Interview with F.H.C. ‘Freddie’ Wimbledon, Guildford, Surrey, Sunday, March 25, 2001

FW: Freddie Wimbledon; DC: David Clarke; AR: Andy Roberts

DC: What we wanted to start off with is some idea of your background in the RAF, right from the beginning. Take your time.

FW: Strangely enough, we never met the aircrew that we were controlling, unless we happened to be on the same see I was at Coltishall one time, and at Coltishall people who worked at Neatishead, there were no quarters there, so we used to meet there with the pilots (at Coltishall), but at other stations it was seldom that you got to know any of the other lived with them.

DC: So your lodgings then were at Coltishall?

FW: Yes, part of the time. At this time, during this incident. Every posting was a two and a half year posting. I started my career at Bawdsey, which was the father of radar, then all my other postings from there - I was instructing for three years...first of all I was going aircrew. I went to 42 OTU which was at Ashbourne, and then I had air trouble. That finished me. So I then transferred to the Air Traffic Control branch and I did the whole of the war period doing that...

DC: What year did you join the RAF?

FW: I was protected it...because I couldn’t go in right away, and I didn’t go in until November 1940...and then of course I was hoping to go to aircrew, but anyway I progressed and went onto, did a navigators course, and from then on went to 42 OTU, that’s where they found my air trouble, and that was that, and that’s when I transferred to the Air Traffic Control branch. And that would have been...I was commissioned Jan 42, I was an airman for 11 months...I stayed in Air Traffic during the war and I came up to my demob and I came out very reluctantly...and I couldn’t settle and I joined the volunteer reserve. At a reunion of 42 OTU I met my old Group Captain who said why don’t you come back in, and so I said right, and applied then to come back in, and he said once you’re back in we will get it made into a permanent commission. So that’s right, I came out in 47 and went back in 49 I rejoined. Then I transferred to air traffic control at the Central Flying School for two years, then I had the annual medical and they said I couldn’t see! So what with not being aircrew...but they gave me a permanent commission with the Fighter Control branch, that’s when I changed to Fighter 1950. I had to do the course, that was three months, and my first posting was to Sopley...I was at Sopley for one year, then I was sent as a training officer to one of the fighter control units at Cardiff. From there I went to Germany to Headquarters 2 Group on the staff there, a place called Sundan in Germany, and I did a full 3 years there. Came back to England, posted to Neatishead and I was at Neatishead in 1956, and shortly after this incident I was posted as an instructor to the School of Fighter Control...we had three postings, first of all we were at Middle Wallop, we then went to Hope Cove in Devon and then from there back to Sopley and I did my full three years as an instructor. I was then posted to the examining team, with the idea being that we went to inspect the operational efficiency of areas, the fighter control units...we examined the Luftwaffe, in fact at Middle Wallop we had the first lot of Germans over and I was instructing the Germans. I spent 2 years on the examining team, we did all the units in Germany at that time, we did all the RAF units in England, and we went out to Far East and we examined the Hong Kong Fighter Control Units and British ones ... we went as guests of the Australian Air Force to examine their units up in Malaya and we went back to the headquarters in Singapore, and at the end of that tour we came back to England and...after that...

DC: What year did you retire?

FW: The year was 1965. After the examining team I came back to Bawdsey...from Bawdsey I went to Headquarters Fighter Command for my last call...7 or 8 months, and I retired from HQ Fighter Command.

DC: That takes us up to the incident...if we say from the time of you going on duty on that night in 1956...what time was that?

FW: It was 11.30 GMT.

DC: Well you tell us the story then, from what you remember....

FW: I went on duty at 12.30 local time..nothing was reported as outstanding at that time.

DC: What would happen when you went on duty, would you be briefed by the person that you were relieving?

FW: Yes. And nothing untoward was reported at that time. And then, I can’t remember the time that Bentwaters rang up to say that something was buzzing their airfield, and immediately of course I started looking myself. I was Chief Controller with my own team at Neatishead control, so I was task at that time was to monitor what was going on at the table and I had my own radar, so I could monitor the whole picture. And Bentwaters rang through to say something was buzzing their airfield...

DC: Definitely Bentwaters, not Lakenheath?

FW: No, not at that time.

AR: How long was that after you came on duty?

