Royal Air Force Lakenheath is a RAF military base that is run and operated by the US Air Force. It exclusively hosts American troops. It is located in Suffolk, in the eastern part of the United Kingdom. Among the Air Force personnel, the base is famous for hosting the Liberty Wing. The installation is a co-base run by the Americans under the British regulations and laws.
The place was first used as a military base during World War I. The area was used as a bombing training field, but not for too long. It was entirely abandoned in 1918, when the war ended. Its small importance is the reason why it was not hit and targeted at all during the war. In 1940, its small importance quickly raised. The base was sacrificed to defend a closer one – RAF Mildenhall. It was covered with fake lights for fake runways, in order to distract the Luftwaffe pilots from RAF Mildenhall. When the army figured that the false lights will not attract any attacks, they decided to work on improving the base and turning it into a permanent base. The first unit to join it was the 149 Squadron. It remained in the World War II history as one of the most successful units, with over 350 operations and a low and insignificant percentage of losses. One of the pilots – Rawdon Middleton – was also awarded with the Victoria Cross for his heroic acts. About the end of World War II, the base was taken through a huge process of improvements. It was supposed to take a whole year, but the building operations prolonged with six more months. By the time the construction was over, World War II was already finished.
The Americans took over the base, as well as many others, in a tricky way. Harry S. Truman ordered more bombing units to hang around Germany and the United Kingdom for basic training missions. As a matter of fact, the president had a hidden objective – reaching a good position in front of the powerful Russian threat. By 1950, RAF Lakenheath became one of the most essential bases in the Cold War, with some of the most advanced aircrafts on site.
One of the most important accidents in the base history occurred in 1956, when a bomber crashed and killed everybody on board. The more problematic part was the amount of nuclear weapons on board. Luckily for the surrounding areas, they were not detonated.
RAF Lakenheath houses the 48-th Fighter Wing, with its operations, medical, maintenance and mission support groups. It is also referred to as the Liberty Wing. It was activated on site in 1952 and represents one of the longest lasting units in the Air Force, serving in the area for almost 60 years. The wing counts almost 8000 individuals. About 2000 of them are British civilians and family members, while almost 6000 are active military troops. RAF Lakenheath also hosts a few associate and staff agencies.