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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 | General | B-24 Command Pilot - Squadron Commander - Commanding Officer | 376th Bomb Group
    Keith Karl Compton (December 9, 1915 – June 15, 2004) was an American Air Force Lieutenant General who was Vice Commander in Chief, Strategic Air Command. He flew as Command Pilot with Gen. Uzal Ent on Operation Tidal Wave in the B-24D, 'Teggie Ann'...

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

  • John Kane

    Military | Colonel | Commanding Officer, Command Pilot | 98th Bomb Group
    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...

  • Robert Nespor

    Military | First Lieutenant | B-24 Command Pilot | 98th Bomb Group
    1st Lt. Robert James Nespor 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 ...

  • John Palm

    Military | First Lieutenant | Pilot | 376th Bomb Group

  • Robert Sternfels

    Military | Major | Command Pilot | 98th Bomb Group
    Lt. Robert Sternfels was a B-24D command bomber pilot in WWII in the 9th Air Force, the 98th Bombing Group, the Pyramiders, and the 345th Bombing Squadron, who flew the famous B-24D bomber, 'The Sandman' on the mission Operation Tidal Wave to bomb the...

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  • 42-40402 The Sandman

    B-24 Liberator
    Crew of "The Sandman" on the Ploesti raid: ...

  • 41-24294 'Brewery Wagon'

    B-24 Liberator
    Shot down by a Me-109 over Ploesti. Two of the crew KIA, eight became POW's. MACR 154 ...

  • 41-24311 'Hadley's Harem'

    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. ...

  • 42-40664 Honey Chile, Liberandos, Teggie Ann

    B-24 Liberator
    The B-24 Liberator #42-40664 'Honey Chile' / '100 Teggie Ann' of the 515th Bomb Squadron, the 376th Bomb Group, and the 9th Air Force, as a participant of Operation Tidal Wave, the 1st Aug 1943 raid on the oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania. Flown...

  • 41-11825 Hail Columbia, Grumpy, Little Chief Big Dog

    B-24 Liberator
    This aircraft originally served in the 9th Air Force, the 98th Bomb Group, and the 344th Bomb Squadron as 'HAIL COLUMBIA'. It was 344th's CO Col. John R. Kane's personal aircraft until Kane became the 98th Bomb Group CO and turned it over to Herman ...

  • 41-11768 'Kickapoo'

    B-24 Liberator
    The B-24D Liberator #41-11768, 'KICKAPOO', was piloted by Lt. John S. Young from Dallas, Texas as part of the 9th Air Force, the 98th Bomb Group, and the 344th Bombing Squadron, which arrived in North Africa in early 1943. This airplane and was...

  • 41-24040 'Big Operator' 'Whats Cooking Doc ?'

    B-24 Liberator
    Started out on the 1 Aug 43 Ploesti oil refinery raid, piloted by Lt Hoover Edwards and aborted near Corfu with turbo supercharger problems. Converted to a transport on 17 Aug 43. ...

  • 42-40657 'G I Ginnie'

    B-24 Liberator
    B-24 Liberator #42-40657 'G I Ginnie', 514th BS, 376th BG, 9th AF, flew on 1st Aug 43 Ploesti oil refinery raid piloted by Norman C Appold, returning safely to Libya. ...


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