The tone of my 1990 piece was very sceptical of the case because, despite having gone to great lengths, I had been unable to track the source of the case down. The source was an alleged UK government document quoted in author Martin Caidin's Black Thursday, a book which dealt with the events of the bombing raid of Thursday 14 October 1943.
Having done quite a bit of research into foo-fighters, and having a general interest in W.W.II, I have been quite obsessed by the story over the years. All avenues of enquiry seemed to lead nowhere, and in 1999 I went to the Public Records Office (PRO) at Kew and searched many files connected to the Schweinfurt raid. At that time I found nothing at all relating to Caidin's claims and this only strengthened my feelings it was a fabrication. However...
In July 2000 I spent another few of days at the PRO and this time hit pay-dirt. Besides finding several hitherto unseen references to what would later be termed 'foo-fighters', much new material on ghost rockets and 1950s UK government UFO research, I again went through all the available Schweinfurt related files and came across something of great relevance. But first here is how Martin Caidin reported the incident in Black Thursday:
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 cluster of discs; the pilot attempted to evade an imminent collision with the objects, but was unsuccessful in this maneuver. 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 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 members prior to, and after, Mission 115 of October 14, 1943.
~Memorandum of October 24, 1943, from Major E.R.T. Holmes, F.L.O., 1St Bombardment Division, Reference FLO/1BW/REP/126, to M.I. 15, War Office, Bombardment Division, London, S.W. (copy to Colonel E.W. Thompson, A-2, Pinetree)
Caidin's account of this event via the alleged UK document has existed in UFO legend for forty years without proof. Now I can reveal that the document exists and is almost as Caidin records it.
The document, which Caidin obviously based his account on, reads as follows. All spelling and punctuation is in the original. The file in which the document can be found is: AIR 40/464
At the top right of the document is a rubber stamp giving details of circulation to:
1. Col Kingman Douglas
(Author note: the ? refers to a squiggle or letter I cannot decipher, although it could well be 'to'). Also the background of the stamp on which the above was written says:
Copies sent to A.I.8 (USA)
Presumably Caidin must have seen a copy of this document from one of the American recipients. The following points seem relevant:
I have tried to check the reference Caidin gives three times now at the PRO, once by using a professional researcher. It does not exist. However the AIR files were all re-numbered at some point prior to them being located at the PRO and it is possible the reference refers to the files' original designation.
It is also possible the reference pertains to the accompanying letter when it was sent to the USA. This is unlikely however, as the memo is stated to have been sent from one UK source to another and then on to the USA. The Rubber stamp clearly states it was received on 17 October, pre-dating Caidin's reference by seven days. But the sheer number of channels through which documents went could be the reason for this confusion, and now the original document has been located I don't think we need get hung up on the original reference any more.
I have found no record of most of the personnel listed. However a Squadron Leader Heath was involved in the UK's investigations of the Scandinavian 'ghost rockets' in 1946.
Besides the above, other than some possibly excusable authorial hype, Caidin has recorded the incident more or less as the document states.
At least we now know Caidin's reference exists! Besides that there is little to say really. The objects reported are intriguing but not completely mystifying. There were many types of flak being used by the Germans in W.W.II and several files in the PRO refer to coloured flak, flak which threw off unusual fragments, and so on. This explanation is made more likely by the fact that the 'F.L.O.' in Caidin's reference stands for 'Flak Liaison Officer', at least suggesting that the Air Ministry were treating it within a flak context.
The objects could also have been some kind of 'window' dropped by the Germans in an attempt to disrupt radar or radio communication among air crew. The explanation as to what the small objects were is now more of a task for the air historian than it is for the ufologist. What is clear from the original account is that the discs, whilst unusual, were clearly not any type of 'craft', under intelligent or purposeful control or dangerous to the air craft or crew.
In my opinion these objects do not belong in the category of sightings referred to as 'foo-fighters', both by their physical description and by their behaviour and characteristics. Although often lumped in with foo-fighter reports they are clearly different. This story has been a staple of UFO writers for the past three-four decades. Now we have further clarification and I believe that this particular mystery is more or less laid to rest.
Neglected as an area of study they may be but every ufologist has at least heard of foo-fighters and almost every writer on the subject has mentioned them. Therefore you would think a mass of information would exist on the subject. Unfortunately this is just not the case. Look in any UFO book and you will find that foo-fighters are just given a few lines, at most in some rare cases a few pages and in only one or two instances a whole chapter.
