Three years ago I said I would post up some more pix of this place so here’s Part 1 of maybe a 3 part set of shots (depends how many I decide to use).
Apart from some damp coming in here and there this place is more or less good to go, although you wouldn’t want to pay the generator bill. As previously mentioned it cost $39 million to build and was only in use for a matter of months, ever since then nobody has figured out what to do with it.
When you look at the amount of work that went into it it’s incredible. Take the roof slab for example, there’s 1500mm of reinforced concrete covered with 2000mm of earth, on top of this is a 1050mm Burster Slab followed by another 750mm of earth. On with the pix…
I don’t profess to be any kind of expert on airfields, not even close, but they do interest me, especially Cold War airfields. The following is a ‘cut up’ of material from a variety of locations mingled in with some of my own words. Its certainly not a definitive history on Alconbury, more of an overview to accompany the pictures.
Thanks for looking 🙂
RAF Bomber Command use (1939-1941)
In September 1939, RAF Upwood squadrons were given operational training roles and Alconbury became RAF Wyton’s satellite under No. 2 Group, Squadron Nos. 12, 40 and 139. These squadrons were frequently deployed to Alconbury, No. 139 being the first to be actually stationed there. Squadrons 15 and 40 converted from Battles to Bristol Blenheim bombers. No. 15 Squadron took up residence on 14 April 1940, when additional requisitioned accommodation was available. It flew its first raid of the war on 10 May against a German occupied airfield near Rotterdam.
In May 1942, RAF Alconbury was allocated to the United States Army Air Force:
93d Bombardment Group, 7 September 1942 – 5 December 1942
92d Bombardment Group, 6 January – 15 September 1943
95th Bombardment Group, 15 April – 15 June 1943
482d Bombardment Group, 20 August 1943 – 21 May 1945
801st Bombardment Group (Provisional), January – 1 May 1944
94th Bombardment Wing, 12–18 June 1945
2d Bombardment Wing, 12 June – 26 August 1945
1st Bombardment Wing, 26 June – 26 August 1945
1st Air Division, 20 September – 31 October 1945
406th Bombardment Squadron, 11 November 1943 – 7 February 1944
857th Bombardment Squadron, 11 June – 6 August 1945
652d Bombardment Squadron, 13 July – 25 October 1945
36th Bombardment Squadron: Attached to 328th Service Group, assigned to RAF Watton, operated from Alconbury, 7 February-28
March 1944, Assigned to: 1st Bombardment Division, 28 February – 15 October 1945.
Postwar United States Air Force use:
7560th Air Base Squadron, 7 November 1954 – 25 March 1955 (Redesignated: 7560th Air Base Group, 25 March 1955 – 25 August 1959
86th Bombardment Squadron, 15 September 1955 – 5 August 1959
42d Troop Carrier Squadron, 31 May – 8 December 1957
53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, 25 April – 9 August 1959
10th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, 25 August 1959 – 20 August 1987 (Redesignated: 10th Tactical Fighter Wing, 10 August 1987 – 31 March 1993, Redesignated: 10th Air Base Wing, 31 March 1993 – 1 October 1994)
527th Tactical Fighter Training Aggressor Squadron, 1 April 1976 – 14 July 1988
17th Reconnaissance Wing, 1 October 1982 – 30 June 1991 (Assigned to Strategic Air Command Eighth Air Force 7th Air Division)
39th Special Operations Wing, 1 December 1992 – 1 January 1993
352d Special Operations Group, 1 January 1993 – 17 February 1995
710th Air Base Wing, 1 October 1994 – 12 July 1995
423d Air Base Squadron, 12 July 1995 – 1 July 2005 (Based at RAF Molesworth) (Redesignated: 423d Air Base Group, 1 July 2005 – present)
501st Combat Support Wing, 1 May 2007–present
The Cold War, Spy Planes & Operation Desert Storm
In 1959 with the Cold War hotting up (lame humour..), the 10th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing arrived at Alconbury and over the coming years flew many reconnaissance, electronic warfare and ‘Aggressor Support’ missions.
The Strategic Air Command arrived at Alconbury on 1 October 1982 when the 17th Reconnaissance Wing was activated, bringing with them the U2 and later the TR-1 Spy Plane. These assets required major remodelling of the airfield including Ready Sheds, 13 extra wide Hardened Aircraft Shelters, a Photographic Interpretation Centre and a Nuclear Hardened Command Post/Avionics Suite for the TR-1 spyplanes known only as Building 210 (later nicknamed Magic Mountain).
After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the threat of the Cold War vanishing there were rumours that RAF Alconbury would be closed down but then in August 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait.
Some of the first aircraft to be sent into the Gulf were three TR-1A’s from Alconbury’s 17th Reconnaissance Wing and 23 A-10’s from the 10th Tactical Fighter Wing (511th Tactical Fighter Squadron) were deployed to Saudi Arabia for combat operations.
The 511th TFS A-10s flew no fewer than 1700 combat missions during Operation Desert Storm and played an important part in wreaking havoc on Iraqi tank forces, Scud missiles and other ground positions during the conflict.
In recent years things have wound down considerably and in 1995 the USAF returned the base to the MoD (but retaining the Base Support Area under USAF control). The USAF 423d Air Base Squadron and USAF 501st Combat Support Wing still operate from Alconbury.
Ok, long overdue, some full on Cold War action for you…
In the 1950’s Skunkworks (Lockheed Advanced Development Projects) created a single engined, very high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft to be used in the Cold War to help determine Soviet capabilities and intentions. Elements of previous Lockheed designs such as the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter were incorporated to build what became the Lockheed U-2 Spy Plane (and later the TR-1). The first live flight was in August 1955 at Area 51 in Nevada and soon a variety of intelligences packages were developed for use with the plane that could be switched around depending on the mission (Interchangeable nose sections were fitted with large format cameras, radar and other cutting edge surveillance equipment). They flew so high that the pilot had to wear a space suit and breath bottled oxygen.
When the USAAF 17th Reconnaissance Wing was activated the 95th Reconnaissance Squadron was formed at RAF Alconbury bringing with them a fleet of TR-1 Spy planes. Building 210 was the Avionics and Photography Interpretation Centre for the TR-1/U2 Spy plane taking two years to build at a cost of $39 million and was later given the nickname Magic Mountain. The building was linked to various other US bases and also to the Strategic Air Command in Omaha, Nebraska.
Inside the stainless steel lined entrance corridor are a series of large rooms with raised access flooring for computer cabling. Building 210 has its own power plant, closed air conditioning, decontamination chambers, water supply and sewage systems. A Positive Air Pressure system was used to prevent any fallout or poisonous gas getting inside the facility. The bunker is on two floors and built of steel and reinforced concrete, sitting on a bed of gravel and giant ‘spring coils’ allowing the structure to shift during an attack and absorbing the impact. Allegedly it could withstand a direct hit from a nuclear bomb.
The political situation changed in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall and within six months of opening Magic Mountain was obsolete. By July 1991 the USAAF 17th Reconnaissance Wing was deactivated and by 1993 the entire base was handed back to the MoD.
On this visit I could not gain access to the subterranean bunker itself so you will have to make do with the few photo’s I could get, I will however be going back so watch this space…