FW: Yes, I’m a bit vague about time, yes the time of the scramble of the aircraft, you’ve got that as the first aircraft as 0200, it can’t have been much before that. I must say that East Anglia was a very funny area to work in...all sorts of things used to happen, migration of birds, for instance, and weird things used to happen to the radar sometimes, but you got used to those, but then having been alerted by Bentwaters started concentrating in that area, prior to that of course my area of responsibility was northwards and mainly the North Sea and up towards the next radar station which was further up, and that was my area of responsibility. We didn’t watch very much what was going on behind us because there was another radar station down there you see, but anyway we started taking notice that something was happening and it was then that I realised that something really was happening, because we were following a track that travelled at tremendous speeds and then stopped. And we thought that it must be something on the radar, and anyway we kept watching and this thing did quite a few things like that and then Lakenheath rang through and said they could see something on their radar...did we have it? And so I naturally said yes, and we’ll keep a watch. Lakenheath started to get worried then, so I got in touch with Sector at Horsham St Faith and I said ‘I’d think we’d better do something about this - we’re getting some very, very queer radar responses and it’s not any aircraft that flies, that’s flying today - it’s not Russian, we know that, because at that time we were being visited by the Russians three times a week up there...scrambled every time. Well anyway, it was something quite out of the ordinary, and so it was then that the first aircraft, the first Venom, was scrambled, and my Controller, the Interception Controller, took it over and I took the precaution of manning another Interception Cabin to monitor and I was monitoring the [picture?] So there was I monitoring the picture. There was 4 people in the first Interception Cabin, another 4 people in the there were 9 people watching the radar picture. And then of course we started speaking to the aircraft once it got within range, and he was directed towards this object which was now stationary, near Lakenheath, and he called out ‘Contact’ which means his navigator had it on his own radar. He then called out ‘Judy’ which meant he had got it fair and square on his did not need any more help at that moment, but they was a mistake that this man and one or two other people said that he went off my channel to speak to Lakenheath, well he wasn’t allowed to leave my channel in case he needed more help...and this thing, because it stopped, the Venom undershot it. At the time we didn’t know it had undershot it because prior to that this thing was moving slowly, and it stopped at the critical moment and the first Venom undershot. Well it looked to us as though this thing did a quick manouevre and had got behind...that’s what it appeared to us at the time, but it was only with hindsight that we realised that it had undershot the thing. And he said: ‘Lost Contact, More Help’. He was then told that the target was behind him, and whatever the first Venom did this thing, whatever it was, glued itself behind him. So I got onto Sector, and I said ‘We’re in an awkward position, we’ll scramble another Venom’.. so the second one took off, but by this time this thing had got was obviously sort of playing with us, got tired and then disappeared. What happened obviously... we followed it for a very short while and it got out of range of our height-finders and just went straight up in a northeasterly direction at a terrific speed. And of course by that time, although the second one was airborne, he didn’t get within 20 this is where the NCO let himself down very badly...he then related a conversation which is said to have taken place between the second pilot and the first pilot, in point of fact no conversation took place, except if I remember rightly the second pilot said: ‘Did you see anything?’ and the first pilot said: ‘I’ll see you at briefing.’ The R/T was so strict in those days that nothing was ever said untoward, whereas this NCO had them saying all sorts of things, ‘it was the damnest thing I ever saw’ He had been watching too many movies, so that was it...but, you see I knew nothing about this NCO at the time, he didn’t know, as far as I know, the frequency I was using. Now we didn’t have a very large number of interception channels at that time, it was only a little bit later that we went right over to UHF and sort of VHF and therefore we had many channels. So there weren’t many channels available and it was possible for him to trawl and find it. Nobody would have given it to him. We wouldn’t have given him the channel. Sector would not have given it. The only way he could have got that was by trawling, and the Americans had far more frequencies then available than we had, and better R/T equipment, so I don’t think it was too great a job for him to trawl and find it and I didn’t know that he had done anything at all. I think I mentioned this to Jenny...Jenny said the pilot spoke to Lakenheath, that must have been in reply to a request they made, I would think...most unusual....

DC: Was it possible that Lakenheath might have gone to Stanmore and asked if they could be patched through to the pilot?

FW: Once they’d got the frequency, they could butt in...I mean, had I known that at the time, I would have gone through to Fighter Command and had him court-martialled. Because that’s the biggest sin of all, to butt in on an interception on something like this. Moreover, another thing that stands out a mile, is that he said he was given control you see, that was his story all the way through. But by whom?

AR: It would have had to have been you, wouldn’t it? And you didn’t do it!

FW: So you see, the rules of this time, and still are as far as I know, Sectors and Headquarters would never let another air force take over the control of an aircraft unless it is wartime or one of the annual exercises. You see I had control over American aircraft during an exercise, but under normal circumstances that would never happen, so he would never have been given permission to take over control. But his story has always been, all the way through, that he controlled the interception...well how can you...if only the pilots, our fellows, had said Lakenheath had been butting in or something like that, I could have done something about it...

AR: Could you not tell on your R/T equipment that someone was butting in?

FW: No, you see Ground Stations can very rarely hear another Ground Station. Very rarely. Sometimes you get atmospheric conditions where that’s possible, but 99 times out of 100 one radar station on the ground cannot hear another radar station...if they know which channel it’s on they can hear the interception going on and therefore hear the instructions from the air, or the acknowledgement, but not the actual...but I did not know anything about this until it broke in the Sunday Express, not a thing....