This is pathetic really for an area of UFO activity which immediately preceded the modern era and one which, if we are to believe the more "enthusiastic" ufologists, was the start of the so-called "Government Cover-Up". The history of foo-fighters as represented within the subject of ufology is riddled with problems which have put foo fighters in the historical niche they occupy today. These problems need stating and dealing with before the foo-fighter phenomenon can be seen in anything approaching a clear perspective.
For a start even the name `foo-fighter' is problematic; did it come from the old Smokey Stover cartoon character saying "Where there's foo there's fire"; or was it from the French word feu, meaning fire, or was it, according to one ex-B17 waist gunner I spoke to, from "phooey". Needless to say, he didn't believe they existed! Also, what exactly is the definition of a "foo-fighter"? It usually depends on what obscure theory a particular writer is trying to prove. For the purposes of my study I have used the criteria of any unexplained light source seen in conjunction with an aircraft either from the air or from the ground. This is deliberately descriptive as to include all war-time UFOs, which are as diverse as the ones we report nowadays, would need many years research itself.
Another false fact of the foo-fanciers faith is that the phenomena were mainly seen over the European theatre of war and just occasionally over the Pacific. This is again false and the product of sloppy research. So far I have accounts of foo-fighters being seen over Norway, Germany, France, Italy, Sicily, The Pacific, Burma, Tunisia, and all the sea areas adjoining these countries. It was clearly an international phenomenon.
Still another mistake is the statement made by many authors that the axis pilots also were seeing the phenomena and that they thought, just as our pilots did, that it was an allied secret weapon. This may yet be proved true but I have so far to find an original reference made by an axis pilot, or authority, that this was the case. The statement seems to be ufological canard employed on the basis of `well if our boys saw them they must have too', and again has been used to support the ETH argument. The facts behind the rumour must await further verification. Axis aircrew were in fact seeing unexplained aerial phenomena but as yet most of their accounts await translation.
We have at least one outright hoax too in foo-fighter lore. For years rumours had been flying around that the Germans had been fully aware of the foo-fighter phenomenon and that they had a special study group formed to look into the problem under the name of "Project Uranus," backed by a shadowy group by the name of Sonderbüro 13 (reminds you of Majestic 12 doesn't it?). This was first detailed in La Livres Noir De Soucupes Volantes (The Black Book of Flying Saucers - 1970) by French ufologist Henry Durrant. The rumour spread in Europe and eventually took physical form in the English language in Tim Good's acclaimed book Above Top Secret where it is used to help substantiate further vague rumours of an Anglo/American foo-fighter study. Good had not checked his facts and had in fact just copied the information direct from Durrant's book.
I could go on listing mistake after mistake and misquote after misquote from which we have drawn the current idea of foo-fighters. The quality of research and writing on the subject of foo-fighters has been truly appalling. Once these primary problems were realised I found trying to research the subject from within the UFO literature was pointless and incestuous and so attempted to get back to the source material -- the pilots and crew themselves and the official records.
Balls of Light
In the main, the descriptions are similar to the many already portrayed in the literature. Balls of light of varying colour (mainly orange) and number would appear from nowhere and play tag with aircraft for up to forty minutes. They were not hallucinations, being in some cases seen by the entire crew of a Lancaster bomber, and were not reflections as they were seen from many different angles or from two `planes at once.
Evasive action to shake them off was of no use. In one case a Lancaster almost burnt its engine out, going "through the gate," a slang term used by pilots to denote pushing the engine to its limits, in an effort to lose its incandescent follower, but to no avail.
None of my respondents had fired on the phenomena, in some cases fearing it to be a secret weapon which would explode when fired upon and in others just attempting to evade it on the basis that as long as it wasn't firing at them they weren't going to antagonize it. Having said this I have heard an unsubstantiated tape of an interview with an American gunner which cites a case in which a foo was fired on ... and the shells went straight through it! Interesting and supportive of the unexplained atmospheric phenomenon theory.
Although some books note the (unreferenced!) fact that some foo's appeared inside the planes or affected the electrics etc. I have found no record of that taking place. Nor is there any verified account of foo-fighters showing up on ground radar. The phenomena whatever it was, clearly distinguished by the aircrew from common natural phenomena such as St. Elmo's Fire, and was a separate entity from the 'plane they were in. It appears to have been totally independent and able to change shape, speed and position at will.
