The Corps’ Air Defense Service – Vlijmen

A new episode of Historisch Heusden written by Bart Beard and this time it’s about part 131 of Historisch Heusden The Corps’ Air Defense Service – Vlijmen. During the Cold War, lookouts were scattered throughout the Netherlands, on which men stood with binoculars and looked up into the sky.

Thousands of volunteer air guards watched for low-flying enemy aircraft to provide the information needed to counter enemy air attacks and to warn friendly troops and the public in time of approaching air danger. They kept a close eye on ‘Red Peril’ here between 1950 and 1968.

Aerial photo 1952. The tall building, the former Heesbeen tannery, on the corner of Meliestraat-Voodijk served as a lookout point for KLD-Vlijmen

At the end of Vlijmense Meliestraat there was a former tannery, the top floor of which was used as a lookout point. For this article I made use of the recently published book ‘Air Watchtowers from the Cold War’ by historical geographer Sandra van Lochem. A few years ago I did archival research for her about the Vlijmense part.

Air Defense Service Corps
This service was created in response to the rising tensions between the United States and the then Soviet Union and their allies during the Cold War (1945-1991). The West feared an expansion of communist influence. The fear of a Soviet attack and imminent nuclear war hung in the air for a long time. Air guards from the Korps Luchtwacht Dienst (KLD), founded in 1950, monitored the low airspace at 276 lookout or air guard posts. Up to 1500 meters altitude, this was a blind spot for the radar at the time. This zone was the domain of the Air Patrol Service. At the posts, the civilian volunteers reported their aircraft sightings by telephone to a regional Air Guard center. This center consisted of a number of air patrol posts that together formed a circle so that an aircraft’s position could be determined as accurately as possible by triangulation. The center reported the enemy aircraft to the national air defense command center in Zeist. Any unrecognized aircraft could be of Russian origin and had to be escorted, chased or shot down by Dutch fighters outside the country’s borders as soon as possible. The anti-aircraft artillery and the Population Protection were also alerted, the latter to warn the population of approaching air danger.

The formal task of the KLD was: Observe, report and plot on maps all aircraft movements that could be observed by eye or ear over Dutch territory and report flights important to the air force to higher authorities.

Postcard of 276 air guard towers and lookouts of the Air Guard Service. The post Vlijmen is marked in red

Anti-aircraft posts
From 1951, the 276 military air guard posts and the associated air guard centers were established in a short time. About half of the posts consisted of concrete honeycomb towers built with honeycomb precast concrete elements supplied by NV Schokbeton. The construction of prefabricated elements was typical of the post-World War II reconstruction period. The other posts were simple superstructures on existing buildings such as factories, mill hulls, dikes, water towers, bunkers or forts. In Vlijmen, the air patrol station was located on the top floor of the former Heesbeen tannery in Meliestraat. From there you had a good view over the Voordijk to Bokhoven, Engelen and ‘s-Hertogenbosch. Because the air hosts saw and waited for it with eyes and ears. During KLD’s existence, there was only practice and many airmen killed, in wind and weather, passing the time with quarters, playing cards and telling jokes.

National network.
The Netherlands was divided into 8 air guard groups. Vlijmen was classified in group 8. Group 8 had 13 air guard circles with the circle letters A to L. Vlijmen had number B. Each circle had 3 air guard posts, numbered 1 to 3. Vlijmen had number 3. Vlijmen’s post code was therefore 8B3. The circular letters also had a code name for telephone identification and the code name for B3 in Vlijmen was “Beker 3”. The Air Guard Center for Group 8 was in Eindhoven.

Volunteers were recruited by the municipalities through recruitment posters, press releases in the regional newspapers and information evenings. There was access for special conscripts, rejected and non-conscripts of the classes 1941 to 1944 inclusive and former military personnel of the classes 1935 to 1940. Entries went through the municipal clerk’s office. In the SALHA archive in Heusden there is a folder with the registration forms for the Vlijmen volunteers in KLD; CJN van Baardwijk (1930), GJM van Beurden (1934), TP Bruurmijn (1930), ALAM Corman (1914), HL Daelmans (1928), PH Engelen (1926), HJ Falier (1933), A. v. Halder ( 1916). PA Mommersteeg (1923) and Th.C. de Vaan (1935). KLD has had a total of 3,700 air defenses nationwide. For the occupation of the posts, schedules were made for the guards 2 hours a week. The remuneration was coffee money (ƒ1.00 per shift or per teaching evening), uniforms (PSU), a bonus after two years (ƒ100.00) and the prospect of staying close to home when mobilized.

Air rangers operate the Nehome audio and display unit and use the telephone connection

The towers had professional equipment such as Nehome audio and video equipment with compass, range finder, separate telephone connection and Polaroid sunglasses. The core of the training was to recognize friend and enemy aircraft based on their silhouette and, to a lesser extent, their engine noise. The instructors recognized at least 96 aircraft, 77 from NATO countries, 19 from Warsaw Pact countries. They came to the two-week class in vans and had hundreds of slides and dozens of scale model airplanes at their disposal. The training took place in the evenings or on Saturdays and lasted two years. They had; Air Guard Service Handbook, Aircraft Recognition Handbook and Conscript Framework Handbook..

The ending
I do not know how and how long the post functioned in Vlijmen. Ever faster aircraft and improved radar coverage, introduction of ground and air guided weapon systems and introduction of radar fire control equipment made eye and ear tracking of aircraft useless. Cooperation within NATO and thus access to radar data from neighboring countries also gave the final blow. In 1964, KLD shrunk and ceased to exist in 1968. Demolition of most towers and posts on buildings soon followed.

Bart Beard

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