Royal Air Force Station Lakenheath, England
Origin of current name: Named after a village in England.
Date current name was assigned to base: December 18, 1955
Previous Names: Lakenheath RAF Stn, c. 24 Nov 1941; Lakenheath RAF, 1 Jun 1950.
Date Established: June 1, 1950
Date Occupied: November 27, 1948
Construction Began: January 1, 1941
Base Units: 7460th Base Compl Sq, 27 Nov 1948; 7504th Base Compl Sq (7504th AB Gp; 3909th AB Gp), 17 Jan 1949; 3913th AB Sq, 1 Sep 1953; 3910th AB Gp, 15 Apr 1955; 99th Avn Dep Sq, 1 Oct 1959; 48th Cmbt Spt Gp, 15 Jan 1960 (trsfd from Chaumont AB, France)-.
Changes in Capability: Established by RAF as satellite base of Mildenhall RAF Station, 24 Nov 1941; three concrete runways, hangars, and huts for personnel housing completed Nov 1941; operated by RAF as decoy base 1941, as heavy bomber operations and training base 1942-1943, and as radar countermeasures base 1944; flying operations ceased for repair, resurfacing, and extension of one runway May 1944 to Apr 1947; reopened as independent station of RAF Bomber Command Apr 1947; two remaining runways repaired, resurfaced, and readied for operations by May 1948; allocated to USAFE along with Scampton and Waddington in Lancashire, and Marham in Norfolk, for use by SAC as short-term deployment bases Jul 1948; B-29s of 2d Bomb Gp arrived 11 Aug 1948, the first of a continuous flow of B-29, KB-29, C-97, B-50, B-36, and B-47 rotational units; U.S. presence in the U.K. strengthened after Berlin Airlift 1948-1949 and outbreak of the Korean conflict in Jun 1950; Lakenheath transferred from USAFE to SAC, 1 May 1951; base fenced for security 1952; returned to USAFE control as part of RED RICHARD operation, 1 Oct 1959; withdrawal of American units from French bases brought 48th Tac Ftr Wg to Lakenheath on 15 Jan 1960; expansion of base facilities became necessary to accommodate increased permanent base population, and numerous construction projects commenced in 1960: new theater opened in Mar, junior high school on 9 May, high school on 6 Sep 1960, and auditorium in May 1961; 45 Phase III brick housing units constructed in 1961; 48th Tac Ftr Wg operated from RAF Mildenhall while Lakenheath runways were resurfaced May-Sep 1961; large base hospital constructed, which became major medical referral facility for U.S. Armed Forces in Britain, 1962-1965; the final increment of 408 Phase III housing units accepted 14 Jan 1966; airmen's dining hall completed 3 Jan 1967; 53 base elementary school classrooms finished, Aug 1969; three-story, brick dormitories for military personnel completed 1970; runways resurfaced and flight simulator building constructed in preparation for F-4 aircraft, 1971; additional family housing built adjacent to Phase III area in 1973; conversion of 48th Tac Ftr Wg to F-111 aircraft prompted hardening programs to protect base from attack and included 60 hardened aircraft shelters, - avionics facility, squadron operations buildings, and a command post in late 1970s.
Changes in Status: Activated as detached installation of RAF Mildenhall 24 Nov 1941; closed for repairs and construction May 1944; reopened Apr 1947 as primary installation of RAF Bomber Command; established as USAF primary installation on 1 Jun 1950.
From 1940 until 1945, the Royal Air Force (RAF) constructed more than 500 airfields across the United Kingdom at a cost of more than 1 billion pounds. As part of this incredible civil engineering project, construction on RAF Lakenheath began in late 1940, after the British Government purchased over 1,800 acres of land reserved for the base. However, RAF Lakenheath's military affiliation predated its World War II operational use.
During World War I, the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) established several training areas around Lakenheath Warren, one of which was located across the A1065 roadway from the current perimeter of RAF Lakenheath. A number of RFC units were stationed within several miles of the area with at least two American units attached to the RFC for training. England's first tank trials were conducted near the current location of the Lakenheath Country Club and Clay Target Centre (formerly the Rod and Gun Club) with the First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill in attendance.
As England felt the threat of war from the air in 1940, the Eriswell Low Warren was established as a decoy aerodrome in 1940 for RAF Mildenhall. Featuring fake buildings, a fake runway, and wooden airplanes, the site was initially designated a "K" site as a daytime decoy, but later took on the label of a "K/Q" site for 24-hour operations.
By November 1941, completed construction on RAF Lakenheath included three concrete runways, hangars, and Quonset-style huts. In November, RAF Lakenheath opened as a satellite of RAF Mildenhall, with the first Wellington twin-engined bombers arriving on 24 November 1941.
In January 1942, the RAF's 149 Squadron began to move from the grass runways of RAF Mildenhall to RAF Lakenheath, with its four-engined Stirling bombers. The squadron completed its move on 6 April 1942 and participated in the first "Thousand Bomber Raid" against Cologne, Germany on 30 May 1942.