DC: Going back to the initial radar tracking you made of it - do you recognise any of those [handing him list of radars listed at Neatishead in PRO file] So which one of those radar was used to track this object?

FW: That’s all correct. Type 7, yes. Type 14 is for lower, but in the main we were using the Type 7 and the Type 13 Height Finder, those were the two we were using.

DC: Would they normally be looking out towards the North Sea?

FW: Well it goes round and round the whole time, you see. But you concentrate...

DC: But on the landward side, would the range of your radar overlap those of Lakenheath?

FW: Yes, it would.

DC: In which case then, how was it that nothing was seen on your radar before midnight? You'd be aware of the fact that Bentwaters had claimed to have tracked unknowns before midnight?

FW: Yes, but, there was a lot of air traffic about that night, might have been lax, not looking, I don’t remember specifically looking...once of course we were told, then we would then keep a closer look all round, but prior to that we would be concentrating on the top, the northern area, because that was where the Russians were coming from...

AR: What was the time sweep that your radar functioned on?

FW: Would be about 6 rpm.

DC: When you were told it was the Americans who did the telling, it wasn’t Stanmore or Sector who first contacted you?

FW: The function of Lakenheath was...they had a GCA there. It was a controlled sector. People booked in there, but on the night in question all he had working was an FPS-5 with a range of 7 miles...he had no height information at all. Now the FPS-5 gave only range and bearing. You cannot carry out an interception on just range and bearing. It is impossible. That was one of the things that I pointed out to Jenny. He was claiming that, but he didn’t have the right equipment, he had never been trained as a fighter controller...but he was claiming that not only did he control the aircraft but that he gave a running commentary to the 3rd Air Force and two or three other God, he’s good this bloke! [laughter] But that all came out later...have you been through any of the correspondence, well you see that gradually Thayer and Friedman gradually began to throw suspicion on this story. If you read the letters that they sent to one another...fortunately I kept all those...they began to think there was something odd here...because the first mention was, when he wrote to Friedman 12 years after the event...

DC: Did he not admit at one stage that he had not been in control?

FW: I believe so. I did hear later - and I forget who the researcher was - that he did in the end admit, having been faced with the facts, that he did not have the equipment to do it, and wasn’t trained. He did admit that anyway. And secondly, with the staff he had he listed all those and then he admitted later that his watch changed completely half way through this so he didn’t really know who was there and who wasn’t! and another point is, there was no officer there at all, and apparently the captain in charge signed the report as correct the next morning....I can’t prove those facts but they were told me, and I can’t remember who told me....

DC: It must have been one of the people who you were in contact with...

FW: I was in touch with Friedman and Thayer, Klass, they were all alive at that time. Anyway, what correspondence there is in those files, so you’ve got all that.

DC: McDonald died in 1970, so you can’t have spoken to him. You mentioned that the radar target, you thought it was very unusual, the way it was moving...

FW: Very unusual, yes.

DC: But, can you expand on that?

FW: Yes, terrific acceleration and apparently stopping without slowing down. Those were the two main things. The acceleration was such that it would be stationary and then....

AR: Was it a strong return?

FW: Oh, very, yes! Oh yes it was just the same as an ordinary aircraft.

AR: Was it possible for you to get any measurement of size from a radar return?

FW: I can probably draw it out [uses a piece of paper to sketch appearance of return on radar scope] that’s the centre of the the strobe is going round like that, and as it strikes the object it lights’ve probably seen arcs like this and the aircraft would be the centrepoint...and that’s how we used to mark them...with [china-graph?] we used to use a red china-graph on this green, with a yellow background, and red would show up...that’s all you would see. But I mean a jumbo-jet would make a larger return...but it wouldn’t be any bigger than that...and there was an afterglow, so if say the aircraft had been going in that direction, there would be..usually about three, usually diminishing in intensity depending upon which way the aircraft was going...likewise the target as well. The function was..if the target was going along like had to anticipate that it would hold that, the idea being that you got underneath the tail and that would be it.

DC: If this thing was moving extremely quickly how would that appear on the scope...

FW: One of the jobs I had FD-2 that was going to be the fighter of the future, and I had the job one day of tracking it and for the time that’s the sort of response you would get..collosal speed, and later on the Lightnings, with these returns widely spaced.

DC: Would you be able to calculate the speed from this data?

FW: Oh yes, it was 6 rpm we were, in between would say half a mile three quarters of a mile or so forth, so you would be able to work out the speed so you could give your fighter some idea of the speed.

DC: What speed was it moving then, when it was moving quickly?

