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UFOs in the United Kingdom

The Real X-Files


By: Nick Pope


I’ve worked for the Ministry of Defense for nearly fifteen years now, and have had a variety of fascinating posts.  But by far and away the most amazing was my tour of duty in a division called Secretariat (Air Staff) 2a, where for three years my responsibilities included researching and investigating the UFO phenomenon.

I should say first of all that the Ministry’s interest in UFOs has more to do with the Russians than the Martians: it stemmed not from any corporate belief in extraterrestrials, but from the understandable desire to know about any object that had penetrated the UK’s Air Defense Region.  But in keeping an eye out for the Soviet aircraft that routinely probed at our air defenses during the Cold War, it soon became clear that there were other more exotic craft operating in British airspace.  For at least the last fifty years there has been a steady stream of UFO reports sent to the MOD, some from military sources and some from members of the public.  So what’s going on?

Each the year the MOD receives two or three hundred UFO reports, although some years are busier than others (there were 750 reports in 1978, 600 in 1981 and 609 in 1996).  My job was to investigate these reports in an attempt to see whether there was evidence of any threat to the UK.  After careful investigation I managed to find explanations for around ninety percent of sightings, which turned out to be misidentifications of ordinary objects or phenomena.  The common culprits included aircraft lights, satellites, meteors and airships.  But there was a hard core of sightings that simply couldn’t be explained in conventional terms, where trained observers such as police officers and pilots saw unidentified craft performing speeds and maneuvers way beyond our own capabilities.


The MOD has over two hundred files packed full of information about UFOs.  Of these, I believe that around twenty have been made available at the Public Record Office in Kew, where their release is governed by the terms of the Public Record Acts - which generally allow information to be released when it’s more than thirty years old.  I’m well aware that ufologists have been very excited about the prospect of a UK Freedom of Information Act and have been planning to blitz the MOD with requests for UFO data.  This is precisely what happened in America, where the case files of the United States Air Force study into UFOs (Project Blue Book) were made public.  I had access to all the MOD’s UFO files, and can tell people that if and when this information is made public, there is some very exciting information that will be made available.  So what can people expect to find?

Over the years, the MOD has been involved in a wide variety of sensational UFO cases which defy any conventional explanation.  One of the earliest took place in August 1956 when a UFO was tracked on radar systems at RAF Bentwaters and RAF Lakenheath.  Two RAF jets were scrambled in an attempt to intercept the mystery craft, and a game of cat and mouse ensued as the pilots attempted to lock-on to the target.  But the UFO was too quick and too agile, and managed to elude the pilots, who eventually ran low on fuel and were forced to return to base.

Britain’s most sensational UFO case occurred in December 1980 in Rendlesham Forest, between RAF Bentwaters and RAF Woodbridge.  UFO activity was witnessed over a series of nights, and on one occasion a military guard patrol encountered a landed UFO.  The Deputy Base Commander, Lt Col Charles Halt, submitted an official report to the MOD, describing the UFO as “metallic in appearance and triangular in shape”.  Radiation readings were subsequently taken from the landing site, and were found to peak in the three indentations where the craft had touched down in a clearing.

In November 1990 a number of RAF Tornado jets were overtaken by a UFO whilst flying over the North Sea, and this is just one of several aerial encounters on file.  The most disturbing of these relate to a series of terrifying near-misses between UFOs are civil aircraft.  There were two such cases from 1991, both involving incidents over Kent, and another from 1995, involving a Boeing 737.  The pilots encountered what they described as a brightly lit UFO while on their approach to Manchester airport, and believed that it had passed only yards from their aircraft.   
This incident was investigated by the Civil Aviation Authority, but no explanation was ever found.


One of the most sensational cases I ever investigated related to an incident that occurred in the early hours of March 31, 1993.  There had been a wave of UFO sightings that night, culminating in the direct over flight of two military bases, RAF Cosford and RAF Shawbury.      
The UFO was described to me by one of the military witnesses as being a vast, triangular craft only marginally smaller than a jumbo jet.  It flew slowly over the base at a height of around 200 feet, firing a narrow beam of light at the ground, before flying off at high speed.
These then, are the sorts of incidents to be found in the MOD’s UFO files: visual sightings correlated by radar; incidents where military jets have been scrambled; near misses with civil airliners and reports of landings.  Some of these incidents were classified secret at the time.

