Altenburg-Nobitz airport is a regional airport 5 km south-east of Altenburg on the grounds of the community Nobitz in Thüringen. It is one of the oldest airfields in Germany, and is also known as Leinawald airfield.
We visited Altenburg-Nobitz on 15 July 2005.

From parade ground to military airfield (1868 - 1918)

Ernst II, Duke of Saxe-Altenburg
Ernst II, Duke of Saxe-Altenburg

The airfield started as a parade ground in 1868. In 1882, Ernst I, Duke of Saxe-Altenburg, ordered that the parade ground was to be further utilized for military purposes. After he died without a living direct male heir, he was succeeded by his nephew, Ernst, on 7 February 1908. Ernst II became an enthusiastic convert to aviation.

Parseval airship on parade ground. 17 April 1909
Parseval airship at parade ground in 1909
On 17 April 1909 a Parseval-airship of the imperial aeroclub landed on the parade ground. The Duke was given a flight in it. Only two years later, the first Altenburg flight days took place on a provisionally established airfield. German early aviatior Theodor Schauenburg participated with a Wright biplane. Paul Schwandt, one of the first pilots flying in Mecklenburg, participated with a Grade monoplane. The Grade monoplane was the first successful German powered aircraft. Many of the earliest German pilots learned to fly on the Grade II, which was of simple construction and a good trainer. It was the cheapest aircraft of that era, costing 12,000 Reichsmarks including flying lessons.

Theodor Schauenburg with a Wright biplane, 1911
Theodor Schauenburg with a Wright biplane, 1911
The Grade Monoplane of Paul Schwandt, 1911
The Grade Monoplane of Paul Schwandt, 1911
First hangar, 1913
First hangar, 1913
In 1913, a wooden hangar was built at the site of the parade ground, and in June of that year the airfield was officially established. In the same year the first airplanes were stationed at Altenburg airfield.

In 1914, Emperor Wilhelm II approved to expand the airfield into an airbase (militärischen fliegerstation). The first world war required military material, such as airplanes, pilots, observers and technicians.

Prisoners used for building activities
Prisoners used for building activities
The airfield was expanded with hangars, barracks, connection for electricity, a connection to the railroad system and other facilities. A significant number of prisoners of war from Russia, England, France and India were used for the construction. In 1916 the replacement aircraft division was moved from Döberitz near Berlin to Altenburg. Altenburg-Nobitz was mainly used as a production and repair centre for German military aircraft, with Albatros, DFW, Rumpler and Fokker types all being assembled there. A military flight school was also located on the airfield.

Barracks with water tower under construction
Barracks with water tower under construction
Albatros C.VII at hangar III in 1917
Albatros C.VII at hangar III in 1917
Airplane repairs
Airplane repairs
Graduates from the flight school, 22 June 1918
Graduates from the flight school, 22 June 1918
Interwar period (1918 - 1939)

The Armistice of Compiègne ended the fighting in the First World War. It went into effect on 11 November 1918, and marked a victory for the Allies and a defeat for Germany, although not technically a surrender. In the hangars at Altenburg were still some 198 new military aircraft that were no longer required. The Treaty of Versailles ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers. It was signed on 28 June 1919, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The treaty forced Germany to disarm, and prohibited the manufacture and importation of aircraft, parts of aircraft, engines for aircraft, and parts of engines for aircraft, in all German territory. The aircraft, buildings and equipment of the airport were dismantled or destroyed, including the first hangar from 1913, only six years after it was built. The replacement aircraft division was moved to Halle.

The former airfield in the 1920s.
The former airfield in the 1920s

With the implementation of the "definitions" of May 5, 1922 it was again possible to develop and build sporting aircraft and light commercial aircraft, however limited to a maximum speed of 170 km/h and a payload of 600 kg. For single-seat aircraft only engines with a maximum of 45 kW (60 hp) were allowed to be used. Engines for commercial aircraft were permitted to be manufactured only up to 147 kW (200 hp), after loosening of the definitions in the year 1923 up to 220 kW (300 hp). The manufacture of military aircraft, however, remained prohibited as before.

