RAF Mildenhall is currently operated by the United States Air Force and constantly has a wide range of aircraft in and out due to it's designation as "The Gateway To Europe" for the United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE). RAF Mildenhall's main military function is as a refuelling and military transport base.
As such there are Boeing KC-135 Stratotankers and Lockheed MC-130 Hercules type aircraft stationed here on a permanent basis. Boeing C-17A Globemasters and Lockheed C-5 Galaxys are regular visitors, as well as a host of other aircraft, including the Boeing E-3 Sentry AWACS.
RAF Mildenhall is named after the nearby town of Mildenhall, Suffolk. It was established as a Royal Air Force station in 1930, and opened in 1934. During World War II, RAF Bomber Command used the station for operational combat missions until 1945.
Placed on standby status after the war, it was reopened by the Royal Air Force and became a USAF-RAF joint operation base on 11 July 1950. Assigned to Strategic Air Command to station B-29 Superfortress bombers that date. It became a B-50 Superfortress base in 1952, and a B-47 Stratojet and KC-97 Stratotanker base in 1953 until 1958.
Closed for runway repairs throughout 1958, the Military Air Transport Service transferred its main United Kingdom terminal to Mildenhall from RAF Burtonwood on 1 March 1959, and the base became "The Gateway to the United Kingdom", for most U.S. military personnel and dependants arriving or departing the United Kingdom since.
Assigned from Strategic Air Command to United States Air Forces in Europe on 1 September 1959 and RAF relinquished joint operations status that date. Has been in continuous USAFE operation to present.
Major units assigned
· 7511th Air Base Squadron, 11 July – 26 September 1950
Redesignated: 7511th Air Base Group, 26 September 1950 – 1 February 1953
Redesignated: 3910th Air Base Group, 1 February 1953 – 15 April 1955
· 2nd Bombardment Wing (Deployed), 4 May – 31 August 1951
· 22nd Bombardment Wing (Deployed), 7–12 September 1951
· 93rd Bombardment Wing (Deployed), 6 December 1951 – 2 March 1952
· 97th Bombardment Wing (Deployed), 1 April – 11 June 1952
· 509th Bombardment Wing (Deployed), 4 June – 2 September 1952
· 3913th Air Base Squadron, 15 April 1955 – 1 January 1959
Redesignated: 3913th Combat Support Group, 1 January – 1 September 1959
· 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, 10 August 1959 – 18 March 1960
· 1625th Support Squadron (MATS), 1 March 1959 – 8 January 1966
· 7513th Air Base Group, 1 September 1959 – 1 July 1966
Redesignated: 7513th Tactical Group
· 513th Tactical Airlift Wing, 1 July 1966 – 1 February 1992
· 627th Military Airlift Support Squadron, 8 January 1966 – 15 September 1978
· Third Air Force, 15 April 1972 – 1 November 2005
· 435th Tactical Airlift Group, 1 July 1975 – 15 September 1978
· 306th Strategic Wing, 1 July 1978 – 1 February 1992
· 313th Tactical Airlift Group, 15 September 1978 – 1 February 1992
· 100th Air Refueling Wing, 1 February 1992 – present
· 95th Reconnaissance Squadron, 1 July 1994 – present
· 352nd Special Operations Group, 17 February 1995 – present
· 501st Combat Support Wing, 12 May 2005 – 30 April 2007
RAF Mildenhall opened on 16 October 1934. King George V reviewed 350 aircraft there in 1935 on the occasion of his Silver Jubilee. This historical event is commemorated by a memorial tablet located in front of the Building 562, the current 100 ARW headquarters. During World War II Mildenhall became a bomber station, flying Vickers Wellingtons, Short Stirlings and Avro Lancasters. It was also the headquarters of 3 Group Bomber Command. From 1950 Mildenhall became home to bombers and later tanker aircraft of the United States Air Force. Throughout the 1950s, Strategic Air Command bomber units were 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. From 1976 to 1990, the SR-71 Blackbird was flown out of Mildenhall by Detachment 4 of the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing of the USAF. RAF Mildenhall was, until 2001, the home of the largest military-sponsored air show in Europe, when it was cancelled because of increasing operational requirements.
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 Francis 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.
