MALMSTROM AFB

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Malmstrom AFB History

 

COL. EINAR AXEL MALMSTROM

Col. Einar Axel Malmstrom, born July 14, 1907, in Chicago, enlisted as a private in the Washington State National Guard on May 12, 1929. Initially called to active federal service at Parkwater, Washington, on Sept. 16, 1940, as a first lieutenant, he eventually moved to the European theater of operations and assumed command of the 356th Fighter Group in November 1943.

On April 24, 1944, while flying his 58th combat mission, Col. Malmstrom was shot down over France and taken as a prisoner of war. During the year he spent as a prisoner, he was the Senior American Allied Officer in the South Compound of POW Camp Stalag Luft 1, Barth, Germany, from April 1944 through May 1945, when the Russians liberated the camp.

Returning to the U.S. in May 1945, he was assigned as Air Inspector for the 312th Base Unit, Barksdale, Louisiana, the 19th Tactical Air Command, Biggs Field, Texas, and at Greenville, South Carolina. Moving to Langley AFB, Virginia, Col. Malmstrom served as deputy for Reserve Forces, 9th Air Force, until August 1949 when he was enrolled as a student at the Air War College. After completing the course, he was assigned as senior Air Force instructor at the Army War College for three years. From this post he was sent to Lockbourne AFB, Ohio, as division Director of Personnel. In February 1954, he was assigned to Great Falls AFB, Montana, serving as Deputy Wing (now “Vice”) Commander, 407th Strategic Fighter Wing. The wing’s aircraft, F-84 fighters and KB-29 aerial refuelers, provided nuclear strike, fighter escort and air refueling capability and were an integral part of Strategic Air Command’s long-range atomic strike force. On Aug. 21 1954, Col. Malmstrom took off in a T-33 Shooting Star on a routine flight to Offutt AFB, Nebraska. His T-33 crashed seven minutes later about 2 miles west of Great Falls Municipal Airport, taking the life of the 407th Strategic Fighter Wing Deputy Commander. The members of Great Falls AFB and the people of Great Falls mourned their Deputy Commander at a service Aug. 24. Col. Malmstrom was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. He was survived by his wife, Kathryn; son, James; and daughter, Barbara for whom he had named his P-47, during his service in World War II. The people of Great Falls led the charge to get Great Falls Air Force Base renamed in his honor. On Oct. 1, 1955, Great Falls AFB was renamed Malmstrom AFB.

MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE

Malmstrom Air Force Base traces its beginnings back to 1939 when World War II broke out in Europe. In December 1937, the Chamber of Commerce of Great Falls urged Sens. Burton Wheeler and James Murray of Montana, and Maj. Gen. Oscar Westover, Chief of the Air Corps, to consider the development of the municipal airport at Great Falls for possible defense usage. In November 1939, the Great Falls Airport Commission appealed to Harry Hines Woodring, Secretary of War, to locate an Air Corps squadron at Great Falls. A survey team evaluated an area near the Green Mill Dance Club and Rainbow Dam Road approximately 6 miles east of Great Falls. Great Falls, along with 10 other northern-tier, sparsely populated sites, was considered for a heavy bomber training base. Construction began on Great Falls Army Air Base in late spring 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 Field was assigned to 2nd Air Force, and the first B-17 Flying Fortress landed Nov. 30, 1942. Four bombardment groups — the 2nd, 385th, 390th and 401st — trained at Great Falls from November 1942 to October 1943. Group Headquarters and one of the groups’ 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 North Africa, Germany, Sicily and Italy, 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 in 1943, 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. These aircraft were later flown by U.S. pilots by way of the Alaskan-Siberian Route 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 Field 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 World War II, Great Falls Army Air Field assumed a support mission for military personnel assigned to Alaskan military installations under the 1455th Army Air Force Base Unit with an Aerial Port of Embarkation. A Reserve training unit was established for the 4th Air Force from Oct. 10 to March 1, 1947. In September 1947, the U.S. Air Force became a separate service and the base’s name changed to Great Falls Air Force Base four months later.

Just as the U.S. Air Force became its own service, 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, President Harry S. Truman initiated “Operation Vittles,” the strategic airlift of supplies to Berlin’s 2 million inhabitants. 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. Hundreds of pilots and flight engineers, many of whom were recalled to active duty, were qualified on the C-54 aircraft and on sight procedures to and from Berlin by practicing on ground mock-ups and flying simulated airlift missions.

