was stationed at Headquarters 3rd Air Force in South Ruislip Air
Base from February 1955 to July 1956. My position was in the
Directorate of Intelligence 3rd Air Force.
I guess enough time has passed that I can tell “really” what
happened at South Ruislip. From a casual onlooker it appeared this
was just another Air Force Headquarters – this is far from the
truth. Just a few buildings and support facilities for the Generals
and Colonels doing their jobs as leaders of the 3rd Air Force. Every
few days the Air Force Band would parade up and down the main street
of the base and a lot of us would have to join in the parade.
My work area was the first office building on the left as you
entered the base. This was where the Director of Intelligence 3rd
Air Force, Colonel Farrell, had his office and staff. It looked like
about 20 to 30 people worked in this building but in fact we had
about 250-300 people working in this building. There was a huge
underground bunker with two levels to accommodate the extra folks.
They would enter the main door and go through numerous security
checkpoints and take dedicated elevators to their appropriate work
In addition to the normal functions of a headquarters operation this
facility had two very secret operations that were run by the newly
formed National Security Agency.
Nerve Centre for U-2 Flights
Over Russia and East Europe
The first operation was the TOP SECRET U-2 RECONNAISSANCE PROJECT.
Every day these U-2 high flying reconnaissance aircraft would take
off from bases in Turkey and crisscross Russia and the Eastern Bloc
Countries and land in northern Norway. They would refuel in Norway
and fly to either Lakenheath Air Base north of London or Northolt
Air Base located a couple of miles from South Ruislip. They would
unload the camera film and bring it to our facility at South Ruislip
and it would be developed in the building where I worked. They would
then refuel and fly back to Turkey for the next day’s mission. The
U-2’s were piloted by CIA pilots, not Air Force pilots.
These aircraft had been flying over Russia for many years and the
Russians were aware of them but could do nothing because they were
flying much higher than the Russian aircraft could fly and even
higher than their rockets could go. They were flying at 70,000 to
120,000 feet. The Russian Air Force would send up MIG Fighter Jets
and try to shoot them down but the missiles could not reach the
Then in 1960 they developed new missiles and shot down Francis Gary
Power’s U-2 by launching a missile from a MIG fighter. He was held
in prison for a couple of years and was exchanged for Russian spy,
KGB Colonel Vilyan Fisher, that had been captured a few years
earlier. We continued these flights for a few years with higher
altitude aircraft, but they were eliminated when satellites started
doing the same activity.
Francis Gary Power retired from the CIA and took a job flying
“Traffic Helicopters” in Los Angeles, California and died while
flying his traffic helicopter one morning. What an irony to live
through all those U-2 flights and then die flying a “traffic
After the film was developed “every frame” was examined by about 150
photo analysis who were working in the underground bunker of our
building in South Ruislip. The building looked just like any other
headquarters office building to the general public but it was a
“huge NSA spy agency” building. Every person who worked in this
building had a special NSA Security Clearance which was higher than
a Top Secret Clearance.
These pictures would track EVERY aircraft, rocket launcher, missile
launcher, tank and truck by identifying their serial number on the
side and top of each vehicle. These numbers, about the size of a
license plate, could be read from 20 miles in height.
After analyzing each movement we would plot their new position on a
20 by 80 foot wall mounted map of Europe in our briefing room. So,
we knew where all the planes, missile launchers, tanks, and trucks
were located at all times.
Vice President Richard Nixon, would come visit our building
regularly and we would give him a personal briefing on the new
positions of all of the above planes, etc. General Curtis LeMay, SAC
Commander, also came for periodic briefings. I participated in these
Electronic Listening Posts
for Russia and East
The second operation was for people who did nothing but listen to
every communication they could intercept in Russia and the Soviet
Bloc. This included all air traffic, ground traffic and any special
electronic transmissions from our spies. These transmissions were
forwarded to South Ruislip from hundreds of U.S. listening posts
along the Russian and Soviet Bloc border. One of these listening
post was built on a farm in Denmark owned by my wife’s family. This
data was recorded and analyzed in real time by about 150 linguists
working in the underground bunker. Each analysis was fluent in
whatever language they were intercepting: Russian, German,
This operation also included sending U.S. fighter and bomber
aircraft towards, and sometimes, within the Russian and Eastern Bloc
borders. The listening posts would record who detected them first
and how long it took to scramble aircraft to intercept our planes.
This was an ongoing operation to decide how to attack the Russians
Every morning myself and an Air Force WAF named Red, were
responsible for writing a large summary document of about 100 pages
of all the spying activity and reports for the previous 24 hours
from our spies in Russia and the entire Eastern Bloc Countries plus
the information collected with the U-2 flights. We sent this report
directly to the Vice President of the U.S., Richard Nixon, in
Washington DC every day. It was flown directly to Washington by a
special Air Force plane every day.
The Russians are very smart people and they knew what we were doing
at South Ruislip and wanted to know how effective we were at
collecting all this information. We identified a few Russian spies
who moved close to South Ruislip and they had a list of all
knowledgeable personnel involved in these projects and had us on a
“high priority list” of people they were trying to kidnap. Then they
could interrogate us and find out how much information we were
getting with these U-2 flights and all the electronic spying
activities. My name was on that list. Everybody on this list was
prohibited travelling within 50 miles of the Russian or Eastern Bloc
countries for fear of being kidnapped. We thought it was a little
silly but the next story shows it was serious.
