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How wartime airfields welcomed Americans to Mildenhall and Lakenheath





In January 2000, the Bury Free Press published Millennium Memories – a look back at the region's history to mark the turning of the new century.

Suffolk News has delved into the archive souvenir publication for this feature about the histories of RAF Lakenheath and Mildenhall.

This region became home to Americans during World War Two, as wartime airfields were the base for Allied bombing raids over Germany.

RAF Lakenheath
RAF Lakenheath

West Suffolk is peppered with the former wartime fields, which today play host to nostalgic reunions.

It is also home to the two major US air bases in this country – RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall.

The arrival of US airmen proffering chocolate, fruit and cigarettes to a country which had been living on the basic necessities was welcomed by people in the 1940s.

In Mildenhall, many street names are a reminder of the aircraft which have flown over its skies.

Home from home for Americans

RAF Lakenheath was originally created as a decoy base and was initially an RAF station.

It became a satellite airfield for bomber command, with the bulk of the Stirling bombers based at Mildenhall.

During World War Two RAF bomber command flew 2,248 operational sorties from Lakenheath and 85 aircraft were lost.

Visitors to RAF Lakenheath used to be welcomed by this imposing World War Two bomb, a different scene from today's main gate
Visitors to RAF Lakenheath used to be welcomed by this imposing World War Two bomb, a different scene from today's main gate

While the last US forces withdrew from Britain in 1946, two years later the Berlin Airlift saw Americans touch down at Lakenheath for the first time when the Super Fortress B-29 bombers arrived.

Since then, a close relationship has thrived between the UK and US communities.

Strategic Air Command used the base for rotational exercises and training and in 1960 the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing, now the 48th Fighter Wing, made Lakenheath its home.

In the 1950s and 1960s facilities at the base expanded, providing schools, a bowling alley, housing and shops for its personnel.

American wives and families started arriving in the late 1950s and early 1960s, but older children attended boarding school in London.

When the junior high school opened in 1959, American children began learning on base.

In 1964, 400 homes for Americans were built around Lakenheath and Eriswell and in 1977 18,000 Americans were estimated to be living in the Mildenhall and Lakenheath district.

Entrance to RAF Mildenhall
Entrance to RAF Mildenhall

Air race followed RAF Mildenhall opening

RAF Mildenhall was officially opened in 1934 and four days later was the scene of the historic air race between Mildenhall and Melbourne.

On November 15, 1934, the RAF's 99B Squadron, equipped with Heyford Night Bombers, arrived and four years later Wellington bombers flew in.

In 1935, King George V, then chief of the RAF, visited Mildenhall to view its 38 squadrons and 356 aircraft.

Amy Johnson and her husband Jim Millinson with their Comet Black Magic, which had to withdraw from the 1934 air race with engine trouble. Amy Johnson was the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia
Amy Johnson and her husband Jim Millinson with their Comet Black Magic, which had to withdraw from the 1934 air race with engine trouble. Amy Johnson was the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia

The review was in honour of the royal Silver Jubilee and was also the King and Queen's 42nd wedding anniversary.

It was the first review of the RAF since its inception in 1918.

During World War Two Mildenhall was one of the primary British bombing bases.

RAF Mildenhall used to host Europe's largest air fete every year
RAF Mildenhall used to host Europe's largest air fete every year

In more than 8,000 sorties nearly 28,000 tons of bombs were dropped over Germany by Mildenhall aircraft.

RAF Mildenhall was home to Britain's 15, 149 and 622 bomber squadrons during World War Two.

After the war the base dropped down to 'caretaker' status, but during Berlin Airlift the US Air Force was invited to return in strength.

An American airman hugs his young son during an emotional reunion when airmen from Mildenhall returned home after a three-month mission helping the humanitarian effort of caring for thousands of Kosovar refugees fleeing the Balkan conflict. Fighters from neighbouring RAF Lakenheath took part in NATO bombing action over Kosovo in the war during 1999
An American airman hugs his young son during an emotional reunion when airmen from Mildenhall returned home after a three-month mission helping the humanitarian effort of caring for thousands of Kosovar refugees fleeing the Balkan conflict. Fighters from neighbouring RAF Lakenheath took part in NATO bombing action over Kosovo in the war during 1999

In July 1950 B-50s and B-29s arrived at Mildenhall, the first American aircraft in Britain since the Berlin Airlift.