Grahame Scofield and the Eavesdropped Interception
An Opinion by Martin Shough
As argued in An Analysis of the Bentwaters Slow Cluster - Part 3, the 2130 start time given in IR-1-56 for the Bentwaters radar trackings is almost certainly wrong. The correct time I believe to be 2100. There are several reasons for this:
If a single digit of "2130Z" for the start time of the slow cluster is mistyped (this time only appears once in IR-1-56) then by elimination the correct time could only be 2120, 2110 or 2100. Plugging 2100 into the figures for this track produces almost exactly the average of the bracketed speeds observed by Whenry. This gives plenty of time for Sgt. Wright in Bentwater Control Tower to have learned by 2120 that UFOs were being tracked by GCA radar, and explains why at 2130 the T-33 was searching the NE quadrant when, according to IR-1-56, the targets were only just being picked up in the SW quadrant at that time.
This correction now makes sense of Scofield's 2120Z scramble if, as Dave Clarke first suggested, this was in response to the Bentwaters trackings. Taking account of all the new information, the scenario would be this: The first track is at 2100Z. After a while someone phones the RAF and Scofield/Arthur are scrambled from Waterbeach. They get off at 2120, but about 10 minutes into their climb-out they notice that they may have lost their tip tanks, drop down over the town lights of Ely to visually check the wing silhouette (where the Venom is reported by ground witnesses), and confirm the problem by radio at about 2130. Waterbeach operations then inform Sector who in turn call Bentwaters, and this is when Bentwaters GCA diverts Metz and Roe in their USAF T-33 to take a look instead. Note Arthur's expectation that another plane would have been sent out before they got back, it being usual for planes to work in pairs. This was incorrect - on this occasion no second plane was sent out, and if the scramble was in response to the Bentwaters targets then the convenient proximity of the T-33 explains why.
Now Scofield and Arthur are logged as returning to Waterbeach after their aborted scramble at 2200Z. Scofield recalled that they were interrogated about the loss of the wing tanks and were eventually released at about 2300. His impression was that it was quite soon after his subsequent return to the crew room that an interception-in-progress was overheard on the radio. But Brady and Chambers did not begin to engage their 'UFO' until about 0210Z and Logan and Fraser-Ker did not finally give up until about 0315. Although Scofield believed he was listening to these latter aircrews, he thought it was around midnight. Could it be significant that midnight happens to coincide quite well with the best-estimate for the time of the Perkins/Wimbledon 'tail chase' episode?
This seems a small point of memory on which to hang a thesis. Although Scofield acknowledged that his recollection "sits midway between the two sets of testimony" - meaning that of Brady/Chambers et al. on one hand and that of Perkins/Wimbledon on the other - it is fair to say that he himself was not uncomfortable with this timing discrepancy. He put it down to the tedium of long hours of QRA duty and telescoping of elapsed time in his memory long after the event, because he was certain that the voices overheard on the crewroom radio were those of his squadron comrades.
It is interesting to note the reasons Scofield offers for this certainty. In his first statement to Dave Clarke he put "great emphasis" on the fact that he heard their "distinctive voices", in particular the Irish accent of Ivan Logan. Later Scofield reaffirmed that both John Brady (whom he knew well; he was best man at Brady's wedding) and Logan were Irish and very "loud" with it!. However the fact is that John Brady does not have and never has had an Irish accent; he was born and bred in Norwich and has a Norfolk accent. When Jenny Randles pointed out to the Collaboration that Ivan Logan had no detectable Irish accent either, it was suggested that perhaps Scofield had actually overheard Ian Fraser-Ker, pilot of Venom #2, who was South African, an accent which arguably might be interpreted as having "a touch of Irish in it". However, although Ivan Logan is actually not from Ireland but from the Isle of Mann, he told Dave Clarke that he did have a distinctive Manx accent in 1956, so this is a possible explanation.
In my opinion there is something very unconvincing about all this. On its own it is, again, a very trivial point, but in context it raises niggling suspicions. If Scofield was without any unconscious doubt about the identities of the aircrews he had overheard, why would the issue of their accents have become "something on which [he] puts great emphasis"? This seems to me like an ever-so-slight "protesting too much" and hints that we might all be missing something.
Another hint is this: At my suggestion Dave Clarke put it to Scofield that he might not have been listening to 23 Squadron aircrews and reported back (email May 25 2001) that Scofield found this idea "preposterous":
He is adamant that the conversation involved aircraft from *his* squadron; and he knows that was the case because the R/T set was tuned to the frequency they habitually used (his words); they were using the same set to overhear other exercises/interceptions by 23 Squadron on a daily basis to relieve boredom.
Given this, given that 23 Squadron at Waterbeach were the assigned QRA squadron, and given that no other 23 Squadron aircrews were scrambled on QRA alerts that night, then by elimination the voices overheard must have been Brady/Chambers et al. talking on the routine GCI control frequency that they habitually used.
The problem with this is that we now know that Brady/Chambers and co. definitely were not talking on this habitual GCI frequency, because they had been told to select a Lakenheath Air Traffic Control frequency instead and to take their instructions from American GCA radar operators. Ergo, Scofield must - on the face of it - have been listening to someone else.
Curioser and curioser!
