We were on a routine patrol in the East China Sea. I was the radar operator in a U.S. Navy patrol aircraft which had ten other members. Our job, that day, was to patrol thousands of square miles of ocean and record data about shipping in the area. The usual routine was that the radar operator first picked up surface ships as blips on the radar, then vectored the pilot to intercept them. We then got as close as we could, and took pictures, recorded information about deck cargo, number of masts, number of smokestacks, and the architecture of the deck structure. The radar usually picked up these ships about one hundred miles or more from our aircraft, much farther than anyone could see.
Most of the day was routine. We were in clouds part of the time, then we ran into an area of dense fog. Bad weather and fog were no problems for the radar, however. We could still pick up the shipping targets and vector in on them. We had been flying in the dense fog for a little while when I picked up the largest radar blip, except for land masses, I had ever seen. The target first appeared at a range of one hundred and fifty miles. I informed the pilot about it, and he told me to vector him to it. This was standard procedure in our patrol operations. I gave the pilot a heading to the unknown large target, and he turned to intercept it. We were still in dense fog, but occasionally broke out for a few seconds of short visibility. I kept giving the pilot heading information on this large target, which became even larger as we got closer. At approximately fifty miles, I could see certain interference of the radar scope, indicating the target was emanating some kind of electromagnetic radiations, probably from a radar of its own.
We kept flying toward the large target for about fifteen minutes. As I was telling the pilot about this being the largest shipping target I had ever seen, he said that it must be a large military ship. We knew that there were no friendly military ships in the area. We had to determine what it was. We kept flying toward this target, knowing that we were not supposed to approach any country’s man-of-war ship within three miles. If we did, we could be shot down. At ten miles, our Electronics Countermeasures Operator reported that a fire-control radar had locked in on us. Still we kept going. At three and one half miles, we broke out of the fog, and saw it immediately. It was a Russian Battleship. Every gun on the ship was aimed at us, and was tracking us as we moved. My radar scope was saturated with spots, blips, hash and snow, caused by electronic radiations of some description. We immediately broke away before entering the three mile limit.
We reported this to our superiors via radio. They informed us that the Russians did not have a battleship. But there it was, a battleship flying the Russian flag. We did not have time to take a picture, as we had to get away before being fired upon. I do not know, to this day, if our superiors ever believed us or not. We were very lucky that we did not enter the three mile limit surrounding the battleship.