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Military site : airfield

Detailed history

Wheelus Air Base was a United States Air Force base located in the Kingdom of Libya. At one point it was the largest U.S. military facility outside the United States with an area of 20 sq miles right on the coast off Tripoli. The base had its own beach club, the largest military hospital outside the US, a multiplex cinema, a bowling alley and a high school for 500 students. The base also had its own radio and TV station as well as a shopping mall and fast food chain outlets. At its height it had over 15,000 military personnel and their dependents on base. Wheelus Air Base was originally built by the Italian Air Force in 1923 and was known as Mellaha Air Base. Today the facility is known as Mitiga International Airport.

Prior to the war, the airbase was constructed in 1923 and used by the Italian Air Force. In 1933 the roads around the air base and the neighbouring Mellaha Lake became the new home for the popular Tripoli Grand Prix motor race.[1]

Mellaha was used by the German Luftwaffe during the North African Campaign, with the Germans using it for short range recon units, as well as coastal and naval recon units. Special weather recon units also existed at Mehalla. The main Luftwaffe unit stationed at the base was the 2nd Staffel of the Aufklärungsgruppe (H) 14 or 2.(H)/14.

The squadron was equipped with twelve single-engined Henschel Hs 126, an aircraft with 2-man crews, which could cover approx 710 km, with a maximum speed of 360 km/h, as well as three Fieseler Fi 156 Storch liaison aircraft, and a Junkers Ju 52 for transport of men and materiel.

The airbase was captured by the British 8th Army in January 1943.


The US Army Air Force began using Mellaha as a base in January 1943. It was used by the 376th Bombardment Group (Heavy) of the 12th Air Force for B-24 bomb missions into Italy and southern parts of Germany.

In addition, Mellaha Field was used by Air Transport Command. It functioned as a stopover en route to Benina Airport near Benghazi or to Tunis Airport, Tunisia on the North African Cairo-Dakar transport route for cargo, transiting aircraft and personnel.[2]

On 15 April 1945 Mellaha AAF was taken over by USAAF’s Air Training Command. It was renamed Wheelus Army Air Field (AAF) on 17 May 1945 in honor of USAAF Lieutenant Richard Wheelus who had died earlier that year in a plane crash in Iran.

English Heritage's record description

Not yet known



  • 376th Bomb Group

    376th Bomb Group

    Constituted as 376th Bombardment Group (Heavy) on 19 Oct 1942 and activated in Palestine on 31 Oct. Began combat immediately, using B-24 aircraft. Operated with Ninth AF from bases in the Middle East, Nov 1942-Sep 1943, and with Twelfth AF from Tunisia...


  • Norman Appold

    Military | Colonel | B-24 Command Pilot | 376th Bomb Group
    Norman Appold graduated from the Aviation Cadet Training Program in 1942, commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant. After completing pilot training, he served as a B-24 pilot in the 376th Bomb Group Association, completing 63 missions. ...

  • Addison Baker

    Military | Lieutenant Colonel | Commanding Officer | 93rd Bomb Group
    Lieutenant Colonel Addison Baker was the Commanding Officer of the 93rd Bomb Group from May 17, 1943, he was killed in Action over Ploesti during Operation Tidal Wave on 1 August, 1943. ...

  • Wilmer Bassett

    Military | Second Lieutenant | Co-Pilot | 93rd Bomb Group
    Prisoner of War (POW)/ crashed on 8/1/43 while TDY to 9th AF for Ploesti Raid in B-24 'Pudgy' 42-40613 Prisoner of War (POW) in Rumania. Awards: POW, WWII Victory, EAME.

  • Keith Compton

    Military | Lieutenant General | B-24 Command Pilot - Squadron Commander - Commanding Officer | 376th Bomb Group
    Keith Karl Compton was an American Air Force Lieutenant General who was Vice Commander in Chief, in the United States Air Force's Strategic Air Command. He flew as the Element Lead Aircraft's Command Pilot with Gen. Uzal Ent, the Ploesti Mission...

  • Alfred Farrington

    Military | Staff Sergeant | Tail Gunner | 376th Bomb Group
    Scott Farrington served as a tail gunner with the 515th Bomb Squadron of the 376th Bomb Group. He flew on the crew of Donaldson Hurd, flying 'Dopey Goldberg', during the Ploesti raid on 1 Aug 1943. He was shot down with Hurd over Foggia Italy a couple...

  • Gilbert Hadley

    Military | First Lieutenant | B-24D Pilot | 98th Bomb Group
    First Lieutenant Gilbert Benny Hadley was a B-24D Liberator bomber pilot with the 9th Air Force, the 98th Bomb Group, "The Pyramiders", and the 344th Bombing Squadron, from Texas, based at Cairo, Egypt, Tobruk, and Benghazi, Libya, in the Mediterranean...

  • Ronald Helder

    Military | Second Lieutenant | B-24D Co-Pilot | 389th Bomb Group
    2nd Lt. Ronald Lee Helder was a B-24 pilot in the 8th Air Force, the 389th Bomb Group, and the 564th Bombing Squadron in WWII. He flew as Co-pilot with his friend, Command Pilot Lt. Lloyd H. Hughes, in the B-24D Lt. Helder called, 'Ole Kickapoo',...

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    Lloyd Herbert Hughes Jr., better known to his friends, as "Pete," flew his fifth mission, as pilot of a B-24 Liberator bomber in an attack against the Axis oil refineries in Ploesti, Romania. He was killed August 1, 1943 when his plane was severely...

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    John Riley Kane (January 5, 1907 – May 29, 1996) was a colonel in the United States Army Air Corps and later the United States Air Force. He received the U.S. military's highest decoration, the Congressional Medal of Honor in World War II, for his...

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    Military | First Lieutenant | B-24 Command Pilot | 98th Bomb Group
    1st Lt. Robert James Nespor, Jr. was a B-24D command bomber pilot in the 9th Air Force, the 98th Bombardment Group, "The Pyramiders", and the 330th Bombing Squadron. For the huge mission to bomb the oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania, on Operation...

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    B-24 Liberator
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    B-24 Liberator
    The B-24D, BREWERY WAGON, flew on the famous bombing mission to destroy the oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania. It was shot down by flak and an ME-109 as it was approaching it's target over Ploesti. Two of the crew were KIA, eight became POW's. MACR...

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    B-24 Liberator
    The B-24D, named HADLEY'S HAREM was Lt. Gilbert Hadley's personal airplane and the one he flew on the mission to destroy Hitler's oil refineries at Ploesti Romania in 1943. ...

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    B-24 Liberator
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Date Contributor Update
29 April 2019 13:44:08 Kickapoo Changes to media associations


Date Contributor Update
14 December 2018 04:25:34 Kickapoo Changes to media associations

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Date Contributor Update
02 November 2016 22:35:53 466thHistorian Created entry with name, known as, latitude, longitude, usaaf from date, usaaf to date, construction date and history