Trips / Peenemünde / Rechlin-Lärz

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Rechlin-Lärz airport was once part of the Third Reich era's Luftwaffe main testing ground, or Erprobungsstelle for new aircraft designs

Erbrobungsstelle Rechlin

Already early in 1916 a search was made for a suitable location to conduct testing of new aircraft, as the existing test centres near Berlin would be insufficient due to the growing number of aircraft types and rapid development of aeronautical technology. A site was found in the isolated area south of the Müritzsee.

Construction of buildings and preliminary installations had commenced by mid-1918 and tests already undertaken. The test centre was officially inaugurated on 29 August 1918.

The inauguration ceremony provided a push for expanding the installations. Already in September 1918, plans had been drawn up for the erections and extension of new aircraft hangars in Müritz.

The Treaty of Versailles, which had forbidden flying activities in Germany, brought an end to the plans. The installations were dismantled, and Müritz was again a quiet area.

Preliminary detachment, 1 July 1917
Preliminary detachment, 1 July 1917
Inauguration, 29 August 1918
Inauguration, 29 August 1918

In 1925 the German Aviation Research Institute worked out a concept for a flight test centre in Rechlin again. The Aviation Association negotiated purchase of the same property used in 1918 in Müritz and took over operation of the newly opened airfield. An aircraft hangar featuring a workshop and living quarters was delivered in 1926. The building was named the "Swiss House" because its appearence at its rear.

At the end of 1926, the Albatros Flugzeugwerke rented the airfield, and worked on further expansion of the installations. In 1930 work commenced on a large engine test-stand in Richlin. Although construction proceeded slowly, and the installations were still not completed in spring 1933, it was laying the foundation for the later Luftwaffe Test Centre.

Rechlin, end of 1926
Rechlin, end of 1926
The Swiss-house at Rechlin
The Swiss-house at Rechlin

During 1926, personnel came mostly from the German Aviation Research Institute. The Test Programme defined that emphasis was to be placed upon engine development. For aircraft, only those tests should be carried out which were necessary to service as preliminary stages for future development.

The aim was to create four basic types of aircraft, namely:

  • Long-range reconnaissance aircraft, and simultaneously day-bombers;
  • Two-seat fighters, with limited suitability for reconnaissance;
  • Night-reconnaissance and night-fighters, together with artillery aircraft;
  • Medium-range night-bombers.

In this programme, emphasis was also laid on the necessity to establish a "numerically large entity for independent air warfare" whereby it was recognized that to achieve this goal, development of interim types was essential.

In 1927 the demands for a day-bomber and a night-bomber were discarded, and that the following types of aircraft were now to be developed:

  • A homeland day-fighter, the Arado SD I;
  • A reconnaissance aircraft, the Albatros L76 or L77;
  • A night-fighter and reconnaissance aircraft, the BFW M22;
  • A reconnaissance aircraft for medium altitude and long ranges, the Heinkel HD 41.

Except for the BFW M22, all the other aircraft arrived for testing in Rechlin. The Albatros L76a crashed on 27 July 1927, killing the pilot and the technician on board. The Arado SD I, of which only the first prototype was completed in summer 1927, crashed after 20 flights on 11 October 1927, killing the pilot.

The crashes of the Albatros L76a and the Arado SD I showed that these were both the first to be completed and undergo testing. The Heinkel HD41 received its certification in July 1929. The BFW M.22 accomplished its maiden flight as late as April 1930.

Arado SD I
Arado SD I
Albatros L76/L77
Albatros L76/L77
BFW M.22
BFW M.22
Heinkel HD 41
Heinkel HD 41

Building upon the test results of these aircraft, precise guidelines were layed down for the intended first-generation aircraft. Aircraft flight testing was still in its infancy. Foremost at this period was test flying the aircraft and engines delivered by the manufacturers in order to accumulate knowledge of the technical status of the young German aircraft industry.

