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On Exercise Coronet at Wahn, taking schnitzel on the roof of the civilian air terminal.   The exercise was against the USAF and 4 Sqn operated out of Wahn.   It involved some exciting and hairy low flying up and down the Rhine. - 23-31Jul53.
Left to right: Geoff Lee, Ernie Lack, Pete Williamson; Bob Molden; Snowy Ewens.   When compared to the postcard of Wahn airfield reputedly bought a year later, click to see, it seems that this photo was actually taken in the restaurant and not on the top of the airport building?   (Thanks to Norman Giffin.)

Exercise Coronet.
Expansion had been the watchword of 2TAF throughout 1952, and the process continued into 1953 with the arrival of National Service aircrew.   The steady programme of training and exercises ensured that the many new arrivals were quickly brought up to combat-readiness and that the Command's operational posture was sustained.   As NATO achieved progressive integration of the various national defence forces and systems, the annual series of major exercises continued to probe for further weaknesses and to test new solutions to the many problems.   Mobility and tactics were assessed by Exercise Coronet, held between 24th and 31st July 1953, although it was seen by some of the aircrew more light-heartedly as the 'annual bash' between NATO's Two and Four Allied Tactical Air Forces (TWOATAF and FOURATAF respectively). Virtually the whole of 2TAF was uprooted and moved to airfields up to 500 miles from base, exercising the entire chain of command in mobility and unearthing a new set of communications and organisational problems.

Of the many Coronet deployments, the Celle wing went to Florennes in Belgium.   The newly equipped Venom wing at Wunstorf deployed to Beek in the Netherlands whilst 16 of Ahlhorn's Meteor NF11s from 96 Squadron operated from the newly opened Bruggen.   Wildenrath housed a squadron each of Sabres, Vampires, Meteor PR1Os and de Havilland Mosquito PR35s, the latter from 58 Squadron at Benson and equipped for night photo-reconnaissance.   Further participation came from Fighter Command, with eight aircraft from 264 Squadron at Coltishall operating from Gutersloh to supplement the night fighter forces at Wahn.   Also based at Wahn was the 78th Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Wing, 12 of its Vampires having taken part in the Royal Review of the RAF at Odiham in June.   The Australian wing was normally based in Malta and it returned there on 3rd August after completion of its participation in Exercise Coronet.   Once again, the exercise showed the fundamental importance of aerial reconnaissance and underlined the obsolescence of the RAF's ageing Meteor FR9s and PR10s.   Low-level radar coverage was also highlighted as a crucial weakness, with airfields being given little more than seconds' warning of low-level intruder attack.   The importance of the new NATO-pattern airfields was highlighted for the first time, with the 8,000ft (2,400m) runways being used for downwind take-offs.

Friendly forces in Exercise Coronet, principally those of TWOATAF, operated on behalf of `Westonia' whilst the enemy forces were drawn from FOURATAF to operate on behalf of 'Fantasia'.   Because many of the aircraft types to be used were common to both sides, those of Westonia' were to operate with yellow bands painted on the nose and wings, whilst those of 'Fantasia' wore corresponding black bands.   During the first day of the exercise units of 2 Group flew 148 sorties and mounted standing fighter patrols over its airfields to counter the lack of early warning of low- level attack.   Similarly, units of 83 Group flew 173 sorties against enemy airfields, both by day and by night.   High sortie rates were sustained throughout the exercise with 2TAF squadrons making extensive use of camouflage netting which was placed over aircraft when they were on the ground.   This did cause problems, extending the time taken for aircraft to scramble; however, at Wildenrath the nets were suspended on poles over the aircraft, allowing much quicker reaction times.

An adverse feature of the exercise was a very high accident rate, which resulted in the loss of seven 2TAF aircraft and the death of six aircrew.   In two cases the fatalities were the result of mid-air collisions, the most tragic of which occurred on 29th July overhead Bruggen.   On that day Bruggen was subject to heavy air attacks by FOURATAF Republic F-84 Thunderjets, which were countered by the resident Belgian F-84G and RAF Meteor NF11 squadrons.   In turn these aircraft were engaged by FOURATAF North American F-86Fs flying fighter escort missions.   In one such dogfight, Meteor NF11 WM146 of 256 Squadron collided with an F-86F of the 527th Fighter Squadron, before crashing four miles (6.5km) northeast of Bruggen killing one crewmember.   The second midair collision involved Vampire FB5s WA116 of 20 Squadron and WA280 of 234 Squadron; the 20 Squadron pilot was killed whilst the 234 Squadron aircraft was able to make a crash landing at Wildenrath.   The toll of accidents during the early years of the 1950s was high.   Mid-air collisions occurred frequently, including that between Vampire FB5s VV541 and VX988 of 4 Squadron during a formation change near Jever on 20th August 1952.   Almost exactly one year later, on 14th August 1953, two 93 Squadron Vampires (WA460 and VZ877) collided and crashed whilst seven days later two Venom FB1s of 5 Squadron (WE306 and WE329) stalled during a formation take-off at Wunstorf and crash landed.   Later in the year, on 6th November, Sabre F4s XB690 and XB730 of 67 Squadron were lost in a mid-air collision near Monchengladbach.

Exercise Coronet was also used to encompass the third phase of the Canberra B2 low-level interdiction trials begun by the TDU, the unit's aircraft moving from Ahlhorn to Bruggen on 24th July; the aircraft were dispersed around the airfield perimeter whilst the personnel lived under canvas.   During the exercise the TDU's crews found their task very easy because at night many of the airfields and radar sites remained fully lit.   Even when not lit, the concrete runways, taxiways and dispersals and the silver-painted aircraft parked on them stood out in the moonlight.   Following the exercise, the TDU's knowledge and expertise contributed to the final mock-up conference for the so-called 'New Look' Canberra, the night ground-attack version, which would later serve with the RAF in Germany as the Canberra B(I)8.
(Thanks to Bill Taylor's excellent book "Royal Air Force Germany since 1945").
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