The 517th Air Transport Wing was redesignated the 1701st Air Transport Wing on Oct. 1, 1948, and after the training mission for Berlin concluded in December 1949, the primary mission for the wing became the routing and scheduling of flights throughout the Pacific Ocean region and later in support of allied forces in the Korean conflict. C-54 operations continued at the base through much of the war and the 1272nd Air Transport Squadron continued C-54 Flight Training until April 1953.

Great Falls AFB has played a major aerial defense role in the North American Air Defense sector. The 29th Air Division activated at Great Falls AFB in March 1951 with the air defense mission for the central northern tier of the United States. That mission included the air defense of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and parts of Nevada, Utah and Colorado. The units became operational on a 24-hour basis on April 10, 1952, with five radar sites in northern Montana and North Dakota. Redesignated the 29th Air Division (SAGE) in 1952, the division exercised command over several fighter interceptor squadrons and radar sites during its time at Malmstrom, and was charged with tracking and intercepting incoming aircraft and other threats into the central NORAD region. The 29th Fighter Interceptor Squadron activated in 1953 and remained here until 1968.

In December 1953, the 407th Strategic Fighter Wing activated at Malmstrom AFB. (They had been a bomber and fighter group in World War II.) The wing was assigned to 15th Air Force under Strategic Air Command, and composed of base support units, the 407th Air Refueling Squadron with KB-29 and KC-97 tankers and the 515th, 516th and 517th Strategic Fighter Squadrons, equipped with the Republic F-84 Thunderjet. The wing’s aircraft provided nuclear strike, fighter escort, and air refueling capability and were an integral part of SAC’s long-range atomic strike force. They inactivated here July 1, 1957. Col. Malmstrom served as the wing’s Deputy (Vice) Commander at the time of his death on Aug. 21, 1954.

In 1957, Malmstrom AFB became part of the North American Aerospace Defense Command responsible for the 24th NORAD region, which covered the western half of North America. This air defense region, comprised of four fighter and interceptor squadrons and radar sites, stretched from the Rocky Mountains, halfway across North Dakota and extended north to the northern border of Canada.

The Great Falls Air Defense Sector activated under the 29th AD in March 1957 and assumed control of former Air Defense Command, Central Air Defense Force units with a mission to provide air defense of central Montana. The organization provided command and control over several aircraft and radar squadrons within Montana. Flying operations for the command included training and maintaining tactical units initially under the 29th Fighter Interceptor Squadron flying jet interceptor aircraft (F-94 Starfire; F-101B Voodoo; F-102 Delta Dagger; F-106 Delta Dart) in a state of readiness with training missions and series of exercises with SAC and other units simulating interceptions of incoming enemy aircraft. Radar units assigned included the 681st, 694th, 716th, 778th and 801st Aircraft Control and Warning Squadrons. They managed the SAGE system at Building 500 at Malmstrom AFB. Full crews were assigned for operation, maintenance and training on the computer, radar and communications systems along with installation of area security. The network linked Air Force (and later Federal Aviation Administration) general surveillance radar stations into a centralized center for air defense, intended to provide early warning and response for a Soviet nuclear attack.

On July 1, 1957, the 407th Strategic Fighter Wing inactivated at Malmstrom AFB. In its place SAC activated the 4061st Air Refueling Wing as base host at Malmstrom. The 4061st assumed the refueling mission at the base with the 407th Air Refueling Squadron, reassigned to the new wing. They were joined by the 97th ARS, both squadrons flying KC-97s. The 4061st ARW flew their missions from Malmstrom AFB until July 1961. The 97th Air Refueling Squadron inactivated at Malmstrom in March 1964. It was the last refueling unit assigned at the base until the 301st Air Refueling Wing activated on Jan. 5, 1988.

The 341st Strategic Missile Wing activated at Malmstrom AFB on July 15, 1961. Construction of the wing’s first launch facility began in March 1961 and was completed in September 1962. The wings’ strategic missile squadrons activated shortly after the wing: 10th Strategic Missile Squadron on Aug. 2, 1961, 12th SMS on Sept. 22, 1961, and the 490th SMS on Dec. 18, 1961. Alpha-01, the first launch control facility, was completed in July 1962. The first Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile 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.

