Rendlesham Forest - MOD Article
I recently sought and obtained a commission from the Ministry
of Defence's magazine Focus, to write a feature on UFOs. In
particular, I wanted to get across to the military and civil service
readership some information about the Rendlesham Forest UFO incident of
1980. Dubbed 'Britain's Roswell', this is the UK's most significant
UFO event but has sometimes been misrepresented as the sighting of lights.
In fact, as the United States Air Force witness statements make clear, the
security police personnel saw a metallic craft with strange symbols on
the hull. The article ran in the March issue of Focus with only
very minor editorial changes:
I recently sought and obtained a commission from the Ministry of Defence's magazine Focus, to write a feature on UFOs. In particular, I wanted to get across to the military and civil service readership some information about the Rendlesham Forest UFO incident of 1980. Dubbed 'Britain's Roswell', this is the UK's most significant UFO event but has sometimes been misrepresented as the sighting of lights. In fact, as the United States Air Force witness statements make clear, the security police personnel saw a metallic craft with strange symbols on the hull. The article ran in the March issue of Focus with only very minor editorial changes:
Ministry of Defence’s UFO Project has its roots in a study commissioned in
1950 by the MOD’s then Chief Scientific Adviser, the great radar scientist
Sir Henry Tizard. As a result
of his insistence that UFO sightings should not be dismissed without some
form of proper scientific study, the Department set up arguably the most
marvellously-named committee in the history of the civil service, the Flying
Saucer Working Party. The
committee’s conclusions were sceptical; UFO sightings were
misidentifications of ordinary objects, or hoaxes.
They recommended no further action.
But in 1952 there was a series of high-profile events where UFOs were
tracked on radar and seen by RAF pilots, and this forced the MOD to think
again. UFO sightings were to be
collated and sent to the Department for investigation, so that a
determination could be made as to whether anything of any defence
significance might have occurred. Since
then, over 10,000 UFO reports have been received.
From 1991 to 1994 I worked in the department responsible for this
bizarre subject. It was among
the most fascinating of my postings in 20 years in the Department.
UFO sightings received by the MOD had prosaic explanations: aircraft lights,
weather balloons, meteors, airships, etc.
But in all of this, a small percentage looked more interesting and
one case in particular stood out. This
was the so-called Rendlesham Forest incident.
Last December saw the 25th anniversary of what is
universally accepted as Britain’s most famous UFO sighting.
There was extensive media coverage of this bizarre anniversary, a
commemorative Boxing Day event organised by the Forestry Commission at the
site of their ‘UFO Trail’, and several unofficial ‘skywatches’ where
UFO enthusiasts came together to mark the event, swap stories, and generally
stand around getting extremely cold. So
why the interest? What happened
in the forest all those years ago and why is it still generating so much
Forest lies between the twin bases of RAF Bentwaters and RAF Woodbridge in
Suffolk. In 1980 both
facilities were operated by the United States Air Force (USAF).
The Cold War was still decidedly frosty.
The Solidarity Movement was taking hold in Poland and Soviet forces
were building up on the border. It
was against this background that a strange series of incidents occurred.
the early hours of 26 December 1980 military personnel at the twin bases saw
strange lights in the forest. At
first they thought an aircraft might have crashed, so they went out to
investigate. What they found
was not a crashed aircraft, but what they could only categorise as a UFO.
Nearby farm animals were going into a frenzy.
One of the security police officers got close enough to touch the
side of the object. He and
another of the airmen present attached a sketch of the craft to their
official USAF witness statements. One
of these sketches even details the strange symbols seen on the craft’s
hull, which the witness likened to Egyptian hieroglyphs.
"I wish I’d had my
weapon, because I felt totally defenceless," one of the young airmen,
John Burroughs, subsequently remarked.
nights later the UFO returned. The
Deputy Base Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Halt, was informed and
went out into the forest to investigate.
He too saw the UFO, which at one point fired beams of light down at
his party and at the Woodbridge facility.
"Here I am, a senior
official who routinely denies this sort of thing and diligently works to
debunk them, and I'm involved in the middle of something I can't
explain", he subsequently commented.
MOD’s investigation included an inconclusive search for radar evidence
that might have corroborated what was seen.
Of far more interest, however, was an assessment of radiation
readings that had been taken from the landing site with a Geiger counter.
The readings had peaked in three holes in the ground which formed the
shape of an equilateral triangle, as if the UFO had landed on a tripod of
some sort. The
Defence Intelligence Staff stated that the readings seemed “significantly
higher than the average background”.
Their report suggested that the radiation level was around seven
times what would have been expected for the area concerned.
are various sceptical theories for what was seen, the most prevalent one
being that the various witnesses were somehow misled by the beam from
Orfordness lighthouse, shining through the trees.
"If the USAF really are capable of hallucinations induced by a
lighthouse which must surely be familiar to them, then I shudder for that
powerful finger which lies upon so many triggers," remarked Ralph
Noyes, a former MOD Under Secretary who took a close interest in the case
after his retirement.
Charles Halt’s reaction to the theory was blunter.
“Lighthouses don’t fly,” he said.
Ralph Noyes was not the only senior figure to take an interest in the
Chief of the Defence Staff Lord Hill-Norton corresponded with the Department
extensively about the incident, and tabled a number of Parliamentary
Questions in the House of Lords.
UFO researchers believe that information about UFOs is being covered up.
They see a vast conspiracy to keep the truth from the public.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Requests concerning UFOs are among the most frequently submitted
under the Freedom of Information Act and the MOD has made great efforts to
be as helpful as possible.
Information has been made available under the Publication Scheme, in
the FOI ‘Reading Room’ and at the National Archives in Kew.
The entire file of the Rendlesham Forest incident has been scanned in
and is available on the MOD’s website.
The official position is that these events were of no defence significance, but the Rendlesham Forest UFO incident remains unexplained to this date. I hope that we have some answers before the 50th anniversary of one of the most extraordinary incidents ever investigated by the MOD.