FW: Well it varied an awful lot, but some of the speeds we worked out as between 3 and 4,000 miles an hour. And the other uncanny thing was of course being able to stop, that’s why for a long time we thought it was some phenomenon like...something on the radar...

DC: So that’s what you thought it was at first, then, some phenomenon like anomalous propagation?

FW: Oh yes, there’s a hundred and one things that can happen on radar. I remember at Neatishead.... [tape break].... they were always having this trouble....ground returns..all sort so things could happen, you could pick up a was always happening...then you got angels....and birds...and the other thing was anomalous propagation - you could pick up the coast of Holland! Oh yes all sorts of things.

AR: If this object was travelling at 3 or 4,000 mph wouldn’t it have been off your scope very quickly though?

FW: Yes, I forget the range we were using at the time. I honestly can’t think. Shortly after we went over to the Type 80. I’ve got an idea it was somewhere in the range of it must be further than that! I honestly cannot remember. It’s a great CO at that time, after he retired, lived 100 yards from my son...and then he got Alzheimers and went in hospital and died last year. He was called Seldon. He was my CO at that time, and he 2nd in command was Squadron Ldr Horsfall...and he unfortunately dived into a pool and didn’t come up again...he was a great rugger man and played for the RAF only the once, he played dirty you see and played for Wales after that!

DC: You mentioned when you tried to trace this said there was a Fighter Controller who was actually taking charge...

FW: I had the team in front of me and could listen in on the conversations. The team consisted of one Fighter Controller, an officer, a corporal or maybe a sergeant, an NCO who was in charge of the team, a tracker, because this was being tracked on paper at the same time and a height reader. The NCO was there to make sure they were doing their jobs properly. You had the table where the plotter sits going down there...I was up here looking down on the table, now off from there would be three or four big control was there...and they had their individual ones and each of those would be completely independent and working in the dark of course...

DC: So the fighter controller, what role would he be playing..would he be the one talking to the Venom pilots?

FW: The fighter controller, yes.

DC: So did you not talk to them directly - did he tell you what they were saying?

FW: No, because my brief would be to see that everything was going alright, and I could chip in, as I had done on one or two occasions, if I could see that the Fighter Controller was going to be a bit late, or something like that, I could chip in...but generally speaking you left it to the Fighter Controller, because you were in overall command.

DC: Do you remember the name of the fighter controller?

FW: No that’s the whole problem. It’s a complete blank. All I remember is he was a National Service Office, a pilot officer, I’ve got an idea that his name was Hobson, but I can’t...after all I don’t know how many 1000 interceptions I did in my whole career, I have trouble sorting out the teams...and the trouble was the log-books were taken away from us and so there was no point of record. As far as I was aware I dismissed the whole thing, I didn’t tell anybody, I didn’t tell my then wife, I didn’t tell anybody at all. It wasn’t until the Sunday Express thing that I blew my top and said ‘this is a load of codswallop’...I’ve often regretted it.

DC: During the action, you must have been reporting to Sector about what was happening?

FW: Erm, it would go from Sector and to Fighter Command in a case like this. Sector was Horsham St Faith. If only we could find somebody there....[discussion follows around PRO documents which identify Eastern Sector Operations Centre as being RAF Bawburgh in August 1956, not Horsham St Faith]...well it was always known as Horsham St Faith may well have been at Bawburgh, I never did go there...

DC: Do you remember Exercise Fabulous which was ongoing at the time?

FW: I remember we did have exercises...I remember one when they said you have been bombed...of course we were underground then, there was a few hysterics....I’m not aware there was an exercise at that’s just something I don’t recollect.

DC: The control room at Neatishead, that was underground?

FW: Underground, yes. Yes they did have a fire there and several firemen were killed.

DC: How was the plot recorded...the actual movements?

FW: No, no that was done on paper in case there was an inquiry afterwards. Probably after the thing was all over it would be torn up. They wouldn’t keep it, only in the event of an inquiry, that would start operating straight away.

DC: What would be your duty after this event?

FW: I would write in my logbook what happened.

DC: That logbook would be the GCI station logbook for Neatishead?

FW: Yes. When all this started I wrote to the Group NCO who happened to be a lady Group Captain and er, she was very frosty, first of all she didn’t reply, and I said I thought it was discourteous not to reply and she started using rank and said I have no intention of giving you any information whatsoever....

DC: When was that?

FW: At least 15 years...

AR: Well the event would still be covered by the 30 year rule, the OSA at that time..

FW: Of course. The logbook would give a rundown of times, aircraft scrambled, contact made, etc. That was all there. That would clear up a lot of this.

DC: A signal must have gone to Stanmore at some stage to say this target was gone, that it had come to an end?

FW: No reference at all....

DC: What was the next thing that happened?