Later that same year, the missiles assigned to the nation’s first Minuteman ICBM wing would play a major role in the Cuban missile crisis. On Oct. 27, 1962, Strategic Air Command put the first Minuteman I ICBM on alert in hardened silos at the 10th SMS after it was discovered that the Soviet Union had placed nuclear missiles in Cuba. The Soviets eventually removed their missiles from Cuba and the 10th Strategic Missile Squadron became America’s first operational Minuteman squadron after accepting its final Minuteman flight (Echo Flight) on Feb. 28, 1963.

On July 3, 1963, the 341st Strategic Missile Wing achieved full operational capability after the 341st SMW accepted Oscar Flight of the 490th SMS, the third and final Minuteman I squadron at Malmstrom AFB. Most of the 490th was initially equipped with Minuteman I “A” models; however, before the squadron had received its full complement, improvements and refinements had resulted in the production of the newer and better “B” model missile. The last eight missiles emplaced in 490th launch facilities were “B” models. The 490th is unique in that it is the only missile squadron to have deployed both “A” and “B” model missiles. Two years later, construction began on the fourth and final squadron, the 564th SMS. The squadron was unique in being redesignated from the first operational ICBM squadron at F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming. The 564th SMS was equipped with the more modern Minuteman II missiles. On May 3, 1967, the 564th SMS became fully operational after its last Minuteman II was put on alert at Tango Flight. This brought the strength of the 34lst SMW at Malmstrom AFB, Montana, to 200 Minuteman missiles, 50 Minuteman IIs collocated with 150 Minuteman I missiles. This completed the deployment of the programmed 1,000 Minuteman missile force. Two years later, the 10th, 12th and 490th SMSs were also upgraded to the Minuteman II missiles. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the wing’s missiles remained on alert and underwent extensive weapons system upgrades.

The 17th Defense Systems Evaluation Squadron activated at Malmstrom AFB in July 1974. The unit flew EB-57 Canberras in conjunction with the SAGE DC-20 Direction Center at Malmstrom for aerial evaluation of military radars and automated defense systems for SAGE at Malmstrom. It inactivated on July 13, 1979. It was the last flying radar evaluation unit assigned to ADC.

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 SMW. All mission support units assigned to the 341st MW inactivated at the base. On June 14, 1991, the 40th Air Division inactivated, and host responsibilities returned to the 341st on Sept. 1, 1991. All its inactive support squadrons and groups again activated at Malmstrom.

On Sept. 1, 1991, the 341st SMW became the 341st MW. Also in 1991, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START, was officially formalized. On Sept. 27, 1991, President George H.W. Bush ordered the removal of all Minuteman II ICBMs from alert status. In November 1991, the 12th Missile Squadron’s launch facility Juliet-03 became the first to have its missile removed in compliance with the order. It would be over three 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 with 120 of the Minuteman III missiles transferred from Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota.

On Jan. 15, 1992, Malmstrom’s host responsibilities were again transferred, this time to the Air Mobility Command’s 301 Air Refueling Wing. Later, on June 1, 1992, the Air Force restructured its major commands, inactivating SAC and replacing it with Air Combat Command (ACC). The 301st was replaced by the redesignated 43rd Air Refueling Wing that included the return of the 97th Air Refueling Squadron formerly stationed at Malmstrom from Sept. 1, 1957, to March 15, 1964. In July 1993, responsibility for the nation’s ICBM force then transferred to Air Force Space Command. The 341st MW transferred from ACC to Air Force Space Command. In 1994, the 43rd ARW was redesignated as a group and host responsibilities transferred back to the 341st MW.

In 1995, the installation of the Rapid Execution and Combat Targeting, or REACT, signaled the first complete overhaul of the Minuteman IIIs 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 IIIs on alert status — the first time since 1991 it had a full complement of a single weapon system.

The 1995 Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission led to the inactivation of the 43rd Air Refueling Group, with its aircraft assigned to the 6th Air Base Wing at MacDill AFB, Florida. On Sept. 30, 1996, the final KC-135 left the runway at Malmstrom AFB. It was the last fixed-wing aircraft assigned to the base that was home to aircraft operations and training since the base began in 1942. The last KC-135 (62-3533) to leave Malmstrom AFB was also the first to arrive at the base when it was first assigned to the base in early 1987. On Jan. 1, 1997, the runway at Malmstrom AFB was closed.

