I wish to thank Herr Schmitt and the other fine gentlemen of Giebelstadt that graciously provided their time and trouble putting together the history of GAFF in particular and the history of the city of Giebelstadt in general. This brief but yet concise history of Giebelstadt Army Airfield and the city of Market Giebelstadt provides the reader a better understanding of the long traditional values of Giebelstadt. This narrative that you are about to read runs the gambit of the origins of Giebelstadt through the Pheasant Wars, WWI, WWII and to the present.
FROM THE HORSE TO THE JET PLANE
A SHORT GIEBELSTADT HISTORY
Giebelstadt Army Airfield
27 September 2000
Note from the Editor
Special thanks to Herr Ernst Neigh, member of the Giebelstadt City Council and employee of the German Armed Forces Garrison Administration in Giebelstadt, for providing his "short history of the Giebelstadt Airfield" and several historical photographs. The information contained in this Giebelstadt History is based on "From the Horse to the Jet Plane, a short history of Giebelstadt" by Joseph P. Tustin, XII Tactical Air Command Historian, 5 June 1947. "Beitraege zur Geschichte der Marktgemeinde Giebelstadt 820 –1970", by Wilhelm Benkert, 1970. "Landkreis Wuerzburg – Unsere Heimat unter Hitlers Gewaltherrschaft in Dokumenten, Erlebnissen und Schicksalen", by Christian Will, Wuerzburg, 1988. "Jet&Prop, Foto-Archiv 6, Spezial-Ausgabe: Mai 1945, die Luftwaffe kapituliert, VDM Heinz Nickel, Zweibruecken, Juli 1996. "Kurzer geschichtlicher Abriss ueber den Flugplatz Giebelstadt", Ernst Neigh, Giebelstadt.
In the passage of several thousand years, the fields of Giebelstadt have seen lots of changing history – from the coming of the fleet horse to the speedy wings of jet planes and the rattling sounds of military helicopters – contributing to the development of travel and war fighting, from the oldest to the latest means of transportation.
Giebelstadt Community Crest
The Village of Giebelstadt lies in the Main-Franconian plain, the so-called "Ochsenfurter Gau". There are no records about the founding of the village, but it can be said that Giebelstadt is among the first settlements in this rich farming area. East of the village in a small patch of woods, there is a pre-historic graveyard. Excavations made by Professor Dr. Heck of Wuerzburg in the 1920s have revealed, that these graves are the burial grounds of Teutonic ancestors and date back between one and two thousand years before the Christian era began.
There are two versions were the name Giebelstadt may be derived from. The old Teutonic word "gir" means "horse stallion" while the suffix "stat" means "station – the place where the horses were kept. The second version: The oldest written version read "Gibulesstat" derived from the name "Gibule" and the suffix "stat" – "the home of Gibule". He could have been a Carolingian Franconian that settled in the area. The Carolinians were a frankish dynasty that reigned in France from A.D. 751 – 987 and settled this part of Germany. This area became part of the East Franconian Duchy under the Carolinian Kings. The most famous king of this dynasty was Charlemagne or Charles the Great, the first emperor of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nations.
Ministers of the King, the so-called "Gaugrafen" – Counts of the Gau, were the extended arm of the dynasty and acted as judges and police force. In the oldest known record about Giebelstadt dated from 20 January 820, the Count Radulfus had a quarrel with the Bishop Wulfgarius of Wuerzburg about some estate near "Gibulostat" and "Eichesfeld", now known as Giebelstadt and Essfeld. The old document states, that the German Emperor Louis the Pious at Aachen ruled for the church and the property in question remained in the custody of the Bishop of Wuerzburg.
The Counts ruled the "Badanachgau" until about 1000 then this area became under the influence of the Prince Bishop of Wuerzburg. The Bishops of Wuerzburg acted as "Dukes of Franconia" and as governors for the King. The Duchy of Franconia ruled by the Prince Bishop of Wuerzburg existed until the Napoleon Wars and became part of the Bavaria in 1806.