Besides testing the various aircraft types, equipment items were also thoroughly examined for use by the crews of the almost exclusively open-cockpits, including not only flying clothing but also rescue equipment, since the aircraft flew ever faster and were able to attain higher ceiling altitudes. All types of manual and automatic crew parachutes were also subject of intensive, and sometimes dangerous, testing.

On 30 January 1933 the new cabinet was sworn in, and the new rulers of the Reich uninterruptedly pursued a policy of establishing a Luftwaffe and its corresponding aircraft industry.

The newly appointed Commissioner for Aviation, He-rmann Göring, paid a visit at the end of March 1933 to the Association of German Aircraft Industry test centre Rechlin. Money poured in from 1933 onwards to an extent unimaginable until then, and enabled the installations surrounding the airfield to be rapidly expanded. The oldest southern-situated hangar with its attached "Swiss House" had to make way.

First engine test stand completed in Rechlin about 1933
First engine test stand completed in Rechlin; about 1933

In the mid-1930s construction work commenced on the Lärz airfield. It was originally only intended to have a grass surface. Construction of the east-west concrete runway appeared to first take place in 1939. The north-west south-east runway followed later.

The Roggentin airfield was not intended to be regarded as an independent entity even though it was designated in Luftwaffe erection plans in the 1930s as an auxiliary field in the event of general mobilization and was used during that period as a transfer exercise by Luftwaffe units. Roggentin also proved useful after the first heavy bombing raids during the war, when Rechlin airfield became unusable for a while, and flying operations were then able to be organised from Roggentin.

Map Rechlin-Larz
Map Rechlin and Lärz

In 1932, the requirements for the second main armament phase had been firmly laid down. The aircraft consisted of a medium bomber and long-range reconnaissance aircraft, a single-seat fighter, a light dive-bomber, a close-reconnaissance aircraft, new trainer aircraft and a heavy long-range bomber.

Development of these types that began by the aircraft firms did not reach the testing stage before 1934/35. Thus in 1933, the principal types available were the Albatros L76 and L78, Arado Ar-65, Heinkel He-45, He-46 and Dornier Do-11, partly with new standard equipment sets or with improved engines.

In addition to these, attempts were made to convert available civil aircraft such as the Dornier Merkur, Junkers G24 and Ju-52 and Rohrbach Ro VIII into auxiliary bombers.

Arado Ar-65
Arado Ar-65
Heinkel He-45
Heinkel He-45
Junkers G24
Junkers G24
Dornier Do-11
Dornier Do-11

On 9 November 1934, a demonstration took place with the He-45, He-46, He-70, Ju-W 34 and Do-11, each with full equipment which were to serve as initial aircraft types for the first flying units of the Luftwaffe.

In 1935, new aircraft arrived in large numbers in Rechlin, as well as older models such as the Do-17, Ju-86 and He-111 whose development dated back to the 1932 tactical requirements for a medium bomber.

Heinkel He-70
Heinkel He-70
Junkers Ju-W34
Junkers Ju-W34
Dornier Do-17
Dornier Do-17
Heinkel He-111
Heinkel He-111

Besides these medium bombers designs built in large numbers and in further-developed versions used operationally by the Luftwaffe almost to the end of WWII, also the Messerschmitt Bf-109 arrived in Rechlin for testing. After its first flight on 28 May 1935, it was demonstrated in Rechlin in October. Following comparison flights in Travemünde with the He-112, the decision was made in favour of the Bf-109. Rechlin took over to further work on the Bf-109.

Testing was also begun in Rechlin of aircraft that had been developed to the competition for a light dive-bomber. The first prototypes of the Blohm Voss Ha-137 and the Henschel Hs-123 arrived. Comparative trials lasted until the end of 1936, the winning Henschel prototype staying on until 1938.

These are samples of the fast pace of prototype testing at the time. In November 1935, there were 182 aircraft available for test purposes in Rechlin.

Messerschmitt Bf-109
Messerschmitt Bf-109
Heinkel He-112
Heinkel He-112
Blohm Voss Ha-137
Blohm Voss Ha-137
Henschel Hs-123
Henschel Hs-123

Towards the end of 1936, testing of the Fieseler Fi-156 began in Rechlin. Also testing the Ju-88 and the Bf-110 began, which were later used in large numbers by the Luftwaffe.