FW: The next day, a Group Captain came down from Fighter Command and interviewed us and he made a remark then that sounded at the time very odd. He said: ‘Don’t think you imagined this, these things are happening.’ What an extraordinary thing to say? He then said he was going to Horsham St Faith and then he was going to interview the aircrew, but apparently he never interviewed the aircrew, which seems very strange to me. He went to Horsham ... they would do the briefing and the debriefing of the aircraft... I would give Sector the information, target is east of so and so, like, approximate speed, and then he would give me the allocation of which channel to call them...

AR: So this person who came to interview me, where was he from?

FW: Fighter Command...Stanmore.

AR: Did he interview you all individually? or together...was it just you...

FW: Not individually, no [appears vague on answering]

AR: And you would give him an account of what had occurred...

FW: Yes, he made one or two notes and didn’t appear to be unduly concerned. But it was a funny sort of remark to make.

DC: And did you hear anymore after that?

FW: Not a thing, ever.

AR: Were you not asked to do a briefing for someone at the MOD some time later?

FW: I have given talks at Fighter Command. That came about...we started the Fighter Control Officers Society about ten years ago, and the talk I gave to them was about 8 years ago...and then of course I found out a lot more...I found out there was a separate branch at the MOD which collated all these sightings...and I got very friendly with the Group Captain who was in charge of that and he agreed with me, that it is arrogant for us to believe that we are the only long the universe had been in existence, there must be someone else. He was quite open have to think how do they get here, that has got to be worked out, but my own idea is through suspended animation. I’m sure methods of propulsion must be far more advanced than what we know.

DC: Are you saying that the idea that these things were extraterrestrials was accepted among the people at the MOD who were looking at this?

FW: Yes, because he was saying that 99 out of a 100 reports that come in, you can find something, some phenomenon of some sort...Klass goes on about ball lightning, but ball lightning doesn’t act like, it had every appearance of being controlled by, he was saying of every 99 reports that come in there is one, that you cannot put anything to it other than it being’s worldwide.

DC: Is that in the last ten years that he said that?

FW: Oh yes, he’s an Air Commodore now. I’ve got his name, somewhere. He was in charge at that time of this department at the MOD which they say dosen’t exist.

DC: Were you asked to give a talk on this case specifically?

FW: No because that took place before he was in the job, most of these postings only take two and half to three years, so you get a different job every so often.

DC: This Air Commodore, he must have been aware of this incident that you were involved in?

FW: No, not necessarily. Because it seems that there was a whole wipe-out of anything that happened before 1961.

DC: Did you ask him what had happened to your report?

FW: No I didn’t. I just gave my talk, and there were one or two other ex-Fighter Controllers who were also retired, and two or three of them had also had experiences, one in Germany and two in England. So I’m not alone!

DC: Is there a society that you are all part of?

FW: Yes, but we’re dying off rapidly now of course, because the whole concept is completely different now of course.

DC: You know the thing about the Official Secrets Act..where did that come from?

FW: When I was in the RAF you had to sign to say that you would not reveal anything learned during my service...don’t know how far that applies after you have retired but some years. That’s why I suddenly got frightened...I thought no, I’m not going to have anymore to do with it, it’s wrong, but I’m not going to put it right. I celebrated my 90th birthday last year...

DC: How did you feel when you saw this article in the Sunday Times?

FW: That was the first time... I thought ‘I know all about’s a load of codswallop’ I really was incensed, and I wrote straight away to the Sunday Times, and of course Ridpath was the first one to cotton-on...first of all he phoned me and wanted to know one or two other things, he was probably taping me at the time, and he then said I apologise, because I pulled him up you see, and he sent me the book, and I got very annoyed and phoned him up because I didn’t realise he was going to make use of this in a book...but he apologised. When he was pulled up by another researcher he said he had spoken to me and that although so many years had elapsed this officers account is so clear that I haven’t the slightest doubt that he was telling the truth.

DC: So shortly after that you then heard from America?

FW: Once the Americans got it from the Sunday Times all these famous people, the physicists, etc started writing to me. Philip Klass said shortly after Ridpath that he had investigated all these cases and there was nothing in any of I wrote to him and said if you had investigated all these things then how come you had never contacted me...but nobody knew about me you see...

DC: Do you remember speaking to someone called Martin Shough?

FW: Oh, yes. He lived somewhere down near Chichester. I had a disagreement with him. He said that he had interviewed the NCO and he couldn’t see why he couldn’t take his word against mine. In spite of what I had told him. But he said he couldn’t see any reason why he should take my version in preference that was the end of him as far as I was concerned.

DC: Were you aware of the observations from the aircraft, the pilot of the C-47 over Lakenheath?

FW: I didn’t know anything about that until the first books came out. I didn’t know, neither did I know that two people on the ground had witnessed it.