RAF Mildenhall's premature inauguration was due in large part with its selection to host the Royal Aero Club's prestigious MacRobertson 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 Tom Campbell Black and C. W. A. Scott 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.
The threat the RAF had envisioned in the late 1920s materialized during the Munich Crisis. Between 26 September 1938 and 4 October 1939, 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 1939, three days after Germany invaded Poland, 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.
World War II
Throughout World War II, RAF 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. In 1941, RAF Mildenhall was used for the making of the film Target for Tonight. So as not to give away important information to the enemy, RAF Mildenhall took the fictitious name of Millerton Aerodrome, and several other aspects were altered involving the day-to-day operations. The film, produced by the Crown Film Unit, focused on the planning and execution of an air raid on Germany, as seen by the crew of Vickers Wellington 'F for Freddie.' Dickson, the captain of 'F for Freddie', was played by Percy Pickard, who went on to lead the real-life Operation Biting and the later Operation Jericho raid on Amiens Prison.
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. Johns Church cemetery in Beck Row.
Immediately after the war, RAF 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.
USAF Use of RAF Mildenhall
In response to the threat by the Soviet Union, especially after the 1948 Berlin Blockade and the 1950 invasion of South Korea by Communist forces, it was decided to re-establish a strong American force in Europe. On 11 July 1950, RAF Mildenhall was made available to the United States Air Force by the British Ministry of Defense as a Strategic Air Command (SAC) B-29 Superfortress base, with joint operations with the Royal Air Force units.
Prior to Strategic Air Command's role at RAF Mildenhall, Headquarters United States Air Forces in Europe established Third Air Force at South Ruslip Air Station in 1948 to command B-29 operations in England. Third Air Force was subsequently placed directly under USAF orders, with Strategic Air Command establishing the 7th Air Division Headquarters at RAF 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 RAF Mildenhall.
The initial SAC unit to use RAF Mildenhall was the 7511th Air Base Group (later redesignated 3910th AB Group), being activated on 11 July 1950 to prepare the facility for operational use by SAC aircraft.
On 1 May 1951, Strategic Air Command took control of the station rotated Bomb Wings in and out of Mildenhall on temporary duty assignments. The first operational strategic unit to use the base was the Boeing B-50D Superfortress equipped 2nd Bomb Wing, arriving on Temporary Duty (TDY) 4 May 1951 from Hunter AFB Georgia, departing on 12 December 1951.
Other rotational strategic bomb wings at Mildenhall were:
· 22nd Bombardment Wing (7 September 1951 – 12 December 1951) (B-50D, KB-29P)
(TDY From March AFB California)
· 93rd Bombardment Wing<refe>93rd Bombardment Wing</ref> (16 December 1951 – 8 March 1952) (B-50D, KB-29P)
(TDY From Castle AFB California)
· 509th Bombardment Wing (4 June 1952 – 2 September 1952) (B-50D, KB-29P)
(TDY From Walker AFB New Mexico)
In 1953 RAF Mildenhall's mission was changed from a B-50 bomber base to a Boeing B-47 Stratojet and KC-97 Stratotanker aerial tanker dispersal base. This series of temporary deployments generally involved an entire wing of about 40 B-47s and about 20 tankers being held at readiness for several months, then being relieved by another unit that was based at a different airfield in the UK with the bombers and tankers also at different airfields. In this way SAC could spread out its potential as a Soviet target by placing its short range B-47s, weapons, and personnel on a ring of overseas bases from Greenland to North Africa, of which Mildenhall was one.
