On special invitation by the German Luftwaffe commander Lieutenant General Ingo Gerhartz, the Israeli Air Force paid a two weeks visit to Nörvenich, home of the Taktische Luftwaffengeschwader (TLG)31 “Boelcke”. A unique moment in history as it was the first time that the Israeli Air Force landed on German soil and both countries share a pitch black history as the Nazis tried to annihilate the Jewish people during World War II. It was also the only exercise outside Israel in 2020 due to the global pandemic.
It was Gerhartz himself, flying an EF2000 Eurofighter, who welcomed the Israeli delegation in German airspace, as he flew side by side to the Gulfstream V ‘Nachshon Shavit’. On board was his personal friend the commanding officer of the Israeli Air Force, General Major Amikam Norkin. Gerhartz spoke the historic words over the radio: “On behalf of the German Air Force it is an honour to welcome the Israeli Air Force entering German airspace for the first time in history. My Israeli friends, Amikam, now we are flying side by side”.
A video with the spoken message was made by the Israeli Air Force and is shown here.
For exercise Blue Wings 2020 in the first week and participation in the German exercise Multinational Air Group Days (MAGDays) during the second week, the Israeli brought a interesting number of aircraft together with 180 airmen. 6x F-16C and -Ds of two Hatzor based units (101 and 105 Squadron), supported by two KC-707s of 120 Squadron and two Gulfstream aircraft of 122 Squadron from Nevatim Airbase. Several C-130s Hercules provided the necessary transport capacity.
The 101 Squadron (the first squadron), being the first Israeli Air force squadron, was formed in 1948 only six days of declaring independence. It has a long and rich history of flying and operating in conflict situations and has flown the most intercepting missions of all Israeli fighter squadrons. The pilots are combat proven and brought a lot of experience together with their comrades of the 105 Squadron to Germany.
The first week was mainly used for training and familiarization flights over Germany as the landscape and weather circumstances differ much from Israel. The fact that one of the missions had to be cancelled was a novelty to the participating pilots. The aircraft operated out of a number of shelters, near runway 25, normally used by the German Eurofighters.
Fly-by Fürstenfeldbruck and Dachau concentration camp
Luckily for all involved the special flight on Tuesday 18 August was not cancelled.
On this day the Gulfstream V, with on board both commanding officers, accompanied by two Eurofighters and two F-16C ‘Barak’ (meaning lightning) flew a special fly by over two historic sites.
The airbase of Fürstenfeldbruck was the place where the Israeli hostages were taken during the Olympics in 1972 Munich. Unfortunately the rescue attempt by German special forces failed and nine of the athletes were killed on the spot by the terrorists. The concentration camp of Dachau served as a model camp for the Nazi regime and training ground for SS guards, around 40,000 people were murdered. The camp was liberated by American forces in April 1945.
The Israeli crew took a number of symbolic items on board for the flyover with connection to both places. Among the items were poetry books that belonged to a Dachau survivor and grandfather of the deputy commander of the 109 Squadron and a ring belonging to the former commander of the 105 Squadron and holocaust survivor, who was killed in battle.
General Major Norkin brought the flags of the state of Israel, the Israeli Air Force and the Olympics committee on board. The latter was presented to him during a special meeting with the relatives of the killed athletes prior to his visit to Germany.
After the overflight both commanding officers attended a special ceremony at Dachau joining the German Minister of Defense and Israeli ambassador to Germany. Both generals made a speech. Lt. Gen. Norkin said: “Standing here I raise my head and look towards the future. This future encompassed Germany….. We are training and learning, friend from friend, force from force, and military from military. Even amid a global pandemic, we chose to carry out this joint training exercise. This cooperation is powerful and meaningful, especially during these challenging days”.
His words expressed the bond which his grown between to former enemies of the past.
The same bond both generals expressed during their speeches was clearly sensible during the media day, which was organised at Nörvenich Airbase.
All though the generals did not attend this occasion due to safety reasons their fellow country men and women shared the same message of unity.
As one could expect the safety measures around the base visit were very strict, with several checks of personal belongings and a thorough check before of credentials.
The afternoon was opened by the senior press officer from Berlin after which Lt. Col. Mbassa, deputy commander of the TLG31 made a brief statement about the Israeli visit to his base and the significance of this historical moment.
Next to him stood Lt. Col. O., a former F-16 Squadron commander. Now in the Reserves he participated in the exercise as part-time military pilot. Unrecognizable with his helmet on and visor down, he expressed the same emotions as his German counter partners. His personal connection to the German dark history comes from his Polish grandma, who left for Israel directly after the war. He explained: "although professionally the flying is the same anywhere, the location is special and brings extra emotions for me".
As one can understand his presentation was carefully managed and supervised by media staff from the Israeli Air Force, Any questions directly linking to tactical information were firmly avoided. However the hosts of both countries did their very best to cooperate in the best possible ways.
Several photo opportunities of pilots and ground crew were possible, all crew members patiently posing for the present media. It offered a very special moment during this historic visit by the Israeli to Germany.
After the photo opportunities and take off of the afternoon mission, the media was kindly requested to leave the airbase. Even though the event itself was small, it left a memory of having been witness to a very special occasion indeed, which can be in the best way be described with the words Lt. Gen. Gerhartz himself stated during his speech at Dachau; "Today we established a close partnership between our two Air forces We did not only train together, we also became close friends".
Northern Skies Aviation is very grateful for the offered opportunity and would like thank both the German and Israeli Air Force for the possibility to attend the media day.