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RAF Lakenheath, UK

On 08 January 2015, the US Department of Defense announced the consolidation of some U.S. infrastructure in Europe, including the return of 15 sites to their host nations. As a result of this announcement, DoD is to permanently base the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in Europe with RAF Lakenheath, UK, selected as the first location in Europe to host the F-35. This decision reflects the closeness of the U.S.-UK defense relationship and the military value of basing in the UK. The first aircraft are scheduled to arrive at RAF Lakenheath in 2020. An additional 1,200 U.S. military personnel are to be permanently stationed alongside the two F-35 squadrons going to RAF Lakenheath.

Royal Air Force Station Lakenheath, United Kingdom, is located 70 miles northeast of London and 25 miles from Cambridge. Nearly 5,000 US military personnel and 2,000 American and British civilian employees are assigned to the base. RAF Lakenheath is the largest US Air Force-operated base in England and the only US Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) F-15 fighter wing. RAF Lakenheath is home of the 48th Fighter Wing, equipped with two squadrons of F-15E and one squadron of F-15C aircraft. Lakenheath operates a regional medical center and oversees support services for nearby RAF Feltwell, home of Air Force Space Command's 5th Space Surveillance Squadron.

RAF Lakenheath is in Suffolk County. Located in East Anglia, Lakenheath is 30 miles from Cambridge, 40 from Norwich and Ipswich. Newmarket, known as the horse racing center of England, is 13 miles away. The area is primarily agricultural, with some light industry, and a multitude of historic sites.

RAF Lakenheath was built in 1941 and in January 1942 Stirlings of 149 Squadron started operations as a satellite of Mildenhall. In April 1942 149 Squadron fully moved to Lakenheath and was based there for two years, later to specialise in mine-laying. 199 Squadron arrived in Wellingtons in July 1943 and then converted to Stirlings. In May 1944 199 Squadron moved to North Creake and 149 moved to Methwold.

Lakenheath was inactive until July 1948 when the USAAF flew in B29's of 2nd Bomb Group as part of the Berlin airlift. Transports and Tankers followed.

In 1951 93rd Bomb Group flew B50's from the base, and giant B-36's and Globemasters followed. High security arrived in 1952 with a high wire fence so that B-47's could arrive in 1953 together with other "secret" planes including the U-2.

In 1956 the B47 strategic bombers moved to the Midlands.

In 1960 the Americans removed their nuclear capable fighters out of France and the 48th Wing moved into Lakenheath from Chaumont with F-100 Super Sabres and were reassigned from the 17th Air Force to the 3rd Air Force. Both Mildenhall and Lakenheath became SAC bases with this move.

As Strategic Air Command elements began their departure, the 3910th Air Base Group began its transition of handing RAF Lakenheath's facilities and real estate over to the 48th's support elements. While SAC had upgraded numerous World War II-era facilities and lengthened the runway, the wing initiated an ambitious, multimillion dollar construction project to facilitate its three fighter squadrons and support elements. Further, housing plans were begun to ease the strain on local communities dealing with 2,000 additional military people and their families.

Later the 48th FW were to fly F-4's, and in 1977 the F-111's were introduced which were later to see action over Libya and in the Gulf. In 1980 the F-111s were modified by the installation of the Pave Tack system which allowed weapons delivery around the clock, from high or low altitudes. Between 1960 and 1985, RAF Lakenheath maintained its readiness by participating in a number of USAFE and NATO exercises. NATO readiness was constantly maintained.

On 15th April 1986, 18 USAFE F-111F fighter bombers flew from Lakenheath to bomb terrorist-related targets in Tripoli and Benghazi. One F-111 and its crew of two did not return. In August 1990 Lakenheath's F-111s were deployed to Saudi Arabia as part of Desert Shield. The F-111's left the 48th FW at Lakenheath during 1992.

Lakenheath now flies the F-15E fighter planes with the distinctive twin tails. The first F-15E in Europe come to Lakenheath in February 1992. 48 in total were delivered up to May 1994 to the 48th Fighter Wing.

