Valkenburg airbase: a short history

When Valkenburg Airbase was closed in 2006, it had only existed for 67 years. That’s very short compared to the period the Romans had their base in the area.

The Roman ‘castellum’ stood for more than two centuries. The Romans defended their northern border here, but why was this place so suitable for an airport? Until the mid-1930s, the activities of Dutch military aviation were concentrated on Soesterberg near Utrecht. There was not enough space there and, moreover, concentrating all aircraft in one spot made it very easy for an enemy. In 1936, 30 aircraft had already been moved to Schiphol. A year later, the construction of an airfield near Bergen (North Holland) was started. For a third airport, preference was given to the area near Katwijk and Valkenburg. An excellent location, because there was a need for an airbase near the government seat in The Hague.

It turned out differently. On May 10, 1940, a few months before Valkenburg airbase was ready for use, German paras and more than 50 Junkers Ju 52 landed on the field. During the ensuing fighting, the Dutch army managed to recapture the terrain and destroy or severely damage many stranded German aircraft. After the Dutch surrender, the Germans put the airport into use. ‘Flugplatz Katwijk’ became a home base for fighter aircraft such as the Messerschmidt Bf 109 and Fw 190. They were withdrawn to the east in 1943 because the airfield was too vulnerable to air raids due to its coastal location.

New start

After the war, the British Royal Air Force took over the airbase. The RAF repaired it and put it back into use. In 1946 the Dutch Air Force took over. Because the Naval Aviation Service (Marineluchtvaartdienst, MLD) no longer had a usable base in the Netherlands, Valkenburg was handed over to the navy on 15 September 1947. From now on, the airport would be called Marinevliegkamp Valkenburg. The base grew and the number of aircraft stationed increased rapidly. The first naval aircraft at Valkenburg included Fairey Fireflies, Hawker Sea Furies, North American B-25 Mitchells and Consolidated PBY-5A Catalinas.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Valkenburg was also the shore base for the aircraft and helicopters of the aircraft carrier Hr.Ms. Karel Doorman. When the ship was in port, Valkenburg was full of aircraft from up to eleven squadrons. Partly thanks to the Doorman, those two decades marked the golden age of the MLD and Valkenburg Air Base. When the carrier was decommissioned in 1968, the number of aircraft types was gradually reduced to two: the Lockheed SP-2H Neptune and Breguet Br.1150 Atlantic. Both had anti-submarine warfare as their main task.

Modernization and closure

Between 1980 and 1982 the airbase was thoroughly modernized for the arrival of thirteen Lockheed P-3C Orions. They replaced the outdated Neptunes in 1982 and the Atlantics 1984. Only squadrons 320 and 321 remained and the workforce decreased to approximately 800 men and women. In 1990 Valkenburg was designated as a government airfield and thus a reception place for foreign heads of state and dignitaries.

In the 25 years since the end of the Cold War, there have been more and more cuts in defense spending. Ultimately, the MLD and the base were also victims of this. On January 14, 2005, the squadrons were decommissioned and the newly modernized Orions were sold to Germany (eight) and Portugal (five). On January 1, 2006, the MVKV closed its gates for good.

Messerschmitt Bf 109E3 "Friebel" from 2./JagdGeschwader 1 in 1941. Photo: NIMH
May 1, 1945. A B-17G Flying Fortress drops food over Flugplatz Katwijk
Lockheed P-3C Orion at Valkenburg