Air Force Bases

Royal Air Force Station Mildenhall, England

Location: Located adjacent to and southeast of Mildenhall, 16 miles northeast of Cambridge, 10 miles northwest of Bury St. Edmunds, and 7 miles north-northeast of Newmarket, England.

Origin of current name: Named after a village in England.

Date current name was assigned to base: December 18, 1955

Previous Names: RAF Stn Mildenhall, 16 October 1934; Mildenhall RAF, 11 July 1950.

Date Established: July 11, 1950

Date Occupied: July 11, 1950

Construction Began: January 1, 1950

Base Units: 7511th AB Sq (7511th AB Gp; 3910th AB Gp), 11 Jul 1950; 3913th AB Sq (3913th Cmbt Spt Gp), 15 Apr 1955; 7513th AB Gp (7513th Tac Gp), 1 Sep 1959; 513th Cmbt Spt Gp, 1 Jul 1966

Changes in Capability: RAF bomber base 1934-1945; on standby status 1946; USAF B-29 SAC base 11 Jul 1950; B-50 base 1952-1953; B-47 and KC-97 base 1953-1958; runway closed for repairs 1958-1959; upon drawdown at Burtonwood Depot, Military Air Transport Service transferred its main U.K. terminal to Mildenhall on 1 Mar 1959; called "The Gateway to the United Kingdom," most. U.S. military personnel and dependents arrived or departed through RAF Mildenhall; base transferred from SAC to USAFE, 1 Sep 1959; RAF ceased regular flying operations and U.S. Armed Forces became sole operators of base 1 Sep 1959; thereafter supported various aircraft and units to meet national security needs of the U.S. and U.K.; United States European Command (USEUCOM) moved its Airborne Command Post from France to Mildenhall, 1 Jul 1966; hosted 513th Trp Carr Wg (rdsgd 513th Tac Alft Wg) and other transient and deployed U.S. and Allied units as directed by HQ USAFE since 1 Jul 1966; NCO Club renovated, runways repaired, and general base utilities and maintenance facilities improved, 1966-1968; airmen's dormitory and service club completed in 1969; base runways closed for resurfacing, 1 Jul-30 Sep 1970, during which time flying units operated out of RAF Lakenheath; combat operations center completed and central runway lights installed, 1970; 48-unit bachelor officers' quarters, and aircraft parking and loading apron constructed, 1971-1972; base hosted HQ Third AF, which transferred from South Ruislip 12 Jun 1972; major construction, including an airmen's dormitory, base gymnasium, POL storage plant, and four large aircraft hangars completed 1973-1976; NATO maintenance dock and water softening plant constructed, extensive base roof repairs completed and east taxiways concreted 1976-1978; improved airfield lighting system installed, revetments erected for protection of aircraft, south taxiways resurfaced and major base structures, including housing, modernized and insulated, 1979-1982.

Changes in Status: Active RAF base, 1934-1946; standby status, 1946; reduced to caretaker status, 1 Apr 1950; active base (cooperative USAF-RAF operation), 11 Jul 1950; sole USAF operation, 1 Sep 1959

History:

In order to meet a perceived "continental threat", the British military developed the idea to site an RAF bomber base near Mildenhall in the late 1920s. Shortly thereafter, the government purchased the land in 1929, followed by the completion of the first buildings in 1931.

Three years later, RAF Mildenhall opened on Oct. 16, 1934, as one of the RAF's largest bomber stations. On the same day, Wing Commander F.J. Linnell, O.B.E., assumed his position as the base's first station commander. Although open, the base had yet to receive its first complement of military aircraft.

In actuality, the RAF Mildenhall premature inauguration was due in large part with its selection to host the Royal Aero Club's prestigious England-to-Australia air race Oct. 20, 1934. At the time, the air race stood as the longest race ever devised and attracted over 70,000 spectators to the base.

Even more telling of the race's significance in the world's sporting spotlight, on short notice King George V and Queen Mary visited RAF Mildenhall the day before the race. In the end, pilots C.W.A. Scott and T. Campbell Black, flying the de Havilland Comet "Grosvenor House," crossed the finish line first at Melbourne, Australia, less than 72 hours after starting the race.

Following this propitious beginning, RAF Mildenhall received its first squadron and aircraft with the arrival of 99B Squadron, equipped with Handley Page Heyford bombers. Soon afterwards, Mildenhall again welcomed King George V, who came to the base to conduct the first ever Royal Review of the RAF on July 6, 1935.

