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Cargill Hall on: U.S. Need for Soviet Information
Q: In one of your articles you quote somebody as saying, we were desperate for intelligence information.

CH: Absolutely. The Soviet Union was a closed society and the Iron Curtain was an appropriate call for that, when [Winston] Churchill named it. There was no freedom of travel. Our diplomats and air and naval attaches were pretty much confined to Moscow and Leningrad and regions like that and could only travel under permission and with all sorts of restriction. So, all of the changes that occurred in the USSR during World War II, the movement of the factories back into the Urals, all these things were just simply unknown. And when the Cold War began and the alliance of the allied powers unraveled in the late `40s, suddenly everyone wanted to say: "Okay, if we have to go to war with these people what are we going to attack?" And they were using photographs that the Germans had taken during World War II and the maps were hopelessly dated, some from Czarist Russia being used.

So, all of this prompted first [President] Truman and then later [President] Eisenhower to approve overflights of the Soviet Union. Overflights primarily to determine whether they were massing aircraft in different regions to attack us. Because, you see, as the Cold War accelerated you had the Berlin blockade in '48, the Soviets exploded an atom bomb in '49, August '49, the Chinese Communists swept to victory on the mainland in October of `49, and then the North Koreans invaded South Korea in June of the next year, in 1950. So, the pace and the sequence of these events caused allied leaders, that is at this point the British and the Americans, primarily, to believe that they might, the Soviets might next invade Europe.

The only long range reconnaissance bomber we had at that time, which was the RB-45C, air-refuelable, and it was jet propelled. In many ways as capable as the B-47 which came later. They returned to England in early `52, well actually late 1951, and in early `52 they conducted the first nighttime overflights. What they did was take pictures of the radarscopes of the various targets. They were looking primarily at long-range air bases, where these bombers were located in European Russia. So, there were three aircraft and they flew in over -- in different tracks over the Lithuania and Latvia in the north, Byelorussia in the center, and in the Ukraine in the south. And returned and they did it safely.

Q: What was the point of taking these radar pictures, radarscope pictures? What would they presumably be used for?

CH: Well, the primary use was for targeting. They knew where the units were, from primarily signals intelligence, and where these units were based. They didn't know anything about the installation but with -- the radars were very good. You could get a very clear picture of the buildings and the rest of it that you could use in target folders. By the same token, the daytime missions were flown to actually try to find out how many aircraft were based in any given place, at any given time. So, almost all of the aerial overflights were pursued for that reason.

Q: When the RB-45s penetrated Eastern European air space what was the response on the Soviet side?

CH: Oh well, the whole air defense system came alive. Of course, it's night time and they didn't have radar on the [Soviet] aircraft so they had to be vectored from the ground. But these chaps were flying high and fast, about 38,000 feet, and they [the Soviet pilots] couldn't find them in the dark. So, they really succeeded in flying their navigational tracks and returning with the data they needed. All of this then was returned and shared between the RAF and the American air forces...

You could justify it while the Korean War was going on under international law because under terms of the UN Charter, Chapter 7 I think, if an unannounced co-belligerent, which the Soviet Union was, was supporting one of the competing parties you could legally take a look at it. In fact, they did. There were a lot of flights out of Japan over the maritime provinces, Vladivostok, over China, all done by the Far East air forces. Again, these missions were laid on by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and would come down to the command. Then they'd pick the day and the time depending on the weather and the availability of aircraft and so forth.

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