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How the West stole the secret in the lake (Sovjet plane)
Sydney Morning Herald ^ | January 24 2004

Posted on 01/23/2004 9:11:17 AM PST by knighthawk

The Soviet Union had the world's best radar - until a Cold War plane crash gave Britain the chance to pinch it. Michael Smith reports.

The Cold War was at its peak when on April 6, 1966, a top-secret Soviet fighter aircraft crashed into the Havelsee, a lake straddling the British and Russian sectors of Berlin. The British mounted a salvage operation, promising to return the aircraft and the bodies of its two pilots to the Russians.

But as a barge and a crane were set up on the lake's surface to recover the aircraft, beneath the surface there was a very different operation to take its top secret technology back to Britain.

Details of one of the most important intelligence operations of the Cold War are to be revealed in a TV program about Brixmis, the British military mission to the Soviet zone of Germany.

The first the British knew of the Havelsee incident was when radio operators at Berlin's RAF Gatow airfield picked up a message from the aircraft's controllers ordering the pilot to try to land on the lake, but inside the Soviet sector. But the aircraft fell short, crashing inside the British zone.

Brigadier David Wilson, then head of Brixmis, was playing squash when the aircraft came down. A quarter of an hour later he was co-ordinating one of the most astonishing espionage coups of the Cold War.

A Brixmis interpreter was sent to the lakeside where Russian troops, commanded by General Vladimir Bulanov, were trying to force their way through a British cordon. They watched as Squadron Leader Maurice Taylor, who unknown to them was the Brixmis operations officer, rowed to the wreckage to take photographs.

The top-secret fighter was later identified as a Yak-28 Firebar, with what was clearly a unique radar capability. Britain and America were desperate to know what made it so good.

Brixmis interpreters were ordered to buy time, trying to mollify the by now clearly concerned Bulanov. At the same time, technical experts were flown out from the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough to examine the aircraft's Skip Spin radar, which unlike Western systems could look up and down as well as straight ahead.

Below the water, a British serviceman was trying to get the pilots out of the aircraft. By 1.45pm on the second day the bodies had been bagged up and, below the water, work was going on to remove the radar. Meanwhile, Major Geoffrey Stephenson, one of the British interpreters, persuaded Bulanov that they were still trying to recover the bodies of the crew.

At 4.07 the next morning the bodies were slipped onto a raft. As dawn broke, the Russians were informed they had been recovered and would be handed over that evening.

The cockpit radar unit was on its way back to Britain to be examined, but they needed more time to get the radar dish out of the nose cone, which was buried in the mud. At 2.40pm that day, the Russians noted a launch arriving at the raft to offload a couple of apparently unimportant passengers before departing towards the shoreline of the British sector.

What they did not see was the divers attaching the jet engines by line to the launch which dragged them along behind it, taking them to a jetty a mile from the wreck where they were loaded into crates and flown back to Farnborough for examination. Meanwhile the pilots' bodies were handed over to Bulanov. Within 48 hours, the engines and the cockpit radar unit had been carefully returned to the Firebar's wreckage.

It was at midnight on April 13 that a raft sailed to the Soviet sector where piece by piece the wreckage was handed over to the Russians.

As the engines were handed over, Bulanov looked at them and could clearly see that the tips of some of the rotor blades had been sawn off.

"He didn't say a word," Stephenson said. "He simply looked at me and shrugged, as if to say: 'I've been screwed', and of course he had."

Then the Russians discovered that something was missing. The British insisted that everything had been handed over. If anything was missing it must still be on the bottom of the Havelsee.

What was missing? The Russians were unable to reply. They could hardly say it was a top-secret radar dish. They just had to hope the British were right and it was on the bottom of the lake. It had taken a long time to get the radar dish out but Brixmis had managed it. They just hadn't had time to put it back. The resultant changes to RAF aircraft allowed them to deceive the Soviet's Skip Spin radar and restored parity in the Cold War.


TOPICS: News/Current Events; United Kingdom
KEYWORDS: 1966; britian; brixmis; coldwar; miltech; radar; sovjets; uk

1 posted on 01/23/2004 9:11:21 AM PST by knighthawk
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To: MizSterious; rebdov; Nix 2; green lantern; BeOSUser; Brad's Gramma; dreadme; Turk2; keri; ...
Ping
2 posted on 01/23/2004 9:11:51 AM PST by knighthawk (Live today, there is no time to lose, because when tomorrow comes it's all just yesterday's blues)
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To: knighthawk
http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/russia/yak-28.htm
3 posted on 01/23/2004 9:14:27 AM PST by finnman69 (cum puella incedit minore medio corpore sub quo manifestus globus, inflammare animos)
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To: knighthawk
Now that is a cool story.
4 posted on 01/23/2004 9:16:09 AM PST by Dog Gone
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To: knighthawk
Spook bump.
5 posted on 01/23/2004 9:17:31 AM PST by facedown (Armed in the Heartland)
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To: knighthawk
Is this where we got our APG-65 look-down shoot-down technology which the Russians subsequently stole from us?
6 posted on 01/23/2004 9:21:38 AM PST by ampat (to)
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To: knighthawk
Thanks for posting that. I find Cold War espionage stories facinating.

