In search of "Foo-Fighters"
(Originally published in: UFO BRIGANTIA No 66, JULY 1990)
Every student of the history of UFOs knows of the phenomenon seen during WWII and known as foo-fighters, kraut fireballs or a variety of other names. Basically they were balls of light which followed and hovered around `planes of all nationalities both in daylight and after dark. Research into this subject has been undertaken by myself on behalf of the Fund for UFO Research and a full study of the phenomenon should be available by the end of 1991.
Foo-fighter research shows the genesis of the modern UFO age and during my research I came across the old chestnut of the dreaded government "cover-ups". For many ufologists WWII is the time when the cover-up really began and there are intimations in many writers' books (Keel, Fawcett, Good for example) that both the US and UK governments were involved in separate studies of the foo-fighter phenomenon. These subjects are several articles long in themselves and we won't go into them here, but for the record so far there is no documentary evidence of a cover-up of WWII UFO sightings, or even much interest on any government's part.
No, what we are trying to get to here are the facts surrounding one particular case of a WWII foo-fighter sighting, the cover-up implications and how ufology has dealt with it. So, as the walls melt and voices become fuzzy, let me take you back, back, back ...
OK, it's October 14th 1943 and you're a bomb aimer in a B-17 going in amongst the flak for the final run over the ball-bearing factories at Schweinfurt in Germany, a trouser filling experience which us young folk can't even begin to imagine, but for this particular bomber wave they had more than flak to contend with. According to Martin Caidin who wrote Black Thursday (1960) which deals exclusively with the Schweinfurt raid:
During the bomb run of several groups, starting at about the time the Fortresses approached the Initial Point, there occurred one of the most baffling incidents of World War II, and an enigma that to this day defies all explanation.
As the bombers of the 384th Group swung into the final bomb run after passing the Initial Point, the fighter attacks fell off. This point is vital, and pilots were queried extensively, as were other crew members, as to the position at that time of the German fighter planes. Every man interrogated was firm in his statement that "at the time there were no enemy aircraft above.
At this moment the pilots and top turret gunners, as well as several crewmen in the Plexiglas noses of the bombers, reported a cluster of discs in the path of the 384th's formation and closing with the bombers. The startled exclamations focused attention on the phenomenon and the crews talked back and forth, discussing and confirming the astonishing sight before them.
The discs in the cluster were agreed upon as being silver colored, about one inch thick and three inches in diameter. They were easily seen by the B-17 crewmen, gliding down slowly in a very uniform cluster.
And then the `impossible' happened. B-17 Number 026 closed rapidly with a number of discs; the pilot attempted to evade an imminent collision with the objects, but was unsuccessful in his manoeuvre. He reported at the intelligence debriefing that his right wing "went directly through a cluster with absolutely no effect on engines or plane surface.
The intelligence officers pressed their questioning, and the pilot stated further that one of the discs was heard to strike the tail assembly of his B-17, but that neither he nor any member of the crew heard or witnessed an explosion.
He further explained that about twenty feet from the discs the pilots sighted a mass of black debris of varying sizes of clusters of three by four feet."
The SECRET report added:
Also observed two other A/C flying through silver discs with no apparent damage. Observed discs and debris two other times but could not determine where it came from.
No further information on this baffling incident has been uncovered, with the exception that such discs were observed by pilots and crew on missions prior to, and after, Mission 115 of October 14, 1943.
Caidin's account of the events of 14/10/43 has since been cited, quoted from and faithfully reproduced with not the slightest hint of analysis in over 20 UFO books. Tim Good's Above Top Secret uses the case to back up an as yet fictional WWII study of UFOs by one General Massey, and it is used both to support the 'UFOs were around in WWII' school of thought but more so to hint at the birth of official cover-ups. Why? Well because in Caidin's book the account is footnoted "1 Memorandum of October 24, 1943, from Major E.R.T. Holmes, F.L.O., 1st Bombardment Division, Reference FLO/IBW/REP/126, to M.I.15, War Office, Whitehall, London, SW (copy to Colonel E.W. Thomson, A-2, Pinetree)", leaving us in no doubt that "they" knew all about this UFO sighting and had full documentation (at least two copies, not to mention any subsequent memoranda).
But did they really? In fact, did the event ever really happen at all? I'm not so sure it did. When I first discovered the account I began to see what could be found out about it -- it's obviously well-referenced and so should be easy to check out ...
A letter to the M.O.D at their Air Historical Branch 5 came to nothing, suggesting that either of the documents may be held at the Public Records Office at Kew, London. A professional researcher was despatched to try to find the document. She searched all relevant Air Force records available (some are still bound by various `rules' with embargos on viewing of up to 100 years) but could find nothing, despite the help of staff there and noting that "the reference FLO etc. does not correspond with any references at the record office."