The files contain various other material of interest to researchers, and because of the perceived link with UFOs, contain some reports of alien abductions, crop circles and animal mutilations.  Perhaps it’s no surprise that as I got drawn into such mysteries I found myself dubbed “The Real Fox Mulder”!

So will the release of official files end speculation that the Government has been covering up the truth about UFOs?  This is unlikely.  The release of official files in America simply fuelled interest in the subject, and led to accusations that other more highly classified papers were still being withheld.  The US Government’s denial was not helped by the claims of a former US Army Colonel, Philip Corso, who claimed that the so-called Roswell incident from 1947 really did involve the crash of a UFO.  He claimed that he’d seen the bodies, and that his job at the Pentagon involved him in finding ways to use the technological secrets gleaned from the debris of the craft.  Corso died of a heart attack shortly after going public with these claims, so took the secrets to his grave.  Conspiracy theorists love this sort of thing, and are unlikely to be satisfied by any release of papers that doesn’t support their own bizarre theories about cover-ups and sinister conspiracies.  There isn’t a cover-up in the UK, although a letter sent from the MOD to the American Government in 1965 admits that MOD policy “is to play down the subject of UFOs”.  

My three years of official research and investigation into the UFO phenomenon changed my life forever.  I’d come into the job as a skeptic, but on the basis of the cases I’d looked at, and what I’d discovered in the files, I came to believe that some UFOs might well be extraterrestrial.   If these files are now to be made public, I think people are in for a big surprise, and I believe that like me, people will come to see that this is a serious subject, which raises very important defense and national security issues.  As far as these files are concerned … the truth is in there!

 This article first appeared in the Daily Mail



Official History


This world exclusive article will reveal for the first time the secret history of the British Government’s early involvement in the UFO issue, giving an insight into the politics and personalities responsible for shaping official policy.  The bulk of this article concerns the post-war period, but to understand what happened and why, we need to go back a little further.


The mysterious wave of airship sightings that took place over America in 1896 and 1897 were mirrored by a series of sightings that took place in Britain, starting in 1909.  One of the first of these so-called ‘scareship’ sightings occurred in the early hours of 23 March 1909, when PC Kettle from Peterborough heard a strange buzzing sound from above.  When he looked up, he saw a bright light attached to an immense, oblong-shaped craft, which moved at a fairly high speed across the sky.  Numerous further sightings were reported.

On 13 May 1909 an airship of about 100 feet in length was seen over Kelmarsh in Northampton shire, while on the same night two men claimed to have seen a landed airship on Ham Common in London and spoken to the two crewmen, who they said were German and American.  The German asked for some tobacco for his pipe and the two witnesses reported having been blinded by a searchlight during some of the sighting.  Another report of a landed airship concerned an event that took place on 18 May 1909, on Caerphilly Mountain in South Wales.  The witness reported having seen two strangely dressed occupants who he heard talking to each other in a strange language that he was unable to identify.  A subsequent examination of the alleged landing site revealed some damage to the ground. 

The public perception was that these were sightings of German airships carrying out reconnaissance missions.  But there is no indication that Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin’s airship programme was sufficiently advanced in 1909 to conduct such operations over the UK.  In any case, German airships of the period could manage nothing remotely close to the sorts of speeds and manoeuvres that were being reported.  The British airship programme was significantly less advanced than the German one, so we do not believe that the ‘scareship’ mystery can be explained in terms of prototype British military hardware with which members of the public would be unfamiliar.  To this day these sightings remain unexplained.  Further information can be found in The Scareship Mystery - A Survey of Phantom Airship Scares, 1909 - 1918, edited by Nigel Watson.


Our reason for mentioning these sightings is that they mark the beginning of official interest in unexplained aerial phenomena.  The 1909 wave was followed by further reports in 1912 and this is where our story begins in earnest.  There had been sightings of an airship over Sheerness in Kent and with tension between Britain and Germany being so high, it was suggested that a Zeppelin was involved.  On 27 November 1912 William Joynson-Hicks MP raised the matter in Parliament and quizzed the First Lord of the Admiralty about the events.  The latter confirmed that reports had been received, but said that subsequent investigation had not produced any explanation for what had been seen.  The First Lord of the Admiralty at the time was Winston Churchill.

