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Malmstrom Air Force Base
HISTORY OF MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE
Malmstrom Air Force Base traces its beginnings back to 1939 when World War II broke out in Europe. Concern about the war caused the local Chamber of Commerce to contact two Montana senators, Burton K. Wheeler and James E. Murray
and request they consider development of a military installation in Great Falls. In 1942, a survey team evaluated an area near the Green Mill Dance Club and Rainbow Dam Road, approximately six miles east of Great Falls. Great Falls, along with ten other northern tier sparsely populated sites, was considered for a heavy bomber training base. Construction began on Great Falls Army Air Base on May 9, 1942. The base was informally known as East Base since the 7th Ferrying Group was stationed at the municipal airport on Gore Hill. Its mission was to establish an air route between Great Falls and Ladd Field in Fairbanks, Alaska, as part of the United States Lend-Lease Program that supplied the Soviet Union with aircraft and supplies needed to fight the German Army.
Great Falls Army Air Base was assigned to 2nd Air Force and the first B-17 Flying Fortress landed on Nov. 30, 1942. Four bombardment groups, the 2nd, 385th, 390th, and 401st, trained at Great Falls from November 1942 to October 1943. The group's headquarters and one of its four squadrons were stationed in Great Falls with the other squadrons stationed at Cut Bank, Glasgow, and Lewistown, Montana. Aircraft would take off at a predetermined time, form up in squadron formation over their respective location, and later, over central Montana, join up in group formation. These bombardment groups went on to participate in decisive raids over Germany opening the door for Allied daylight precision bombing.
Upon completion of the B-17 training program in October 1943, Great Falls Army Air Field was transferred to the Air Transport Command and units from Gore Field transferred to the base. More buildings were constructed this year, including a consolidated mess, a Post Exchange, a theater and a 400-bed hospital. Moreover, the Lend-Lease Program continued which included P-39, C-47, B-25 and A-20 aircraft. B-25 Mitchell Bombers arrived by rail and were assembled on base, others were flown in by both military and Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs). These aircraft were later flown by U.S. pilots by way of the Alaskan-Siberian Route (ALSIB) through Canada to Fairbanks, Alaska, and transferred to Russian pilots who in turn flew them into Siberia. A total of 1,717,712 pounds of cargo containing aircraft parts, tools, miscellaneous equipment, explosives and medical supplies were shipped through Great Falls Army Air Base to Russia. Aircraft shipments to the Soviet Union stopped in September 1945, when World War II ended, with approximately 8,000 aircraft having been processed in a 21-month period.
Following WW II, Great Falls Army Air Field served as a port of embarkation for movement of personnel and supplies to Alaska and the northern Pacific. A reserve training unit was established here for the 4th Air Force from Oct. 10,1946, to March 6, 1947. In September of 1947, the United States Air Force became a separate service and the base's name changed to Great Falls Air Force Base. The "Cold War" heated up when the Soviet Union closed all land travel between West Germany and West Berlin. The United States and Britain vowed not to abandon West Berliners to the Berlin Blockade. On June 25,1948 "Operation Vittles," the strategic airlift of supplies to Berlin's 2,000,000 inhabitants, was initiated. Great Falls AFB played a critical role in assuring the success of this vital operation. Officials selected the base as the only replacement aircrew training site for Berlin Airlift-bound C-54s, officially activating the 517th Air Transport Wing. Using radio beacons, Great Falls AFB was transformed to resemble Tempelhof Airport in Berlin, Germany. Hundreds of pilots and flight engineers, many of whom were recalled to active duty, were qualified on the C-54 aircraft and on flight procedures to and from Berlin by practicing on ground mock-ups and flying simulated airlift missions. Later, the 517th Air Transport Wing was redesginated the 1701st Air Transport Wing. This wing's primary mission was the routing and scheduling of flights throughout the Pacific Ocean region and in support of allied forces in the Korean Conflict. The Military Air Transport Service (MATS) reopened the C-54 Flight Training School as the 1272 Medium Transition Training Squadron in May 1950, one month before the Korean War began. The 1701st ATW was for a short time replaced by the 1300th Air Base Wing and the 582nd Air Resupply and Communications Squadron in 1953.