Finally, in 1925, again some starts and landings took place at the former Altenburg airfield. This was celebrated with a flight day on 8 November that was financed by a newspaper.

BFW (Messerschmitt) M.18b, 1931
BFW (Messerschmitt) M.18b, 1931
On 20 September 1931 another flight day was organised at the former airfield. On this occassion a BFW (Messerschmitt) M.18b visited the airfield. Two years later, in 1933, the town of Altenburg approved the development of the airfield. A new hangar was built, and the next year, 25 years after the first landing in 1909, the airfield was inaugurated. Shortly thereafter, flight training for glider and motor planes started.

After the Nazi Party came to power a decision was made to reactivate Altenburg-Nobitz as part of German rearmament plans. Work on this began in 1936; new hangars, workshops and barracks were built, and a concrete runway laid. Group III of the combat squadron 153 with their Junkers Ju 86 and Dornier Do 17E was the first flying unit at the (then) airbase Altenburg.

Group III combat squadron 153 Junkers Ju 86
Junkers Ju 86 of group III combat squadron 153
Education building from 1938
The still existing education building from 1938
Construction of hangar VII, 1939
Construction of hangar VII, 1939
Junkers Ju 86
Junkers Ju 86

Dornier Do 17
Dornier Do 17

Dornier Do 17
Dornier Do 17

Emblems Group III of Combat Squadron 153

Kreuz
Kreuz


Pik
Pik


Herz
Herz

Altenburg is called the playing cards town. The game "Skat" got conceived in Altenburg, and the town can refer to a tradition for making of playing cards which goes back towards the end of the Middle Ages. The Altenburger Spielkartenfabrik was founded in 1831.

The group III of combat squadron 153 (III Gruppe des Kampfgeschwaders 153) stationed at Altenburg used the Ace of Clubs, Ace of Spades and Ace of Hearts as emblems.

Today, the Altenburg castle houses the castle museum and the museum of playing cards. The playing cards are one of special collection.

In 1946 the Playing Card Museum was declared to be Soviet war booty; 46 boxes disappeared from Altenburg and have never been returned.

World War II (1939 - 1945)

Apprentices, 1942
Apprentices, 1942
During World War II, the relative remoteness of Altenburg-Nobitz from the main theatres of war made the airfield an obvious location for Luftwaffe flight training in various forms. Basic flight training was carried out, as was more advanced blind-flying and instrument training. Several types of aircraft were employed for the latter, among them the Junkers Ju-87, Junkers Ju-88, Heinkel He-111, Dornier Do-17 and Messerschmitt Me-110. From 1942 to 1945 apprentices were trained at the airfield in aircraft construction. A glider pilot training was included.

Russian prisoners of war, 1944
Russian prisoners of war, 1944
Prisoners of war, mostly Russians, played a major role in the expansion of the airbase. In 1942 barracks were hastily built for the prisoners. The prisoners came from nearby concentration camps and forced labor sites, and were set to work. Many survived only a few months. There are no exact records available in what jobs the prisoners were deployed.

Fw 190 conversion trainer
Fw 190 conversion trainer
The airfield was also the base for a conversion unit for the Fw 190, using a special two-seat variant of this successful fighter. The two-seat conversion trainer Fw 190s were built, mainly, if not exclusively, by the conversion of existing Single-seat airframes. These were mostly former A-5 and A-8 aircraft, although some F-8 models were also converted. The need for these aircraft stemmed partly from the increasingly large numbers of former junkers ju 87 pilots who were transitioning onto the attack models of the Fw 190 as the latter replaced the Stuka in some units.

Training Finnish Pilots at Altenburg
Finnish air force emblem
Germany had formed a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union just before the outbreak of World War II. Following the German and Soviet attack on Poland in September 1939, the Soviet Union attacked Finland three months later. Towards the attack of Germany on the Soviet Union in June 1941, Germany and Finland started to cooperate. Finland had given Germany permission to stage their units through Lapland. The city of Helsinki, being located on the coast, was a difficult place to protect against the Soviet Union, especially during night air raids. The Finnish Air Force did not have night fighters. A German squadron with Messerschmitt 109 G-6 fighters was flown to Helsinki to protect the city, while Germany and Finland agreed to train Finnish pilots in Germany for night flying operations. Twenty Finnish pilots received instrument flight training and night flying training at Altenburg, and subsequently at Ludwigslust before returning to Finland.

