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ISSUE 144 - November 2010
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By David Rose, Contributing Editor
San Diego, California

"I'd have to explain this mission to too damn many people who don't need to know." General Curtis LeMay.

Paranoia. I really think that's what started it all. Fear. I know, "the world was different then". The second "War to End All Wars" was finally over. The massive effort to build hundreds of thousands of aircraft, untold numbers of tanks and trucks, and millions of guns was coming to a standstill. The huge industrial complex built up seemingly overnight to produce the tools of that war grinding to a halt. Millions of soldiers would be coming home and they would all need jobs. What to do?

So there was great concern over where the United States was headed; what of industry; what of finance, Wall Street and the World Markets?

And the enormous Military complex, after eight years of preparation and war, now so heavily populated with the great minds and egos of its Generals? What for them?

With so many questions rampant on the minds of our leaders it’s no wonder fear crept into the darker reaches of their thoughts. Are we safe to disarm; are our allies – ah yes, our Allies. Canada, England, France, China. Solid. Australia and New Zealand. Solid. And Russia? Absolutely one of our staunchest Allies against Germany. What of them?

That big question hung there in the face of Winston Churchill’s admonition they were not to be trusted. Our Allies lobbied that we must be prepared for war again, this time against the Soviet Block.

Then they had “The Bomb” Not only “The Bomb” but hundreds of Strategic bombers to deliver it world wide. More bombers even then we had.

President Truman was lobbied primarily by Curtis LeMay. A now de-classified memo to the Joint Chiefs of Staff from the Secretary of Defense reveals a meeting with the President. Truman agrees to a reconnaissance overflight of the Soviet Union.

This country’s latest decision favoring the greater good over international law.

President Truman only authorized one mission. An overflight of a sovereign nation’s airspace. Find out how many strategic bombers the Russians actually have.

But knowing, having the data, being certain of the facts; it’s an insidious thing. It breeds comfort; satisfaction; it relaxes the mind; it’s addictive; especially if you carry the great responsibilities of nations. There would be hundreds of overflights.

Today, with so many intelligence secrets being declassified, many books and stories are emerging chronicling the deeds of those days following WW ll, “The Big One”.

Several books are now available providing us with an insider’s view of Curtis LeMay’s B-47 overflight program of the Soviet Union. I say Curtis LeMay’s because there was no greater champion of that program than the General himself.

Col. Donald Hillman and his crew would fly that first flight out of Eielson Air Force Base outside of Fairbanks, Alaska. The crew would photograph five Soviet air bases in Siberia.

Many more flights would follow. We now know the flights were flown in not just the B and RB-47’s, but in many aircraft, jet and piston powered, large and small, even several of our front line fighter types would get into the act.

Canberra’s, B-29s and venerable old F-86L flew missions, as did the F-104 overflying the Chinese mainland and operating out of Kung Kuan Air Base, Taichung, Taiwan, flown ostensibly by Chinese Nationalist pilots of course.

All great fun; but for a ride on one of these truly harrowing flights, go along with Colonel Harold (Hal) R. Austin and Carl Holt, his co-pilot, who along with their navigator would experience the kind of terror that only comes when a gaggle of fighters are trying to shoot down your bomber. They had spent an hour over Soviet territory at 40,000 feet when as many as eight MiG 17’s had at them. Read the full narrative of the Colonel’s experience at

In the Colonels own words, “The second MiG 17 made his firing pass and I don't care who knows, it was scary watching tracers go over and under our aircraft.”

For more information on the day to day activity of conducting overflights, visit

The last known confrontation between MiGs and RB-47s took place on 27 April 1965, when an ERB-47H was jumped by North Korean MiG-17s over the Sea of Japan. The MiGs gave the ERB-47H a working over, but it managed to make it back to Yokota Air Base in Japan with two engines out.

In fact many of the flights were shot at, by MIGs and missiles alike. We know now that not all came home again and the stories of those who gave their lives supporting these missions are yet to be told.

By David Rose

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