Sightings continued throughout 1913 and one consequence of this was the strengthening of the Aerial Navigation Act of 1911.  A Bill was duly passed which set up prohibited areas.  If these were violated or if an airship failed to respond to signals from the ground, it could then be shot down and to enable this to be carried out, the War Office stepped up efforts to produce a gun capable of bringing down an airship.  The War Office continued to investigate the 1913 sightings, but drew a blank.

While the media championed the theory that these sightings involved German dirigibles, some newspapers suspected that hoaxes or hysteria might be more logical explanations, especially in the cases of those reports involving sightings of landed craft and occupants.  Crucially, however, the Government was not prepared to make such a judgment and continued to take the view that all sightings should be investigated.  If there is evidence that your airspace is being penetrated by aerial craft one does not ignore the data.  Whatever one’s personal beliefs, anyone within government and the military cannot ignore evidence of this nature and must assume that they are hostile.  If governments investigate such things and they turn out to be bogus, all they lose is a little time and money.  But if they ignore something that turns out to be real and hostile, they leave the country vulnerable, as well losing the opportunity to exploit it (e.g. copying the technology).  This philosophy underpins official interest not just in UFOs but in other areas such as remote viewing, so in a sense the War Office response to the scareship mystery set the template for future official investigations into UFOs.



Foo Fighters

Most UFO researchers are familiar with the Foo Fighter mystery, which involved strange balls of light and small, metallic objects seen by both Allied and Axis pilots during the Second World War.  File AIR 14/2800 at the Public Record Office contains one of the few surviving official British reports of these objects, detailing how aircrew from Bomber Command’s 115 Squadron saw some of these strange objects on bombing raids in December 1943.

What is more pertinent to this story is the way in which the Foo Fighter sightings were viewed by the British Government.  Perhaps the best indication comes from Professor R. V. Jones, one of the key wartime scientific intelligence experts and someone who is one of the key figures in this story, even though his involvement with the UFO issue is not widely known.  Writing in chapter 52 of his book Most Secret War, he says:

“We had already seen scares arise during the war by the imaginations of men under strain interpreting fearfully observations which had a natural explanation.  KGr 100 pilots had seen red lights over England.  We had to deal with reports of Fifth Columnists letting off rockets; and our bomber crews had reported single-engine nightfighters with yellow lights in their noses over Germany at times when we knew that no single-engine nightfighters were flying.”

Foo Fighter sightings, so it seems, were dismissed out of hand by officialdom.  Or were they?

R. V. Jones

As R. V. Jones features prominently in this history of officialdom’s involvement with the UFO issue, we should give a brief summary of his career.  He was a protégé of Churchill’s key scientific advisor Frederick Lindemann (later Lord Cherwell) and Sir Henry Tizard.  He played a key role in anticipating and countering German technical advances in fields such as radar, radio-beam navigation, V-1 and V-2 weapons and the embryonic German nuclear programme.  He was appointed as Assistant Director of Intelligence (Science) in 1941 and promoted to Director of Intelligence in 1946.  He left government service that same year, taking the chair of Natural Philosophy (the old term for physics) at the University of Aberdeen, his candidacy having been supported by Winston Churchill and Lord Cherwell.  He returned to government service in 1952 at Churchill’s request, as Director of Scientific Intelligence at the MOD, but returned to his academic career at Aberdeen at the end of 1953.



Media Interest

We should never underestimate the power of the media, or its capability to set the political agenda, even to the extent that it can drive government policy.  This is as true today as it was in the post-war years.  The year that ufology first really hit the headlines in the UK was 1950.  Prior to that there had, of course, been coverage, but this largely concerned US sightings and the reporting was often dismissive.  But on 8 October 1950 two major newspapers started a series of articles on the subject.  The Sunday Express began to serialize Gerald Heard’s book The Riddle of the Flying Saucers (The book was subsequently published in the US under the title Is Another World Watching?).  The rival Sunday Dispatch, a London paper, ran extracts from Frank Scully’s Behind the Flying Saucers and Donald Keyhoe’s The Flying Saucers are Real.

