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The Involvement of 23 Squadron C/O Wing Commander (later Air Commodore) Anthony N. Davis DSO DFC

The story of this discovery is told in the following emails and linked documents

Email from Dave Clarke Jan 10 2003

Hi Martin,

I've just returned from a very productive week at the PRO and elsewhere, with some 'startling new information' on the Lakenheath-Bentwaters incident . . . The new findings relate to Air Commodore Anthony Davis.

If you recall, Davis was CO of 23 Squadron at the time of the incident in 1956. In 1972, on retirement from service he became a civil servant at Whitehall, as the head of S4 (the UFO desk), and fielded questions on the Lakenheath-Bentwaters case during the 1972 BBC Man Alive programme (if you recall, he said all the papers on the incident had been "accidentally destroyed"). . . recall also our exchange in connection with the handwritten note I found in an MoD file dealing with the TV programme where he had written the words "1956 - vectored towards UFO."

The 1 Jan 2003 releases under the 30 year rule included a considerable amount of S4 material dating from 1971-72, including notes and briefings prepared by Davis to answer Parliamentary Questions on UFOs, and in response to letters from members of the public following his appearance on the Man Alive programme, shown on BBC2, 3 February 1972.

Several of the file notes refer to the Lakenheath-Bentwaters incident -- and as we suspected, Davis not only knew about the case, but *WAS IN FACT ONE OF THE PILOTS INVOLVED* -- as intimated by his handwritten note released last year.

This clearly overturns all previous discussion concerning the sequence of events.

Davis's revelation was prompted by a series of letters addressed to S4 by Charles Lockwood, a member of Contact UK, in February 1972. Lockwood posed a series of questions concerning the MoD's handling of the UFO issue, specifically their attitude towards radar cases and the Lakenheath-Bentwaters incident in particular. He makes the point to Davis that "you have not explained publicly the Lakenheath-Bentwaters sightings of 1956" and challenges Davis' claim made on TV that the papers had been destroyed, as if so how had Condon's team included the case in their report (he seems to have got his facts mixed up on this point).

Anyhow, a number of notes by Davis appear on the file, and in his formal response. One, on a memo addressed to his junior officer in S4, reads "I think he [Lockwood] is incorrect about Dr Condon's representative seeing the Lakenheath reports?"

Elsewhere is the note: "1956. Anomalous radar echo only. Records destroyed. AD 19/7."

But most important of all is the formal response to Lockwood's challenge on this case, dated 17 March 1972 and signed by A.N. Davis DSC DFC ... "that we have published no explanation of the Lakenheath incident of 1956." Davis writes that "our detailed UFO reports going back before 1962 have been destroyed but if there had been any evidence to indicate the existence of an unidentified but real flying object (and not just an anomalous radar echo) it would of course have been retained and investigated in great depth."

Davis's notes suggest the case was *not* investigated in depth, and whatever records there were were shredded in 1962 along with all the run-of-the-mill reports made to Air Ministry during the period 1956-1961.

BUT, crucially, there is the presence of this sentence in Davis' reply to Lockwood:

"I was airborne myself at the time of the incident, in a Venom Night Fighter from Coltishall, and was vectored on to a suspected U.F.O. but made no radar contact and found myself chasing a star."

This suggests to me that A.N.Davis may indeed be the 'missing' pilot we have been seeking, and that you were partly right all along -- ie there was an earlier incident (around midnight), but that this involved Davis. His Venom was therefore either the first or second aircraft asked to investigate the UFO detected by Neatishead and RATCC Lakenheath.

Davis suggests he was diverted rather than scrambled, which may be a sticking point. But he describes being vectored, which suggests he was controlled by a GCI, which in context must have been Neatishead (ie Freddie [Wimbledon]). One possibility is that Freddie called Sector to scramble a/c, but as 23 Squadron were not immediately able to supply, Davis' Venom, already airborne, was diverted. Freddie's team would not need to know that was the case.

This scenario would be entirely consistent with the brief Air Ministry summary supplied by DDI (Tech) as a background to a Parliamentary Question in 1957, viz: "....[a report of] an unusual object on Lakenheath radar which at first moved at a speed of between two and four thousand knots and then remained stationary at an high altitude. No visual contact was made by the Venom sent to intercept it and other radars failed to pick it up" (8 May 1957, briefing to Secretary of State for Air).

Your comments are welcome, but some points to note:

1. Davis' says he was flying a Venom from RAF Coltishall. He was CO of 23 Squadron, who were normally based at Coltishall, but at the relevant time (13/14 August 1956) were detached to RAF Waterbeach for QRA duties during exercise Fabulous. The remaining squadron at Coltishall was 141 Squadron, who also flew Venom night-fighters. As a senior officer, Davis may well have had carte blanche to fly outside of normal duties, hence the fact that he was airborne at the time the events occurred (but see 2 below).