DC: Apparently the Americans also sent two T-33 aircraft to search the area before you came on duty but found nothing...

FW: No I didn’t know anything about that.

DC: What’s your understanding of the phrase ‘vectored’ ?

FW: To vector is a course to steer.

DC: You would have provided the vector information to the Venoms?

FW: That’s the whole thing you see, it’s been likened to sitting on a pilot’s shoulder telling him what to do. Because you are watching the radar picture all the time so you can easily say ‘starboard 30’, ‘turn right 30 degrees’, you use the minimum...we had our own language, with the minimum talking...and so that’s it, you would tell them exactly what to would tell the aircraft the target’s speed, what direction it was going in and you then vector him into position of attack. If he had got his own radar there comes a time when he can see it on his own radar and that’s when he would say ‘Contact’, then when the navigator says to him ‘OK I’ve got it’ that’s when he would say ‘Judy.’ Then you would listen out in case he comes back wanting more help.

DC: Are you certain that the word Judy was used by the pilot or navigator?

FW: I’ve always been under that impression...always.

DC: What is your definition of that code word, Judy?

FW: That means that the navigator had got it on his own screen, at the moment the navigator can navigate him towards the target...that’s the precise meaning.

DC: There’s also this idea that there was a visual sighting...

FW: I didn’t know whether there was a visual sighting or not, but the NCO said yes you see. That’s when he got the bit of conversation about the damnest thing he ever saw.

DC: During the most important part of the interception, when he was undershooting the target, who was relaying the instructions to the aircraft?

FW: Well the pilot called out ‘More help, lost contact’ and that is when he undershot. We had thought the aircraft, the target had moved round behind because it was an identical vector on the get two blips going like that and then suddenly the first one was...and it was so quick...but in hindsight of course it was obvious of course that he undershot it because this wretched thing was stationary....I could hear the pilot the whole time talking to the fighter controller...I had two phones and could hear what my fighter controller was saying as well as what the pilots were Chief Controller I could hear everything that was going on.

DC: Was it your responsibility and your alone to order this scramble - you would not have to get authorisation from a higher authority?

FW: No, well you worked as a pair with Sector.

DC: We have been able to establish that the aircraft involved must have been the ones we have identified.

FW: Yes of course - it was impossible for them to have come from anywhere else. They were from Waterbeach. And there again you see the NCO had said they came from Sculthorpe.

DC: Now, is it possible that there were more aircraft scrambled than the two?

FW: Definitely not.

DC: Is it not possible that one was scrambled and had engine trouble, and had to turn back.

FW: No, definitely not. You see Neatishead was the main GCI. Everything would come to Neatishead first. If Neatishead was swamped, as might happen during an exercise, then one of the other GCIs might take over. At that time there would have been Neatishead, Bawdsey, Patrington, and further up the coast would be Buchan and right up to the Orkneys and Shetlands, Saxa Vord. So GCI was the main one.

DC: Well we have found that there were 3 aircraft. The first had engine trouble and had to return. Then another was sent. We have a copy of the squadron diary which shows this was the case, and we have spoken to the pilot concerned. He recorded a DNCO.

FW: [shocked] I have no knowledge of that at all! [Looking at Brady’s logbook entry] Scrambled by the USAF? What’s that?

DC: He can’t remember why he wrote that, seems its because of the role they played.

FW: I know nothing about that. I didn’t know anything about it! Well this throws new light on the whole thing...I knew nothing about this far as I knew two aircraft were scrambled, the first one made an interception and the second one didn’t get within 20 miles.

DC: It does say in the Squadron diary that two aircraft were scrambled, and those two were these two here...Brady and Chambers in the first, followed by Logan and Fraser-Ker in the second...but then it says at the bottom ‘on being scrambled after this target Flying Officer Arthur lost his wing-tanks’ and on talking to him he says yes, he remembers being scrambled but didn’t get anywhere near and had to return and the others went out. That suggests that three were involved.

FW: I can’t explain it. I didn’t know anything about it. Whoever was on before me, that would have been in the logbook and he would have spoken to me about it. Well its an entirely different ball-game isn’t it?

DC: The problem is we don’t know what time Arthur was scrambled because it is not in his logbook. Is it possible you have just forgotten about this, because it was aborted?

FW: No.

AR: Would the logbook from Neatishead clear this up?

FW: Yes it would help, but it was taken away. No, I know nothing about this third aircraft. As far as I knew two aircraft were scrambled, and that was it.

DC: There is another contradiction, you know you say the 2nd aircraft didn’t get anywhere near the target...

FW: No it didn’ had disappeared by that time.

DC: That’s another problem because the navigator says he had a very similar contact on his radar than the first had had...

FW: Well I was under the impression that it had played around for a while and then shot off at terrific speed and the second didn’t get anywhere near...that’s the impression I’ve been under after all these years....obviously not.