But it was not just the media who were clamoring for answers and pressing the Government for action.  Some very senior Establishment figures felt that something should be done and lobbied on the subject, sometimes openly and sometimes behind the scenes.  Some of these figures were quite prepared to express openly the view that some UFO sightings might well be extraterrestrial in origin.

Earl Mountbatten of Burma

One senior Establishment figure who took an active role in this subject was Earl Mountbatten, whose interest is well known to most ufologists and has been widely documented, not least in Philip Ziegler’s 1985 book Mountbatten: The Official Biography.

In chapter four of his book Flying Saucers and Common Sense, published in 1955, Waveney Girvan reveals that Earl Mountbatten had written a personal letter to the editor of the Sunday Dispatch early in 1950.  This letter followed an earlier article concerning a wave of UFO sightings in America, in the town of Orangeburg.  The letter read as follows:

“These extraordinary things have now been seen in almost every part of the world - Scandinavia, North America, South America, Central Europe, etc.  Reports are always appearing and the newspapers generally try to ridicule them.  As a result it is difficult for any seriously interested person to find out very much about them.  I should therefore like to congratulate you on having had both the intelligence (and, incidentally, the courage) to print the first serious helpful article, which I have read on the Flying Saucers.  I have read most other accounts up to date, and can candidly say yours interested me the most”. 

Girvan goes on to reveal that Mountbatten and the editor of the Sunday Dispatch had a lengthy conversation about UFOs in mid 1950, which led directly to the serialization of Scully and Keyhoe’s books, as mentioned previously.

It is also well known among ufologists that on 23 February 1955 it is alleged that a UFO was sighted at Mountbatten’s estate at Broadlands in Hampshire.  The witness was Frederick Briggs, a bricklayer employed at Broadlands.  Briggs said that the craft had been shaped like a spinning top, was metallic and about 20 or 30 feet in diameter with portholes around the centre.  Watching from a distance of less than 100 yards, Briggs estimated that the craft was 80 feet above the ground.  Briggs saw a humanoid figure dressed in what looked like overalls and a helmet descend from the craft on some sort of column with a platform at the bottom.  He was then dazzled by a bright blue light from the craft and fell over, where he lay unable to move, as if held by a strange force.  The craft then flew off at high speed.

Mountbatten took a personal interest in this incident, interviewed Briggs and searched the area of the meadow over which the UFO had been seen.  He subsequently had a statement prepared, detailing Briggs’ claims.  This story was written-up by Desmond Leslie in 1980, in Flying Saucer Review (Volume 26, Number 5).  Mountbatten’s signed statement on the incident is held with many of his other private papers, at the Broadlands Archive.


Lord Dowding

Another senior Establishment figure whose interest and belief in UFOs is widely known and documented is the wartime Commander-in-Chief of Fighter Command, Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding.  He was as outspoken as Mountbatten on the issue.  Writing in the Sunday Dispatch on 11 July 1954 he said:

“I am convinced that these objects do exist and that they are not manufactured by any nation on Earth.  I can therefore see no alternative to accepting the theory that they come from some extraterrestrial source.”

We have learned from veteran British ufologist Emily Crewe that when contactee George Adamski visited the UK in 1963, Dowding and Mountbatten met him in London and subsequently took him to Broadlands to see the site of Frederick Briggs’ 1955 UFO sighting.

Sir Peter Horsley

Sir Peter Horsley, who died on 20 December 2001, was a former Air Marshal whose distinguished RAF career saw him retire as Deputy Commander-in-Chief at HQ Strike Command.  A chapter of his 1997 autobiography Sounds From Another Room relates to his interest in UFOs and the interest of friends and colleagues such as Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Barratt, General Sir Frederick Browning and General Martin.

While serving as a Royal equerry in 1952, Horsley began a study into the UFO phenomenon, with the full knowledge of the Duke of Edinburgh, who was briefed on Horsley’s findings.  Horsley has said that the Duke of Edinburgh was interested and open-minded on the subject, though keen that Horsley’s inquiry should be low-key.