To date my favorites are the tapping of a Soviet undesea communication cable where they ran the tap line from Russian waters 1200 miles back to Greenland and the story of the American sub capitan who tailed a Soviet missle sub for 47 consecutive days.
7 posted on 01/23/2004 9:28:17 AM PST by Rebelbase ( <a href="http://www.michaelmoore.com" target="_blank">miserable failure put it in your tagline too!)
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To: knighthawk
Wasn't the Yak-28 essentially their version of the F-lll?
Info, please.
8 posted on 01/23/2004 9:30:03 AM PST by Dionysius
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To: knighthawk
Great post. I saw a program on the History Channel early one morning that discussed the advanced planes that we took from Japan. Japan didn't have a chance to get some of them in the air, some of them were still prototypes.
9 posted on 01/23/2004 9:30:54 AM PST by Jaysun (The liberal mind is so open - so open that ideas simply pass through it.)
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To: knighthawk
Great post. I saw a program on the History Channel early one morning that discussed the advanced planes that we took from Japan. Japan didn't have a chance to get some of them in the air, some of them were still prototypes.
10 posted on 01/23/2004 9:30:57 AM PST by Jaysun (The liberal mind is so open - so open that ideas simply pass through it.)
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To: knighthawk
The Hunt for Wet October?
11 posted on 01/23/2004 9:33:54 AM PST by The G Man (Wesley Clark is just Howard Dean in combat boots)
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To: Dionysius
Wasn't the Yak-28 essentially their version of the F-lll? Info, please.

No, the Firebar (Yak-28P) was an interceptor version of the Yak-28 Brewer, a twin-engined medium bomber of about 1960 vintage.

12 posted on 01/23/2004 9:39:25 AM PST by Doug Loss
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To: knighthawk
YAK 28 BREWER

Photo courtesy Federation of American Scientists, FAS.ORG

13 posted on 01/23/2004 9:40:20 AM PST by xsrdx (Diligentia, Vis, Celeritas)
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To: Dionysius
Wasn't the Yak-28 essentially their version of the F-lll?

Sukhoi Su-24 FENCER

Photo courtesy FAS.ORG

14 posted on 01/23/2004 9:44:59 AM PST by xsrdx (Diligentia, Vis, Celeritas)
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To: Rebelbase
Another fan of Blind Man's Bluff
15 posted on 01/23/2004 9:45:45 AM PST by Fudd
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To: xsrdx
I usually don't say things like this, but that is one *ugly* airplane.
16 posted on 01/23/2004 9:48:06 AM PST by Fudd
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To: Fudd
Haven't read it yet, but I will soon.
17 posted on 01/23/2004 9:49:28 AM PST by Rebelbase ( <a href="http://www.michaelmoore.com" target="_blank">miserable failure put it in your tagline too!)
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To: Fudd
As Soviet design bureaus go, Yakovlev had a gift for making truly ugly airplanes.

Sukhoi aircraft were typically more attractive, with Mikoyan-Gurevich stuff somewhere in the middle.

18 posted on 01/23/2004 9:51:51 AM PST by xsrdx (Diligentia, Vis, Celeritas)
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To: knighthawk
I don't know if I buy into this as some kind of huge "score" we got. I've heard the MIG-25 radar we got from the defector to Japan was amazing only in that it used teeny tiny vacum tubes. Hundreds of them.

I'm sure it was an intellegence coup, only in what it told about their weaknesses.

19 posted on 01/23/2004 9:56:07 AM PST by narby (The Greens, like the Nazis before them, are inordinate, i.e., there is no limit to their demands.)
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To: knighthawk
Bump
20 posted on 01/23/2004 9:57:38 AM PST by Iowamerican
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To: BOBWADE
ping
21 posted on 01/23/2004 10:08:17 AM PST by zip
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To: knighthawk
This would be one thrilling book. Even tho we know the outcome.
22 posted on 01/23/2004 10:09:02 AM PST by OldFriend (Always understand, even if you remain among the few)
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To: Fudd
Boy, that's the truth. I thought it was b&tt ugly too.
23 posted on 01/23/2004 10:09:12 AM PST by lafroste
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To: narby
Actually, the vacuum tubes were a stroke of genius as they are impervious to EMP. Their capabilities would have survived a blast, ours wouldn't have as they were all transisterized. Would have fried every one of them.....
24 posted on 01/23/2004 10:12:09 AM PST by CTOCS
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To: xsrdx
As Soviet design bureaus go, Yakovlev had a gift for making truly ugly airplanes.

To my eyes, a glimpse of the YAK-28 may suggest "early jet age", but it's not terribly ugly. Of course, it looks better in flight than it does in some poorly-maintained museum display. In fact, it looks quite a bit like a ME-262 on steroids, with a swept wing purloined from the MiG design bureau.

Now, that Sukhoi pictured above... that's ugly. It may be functional and lethal - but it ain't pretty.

25 posted on 01/23/2004 10:17:04 AM PST by Charles Martel (Liberals are the crab grass in the lawn of life.)
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To: knighthawk
I love reading about these stories. Blind Man's Bluff about the sub stories and tapping the underwater comm line of the Russsians was great.

Whatever has happened to the intelligence community since that time?

26 posted on 01/23/2004 10:18:51 AM PST by Solson (Our work is the presentation of our capabilities. - Von Goethe)
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To: Rebelbase
That was an awesome story. As I recall, when the Russians finally found the tap after several years, it was prominently stamped "Property of US Government."
27 posted on 01/23/2004 10:29:59 AM PST by cyclotic (Cub Scouts-Teach 'em young to be men, and politically incorrect in the process)
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To: cyclotic
They discovered it through one of their spies, don't know if it was Hansen or not.
28 posted on 01/23/2004 10:46:50 AM PST by Rebelbase ( <a href="http://www.michaelmoore.com" target="_blank">miserable failure put it in your tagline too!)
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To: Rebelbase
Awesome book. I found it at a used bookstore for $2. Truly fascinating stories about sub espionage. Even more fun because I have a co-worker who was on a skipjack sub for 6 years and he can't tell stories but when we ask questions we get the idea.
29 posted on 01/23/2004 11:03:24 AM PST by raybbr
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