2. According to the base ORBs, Davis himself was himself on detachment during the period 10-14 August [actually 10-22 August; see message below dated Jan 13 2003] to RAF Stradishall, Suffolk, to attend a Court of Inquiry into a fatal accident involving a Venom from 89 Squadron, which crashed with the loss of both crew on 10 August.

3. Davis served as head of MoD's S4 branch (UFO desk) 1971-74, before becoming Air Attache to Moscow. He was involved in some scandal (not sure what) and returned to UK in disgrace. He died in the mid-1980s so we can't follow this any further. However, there is just a chance that his family, or the 23 Squadron Historical Association, have preserved his papers and/or crucially his flying logbook. If the latter could be located, we may be able to pinpoint the precise time of the 'UFO' incident he was involved in.

I'm not a betting man, but I would place money on the likelihood that this would be around midnight, on 13/14 August 1956.


Dave Clarke

Part of letter from Air Commodore Anthony N. Davis, 17 March 1972, describing his role in the Lakenheath events

Email from Dave Clarke Jan 13 2003

[. . .] A couple of notes/corrections here. I've re-checked the ORB for 23 Squadron and my dates for Davis' detachment to Stradishall are wrong. He was there from the 10th to the 22nd August. This does not materially affect the fact that he *was* airborne in a Venom, for whatever reason, on the night of 13/14 August, by his own testimony. I've spoken to Ivan Logan about this and he tells me that Davis did *NOT* accompany the squadron to Waterbeach for Operation Fabulous (the QRA spell), which ran from the 10th to the 17th August. Logan says he remembers the CO stayed at Coltishall, or rather was commuting from Coltishall to Stradishall for the Court of Inquiry, hence why he was 'airborne' at the relevant time. . . .  

> One other thing that occurs to me [M.S.] is this. Davis was the 23 Squadron CO, yet
> he apparently never mentioned he was involved in a UFO event. Why?

Again I've checked this with Ivan Logan and he says it is no big mystery. Firstly, he says that both he and the other crew (Brady/Chambers) discussed the incident amongst themselves and had forgotten about it by the following morning, hence there would be no reason why it should have been raised/discussed with their CO. More to the point, as they did not return to Coltishall until the 17th, (3 days later), and Davis did not return until the 22nd (8 days later) that puts a considerable time delay between the event and the various participants being on the same base together. The issue of why they didn't discuss etc has to be seen within the context of how important the incident was judged to be at the time it happened -- all the testimony, including that of Davis himself, is that it wasn't given much importance at all, which is why all the records were destroyed. [. . .]

Email from Dave Clarke dated 13 Jan 2003

. . . I understand Derek Mansell of Contact became an acquaintance of Tony Davis following the Man Alive programme in 1972, and the pair met up for a Radio Oxford programme on UFOs shortly afterwards, when Davis again mentioned his role in the L-B case. Is Mansell still around and if so can he be contacted, as he may remember something vital.

Email from Dave Clarke 14 Jan 2003

Hi Martin, all . . .

Just to let you know I succeeded in tracking down Derek Mansell last night, and spoke on the telephone regarding the Anthony Davis business.

Mansell now lives in Cornwall and is partially blind, hence his involvement in UFOlogy is minimal. He was very helpful and remembered Tony Davis clearly; apparently the two of them became good friends and had dinner etc occasionally.

He made the point that Davis was actually the first MoD UFO desk jockey to work closely with the UFO community, 20 years before Nick Pope came on the scene! Davis supplied Contact with copies of the MoD's UFO questionnaire and pre-paid envelopes for the group to send their best cases to Whitehall. This arrangement apparently was on-going until 1973, when Davis was moved to another job, according to Mansell because he was getting too pally with those pesky UFOlogists! This isn't a tall tale because I found documents to support everything Mansell said at the PRO.

With regards to the L-B incident, this is where it gets interesting. Yes, Davis told Mansell he *was* one of the pilots involved in the incident, and that this was one of several incidents that MoD had knowledge of but were not (at that time) releasing. That was all he could honestly remember about what Davis said. But:

a) he said there was a lot of letters exchanged between Davis and Mansell/Contact, and although no formal interview was done there should be notes about what he told them about the L-B incident in the Contact archive. I only found 2 or 3 of Davis' letters to Mansell in the PRO file, so there may be other stuff waiting to be found in Contact's files.

b) he said Davis' mentioned the L-B incident on the BBC Radio Oxford programme that he and Mansell appeared on shortly after the 'Man Alive' TV show in 1972....this was indeed the same radio show that relates to the hand-written notes by Davis I found which read: "1944- attacked by saucer over Germany; 1956 - vectored towards UFO.'

Andy and I are due to visit the Contact UK archive in Oxford shortly, so there remains a possibility that some new info on Davis' role in the incident might come to light.

Ironic, isn't it, that one of the UK's two major UFO groups has had a key piece of the evidence relating to one of the most famous incidents in UK UFO history and yet either didn't realise the importance of the info, or just kept it to themselves!


Dave Clarke

Unfortunately the Contact UK archive turned out to contain no records of interest.

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