BDA : Winter Migration !
Text: Serge Van Heertum   -   Pictures : Serge Van Heertum, SBAP Archives & French Air Force traditions © sbap 2012


The BA 103 "René Mouchotte" Cambrai-Epinoy

The first military aircraft in Cambrai appeared in 1914 when the Germans deployed an airbase near Epinoy.  In 1916 the first fighter squadrons stationed there were operating on the Albatros DIII.

During the second World War Epinoy and Niergnies are occupied by the invading German forces and used by their Luftwaffe.  During the first decades of it’s history the airbase witnessed many war birds: Morane-SaulnierM4-406, Messerschmitt Bf-109 and Dornier DO17Z, P-47D Thunderbolt and B-26 Marauder of the USAF and the RAF Mosquito. By the end of 1946 the allied forces leave Cambrai region and the site is decommissioned.  In 1952 work starts with the installing of a new airbase then called Airbase 103 later to be renamed ‘ Airbase Rene Mouchotte’.  By july 1953 the  12th squadron ‘Cambresis’ takes residence at Cambrai-Epinoy with the MD-450 “Ouragan”.  The airbase welcomes in successive order the Mystère IV A, SMB2 Super Mystère, Mirage IV, Mirage F1 and the Mirage 2000.

In july 2008 a new chapter is written in the history of the site with the announcement of new plans for the region.  Despite fierce  opposition from local politicians and economical foundations the French minister of defence Herve Morin declares the base of Cambrai to be closed by 2011.

The French are implementing a new reorganization of their military and as a consequence the airbase of Cambrai is faced with the dire verdict of closure and all the implications for local economic life in the region.  By summer 2012 the airbase Cambrai-Epinoy finally closes its doors.

The base covers an area of 355 hectares and stretches out over two departments namely ‘Nord’ and ‘ Pas-de Calais’.  In its perimeter 4 towns are located: Haynecourt and Sancourt in Nord department and Epinoy and Auchy Lestrée in Pas-de Calais department.  The closure of the base comes in a  tough economic climate with recession and rising unemployment and this in a region that already faced huge industrial losses ( mining, textile, lace) in the past.  To prevent further damage in February 2011 a contract was signed between the French state and 11 local partners for the reconversion of the economic and social structures in the region.

The base is in low profile since April 5th, this means only VIP flights and without instrument assitance. End of may the TACAN will be stopped and on June 30th the base will be definitively closed.

While the dismantling of the BA103 is accelerating, Privat editions recount a century of military aviation in Cambrai, in a book containing a rich collection of photographs, with accompanying text by Robert Galan. Special attention was paid at the economical and demographical impacts of this decision.

Aerial view of Cambrai - Epinoy Air base The entrance and remeberance of a WW II ace.
The Privat Edition book relating the story of Cambrai air base
The EC 1/12 "Cambresis"

On January 28th 1918 at Corcieux a new squadron, SPA 162 'Tigres' was Formed. This to increase the French air Power in the 7th Army, Equipped with Nieuport the squadron pilots Claimed 5 Air combat victories. Four months later the squadron was re-equipped with SPAD aircraft until they where disbanded in 1919.

It is 1952 that the SPA 162 «Tigre» reforms to join SPA 89 «Guèpes» and form the fighter Squadron 1/12 "Cambresis" operating the MD450 "Ouragan" Jet at Mont de Marsan Air Base.

On the 1st of July 1953, The 1/12 was officially assigned to the 12th Wing at Cambrai-Epinoy Air base.

The famous Dassault MD 454 Mystère IV A arrived at Cambrai during the year 1955.

Four years later, on April 20th, 1959, the brand new three first Dassault "Super Mystère" B2 better known as SMB2 affected on the 1/12 "Cambresis" landed at Cambrai.

This new aircraft started a long carrier of 17 years at the squadron. The pilots of the Wing flying on SMB2 have done many NATO missions until 1962.

By the time, in 1961, date of the first Tiger meet in Woodbridge, EC 1/12 together with 74 RAF Squadron and 79th TFS of the USAF where the first members of the famous NATO Tiger Association.

From may 1977, EC 1/12 has started to convert its pilots to the Mirage F1 C and became fully operational in January 1978.

After the conversion of the pilots to air refueling procedures, the Squadron was sent to «Manta» Operation in N’Djamena-Tchad during summer 1984.

From 1986 until 1991, the EC 1/12 has done many missions in Tchad during «Epervier» Operation.

End of 1990, was the beginning of Koweit-Irak conflict also named "first gulf war" and the Squadron was ready to start operational missions from Doha Air base in Qatar. During the war, the 1/12 "Cambresis was assigned to protect Qatar emirates in air defense missions.

On April 28th, 1992, The first Mirage 2000 C landed at Cambrai and the pilots discovered a fantastic, maneuverable, and fully equipped aircraft which allows them to use new tactics during air defense missions.

Less than one year later, the Wing was sent for a long period of operational missions during «Alysse» operation ( no flying zone over south Irak ) .

