Over the years, Suffolk has long played a vital role in defending Britain’s shores and skies.

There’s Landguard Fort on the county’s coast, with a history of maritime defence that goes all the way back to the Dutch Invasion in the 17th century.

And further inland are a number of former airbases that, while no longer active, once served an important purpose during various international conflicts.

Home to over 30 airbases during World War II, Suffolk housed the majority of the 400,000 US airmen who were stationed here during the conflict.

Here is a brief history of just a few more of those Royal Air Force and United States Air Force bases, and what’s since become of them.

East Anglian Daily Times: One of No 110 Squadron's Blenheim Mk IVs preparing for action at RAF WattishamOne of No 110 Squadron's Blenheim Mk IVs preparing for action at RAF Wattisham (Image: Dave Eade/Archant Archives)

RAF Wattisham

This former Royal Air Force base has a history that goes back nearly 80 years. Opened on April 5, 1939, RAF Wattisham was home to the No. 107 and No. 110 Squadrons who flew Bristol Blenheim bombers. And on September 4, 1939, a day into the Second World War, bombers flew from this Suffolk airbase to attack Wilhelmshaven in Germany.

However just a few years later, the United States Army Air Force took over Wattisham in September 1942, who used it as an air depot and as a base for a fighter unit. During the American’s tenure at the airbase, a number of squadrons were stationed at Wattisham, including the 68th Observation Group who operated the Bell P-39D Aircobra, and the 479th Fighter Group who escorted heavy bombers during operations – the latter of whom took part in the Battle of the Bugle between December 1944 and January 1945.

Following the end of the Second World War, the Americans handed Wattisham back to the Royal Air Force in 1946, with No. 266 Squadron stationed there, who specialised in flying Gloster Meteor F.3 planes. And just a year later, the Air Ministry Servicing Development Unit was formed there, flying various aircraft including the Avro York I, the Hawker Tempest V, the Gloster Meteor F.4 & T.7, the Avro Anson T.20, and the de Havilland Vampire F.3.

Other planes that flew from RAF Wattisham in subsequent years include Meteor NF.12 night fighters, Hawker Hunters, de Havilland Vampires, and de Havilland Dragon Rapides. And by the 1950s, the Black Arrows were proudly based at the Suffolk airbase.

Following the outbreak of the Cold War, RAF Wattisham was bestowed with the English Electric Lightning, which at the time was the latest British fighter plane. The airbase was a Quick Reaction Alert Shed during the conflict, meaning it had a Blacktop diversion runway, and armed jets on constant standby.

As the Cold War went on, technology improved and the Lightning planes were eventually replaced with McDonnell Douglas Phantom FGR.2s, which were crucial in intercepting Soviet aircraft.

However, as the decades went on and the threat from the Cold War dwindled, RAF Wattisham was eventually decommissioned and closed in 1992. Today, it is under the control of the British Army and is known as Wattisham Airfield.

East Anglian Daily Times: A plane at RAF FelixstoweA plane at RAF Felixstowe (Image: Archant Archives)

RAF Felixstowe

One of the region’s more coastal airbases, the former RAF Felixstowe was first commissioned on August 5, 1913 by Captain C. E. Risk, RM. Originally called ‘Seaplanes, Felixstowe’, it was then under the command of Lieutenant C. E. H. Rathborne, RN, and followed by Lieutenant-Commander John Cyril Porte, RN.

Following the outbreak of the First World War and the creation of the Royal Naval Air Service in July 1914, the base was official known as RNAS Felixstowe. This was up until the formation of the Royal Air Force in 1918, when it was then renamed the Seaplane Experimental Station.

In operation for a total of 44 years, Felixstowe was home to a number of squadrons including No. 22, No. 209, No. 210, and No. 230 RAF Squadrons; No. 26 Air/Sea Rescue Marine Craft Unit RAF; America School RAF; High Speed Flight RAF; and the Marine Aircraft Experimental Unit. And more notably, famous RAF members such as turbojet engine inventor Frank Whittle and army officer Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence (also known as ‘Lawrence of Arabia’) were stationed at Felixstowe.

RAF Felixstowe ceased operations on June 21, 1962 after four decades of service, and today the site is now the Port of Felixstowe.

East Anglian Daily Times: A memorial at Bungay AirfieldA memorial at Bungay Airfield (Image: Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust)

RAF Bungay

Constructed in 1942 by Kirk & Kirk Ltd, the former RAF Bungay was with a 6,000ft length runway, with two intersecting secondary runways that were 4,200 and 4,220ft long.

During the Second World War, RAF Bungay was given to the United States Army Air Forces Eighth Air Force, and designated Station 125. During the American’s tenure, a number of station units were stationed there including the 460th Sub-Depot (VIII Air Force Service Command), the 555th Quartermaster Battalion, the 987th Military Police Company, and the 558th Army Postal Unit.

In October 1942, 14 North American B-25 Mitchell medium bombers arrived with the Twelfth Air Force 428th Bombardment Squadron and 310th Bombardment Group before moving to French Morocco a month later. December that same year, the 329th Bombardment Squadron and 93rd Bombardment Group (Heavy) brought with them eight Consolidated B-24 Liberators. These were used for special intruder operations, conducting air raids in bad weather to disrupt the German air raid warning system.

In November 1943, RAF Bungay underwent more construction ahead of the arrival of the Eighth Air Force 446th Bombardment Group. This group was key in a number of operations in mainland Europe, including targeting U-boat installations, ports, chemical plants, and aircraft factories in Germany. It also helped support the June 1944 Normandy landings, aided ground forces in France, and dropped supplies to troops before leaving the base in August 1945.

Following the end of the Second World War, RAF Bungay was given back to the British under the care of the Royal Navy, where it houses three Fleet Air Arm squadrons. In 1946, the RAF took over and placed the No. 53 Maintenance Unit RAF at the airbase until it closed in 1955. In 1962, the airfield was put up for sale.

In its post-military era, the former RAF Bungay became the home of Martlesham Heath Parachute Club. Today, the airfield is now home to a chicken factor, a mushroom farm, and the Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum is just a mile away from the now-defunct airbase.