The Way We Were: From Russia – with anything but love

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CITY historian JOHN TAYLOR takes another walk through history.

Crikey! Who’d have thought it. Russian spies in the Houses of Parliament!

And – shock, horror – they all seem to be young, female, and attractive.

Still, no doubt some trout with the demeanour of a Bulgarian shot putter would be as hardly adept at seducing some silly old duffer.

But perhaps it’s sometimes better to keep such specimens in place and feed them ‘disinformation,’ and ‘black propaganda’ was certainly used to great effect during World War Two, and not least by the secret intelligence section at Milton Bryan where, at an ultra modern broadcast studio, ‘turned’ enemy agents, among others, were put to work on various clandestine activities.

Via a link to an ultra powerful radio transmitter, one ploy was to ‘hijack’ enemy radio programmes and give out all manner of false information, with the audience being none the wiser, since at Milton Bryan the ‘presenters’ perfectly mimicked their German counterparts.

Yet no sooner were the Nazis defeated than a new enemy appeared, in the form of a former ally.

Thus the Cold War began, and from captured German research the Russians gained much information on advanced aerodynamics. But what they lacked was jet engine technology, and regarding the Rolls Royce Nene, then the most powerful jet engine, Russian intelligence hoped to obtain the secrets by the end of 1946.

However, two Russians simply suggested “Why not ask the British to sell us a Nene?” and when Stalin replied “What fool will sell us his secrets?” back came the answer “A British fool.”

And so with their endemic stupidity British politicians sanctioned a deal to send the Soviets ten Rolls Royce Nenes, which they swiftly copied and applied to their highly advanced Mig 15.

When deployed over North Korea, this then duly decimated the only British ‘equivalent,’ the outdated Meteor 8.

Thankfully the de Havilland company had the sense to disregard politicians, and in 1946 test flew their DH108 ‘flying wing,’ primarily designed to explore the characteristics of near supersonic flight.

The tests continued, but on February 15, 1950 reports reached Bletchley Fire Brigade that a jet had exploded at high speed over Brickhill woods. In the company of three other brigades they immediately rushed to the scene, and having scoured 15 square miles of heavily wooded terrain found the body of the pilot, 28-year-old Squadron Leader J. Muller Rowland, still strapped into the wrecked cockpit of his DH108 at Aspley Heath.

As for the rest of the aircraft, this lay scattered between Sandy Lane and Woburn Road.

Apart from jet engines, during World War Two the British had made significant progress with radar, the first experiments having been carried out in 1935. With the Daventry overseas transmitter broadcasting a signal, a Heyford bomber cruised along a course between Wolverton and Daventry, and with the reflected signal picked up on receiving equipment in a van, radar was born.

In more recent years the district has again played an important role in radar development, and a reminder is today apparent in the naming of Foxhunter Drive, at Linford Wood.

Here on a site during the 1980s was carried out the development of the ‘Foxhunter’ airborne radar, and the name arose because one purpose was to counter the newly introduced Soviet Mig 25, codenamed ‘Foxbat’.

Indeed, it was at Marconi Avionics that I was employed for several years, until the end of the Cold War brought redundancy.

However, with Russian spies now popping up all over the place perhaps the ‘game’ is back on, and while I no longer have access to classified information on airborne radar, not to worry, for should any Russian doll like to hone her skills as a femme fatale, with suitable persuasion I might be tempted to reveal North Bucks finest examples of 15th century Perpendicular ecclesiastical architecture – as long as the pacemaker holds out, of course.