Spyflight covers alot of these flights. An old bold Andover driver told me many moons ago of flying on the corridor during the height of the cold war. A slow cruise along the very edge of the airway would usually provoke a Mig or two to come sniffing. Now for the fun bit; slowly pull the levers back and wait for the Mig to match speed. Soon the Mig is wobbling about, burner popping in and out trying to keep up (down?) with the Andover. Just as the Mig looks like falling out of the sky the Andover drops full flaps & puts the legs down. Mr Mig has two choices. Most of the time they charged off with the burner on but he told me of the rumour that at least one stalled in!
Interesting that RF531 wasn't the only victim - were there any reciprocal actions against Soviet aircraft during this period, there must have been some twitchy escorts?
The only RAF aircraft ever acknowledged to have been shot down by Soviet aircraft was an Avro Lincoln, RF531, from the Central Gunnery School (CGS) at Leconfield in Yorkshire. On 12th March 1953 two routine NATO liaison sorties were scheduled for the Lincoln’s of the CGS. These regular fortnightly training flights over Europe provided radar tracking and fighter affiliation training for both RAF and Allied forces and were a realistic simulation of a 6/7 hour high-level operational sortie, particularly for the trainee gunners.
The first Lincoln ‘H’ (RF503) captained by FS Denham, with the CO of the Free Gunnery School, Sqn Ldr F E Doran, in the mid-upper turret, got airborne at 0900 and set course for Germany. During its transit ‘H’ was ‘attacked’ numerous times by Thunderjets of the Dutch Air Force, Belgian Meteors and RAF Vampires. However, as the aircraft neared Kassel, still well inside the British Zone, two MIG 15’s suddenly appeared from underneath the aircraft on the port beam. After visually inspecting the aircraft, the 2 MIG’s peeled away and then conducted a series of high quarter approaches, as if they were about to attack the aircraft, without opening fire – all this was recorded on the cine-cameras attached to the Lincoln’s guns. To ensure the proximity of the Lincoln to the border of the Russian Zone did not provoke further attacks, the Lincoln was turned from a northerly onto a westerly heading and eventually returned safely to Leconfield.
Some 2 hours behind ‘H’ came the second Lincoln ‘C’ (RF531) captained by FS TJ Dunnell with Sqn Ldr H J Fitz, the new CO of 3 Sqn along for a familiarisation sortie as co-pilot. At 13.20hrs, as the aircraft was entering the 20-mile wide air corridor from Hamburg to Berlin, it was attacked by 2 MIG 15’s that opened fire without warning. The Lincoln went down in a steep dive, followed by the MIG’s who continued to pour fire into the crippled aircraft. The aircraft’s starboard wing caught fire and it began to break up in mid-air. The main body of the aircraft crashed into a wood near Bolzenburg, 3 miles inside the Russian Zone, with 4 of the crew still in the wreckage. The remainder of the aircraft fell to ground near Bleckede, on the edge of Luneburg Heath 15 miles SE of Hamburg, inside the British Zone. Three of the crew managed to bail out of the doomed plane, but one of the parachutes failed to open. The 2 other crewmembers landed (one in the British Zone) but both died of their wounds and other injuries. A number of German eyewitnesses confirmed that MIG’s had been responsible for the attack on the aircraft and suggested that one of the fighters had also attacked the descending parachutists – this would explain certain features of the medical reports on the deceased.
Whilst this aircraft had undoubtedly strayed close to, and possibly even slightly over the border, it’s track was clearly intended to take it into the air corridor, a fact that must have been quite obvious to the Russians. The Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, described the incident in the House of Commons as ‘wanton attack’ and a strong note of protest was delivered to the Russians. The Russians replied by claiming that the Lincoln crew had fired first. However, it was soon pointed out that on these training sorties the belt mechanisms were removed from the cannons in the mid-upper turret and the rear turret carried no ammunition. The Russians eventually expressed regret over the death of the 7-crew members and returned their bodies and the wreckage to RAF Celle shortly after the incident.