The RAF assembled over 356 of its combat aircraft, and totaled 38 squadrons, lined up in rows together with crews across the Mildenhall grass airfield for His Majesty's personal inspection. This historical event was commemorated by a memorial tablet located in front of the Building 562, the current Third Air Force-UK headquarters.

The RAF suspected another German threat to Europe in the late 1920s, and they believed it began to materialize in light of the "Munich Crisis." From 26 September to 4 October 1938, the Germans invaded Czechoslovakia.

Even though RAF Mildenhall Squadrons 99 and 149 did not mobilize, many of its officers received orders to other units. Families around the base were told to be ready to evacuate at a moment's notice. In November of 1938, tensions eased and returned to normal for some time. However, 149 Squadron rearmed with Wellington bombers in January 1939.

On 2 August, 1939, with talk of war growing in intensity, RAF Mildenhall received orders to assume a state of readiness for war. That included orders to test their alarm systems, brief their personnel, and implement the black-out system.

On 1 September, 1939, just before dawn, the Germans invaded Poland. By 3 September the governments of France and Great Britain upheld their treaty with Poland and went to war with Germany. Six hours after the declaration of war, 149 Squadron's Wellington bombers took off from RAF Mildenhall to bomb German battleships at Wilhelmshaven and in the Kiel Canal.

On 8 September 1939, 3 Group ordered unit commanders to emphasize that aircrews should only attack allotted or alternative targets. At the same time, all stations in East Anglia were advised they might need to implement a scatter scheme.

For the RAF Mildenhall 99 Squadron, that meant a move to RAF Station on the Upper Heyford, while 149 Squadron moved to Netharavon. The war began sadly for 149 Squadron when during the 18 December 1939 raid on Wilhelmshaven, 12 of their 24 aircraft were lost without bombing their targets. After this disaster, the British began tactics that included night bombing. 149 Squadron implemented night bombing on 18 January 1940.

The generally accepted start of the Battle of Britain took place on 12 August 1940. It was the air assault by the German's designed to destroy Britain's air umbrella to clear the way for an invasion.149 Squadron made its first bomb run against Berlin, Germany on 25 August 1940. By 15 September 1940, the Battle of Britain ended and the country was spared a German invasion.

The first enemy attack on RAF Station Mildenhall occurred on 27 October 1940. This was only the first of many because RAF Station Mildenhall came to the attention of the German Luftwaffe several times.

Though Stirling Bombers made their first appearance on 2 November 1941 at RAF Mildenhall (when149 Squadron began to change over from the Wellingtons), they began to actually operate from the station on 26 November 1941.

Throughout World War II, Mildenhall remained very active. In addition to its own airfield, the base held responsibility for satellite airfields at Newmarket, Tuddenham, and Lakenheath. Both 15 Squadron and 622 Squadron began to convert to the Lancaster Bomber in November of 1943.

For the duration of the war, except for a brief period to have concrete runways laid in 1943, RAF Mildenhall was involved in most of RAF Bomber Command's numerous offensives against Germany. The base withstood several attacks by the German Luftwaffe, but was never put out of commission (typically, the base's downtime after an attack lasted until personnel could fill in the damage to the runways).

On the first day of D-Day operations, 6 June 1944, 35 Lancasters from 15 and 622 Squadrons struck targets along Hitler's Atlantic Wall. The next day, 33 Lancasters attacked targets near Lisieux, France. RAF Mildenhall was also the staging point for large numbers of Horsa Gliders before D-Day. D-Day was the first daylight-bombing raid carried out by both squadrons. Bombers from RAF Mildenhall flew their last bombing mission of the war with an attack against Bremen, Germany on 22 April 1945.

By the end of the war, aircraft from RAF Mildenhall and its satellite airfields dropped over 23,000 tons of explosives, laid 2,000 mines in enemy waters, and flew over 8,000 sorties. Unfortunately, the base also saw the loss of over 200 Wellington, Stirling, and Lancaster aircraft, and more significantly, the loss of over 2,000 aircrew members.

Some of those who paid the ultimate price for peace (including Pilot Officer Rawdon Hume Middleton, an Australian) were posthumously awarded Britain's highest military honor, the Victoria Cross, and buried at St. John's Church cemetery in Beck Row.

Immediately after the war, Mildenhall participated in humanitarian missions, flying home repatriated prisoners of war, and dropping relief supplies to the Dutch people stranded by the flooding caused by the retreating German Army. By the end of 1945, Mildenhall operational activity experienced a drastic decrease, and despite a brief flurry of flying activity in the late 1940s, the RAF reduced the base to "care and maintenance" status.

