Lajes Field, Azores
Origin of current name: Named after a village in the Azores.
Date current name was assigned to base: September 15, 1980
Previous Names: Azores Air Trpt Stn, c. Jan 1943; Lagens Fid, 23 Jul 1949; Lages Fld, 17 Nov 1950; Lajes Fld, 3 May 1953 (DAF GO), 24 Jun 1952 (MATS communication); Lajes AB, 11 Aug 1980.
Date Established: January 17, 1944
Date Occupied: January 1, 1944
Construction Began: August 25, 1944
Base Units: Stn #15, North Atlantic Wg, 17 Jan 1944 (rdsgd Stn #15, North Atlantic Div, 28 Jul 1944); 1390th AAF BU, 1 Aug 1944; 1391st 1Y OL, 1 Nov 1945; 1391st AAF BU, 1 Sep 1946 (rdsgd 1391st AF BU, 26 Sep 1947); 523d AB Gp, 1 Jun 1948 (rdsgd 1605th AB Gp, 1 Oct 1948); 1605th AB Wg, 1 Feb 1953; 1605th AB Gp, 1 Nov 1967; 1605th AB Wg, 1 Jan 1975; 1605th AB Gp, 1 Jan 1982-.
Changes in Capability: RAF engineers readied two 6,000-ft runways for U.S. occupancy, late 1943, both lengthened by U.S. units in 1944; base served as staging and refueling point for aircraft en route between Continental U.S., and the European-African-Middle East and China-Burma-India Theaters 1944-1945; main intercontinental flight operations shifted to Santa Maria Aprt (Santa Maria Isl) after it became operational, 15 May 1945, and these operations returned to Lajes in 1946; first dependents began arriving spring 1948; stopover operations, which declined following World War II, increased during Berlin Airlift 1948-1949; considerable construction activity including new barracks, family housing project, docks, power plant, transmitter site, and facilities to support SAC training missions and accommodate an Army transport terminal unit completed 1952-1953; new headquarters building occupied 1953; 300-bed hospital, maintenance hangars completed fall 1956; 15-hydrant fuel system, additional hangar, and upgrading of concrete surfaces completed spring 1956; Naval Air Facility established 18 Jan 1957; liquid fuel bulk storage facility completed spring 1958; major port and pier facilities, capable of direct ship-to-base POL delivery, completed early 1963; runway extension project completed Jul 1965; increased intercontinental nonstop flights caused traffic decline, and field became maintenance and overhaul center for C-118s and C-135s based at Rhein-Main, 1966-1967; with the reduction of USAF intercontinental flight staging operations, Lajes primarily supported flying activities of USN during late 1960s and early 1970s; Lajes' strategic importance reconfirmed in 1973 Arab-Israeli war, when base became key to resupply of Israel; a plan to assign base to USN cancelled 18 Jan 1974; runway upgraded Apr 1974-1976; extensive rehabilitation of parking ramp and other concrete areas finished 1980; 150-unit housing project completed 1981-1982.
Changes in Status: U.S. forces in Azores to act as 1943; U.S. and British forces facilities to Portugal, with both military aircraft and personnel, Lajes Fld, Sep 1946; thereafter, through international agreement.
The Portuguese Military Service first constructed a dirt-packed landing strip on the island of Terceira in 1934. Due to the increasing German threat, Portuguese fortified the site in 1941. Based upon a 600-year-old-treaty, the British secured rights to the use of Lajes field from the Portuguese in October of 1943. Throughout the war, the British protected transatlantic shipping by conducting operations out of Lajes Field against German U-boats.
The first American units began arriving at Lajes in late 1943 with the first US Bomber, a B17, ferried through on December 9th. Army engineers constructed a 10,000-foot runway to land transiting U.S. bombers and cargo aircraft. The use of Lajes cut the flying time to Europe and North Africa from 70 hours to 40 hours. In 20 months of operations, 8,689 aircraft dispatched through Lajes including twelve hundred B17 and B24s. Medical personnel handled over 30,000 air evacuations en-route to the US. In 1944 the U.S. was granted use of Santa Maria Island and under the strictest security an airfield was built. The base along with the three A shaped runways were completed 15 May 1945 Unfortunately, Santa Maria‟s tactical value was limited because the war in Europe ended a week before the field was completed. However, operations did begin in time for the new base to play an important role in cargo and troop movement as well as the evacuation of wounded soldiers.
British and American interim rights to Lajes airfield were completed in May 1946 and the Portuguese designated Lajes Field as Air Base No. 4. July 1946, the Portuguese government announced that the Americans would remain in the Azores, on the island of Terceira and Lajes Field. September 1946, the 1391st Army Air Force Base Unit and the Azores Base Command was transferred from Santa Maria Island to Lajes. Nine days later a temporary agreement was reached between the U.S. and Portuguese governments giving the U.S. military rights to Lagens Field for an additional 18 months. In turn, the United States was required to maintain services and support operations at the base “in collaboration with and under the superintendence of the Portuguese authorities.” The U.S. sought a long-term agreement for use of Lajes and on 6 September 1951, the first bilateral agreement was signed.
Lajes Field has supported many historic airlift missions beginning with the Berlin Airlift in 1948. Over 3,000 OPERATION VITTLES aircraft transited the Azores and over the years, Lajes has been instrumental in providing support to many operations, both U.S. and NATO. These operations include the 1958 U.S. peace efforts in Lebanon and the 1961 United Nations peace initiative in Congo. During the 1973 Arab-Israeli Yom Kippur War, Portugal was the only country to grant landing rights for U.S. airlift to Israel. During the 1990s, Lajes continued to be a mid-Atlantic refueling station as it hosted tanker aircraft during OPERATIONS DESERT SHIELD/STORM and RESTORE HOPE. In the summer of 1998, C-17 aircraft staged from Lajes to shuttle equipment to and from Southwest Asia, during OPERATION DESERT THUNDER. During OPERATION ALLIED FORCE, the NATO campaign in Kosovo, Lajes maintainers serviced more than a third of the U.S. Air Force combat aircraft involved. Today, Lajes continues to play a vital role in the ongoing war on terrorism providing expert personnel and supporting aircraft transiting en route to and from OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM and IRAQI FREEDOM as part of the world‟s premier Expeditionary Aerospace Force.
Lajes Field also served as center stage for the historic meeting between the President of the United States, George W. Bush, the Prime Minister of England, Tony Blair, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar. This Atlantic Summit, hosted by Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Manuel Durao Barroso, provided a last chance for a diplomatic solution in Iraq and stated clearly to the world that the coalition was prepared for military action.
The Air Force and its current host unit, the 65th Air Base Wing, have not been the only occupants of Lajes Field. Lajes was also the headquarters of a joint command, USFORAZ which was disestablished in 2003. Sister services like the Navy and Army had a stake in Lajes' ability to enable air power. Port Transportation Battalion of the U.S. Army arrived on 2 February 1952 and remained (under several different designations) until October 2000. The U.S. Navy also staked a claim to the island with a Detachment at Agualva, the Naval Security Group Activity. This unit would operate from 1952 to 1994 providing a HF Direction Finding facility and communications support to the Navy and DOD elements in the area. From 1957 through 1993, the Lajes Naval Air Facility had a primary mission of ASW operations.
For over 50 years, Lajes has been the Crossroads of the Atlantic bridging the gap of the wide ocean expanse. In most contingencies that required U.S. aircraft and allied forces to cross the Atlantic, Lajes had a supporting role. From the B-17s and C-47s to B-1s, C-17s and F16s. Lajes was and will continue to be the fueling station that gets the aircraft and crews where they need to "fly, fight and win."