I met a Danish girl and
wanted to get married in her home town of Nexo on the Danish island
of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea. Unfortunately, it was only 35 miles
from the Polish coast and I had to go through a lot of “red tape” to
get this 50 mile restriction reduced to 35 miles.
During our wedding ceremony a flight of U.S. Air Force F-86 jets
strafed the town at a very low altitude and flew directly over the
church. The ceremony was recorded and you can hear the F-86s
strafing the town in the middle of the ceremony. We did not know it
at the time but 3 Russians spies had been launched in a rubber raft
from a submarine just off the coast of the island. They tried to
sneak onto Bornholm but our intelligence agency discovered this
activity. They landed about 4 miles north of Nexø and were
immediately captured by the Danish Home Guard and U.S. operatives.
Their mission was to capture me and take me to Russia for
interrogation. That could have had very bad consequences for us if
they had not been captured. I was not aware of this activity until I
got back to South Ruislip. It took a few months before I was
informed of the complete activity. Luckily they didn’t spoil our
wedding. We just thought the Air Force was saying “Congratulations”
by strafing the town with a flight of F-86s, but it was a lot worse.
They were telling the Russian’s they knew about the landing and not
to try it again and get that submarine out of Danish waters. I don’t
know what happened to the 3 Russian spies the Danes captured. I
guess the 50 mile restriction was not so “silly” after all.
A second interesting thing happened after I was reassigned from
South Ruislip to Ramstein Air Base in Germany. My wife and I were
involved in an off duty social club for American service people in
Kaiserslautern, Germany. We met every Sunday and became friends with
a couple who only seemed to show up every couple of months. I
started talking to the husband and noticed that every time he came
back after a couple of months absence his hands were pretty bruised.
After a few months of “being very coy” with each other we discovered
he was an American spy and that I had reported on his activities
while in South Ruislip. He would cross the border and work in coal
mines and other factory facilities for a few of weeks and collect
information we desired. His wife worked at one of the remote U.S.
electronic listening posts in Germany. What a small world.
We had a little Morris Minor 600, which was built for the U.S.
market with left hand drive. When we were assigned to Germany we
planned on selling it and getting a larger car to accommodate our
increasing family. We bought a Ford Consul. One of the top officers
at the base heard about us selling the Morris Minor and he bought it
and had it shipped back to his home in the U.S. He returned it in
the bomb bay of a B-29. Nice to be a high ranking officer.
As part of our regular duties at 3rd Air Force, we would participate
in air defence exercises every few months. Many underground
facilities were constructed around London for use during the war but
my favourite was Bushy Park. We used this facility for our
exercises. Bushy Park is where Winston Churchill and General
Eisenhower would go to observe the air situation during the Battle
of Britain. After the war they left everything in place and closed
up these facilities.
Bushy Park had a very large map of eastern Britain and Europe on the
floor and dozens of RAF personnel would position model airplanes to
indicate their present position. A large observation area was built
over the edge of this map and Churchill, Eisenhower and other high
ranging RAF officials would control the Battle of Britain from these
Churchill stayed there many nights and had a small sleeping room
with a single bed, chair, lamp and table for his favourite cognac
and Cuban cigars. Everything was as he left it at the end of the
war. His secretary had an adjacent room with here typewriter and
phones. A very small bathroom was between the rooms. Churchill would
sleep in his full uniform or naked, I guess depending on how much
cognac he had before going to sleep. He was the kind of person who
awoke instantly and jumped out of bed standing straight up. This
must have been a shock for his secretary, at least the first few
In 1970 we moved our family to Maidstone, Kent
because I took a job running the U.K. division of an American
company. The house we purchased was built in 1935 and had a large
bomb shelter in the back yard. This house was directly under the
Battle of Britain so it was certainly necessary. After the war the
owner left the bomb shelter get overgrown and locked the doors. When
we bought the house we did not know about the bomb shelter because
it was so overgrown for the last 25 years. Of course, our children
had a ball digging out the doors and exploring the shelter. It was
quite large and had beds, food, candles, cooking oil, etc. What a
great playhouse for the children.
Comments from a visitor
to the site
I read with interest the
article on USAF'S Ruislip's involvement with the U2 and the NSA but
feel it should be taken with a pinch of salt!
The U2 came into operational service in late June/early July 1956,
just as your correspondent was ending his tour of ops, flying at
that time from Germany. As for it landing at RAF Northolt, unlikely
I think. Surely we would have heard about a top secret aircraft
landing at a base in a built up area which shares its operations
with civilian flights?
As someone that went to school under the flight path to Northolt the
only US aircraft I can recall were US Navy transport planes.
A search on internet shows that the main base for the U2 was
Mildenhall (although others were used occasionally)
The US bases at Bushy Park and Bushy Hall had nothing to do with the
Battle of Britain! US forces arrived in 1942, BoB was controlled
from RAF Bentley Priory and Uxbridge.
As for an intelligence component being based at Ruislip this is
possible but NSA? Wiki shows that several USAF intelligence units
had small sections based there, the parent units operating aircraft
other than the U2 from bases in East Anglia.
A bunker sounds plausible, possibly an air raid / fall out shelter?
Another post on your site states that the complex was originally
built as warehousing so it would be interesting to learn, if it
existed, when it was constructed.