· 55th Air Refueling Squadron (April 1953 – June 1954) (KB-50, KB-29P)
(TDY From Ramey AFB, Puerto Rico)
· 305th Air Refueling Squadron (September 1953 – December 1953) (KC-97)
(TDY From MacDill AFB, Florida)
· 22nd Air Refueling Squadron (7 December 1953 – 5 March 1954) (KC-97)
(TDY From March AFB, California)
· 303rd Air Refueling Group (17 March 1954 – 5 June 1954) (KC-97)
(TDY From Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona)
· 1370 Photo Mapping Group (June 1954 – September 1954) (RB-50G) (Photographic Reconnaissance)
(TDY From Morrision AFB, Florida)
· 97th Bombardment Wing (Summer 1954) (RB-50E/G, KB-29P) (Electronic Reconnaissance)
(TDY From Biggs AFB, Texas)
· 43rd Air Refueling Group (August 1954 – December 1954) (KC-97)
(TDY From Carswell AFB, Texas)
· 306th Air Refueling Squadron (7 December 1953 – 5 March 1954) (KC-97)
(TDY From MacDill AFB, Florida)
· 98th Air Refueling Squadron (7 November 1955 – 31 January 1956) (KC-97)
(TDY From Lincoln AFB, Nebraska)
· Mildenhall Task Force (Provisional) (1 July 1956 – May 1958) (RB/ERB-47H) (Electronic Reconnaissance and Countermeasures)
(TDY From 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, Forbes AFB, Kansas)
· 380th Air Refueling Squadron (3 April 1957 – 3 July 1957) (KC-97)
(TDY From Shilling AFB, Kansas)
· 44th Air Refueling Squadron (Autumn 1957) (KC-97)
(TDY From Chennault AFB, Louisiana)
These TDYs became a heavy burden for both SAC as well as Military Air Transport Service (MATS) which had to transport thousands of personnel and tons of material to and from the United States in just a few days to support these rotations. In 1958, it was decided that these rotational TDYs would be replaced by a new system of overseas deployments called Reflex. From then on, rather than being deployed for a few months, a permanent SAC presence would be established at bases with aircraft being deployed for three weeks from several SAC bases, being kept on full alert status ready for instant takeoff at their "Reflex Bases".
The RB-47s based at RAF Mildenhall performed some of the most sensitive reconnaissance missions of the Cold War. During its service, at least two of these planes were lost flying missions over the Soviet Union. One incident occurred during a photographic mission over the Soviet Union. The plane was intercepted and fired upon by Soviet MiGs and sustained wing damage. Fortunately, it was able to outrun them at altitude and return to RAF Mildenhall. The RB-47s were eventually phased out and replaced with the Lockheed U-2 and SR-71. (See 306th Strategic Wing below)
In 1958 and the first half of 1959 the RAF Mildenhall runway was closed for repairs, and on 1 September 1959 the Royal Air Force ceased regular flying operations, making the USAF the sole operator of the base.
The host base SAC support unit at RAF Mildenhall was the 3910th Air Base Group, changing to the 3932nd AB Squadron and lastly 3934th AB Squadron. These units provided the administrative, maintenance and logistical support necessary to the rotating operational wings and squadrons.
SAC departed RAF Mildenhall in 1959 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. On 1 July 1959 USAFE took control of Mildenhall from SAC and the 7543rd Air Base Squadron was activated by USAFE as the host unit. On 1 September the 7513th Tactical Group took over host unit responsibilities.
RAF Mildenhall became the home for the Military Air Transport Service (later Military Airlift Command) main air passenger terminal for the United Kingdom on 1 March 1959 with the 1625th Support Squadron providing military personnel and dependents service at the terminal with the drawdown at the Burtonwood Air Depot.
The 53rd Weather Squadron was transferred to Mildenhall from RAF Alconbury on 10 August 1959, flying WB-50D Superfortresses s and was assigned with collecting weather data that was transmitted to weather stations for use in preparing forecasts required for the Air Force Military Air Transport Service (MATS) and the U.S. Weather Bureau. It was deactivated on 18 March 1960.
On 15 November 1965 Mildenhall welcomed the arrival of the Silk Purse Control Group and the 7120th Airborne Command and Control Squadron (7120 ACCS) previously stationed at Châteauroux-Déols Air Base, France. Upon its arrival at Mildenhall, the 7120th ACCS converted from C-118s to EC-135s which were used as airborne command posts under the code name "Silk Purse"
On 1 July 1966, Mildenhall welcomed the arrival of the 513th Troop Carrier Wing from Evreux-Fauville Air Base France. With its activation on Mildenhall, the 513th TCW assumed operational control of two rotational (7441st, 7742nd) Troop Carrier Squadrons of twenty MAC C-130 Hercules and received the 7120th ACCS / Silk Purse Control Group from Châteauroux-Déols Air Base, France. and the five Boeing EC-135H "Silk Purse" Flying Command Posts for European Command.
On 8 July 1958 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 10th ACCS replacing the 7120th ACCS on 1 January 1970, and assuming its mission. However, in June 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.
