SUNDAY EXPRESS, April 20, 1958, p 13


‘Targets over the wash’ radar warning starts 55 minutes of suspense and action at American airbases

by Arthur Brenard

For 55 minutes yesterday top United States Air Force officers took first priority action to meet an atomic bomber threat to Britain. The signs on the radar screen at the giant A-bomber base at Lakenheath, Suffolk, were plain and ominous, the operators reported.

There was a group of five unidentified “targets” moving towards them.

Checks showed the objects over the coast in the Wash area, at low level and travelling at the speed of a jet bomber. The time was 3.20 am. The radar men alerted the top brass at Leakenheath.


Over secret circuits the radar sighting was flashed to all other US Air Force bases. The RAF and the Civil Air Authorities were asked: “Have you anything flying in this area?”

By this time cars were crossing the airfield at Lakenheath, bringing senior officers to the operations centre. Some arrived half dressed after being called from their beds.

Then came the first confirmation. Nearby Sculthorpe, another US Bomber base, reported that they, too, could see the “targets” on their radar screens. The atmosphere was tense.

The RAF and civil flying control reported: “None of our aircraft is flying in your area.” London Airport came in: “We cannot account for what you are seeing,” they said.

US fighter airfields were alerted. It was now 3.45 am - 25 minutes had gone. The “targets” had by this time been plotted by radar, within 10 miles of Lakenheath, only 75 miles from London.


At the fighter stations, lights flashed in the quarters of the pilots and ground crews. Within minutes, faster-than-sound planes were rolling out of the hangars. The pilots hurriedly putting on their high altitude suits were on their way to the briefing rooms.

Then, at 4.15 am, came the call that ended it all. Every station alerted heard the same voice. It was Major Fletcher, in charge at Sculthorpe operations room.

“We are satisfied that the ‘targets’ on the screens were caused by weather conditions,” he said. “Stand down.”

The 55-minute atom bomb alarm was over. Did any fighter take off? The Americans aren’t saying. But they agree the planes were “ready to go.”