Great Falls AFB has also played a major aerial defense role in the North American Air Defense mission. The 29th Air Division activated at Great Falls AFB in March 1951, bringing with them fighter interceptor squadrons, an aircraft control and warning squadron, and ground observer detachments. The 29th Fighter Interceptor Squadron activated in 1953 and remained at Great Falls until 1968. With the creation of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) in 1957, the air defense mission at Malmstrom AFB was responsible for a region covering the northern mountain and plains states of North America. This was comprised of four fighter-interceptor squadrons and radar sites stretching from the Rocky Mountains and across the Dakotas. Malmstrom AFB served as the NORAD alternate command post, active until 1983.
In 1954, the base was aligned under Strategic Air Command (SAC) and the 407th Strategic Fighter Wing was assigned to Great Falls AFB. The Wing's F-84 fighters and KB-29 air refuelers provided fighter escort for SAC's long-range B-36 bombers. They carried out nuclear strike and fighter escort and air refueling capability was an integral part of SAC's long-range atomic strike force. On Aug. 21 of that year, the 407th SFW Vice Commander, Col. Einar Axel Malmstrom, died when his T-33 crashed west of the airport at Gore Field. Although his tenure was short, he was well liked by the local community. It was the local civilian community that led the efforts to rename Great Falls AFB for Col. Malmstrom. On Oct. 1, 1955, the base was officially renamed as Malmstrom AFB.
When the 407th SFW inactivated in 1957 the 4061st Air Refueling Wing (ARW) was activated. The 407th Air Refueling Squadron (ARS) and their KB-29s were joined by the 97th ARS and their KC-97s to form the wing. The 4061st ARW flew their missions from Malmstrom AFB until July 1961. The 97th Air Refueling Squadron continued flying missions until March 1964 after the 4061st ARW inactivated.
The 341st Bombardment Wing was re-designated the 341st Strategic Missile Wing and activated at Malmstrom AFB on July 1, 1961. Construction of the wing's first launch facilities (LF) began in March 1961 with Alpha Flight LFs completed in December. The 10th Strategic Missile Squadron (SMS) was activated Aug. 1, 1961, and Alpha-01, the first launch control facility, was completed in July 1962. The first Minuteman I intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) arrived on base by rail July 23, 1962. Just four days after the missile's arrival, Launch Facility Alpha-09 gained the title of the first Minuteman missile site. The 12th SMS and 490th SMS activated in September and December 1962. Later in 1962, the missiles assigned to the nation's first Minuteman ICBM wing would play a major role in the Cuban Missile Crisis. On Oct. 27, the first of the 10th SMS's launch facilities, with Alpha-06 first, were placed on "strategic alert" after it was discovered the Soviet Union had placed nuclear missiles in Cuba. The following day, Soviet Premier Khrushchev agreed to recall Russian ships enroute to Cuba and withdraw nuclear-capable missiles. The Soviets eventually removed all their missiles from Cuba. The 10th Strategic Missile Squadron later assumed their motto "Ace in the Hole," referring directly to the first Minuteman missiles on alert of the l0th SMS. On July 3, 1963, following 27 months of construction, the wing and its three squadrons became fully operational. Each squadron controlled 50 missiles, bringing the total wing strength to 150 Minuteman I missiles. Two years later, construction began on the fourth and final minuteman squadron, the 564th SMS. This squadron was equipped with the more modern Minuteman II missile. On May 5, 1967, the 564th SMS was declared fully operational. Malmstrom's missile field was now the largest in the United States, covering 23,500 square miles. Two years later, the 10th, 12th and 490th SMS were also upgraded to the Minuteman II missile, increasing the wing's capabilities to four missile squadrons equipped with a total of 200 Minuteman II missiles.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the wing's missiles remained on alert and underwent extensive weapons systems upgrades. The 17th Defense Systems Evaluation Squadron, equipped with EB-57 Canberras, was activated here in the 1970s to train NORAD air defense personnel in electronic countermeasures. From 1988 to 1992, the Hardened Mobile Launcher for the Small ICBM was tested at Malmstrom AFB to verify its ability to operate in harsh winter conditions.
