Wheelus Air Base, Libya
Wheelus Air Base was located on the Mediterranean coast, just east of Tripoli, Libya. With its 4,600 Americans, the US Ambassador to Libya once called it "a Little America...on the sparkling shores of the Mediterranean," although temperatures at the base frequently reached 110-120 degrees. During the Korean War, Wheelus was used by the US Strategic Air Command, later becoming a primary training ground for NATO forces. Strategic Air Command bomber deployments to Wheelus began on 16 November 1950. SAC bombers conducted 45-day rotational deployments this staging areas for strikes against the Soviet Union. Wheelus became a vital link in SAC war plans for use as a bomber, tanker refueling and recon-fighter base.
For most of their history, the peoples of Libya have been subjected to varying degrees of foreign control. Italy invaded in 1911 and, after years of resistance, incorporated Libya as its colony. Wheelus Air Base was originally built by the Italian Air Force in 1923 and known as Mellaha Air Base. It was captured by the British 8th Army in January 1943.
The US Army Air Force began using it as a bomber base in the spring of 1943. Taken over by ATC on 15 April 1945, it was renamed Wheelus Air Base on 17 May 1945. Wheelus was inactivated on the 15 May in 1947, then was reactivated and transferred to the Military Air Transport Service on the 01 June 1948. Libya signed a base-rights agreement with the United States on 24 December 1951. Wheelus was then reassigned to US Air Forces in Europe on the 1st of January in 1953 under the 7272nd Air Base Wing. The United States and Libya signed an agreement in 1954 granting the US the use of Wheelus Field until December 1971.
Activated 25 April 1953, at Rabat, Morocco, 17th Air Force began as a support organization for Air Force activities throughout southern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. In August 1956, the headquarters moved to Wheelus Air Base, Libya, where it remained until relocating to Ramstein 15 November 1959. The 20th Fighter Bomber Wing established an operational detachment at Wheelus AB, Libya in February 1958. A year-round weapons training detachment was established at Wheelus AB, Libya, for monthly squadron rotations. The wing first established its Blast Off (later named Victor Alert) capability in July 1958. The first mobility plan was initiated on 01 January 1959.
The United Kingdom of Libya achieved its independance on 24 December 1951, led by King Idris. Oil was discovered in in Libya in 1959, and what had been one of the world's poorest countries became extremely wealthy. The United States enjoyed a generally warm relationship with Libya and pursued policies centered on interests in operations at Wheelus Air Base and the considerable US oil interests.
In September 1969 Libya's king was overthrown by Muamar Khadafy who ousted the Americans and British. Khadafy demanded that Wheelus -- which he saw as a vestige of European colonialism -- be closed and its facilities turned over to the Libyan people. While the US wished to retain Wheelus Air Base, the strategic value of the facility had declined with the development of nuclear missiles had replaced bomber bases. Indeed, Wheelus had primarily served as a training facility in the 1960s. The Wheelus base agreement had just two more years to run, and in December 1969, the US agreed to vacate the facility by June 1970. The impending closure of Wheelus AB led to the initiation of 20th TFW weapons training detachment operations at Torrejon AB, Spain in November 1969. Following the closure of Wheelus Air Base, the only permanent American military presence in the region was a small US Navy administrative facility in Bahrain.
Libya's SAC base was renamed Okba Ben Nafi Air Base [aka Uqba bin Nafi Airfield], and went into Soviet use, an irony of the Cold War. It became a Libyan air force installation and contained the service's headquarters and a large share of its major training facilities. Both MiG fighters and Tu-22 bombers were located there. On 15 April 1986, it was bombed by the U.S. as one of the targets of Operation Eldorado Canyon.
Wheelus was recently re-activated as a domestic airport and re-named Methega.
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