During the 149 Squadron's two years of combat operations from RAF Lakenheath, its most highly decorated pilot was an Australian enlisted man, Flight Sergeant Rawdon Hume Middleton. Sergeant Middleton participated in a bombing raid on Fiat factories at Turin, Italy, on 29 November 1942. During the raid, a shell burst near the cockpit hitting Middleton in the face, destroying his jaw and right eye. Nonetheless, Middleton and the co-pilot, who was also injured, limped the broken plane back toward England, until it took another hit near the French coast. Middleton kept the plane in the air long enough for five of the eight crewmembers to safely bail out. Posthumously, Middleton received the Victoria Cross, the British and Commonwealth equivalent to the US Congressional Medal of Honor. His remains are interred in St. John’s Churchyard in Beck Row near RAF Mildenhall.
The 199 Squadron joined 149 at Lakenheath in July 1943 flying Wellingtons and later Stirlings. Both squadrons attacked the German V-weapon development center at Peenemunde, Germany on 17 August 1943. Meanwhile, the 149 and 199 gradually took on a larger role in the mine laying mission, designed to tie up enemy shipping and resources in extensive mine sweeping operations. By the end of 1943, this had become both squadrons' primary mission.
On 1 May 1944, 199 Squadron departed RAF Lakenheath, and by 15 May 149 Squadron also completed its operations. Lakenheath closed for an upgrade to a "Very Heavy Bomber" base, which was not completed until 15 April 1947. During this time, contractors repaired, resurfaced, and extended the runways. The station reopened under the RAF's Bomber Command on 15 April 1947.
In 1948 the first US Air Force personnel and aircraft arrived at RAF Lakenheath, as the US sought to secure its allies in Western Europe during the Cold War. Instead, a war in Asia would move RAF Lakenheath from a site for transitory aircraft on temporary duty (TDY) to a permanent station.
In 1949, the only active unit on the base was the 7504th Base Complement Squadron, analogous to a much smaller version of today's mission support group. The only aircraft on the base belonged to rotational TDY units. A fence had not yet been built to protect RAF Lakenheath's assets, and the Air Force did not formally take control of the base until 1 June 1950.
Within a month of the onset of the Korean War, RAF Lakenheath was brought to full strength and security increased. By August 1950, the base had 29 permanently assigned B-29s and 24 additional B-29s deployed to RAF Lakenheath. These aircraft, along with B-50s and B-36s, stood watch over Europe for the next three years, in case the Soviet Union decided to take advantage of the force commitment in Korea and launch its own offensive into Europe.
From 25 June 1950 until the cease-fire on 27 July 1953, 18 flying units including the 301st Bomb Wing and 97th Bomb Wing filled the skies with their B-29s and B-50s. Twenty two new support squadrons activated, ranging from the 7504th Food Services Squadron to the 97th Maintenance Squadron. Strategic Air Command took control of the base on 1 May 1951, and RAF Lakenheath was fenced for security in 1952.
From 1953 until 1956, permanently assigned B-47s served at RAF Lakenheath. Temporary duty aircraft included KC-97s and U-2 surveillance aircraft, the latter serving under the 1st Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, supplementing the bombers. Jet fighter aircraft landed at RAF Lakenheath on 15 January 1960, as the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing, under the command of Third Air Force and USAFE, arrived.
Since the base was not designed for a large, self-sufficient wing, the 48th's arrival required several major construction projects. Base operations, flying, and maintenance facilities expanded to suit the new mission. By 1958, the first 82 family housing units were completed. Within a year of the wing's arrival, the base theater, junior high school, and high school opened. Over the remainder of the decade "Phase III" housing, the dining hall, hospital, elementary school, bowling alley, and a number of other morale, welfare, and recreation facilities opened.
Construction in the early 1970s brought three-story brick dormitories, a youth center, and an enclosed swimming pool to the base. However, the arrival of F-111 Aardvarks in 1977 brought the most meaningful construction since the 48th Fighter Wing's arrival. Most significantly, the aircraft transition required the construction of 60 hardened aircraft shelters, an avionics facility, a command post, and an air alert facility.
With four squadrons of aircraft, the increased base population necessitated an increase in support facilities. In the 1980s, shopping areas were expanded, a new commissary built, and the child development center opened.
Throughout the 1990s, the 48th Fighter Wing worked to replace its deteriorating World War II facilities and upgrade the flying and maintenance areas for the F-15E Strike Eagles it received in 1992 and the F-15C/D Eagles in 1994. Another major goal was to improve "Quality of Life" facilities, with new "one-plus-one" single-bedroom dormitories, renovated housing units, and improved recreational facilities.
In 2001, RAF Lakenheath still had a number of small, one-story, functionally obsolete structures that occupied a disproportionate land area of the base. In fact, civil engineers classified 21 percent of the buildings on base as substandard, with 62 percent of them unable to be suitably restored. These included 39 Quonset Huts built during World War II as "temporary" facilities designed to last the RAF through the war, yet remained in use sixty years later.
Recently completed construction projects included the communications squadron building, front gate reconstruction, a new dormitory, and Phase 1 of the Lord's Walk housing project.
Future construction projects include a new Large Vehicle entry gate, new squadron building for the 493 FS, and the completion of the Lord's Walk housing area.
Lakenheath continues to serve as the home of USAFE's largest fighter wing and home to more than 6,000 active duty Air Force personnel, civilian employees, and their families.