The Secret Files»
UFOs in History»
Horton’s term ‘through the gate’ refers to a technique by which Lancaster pilots could move the throttle sideways and forwards, breaking a wire, ‘the gate’, in the process. This would then give considerable extra power. But the strain on the engines was immense and three minutes was the maximum amount of time recommended. Horton continued evasive action for ten minutes, during which time all the crew except he and the bomb aimer saw the phenomena. Whatever the objects were they stayed close to the Lancaster, duplicating its every move, until they reached the Dutch coast when, in the words of one of the gunners, ‘they seemed to burn themselves out’.
Exhausted, but relieved, Horton flew the Lancaster back to England. His dramatic evasive manoeuvres had caused a serious mechanical fault which resulted in them having to land at a different airfield. Horton and his crew were baffled by their mystery visitors, and could only presume they had been chased by a German secret weapon, perhaps a radio-controlled anti-aircraft rocket or shell. Upon reporting their experience to the Intelligence Officers at de-briefing they were met not with interest but with ridicule and no explanation as to what they had experienced. But Horton stuck to his account and wouldn’t be persuaded that his crew had imagined the glowing orange balls.
We have been unable to locate reference to this sighting in PRO files but evidence it took place does exist. In his log book for the flight Horton recorded they had been ‘Chased by rockets -4’. Bernard Dye, the mid-upper gunner also noted the incident in his log-book as, ‘Rocket attacks lasting ten minutes...’.
Although Horton and his crew had never heard of anything similar before or since, the phenomena they witnessed are entirely consistent with other so-called ‘foo-fighter’ experiences. Perhaps if Horton’s rear-gunner had risked opening fire we may be a lot wiser about the nature of the foo-fighter phenomenon. But then again perhaps not. It was a risk Flt Lt Horton was not prepared to take.
Several other aircrew reported unusual aerial phenomena in terms of ‘rockets’. Yet post war research has demonstrated that the Axis forces did not have the capability to produce rockets which could twist and turn whilst following an airplane and certainly not for the lengths of time reported. Consider the following two accounts. Rockets? Or something more sinister?
Flt Lt Mortimer reported the following to intelligence officers at debriefing after a raid on the night of 2 January 1944:
‘Engaged by two rockets in vicinity of Halberstadt and later near Hanover, 90 degrees alteration of courses made and definitely established that rockets altered course. Overtook us slowly, appearing with a fiery head and blazing stern on a parallel course. Initial velocity seemed to be fairly great. Disappeared without explosion.’
Another, similar, incident took place on the 29 January 1944 when Pilot Officer Simpson submitted the following report to Air Intelligence:
‘At 52 32N 13 03E, 2037 hours, 20,500 ft, heading 082 degrees True. A red ball leaving trail of yellow/red flames and black smoke at about 1,000 yards and at the same time dead astern. It was seen closing in. I dived to starboard and the object followed, appearing to fizzle out and then immediately to reappear. I turned hard to port and it followed us round in a tighter turn than we were in. When within 100 yards or less of the aircraft, it finally fizzled out.’
German rocket? Bolide meteor? Or unexplained aerial phenomena – a UFO? The Air Intelligence officers at de-briefing dutifully logged these and many other sightings, sifting carefully through them in a number of ‘secret’ reports which analysed their characteristics in great detail. The conclusions reached in 1944-45 were no different to the conclusions reached by the MOD in the year 2002 – basically ‘no defence significance’. Once it had been ascertained that these UFOs did not explode, fire or display aggressive characteristics Air Intelligence was content to let the matter drop, maintaining a watching brief. There was a war on they could not afford to waste time and money chasing phantoms of the skies.
As with all other phases of the UFO enigma, argument has raged down the decades among ‘experts’ as to just what has been witnessed by those terrified and puzzled air crew. In that respect the foo-fighter enigma does not differ from sightings of phantom airships during the early twentieth century or observations of flying triangles during the last few years of the millennium. And, of course, it’s very easy for us as vicarious consumers of others’ experiences to pontificate about misperception of natural phenomena such as meteors and misidentification of enemy jet planes, rockets and flak. Speculation does not in any way diminish the effect these sightings had upon the witnesses. We are not, as yet, certain just what were the stimuli behind the ‘foo-fighter’ reports. But, as with all UFO sightings, the perceived experience is always radically different from the reality of the stimuli, and it is within that tension where the answer to the UFO problem lies. The problem is – are we prepared to accept the answers?
For a full list of references see chapter 1 of Out of
the Shadows (London: Piatkus
Copyright David Clarke and Andy Roberts