Ronchin, Lille – Department Nord – France
Ronchin, a suburb of the French city of Lille, is situated in the southern part of the city. The airfield was bordered to the north by the walls of the extensive Lille fortifications. To the east were the railway lines which ran roughly north to south to the Lille goods yards and station. To the west of the airfield the Route Nationale N17 road ran north to south. The south and west of the airfield were mostly open land. The airfield was situated on the site of a former military parade ground.
The history of Ronchin airfield started as far back as the 18th Century when manned ballooning experiments were carried out on that site. In the 1880s a ballooning school was formed to train observation balloonists for the military in the event of possible war. This was in the aftermath of the Franco Prussian War of 1870 to 1871 when observation balloons were being used for artillery spotting and general observation of enemy positions.
By 1907 gliders were operating on the site launched by a winch. These were made locally by Fernand Scrive a French industrialist and textile manufacturer. A few years later a small hanger was built for early powered aircraft which started to operate from the airfield. At this time Ronchin was an important centre for aviation in France
In WW1 the Germans took over the airfield and it is reported that Bavarian Squadron No 291 was based there or at least used the airfield from time to time.
The airfield was never really a satisfactory base for military flying being bordered to the north by the heavily banked city fortifications and also the many large industrial chimneys in the surrounding area. The site was rather small and cramped with little scope for development.
At the end of WW1 103 Squadron RAF 103 moved from Floringhem to Ronchin on the 26th October 1918. Personnel were billeted at the large deaf and dumb hospital at Ronchin which was a short distance away to the south. 103 Squadron left on the 25th January 1919 for Maisoncelle.
From April 1919 to December 1919 Ronchin was used by No 18 Squadron of the French Air Force.
In 1919 the CMA - Compagnie des Messageries Aeriennes flew mail and light freight from the airfield between Paris, Lille and Bruxelles
The Aeronautical Association of North of France, the A.A.N.F, was established in 1920 and this was largely based at the Ronchin airfield. During the inter war years a runway of 650 meters was established running east to west. A new hanger was constructed and an aero club established plus facilities for passengers added as commercial and private aviation expanded in the 20s and 30s. British Continental Airways, Sabena, Swissair and Air Bleu also used the airfield from time to time and Ronchin also hosted a number of air shows during this period which proved very popular with the locals. A second hanger was added in 1935 and by 1940 the runway had been extended to 1000 meters.
In 1939 and early 1940 the British RAF used the airfield for Westland Lysander STOL army co-operation flights but not is not clear as to the extent or whether any unit was ever based there. After the occupation of France by the Germans dummy aircraft were placed around the airfield as decoys but there is no record of the Germans using the airfield operationally. This area of Lille was near the railway goods yards, junction and station and received considerable bombing and consequent damage as the war progressed.
After the war all flying from the airfield ceased. Lille was rebuilt and expanded as new suburbs were built. The old airfield at Ronchin is now covered by the hideous junction of 3 highways, the A1, A25 and N356 and is close to the Faidherbe High School . The city fortifications have sadly long gone and much of the area is completely built up with housing and commercial properties.
The old deaf and dumb hospital where 103 Squadron were billeted at the end of WW1 has survived and is now occupied by the Institut de Réhabilitation de la Parole et de l’Audition. This is a facility for the assessment and treatment of children with hearing impediments and serves the whole of Department Nord in France.
Lille now has a new airport which is better situated at Lesquin not far to the south of Ronchin.
Sources – Book. Collection Aerodromes – Lille - Ronchin by Jean Caniot, historien Lillois ( This is a quite excellent little book incidentally – written in French. )
Item written by David Fell