The Russians were particularly aggressive during this period. A week earlier a USAF F-84 Thunderjet had been shot down by MIG’s luckily the pilot managed to eject safely. A week later a BEA Viking was attacked by MIG’s whilst on a scheduled flight in the Berlin Air Corridor. Two weeks later an American B-50, allegedly on a routine Met flight, was also attacked by MIG’s, but drove them off with cannon fire. For several weeks all NATO aircraft flying near the East German border operated on a fully-armed ‘fire back’ basis, until the crisis had gradually died down.
Last edited by Polikarpov; 26th Nov 2006 at 15:26.
I feel that i should post something about RF 531 as my father was one of the crew.He bailed out but was badly injuired upon landing.Members of the 8TH Hussars who were in the area treated him for his injuries and took him to Luneberg hospital where he died three hours later,after making a statement about what happened..The official line was that they had gone off course into Russia and been shot down by two mig 15s.Now that 50 years have gone by i shall try the public records office to see if any more information is available.
I don't own this space under my name. I should have leased it while I still could
Join Date: Dec 2002
Originally Posted by old,not bold
Wasn't a V-bomber lost somewhere in the frozen North (Finland?, USSR?) late 50's/early 60's?
Pilots banged out, but the rest....well, you remember the problem.
Everyone quite tight-lipped about it.
What caused that?
I have not knowledge of this but I was told in about 1964 of the VTF. The Victor Training Flight. This was a euphemism not for the later Victor OCU but for Bomber Command War Training.
The plan called for high flying, high speed penetration of the IGB, I don't know how far but the person telling the tale implied Russia, with a high speed recovery to the west.
At the same time there would be a general fighter scramble in Germany to 'delouse' the bomber as it exited. In true Bomber Command fashion the 2 TAF fighters did not know why they were scrambled except to deter the Soviet fighters from entering NATO airspace.
Then we also had radar photograph of parts of the Baltic. Looking at the radar picture and back plotting range/bearing it was obvious that the aircraft was tracking north east up the Swedish FIR boundary towards Finland.
In those days the V-bombers were employed to explore the potential for high-definition centimetric band radar in extreme environments.
You can never rule these rumours out, but the loss of a V-bomber in these circumstances seems unlikely.
But 25 years after the Lincoln loss, an RAF Herc was hit by Soviet fire in the Berlin corridor!
"Around 1978 one of our a/c, on a training trip to Berlin was hit by ground fire while flying along the corridor. For those not in the know, corrider flying rules were that you had to transit at a reasonably low altitude (if I remember correctly) around 2 -4000ft. On landing at Gatow the crew discovered that fuel was 'persisting' out of a hole in one of the wing tanks. Investigation showed that they had been hit by small arms fire but, because the round had lost most of it's power by the time it hit the a/c, it penetrated the skin but did no more damage....."
I believe there was a C130 in the NE of Turkey in the 70s
Dedication and Sacrifice: During the Cold War period of 1945-1977, a total of more than forty reconnaissance aircraft were shot down in the European and Pacific areas.
THE 1958 INCIDENT
In 1997 the U.S. government placed on display a C-130 aircraft to symbolize all the losses in the reconnaissance program. The C-130 is a sister craft to one shot down in 1958. This is the story of that incident.
On the 2nd of September 1958, Soviet MiG-17 pilots shot down a U.S. Air Force reconnaissance-configured C-130 transport aircraft over Soviet Armenia. The MiGs attacked the unarmed aircraft after it inadvertently penetrated denied airspace. It crashed near the village of Sasnashen, thirty-four miles north of Yerevan, the Armenian capital. Seventeen Americans died in the crash.
The crew members had been based at Rhein-Main Air Base in Germany, but were on temporary duty at Incirlik Air Base, Adana, Turkey. The aircraft carried six flight crew members from the 7406th Support Squadron and eleven USAF "back-enders," Security Service personnel attached to Detachment One of the 6911th Radio Group Mobile.
