When the German Federal Army (Bundeswehr) was founded in 1955 it was also planned that independent Naval aviation units would exist. According to the prevalent military and political situation it was envisaged to deploy 5 Naval Air Wings (MFG = NAW 1 – 5). These Air wings were structured in accordance with traditional task areas, i.e. the MFG 1 & 2 was dedicated for combating sea targets, the MFG 3's task was sea reconnaissance, the MFG 4 was used against submarines (Anti Submarine Warfare = ASW) and finally the MFG 5 was assigned for Search & Rescue missions (SAR). Actually the MFG 4 consisted of only one squadron and was organizationally annexed to the MFG 5. Due to budgetary reasons the MFG 4 was disbanded after a very short time on duty (1963 – 1968), its equipment as well as its tasks were mainly taken over by the MFG 5. Therefore it was 4 Naval Air Wings which served the Bundesmarine until the 1990ies in the North Sea as well as in the Baltic Sea.
The MFG 5's primary task was Search & Rescue for which it was equipped with dedicated material straight from inception. The official founding date of the Marinefliegergeschwader 5 (NAW 5) was the 1st of January 1958. In this time it was still called Marine-Seenotstaffel (Naval SAR Squadron). It came to equal the staus of an Air Wing in 1963. Until this day the MFG 5 has proved its value in countless missions during catastrophies and naval accidents where it has saved the lives of numerous persons. nontheless the scope of duties is diversified, besides genuine SAR tasks the MFG 5 is also responsible for the air supply of the Einsatzgruppenversorger (supply vessels of the German Navy). At the moment the Bundesmarine has two units of the Berlin-Class (the BERLIN and the FRANKFURT), a third vessel, the BONN is currently under commissioning). Additionally the MFG's Sea King helicopter is also used for the deployment of the Special Forces Commando unit of the Bundeswehr (KSK = Kommando Spezialkraefte).
The initial equipment of the MFG 5 was the Bristol SYCAMORE helicopter as well as the twin engine Hunting PEMBROKE liaison aircraft, the latter was then supplemented by the single engine Dornier Do-27.
An interesting side note: from the beginning of its post-war existence German naval aviation procured primarily British material (Bristol SYCAMORE, SARO SKEETER, Hawker SEA HAWK, Fairey GANNET, etc). As the British arms industry lost more and more its leading role to the U.S. in the early 1960s, so also the Federal Office of Defense Technology and Procurement of the Bundeswehr was forced to be more open to US-based hardware. That change came in the form of the legendary Sikorsky H-34G, which was replaced in 1975 by the current model, the Westland SEA KING Mk.41. 22 SEA KING aircraft were ordered, which to this day, only one aircraft has been written off as a total loss. However, only a fraction of the remaining helicopters can be kept operational as a result of the age of the helicopter and the procurement & supply of spare parts is more and more difficult. Also the service hours compared to one flying hour is disproportionately high. The replacement in form of the NH-90 NG (naval version of the NH-90) is still some time away. Therefore it is already planned to use the SEA KING until 2026.
After the end of the Cold War and the subsequent policy of detente, the MFG 1 (Naval Air Base Jagel) was merged with the MFG 2 (Naval Air Base Eggebek) and continued as the MFG 2. This was followed by another reform of the Bundeswehr in 2006 under the then Defense Minister Peter Struck (SPD – German Labour Party) when the MFG 2 was completely disbanded. A part of MFG 2's task was taken over by the Luftwaffe's Reconnaissance Wing 51 (AG 51 ; Jagel AB), most of its aircraft were distributed between several Luftwaffe squadrons, but some landed in various museums as well. Thus the German Navy had only two remaining naval flying units: the Naval Air Wing 3 (Naval Air Base Nordholz) and the Naval Air Wing 5 (Naval Air Base Kiel Holtenau). Since then, these two wings have also merged, and the MFG 5 has moved completely to the MFG 3 base in Nordholz. Through this merger of the SAR component of the MFG 5 with the MFG 3 a leaner structure has been created, which in addition is expected to reduce the cost for personnel and should allow a better coordination of future tasks. The base in Kiel Holtenau is completely closed.
Although it is initially planned to continue both units independently in Nordholz (having its own command structure and its own corporate office), the ultimate goal of the merger will no doubt see this arrangement come to a close.
The varied roles of MFG 5 has steadily expanded over the years, the funds available for these tasks unfortunately has not. The MFG 5 was and is one of the most important units of the Bundeswehr, not only in military terms (sea rescue missions do not happen in military and political emergency situations only). In the run up of this decision, there was naturally a lot of concerns and lack of understanding. The costs for the necessary renovations to accommodate the MFG 5 at the Nordholz base amount to an (estimated) 35 million euros, the cost of moving all the equipment is not included. Considering the fact that the successor of the SEA KING, the NH-90, is still not available and the SEA KING fleet is only partially mission-ready (and this with constantly expanding tasks), this measure at least seems to be somewhat rushed. However, one must say in fairness, that in the advance of great decisions there are always pro and con discussions going on. The future will show whether and how the move of the MFG 5 to Nordholz and the disbanding of it former base in Kiel-Holtenau will affect the search and rescue missions of the German Navy, and whether this can achieve its goals in the long term.
Robert Kysela, CHK6
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