Until now, the idea that RAF personnel took part in the flights, which brought East-West tension to one of its most dangerous peaks when the American pilot Gary Powers was shot down and captured in 1960, would have seemed fantasy.
Nearly forty years on, the Government is still refusing to admit the RAF’s involvement with the revolutionary long-winged spy plane which, before the age of satellites, was used to photograph Soviet missile sites by daringly flying right across the country.
Ministry of Defence files on the controversial CIA operations are being withheld from the Public Records Office in Kew and, remarkably, the British refusal is preventing the publication of the CIA’s own history of the controversial project.
Asked about the RAF’s involvement with the U2 saga late last week, the MoD would only say: “The MoD is not in a position to make any comment on the operation of U2 aircraft by the US Government.”
It is indeed generally believed that only Americans flew the CIA U2s, but in fact four RAF pilots - Squadron Leader Robert Robinson and Flight- Lieutenants Michael Bradley, David Dowling and John MacArthur - were attached to the CIA to fly the aircraft, and were awarded the Air Force Cross for doing so.
But their citations in the London Gazette (27 December 1960 and 29 December 1961) make no mention of their provocative but courageous spying missions.”