Sir Henry Tizard

An Establishment figure whose interest in UFOs is less well known is Sir Henry Tizard.  Tizard is best known for his pioneering work on the development of radar technology prior to the Second World War and his various wartime posts included Scientific Adviser to the Air Staff.  He returned to the Ministry of Defense in 1948 as Chief Scientific Adviser, a post that he held until 1952.

Although largely outside the scope of this article, it is perhaps interesting to note that although Sir Henry Tizard and Lord Cherwell had once been friends, a series of disagreements over various policy issues had ended their friendship and turned them into great rivals.  We do not say that this had any direct bearing on the subsequent handling of the UFO issue, but their differing opinions on the subject should perhaps at least be viewed in the context of their rivalry.  It was Cherwell who had the last word on Churchill’s 1952 enquiry on UFOs, telling the Prime Minister that he agreed entirely with the Secretary of State for Air’s skeptical views.  When it comes to UFOs, the believer versus skeptic debate is as active within government and the military as anywhere else, as is clear from the books of those people (e.g. Ruppelt and Hynek) who have been involved in official government UFO research and investigation programmes.

Tizard had followed the official debate about ghost rockets with interest and was intrigued by the increasing media coverage of UFO sightings in the UK, America and other parts of the world.  Using his authority as Chief Scientific Adviser at the MOD he decided that the subject should not be dismissed without some proper, official investigation.  Accordingly, he agreed that a small Directorate of Scientific Intelligence/Joint Technical Intelligence Committee (DSI/JTIC) working party should be set up to investigate the phenomenon.  This was dubbed the Flying Saucer Working Party.  The DSI/JTIC minutes recording this historic development read as follows:

“The Chairman said that Sir Henry Tizard felt that reports of flying saucers ought not to be dismissed without some investigation and he had, therefore, agreed that a small DSI/JTIC Working Party should be set up under the chairmanship of Mr. Turney to investigate future reports. 

After discussion it was agreed that the membership of the Working Party should comprise representatives of DSI1, ADNI (Tech), MI10 and ADI (Tech).  It was also agreed that it would probably be necessary at some time to consult the Meteorological Department and ORS Fighter Command but that these two bodies should not at present be asked to nominate representatives”.


The Flying Saucer Working Party

The Flying Saucer Working Party was set up in October 1950, but operated under such secrecy that its existence was known to very few.  Nevertheless, there were two clues that such a study had been carried out.  One of these clues was obvious, but the other was more obscure.

The first clue was in the Secretary of State for Air’s response to Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s famous 28 July 1952 memo in which he enquired, “What does all this stuff about flying saucers amount to?  What can it mean?  What is the truth?  Let me have a report at your convenience”.  The response, dated 9 August 1952, began “The various reports about unidentified flying objects, described by the Press as “flying saucers”, were the subject of a full Intelligence study in 1951”.

The second clue was in a minute dated 29 May 1959, written by an official in S6 (a now defunct MOD division whose responsibilities for researching and investigating UFOs were latterly taken on by DS8, Sec (AS) and now DAS).  This minute contained a sentence, which read “The subject was reviewed by the J.I.C. some years ago and their views agree with a more extensive review carried out by the Americans”.  This minute can be found at the PRO in file DEFE 31/118.

There was some considerable discussion and debate about the terms of reference of the Flying Saucer Working Party.  The final version read as follows:

1. To review the available evidence in reports of “Flying Saucers”.

2. To examine from now on the evidence on which reports of British origin of phenomena attributed to “Flying Saucers” are based.

3. To report to DSI/JTIC as necessary.

4. To keep in touch with American occurrences and evaluation of such.

The five-man working party was chaired by Mr. G. L. Turney from one of the MOD’s scientific intelligence branches.  All the members were specialists in the field of scientific and technical intelligence.  One member, Wing Commander M. Formby, Assistant Director of Intelligence (Technical) at the Air Ministry, also chaired the Guided Missiles Working Party.

The working party’s conclusions were set out in a document dated June 1951 and bearing the designation DSI/JTIC Report No. 7.  It was entitled “Unidentified Flying Objects” and classified “Secret Discreet”.  The report comprises six pages (including the cover sheet) and is reproduced here, in full.  We obtained it last year under the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information (as did a number of other researchers) and it was subsequently made available at the Public Record Office on 1 January 2002.  Some of the key PRO file references containing the Report and related DSI/JTIC discussions are DEFE 10/496, DEFE 41/74 and DEFE 41/75.