The Noble Families
As early as the year 948, mention was made of the aristocratic families of Geyer and Nobel, the later family still is in existence at the present time in Giebelstadt with Baron Stefan Freiherr von Nobel as head of the family. From the earliest of times the place had been used for horse breeding, since without this activity the development of the knighthood could not continue, so it was just natural that both noble families assumed the head of a horse in their heraldic arms. It was not until the 15th century when the head of a ram became the symbol of the Geyer family.
Heraldic Arms of the Count of Geyer, 1685
The most famous son of the Geyer family was Knight Florian Geyer, a hero of the peasant war. Of noble birth, Florian Geyer was educated in England, and upon returning to his Homeland, took issue against the feudal system and strongly opposed the confinement and situation of the peasants who were considered as serfs by their masters. Influenced by the teaching of Martin Luther, Geyer became imbued with the idea that there should be, in his own words: "One nation, one Reich and all its inhabitants being brethren, one god, one law for everybody, rich or poor – such is my longing". More about the short –lived Peasants’ War in the chapter – The Peasants War.
On 24 August 1708, Count Heinrich Wolfgang von Geyer died. Him and his wife Helene Julianne von Wolmershausen zu Amlishagen had no children, so the Geyer family became extinct.
The Nobel family was originally knights and served the Counts of Rieneck. This family was wide spread in this region. The oldest recorded home was in Gruensfeld near Tauberbischofsheim. The family later became treasures for the Prince Bishops of Wuerzburg. This position was held until1806, when the Prince Bishop lost his secular power.
A famous member of the family was Melchior Nobel. He was elected Prince Bishop of Wuerzburg and Duke of Franconia in 1544. On 15 April 1558 a servant of the Knight Wilhelm of Grumbach murdered him. Grumbach who had order the murder because he claimed that the Bishops predecessor owed him 1000 Guilders, and Melchior Nobel wouldn’t let the money. Grumbach was declared outlaw by the Emperor was caught and executed on the Market Square of the Saxonian City Gotha. After being beheaded his body was torn into four pieces. Four horses pulling on the arms and legs the same time did this. The execution sword was handed over to the Nobel family and is still kept in the Giebelstadt Nobel Castle.
Still bloody sword used for the execution of the Knight Wilhelm of Grumbach, the murder of the Prince Bishop Melchior Nobel of Giebelstadt5
The Giebelstadt Castles
Originally there were three castles in Giebelstadt; two of them are still intact.
The ruins of former Geyer castle at the southern outskirts of town. After the death of the last member of the Geyer family in the early 18th century, the castle was sold several times and was used as home for 13 poor families in the 19th century. They couldn’t maintain the castle, but used all its timber as firewood. Later on the farmers used the ruins as stone quarry to build farmhouses and barns. Between 1925 until the start of WWII the ruins were used to enact the historical drama about Florian Geyers’ heroic life.
A revival of the "Florian Geyer Festspiele" with some 300 local citizens as actors in historical costumes is enacted every year since about 1976. This event played on three weekends in July every year draws thousands of spectators to the old Geyer Castle ruins.
Ruin of the Geyer Castle, about 1900
In the middle of town, the beautiful Nobel Castle is located. Knight Heinrich von Nobel built it between 1585 – 1587. It was a replacement of the Nobel Castle destroyed during the peasants war in 1525. The Castle contains the archive of the Nobel family and is still the home of Baron Stefan von Nobel.
The Castle of the Giebelstadt von Nobel Family in earlier times
The Nobel Schlock as it is seen today.
The third of the Giebelstadt castles is the so-called "Friesenhaeuser Schlock", is a beautiful one-wing baroque building, located along the main road in center of town. It was build by relatives of the Giebelstadt Nobel family between 1684 – 1700. The owner Johann Gottlob Nobel von Friesenhausen ever resided in the castle but is was converted into a brewery at the beginning of the 19th century. At the end of WWI the castle again was converted – into a "Gasthaus" and living quarters. In the mid 1970s the castle was bought by the city from the Nobel family, renovated and since serves as the community "Rathaus".