306th Strategic Wing
On 1 July 1978 the SAC 306th Strategic Wing was transferred to RAF Mildenhall from Ramstein Air Base, West Germany with a KC-135 air refueling and a RC-135 reconnaissance mission. The 306th also functioned as the focal point for all SAC operations in Europe and became the host unit at RAF Mildenhall. MAC cargo and passenger transport operations continued under the 435th Tactical Airlift Group.
With the arrival of the 306th SW, Mildenhall also became known as SAC's European Reconnaissance center. For many years various types of Boeing RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft were observed regularly arriving and departing from the Mildenhall runway. Most of these aircraft came from the 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing at Offutt AFB, Nebraska and had the capability to receive radar and radio signals from far behind the borders of the Communist Eastern Bloc. From Mildenhall the RC-135s flew ELINT and COMINT missions along the borders of Poland, the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia. The twenty or so specialists on board the RC-135s during such missions listened to and recorded military radio frequencies and communications.
The next significant event in Mildenhall's history came with the arrival of Detachment 4, 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing in 1976, which controlled rotational Lockheed U-2 and SR-71 Blackbird operations from the base. It is not known when SAC first began making reconnaissance flights in Europe with these aircraft. There are indications that these fast aircraft have been operating in Europe since the end of the 1960s, with an SR-71 making a stopover in August 1970 at RAF Upper Heyford, England, before a mission over the Middle East.
These aircraft carried out strategic photo reconnaissance missions for NATO and the USAF within the framework of the SALT I Agreement of 1972. Under this agreement the Soviet Union and the United States reached agreement on a partial freeze on the number of offensive nuclear weapons and these flights were to check that the Soviets were adhering to the agreement.
As well as the photo missions the 9th SRW gathered telemetry signals from Soviet missile systems. Such missions were carried out using the SR-71 and U-2/TR-1 aircraft and Boeing RC-135s from the 55th SRW. This information was analyzed, together with information originating from reconnaissance satellites to present an intelligence picture for analysis to assemble a good picture of Soviet activities for national decision-making.
The 306th SW also played a major role in the success of Operation El Dorado Canyon, the American attack on the Libyan capital of Tripoli in 1986. In support of this 14-hour, radio-silence rendezvous mission, the unit deployed the largest number of refueling aircraft ever flown over Europe and the largest fleet of KC-10's ever airborne at one time. In addition, the day after the attack 9th SW aircraft made several unmolested flights over the bombed military targets in and around Tripoli and Benghazi.
From their arrival until the departure of the last SR-71 on 18 January 1990, the 306th Strategic Wing's SR-71 and U-2 aircraft came to symbolize RAF Mildenhall in the local public's eye.
On 18 June 1987, HQ USAFE designated the 513 TAW as the 513th Airborne Command and Control Wing (513th ACCW) with responsibility for the E-3 Sentry AWCS aircraft at Mildenhall. The 513th ACCW's mission was to provide theater and Air Force commanders with trained aircrews and maintenance personnel and systems for airborne surveillance, warning and control of U.S. and allied military aviation assets.
Nearly five years later, during the Air Force's transition to the objective wing structure, the Air Force inactivated the 513th ACCW on 31 January 1992. The 513th was reactivated as a group at Tinker AFB Oklahoma on 15 March 1996 as an Air Force Reserve unit.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union and lessening of Cold War tensions, the "Silk Purse" mission of the 10th ACCS came to an end on 31 December 1991 and the unit was inactivated.
The 306th SW operated at RAF Mildenhall until 1 February 1992 when the 100th Air Refueling Wing of USAFE, assumed the 306th SW responsibilities and became host unit at Mildenhall along with becoming Headquarters European Tanker Task Force with its KC-135 Stratotankers.
The 100th ARW provides aerial refueling support to Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps aircraft as well as aircraft of allied nations. Its aircraft are also capable of transporting litter and ambulatory patients using patient support pallets during aeromedical evacuations.
In May 1993, as part of the drawdown of forces in Europe, it was announced that the majority of the USAF-operated base at RAF Alconbury was to be returned to the British 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.
On 1 July 1994 the 95th Reconnaissance Squadron was activated at Mildenhall, essentially taking over the mission of the deactivated 306th Strategic Wing.
RAF Mildenhall Plane Spotting