Tuesday, July 17, 2012

RAF Bentwaters

OK, so we visited RAF Bentwaters on Saturday, 7 July. The plan was a leisurely drive-through, take at most an hour, then press on to southeast England for our return to Germany the following day. That’s not quite the way it went.

For anyone that’s spent time at Bentwaters they’re familiar with the roundabout between the operational side and the domestic side. We’ve just driven onto what was Bentwaters from Woodbridge town and here we’re approaching the roundabout. The operational side of the base is now called Bentwaters Parks, the domestic side is now Rendlesham.  The yellow sign here shows the opening days for the museum, more on that later.

The main gate at Bentwaters. You can see the main office is in the control tower. Also, they’ve got a webstie.

The Bentwaters control tower.

This picture is for Mary. She was a fuels officer while we were at Bentwaters.

Now we’re around to the far side of the base and this is Jeff’s old squadron building. Jeff’s squadron, the 511th Vultures, shared this building with the 509th.

Closer look at the 511th/509th building. Both of those squadrons moved to RAF Alconbury in 1988. At that same time an F-16 Aggressor squadron moved to Bentwaters and took over this building after an extensive building renovation, including these French doors.

Jeff wore a special shirt for our visit.

Deputy Commander of Operations (in today’s Air Force that’s now the Operations Group Commander) building with attached hardened shelter. This is where Jeff worked for two years in Standardization/Evaluation.

Even on a Saturday there was a fair amount of activity on Bentwaters Parks.

Quite a few of the Hardened Aircraft Shelters (HAS) had been altered like this one; a garage type door with ventilation louvers above. We looked inside a few of the open HAS’s and found them to be filled with piles of wood chips. Apparently there’s an operation here that makes wood chip fuel logs.

An old HAS with the Thunderbolt II design.  They can park two A-10's in one of these.

Some stripped down RAF Jaguars in storage in front of one of the Aggressor HAS’s.

We're at the BCWM, Bentwaters Cold War Museum. It’s located in the old wing hardened command post.

If you read that yellow sign at the roundabout, you’d know that the museum is open on the first and third Sunday of the month. We’re here on a Saturday so it's closed but there’s people walking in and out so we walked down to see if we could get inside. The two curators of the museum, Graham and Bob, Brit and Yank respectively, were there and said, yes, we’re closed. They told us the activity was a British television crew shooting an episode for National Geographic. They were doing a series on famous UFO encounters in Europe. However, not the Rendelsham forest incident, for those that a familiar with that, they’re using the command post as a prop for a mysterious RAF encounter with a UFO.

One of the TV directors invited us in to look around. Here we’re in the command room. All six squadron boards are still in place; 78th, 91st, 92nd, 509th, 510th, 511th. The lady standing here is one of actors for this episode and is dressed in the appropriate female RAF uniform of the day. If you look closely, you can see that each squadron board has pilots names listed and they’re not just any random names, Jeff says he recognized most of them; guys that actually flew in these squadrons.

And, a close up of the bottom of the 511th board found Jeff’s name along with Porker, Bam-Bam and Speedy.

Here’s another picture for Mary. Further up the 511th board is Pounder, her husband.

Some of the actors and crew. They even had a smoke generator that put out a light mist to make the scene seem just a bit more eerie. The story they were recreating concerned an RAF fighter that intercepted a UFO spotted on radar. As he approached the UFO both the fighter and the UFO disappeared from radar and all together. Eventually, the fighter was found at the bottom of the North Sea, canopy and ejection seat intact but no pilot, never to be found.

So they’re getting ready to rehearse the scene when one of the directors says, “Since we have a real pilot here, why don’t we get him to read the pilot part.” That pilot would be Jeff and so he became part of the cast. Here’s one of the rehearsal run throughs.  Introducing Jeff's performance debut.

We planned for Jeff to do just the one rehearsal and then be on our way but they asked him to stay and so we did. After two rehearsals and the actual shoot we got this picture with some of the crew before we went on our way.

Before we left we walked through the museum. Here they recreated a mass briefing room.

A 511th patch image and TACAN check point for RAF Bentwaters, Channel 23.

A couple of 511th memorabilia photographs. The 511th building around 1984 and the squadron flag. If you look closely you’ll see the photographer was Geoff Pleasance, a favorite, local artist.  Those prints closest to the corner in the photo above are Geoff Pleasance artwork.

An aerial photo of RAF Bentwaters.

Of course, the museum includes the two squadrons at Woodbridge too. Here’s an aerial photo of RAF Woodbridge. The two bases, Bentwaters and Woodbridge were all part of the same wing, the 81st TFW and were only a couple miles apart as the crow flies. Even today you’ll hear someone ask if there really was the world’s longest taxiway connecting the two bases and runways. The answer, no.

A photo of friends of Jeff’s who were in the 78th TFS, the Snakes; Moondog, Sticky and Rhino.

We’re done on the operational side after more than an hour in the museum/command post and driving over to what once was the domestic side of the base and now Rendelsham. This is the roundabout between the two sides of the base which Jeff says is the Pele Memorial Roundabout. When driving through this roundabout always go clockwise and only go around once.

One of the signs that stands an entrance to the Rendlesham village. Union Jack and US flags with a Spitfire flying over the local church. This sign is in the area where the Officer’s Club once stood.

One of the streets in Rendelsham village which used to be the domestic side of RAF Bentwaters. All the old base housing is now in use as Brit housing too.

The base gym was apparently used at one time by the local Brits but not anymore. It’s boarded up now.

This shop is the renovated Burger King and is the only such business in Rendelsham.  The only other American building that’s being used is the former clinic which is now a children’s school. Other than the CBPO building (which would now be called the MPF, Military Personnel Flight) and the Civil Engineer building which are both abandoned, every other building on the domestic side has been removed; BX, commissary, gas station, everything.

Well it was a fun visit. Here’s a plaque that’s been placed near the base air traffic control tower. Jeff and I were part of RAF Bentwaters from 1983-1987.

Before we left the area we needed to stop for sustenance so here’s the Wilford Bridge pub. It’s on the road into Woodbridge town, actually in Melton, just before crossing the railway tracks and then on into Woodbridge.

With that we wrap up our trip to the UK and our stop to do a checkout RAF Bentwaters; so many great memories with so many great friends. Seems like just yesterday. Yope you enjoyed our walk down memory lane. CHEERS!!


  1. Outstanding. You guys must have been reeling with fond memories of the place. I think the Cold War years were the most fun and the best place to be was in Europe. -- Simo

  2. What a great story. Thanks for the memories!