In the USA, Dennis Stacy (MUFON Journal editor) had taken an interest in the case and followed up several leads, aided by the Freedom of Information Act. Firstly the A.F. Historical Research centre at Maxwell AFB searched their 8th A.F. files but could come across no documentary record of the event (interestingly enough I tried the same source and whilst they gave me squadron histories of the 415th Night Fighter squadron and their documented foo-fighter sightings, they could provide nothing on the Schweinfurt raid -- odd if the Schweinfurt events were real).
A search in records of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey (USSBS), European War, Target Damage File, 11a (2606), Schweinfurt, failed to disclose any documentation or information regarding little flying discs by B-17 pilots.
All this presents us with a quandary. If the Archives are quite free about some foo-fighter info why, if it exists at all, should they be that bothered about concealing the Schweinfurt material? So far three independent researchers over the past ten years have had the same answer -- none of the flight records for that day record the event in Caidin's book. As I have seen other pilots' logs which mention unusual UFO-type sightings during missions it would be inconceivable for at least a few aircrew on that raid to have mentioned it even in passing - especially as in this case it was obviously something of an item at de-briefing.
Letters in numerous aircrew magazines (UK & US) requesting info on the raid were placed and despite many replies no-one knew anything. Aviation writers Martin Middlebrook and Chaz Bowyer who have written many highly detailed books about the air war, and have interviewed thousands of aircrew, wrote to say they had never heard of the incident, despite having had foo-fighters mentioned to them in other contexts.
If the account wasn't a hoax and the government archives (all of them) were either lying or hiding material pertaining to the event the only way of proving it seemed to be getting a fresh first-hand report of the incident. Dennis Stacy contacted the 384th Bombing Group survivors association and with no account of the UFO sighting forthcoming from them (even stranger - perhaps survivors associations are in on the cover-up too), was put onto General Theodore Ross Milton who led the raid that day and went in first with the 91st Group Formation. He wrote; "I don't recall seeing black discs or hearing about any strange phenomena from any of my group," was his reply to the questions Stacy posed him.
Are we really to believe that the guy who led the raid didn't hear anything about the phenomenon? Or is he part of the cover up too?
As for Caidin himself, several people have tried to get in touch with him without success. Both myself and MUFON Journal editor Dennis Stacy have tried to track him down via his publishers and a UFO magazine he has written for, but to no avail. He last appeared in the dodgy US magazine UFO Universe where he was featured on the front page as having 'chased bogies at 20,000 feet,' (an astonishing spectacle no doubt!), but whilst the article gave details of UFOs he'd seen post-WWII, government film of UFOs, cover-ups, and you name it (along with mucho promotion for his many books, including UFO based novels) the Schweinfurt raid was never mentioned. Funny that, really.
So unless and until Caidin himself comes out of the woodwork with the original document to which he refers, or until someone who was on the raid can verify the sighting, or until other evidence about the event comes out, the discs mentioned by Martin Caidin seem to be nothing but a rumour -- a rumor which like so many others has distorted UFO literature for many years.
On a more hopeful note, if the sightings did take place the event still has no real place in ufology, especially in the way it has been used. Remember from the original account the objects were only one inch by three inches which is stretching the small alien interpretation somewhat. In an air war context I would suggest that anything which is small and metallic and in clusters is some kind of "window" or radar deflecting device, or some other war related artifact. Caidin's account also mentions that pilots saw "a mass of black debris of varying sizes" in conjunction with the discs, suggesting that they came from some explosive shell casing or damaged airplane. Note also that at least one plane was alleged to have flown through clusters of the discs "with absolutely no effect," suggesting that, like radar deflecting strips and their ilk, there was very little weight or mass to them. All this is pure speculation however. Finally, whilst this case is often included in `foo-fighter' round-ups it really has no business there, being atypical of the general `foo-fighter' morphology and behavior.
You may think I've been a bit pedantic here with this case but, it is very significant and the available facts need to be made known. If people are going to talk about sightings then let's at least be certain they happened. If `cover-ups' are to be invoked, let's see some non-anecdotal evidence. As with the other foo-fighter cover-up case from Germany (Project Uranus -- a hoax generated by French ufologist Henry Durrant to see how far it would go -- it went all over the place!), the Caidin account has been repeated ad nauseum by UFO writers each trying to use the material for their own ends without looking into the source material -- crap researchers the lot of `em! If the document Caidin alludes to turns up -- fair enough, but until then the case which launched the WWII cover-up idea seems to be on very shaky ground indeed.