In spite of subsequent invasions by the Vikings, Danes and Normans, East Anglia still bears numerous signs of Anglo-Saxon culture in the forms of words, town names and church architecture. The base, which takes its name from nearby Lakenheath village, was derived from the Saxon word Lokenhyte which means the "landing place of Laka's People." Finally, British and Americans alike share the same language left by the Angles - Anglisch. Between the 5th-9th centuries, the Danes and Vikings invaded parts of England and left a significant imprint on Saxon culture. The Vikings established a fortress in Thetford and made their way around the sandy areas of Lakenheath. While no Viking or Danish sites have been excavated on RAF Lakenheath, their presence cannot be discounted. The Normans, however, left a huge imprint throughout East Anglia. The Normans, who invaded Britain from France in 1066, quickly established temporary and later permanent settlements inThetford, Bury St. Edmunds, and other strategic locations.

With Germany again making overtones of another military buildup, the Royal Air Force began searching for suitable aerodrome locations throughout East Anglia. Mildenhall and Feltwell were initially chosen as operational sites with construction beginning in the mid 1930s. When the war broke out, the RAF identified a need for additional sites and chose Lakenheath Warren as a suitable area for a decoy airfield. A number of dummy aerodromes, or "Q-Sites," were developed to confuse enemy aircraft. False runway lights and aircraft made of plywood were quickly constructed near what is now the rod and gun club and actually succeeded in luring Luftwaffe crews away from nearby RAFs Mildenhall and Feltwell, as German crews bombed or strafed RAF Lakenheath on at least five different occasions. Still, despite RAF Lakenheath's success as a dummy site, the RAF continued with plans to construct an airfield beginning in 1940.

In late 1940, engineers began constructing the new airfield according to Air Ministry standards. By early 1941, three runways in an "A-Frame" pattern had been completed with one 3,000-foot runway at 246-degrees and two 2,000-foot runways at 186 degrees and 322 degrees, respectively. Also constructed were two T2 hangars, one B1 type hangar, and 36 heavy-bomber hardstands. RAF Lakenheath opened in November 1941 as a satellite airfield for RAF Mildenhall as part of No. 3 Group. The airfield's first occupant was No. 20 Operational Training Unit on temporary duty from Lossiemouth, Scotland. Flying Vickers Wellington Mk lc aircraft, No. 20 trained scores of aircrews in combat tactics before moving back to Scotland in January 1942. Between February and April 1942, No. 149 Squadron moved to RAF Lakenheath from RAF Mildenhall and began flying combat operations over occupied Europe in Stirling Mk III medium bombers. By the end of 1943, Lakenheath was functioning as an independent operational unit.

A second unit arrived at Lakenheath June 20, 1943. Flying Vickers Wellington Mk X aircraft, No. 199 Squadron began flying combat operations almost immediately, most of them involving sea mining operations. By the end of the month, the squadron had converted to Short Stirling medium bombers and both squadrons participated in the raid on Peenemunde Aug. 17, 1943, causing heavy damage to Germany's "V" Weapon development center. By mid-1944 both squadrons had departed to other stations, with Lakenheath serving in a support role until the RAF closed the runways for construction to facilitate the arrival of British or American heavy bombers.

RAF Lakenheath reopened in the spring of 1947 and began receiving British support and instruction units. A top secret memo from the Air Ministry July 28, 1948, however, would have a permanent impact on the station. It stated that Lakenheath was to be immediately prepared to receive an American B-29 group of 30 aircraft and 750 personnel. By mid-August, elements of the 2nd Bombardment Group had arrived as a show of force to the Soviet Union who were espousing threats of expansion into western Europe. Between August 1948 and January 1960, a number of bomber and fighter bomber units were temporarily assigned to Lakenheath as part of Strategic Air Command's Cold War rotation. Further, the US Air Force assumed administrative control of the base May 1, 1951, when SAC's 3909th Air Base Group activated to support the unit rotations.

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Page last modified: 09-01-2015 03:05:40 ZULU