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Malmstrom's past unveils dynamic mission history

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Chase P. McFarland
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
Today, Malmstrom Air Force Base is widely known as a strategic nuclear missile base; providing 150 Minuteman III missiles to the United States strategic forces, allowing them to "touch" anywhere around the world in minutes. But many may not know Malmstrom began its frosty history in the supply realm, as a home to multiple airframes or that it wasn't originally known as Malmstrom Air Force Base.

In 1942, construction began on the Great Falls Army Air Base in an area near Rainbow Dam Road, approximately six miles east of Great Falls, because of the need for a heavy-bomber training base. The base received the informal nickname "East Base" by the community because the 7th Ferrying Group was stationed at the municipal airport on Gore Hill.

Later in the year, the first B-17s landed a part of the 2nd Air Force. Along with other bomber squadrons located in Cut Bank, Glasgow and Lewistown, these aircraft would form up at a predetermined time in their respective areas and then congregate over central Montana. Following this large group formation these aircraft would fly to participate in decisive raids over Germany - paving the way to daylight precision bombings.

Following this successful program, the base was transferred to Air Transport Command as a primary player in supplying and supporting the Alaskan military installations; as well as shipping supplies and equipment to Russia during WWII.

During this time, aircraft such as the P-39, C-47, B-25 and A-20 were railed or flown in by both military and Women Air Force Service Pilots, or WASPs. Following their assembly they were flown to Alaska on the Alaskan-Siberian Route through Canada where they were then transferred to Russian pilots for use in the war.

Close to 2 million pounds of cargo, including parts, tools, explosives and medical supplies, flew out of the base; ending in 1945 at the end of WWII with almost 8,000 aircraft being processed during the 21-month period.

The base continued providing support to military personnel in Alaska; however, in 1948, a new critical role would be asked of Great Falls AAB. Following the initiation of "Operation Vittles," where supplies were flown into Berlin, Great Falls AAB assured the success of this vital mission by becoming the only training area for C-54 replacement crews. The base was transformed to resemble the Tempelhof Airport in Berlin, Germany, to provide realistic mock ups and simulated airlift missions preparing the crews for what they would face in Germany; ensuring a seamless execution of Operation Vittles.

In 1954, then 407th Strategic Fighter Wing vice commander Col. Einar Axel Malmstrom died after his T-33 crashed near the airport at Gore Field. Due to his high popularity with the local community, efforts were taken to rename Great Falls AAB after this local icon. In 1956, the base gained its official name, which we know today as Malmstrom Air Force Base.

Malmstrom, over the years, would see F-84 fighters, KB-29 air refuelers and B-36 long-range bombers utilize the vast airspace in Big Sky Country until 1961 when construction of the wing's first missile launch facility began.

Malmstrom saw its first flight of Minuteman missiles go on alert-ready on Oct. 26, 1962, thanks to the Cuban Missile Crisis. This "Ace-in-the-Hole" provided President John F. Kennedy with the much needed hand to ensure the back down of the Soviet Union, placing missiles in Cuba.

The following years would bring big changes to Malmstrom including the replacement of Minuteman I and II missiles to the current Minuteman III, extensive weapon upgrades and electronic countermeasures, the testing of the Hardened Mobile Launcher for smaller ICBMs, and the implementation of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

In November, 1991, in compliance with the START Treaty, the 12th Missile Squadron's J-03 Launch Facility became the first to have its missile removed, with the last Minuteman II in the Air Force inventory being removed from K-11 three and a half years later.

Following a 1995 base Realignment and Closure, the deactivation of the 43rd Air Refueling Group led to the declaration of Malmstrom's runway becoming inactive.

Today, Wing One's mission is to ensure the missiles remain safe, secure and reliable well into the 21st Century. With major programs intended to extend the life of the Air Force's ICBM mission, will ensure a strong capable force beyond 2020.