American map of Altenburg airbase from 1944
American map of Altenburg airbase from 1944

With the collapse of the Reich the airfield was captured by the US Army in April 1945, being subsequently handed over to the Soviets in July, when the area came under Soviet control following the post-war territorial settlement between the Allies.

US troops with hidden and destroyed airplanes in Leina forest, mainly Fw 190s; 16 April 1945
US troops with hidden and destroyed airplanes in Leina forest, mainly Fw 190s; 16 April 1945

German prisoners of war at hangar II
German prisoners of war at hangar II
US and Soviet officers at Altenburger flugplatz
US and Soviet officers at Altenburger flugplatz

Soviet era (1945 - 1992)

In July 1945 the Soviets took over the airport. German war materials were demolished or transported to the Soviet Union. Only two hangars remained out of the seven big hangars, and the airport was developed into a Soviet base. Following the initial stationing of propeller airplanes, the Yakovlev Yak-9, Polikarpov Po-2, Lisunov Li-2 (a licensed built version of the Douglas DC-3) and the Ilyushin Il-2, the airport was upgraded in 1952 to support the MiG-15 jet fighter. Parking areas were built, and the runway was extended to 1,800 meter. In 1957 MiG-17s were stationed at the airbase. In 1960 the runway was further extended to 2,300 meter for the arrival of the MiG-21, and the airbase was upgraded with guard houses, a radio station and ammunition storage. In 1970 the runway was further extended to 2,500 meter, and hangars were erected for the fighters that were based at Altenburg. Three new MiG-21 types of aircraft were stationed in 1973, and secretly five years later special storage was built for nuclear weapons in the Leina forest. In 1984 the MiG-27D and the trainer version MiG-23UB arrived at Altenburg. The MiG-21 was decommissioned from the airbase. In 1987 also a combat helicopter squadron with the Mil Mi-24 and Mil Mi-8 was stationed at the airbase. Despite the political turn, the airbase received the new MiG-29 in 1989. However, the plans to upgrade the airbase were never executed. In 1992 the Soviet military left the airbase and Germany with their families.

MiG-15 taxiing to the runway at Altenburg, 1959
MiG-15 taxiing to the runway at Altenburg, 1959
Ceremony at the main gate, 1960s
Ceremony at the main gate, 1960s

MiG-21 at Altenburg, 1975
MiG-21 at Altenburg, 1975
Radar station of the airbase, 1976
Radar station of the airbase, 1976

MiG-23UB, 1992
MiG-23UB, 1992
MiG-27, 1992
MiG-27, 1992
MiG-29S, 1992
MiG-29S, 1992

Altenburg-Nobitz (1992 - 2008) / Leipzig-Altenburg (2008 - )

The withdrawal of Soviet forces opened up the possibility of a civil use of the airport, and the Flugplatz Altenburg-Nobitz GmbH was established in 1992. The following years scrap and waste places and chemical storage sites had to be cleaned-up for environmental reasons. Buildings were demolished. New civil airport buildings were constructed, new roads were built or existing roads were repaired.

Removal of the underground command bunker
Removal of the underground command bunker
Waste to be cleaned-up
Waste to be cleaned-up

In 1995 the runway was fundamentally renewed, and a CAT I Instrument Landing System became operational. The following year a new terminal building was built. In 1998 a new tower became operational, and the old tower was demolished. In 2008 more buildings were demolished, mainly buildings of the Wehrmacht. These included the characteristic gate guard, the officer's club with cinema, the former School No. 57 and several large barracks. The airport was renamed Leipzig-Altenburg for marketing reasons.

Old tower, 1997
Old tower, 1997
Altenburg tower
Altenburg tower
New terminal Altenburg-Nobitz, 1996
New terminal Altenburg-Nobitz, 1996

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