Bentwaters

The historical significants begins with the Royal Air Force in 1942, when the construction began for a station to be operated for bomber command. This station was firstly called RAF Butley, and then renamed in 1943 to RAF Bentwatwers as we have known it for many years. The name 'Bentwaters' derives from the two cottages that stood by the site of the main runway during the construction operation. In December of nineteen forty four the station was transferred to fighter command attached to number eleven group with squadrons 64,118,126,129,165 and 234. A number of different aircraft were flown from the Super Marine spitfire, the North American P-51 Mustang as well as the first operational fighter the Meteor. In addition to the RAF presents, the United States Army Air Corps flew operational escort missions from Bentwaters, field designation AAF 151.Through world war two up until nineteen forty nine the station was alive with aircraft until the station was put into care and maintenance and closed down.

In March 1951 the base as it will be called in its future will be occupied by the United States Air Force, starting with the 7506th air support group with the job of upgrading the operational and support facilities to NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) standards. On September 7 1952 the key role of defence of western Europe during the cold war was taken up by the then 81st Interceptor Wing later to be re designated in 1954 to an Fighter Bomber Wing and then lastly in nineteen fifty eight the 81st Tactical Fighter Wing as we know it today. The aircraft took many forms over the years from the early days of the F-86 Sabre in the mid-fifties to the F-84 Thunderstreak. During this period of time the wing had a tasking of operational support for the United States Air Forces Europe (USAFE) And NATO with air defence as the second part of its mission. Both conventional and nuclear payloads were carried for this tasking.

As the years progresses so did the squadrons that took up residence; these were the 78th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 91st TFS, 67 Air Rescue and Recovery Squadron (all three based at RAF Woodbridge) 92ndT TFS, 509 TFS, 510 TFS, 511 TFS, 527 TFS. The aircraft generation advances also from the F-84 previously mentioned to the F-101 Voodoo configured fighter bomber from 1958. As the years move on to 1965 the Voodoo was replaced with the “Big Boy on the block” so to speak the F-4 Phantom II. The phantom flew all the way till it transitioned in 1979 to the A-10 Thunderbolt II. Along with the new aircraft the wing itself had a new mission this was to change from the role of nuclear delivery to close air support. The A-10 dominated the skies over East Anglia providing a 120 aircraft fighting capability with full wing deployment to counter any aggressive move by the Russian military against the United Kingdom and NATO.

With the large number of service personnel and dependants came expansion and modernisation of the base itself, from the many war type buildings came new housing, base exchange, commissary ”super market”, burger king, bowling alley, movie theatre, non-commissioned officers club, officers club, and schools. All these buildings were constructed to a very high standard to keep the base very modern. Whilst RAF Woodbridge was part of the 81st TAC FTR Wing its facilities were limited to the flight line, housing and a few shops. The gates to RAF Bentwaters were closed in1993 by the base commander due to the Berlin wall coming down and the Russians no longer a threat. The Americans went home and left all the wonderful buildings in place for further use by future communities.

Unfortunately all the buildings were levelled and we only have two original structures that are not houses left, and those now have a demolition order on them. 

Rory Adams

Please visit the museum website http://www.bcwm.org.uk/ for more information on the museum facilities