After the German occupation of France in the early summer of 1940, a minor landing ground near a small town in northern France became a vital base for the fighter aircraft of Jagdgeschwader 2. This small town was Beaumont-le-Roger, and the nearby airfield would be a hive of Luftwaffe activity for the next three years. Beaumont-le-Roger is located in the Department of Eure, in Normandy, and the closest major town is Evreux, 25 kilometres to the east.
Beaumont-le-Roger was created as an operational landing ground by the Armée de l’Air (French Air Force) prior to 10 May 1940, and the Germans developed it into an important fighter airfield after they captured it in June. Elements of Jagdgeschwader 2 would be based there from June 1940 until late-1943, flying many missions against the Royal Air Force, and later against the United States Army Air Force.
The Geschwaderstab, I. Gruppe and II. Gruppe of JG 2 all transferred to Beaumont-le-Roger on 27 June (including ace Helmut Wick, who is featured in one of our eArticles), and one pilot of the 3. Staffel noted of the ‘airfield’ at this time: “As we approached the site indicated on our maps all that could be seen was a huge cornfield – nothing resembling a landing strip and no sign of any activity – military or otherwise – either.” The pilot safely landed his Bf 109 in the field, followed by his comrades. Steps were quickly taken to convert this cornfield into a major Luftwaffe fighter base, and JG 2 missions were being flown from Beaumont-le-Roger as early as 29 June 1940.
Within a few days the British were aware of Jagdgeschwader 2’s new base, thanks to ULTRA: on 3 July 1940 a decrypted German signal gave away the location of the Richthofen Geschwader. The signal noted that Oberstleutnant Harry von Bülow-Bothkamp’s Geschwaderstab had three Bf 109s and three pilots there, all ready for operations, I./JG 2 had 36 aircraft (25 serviceable) and 43 crews (27 ready), while II./JG 2 could call on 35 aircraft, of which 25 were ready, and 40 pilots, 24 of whom were capable of flying missions.
One Jagdgeschwader 2 pilot was not impressed by the town of Beaumont-le-Roger itself: “There is no decent restaurant, pub or café, nor a department store.” However, the nearby Château de Saint-Léger, used as pilot accommodation, was considered a real bonus of being based in this particular part of France. The chateau was a large, impressive building, and still exists today.
Beaumont-le-Roger was home not only to the pilots of Jagdgeschwader 2, but also to their pets. Pilot Julius Meimberg of 4./JG 2 recalled that his Staffelkapitän, the flamboyant Hans ‘Assi’ Hahn, “had a menagerie comprising chickens, dogs and even a parrot. At Beaumont, we added a goat and an owl to our little zoo.”
II./JG 2 was the longest resident at Beaumont-le-Roger, remaining there for a year, from June 1940 to June 1941, and then for most of 1942, returning again in the spring of 1943 after its African sojourn. Pilots like Erich Rudorffer, Kurt Bühligen and Kurt Goltzsch claimed many aerial victories while flying Fw 190s and Bf 109s from Beaumont-le-Roger in 1942 and 1943. However, later in 1943 the airfield ceased being used by operational units, although it remained a Luftwaffe airfield until August 1944.
We have previously posted some Jagdgeschwader 2 ‘home movie’ footage on this blog featuring Beaumont-le-Roger. A modern view of the large house featured in those home movies, the Château de Saint-Léger (Le Plessis-Sainte-Opportune), can be seen on this page, along with aerial shots of the airfield from the Jagdgeschwader 2 home movie, modern aerial shots, and some other comparative ‘Then and Now’ photographs, thanks to the research of our French colleague Frédéric Quesnel. We are very grateful for his assistance with this blog post.
From very humble beginnings as a cornfield in the French countryside in the summer of 1940, Beaumont-le-Roger became one of the more important Luftwaffe airfields on the Channel Front, and for Second World War aviation historians and enthusiasts, it will always be associated with Jagdgeschwader 2 ‘Richthofen’.
NA HW 5
Bethke, Siegfried Flugbuch
Hannes, Karl Flugbuch
Rudorffer, Erich Flugbuch
Seeger, Günther Flugbuch
Wenger, Leopold Letter 21 March 1941
deZeng, IV, Henry L. ‘Luftwaffe Airfields 1935-45 France’
Mombeek, Erik & Roba, Jean-Louis with Goss, Chris In the Skies of France, A Chronicle of JG 2 “Richthofen”, Volume I: 1934-1940, A.S.B.L. La Porte d’Hoves, Linkebeek, undated.
Frédéric Quesnel, Rémi Tracanelli, Andreas Zapf