In the contest for a heavy fighter, the Fw-57, Hs-124 and Bf-110 were sumbitted. Messerschmitt was the only one who had designed his new aircraft such that with only minor alterations, a high altitude medium-range reconnassance aircraft and fast bomber could be rapidly deployed. The Bf-110 won the race.

In contrast, the Bf-110 in the contest for a future fast bomber, proved inferior to the Ju-88. The Ju-88 was selected and was used until the end of World War II. The plane was continuously in Rechlin for testing its numerous variants.

Junkers Ju-88
Junkers Ju-88
Fieseler Fi-156 Stork
Fieseler Fi-156 "Stork"
Messerschmitt Bf-110
Messerschmitt Bf-110
Henschel Hs-124
Henschel Hs-124

There was no depreciation in testing activity in 1938. The year was marked principally in evaluating newer series production models of the Do-17, Bf-109 and He-111. Test work was also pursued with the Arado Ar-96.

To replace the Hs-126 close-reconnaissance aircraft in service use, the German Air Ministry had drawn up requiremens for a successor capable of also being used in the low-level strike role, resulting in the Ha-141, the Ar-198 and the Fw-189.

In October, the Air Ministry Development Department requested that a direct comparison of the three designs be made with the participation of Luftwaffe Instruction Units in Rechlin. The Fw-189 prevailed.

Arado Ar-96
Arado Ar-96
Blohm Voss Ha-141
Blohm Voss Ha-141 (later BV-141)
Arado Ar-198
Arado Ar-198
Focke-Wulf Fw-189
Focke-Wulf Fw-189

Autogyro and helicopter testing alternated over a period of time between Rechlin and Travemünde.

Testing work continued to run at a fast pace in 1938. The Ju-88 had to be made operationally mature as soon as possible.

A further new aircraft, the Do-217, began to make its appearance in increasing numbers. It was essentially a further development of the meanwhile obsolete Do-17.

As well as the He-111 and Ju-88, the Do-217 was now the third twin-engined bomber undergoing trials prior to entering Luftwaffe service and thus absorbing precious testing capacity. Alongside of these, there were no important newcomers in the skies over Rechlin.

Focke-Wulf C30
Focke-Wulf C30
Dornier Do-217
Dornier Do-217

On 1 September 1939, World War II broke out with the German invasion of Poland. In Rechlin, work proceeded as usual despite restrictions imposed by wartime conditions.

New aircraft designs were on their way to Rechlin; the Me-210, the Fw-190 and the He-177. All three prototypes came to Rechlin in 1940, but suffered from a number of teething troubles which required extensive testing and modifications and kept the test centre occupied for several years thereafter.

At the beginning of 1940, test flying activities almost came to a standstill because of winter weather conditions. Aircraft which were tested included the Bücker Bü-181, a two-seat trainer.

In the first quarter of 1940, the test centre had also begun He-177 testing with the first four prototypes, but which suffered significant delays and numerous difficulties. Initial operational experiences in the war soon led to according higher priority to further testing tasks to improve the defensive capabilities of the Do-17, Ju-88 and He-111 bombers against enemy fire.

In 1940 it became clear that omissions in previous rearmament planning needed new types of aircraft, and were to lead to a further increase in testing activity in 1941.

Messerschmitt Me-210
Messerschmitt Me-210
Focke-Wulf Fw-190
Focke-Wulf Fw-190
Heinkel He-177
Heinkel He-177
Bucker Bu-181
Bücker Bü-181

In 1941, testing work, including the He-177 prototypes, was intensified. Alongside it, trials were to be continued with the Fw-190, Do-217 and the Me-210, also with a new version of the long-obsolete Ju-87.

The lack of a suitable ground-attack aircraft was shown, since the Hs-129 and the Fw-190 in ground-attack roles were far from combat-ready. Also more and more captured foreign aircraft were examined in Rechlin.