Later that year, the 819th RED HORSE Squadron arrived. It was the first-ever Air Force-Air National Guard RED HORSE associate unit. The squadron provided a combat engineering force to military and humanitarian operations worldwide on short notice.

Malmstrom’s physical appearance has undergone many changes since 1995. In addition to the wing being redesignated as the 341st Space Wing in October 1995, the construction of new and the renovation of old family housing, dormitories, work facilities and general base infrastructure has transformed the base’s image and upgraded utilities.

The wing’s Minuteman missiles have also undergone improvements and upgrades. An extensive life-extension program is underway to keep the missiles safe, secure and effective well into the 21st century. These major programs included 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.

In 2007, the 564th Missile Squadron began the process of inactivation and the 50 Minuteman III missiles in the 564th squadron began the process of deactivation. On July 1, 2008, the 341st Space Wing was redesignated as the 341st Missile Wing. On Dec. 1, 2009, the 341st Missile Wing transferred from Air Force Space Command to the newly activated Air Force Global Strike Command.

On July 28, 2008, maintainers removed the final weapon system component from the 564th Missile Squadron at launch facility Tango-41. The 564th MS was inactivated Aug. 15, 2008. The 341st MW completed demolition of the 50 LFs and five MAFs formerly assigned to the inactivated 564th MS after Phase I elimination of Tango-49 on Aug. 5, 2014. The same year, the wing completed removal of the final multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle from the Malmstrom missile field at LF Oscar-10. It was the last MIRV ICBM in the U.S. Air Force. Although the wing lost a squadron and 50 missiles, efforts continue to extend the life of the Air Force ICBM force beyond 2020, ensuring that Malmstrom AFB and the remaining squadrons have a bright future extending well into the 21st century.

MALMSTROM MUSEUM AND AIR PARK

Step back in time, immerse yourself in local military heritage, and explore Malmstrom Air Force Base’s evolution. View artifacts and images from its establishment in 1942 as a bomber training base, and learn about the numerous aerial missions it hosted leading up to the present mission of controlling the world’s largest Minuteman ICBM missile field.

The museum and air park are just inside Malmstrom’s 2nd Ave. N. gate. The museum is open 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Monday through Friday year-round, but is closed on federal holidays. Admission is free. Civilian guest passes are available upon processing through the Visitor Control Center located just outside the 2nd Ave. N. gate. Please call 406-731-2705 at least seven business days in advance to coordinate group tours, field trips and entry authorizations for guests traveling on a passport or visa. Canadian guests with a valid Canadian driver’s license do not need to coordinate in advance and can process through the Visitor Control Center the same as U.S. issued driver’s license/ID card holders.

Exterior displays include an F-101B/F Voodoo, B-25J Mitchell Bomber, 1942 Ford staff car, UH-1F Huey (Iroquois) helicopter, KC-97G Stratotanker, LGM-30G Minuteman III ICBM and more.

Visitors are free to walk through the air park during daylight hours. Before scheduling an event — for example unit photos, re-enlistments, and retirements — in the air park, please contact the museum office at 406-731-2705 to prevent any scheduling conflicts and grounds keeping or static display issues.

Inside the museum you will find one of the largest military model aircraft displays in the Northwest; a World War II era barracks room; a diorama depicting the base’s involvement in the U.S./Soviet Lend-Lease program; air defense weapons, SAGE direction center components, a flight suit and survival equipment displays; Minuteman I and II missile launch control consoles; a Minuteman launch facility cutaway; a Minuteman III post boost control system; a Mk-11 reentry vehicle; Army Air Corps and U.S. Air Force uniforms; and a map of Lewis and Clark’s portage around the “Great Falls of the Missouri.”

Visitors may also view a short, two-part video featuring personnel that operate, maintain, sustain and secure the Minuteman missile system as well as highlighting Minuteman launch operations complete with a full launch sequence.

The museum is always looking for ways to enhance its displays to capture the essence of Malmstrom AFB’s heritage. Anyone that would like to volunteer in any way, share an idea or story, or even donate an item relevant to our story can contact the museum at 406-731-2705 or email at museum@us.af.mil. More information on the Malmstrom Museum and Air Park can be found at www.malmstrom.af.mil/About-Us/Mamstrom-Museum.

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