DC: No, he did pick something up on his radar. Is it possible the first target had disappeared and he was vectored towards another target?

FW: I wouldn’t know. There was just the one target...but it had been moving before.

DC: You know this impression that it was there one minute and gone the would that be known?

FW: No, it started to disappear and then got out of range of our height-finder and so we could no longer see it.

DC: So when you say out of range of height finder it must have gone straight up?

FW: Yes.

DC: So it wasn’t a case that a decision was taken not to scramble any further aircraft, it was simply that there was no point because the target was no longer there?

FW: Quite. As far as I was concerned there was one target and one target only. I saw no other responses.

DC: What do you think about the opinion of the pilots that it was a balloon?

FW: I’ve seen balloons before on radar. No balloon could act like that. No it couldn’t have been a balloon, not to act like that did. It was a controlled craft of some sort. Definitely controlled. A balloon could get in an airstream, and that airstream could take it more or less horizontally.

DC: Do you remember what altitude this target was at?

FW: Quite low, about 4,000 feet at which the interception took place.

DC: That in itself was unusual, wasn’t it?

FW: That seemed very odd that something was very low, as we were looking up high. I’ve come across balloons, but not at that altitude. Any balloon would have been quite a way up. The return was similar to what you would expect from an aircraft.

DC: If we remove the idea of it being a controlled craft for the moment, was there anything else it could have been similar to?

FW: The radar return indicated to me and to the others that it must have been a controlled thing of some sort. The returns were similar to those of an aircraft. It couldn’t possibly be A Soviet aircraft because nothing could perform like that at the time...

DC: Was you aware there were aircraft like the U-2 spyplane based in the area at the time?

FW: I wasn’t aware at the time, I learned afterward.

DC: Had you tracked the U-2 on don’t think it could have been something like that, that the Americans hadn’t told you about?

FW: I hadn’t tracked it no. Well, Sector might have been informed, but as a GCI we wouldn’t have been involved. No, who else were there that night, well the CIA of course were at Lakenheath that night, because of the U-2 but we didn’t know that at the time.

DC: Was it discussed, after the incident had happened, among the people on duty?

FW: Well we were a bit nonplussed to say the least. What was it?

DC: Did no one contact Lakenheath to ask what was going on last night?

FW: No. We had no contact with the 3rd Air Force USAF, no contact with the Americans at all. We didn’t even know that an American had been involved at all, apart from the fact that he had reported strange things were happening, that was the only contact I had with them at all. Bentwaters said that something was buzzing them, then Lakenheath...

DC: It’s a difficult question but you can’t remember how soon after you came on duty that these things started happening?

FW: Nearer 1 o’clock in the morning I would think, some time after I went on, 11.30 GMT, local time 12.30. We always worked on local time anyway, whatever time of year it was. As far as I can remember my predecessor hadn’t noticed much going was one of the ordinary quiet nights...there wasn’t much traffic about that night anyway, very little. There would have been an entry in the log if anything had been going wouldn’t miss a thing like that, you would make a note of anything.

DC: How soon after the call from the Americans would the decision be taken to scramble?

FW: Not immediately. There would be some time because I would want to investigate myself and see what was going on. I would then be watching the radar picture myself.

DC: So at 12.30 you would come on and you then had first Bentwaters and then Lakenheath coming on - that’s two calls.

FW: Yes.

DC: You then would have to set up your interception team? How soon would that take?

FW: Very quickly, they would be in the rest-room...they would be all set up.

DC: You would then have to go looking for it and track it before making the order to scramble.

FW: Oh yes, in other words I was assessing the situation. And it warranted investigation by us.

DC: So between 12.30 and 2 am is not a long time to accommodate all these things happening?

FW: Oh yes, plenty of time. What I don’t understand is this third aircraft, I have no knowledge of that whatsoever. It seems odd, that must have stuck in my memory, a third aircraft. But who was it controlled by?

DC: Well it was from the same squadron, same airbase and same shift, because the other two crews knew this guy!

FW: As far as I know, no Venoms were scrambled before I went on duty.

AR: Were scrambles a relatively rare event then in your experience?

FW: No, they are on duty 24 hours and night after night they wouldn’t be scrambled at all. It was quite an event.

DC: At what time would the day squadron give way to the night squadron?

FW: That’s the 60,000 dollar question. That would be entirely up to the squadron that were manning the battle flight. They would know that they were on stand-by at such and such a time and when they are on stand-by, they are sitting in the cockpit, they are connected to Sector by this...they press go and it pulls out...and that is when they are told to scramble, what they are scrambling for and the vector to take...and they are told to call Neatishead on such a such a channel, and Sector would immediately telephone me and say they had scrambled such and such, time of take off, etc...