The widening Luftwaffe operational theatres led increasingly to supply problems for the ground troops. There was no successor for the reliable, but aging and slow Ju-52's, which squadrons suffered enormous losses.

At first, development of larger load-carrying gliders were taken up. The Gotha aircraft company designed the Go-242. Testing showed that it was necessary to strengthen the airframe.

Messerschmitt and Junkers firms submitted proposals for bigger gliders. In the end, only the Me-321, the largest glider aircraft in the world, was test flown. Although a motorized version, the Me-323, had flown in 1941, flight trials only commenced in Rechlin the following year.

Henschel Hs-129
Henschel Hs-129
Gotha 242 glider
Gotha 242 glider
Messerschmitt Me-321 glider
Messerschmitt Me-321 glider
Messerschmitt Me-323
Messerschmitt Me-323

Testing operations continued at a rapid pace in Rechlin in 1942. There were new series-models and variants of the Bf-109, Bf-110, Do-217, Fw-190, He-111, He-177 and Ju-88 among others undergoing testing.

The first prototypes of an improved aircraft, the Ju-188, arrived at Rechlin during the year, alongside a few new types which, despite good evaluation results, were eventually not produced in large numbers. This was a sign of lack of capacity in the German aircraft industry which was hardly able to replace training and frontline losses, let alone large scale production of newer designs.

There existed an increasing chaos in planning, whereby newer types would be cancelled one day, just to be re-installed the next day with the highest priority status. This was the case with the Ar-232, Ar-240, Fi-256, Go-244, Ju-252 and eventually the He-219.

Arado Ar-232
Arado Ar-232
Arado Ar-240
Arado Ar-240
Fieseler Fi-256 Superstork
Fieseler Fi-256 "Superstork"
Gotha Go-244
Gotha Go-244

For jet-propelled aircraft undergoing development, the year 1942 resulted in progress. The Me-262 was able to accomplish its first pure jet flight in July 1942, after its rival the He-280 with Heinkel turbojets had already achieved this on 30 March 1941.

The test pilots in Rechlin soon had the opportunity to test fly the new prototypes. Whilst one of the earliest jet-propelled He-280 prototypes was able to be test flown in Rechlin in 1942, this first became possible with the Me-262 in 1943.

Junkers Ju-252
Junkers Ju-252
Heinkel He-219
Heinkel He-219
Messerschmitt Me-262
Messerschmitt Me-262
Heinkel He-280
Heinkel He-280

At the beginning of 1943, it was the first time that an ejection seat had to be used in a He-280, which saved the life of the pilot. Flight testing of jet aircraft progressed at a slow pace. In contrast, the same basic aircraft types as in the previous year dominated the skies over Rechlin, such as night-fighter variants of the Bf-110, Do-117 and Ju-88.

Components of new systems like pressure-cabins or ever more voluminous hydraulic systems expanded the range of tasks. Continually increasing flying ceilings required new heating as well as de-icing systems.

Much effort was expended to gain every possible increase in speed, such as by installing coverings on the undercarriage bays. Increased savings in materials and expenditure became necessary, so that the use of substitute materials and standardization of aircraft equipment and systems brought further testing tasks.

The first pure night-fighter that was developed, the He-219, arrived at Rechlin with which extensive ejection seat tests were carried out. Since no successor for the transport aircraft Ju-52 was yet available, further tests were undertaken with the Ar-232, Go-244 and Ju-252.

Also tests with load-carrying gliders therefore had to be intensified. Messerschmitt had in the mean time developed the Me-410, which resulted from suggestions for improvements from testing the unsuccessful Me-210.

Messerschmitt Me-410
Messerschmitt Me-410
Engine test stand in Rechlin
Engine test stand in Rechlin

Until 1944 Rechlin remained spared from being attacked directly. The only possible countermeasure upon the approach of enemy aircraft was to leave the vicinity at the start of an alarm and disperse as many aircraft as possible nearby airfields, an action accomplished on several occasions. In low-level attacks, however, it was in any case too late for such measures, so that from spring 1944, strengthened local anti-aircraft defences went into action when American long-range Lightning fighters made a surprise attack on Lärz on 21 May 1944. Several flight test aircraft on the ground were set on fire, but apparently there were no casualties of airfield personnel.