The only remaining RAF unit of significance was Headquarters No. 3 Group, Bomber Command, which remained on station until 1967.

On July 12, 1950, the 93d Bomb Group arrived at RAF Mildenhall and began operations. Shortly afterwards, Feb. 7, 1951, the 509th Bomb Wing arrived at Mildenhall, replacing the 93d Bomb Group. The arrival of the 509th touched off a sequence of transitions, with the 2d Bomb Wing replacing the 509th in May 1951, followed by the 22d Bomb Wing replacement of the 2d Bomb Wing later that same year. On Oct. 1, 1951, Strategic Air Command (SAC) took control of the station and bombers rotated in and out of Mildenhall on temporary duty assignments.

Prior to Strategic Air Command's role at RAF Mildenhall, Headquarters United States Air Forces in Europe (HQ USAFE) established Third Air Force at South Ruislip Air Station. Simultaneously, SAC established the 7th Air Division Headquarters at Mildenhall.

The collocation of the two headquarters within the United Kingdom allowed HQ USAFE to discharge its responsibilities in England, while at the same time allowing SAC to continue in its deterrent role while retaining operational control over flying activities at Mildenhall. The presence of American bombers lent credence to Sir Winston Churchill's statement that their presence in England was the primary deterrent keeping the Soviets from overrunning Europe.

From 1954 through 1958, US politics influenced USAF activities within the United Kingdom, fostering a period of force reduction and modernization. Gradually, the number of Air Force personnel decreased, and SAC departed RAF Mildenhall in late 1958, as its runway no longer met the requirements for its newer aircraft.

On July 17, 1959, SAC and USAFE reached an agreement facilitating and substantially increasing Third Air Force's role in making operational decisions regarding the US Air Force units in the UK. In late 1959, RAF Mildenhall became the home for the Military Air Transports Service (later Military Airlift Command) Air Passenger Terminal for the United Kingdom, with the 7513th Air Base Group providing service to the terminal.

In late 1965, Mildenhall welcomed the arrival of the Silk Purse Control Group and the 7120th Airborne Command and Control Squadron (7120 ACCS), previously stationed at Chateauroux Air Station, France. Upon its arrival at Mildenhall, the 7120 ACCS converted from C-118s to EC-135s.

On June 8, 1966, the base received yet another unit, the 513th Troop Carrier Wing (513 TCW), which relocated from Evreaux-Fauville Air Base, France. With its activation on Mildenhall, the 513 TCW assumed operational control of two Military Airlift Command rotational C-130 squadrons and the 7120 ACCS. Two years after its arrival, the Air Force redesignated the 513 TCW the 513th Tactical Airlift Wing (513 TAW) with no change in its mission.

For the next four years RAF Mildenhall witnessed little change, with only the 10 ACCS replacing the 7120 ACCS, and assuming its mission. However, in the summer of 1972, the base added to the list of its tenants with the arrival of Headquarters Third Air Force, which relocated from South Ruislip Air Station.

The next significant event in Mildenhall history came with the arrival of Detachment 4, 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, which controlled rotational SR-71 and U-2R aircraft from the base. Four years after they began rotational duty at Mildenhall, the base became a permanent station for the SR-71 in January 1983. From its arrival until the departure of the last SR-71 Jan. 18, 1990, the aircraft came to symbolize RAF Mildenhall in the local publics' eye.

On June 18, 1987, HQ USAFE redesignated the 513 TAW as the 513th Airborne Command and Control Wing (513 ACCW). Nearly five years later, during the Air Force's transition to the objective wing structure, the Air Force inactivated the 513 ACCW Jan. 31, 1992, and activated the 100th Air Refueling Wing in its place on Feb. 1, 1992. The activation of the 100 ARW at RAF Mildenhall saw the return of the unit to the country in which it built its war fighting heritage and legacy. Over three years later, RAF Mildenhall welcomed the 352d Special Operations Group, which transferred from RAF Alconbury in April 1995.

Later, the 501st Combat Support Wing activated May 1, 2005 on RAF Mildenhall, and moved to RAF Alconbury two years later. On Nov 1, 2005 the HQ Third Air Force inactivated and Sixteenth Air Force, Detachment 3, took its place, while the Naval Air Facility Mildenhall disestablished on Jan. 25, 2006, as a part of the Navy's force shaping in Europe. Less than a year later, HQ Sixteenth Air Force was redesignated HQ Third Air Force, now headquartered at Ramstein AB, Germany, with Third Air Force-UK remaining at RAF Mildenhall.

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