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 divest RAF Mildenhall and return the installation and four supported sites to the United Kingdom. DoD intends to relocate the operational units at RAF Mildenhall within Europe - the assigned KC-135s and the 352nd Special Operations Wing to Germany, and the assigned RC-135s within the U.K. This consolidation paves the way for the stationing of two squadrons of F-35s at RAF Lakenheath, starting in 2020.
Throughout the 1950s, Strategic Air Command bomber units deployed on a regular rotational basis from the United States to the United Kingdom. The B-47 Stratojet was a familiar sight in the skies over RAF Mildenhall and RAF Upper Heyford at this time, as entire wings deployed on 90-day rotations.
In order to meet a perceived "continental threat", the British military developed the idea to site an RAF bomber base at 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 16 October 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, RAF Mildenhall's premature inauguration was due in large part with its selection to host the Royal Aero Club's prestigious England-to-Australia air race on 20 October 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 6 July 1935. The RAF assembled over 356 of its combat aircraft, totaling 38 squadrons, lined up in rows together with crews across Mildenhall's grass airfield for His Majesty's personal inspection. This historical event is commemorated by a memorial tablet located in front of the Building 562, the current 100 ARW headquarters.
The RAF's perceived threat it envisioned in the late 1920s began to materialize in light of the "Munich Crisis." Between 26 September 1939 and 4 October 1938, the base completed its installation of its defense systems. After a brief reprieve from war, the base prepared for war, bringing station defenses and squadrons to full combat readiness. On 3 September 1939¾ three days after Germany's invasion of Poland¾ Britain and France declared war on Germany. Later that same day, three Wellington aircraft from Mildenhall were dispatched to bomb the German naval fleet at Wilhelmshaven.
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. During the course of the war, the base witnessed the transition from the two-engine Wellington, to the Short Stirling, and finally to the four-engine Avro Lancaster. 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 many offensives against Germany. While carrying out its operational duties, 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).
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 who was posthumously awarded Britain's highest military honor, the Victoria Cross, are 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's 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 12 July 1950, the 93d Bomb Group arrived at RAF Mildenhall and began operations. Shortly afterwards, on 7 February 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 1 October 1951, Strategic Air Command took control of the station and bomb wings 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, Strategic Air Command 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 Strategic Air Command 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 requirements no longer met the requirements for its newer aircraft.
On 17 July 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 8 June 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 June 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's 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 on 18 January 1990, the aircraft came to symbolize RAF Mildenhall in the local publics' eye.
On 18 June 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 on 31 January 1992, and activated the 100th Air Refueling Wing in its place, and to serve as the Headquarters European Tanker Task Force. 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.
In May 1993, as part of the drawdown of forces in Europe, it was announced that the USAF-operated base at RAF Alconbury was to be returned to the UK Ministry of Defence. As a part of this return, the 352nd Special Operations Group and its associated aircraft, the MC-130E, HC-130P/N and MH-53, transferred to RAF Mildenhall in March 1995.
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