UFOs in History: Operation Charlie> [1 ¦ 2 ¦ 3 ¦ 4 ¦ 5 ¦ 6 ¦ next]


Note: an early draft of this article appeared in UFO Magazine (UK), November/December 2002.
This updated version was produced in 2004 and was published by Project 1947 at:

Dr David Clarke

Six months before Kenneth Arnold’s seminal sighting of a formation of nine strange objects above the Cascade Mountains, unidentified flying objects were tracked by Britain’s Air Defence radars.

“Flying Saucers” and UFOs were concepts that had not been invented when a RAF station placed an urgent call to HQ Fighter Command reporting an unusual blip moving towards the English coast. It was January 1947, and the war-weary country was bracing itself for the arrival of some of the most severe winter weather ever experienced in Britain. As temperatures fell below freezing, gale force winds were followed by six weeks of heavy snow. Public transport ground to a halt and the Government were forced to set up a ‘crisis Cabinet’ as power cuts plunged the country into chaos. In the midst of this ferocious winter eastern England began to receive visits from what the RAF described in official records as ‘an unidentified high-flying aircraft’. This ‘ghost aircraft’ was by definition an ‘unidentified flying object.’

This paper summarises all the available information relating to these important, pre-Kenneth Arnold incidents from the UK. It is based upon evidence collected from official files held by the Public Record Office (PRO) in London, newspaper archives and interviews with former Royal Air Force personnel who played a part in Operation Charlie.

1. X-raids, 1945-46
During the course of the research into these incidents we appealed for information from RAF aircrew and fighter control personnel who served during the post-war period. We received two replies from senior RAF officers who had been present when unusual echoes were detected by Britain’s air defence radar system. The initial incidents occurred during the period 1945-47, immediately before and after the ‘ghost rocket’ wave in Scandinavia. At this time Flight Lieutenant Geoffrey Easterling was posted to the Filter Room at RAF No 12 Group, Watnall, Nottinghamshire, where information from coastal radar stations was collated and plotted. 12 Group was responsible for the air defence of a large swathe of the English east coast and North Sea approaches. Easterling recalled:

“During this time incidents of very high-flying aircraft were not too uncommon. There were lots of what we called X-raids picked up on the long-range Chain Home radars – unidentified, high-altitude and spasmodic. They did not register with any of the civilian airlines and they were too high for that. Whilst I remember the events of January 1947 I can also remember one or two similar approaches whilst at Watnall from late September 1945 into January 1946. These were very high. They came over the top of the lobes at 35,000 feet estimated and very fast. This caused a bit of panic and doubt as that sort of height was much beyond any of our aircraft (which we knew about). There was of course talk of Russian spy planes monitoring our radio frequencies and our R/T communications. It was suggested they had devices which could ascertain the limits of our radar (by an internal device which they had), but all of this was a bit ‘pie in the sky’ and of course Top Secret in those days – it was all treated with a great deal of doubt and suspicion, no doubt because such heights and speeds had never been seen by the old hands with wartime raid reporting experience.” [1]

Flt Lt Easterling remains convinced these high-flying tracks were Soviet aircraft flying to and from bases in occupied Germany. “It was a fairly common thing during the Cold War,” he said. “We put these X-raids down to Russian bears. Sometimes aircraft were scrambled but nothing was seen.”

Suspicion of Soviet intentions in Western Europe was endemic and in 1947 the former Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, made his famous speech describing how an “Iron Curtain” had descended across the European continent. It was logical, in this climate of mutual hostility, that Britain’s defence chiefs would consider the possibility that the ‘ghost planes’ tracked over the North Sea were a form of advanced Russian intruder aircraft, developed using cutting-edge German technology captured at the end of the war.

2. The Ghost Plane
The mysterious radar echoes first came to attention of the public when the London Daily Mail splashed a story across the front page of its 29 April 1947 edition. The headline was: ‘Ghost plane over coast, RAF spot it – can’t catch it’:

‘A “ghost” plane which flies in over the East Anglia coast near Norwich at midnight at a great height and disappears inland is puzzling the Royal Air Force. All attempts at interception have so far failed. Crack night-fighter pilots have been sent up in Fighter Command’s latest Mosquitoes, but the mystery aircraft has got away every time. It always crosses the coast at roughly the same spot, and it has used such effective evasive tactics that it is thought to be equipped with radar to give warning of the approach of intercepting aircraft. Time and again Fighter Command radar operators, plotting the ghost plane’s course over East Anglia, have watched the “blip” go right across their screen and disappear as the plane penetrated deep inland. They have watched vainly for the “trace” to reappear, moving in the opposite direction, as the plane flew back out to sea. Some experts suspect that the plane is engaged in a highly organised and lavishly financed smuggling operation, using one or more secret landing places. According to authoritative information the plane – of unidentified type – has a speed of nearly 400 mph and a fast rate of climb.’

When questioned the Air Ministry refused to speculate upon the identity of the ‘ghost plane’ but they did admit that Fighter Command had twice received what it described as ‘some extraordinary plots’ from its coastal radar stations. The ‘ghost plane’, according to the Daily Mail, had displayed ‘enormous height range and remarkable speed variations’ of between 400 and 425 mph, in excess of the top speed achieved by Britain’s night-fighters, the Mosquitoes, that were slowly being replaced by the new Meteor jet for QRA duties. [2]

This ghost plane or ‘UFO’ was listed in RAF records as ‘X-362’. The designation ‘X’ for X-raid was allocated to numbered radar tracks that could not be identified, and were assumed to be hostile. Early in 1947 one ‘X’ had become so familiar to officers in Fighter Command’s operations room that they invented a nickname – ‘Charlie.’ The scheme to trap and intercept target X became known by the code-words: ‘Operation Charlie’. »

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