The history of Ramstein Air Base

by Dr. Silvano A. Wueschner
86th Airlift Wing historian

If there is one question I have been consistently asked in the past six months, it is, “Why did the Air Force choose Ramstein as a location for a base?”

To answer that question requires one to frame the response in the context of the Cold War. As the wartime cooperation between the U.S. and the Soviet Union ended and tensions between the two countries mounted, the U.S. came to see Soviet expansionism as a threat to its own interests and began shaping a new policy of containment, a policy that crystallized in 1947 when suspected Soviet-backed Communist guerrillas launched a civil war against the Greek government.
Soviet influence in Greece threatened U.S. interests in the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East, especially Turkey and Iran.

American reaction resulted in the Truman Doctrine, which called for large-scale military and economic assistance in order to prevent communism from taking hold in Greece and Turkey and thereby lessen the threat to the entire Middle East.
The congressional appropriation, which followed, reversed the postwar trend toward sharp cuts in foreign spending and marked a new level of commitment to the Cold War.

President Truman also turned to the National Security Council to devise a new diplomatic and military blueprint.

The result was NSC-68, a report that recommended an increase in U.S. conventional forces. In the ensuing buildup of forces, the number of U.S. Air Force combat wings increased from 48 in 1950 to 95 by June 1952.

The increase in air assets and personnel required additional facilities to house them. More importantly, planners began to reassess how best to deploy their aircraft and associated facilities. That rethinking led to the decision to build six new bases in Rheinland-Pfalz, which at the time had two existing military airstrips, one at Pferdsfeld and the other at Baumholder. 

Pferdsfeld had been built by the German Luftwaffe in 1938. In the 1950s, it was periodically used by the U.S. Air Force to conduct exercises.

From 1961 until 1997 it served as a German Luftwaffe base once again. The airfield at Baumholder, built in the early 1940s, came under U.S. Army control in 1951 and was used exclusively by U.S. Army air assets. 

There was also an auxiliary Luftwaffe landing strip on a portion of the old autobahn between Landstuhl and Ramstein. It was here that two adjoining bases, Landstuhl Air Base and Ramstein Air Base, were to be located.

From a strategic perspective, the decision to construct six bases on the west side of the Rhine made sense because it placed them behind a natural barrier, and in the majority of cases, surrounded by protective topography. It also placed them in a straight line approach to the Fulda Gap, from where the Soviet attack on the bases in the Rhein-Main area was expected to begin.

The tactical air assets based at these six bases could be used in an offensive or defensive capacity to counter the Soviet advance or they could be employed to provide close air support for army infantry units meeting the Soviet advance head on. Evidence of planning for the latter contingency was seen on Feb. 11, 1952, when the 86th Fighter-Bomber Wing, based at Neubiberg, furnished four F-84-E Thunderjets for a combined infantry-artillery training exercise with the 2nd Armored Division at Baumholder. 

The bottom line for military planners was that these bases would be better protected and in closer proximity to the forward edge of the battle area and easier to integrate into joint operations. At the time, these bases were situated in an area of stability near an area of potential instability.

Much in the same way today, Ramstein operates from an area of stability as it carries out its missions in Southwest Asia, the Middle East and Africa regions.