A major restructuring occurred in 1989 when SAC relocated the 40th Air Division to Malmstrom AFB and assigned it host responsibilities for both the newly activated 301st ARW and the 341st Strategic Missile Wing. The 301st ARW deployed to Moon Island in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm. During this time period the 301st flew 443 combat sorties refueling 936 coalition aircraft, and transferring 33.5 million pounds of fuel. The 341st Stragetic Missile Wing deployed security, civil engineering, services and support personnel in support of the action. On June 14, 1991, the 40th Air Division inactivated, returning host responsibilities back to the 341st. On Sept. 1, 1991, the 341st SMW became the 341st Missile Wing. Also in 1991, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START, was officially formalized. President Bush took all Minuteman II missiles, bombers and tankers off alert status Sept. 28. In November 1991, the 12th Missile Squadron's Launch Facility J-03 became the first to have its missile removed in compliance with the order. It would be three and a half years until the last Minuteman II in the Air Force inventory was removed from Kilo-11 on Aug. 10, 1995. As Minuteman II missiles were removed, a new program called Rivet Add was launched, modifying the 150 Minuteman II launch facilities to accommodate the newer Minuteman III.
In the early 1990s, host responsibilities changed several times due to massive Air Force restructuring programs. On Jan. 15, 1992, Malmstrom's host responsibilities were again transferred, this time to the Air Mobility Command's 301st ARW. Later, on June 1, 1992, the Air Force restructured its major commands, inactivating SAC and replacing it with Air Combat Command (ACC). The 301st ARW was re-designated the 43rd ARW. In July of 1993 responsibility for the nation's ICBM force was transferred to Air Force Space Command. The 341 MW transferred from ACC to Air Force Space Command and the 43rd ARW was re-desginated as a group, transferring host responsibilities back to the 341 MW.
In 1995, the Rapid Execution and Combat Targeting, or REACT, signaled the first complete overhaul of the Minuteman III's command and control systems. In addition to REACT, the wing completed the transfer of 120 Minuteman III ICBMs from Grand Forks AFB's, 321st Missile Group to Malmstrom. This brought the wing strength to 200 Minuteman Ills on alert status -the first time since 1991 it had a full compliment of a single weapon system.
The 1995 Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission led to the inactivation of the 43rd Air Refueling Group with the 91st Air Refueling Squadron transferring to MacDill AFB, Florida, along with the remainder of the refuelers at Malmstrom. On Jan. 1,1997, Malmstrom's runway was declared inactive for the first time in the base's history. On June 1, 1997, the 819th RED HORSE Squadron arrived, providing a rapidly deployable engineer mission to military and humanitarian operations worldwide. The 819th also has the distinction of being the first AF associate squadron with the 219th RED HORSE Squadron of the Montana Air National Guard.
Malmstrom's physical appearance has undergone many changes since 1995. Construction of new and renovation of old family housing, dormitories, work facilities, a new commissary and Base Exchange, and general base infrastructure have transformed the base's image and upgraded utilities. These improvements to the mission and quality of life resulted in Malmstrom being named the best Air Force installation in the continental United States in 1999. The wing has won the Blanchard Trophy twelve times - the most of any ICBM wing.
On Aug. 15, 2008, the 564th Missile Squadron inactivated at Malmstrom AFB, as the last ICBM squadron inactivated to that point. The 564th MS had been the first operational ICBM squadron in the United States when it first activated at F. E. Warren AFB, Wyoming, in 1958. It later again activated at Malmstrom and was the first of the wing's squadrons equipped with the Minuteman III missile.
The wing's Minuteman Missiles have also undergone improvements and upgrades. An extensive life-extension program is under way to keep the missiles safe, secure and reliable well into the 21st century. These major programs include: replacement of the aging guidance system, remanufacture of the solid propellant rocket motors, replacement of standby power systems, repair of launch facilities and installation of updated, survivable communications equipment. These efforts will extend the life of the Air Force's ICBM force to 2020 and beyond - guaranteeing Malmstrom AFB's future into the 21st century.