As the report is reproduced here, in full (aside from some material in paragraph 4, relating to liaison with the Americans, which has been withheld) we do not propose to do much more than give a brief summary of the document, as we believe it speaks for itself.  The following commentary should be viewed in conjunction with Graham Birdsall’s analysis in the January 2002 issue of UFO Magazine.

Commentary on DSI/JTIC Report No 7

The report begins with a history of the UFO phenomenon, covering the Scandinavian “Ghost Rocket” wave of 1946, Kenneth Arnold’s sighting, the death of Captain Thomas Mantell and the work of Projects Sign and Grudge.  Curiously, Foo Fighters were not mentioned at all.  Through our study of various DSI/JTIC minutes it seems that this oversight occurred because while Fighter Command were invited to submit views to the Flying Saucer Working Party, Bomber Command were not.

Roswell is not mentioned, although there is reference to a report of a “crashed flying saucer full of the remains of very small beings”.  But the Report states that the author of these claims had admitted that it had been a fabrication and it is clear that this is a reference not to Roswell but to Frank Scully’s claims about the recovery of a UFO at Aztec, New Mexico, in 1948.

The report then details some British UFO sightings, concentrating on three cases involving military witnesses.  But in each case, the sightings are dismissed as either optical illusions or misidentifications of ordinary aircraft or meteorological balloons.  One visual sighting from a pilot had apparently been correlated by radar, but this was attributed to interference from another radar system.

The report concludes that all UFO sightings could be explained as misidentifications of ordinary objects or phenomena, optical illusions, psychological delusions or hoaxes.  The main body of the report ends with the following statement:

“We accordingly recommend very strongly that no further investigation of reported mysterious aerial phenomena be undertaken, unless and until some material evidence becomes available”.

The report was duly considered by the DSI/JTIC and Mr. Turney recommended that in view of the its skeptical conclusions, it should be regarded as a final report.  He further suggested that the working party be dissolved with immediate effect.  This was agreed by the meeting, thus bringing to an end the MOD’s first UFO research project.

The DSI/JTIC minutes of the meeting that agreed to dissolve the working party contain the following telling quote, recording Mr. Turney’s views: 

“He went on to say, that following the lead given by the Americans on this subject, the Report should he thought, have as little publicity as possible and outside circulation should be confined to one copy to Sir Henry Tizard”. 

We should point out that in this context the terms “publicity” and “outside circulation” refer to publicity and distribution of the report within the MOD.  There was certainly no question of informing the public.




The American Influence

In looking at the activities of the Flying Saucer Working Party one cannot overstate the influence of the Americans.  The phrase “following the lead given by the Americans on this subject” which we quote in the previous paragraph is extremely revealing and it is clear from the report itself that much of the material comes from liaison with those involved with Projects Sign and Grudge.  There are other clues.  As we have said, R. V. Jones forged extremely close links with the Americans on a range of intelligence issues and it is interesting to note that the fourth item of the Flying Saucer Working Party’s terms of reference (requiring them to liaise with US authorities) was a late - though undoubtedly sensible - addition to the original remit. 

Once the terms of reference included a requirement to get alongside the Americans on the UFO question, active liaison began.  A member of the Flying Saucer Working Party duly traveled to America to meet with US authorities.  It is also known that H. Marshall Chadwell was consulted and sat in on at least one of the Flying Saucer Working Party’s meetings.

Chadwell was Assistant Director of the CIA’s Office of Scientific Intelligence and in 1952 and 1953 was one of the key figures in the Scientific Panel on UFOs, better known as the Robertson Panel, after its chairman H. P. Robertson, an eminent physicist from the California Institute of Technology.

Robertson had been President Eisenhower’s Scientific Adviser during the war, holding the rank of a four-star General.  He had worked closely with R. V. Jones on various scientific intelligence matters and moved seamlessly between government service and academia.  His post-war appointments included a post as theoretical physicist in Pasadena, associated with the Mount Wilson and Mount Palomar Observatories, and a spell as head of the Weapons Systems Evaluation Group at the Pentagon.