Let us think about what Scofield actually described, apart from the time and the Irish accents. He said that he heard two aircraft at about 20,000' being directed to have a go at a target in quite quick succession. The first aircraft made a brief radar contact but then lost the target and was called off. The second was then vectored in. It obtained a more consistent target and closed rapidly to within about 1 mile "when there was a shout of confusion from the pilot who had seen nothing. We then heard 'I think they are now on our tail!'" At this point both aircraft were told to break off and return home.
B/C's Venom and L/F-K's Venom took off with 40 minutes between them. They would certainly have passed in the air, but Venom #1 was homebound by the time Venom #2 took off. And both these Venoms made identical series of interceptions, spending about an hour between them in the attempt, so it is not the case that "both aircraft were told to break off". Indeed they were not under RAF control at all - each pilot gave up on his own account only when it was obvious they were getting nowhere and fuel began to run low (emphasising that they were flying almost 'on the deck', not at the 20,000' overheard by Scofield). This was not the terse formal exchange of a GCI operation, acknowledging specific vectors with a minimum of radio talk and 'understood' code words, but rather a conversation with the "American chappies" at Lakenheath. Said Chambers (CH):
CH: " . . . We were directed by
them [the Americans] in the general direction hoping that we
might pick something up on our radar, or the nav would."
DC: But you would have been given a specific frequency at which to contact them?
DC: And the Americans would then have given you some general idea about where this thing was and which direction to vector
CH: Yes, precisely . . . Well when we looked at the fuel state and saw that we were obviously burning a lot more fuel at low level than what we would normally and we would have said it was now time to call a halt and get someone else to take over, if that was what they wanted. Thats what they wanted. Thats what they wanted, so thats what they got . . . . They said well, what do you suggest and I said, well get another aircraft, or words to that effect.
This sort of talk would have been noteable for being 'unprofessional', at least unusual, and doesn't resemble the customary RAF fighter control protocol that Scofield described listening to.
Of course all this is very far from proving anything. Scofield responds that we should ignore his statement about 20,000', and says that the crewroom radio might after all have been re-tuned to an unusual frequency by someone; and notwithstanding the confusion over Irish accents he remains "pretty sure" that the voices he overheard must have been B/C and L/F-K. A suspicion of some improvisation here is not sufficient to argue that Scofield's evidence relates to a "missing interception", especially in view of Scofield's confident, and accurate, assertion that 23 Squadron was "it" as far as UK air defence was concerned that night:
I am certain that no other squadron or crew was involved. We were the readiness squadron and our flight was on duty. We would have been advised if any other night flying was taking place in the vicinity.
Nevertheless it is interesting to speculate about a possible scenario in which Scofield chanced to overhear an earlier interception involving different aircrews. The justification for this is that we now know that at least one other interception involving a 23 Squadron Venom was in fact in progress in that area at an unknown time that night. Evidently the situation was more complicated, and the joint RAF/USAF response to it more flexible, than normal procedure allowed for.
Neither Brady and Chambers nor Logan and Fraser-Ker were present in the crewroom at midnight. Their personal log books show that they had in fact taken off as a pair for practice 10 minutes before Scofield and Arthur returned from their aborted scramble and were still in the air returning home as Scofield left interrogation to go to the crew room. After this practice flight B/C and L/F-K were on standby out on the tarmac, at two-minute and ten-minute readiness, until they were scrambled at 0200 and 0240 (see interview with John Brady - DC: "So there would not be any chance, would there, that there could have been another Venom crew who could have gone out before you between midnight on the 13th and 2am on the 14th, when you were scrambled?" JB: "No chance." DC: "Because presumably you would have been sat there on the airfield waiting for orders . . . ?" JB: "Yes, thats right."), so their colleagues in the crewroom would not see them again until after the events and their debriefings.
If Scofield meanwhile chanced to overhear an interception on the radio - carried out on "the frequency we habitually used" and properly controlled by Neatishead GCI, therefore not the B/C and L/F-K interceptions which were carried out on the Lakenheath GCA frequency - the absence of these two crews would serve to cement an impression that they were involved. Indeed, had he come into the crew room at 2300 and, having heard what was happening, then asked, "Anybody know who's in the air?" he could have been told accurately that as far as anybody knew B/C and L/F-K were.
Distortion of the voices on the airborne radio sets (which were known not without good reason as "squawk boxes") might explain Scofield's slightly unconvincing identification of B/C and L/F-K by voice. The earliest time that B/C are likely to have returned to the crew room after debriefings is maybe 0330, L/F-K maybe 0415 or later, and the banter which ensued thereafter could naturally have become conflated in Scofield's memory with the event he overheard at around midnight. Remember that nobody had any reason to think there might have been other RAF interceptors in the air to confuse the issue.
Of course this interpretation of events is only speculation that goes beyond the facts presently available, and is not endorsed by Grahame Scofield. However it is undeniably interesting that Wing Commander A.N.Davis, who according to his own recently-discovered account was involved in another attempted interception of a radar UFO near Lakenheath that night, habitually flew (according to Scofield himself) with his own radar operator, 23 Squadron's lead radar navigator Flt. Lt. Paddy McIlwrath, from Northern Ireland.
© Martin Shough