RAF Mildenhall and Two Other Historic USAFE Bases in Britain to Close

KC-135s lining up at RAF Mildenhall. (USAF photo)

 

KC-135s lining up at RAF Mildenhall. (USAF photo)
KC-135s lining up at RAF Mildenhall. (USAF photo)

While it is not typical for WarbirdsNews to comment on modern military matters, we feel it is relevant to mention the recent closure announcement for  several historic air bases in the United Kingdom. RAF Mildenhall is by far the most significant of these bases, being more or less continuously operated by the US Air Force since 1950; first as a Strategic Air Command base with B-29 Superfortresses, then B-47s, and later U-2s and SR-71s. During this time, there was always a strong contingent of airbone refueling planes, and that continues to this day with the 100th Air Refueling Wing’s KC-135 Stratotankers. The reconnaissance role also continued with the RC-135 Rivet Joint aircraft from the 95th Reconnaissance Squadron. These units will move on to bases in Germany, as will the MC-130s and CV-22s of the 352nd Special Operations Group.

Locally based UC-45J Expeditor and a C-117D at RAF Mildenhall in May, 1966. (photo via Wikipedia)
Locally based UC-45J Expeditor and a C-117D at RAF Mildenhall in May, 1966. (photo via Wikipedia)
A B-52 flying out of nearby RAF Fairford refueling from a 100th ARW KC-135. (USAF photo)
A B-52 flying out of nearby RAF Fairford refueling from a 100th ARW KC-135. (USAF photo)
A KC-135 taking off from RAF Mildenhall. (USAF photo)
A KC-135 taking off from RAF Mildenhall. (USAF photo)
A 352nd Special Operations Group CV-22 refueling from one of the squadrons MC-130s. (USAF photo)
A 352nd Special Operations Group CV-22 refueling from one of the squadrons MC-130s. (USAF photo)

RAF Mildenhall was a bastion of the cold war, and played a significant role during the first Gulf War, as well as the more recent conflicts in the Middle East. It was also known as “The Gateway to the United Kingdom”, as it was where most US Forces personnel and their families entered the UK. It also played host to many major military air shows, such as their famous Air Fetes, and the International Air Tattoo.

RAF Mildenhall’s history goes back well before US Air Force units first arrived though; the base celebrating its 80th year of operations in 2014. It was the starting point on October 20th, 1934 for perhaps the most famous and important air race of aviation history, the MacRobertson Air Race, a grueling aerial dash between England and Australia. The base also played host to kings and queens, with King George V standing there to review more than 350 of ‘his’ aircraft as they flew overhead in celebration of the monarch’s silver jubilee in 1935.

Over three hundred and fifty Royal Air Force aircraft lined up at RAF Mildenhall in 1935 for review by King George V during his Silver Jubilee year. (photo via RAF Mildenhall)
Over three hundred and fifty Royal Air Force aircraft lined up at RAF Mildenhall in 1935 for review by King George V during his Silver Jubilee year. (photo via RAF Mildenhall)

RAF Mildenhall played host to the men and machines of RAF Bomber Command during WWII; first with Vickers Wellingtons, then Short Stirlings, before finally the mighty Avro Lancaster called it home. Bomber Command crews flew more than 8,000 sorties from RAF Mildenhall and its support fields during WWII, dropping more than 23,000 tons of bombs on the enemy. This all came at a hefty cost though, with more than 2,000 flyers paying the ultimate sacrifice. One of these men, Australian Pilot Officer Rawdon Hume Middleton won the Victoria Cross posthumously for bringing his crew home, despite suffering devastating injuries on a bombing operation over Turin, Italy in Short Stirling BF372 on the night of November 28th, 1942. He is buried in a small cemetery on the airfield.

When RAF Mildenhall finally closes sometime in the next few years, it will bring to an end a truly remarkable history. The base will return to UK MOD control, and likely it will slip into history as another industrial or housing estate, with little but road names to remind people of what once was.

The two other US Air Force bases closing in the UK are RAF Alconbury and RAF Molesworth, neither of which was still an active airfield, but both with rich aviation heritage dating back to before WWII. These two bases were the last of the former 8th Air Force Bases still in use by US Air Force personnel. By 2020, only RAF Lakenheath will remain as an active airfield for the US Air Force in Britain. For those interested in a more thorough history of RAF Mildenhall, please click HERE to see a comprehensive history.

1 Comment

  1. I enjoyed my stay at RAF Alconbury very much. My friends I had in England were the best. We always had a great time whether it was sky diving at Peterboro, taking a train to Kings Cross and endlessly taking the tubes all over London, enjoying a concert at Odeon Hammersmith or Earls Court, or visiting RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall to buy discounted hi quality stereo equipment. I went all over the country and was always welcomed by the Brits. The men were respectful and funny while the women were gorgeous and fun to be with. Having visited the full length of the UK I will always cherish my time spent on the island. After my time with the US Forces I worked for a company named Drake Automation Labs, (DAL) based in Basingstoke. I wish I could have worked there longer. I reflect on the possibility of taking the job offer at CBS Tottenham Court to work as a Recording Engineer Apprentice back in 1976 and what might have happened then. Please stay in touch and keep the memory alive. salortiz4u@yahoo.com

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