From: "joel carpenter" <imagery@covad.net>
To: "Francis Ridge" <slk@evansville.net>
Subject: Re: UFOs & Alert Scare, April 1952
Date: Fri, 28 Jun 2002 09:05:37 -0400

By the spring of 1952, Air Defense Command was in a near-frenzied state over
the potential of a Soviet sneak attack. Its eyes and ears, the Lashup radar
network and the GOC, had proven discouragingly unreliable, and, lacking
credible intelligence on Soviet capabilities and intentions, it had no real
basis for assessing the nature of the threat. As one air defense expert
pointed out in a speech at the Air War College on April 1, attacking Soviet
bombers "might come in at a high altitude or low altitude. They might come in many
different ways as far as whether they exploit saturation tactics or try to
sneak through the defenses or so on. And since we don't know anything really
about their doctrine of strategic air, we have a tremendous gamut of
possibilities to worry about ... we always have to look at the worst
possibility."

Little more than two weeks later, the worst possibility seemed to have come
true.

On April 16, Air Force Intelligence warned Col Burgess, at ADC Headquarters,
Ent AFB, that a classified source (possibly an electronic intercept) had
provided an "indication" of ominous Soviet military activity. Burgess
directed his staff to be ready for anything out of the ordinary. Around
10:30 PM Colorado time, observers at a remote US installation on Nunivak
Island in the Bering Sea spotted what looked like four vapor trails heading
east-southeast toward the continental US. They reported the sighting to
their control center at Elmendorf AFB, near Anchorage, which relayed the
information to McChord AFB in Tacoma. McChord, in turn, transmitted the
warning to Hamilton AFB, in California, which finally passed it to ADC
Headquarters just after midnight local time. Burgess immediately contacted
the Royal Canadian Air Force, notified the various ADC subdivisions, and
ordered perimeter radar stations to take extreme precautions. When Ent
attempted to call Elmendorf for confirmation, the line went dead, leaving
Headquarters in a state of frustrated anger. Around 2:30, the Ent Combat
Operations Center woke General Frederick H. Smith, Vice Commander of ADC,
and informed him that they had "something hot." Smith rushed back to take
charge. He was reluctant to call an alert, which would activate the entire
network of fighters and antiaircraft artillery, on such slim evidence. As he
and his officers debated the problem, an aide came running up with an urgent
notice from Eastern Air Defense Forces: radar at Presque Isle, Maine, had
reported five incoming Unknowns. It was a haunting replay of the December 6,
1950 scare. With the simultaneous appearance of two waves of unidentified
targets, there was no alternative. At 3:10 AM, Smith ordered America's first
nationwide Air Defense Readiness alert.

Within seconds, the Air Force began winding up toward warfighting
capability. ADC commander General Benjamin Chidlaw raced back to Ent to
assume command. General LeMay was notified by hotline of the alert, and his
Strategic Air Command prepared for an order to launch its bombers. The
Pentagon, and probably the White House, were informed. Regional ADC centers
called in personnel. Interceptor crews raced to their aircraft as backup
fighters were brought up to ready status. Tactical Air Command and reserve
units prepared to turn over their fighters to ADC control. The Ent COC was a
bedlam of chattering teletypes and ringing telephones as bases all over the
country reported in. Within thirty minutes, Army antiaircraft artillery
sites were ordered to man their weapons and mobile guns began preparing to
move out. Interceptors screamed toward the Unknowns in the east.

Somewhere over Maine, the fighters closed in on three of the Unknowns. One
by one, as the objects loomed out of the darkness, the interceptor pilots
were able to discern that they were conventional aircraft -- in fact, they
were ordinary airliners. As the situation clarified, Eastern Air Defense
Force determined that the airliners -- a Pan Am ship, a British flight, and
an Air France plane -- had gone off course or off schedule for one reason or
another and had routinely reported their deviations to Canadian air traffic
control centers. But the deviation reports had never been passed on to
Presque Isle. The stray airliners, unregistered on the US radar center's
logs, became potentially hostile Unidentified Flying Objects. Just before
6:00 AM, Chidlaw rescinded the alert.

The Air Staff in the Pentagon was highly critical of the action, charging
that ADC had "panicked" and overreacted. "Tell 'em if the situation occurs
again I'll do the same thing," Chidlaw said as he stalked back to bed.
Later, he told General Vandenberg that he hoped the April 17 alert had made
"more of our top Air Force people ... aware of the very thin margin of
evidence on which we too frequently must base our decisions." Newspaper
accounts of the Alaska contrail sighting made it into Flying Saucer Review
and on into popular UFO literature as saucer reports, without, of course,
any description of the ADC alert.

Air Defense Command was desperate. Its confidence in the ability of its
fighters to defeat a Soviet attack was at an all-time low. There was a
growing concern about a strange aspect of the realities of Soviet tactics:
because of the limited range of Soviet Tu-4 bombers -- near-identical copies
of the B-29 -- any Soviet attackers would of necessity be unable to return
to their homeland after making their bombing runs (midair refueling had yet
to be widely employed). If a Soviet surprise attack came, American defenses
would therefore be confronted by suicidally determined foes.

On April 23, ADC urgently requested that the Air Force archives at Maxwell
AFB, Alabama locate "all material extant" on Japanese and German attempts to
destroy bombers by ramming them with fighters. Its Operations and Training
Directorate Fighter-Interceptor Division considered the ramming study a
"red-hot major project," but planned to "release validated information to
the Defense Forces in a discreet manner so as not to adversely affect the
morale of combat personnel or leave the ADC open to criticism by civilian
agencies." Studies began on the possibility of actually smashing F-94s into
B-29s (presumably unmanned drones) to test the effects of the potentially
suicidal tactic.

Sources:
The Development of Continental Air Defense to 1 September 1954 (Secret),
(Maxwell AFB, Georgia: USAF Historical Research Division Research Studies
Institute, Air University, 1956)

Schaffel, Capt. Kenneth, The Emerging Shield: The Air Force and The
Evolution of Continental Air Defense 1945-1960 (Washington, DC: Office of
Air Force History, United States Air Force, 1991), p.113-120

Zimmerman, Carroll L, Insider at SAC (Sunflower University Press,1988)

Leslie, Desmond, and George Adamski, The Flying Saucers Have Landed, New
York: The British Book Centre, 1953, p.56

Austerman, Wayne R., "Ramming, the Final Option: A Heretofore Secret Look at
the Sobering State of America's Air Defense Command in the Mid Fifties,"
Airpower, May 1987, p. 16