DC: So the order would come from you, but it would be the Sector controller who dealt with it?

FW: Yes, sector actually do the thing on my suggestion - that’s what it amounts to.

DC: What was your rank?

FW: Flight Lieutenant, I was the Chief Controller on duty that night at the GCI.

DC: I take it you have never had any direct contact with this Forrest Perkins at any stage?

FW: Never spoken to him.

DC: Did you know the name of the man who was on duty before you came on?

FW: No, he would be another Fighter Controller. There were no squadron leaders on duty that night.

DC: In all your time in the RAF did you ever hear about any other similar incident?

FW: Only since the association was formed and other people came forward. I didn’t know anything about the Javelins controlled by Sopley until afterwards...I knew the people from Sopley but never heard about this.

DC: How long were you at Neatishead?

FW: Came back from Germany in 56. Came back in March 1956, went to Neatishead and then in early 57 or late 56, I became an instructor at the School of Fighter Command.

DC: At the PRO there is a log for Neatishead that ends in July 56 with a note saying the station was to be closed in September, what was that about?

FW: That was when they were putting in the new type radar which meant of course everything coming out of the old system and an entirely new system being put in.

DC: Would that be when the FPS-3 search radar was under installation, in December 1956?

FW: Yes that sounds right. That was a new one, I didn’t really know much about that.

DC: What was your rank on leaving the RAF?

FW: Squadron Leader.

DC: How do you feel about the whole saga - did you expect all this to happen?

FW: Oh no, I wouldn’t have got involved if I had known what was going to happen. Well it has cost me so much in time writing to people, time on the phone. And people have taken advantage, saying I had told them this or that.

DC: Are we the first people to come and get the story directly from you?

FW: Yes you are. I thought that Jenny was the only one who had any real grasp about what had happened. So many of them did not have a clue of what Fighter Controllers did.

DC: What’s your opinion of what has been published in America?

FW: Well I don’t have a very high opinion of Americans... [laughter] I did one or two exercises with the Americans and I was not impressed.

DC: Would there have been any co-operation between the RAF and the Americans over this case?

FW: Never any talk at all, not the slightest, not to my knowledge anyway. Well the MOD at that stage said they did not know anything about it, they said. The Air Attaches were approached and they were always being asked, and the stock reply was ‘no we have never heard of it’ and that was why the American version held sway for so long, because no one had ever contradicted it. It was accidental that Ridpath wrote this article based upon what he had read...they did tell me all these people how they had tried to get information from the RAF but were given the stock reply that they knew nothing...and this went on for some time until some people who did know about it came forward.

DC: Do you think they were being honest when they said they knew nothing about it?

FW: Oh they knew about it. A thing like that, so out of the ordinary, they wouldn’t throw all the papers away, but they just said ‘they were accidentally destroyed.’

[END of interview]

*This letter was received from FHC Wimbledon on March 27, following the interview:

Dear David:

Problem solved! You had probably just reached the end of the road when the thought reached my brain. Of course I would not have known about a third Venom. Neither would I have known about the squadron taking off to do its daily tasks such as air tests, familiarisation, checks on new equipment, navigation exercises, et al. I wouldn’t be interested in any flights others than those specifically allotted to me as a GCI. The third Venom was not allotted to me. As an example, I will tell you of an incident that happened to me in Germany. Four Hunters took off from Oldenburg, ostensibly on a navigation exercise. In fact what they did was a “beat up” on 2 USAF fighter bases. However, things went wrong as these airfields were further away than they had estimated with the result that they began to run out of fuel. They switched to the distress frequency and were picked up by another RAF GCI station in the neighbourhood of Koln (certainly way out of my range) and directed to an airfield. One crash landed a mile from the runway a second ran out of fuel actually on the runway and took to the grass. The remaining 2 landed side by side with 20 gallons of fuel between them. At the subsequent court martial the Council for the Defence Officers tried to trick me by saying ‘Why did you not know where they were?’ My reply was that it was not any of my business to know where they were. This caused a stir! I then explained: These aircraft were never under my control; I didn’t even know who they were, or where they came from. Oldenburg had never informed me and was under no obligation to do so anyway. A Squadron Commander details his crews to fulfil certain tasks. They are then on their own to do these jobs to the best of their ability without ‘nannying’. In other words it is their business and nobody else’s. They are not therefore under anyone anyone else’s responsibilities. There is a distress frequency manned 24 hours a day for use in an emergency. I think there is a mistaken idea amongst non-flying people that all aircraft are under control from take off to landing. That is not so. I could have a “scope-full” of aircraft flying around, not one of which would I be interested in. Neither would they be interested in me! So apart from the 2 Venoms detailed to my GCI frequency, I would not be the slightest bit interested in any other aircraft from Waterbeach. I hope this now clears the problem.