A large air attack came on 24 May 1944 from a formation that had diverted away from a large formation attacking Berlin. Because of the weather, only one workshop was destroyed, and this time too, there did not appear to be any casualties.

One week later, on 31 May 1944, a US reconnaissance aircraft brought to the Allies the first information about a completely new and unusual aircraft; the 4-jet Junkers Ju-287. On 6 August 1944 a British reconnaissance aircraft brought back from the flight a picture of an Ar-234 parked beside two Me-262s in Lärz.

A completey new aircraft was the Ta-154, which arrived at Rechlin in June 1944.

Junkers Ju-287
Junkers Ju-287
Arado Ar-234
Arado Ar-234
Junkers Ju-288
Junkers Ju-288
Focke-Wulf Ta-154
Focke-Wulf Ta-154

Also testing of the completely new Do-335 started in the second half of 1944, a design envisaged by Dornier as a reconnaissance, heavy fighter, fast bomber and night fighter. Besides all these during the course of the year, there were the Ju-352s with a number of different protoypes that were tested or with transport duties on Rechlin. At the end of the year, the Ar-396 was able to commence its flight trials in Rechlin, followed shortly after by pre-production machines.

In the autumn of 1944 testing was begun of a manned flying bomb, the Fi-103 code-named Reichenberg, whose pilot would dive onto the enemy target but who scarcely had a chance of survival. The flight was to take place following release from an He-111 aircraft which had to carry it to altitude. Although the Fi-103 underwent flight trials, the plan for suicide missions was abandoned.

Dornier Do-335 Pfeil
Dornier Do-335 "Pfeil"
Junkers Ju-352
Junkers Ju-352
Arado Ar-396
Arado Ar-396
Fieseler Fi-103
Fieseler Fi-103

On 25 August 1944 Rechlin encountered the first large air raid. At 12:50 hours, the first bombs were dropped in the region of the Gruppe Nord and the seaplane hangar. Bombs then followed in quick succession on emplacements of the Gruppe Ost, Gruppe West, and Gruppe Süd. Some 20 minutes later, it was all over. Approximately 20 people had died, but the majority of personnel were able to be evacuated in good time to nearby surroundings. The flak positions stationed in Rechlin had apparently downed only one bomber of the formations.

The inferiority of the German defences also revealed that the formation which had been ordered to Rechlin had met no fighter opposition whatsoever. The installations in Rechlin were badly hit, and none of the hangars escaped undamaged. Air operations had to be conducted from Lärz and Roggentin until the work of damage clearance had made reasonable progress some two weeks later. After that, the sky over the Müritz became peaceful and even reconnaissance sorties subsided, apart from 13 September and 15 October 1944 when Allies aircraft appeared over Rechlin to take damage and activity photographs.

The day after the attack
The day after the attack
Extensive damage
Extensive damage

The war theatres in the East as in the West, were continually drawing closer to Rechlin. The dubious situation caused the Luftwaffe leadership to draw upon the last defensive reserves. In a conference on 12/13 January 1945, it was decided to prepare a combat formation in Rechlin that had to be made up of "all operationally-ready aircraft consisting of the Me-262, Ar-234, Bf-109, Fw-190, Ta-152, Ju-88, Ju-188 and He-111" and operationally-capable aircrews. The test centre had the task of taking care of the technical needs and provision of the combat formation, at the same time continuing flight test work with crews that were not fully fit for operational engagement.

Flight testing activities resumed on 6 February 1945. Undergoing testing at the time were the Bf-109 and Fw-190, the Ta-152 in various variants, as well as the BV-155 high-altitude fighter which had just made its first flights. In terms of jet aircraft, new variants of the Me-262 kept appearing for testing. He-162 testing ran in parallel with series production and high on the priority list was the four-engined Ar-234C. Flight testing in Rechlin itself became increasingly limited because of deficits in fuel distribution. Flight testing took place more frequently at the manufacturing firms, which entailed lengthy and dangerous train journeys for the Rechlin personnel.

