81st Tactical Fighter Wing History

Today's supersonic tactical jet fighter is a far cry from the stick and canvas crates flown by the 81st Wing's ancestors in World War I, when the 91st Pursuit Squadron fought in the skies over France and the 78th Aero Service Squadron flew Jennies in Texas.

The Wing came into being as a unit in 1942 and was then known as the 81st Fighter Group. After being euipped with Bell P-39 Airacobras at Muroc, California, the 81st shipped to England and later participated in the north African invasion. The 81st fought at Kasserine Pass, helped to hasten the surrender of Pantellaria, flew cover in P-38 Lightnings over the Anzio and Salerno beachheads in Italy, and then in 1944, transfered to India. In Karachi, the 81st converted to Republic P-47 Thunderbolts, crossed over the Hump and flew close air support in P-47's and F-51 Mustangs until the end of the War.

The post war years saw the 81st stationed, first at Wheeler AFB, Hawaii, then the mission changed to air defense and the unit was transferred to Kirtland AFB, New Mexico. At Kirtland the Wing converted to F-80's and later the F-86. Another transfer to Larson AFB, Washington, preceded their mass flight to England in August 1951.

The 81st was the first unit of F-86's assigned to NATO and the first foreign air unit to participate in the peacetime air defense of Great Britain.

The 81st became a fighter/bomber wing in 1954 and converted to F-84F's. A subsequent upgrading of tactical mission saw the wing phase into the McDonnell F-101 Voodoo in the winter of 1958-59 - the only unit in the USAF equipped with the tactical version of this powerful fighter.

In the past 14 years the Wing was the first foreign unit to be a part of Great Britains peacetime defense; the first and only F-101 Voodoo unit in USAF; the first unit to win the 'Daedalian Award' for maintenancein USAFE; and is the proud possessor of two Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards for the periods of 1959-61 and 1961-63.

1964 map of raf bentwaters (left) Map of RAF Bentwaters 1964
(right) Map or RAF Woodbridge 1964
1964 map of raf woodbridge

(Click on Map's for Larger Image)

Click ***HERE*** for a large survey map of the Rendlesham, RAF Bentwaters area.

Base History

You won't find the name Bentwaters on the map, nor will you find it listed at the nearest public library or post office. There is no geographical location officially identified by that name. The name Bentwaters was associated with a group of farm buildings that existed in Rendlesham Parish, East Suffolk, before World War II. Then early in the war, the British Army moved in and converted the quiet countrside into a combat training center.

Bentwaters farm subsequently disappeared under shellfire. In 1942 the Allies began to build a bomber base here. The present runway is located on the site of the old farm. When the base was finished late in the war, it was called *Butley Airfield, and so it remained until the Americans returned to the United Kingdom in 1951.

It is a typical, dispersed RAF base totaling 850 acres of land. (You will find sugar beet fields and corn patches next to your shop, office and quarters.) This rural atmosphere has helped Bentwaters become known as the 'most attractive' base in the UK.

Woodbridge, located two air miles and seven road miles to the east of Bentwaters, is a more compact base and it's runway is a bit longer. It was also built during the war and used as an emergency landing field for crippled Allied bombers and fighters returning from missions over Fortress Europe. Over one million pine trees were felled to make way for Woodbridge base (which is named after a nearby town) but several more millions still surround this jet nest.

Since there is no such animal as 'Bentwaters', we suggest that when mailing letters through non-APO address, that you use the following: Unit, RAF Bentwaters (or Woodbridge), Nr. Woodbridge, Suffolk, England.

Bentwaters and Woodbridge are sister bases; both coming under control of the 81st Wing. Bentwaters is the headquarters base and has two fighter squadrons: The 91st and 92nd. Woodbridge is the home of the 78th and 79th Tactical Fighter Squadrons. The 79th is part of the 20th Tactical Fighter Wing located at RAF Wethersfield.

Note: All material taken from 'Welcome to the 81st Tac Ftr Wg' pamphlet given to newcomers, by Personal Affairs and compiled by A1C Jim Tansey in 1964.

