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Strange Company - Military Encounters with UFOs in WWII

Author: Keith Chester
Publisher: Anomalist Books
Price: £12.00/.95
Isbn: 9781933665207

A must-read for ufologists of all persuasions

The word ‘foo-fighter’ is inst­antly recog­nised by rock fans and ufo­log­ists alike, and most fort­eans are aware of World War II stor­ies of the balls of fire and other extra­ordin­ary phen­om­ena that paced, buzzed and pur­sued war­planes over the Europ­ean and Pac­ific theatres of con­flict. Foo-fight­ers are freq­uently ment­ioned in early UFO lit­er­at­ure, but little was known about the orig­ins of the myst­ery until rec­ently.

An acc­ount by the late UFO re­search­er Len String­field of his sight­ing of three tear­drop-shaped, wing­less ob­jects during the summer of 1945 piqued the int­er­est of film­maker and UFO re­search­er Keith Chest­er, lead­ing him to write this book. String­field, then a serge­ant in the US 5th Air Force Intell­ig­ence Corps, was a pass­enger on a C-46 flying near the Jap­an­ese islands when the ob­jects came into view, an app­ear­ance which coin­cided with engine trouble. His plane made it to dry land and String­field was at a loss to ex­plain what he saw as enemy air­craft. (The war was over: Berlin had fallen and Japan had cap­it­ul­ated.)

There have been freq­uent rum­ours that the US and Brit­ish gov­ern­ments invest­ig­ated these phen­om­ena. Until rec­ently, little re­search had been done into the extens­ive war­time arch­ives, but this has chang­ed over the past two dec­ades with the re­lease of form­erly secret intell­ig­ence files. Evid­ence of the RAF’s inquir­ies into what they called “night phen­om­ena” came to light during my own re­search with Andy Rob­erts into Brit­ish gov­ern­ment files at the UK Nat­ional Arch­ives for our book Out of the Shadows (2002). These lim­ited invest­ig­at­ions con­cluded that some sight­ings by air­crew could be acc­ounted for as mis­per­cept­ions of rock­ets, flak and nat­ural phen­om­ena by air­crew under ext­reme combat stress. Others re­mained un­known, a con­clus­ion which neat­ly re­flects that of post-war off­ic­ial stud­ies of flying sauc­ers and UFOs.

Poss­ibly the most intrig­uing revel­at­ions in this book are the re­sults of Keith Chest­er’s inquir­ies at the US Nat­ional Arch­ives, which threw up refer­ences to a joint US–Brit­ish foo-fighter invest­ig­at­ion later in the war, and a direct link with post-war UFO studies by the intell­ig­ence serv­ices. Most import­ant of all was the involve­ment in war­time invest­ig­at­ions of Bob Robert­son, the US phys­ic­ist who pre­sided over a scient­ific panel that re­viewed the UFO evid­ence for the CIA in 1953. What Robert­son and his team con­cluded is un­clear, as Chest­er’s trail went cold.

What emerges from this data is that the trad­it­ional idea of modern ufo­logy having its orig­ins in 1947 with Kenn­eth Arnold’s sight­ing is wrong. As Jerry Clark notes in the fore­word to this, the first in-depth study of WWII UFOs, it is now clear that the gen­esis of the phen­om­enon – and off­ic­ial con­cern about it – can be traced back to the middle of WWII. Strange Com­pany makes clear for the first time just how freq­uent the war­time sight­ings were and the con­cern they creat­ed within the Allied mil­it­ary, who seri­ously feared they could be ad­vanced secret weap­ons devel­oped by the Axis forces. This gave rise to the per­sist­ent myth that foo-fight­ers were highly ad­vanced flying sauc­ers creat­ed by Nazi scient­ists, whose de­signs were later capt­ured and devel­oped in sec­recy by the Ameri­cans. The pro­pon­ents of this biz­arre theory will find little to supp­ort their claims in this sens­ible, sober book, which large­ly sticks to prim­ary source mat­er­ial apart from a few unfort­un­ate lapses. It demon­strates clearly how the phen­om­ena lumped to­geth­er under the catch-all label ‘foo fighters’ in­cluded not only neb­ul­ous lights but also ob­jects of all con­ceiv­able shapes and sizes, seen at night and during day­light both from the air and ground, in­clud­ing craft-like ob­jects that app­eared to air­crew to be under some form of intell­ig­ent con­trol.

The ety­mology of ‘foo (or phoo) fight­ers’ re­mains some­thing of an enigma and is touch­ed upon only brief­ly in Chest­er’s book. Andy Rob­erts, in a survey carried out for the Fund for UFO Re­search during the 80s, dis­cov­ered the phrase was not recog­nised by RAF aircrew, who re­ferred to the UFOs they saw during WWII as ‘the Light’, ‘The Thing’ and ‘balls of fire’. Strange Com­pany traces the Ameri­can usage to the ‘foo mobile’, a truck used by madcap fire­man Smokey Stover, a char­acter in a war­time comic strip pop­u­lar with US serv­ice­men. His catch-phrase, “where there’s foo there’s fire” was seem­ingly adopt­ed by air­crew serv­ing with the USAAF’s 415th Night Fighter Squad­ron to de­scribe the many strange sight­ings they made during in­trud­er miss­ions over Nazi Ger­many in 1944–45. The fact that the Allies used a diff­er­ent nomen­clat­ure to de­scribe the weird things in the sky under­lines the con­fus­ion that reigned in the mil­it­ary hier­archy which struggl­ed to acc­ount for them.

Apart from a vague refer­ence to the effect that while war was raging “there app­eared to be some­one, or some-thing from some­where else, watch­ing us” Keith Chester steers clear of spec­ul­at­ion or elab­or­ate theor­ies. The implic­at­ion is that he feels an extra­terr­est­rial exp­lan­at­ion is the only viable option for some of the more baffl­ing en­count­ers re­ported by air­crew. In fact, a whole range of alt­ern­at­ive exp­lan­at­ions for the indiv­id­ual sight­ings de­scribed in this book could have been exp­lored. Its value, ult­im­ately, lies in its use­ful­ness as a source of orig­inal data, much of which has not seen the light of day before. Unfort­un­ately, in his att­empt to write a com­pre­hens­ive intro­duct­ion, Chest­er in­cluded a survey of pre-WWII sight­ings which draws on some less than reli­able sources. He de­scribes a 1933 story as “the first off­ic­ially acknow­ledged UFO sight­ing by a unit of the Brit­ish RAF”. It de­scribes how a flight of Hawker Furies encount­ered a brill­iant light over Sussex which stalled eng­ines and left one pilot with burns. The source for this ‘en­count­er’ – a 1947 book on the hist­ory of 3 Squad­ron – does not exist, nor do the pilots named in the acc­ount, who appear in neith­er the squad­ron oper­at­ions record books nor the Air Force list. Some myst­er­ies, it seems, are easier to re­solve than others.

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Strange Company - Military Encounters with UFOs in WWII


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