Preparations were begun in the first half of March 1945 to relocate jet aircraft flight testing to Lechfeld, south of Augsburg in southern Germany. On 24 March 1945, the first freight train arrived from Rechlin, carrying personnel and material followed by a second train a few days later. The necessary work on installations began immediately. It was only on 16 April 1945 that He-162 flights in the framework of the test programme could begin. Meanwhile, other aircraft from Rechlin had arrived, among them the Me-262 and the Ar-234.

Focke-Wulf Ta-152
Focke-Wulf Ta-152
Blohm Voss BV-155
Blohm Voss BV-155
Arado Ar-234C
Arado Ar-234C
Heinkel He-162
Heinkel He-162

At this time, there was almost no flight testing taking place anymore on Rechlin. Nevertheless, Lärz was being used more and more as a dispersal and repair centre for the operations Me-262s. On 10 April 1945 US bomber formations took off to attack targets in Germany. 170 B-24 Liberators were to attack Rechlin, whilst 105 B-24s were to bombard Lärz. The airfields were only protected by light flak since the heavier weapons had been transferred for the defence of large cities or else to the Western or Eastern Front. After this bombardment, the installations in Lärz were no longer usable, and flight testing came to a complete standstill.

A Do-335 took-off from Rechlin on 20 April 1945 to be ferried to southern Germany. Via Prague and Lechfeld, the pilot reached Oberpfaffenhofen on 23 April 1945. His machine, the sole Do-335 still in existence, and almost certainly the sole survivor of aircraft tested in Rechlin, is in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC. Already on 30 April 1945, demolition teams had started work to destroy the buildings and installations on Rechlin which had survived the bombing raids intact. The Soviets reached Rechlin on 2 May 1945, where they met no resistance.

Immediately after the occupation by the Soviets, the remaining residents that were spared from rapes and shootings by the Soviets were set to work to fill-in the bomb craters on the Rechlin and Lärz airfields and perform other clearing-up duties. The Soviets began to dismantle the available or still usable airfield installations right up to the buildings themselves for transport to the Soviet Union. Nothing more should remain in evidence of what had been the Luftwaffe's largest Flight Test Centre.

After the war Rechlin became a Soviet garrison. The Ellerholz barracks behind the former Gruppe West remained almost undamaged, and was used as accommodation for units of the Soviet Ar-med Forces in East Germany. They belonged to Air Force units stationed in Lärz; a fighter-bomber and a combat helicopter regiment. The Rechlin airfield itself was no longer operational. The hangars had been destroyed by bombing and the remainder dismantled. The aircraft manouvring area was used for agricultural purposes.

Larz in 1976
Lärz in 1976
Soviet Sukhoi Su-17 take-off from Larz
Soviet Sukhoi Su-17 take-off from Lärz

In 1993, the last Russian soldiers left the area. Today, the Müritz Airfield Rechlin-Lärz is used by civilian air transport aircraft and serves as one of the last successors of Rechlin's flying past. In the Rechlin surroundings there still remain "silent witnesses" from the E-Stellen period; dilapidated buildings, blown up observation towers and measurement stations, the foundations of transmission towers and radar emplacements, plus bomb craters and aircraft wreckage. Nature hides these remains with each passing year. In order not to allow the flying period and engineering efforts of Rechlin's historical past to be forgotten, an Aviation Technical Museum Rechlin now stands on the grounds of the former Gruppe Nord which once served as the heart of the Test Centre.

silent witnesses
silent witnesses
Luftfahrtechnisches Museum Rechlin
Luftfahrtechnisches Museum Rechlin

Links

  • Trip report to Peenemünde, Rechlin-Lärz and Uelzen, 19 April 2011
  • The Arado Ar-234
    The world's first operational jet bomber and reconnaissance aircraft
  • Trip report to Mittelland Canal, Amsterdam and Rechlin-Lärz, 11/13 March 2017

References

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