In 1995, once again the Headquarter could relay on the technicians and the pilots of the 1/12 during «Crecerelle» operation over Bosnia.

Since 1996, the 1/12 "Cambresis" received a third flight called «SPA 166 -  Tarn».

During  «Allied Force» Operations in 1999, the Efficiency , professionalism and Fighting Spirit of the "Cambresis" was congratulated by the nineteen nations involved in Kosovo Operations.

In 2002, the «Cambresis» Tiger Wing celebrated its 200 000 flight hour within 50 years of existence.

After the disbandment of EC 02.012 "Picardie" on July 7th, 2009, the EC 01.012 remain the only flying Wing left at Cambrai. Flying the Mirage 2000C since 1992, its main task is providing air defense. For this objective 2 aircraft are on Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) 24/7. 
EC 01.012 also supports QRA deployments in France with 2 aircraft at B
A 110 Creil (Paris region), 2 aircraft at BA 118 Mont de Marsan (southern France) and an overseas deployment with 3 aircraft based at N'Djamena in Chad.

As you know, French ministry of defense has decided to close Cambrai Air base and by consequence the disbanding of the 1/12 "Cambresis" in 2012.

But Tiger Spirit will stay and will be back.... On March 30, 2012 EC 1/12 was disbanded, and the SPA 162 'Tigre' transfered to EC 1/7 "Provence" equipped with the Rafale. The two other flight, SPA 89 & SPA 166 was disbanded.


Engine Model Hispano-Suiza 8Ac
Engine Power 180 hp
Speed 191 km/h
Service Ceiling 5.300 m
Range 359 km
Empty Weight 515 kg
max. Takeoff Weight 755 kg
Wing Span 7,82 m
Wing Area 17,9 m²
Length 6,16 m
Height 2,35 m
First Flight 1916

SPAD S.VII   (1916-1927)  

Engine Model Hispano-Suiza 8B
Engine Power 220 hp
Speed 220 km
Service Ceiling 6.650 m
Range 276 km
Empty Weight 566 kg
max. Takeoff Weight 845 kg
Wing Span 8,08 m
Wing Area 21,1 m²
Length 6,30 m
Height 2,35 m
First Flight 1917
  SPAD S.XIII   (1917-1919)

Engine Model Le Rhône 9JB
Engine Power 130 hp
Speed 176 km/h
Service Ceiling 5.500 m
Range 250 km
Empty Weight 355 kg
max. Takeoff Weight 547 kg
Wing Span 8,21 m
Wing Area 14,8 m²
Length 5,87 m
Height 2,40 m
First Flight 1917

Nieuport N 24   (1918-1919)  

Engine Model Rolls-Royce Nene Mk.104B
Engine Power 22,3 kN
Speed 941 km/h
Service Ceiling 13.000 m
Range 920 km
Empty Weight 4.142 kg
max. Takeoff Weight 7.900 kg
Wing Span 13,16 m
Wing Area 23,8 m²
Length 10,74 m
Height 4,14 m
First Flight 1949

  Dassault MD 450  "Ouragan"  (1952-1955)

Engine Model Hispano-Suiza Verdon 350
Engine Power 33,3 kN
Speed 1120 km/h
Service Ceiling 14.935 m
Range 915 km
Empty Weight 5.850 kg
max. Takeoff Weight 10.400 kg
Wing Span 11,12 m
Wing Area 32,0 m²
Length 12,85 m
Height 4,46 m
First Flight 1952

Dassault MD 454 M"ystère" IVA  (1955-1959)  

Engine Model SNECMA Atar 101G-3
Engine Power dry/with Afterburner 33,3 / 43,7 kN
Speed 1219 km/h
Service Ceiling 17.008 m
Range 870 km
Empty Weight 6.956 kg
max. Takeoff Weight 11.600 kg
Wing Span 10,52 m
Wing Area 35,0 m²
Length 14,13 m
Height 4,55 m
First Flight 1955

  Dassault "Super Mystère" B2  (1959-1978)

Engine Model SNECMA Atar 9K-50
Engine Power dry/with Afterburner 49,1 / 70,6 kN
Speed 2350 km/h
Service Ceiling 19.995 m
Range 850 km
Empty Weight 7.400 kg
max. Takeoff Weight 15.200 kg
Wing Span 8,40 m
Wing Area 25,0 m²
Length 15,00 m
Height 4,50 m
First Flight 1966

Dassault Mirage F1C  (1978-1991)  

Engine Model SNECMA M53-P2
Engine Power dry/with Afterburner 64,3 / 95,1 kN
Speed 2334 km/h
Service Ceiling 17.983 m
Range 1.450 km
Empty Weight 7.500 kg
max. Takeoff Weight 16.500 kg
Wing Span 9,13 m
Wing Area 41,0 m²
Length 14,36 m
Height 5,20 m
First Flight 1978

  Dassault Mirage 2000C/RDI  (1992-2012)

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