The Bentwaters Cold War Museum (BCWM) opened it doors to the public for the first time in May 2007. This was the culmination of a project that began some six years prior.
The original idea was for a room in the control tower to be set aside for memorabilia and photos but this idea was subsequently changed to something that was on a much larger scale. The new plan saw the former hardened Wing Command Post as the base for the Museum, a building that itself has a very interesting history. The Command Post was the nerve centre of the Bentwaters and Woodbridge ‘Twin-Base’ complex during exercises (and in the event of war). In April 1986 the Command Post was manned for Operation El Dorado Canyon (the United States Air Force raids on Colonel Gadaffi’s headquarters in Libya. The building’s last operational milestone was during the first Gulf War in 1991, which saw it manned for the duration of the conflict in support of the A-10 Thunderbolt aircraft that were deployed to theatre.
Operated and administered by volunteers from Bentwaters Aviation Society (a registered charity), the BCWM portrays the history of RAF Bentwaters and RAF Woodbridge from the Second World War through to when the USAF withdrew from both bases in 1993. The most important period of operation of the ‘Twin-Bases’ was during the Cold War and, as the Museum’s name suggests, this is the main focus of the exhibits. Two key rooms in the Command Post have been restored to an operational appearance. These rooms are the Battle Cabin and the War Operations Room. Although unmanned during normal day-to-day operations, they would have been the two most important rooms during exercise and wartime. Additional rooms have been turned into ‘themed’ exhibitions. These cover the history of Bentwaters and Woodbridge in general, Special Operations units at Woodbridge, the ‘Aggressor’ unit at Bentwaters and a miscellaneous exhibition room which includes a Cold War timeline. The Museum also includes a multimedia room where visitors can expect to see video presentations and film shows.
The acquisition of a small number of airframes is considered important to promote the future growth of the Museum. Initial plans dictated that priority would be given to USAF airframe types that were once based at Bentwaters and Woodbridge (e.g. F-84F, T-33, F-4C/D, A-10 etc.), but difficulties in meeting the criteria for the USAF Museum’s (USAFM) loan programme has meant that consideration will now be given to acquiring any ‘Cold War’ airframe type.
The stumbling block in meeting the aforementioned criteria is that the Bentwaters Cold War Museum is a privately-run organisation. USAFM rules stipulate that ex-USAF airframes will only be loaned to government-run organisations in foreign countries. Prior to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York on 11 September 2001, this rule did not exist. Whether this change was a direct result of these attacks, or just a coincidence, is still unclear. Prior to this, the Museum would have been eligible for the loan programme. The Museum Trustees investigated various ways to overcome this hurdle. This included forming some kind of partnership with Suffolk Coastal District Council. Unfortunately, this plan did not prove successful.
The Museum currently has three aircraft undergoing restoration and re-building. These are a Gloster Meteor F.8, English Electric Lightning F.53, and a Hawker Hunter GA.11. The Museum also has an ex-USAF International Harvester bus that has been restored to running condition.
With the Cold War receiving more prominence, both in school curriculums and in general, the BCWM is likely to prove a popular educational venue and visitor attraction.