*I notice in your intro that you say that the airfield was known as'Butley Airfield' until 1951 when the American A/Force arrived. Not so! I was in the RAF stationed at Bentwaters as part of the final RAF presence there from 1949 until closure and hand-over. It was certainly known to us as RAF Bentwaters and I still have some of my service documents with the Bentwaters name printed on them. Enjoyed my service life there. I'm sure you did too. Cheers. Disclaimer by Ken Ogden 10/18/00

*RAF Bentwaters: "Construction began in 1942 and the station was intended for an American Bomber Group. It was known at the time as Butley after a village to the Southeast. From January 23, 1943 the name became Bentwaters, after a house originally sited on the position of the main runway" Action Stations 1, Wartime military airfields of East Anglia 1939-1945, Michael J.F. Bowyer, page 59. Base opened on April 17, 1944 under care of RAF Bomber Command - as was to be its' future calling the base was considered surplus to USAAF needs and completion work slowed. Smart pilots began using it for emergency landings (despite runway obstructions). First was a 96th Bomb Group B-17 on July 20,1944 which was badly damaged by the "obstructions". Next was a P-51 Mustang from 359th Fighter Group, then another B-17 from 95th Bomb Group. Then someone got the bright idea to actually clear the obstructions. P-51s short on fuel started using RAF Bentwaters close to the coast location to "get down". It became an operational RAF Mustang III with the first unit to arrive being the 129 Squadron in December 1944, followed by Squadrons 64, 118, 126, 165 and 234. The base remained operational and active until September 1, 1949. Reactivated on July 1, 1950 and turned over to the Yanks on March 16, 1951. 'Our Guys' - 81st Fighter Interceptor Group, arrived in F-86As on September 3, 1951. My volunteer gig with helping GI fathers locate their English children and vice versa has allowed me to really get an education on UK USAAF/USAF/RAF bases. Oh well, looks like it will be another tough day at the beach. Warm regards from sunny Miami. Steve Krulin 10/19/00

*The following is from Art Jones:
The 116th ANG is the fourth oldest Air National Guard unit in the USA. It was formed in 1924 in Spokane, WA, started with a few old Jennys, and in turn went to O2's, O38's and O47's by 1938. It began WWII doing observation work along the coast of Washington and Oregon states but was later disbanded and it's personel were shifted to various branches of the air arm for the duration. As the old personel began returning after the war, they reformed, were authorized and began receiving F51's, also a couple of B26's and 4 AT6's. In the spring of 1950 they began transition to F84's and six months later, to F86's. Called to active duty on Feb. 2, 1951 they were assigned to the 81st Fighter Wing based in Moses Lake, WA. On August 15th, 1951, 25 F86's complete with their flyway crews and a C54 loaded with a spare engine left Spokane on what turned out to be a 12 day leapfrog trip ending at Shepherd's Grove on the 26th. The first transatlantic move by a complete squadron of airplanes to be attempted and all 25 planes arrived intact. I was a member of that crew and a crew chief of one the F86's and can offer further remarks on this interesting trip if required. In my mind, we were the only squadron flying from the Grove at that time and flew as the 116th Fighter Interceptor Squadron intact under the 81st Wing. We remained thus until the end of May 1952 at which time we began releasing some of our personel back to Spokane and by November most of the 116th were back home; we left our F86's at the Grove and it's possible they were taken over by the 78th of which I know nothing. The 116th again became active with first F89's, transitioning eventually through F102's, F101's, and in 1976 was completely reorganized as a refueling squadron with KC135's. They were relocated to Fairchild AFB and have been their ever since with active participation in the 1990 desert war and the current conflict in Afghanistan. 4/15/02

(left)Base housing 1964
(right) Twin bases sports 1964

(Click on Pics for Larger Image)

F-101's flying over beautiful English countryside. f10l's over english countryside

Col Robin Olds, presents Finance Award to Lt Col Guy Foster.
(from Centurion, Jun 17th, 1964)
robin olds and guy foster

Maureen and Jim Tansey

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