On September 2, the C-130 (tail number 60528) departed Incirlik on a reconnaissance mission along the Turkish-Armenian border. It was to fly from Adana, Turkey, on the Mediterranean coast, to Trabzon, and turn right to fly to Van, Turkey. From Van the pilot was to reverse course and "orbit" (i.e., fly a racetrack pattern) between Van and Trabzon. This course would parallel the Soviet frontier, but the aircraft was not to approach the Turkish-Soviet border closer than 100 miles.
The aircraft's crew reported passing over Trabzon at an altitude of 25,500 feet. The crew acknowledged a weather report from Trabzon - the last word heard from the flight. What happened next is unclear. The C-130 crew may have become disoriented by Soviet navigational beacons in Armenia and Soviet Georgia, which were on frequencies similar to those at Trabzon and Van - one signal in Soviet Georgia was stronger than that in Trabzon.
At that time, the Soviets denied downing the aircraft, claiming that the C-130 "fell" on their territory. On September 24, 1958, the Soviets returned six sets of remains, but, when queried, stated they had no information regarding the eleven missing crewmen. On February 6, 1959, seeking to get the Soviets to reveal more details, President Dwight Eisenhower made public a tape recording of the Soviet fighter pilots' conversations as they attacked the C-130. The Soviets continued to deny responsibility for the shootdown, however, and the fate of the remaining crew members remained unknown during the Cold War.
Declassified Soviet documents, released by Russian president Boris Yeltsin, indicate that all crew members aboard the C-130 perished in the crash. Ground and air observations note that the crew did not parachute out of the aircraft.........
Returning to the Lincoln incident this is mentioned in Spyflights of the Cold War by Paul Lashmar - 1998 from which I quote -
"..The Russians claimed that it penetrated 125km into their airspace. Documents in the Public Record Office released 30 years later confirm this.... The aircraft appears to have strayed completely off course..How the aircraft strayed remains an open question. The captain was a highly experienced pilot who had flown many bomber missions over Germany in the war.....It remains possible that while these were not ELINT aircraft that they (this and the earlier Lincoln flight) had a secret brief to provoke Soviet defences which were recorded from the ground. But as yet there is no evidence..."
Even the most experienced crews make mistakes though I wonder at the wisdom of sending a vulnerable aircraft into a sensitive area knowing that the Soviets were acting aggressively...
I also wonder what the role of ground based radar was here. Should they have been monitoring the aircraft's progress? The previous quote does say that they were later confirmed (how?) as being off course.
The crew did eventually realise they were going the wrong way and headed back to the air corridor but sadly the MiGs caught up.
Many people are surprised when they discover how many aircraft were shot down whilst involved in intelligence gathering activities since the end of WW2 - a fairly comprehensive list can be viewed here:
The Canberra was eventually intercepted near the target and was damaged by cannon fire from a MiG, but eventually managed to land safely in Iran. If the flight took place, and I for one believe that it did, I think it's high time the extraordinary bravery and skill of the individuals involved was publically recognised.
I was amazed to find this story [history!] about flight RF531. I was aware of the of the incident because, sadly, my uncle was one of the unfortunate crew members. I did not, however, know the full details. In fact, I had always believed that he had been shot down during the Berlin Airlift, so I was surprised to learn that it took place several years afterwards. All I really knew was that he was very young, his rank, what his role on the aircraft had been and where he was buried (I prefer not to actually identify him here) but that's about the extent of my knowledge.
Alas, I never had chance to meet him since this incident took place a few years before my birth.
I would be very interested to hear from C-Charlie as to whether or not any further details of the flight were uncovered? Clearly, your father and my uncle would have known each other very well. My sincere condolences.
In the meantime, I'd like to say thank you to Polikarpov and others for posting the details of this tragic story.