World War II

With Germany again making overtones of another military buildup, the Royal Air Force began searching for suitable aerodrome locations throughout East Anglia. Mildenhall and Feltwell were initially chosen as operational sites with construction beginning in the mid 1930s. When the war broke out, the RAF identified a need for additional sites and chose Lakenheath Warren as a suitable area for a decoy airfield. A number of dummy aerodromes, or "Q-Sites," were developed to confuse enemy aircraft. False runway lights and aircraft made of plywood were quickly constructed near what is now the Rod and Gun Club and actually succeeded in luring Luftwaffe crews away from nearby RAFs Mildenhall and Feltwell, as German crews bombed or strafed RAF Lakenheath on at least five different occasions. Still, despite RAF Lakenheath’s success as a dummy site, the RAF continued with plans to construct an airfield beginning in 1940.

In late 1940, engineers began constructing the new airfield according to Air Ministry standards. By early 1941, three runways in an "A-Frame" pattern had been completed with one 3,000-foot runway at 246-degrees and two 2,000-foot runways at 186 degrees and 322 degrees, respectively. Also constructed were two T2 hangars, one B1 type hangar, and 36 heavy-bomber hardstands. RAF Lakenheath opened in November 1941 as a satellite airfield for RAF Mildenhall as part of No. 3 Group. The airfield’s first occupant was No. 20 Operational Training Unit on temporary duty from Lossiemouth, Scotland. Flying Vickers Wellington Mk lc aircraft, No. 20 trained scores of aircrews in combat tactics before moving back to Scotland in January 1942. Between February and April 1942, No. 149 Squadron moved to RAF Lakenheath from RAF Mildenhall and began flying combat operations over occupied Europe in Stirling Mk III medium bombers. By the end of 1943, Lakenheath was functioning as an independent operational unit.

A second unit arrived at Lakenheath June 20, 1943. Flying Vickers Wellington Mk X aircraft, No. 199 Squadron began flying combat operations almost immediately, most of them involving sea mining operations. By the end of the month, the squadron had converted to Short Stirling medium bombers and both squadrons participated in the raid on Peenemunde Aug. 17, 1943, causing heavy damage to Germany’s "V" Weapon development center. By mid-1944 both squadrons had departed to other stations, with Lakenheath serving in a support role until the RAF closed the runways for construction to facilitate the arrival of British or American heavy bombers.

RAF Lakenheath reopened in the spring of 1947 and began receiving British support and instruction units. A top secret memo from the Air Ministry on July 28, 1948, however, would have a permanent impact on the station. It stated that Lakenheath was to be immediately prepared to receive a group of 30 American B-29 aircraft and 750 personnel. By mid-August, elements of the 2nd Bombardment Group had arrived in a show of force to the Soviet Union who were espousing threats of expansion into western Europe. Between August 1948 and January 1960, a number of bomber and fighter bomber units were temporarily assigned to Lakenheath as part of Strategic Air Command’s Cold War rotation. Further, the U.S. Air Force assumed administrative control of the base May 1, 1951, when SAC’s 3909th Air Base Group activated to support the unit rotations.