RAF Lakenheath Wing History

In a presidential message to Congress January 12, 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt stated war within Europe was inevitable. The Third Reich and Japan had developed larger and faster aircraft, some of which might be capable of reaching America’s shores, according to the war department. This development prompted Roosevelt to revamp America’s military planning, stating that "increased range, increased speed, increased capacity of airplanes abroad have changed our requirement for defensive aviation."

In May 1940, the U.S. Army Air Crops formulated plans to meet the president’s call for increased aircraft production. This plan, aimed at bolstering America’s airpower at her off-shore installations and territories, included the addition of nearly 80,000 men and 41 combat groups.

As part of the war department’s plan, the Army Air Corps activated the 48th Bombardment Group (Light) January 15,1941. Assigned to the group was a complement of four combat units--the 55th, 56th, 57th and 88th Bombardment Squadrons. These activations resulted from the buildup of military forces known as the “First Aviation Objective,” in which the Air Corps activated 54 combat groups to prepare for the looming Second World War. For the first two years of its life, as was the case with many of its sister units, the group and its squadrons underwent a series of re-designations and transfers to meet Air Corps operational needs.

Initially, the 48th and its four flying squadrons served as a training unit, preparing its pilots and maintenance crews for eventual combat. After training, many of the group’s personnel went on to serve in squadrons stationed in Europe and the Pacific, while the 48th remained in the States. Over the next two years the group moved from Hunter Field to Will Rogers Field, Oklahoma, back to Savannah, Georgia, then on to Key Field, Mississippi; William Northern Field, Tennessee; and Walterboro AAF, South Carolina. Initially the men of the 48th trained with A-20 and A-18 twin-engine attack, light bomber aircraft. After moving to Key Field, the group used the A-24, A-31, A-35, and A-36 aircraft for training. While at Key Field, on 15 August 1943, the group was redesignated the 48th Fighter-Bomber Group. Furthermore, the flying squadrons were redesignated the 492d, 493d, 494th, and 495th Fighter-Bomber Squadrons.

Five days after these organizational changes, the 48th moved again, this time back to William Northern Field, Tennessee. With this move, the 48th abandoned its training mission and served as a strictly operational unit, flying in maneuvers with its first fighters, the P-39 Airacobra and P-40 Warhawk.

In early 1944, after years of training and flying across the United States, the 48th returned to the East Coast. At first the group conducted coastal patrol missions and training in the single seat fighter it would use throughout World War II, the P-47 Thunderbolt. After three months in South Carolina, the group moved up to Camp Shanks, New York and prepared for its embarkation to Europe.

On 21 March 1944, the men of the 48th Fighter-Bomber Group boarded the Queen Mary, bound for a then unknown and uncertain service in World War II. After a week of sea travel, the contingent arrived at Gourock, Scotland. From there they traveled by train for two days to their first overseas base, RAF Station Ibsley in Southern England. Almost immediately after their arrival the 48th began a rigorous training program, flying dive bombing, glide bombing, night flying, low-level navigation, smoke laying, reconnaissance, and patrol convoy sorties. Over the next two months the number of sorties steadily increased, and the group flew its first combat missions on 20 April 1944—an uneventful fighter sweep of the occupied French coast. Conducting primarily close air support missions with the P-47, the group and squadrons underwent another name change on 30 May 1944, dropping the designation “bomber.” Thus, the name that would remain with the units throughout the war was the 48th Fighter Group and the 492d, 493d, 494th, and 495th Fighter Squadrons.

Unknown at the time to the pilots of the 48th, all of their training was specifically designed for a campaign against the German positions at Normandy. On 6 June 1944, the 48th participated in a massive invasion of France, which included more than 14,000 sorties flown by the Allied air forces. The three squadrons [1] assisted the Normandy invasion by dropping bombs on bridges and gun positions, attacking rail lines and trains, and providing visual reconnaissance reports. Over the course of the Normandy campaign, the 48th flew nearly 2,000 sorties, dropping nearly 500 tons of bombs and firing more than 160,000 rounds of ammunition.

The new 48th Fighter-Bomber Wing inherited a base that was little more than acres of mud where wheat fields used to be. The only hardened facilities on the base were a concrete runway and a handful of tarpaper shacks. Within two years, the wing headed up an engineering project that resulted in the construction of permanent barracks, a wing headquarters, flightline shops, and warehouses.
While trying to raise a functional base out of the mud, the 48th also served as an operational wing, flying the F-84 Thunderjet. With the F-84, the wing supported North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE), and participated in exercises with the US Seventh Army. In addition, the wing conducted operational readiness exercises and tactical evaluations. Honing bombing and gunnery skills, the 48th frequently deployed to Wheelus Field, Libya for training.

[1] The 495th Fighter Squadron disbanded in 1944.