The now abandoned Sembach Air Base has quite a long history. The location was first used as an airfield after World War I by the French occupation troops in 1919 with 10 sheet-iron barracks and 26 wooden hangars. When France retreated from Germany in 1930 the air base was abandoned on June 15th and the land was returned to farmers who used it as a hay field. (The area around Sembach is very rural and agriculture is an important economic factor till this very day.)
In preparation of World War II the Nazi-German Luftwaffe deemed the area proper to build a fighter base and claimed the land in early 1940, but gave it back to the owners in June of 1940 after France was conquered in a blitzkrieg now known as the “Battle of France”.
After the defeat of Nazi-Germany in May of 1945 Sembach was part of the French occupational zone. In April of 1951 German surveyors along with French officers were looking for suitable locations for air bases. The Cold War had begun a few years prior and both the NATO and the Warsaw Pact armed themselves at a remarkable speed. The NATO’s lack of air fields suitable for modern jets made it necessary to build new military airports – so the French authorities began with the construction of a hard surface airfield in June of 1951, much to the protest of local farmers, who demonstrated in Mainz, the capital of Rhineland-Palatinate, without much success. On September 1st the United States took over the construction site, naming it Sembach Air Auxiliary Field, and pushed hard to finish the base – completing the 8500 foot concrete runway by the end of the month working round the clock using nighttime illumination. The rest of the airfield (tower, hangars, repair shops, storages and other buildings) were built during the winter. Local protests rose again when plans for the construction of barracks and office buildings surfaced in April of 1952 – this time with a little bit more success: Instead of using valuable farm land the new buildings were constructed on a sandy area with little agricultural value about 1.5 kilometers away from the airfield (Heuberg). Everybody was happy and after another year of construction the American flag was finally raised at the base now known as Sembach Air Base on July 8th 1953, when a RB-26 Invader arrived from Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina. It was part of the 66th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, the first of many units to be stationed in Sembach.
40 years after Sembach Air Base was opened protests rose again – this time because the Americans announced plans that the base will only be used as a substation of Ramstein Air Base; a huge economical setback for the town and nearby cities, directly (German civilian employees at the base) and indirectly (soldiers spending money in the area). The airfield was returned to German control two years later on March 30th 1995, the installations in Heuberg were renamed Sembach Annex. In summer of 1998 the demolition of the base began, the runway being the first “victim” of this process. Since then most of the buildings on the former air base have been demolished – but not all of them, at least not by the time Gil and I arrived at the location.
After the *Deportation Prison Birkhausen* and the *USAREUR Communication Facility Lohnsfeld* turned out to be quick stops we decided to tackle another big one and drove to Sembach to have a look at what was left of the air base. First we went to the western part and found some half-underground bunkers, inaccessible of course. Next was a small office building (?) that looked like it was made of corrugated cardboard. Quite interesting was the former Fire Station, part of the Fire and Emergency Service. I was rather surprised by the coloring of the toilets – white and pink. Seriously? The restrooms of the fire department on a US Air Force base were pink?
In the afternoon, when we left the fire station, the weather started to turn drastically. The sunshine was gone and dark grey clouds approached quickly. While we were making our way to the abandoned tower the wind sped up massively – to my favor as I should find out minutes later. I just finished shooting the tower building when a wall of rain came closer quickly and before I had the chance to take shelter it poured liked I was standing in the shower; a first class cloudburst. At that time I was close to the eastern wall of the tower, so I pressed myself against the high wall while the wind was blowing so hard that it actually blew the rain over my head. About 15 minutes I was standing there, hoping for the wind to continue and the rain to stop. When the heavy rain turned into light drizzling I started to look for Gil, who found shelter in a nearby building I assumed was inaccessible. That building was boarded up (almost) completely and its massive walls made me wonder right away what it was used for. Sadly it was pretty much empty, nevertheless we found some interesting items – a sleeping bag and other signs of a homeless person being there for a while, a perforated cardboard character and some documents with rather sensitive information; like special travel orders, granting individuals the permission to hand-carry a M16 rifle. I have no clue how those documents escaped the shredder, but I guess I better refrain from posting photos since each sheet of paper contained several names including ranks and addresses…
Going on an exploration trip with Gil was absolutely fantastic (thanks, man!). While the first two locations were quite disappointing from an urbex point of view Sembach Air Base made up for it big time. It was the first US military base I was able to explore (yes, I went to a second one, so stayed tuned!) and I had a blast – no pun intended. The locations in Germany differ quite a bit from the places I usually get to see in Japan, so I really enjoyed this refreshing experience!
Addendum 2013-08-27: If you liked this article, check out the one about the nearby *Hochspeyer Munitions Storage*!
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