The Secret Files»
UFOs in History»
| These words came
back to haunt the MOD when just a year later, during the hot summer 1952,
UFOs appeared in force above Washington D.C. showing up on radar and outpacing
the most advanced jet fighters almost as if to cock a snook at those in
the US military who had cast doubt upon their existence. The Washington
sightings set alarm bells ringing at the very highest levels both in the
Truman administration and across the Atlantic in Britain, where Prime Minister
Winston Churchill fired off a memo to his Secretary of State for Air, The
Lord de L’Isle and Dudley.
“What does all this stuff about flying saucers amount to?” Churchill asked. “What can it mean? What is the truth? Let me have a report at your convenience.”
The answer when it came, was not unexpected. Churchill was assured there was nothing to be concerned about. Reports of UFOs and flying saucers, the Air Ministry said, were subject of a full Intelligence study in 1951. This had concluded that all the incidents could be accounted for by mistaken identity, delusions and hoaxes. The Americans had reached a similar conclusion and nothing had happened since then to make them change their mind. Churchill's official Scientific Advisor Lord Cherwell, who was a great rival of Sir Henry Tizard, whose brainchild the Flying Saucer study had been, said he had seen the Secretary of State's minute and “agreed entirely with his conclusions.”
Less than a month after Cherwell’s kiss of death was administered, UFOs staged a dramatic appearance during one of NATO's largest peacetime exercises, Mainbrace, staged to simulate a Soviet attack on Western Europe. Once again flying saucers were reported by both RAF and Royal Navy personnel, triggering off another wave of newspaper headlines and demands for a Government inquiry.
This time, the kid gloves were off. Orders were sent to all RAF stations invoking the considerable powers available under the Official Secrets Act to forbid service personnel from discussing UFO sightings with members of the public or the Press. “The public attach more credence to reports by Royal Air Force personnel than to those by members of the public,” read the order. “All reports are therefore to be classified confidential and personnel are warned that they are not to communicate to anyone other than official persons any information about phenomena they have observed.” The classification of restricted was upgraded to confidential in 1956 and the curtain of secrecy remained firmly in place until the end of the Cold War.