The Peasants’ War
In spring of 1525 the peasant’s war broke out and the Giebelstadt Knight Florian Geyer voluntarily left his castle and became one of the leaders of the revolt, being soon joined by other nobles, who considered themselves oppressed by nobles of higher estate and the clergy. The Geyer Castle became the meeting place of this group and became known far and wide as the "Black Bands" which fought with the peasants and destroyed castles and monasteries. Florian Geyer was ex-communicated by the church for his anti-clerical attitude. While the peasant’s army was very successful in the beginning, they failed during the besieging of the bishops’ castle, the fortress "Marienberg" at Wuerzburg. Florian Geyer rode to the Imperial City of Rothenburg ob der Tauber to ask for heavy guns.
The leaderless troops did not exercise watchfulness and became indolent. Without warning the army of the Count Truchsess von Waldenburg, supporting the Bishop suddenly appeared. The farmers camping out around Giebelstadt were caught by surprise and attacked on their open flanks. They fought a fierce but hopeless struggle and were completely overcome. The battle turned into slaughter and about ten thousand peasants were slain or stubbed to death. Florian Geyer attempted to support his troops, but the battle had been lost and the remnants of his army tried to escape. The remaining peasants retreated towards the castle walls of Ingolstadt, fighting and dying in the fields to the last man. When night had fallen, Florian Geyer already wounded was stabbed to death by two soldiers he did not suspect, as they had been sent by his opponent brother –in-law.
Geyer was buried immediately by his slayers in a wood and the secret of his burial place remains a mystery to this day.
The Prince Bishop of Wuerzburg, who had fled during the revolt, returned to Wuerzburg and held cruel tribunals – thousands of peasants were executed or blinded. It took until the revolution in 1848 to drastically change the poor living conditions of the peasants.
Hitler and General Field Marshal v. Blomberg at the Grand Military Parade in Giebelstadt, 1936
A newspaper correspondent witnessing this event described in detail the splendor and might of this vast military display on the airfield. Associating the Nazi movement with bygone heroic event, the correspondent eloquently reported: "As the eyes glide over this Main-Franconian landscape – so enhanced by tradition – before us appears the vision of Florian Geyer and his Black Bands, who centuries ago started from these same grounds to fight for liberty".
Giebelstadt celebrated 1100 years of existence on 19 June 1937, with a festival at the air base where the Nazi Gauleiter of the district greeted all the Buergermeisters from the surrounding country.
As the Second World War began on 1 Sept 1939, the Giebelstadt stationed "Kampfgeschwader 53" and its He 111 bombers were deployed. On the morning of May 10, 1940, the bomber groups of KG 53 left their base with all their aircraft and attacked designated targets in France. After this raid all planes of the squadron landed at previously assigned airstrips near the French border.
During the war operations of the Luftwaffe at the Giebelstadt Air Base consisted of training pilots for the He 111 and training of observers and radio operators.
After 1941 no more operational unit was stationed at Giebelstadt as the base was selected for the experimentation and development of secret types of airplanes and weapons. The base was declared "off limits" to all aircraft not stationed there, and personal were permitted to enter the hangers, except those Officers and engineers having special identification prepared and signed by the Air Ministry. In order to maintain the highest secrecy around the base, the name Giebelstadt was no longer printed on any map.
After 1943, secret tests were carried out on the base with new developed aircraft, the rocket propelled Messerschmitt Me 163, the jet propelled fighter jet Me 262, and the model He 177, a four-engine bomber. During summer 1944 the concrete runway was extended to 1500 meter length to allow the stationing of a fighter bomber squadron equipped with Me 262s. Group I and Group III of KG (J) 54 were stationed at Giebelstadt from Sept 1944 – 28 Mar 1945.
The runway was barely finished when on 10 Sept 1944 an American air raid attacked the airfield. The village of Acholshausen located close by was hit and completely destroyed. The records of the schoolteacher Hugo Wilz read: "The church, the school, 32 farm houses, 38 barns, 35 stables, and 22 other building are destroyed. 3 Horses, 96 cows, 93 pigs, and 9 goats were killed. Almost all farming equipment and machinery got burned..." " No person was killed during the attack, only Baerbl Karl suffered severe burns – she died 14 days later ".