The Robertson Panel’s skeptical report concluded that further study of the UFO phenomenon was not warranted, though as CIA Chief Historian Gerald Haines has confirmed, the CIA did not abandon their interest in the phenomenon.

It is also interesting to note what Edward Ruppelt (former head of the USAF’s Project Blue Book) says about the British UFO research effort.  Writing in his 1956 book The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects he makes a number of specific references to the UK.

In chapter 3 he states that the 1948 document Estimate of the Situation (prepared by staff on the USAF’s Project Sign, initially classified Top Secret and concluding that some UFOs were extraterrestrial) mentioned that “Ghost Aero planes” had been detected on British radar early in 1947.

In chapter 10 there is a sentence that reads as follows:

“Two RAF intelligence officers who were in the US on a classified mission brought six single-spaced typed pages of questions they and their friends wanted answered”.

Chapter 14 mentions the September 1952 UFO sightings during Operation Mainbrace (including the sightings at RAF Topcliffe).  Ruppelt comments:

“It was these sightings, I was told by an RAF exchange intelligence officer in the Pentagon, that caused the RAF to officially recognize the UFO”.

In chapter 17 Ruppelt reveals that even after he had left Project Blue Book and the USAF, friends in RAF intelligence kept him informed about latest developments, on a private basis.

Another indication of the strong US influence on the Flying Saucer Working Party is the fact that their June 1951 final report was entitled Unidentified Flying Objects.  This term had been devised by Ruppelt himself, early in 1951, but was not at the time in use outside US Government circles.

To put the above remarks about US influence into context, it is worth noting the extent to which Britain was in thrall to America more generally by the early Fifties.  This process had started during the Second World War with the Lend-Lease Bill, the terms of which had contributed to the decline of British power and influence.  By the end of the war it was clear that in a very real sense the British Empire had been supplanted by an American one.  In intelligence matters too, the historic position had been reversed and in post-war years Britain was very much the junior partner to the US. 

Revenge of the Saucers

The Flying Saucer Working Party had been dissolved in 1951 amidst a frenzy of skepticism that had clearly been fuelled by the Americans.  The response that Churchill received to his 1952 enquiry showed that the skeptics still had the upper hand within the MOD.  But this was soon to change.  During the period 1952 to 1957 there were a series of UFO sightings involving the military, which forced the MOD to rethink and then reverse its policy.  These included sightings during Operation Mainbrace in September 1952 (including those at RAF Topcliffe), the West Malling incident on 3 November 1953, Flight Lieutenant Salandin’s near-collision with a UFO on 14 October 1954, the Lakenheath/Bentwaters radar/visual sightings on 13 and 14 August 1956 and the RAF West Freugh incident on 4 April 1957.

High-profile sightings such as these, together with the increasing number of reports from the general public, pushed the skeptics within MOD onto the defensive.  The Flying Saucer Working Party’s recommendation that UFO sightings should not be investigated was overturned and by the mid-Fifties two Air Ministry Divisions were actively involved in investigating UFO sightings.  The divisions concerned were S6, a civilian secretariat division on the air staff, and DDI (Tech), a technical intelligence division.  Their brief was to research and investigate the UFO phenomenon looking for evidence of any threat to the UK.


This article gives what we believe is the most comprehensive overview yet written concerning the early years of official British interest in UFOs.  We hope that the information and references will encourage other researchers to follow some of the leads given here.

Some time in the future, it may be that the MOD writes an Official History of its involvement in the UFO issue; in much the same way as such accounts are produced on major events such as the Falklands Conflict or the Gulf War.  If and when such an Official History is written, it will doubtless cover much of the material in this article, as well as more recent events such as the Rendlesham Forest incident.

But any Official History must also focus on the personalities involved in official research and investigation into UFOs.  In looking at the story told in this article it is clear that the same names crop up repeatedly and that there are some intriguing links between some of these key players.  It is also intriguing to see the way in which the skeptic versus believer debate about the extraterrestrial hypothesis has been conducted at the very highest levels of government and military.  This is as much a part of the story as the incidents themselves. 

By Georgina Bruni and Nick Pope








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