Lack of Interest
Clearly something was being seen. A few pilots and crew chose not to report their experience at the time for fear of ridicule or for fear of being grounded for having hallucinations. Many though did record and report what they saw however and the response of the intelligence de-briefing staff varied considerably from total disinterest or hilarity to, in one case only, great interest and a further interview by intelligence officers. This apparent lack of interest on the part of the intelligence services begs the question of whether any official RAF or US 8th AF study was ever actually undertaken. It vas certainly claimed to have, instigated by the untraceable Massey in the UK and Eisenhower in the US. Although my sample of respondents is small is seems odd that only one crew out of thirty or more were actually de-briefed at length specifically on the subject.
This was more than likely to be concerned with the possibility that the crew had seen one of the new German jets than anything else. In view of the amount of time, effort and expertise needed it seems unlikely that any nation during the hard pressed times of W.W.II took the time out to study what was essentially an ephemeral, elusive and ultimately harmless phenomenon. This will not please cover-up aficionado's but it seems to be the case on current evidence.
My research so far with the RAF/MOD/PRO in the UK has drawn a total blank regarding official documentation and investigation of the subject, as have preliminary investigations in the USA. UFO skeptics will of course say that this is because it doesn't exist, proponents, especially cover-up buffs, will say it is because it is being kept secret.
The simple facts are that if documentation does exist in the UK I am unlikely to be able to get at it easily because of our archaic procedures for obtaining any government documents. We are not blessed by a FOI Act as is the USA, and obtaining any document depends on whether a department can be bothered to answer your letters or if so, can be bothered to undertake a meaningful search of their records. The situation is further complicated by the fact that many records in our Public Records Office are hard to locate due to how it is organised and furthermore are subject to "rules" such as the 30 year rule whereby information is not available for 30 years from date of classification. Worse still many W.W.II records are languishing under a 75 year rule for reasons I have not yet fathomed! In addition to this fact I have spoken to some ex-wartime RAF intelligence people in the UK and they claim no knowledge of the phenomena.
This area is clearly a matter for further study but, as with contemporary UFO research it should be borne in mind that whilst there any many rumours of government interest and intervention regarding foo-fighters the actual hard evidence cannot be found. I do not think this points to a `cover-up' in any way. The situation in the US may yet turn out to be different as regards obtaining official documentation.
The German secret weapon hypothesis (GSWH) promoted by such writers as Renato Vesco is unlikely to be valid. The reports are too widely spaced throughout the war and come from too many differing theatres for them to be a secret weapon of any kind. Certainly the Germans were experimenting with saucer-shaped craft, flying wings, etc., but they had not got very far beyond the drawing board and model stage. In addition, if foo-fighters were a weapon they were clearly ineffective as one. The GSWH can be seen in the same light vis a vis Foo-fighters as the way many people relate modern UFO sightings to alien craft. It is a cultural or, in the case of foo-fighters, an occupational artefact which when seen in retrospect (as will the ETH no doubt) can be identified and discounted.
Out of all this some clear facts are apparent. Hundreds of aircrew saw and recorded what we now call foo-fighters during W.W.II. There must be many thousands of ex-aircrew who have stories to tell. The problem is finding them and the odd ad. or article is only going to draw a few out and I have yet to attempt to get to American information from squadron survivors units etc. The situation regarding German information is further complicated by a language barrier but it is only a matter of time.
I firmly believe that foo-fighters were a real, although non-solid phenomena and I reject the hallucination/misperception hypothesis almost entirely. These people's lives depended on being able to see and identify aerial objects very quickly. One mistake and it was their last. Some crew have admitted misperceiving Venus etc., but realising it in seconds, and certainly not a whole crew being fooled for any length of time.
Foo-fighter reports give us a "genuine" UFO report, uncluttered by contemporary ideas about aliens, saucers and the like and which, as appear to be many `genuine' UFO reports when they are stripped of cultural bias, consists basically of rudimentary light sources performing odd manoeuvres in the sky. My research has a long way to go yet but I would offer the suggestion that foo-fighters and their pre and antecedents which are still being seen today by people both pilots and ground observers are a type of natural phenomena, possibly related to ball or bead lightning, but equally possibly not. They may be something as yet totally undiscovered. They are also the stimulus for many of today's UFO reports which are subsequently overlaid by the prevailing cultural perceptions, i.e. alien craft. Mystery Airships, Ghost Fliers, Foo-Fighters, Flying Saucers - they may well all turn out to be different facets of the same phenomena.