As the allied front line moved closer in spring 1945, the German unit evacuated the base and the most aircraft were flown to Prague. On 31 March 1945 the retreating German Forces blew up most of the buildings and destroyed the runway. A day later on Easter Sunday, 1 April 1945 units of the 12th US Armored Division captured the base and captured several jets and transport planes left behind.
Dornier Do 23 airplane on Giebelstadt, 1936
Soldier of the US 12th Armored Division in front of a captured Me 262 jet fighter on Giebelstadt Air Base, 1 April 1945
Village Acholshausen destroyed during the 10 Sept 1944 air raid
The Giebelstadt Air Base became operational again in April 1946, with the arrival of the US 55th Fighter Group of the XII Tactical Air Command from Kaufbeuren, Germany.
The unit was equipped with P 51 Mustang fighters. The first American jet proppeled aircraft arrived in the European Theater in May and Giebelstadt was selected for operations with this new weapon system. The Base was visited on 1 July, 1946. By the Commanding General of the Army Air Forces, General Carl A. Spaatz. He visited the jet school and witnessed a flying demonstration of the P-80 "Shooting Star".
In June 1947 B-29 bombers arrived in Giebelstadt. The runway had been extended to 2194 meters (7200feet), and the base became a forward deplyment base for the US Strategic Air Command. In January 1948 the base was closed until April 1950.
The base has seen various US Army and Airforce units coming and going including the famous U-2 spy plane. The CIA agent Garry Powers, later shot down over the Soviet Union was well known down town Giebelstadt.
In 1962 the base was returned to the German Forces and a German Garrison Administration (Standortverwaltung –STOV) formed. The last US Air Force unit left in 1968 and the base was used by the German Airforce for helicopter tests.
In 1978 a US Army AH-1 Copra unit was stationed – Giebelstadt Airbase became Giebelstadt Army Airfield.
In 1981 the 3rd Combat Aviation Battalion was relocated from Kitzingen to Giebelstadt and later on became the Army’s’ first operational Aviation Brigade under the Division 2000 concept. The Cobras were replaced by AH-64s, the units deployed for Desert Storm and to Somalia. Under the draw down following the CFE treaty, the Apache units were re-stationed to the US and the 4th Aviation Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division relocated to Ansbach. UH-60 and CH47 helicopter units moved in from Frankfurt and Schwaebisch Hall, Germany.
In September 2000 this history ends when the 12th Aviation Brigade relocates from Wiesbaden to Giebelstadt making this airfield on of the busiest military airfields in Europe again. This history ends - but not the long history of Giebelstadt and its airfield.
Military Unit stationed at Giebelstadt from 1945 –2000
1946 55th Fighter Group, P-51 Mustang
1946 31st Fighter Group, P-80 Shooting Star
1947 SAC, B-29 Bombers
1950 – 1956 603rd AC&W Squadron, Radar Station
1956 – 1968 602nd AC&W Squadron, Radar Station
1959 - 1961 Forward Deployment Base for U-2 spy-plane
1962 Detachment of German Airforce Test Center 61, Helicopter Testing
1963 – 1993 C Battery, 6/52nd ADA, Hawk-Missiles
1970 - 1981 67th ADA, Vulcan/Chaparral
1978 - 1991 B Co, 3rd CAB, AH-1 Cobras
1981 – 1984 3rd Combat Aviation Battalion
1984 - 1992 4th Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division
1988 - 1993 Patriot Missile Maintenance Center
1992- 69th ADA Bde
1992 - CH47s relocate from Schwaebisch Hall
1993 - 5-158 AVN BN relocates from Maurice Rose, Frankfurt
2000 - 3-158 AVN BN
2000 - 3-58 ATS BN relocates from Wiesbaden
2000 - A Co and C Co, 5-158 AVN relocate from Wiesbaden
2000 - 12th Aviation Brigade relocates from Wiesbaden