offensive striking power of GAF bomber gruppen operating against the southern coast of the British Isles, and Royal Navy units operating in the Bristol Channel and the southern English Channel.

2.1.4. Brest (BJ39)

The airbase Brest represents the airfields protecting the naval base of Brest (BJ39), and guarding the French Atlantic coasts of Brittany. Brest also represents the offensive striking power of gaf bomber gruppen operating against the southern coast of the British Isles, Royal Navy units operating in the southern English Channel, and the British air and naval bases around Portsmouth and Plymouth.

2.1.5. Cherbourg (BF44)

The airbase Cherbourg represents the airfields protecting the naval base of Cherbourg (BF44), the Normandy coastline, and coastal traffic along the French seaboard. Cherbourg also represents significant offensive striking power against southern England. Many gaf bomber gruppen, including Ju.87 Stuka gruppen, were based here during the Battle of Britain.

2.1.6. Abbeville (BE49)

The airbase Abbeville represents the airfields of Cap Gris Nez and the Pas de Calais, a widespread and heavy concentration of German airpower. The fields closest to the Channel coast from Bolougne to Ostend were primarily fighter bases for the Bf.109s and, a bit further back, the Bf.110s and Ju.87s, though of course they include the more forward bomber airfields. From these airfields the gaf Ju.87s, heavily escorted by Bf.109s and Bf.110s, brought British coastal traffic in the Channel to a halt in the summer of 1940, at least during daylight hours.

2.1.7. Lille (BE50)

The airbase Lille represents the airfields of northwest France located behind the coastline and its immediate vicinity. These airfields were primarily bases for the gaf’s bomber gruppen of He.111s, Do.17s, and Ju.88s, though Lille airbase of course represents airfields for the Bf.110s and Ju.87s, and airfields for the single-engine Bf.109s stationed along the Belgian and Dutch borders.

2.1.8. Nordholz (AZ57)

The airbase Nordholz represents the airfields defending the principal German Naval Base, dockyards and repair facilities at Wilhelmshaven, the great commercial port of Bremen, and the Naval Base at Cruxhaven. Here, besides the second-line strengths of Bf.109Cs and ‘Ds’, and Bf.110Bs — supposedly responsible for night fighting — are represented the gaf’s naval reconnaissance, flying boat, and anti-ship strike airfields.

2.1.9. Nejle (AV60)

The airbase Nejle represents the airfields protecting the Danish mainland, the island of Fyn, and the island of Zealand, with the Danish Capital of Copenhagen. In GAF hands, the airfields of Denmark are employed for reconnaissance over the North Sea, as well as maintaining anti-submarine patrols in the Kattegat and Skagerrak.

2.1.10. Bergen (AN57)

The airbase Bergen represents the airfields protecting the Norwegian naval base at Bergen and the surrounding fjords. The Bergen Airbase also supports the GAF’s reconnaissance, flying boat, and anti-ship strike capabilities in southern Norway. Bergen airbase also provides protection against RAF Coastal Command and rn surface ships attempting to interfere with the vital commercial traffic between Sweden and Germany travelling along the coasts of Norway once the Baltic is frozen.

2.1.11. Stavanger (AL57)

The airbase Stavanger represents the airfields protecting entrance to the Skagerrak, supporting the gaf’s North Sea reconnaissance and patrol airfields and seaplane bases, and the bomber and reconnaissance aircraft watching the rn Home Fleet bases in northern Scotland. Stavanger Airbase also provides protection for the vital commercial traffic between Sweden and Germany.

2.1.12. Oslo (AL52)

The airbase Oslo represents the airfields protecting Oslo, Norway, the fjords and harbours that surround it, and the vital commercial traffic between Sweden and Germany.

2.1.13. Soesterberg (BB53)

The airbase Soessterberg represents the airfields protecting the Dutch-German border, the great commercial ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp, and GAF airfields providing offensive striking power against the east coast of Great Britain, the Midlands, and as far west as the vital British port of Liverpool.

2.2. Axis Minor Airbases

The minor airbases represent the Staffel and satellite airfields, secondary and emergency landing fields and rdf and radio intelligence networks protecting restricted areas, smaller installations or less vital centres of industry and commerce. All GAF minor airbases have an Aircraft Capacity of 20 steps, and an A/A strength of 12 A/A factors.

2.2.1.Aalborg (AR51)

The airbase Aalborg represents the airfields protecting entrance to the Skagerrak and Kattegat, supporting reconnaissance and patrol aircraft guarding the North Sea, and offensive striking power situated to attack the North of England and southern Scotland.

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