Flying Saucer Working Party: Commentary > [1 ¦ 2 ¦ 3 ¦ next]

  The Ministry of Defence has always denied involvement in any official study of the UFO phenomenon. But files recently discovered in Government archives reveal how in 1950 the MoD set up a secret committee of scientists and intelligence experts to investigate sightings of ‘flying saucers’. The report they produced for Winston Churchill’s Government remained secret for 50 years. (Photo Fortean Times) Winston Churchill

During research for our book Out of the Shadows in 2001 copies of the report produced by the Flying Saucer Working Party in 1951 were discovered in a file labeled “Scientific Intelligence” in the MoD archive.

At the height of the Cold War sightings of ‘flying saucers’ made newspaper headlines every day on both sides of the Atlantic. The now defunct London Sunday Dispatch even described the subject as “bigger than the Atom Bomb Wars.” By the summer of 1950 with war in Korea and the successful testing of the first Russian atomic bomb adding to growing international tensions, the Western powers were growing increasingly worried by the ‘flying saucer’ mystery.

Across the world, nervous fingers hovered above the buttons that could trigger a devastating nuclear exchange. Those entrusted with weapons of mass destruction had only seconds to decide if an unidentified blip tracked by radar was a Russian bomber, guided missile, or simply a “phantom.” Whether they existed or not UFOs, quite clearly, had the potential to trigger a Third World War.

Solving the UFO problem became a priority for the top brains in the American CIA and their British counterpart, the MoDs Directorate of Scientific Intelligence (DSI). It was the Defence Intelligence staff that were responsible for assessing any threat posed by UFOs. The DSI advised the Joint Intelligence Committee who ultimately answered to the Prime Minister. Throughout the 1950s the Ministry of Defence tried to calm public fears by debunking flying saucer sightings as meteorites or weather balloons, but behind closed doors they had already launched their own secret study, drawing upon the expertise of the greatest scientific and military minds of the day.

Minutes of the DSI/JTIC meetings we discovered at The National Archives (TNA) reveal how a team dedicated to the study of flying saucers was established in August 1950 working closely alongside the CIA who were involved in their own secret study. The very existence of any “official” study of UFOs had been long denied by the MOD. Even when the minutes of this non-existent committee came to light in 1999, the report it produced could not be found. The document, we were repeatedly assured, was “absent” from the catalogue at the Public Record Office (now the TNA). Staff concluded it “had not survived the passage of time.” The report constitutes the “Holy Grail” to those who have always believed that the Ministry of Defence were involved in a cover-up of UFO evidence. It is also an important jigsaw puzzle piece in the history of the Cold War.

The papers reveal that the “Flying Saucer” study was the brainchild of one of Churchills most trusted scientific advisors, Sir Henry Tizard, best known for his role in the development of Britains pre-World War Two radar defences that proved so decisive during the Battle of Britain. Tizard felt the saucer sightings could not be simply dismissed as delusions, and demanded an investigation of the subject following a pro-saucer newspaper campaign backed by one of the most respected figures of the day, Lord Louis Mountbatten. Mountbatten and a number of other highly placed officials - including Battle of Britain mastermind Air Chief Marshall Hugh Dowding - had privately concluded that flying saucers were advanced craft from outer space.

The Flying Saucer Working Party had five members, representing the elite Technical Intelligence branches of the Air Ministry, Admiralty, War Office and Ministry of Defence. It held its first meeting in October of 1950 in a room at the former Hotel Metropole in Northumberland Avenue, just yards away from Trafalgar Square. As a result, personnel serving with the RAF and Royal Navy were asked to submit sighting reports for investigation.

After eight months of sifting through hundreds of X-Files from as far afield as New Zealand, the committee concluded that only three originated from trustworthy sources and were worthy further study. In June 1950 a pilot on patrol from RAF Tangmere in Sussex sighted a “bright circular metallic object” which sped past his Meteor jet fighter at 20,000 feet. As he was undergoing a debriefing by squadron intelligence it emerged that four RAF controllers at an air defence radar station near Eastbourne had, at the same time, tracked an “unusual response” that vanished from their screens, moving at terrific speed. »

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