Many regions on the eastern coast of Great Britain contain top-secret military installations. Orford Ness, which is an island off the coast of Suffolk, was the location of many still undisclosed chemicals, nuclear, biological, and radiological weapons experiments during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, and as a matter of interest have an impressive lighthouse. Several other bases near the coast were leased to the United States Air Force; the twin installations at RAF Woodbridge and RAF Bentwaters were two oval complexes and formed an essential part of NATO’s defense against communist threats. At the height of the Cold War, these consolidated airbases housed most of the nuclear weapons apart from the Soviet Union. This major and significant tactical presence meant the bases were heavily guarded and were hidden within a thick ring of woodland known as Rendlesham Forest. In December of 1980, two unusual events, which were observed by personnel stationed at the bases, occurred in this forest and would go down in history as one of the most captivating UFO cases ever recorded.
A distinct feature concerning the Rendlesham Forest incident is that within three years of the occurrence, the public had proof of official, military-grade documents detailing the events that were witnessed. The witnesses were credible, trained, and professional United States Air Force personnel, not just simple country folks, or fame seekers. The most famous name connected with the incident is Lieutenant Colonel Charles Halt, who was the Deputy Base Commander in charge of Woodbridge’s and Bentwaters security. Not only did Colonel Halt write and submit the official report, but he was also a first-hand witness at the second of the two odd sightings.
His memorandum, sent to the British Ministry of Defense, was released by the US authorities under the American Freedom of Information Act in 1983 after rumors about a phase of bizarre incidents at the site began to circulate among UFO enthusiasts. The following publication of shocking stories about Rendlesham appeared in tabloid newspapers, and the persistent silence by British authorities meant that many believed something strange did occur. So what exactly happened in the Rendlesham Forest during the month of December in 1980?
According to Colonel Halt’s memo, on December 26, 1980, at 3 a.m., strange lights were reported by a security patrol near the East Gate of RAF Woodbridge descending into Rendlesham Forest. Servicemen nearby initially thought it was a downed aircraft but, upon entering the forest to investigate, they saw a strange glowing object that was two meters high and three meters wide, metallic in appearance, with colored lights. It had a red light at its peak, blue lights along its base, and appeared to hover. It was said to light the whole forest with a bright white beam. As they approached, it moved through the trees, and the “animals on a nearby farm went into a frenzy”. The craft left three depressions in the ground that were visible the next day. One of the servicemen, Sgt. Jim Penniston later claimed to have encountered a ”craft of unknown origin” and to have made detailed notes of its features, touched its ”warm” surface, and copied the numerous symbols on its body. The object then flew away after their brief encounter. Penniston also claimed to have seen triangular landing gear on the object.
Shortly after 4 a.m., local police were called to the scene but reported that the only lights they could see were those from the Orford Ness lighthouse, miles away from the coast. Several servicemen returned to the site after daybreak the next morning and found three impressions that were 1-inch deep and 7-inch wide, in a triangular pattern, as well as burn marks and broken branches of nearby trees.
Two days later, in the early hours of December 28, 1980, Colonel Halt and several servicemen returned to the site again with radiation detectors which detected higher-than-normal radiation in the depressions and on the near side of a tree. It was during this investigation that another ‘red sun-like’ light was seen moving and pulsating across the field to the east, directly in line with a farmhouse. Colonel Halt personally saw the oddities and reported that it ‘appeared to throw off glowing particles which broke into five separate white objects and then disappeared’. Three strange star-like objects were seen darting rapidly about the night sky exuding red, green and blue light. They remained visible for two to three hours, and ‘beamed down a stream of light from time to time’.
Over time, many of the Air Force witnesses have since come forward and offered their own accounts of what happened those nights. Colonel Halt himself made an audio, micro-cassette tape of his commentary as events happened on the second incident. However, his official report was not written until January 13, 1981, and there now seems to be confusion with the dates.
Many investigators believe the events themselves were nothing more than the result of misunderstandings and visual illusions. The initial cause of the UFO sighting may have been an exceptionally bright meteor that appeared over southern England just before 3 am on December 26. It has been suggested that the following triangular, metallic object was, in fact, a tractor, seen from a distance with its night lights turned on. Many investigators believe the bizarre beam of white light seen illuminating the forest was actually instigated by the Orford Ness lighthouse. Comparably, there are benign explanations for the resulting depressions – they may have been caused by old rabbit burrows. The radiation levels recorded, while higher than normal, are said by experts to be minor.
It is without a doubt that many of the United States servicemen who observed these bizarre occurrences must have been extremely thrilled, and may have become muddled and illogical. The police who visited the scene recorded no UFO sightings. Although the personnel was trained airmen, and the bases at Bentwaters and Woodbridge had been occupied by US forces for years, so they had grown accustomed to the area. The fact that these installations were the base for powerful nuclear weapons meant that the staff could not be prone to stretches of the imagination. As RAF Woodbridge was the home of the 67th Aeroplane Rescue and recovery Squadron – a unit which specialized in the retrieval of returning satellites and spacecraft. This highly advanced and technological group answers directly to the Pentagon in Washington D.C., so it is assumed they would have been able to discern the differences between any known aerial, space vehicle, or tractor.
In recent years, the British Government silence, which led many to believe in a UFO cover-up at Rendlesham forest has withdrawn. In fact, the complete file of documents correlating to the incidents has since been released. The official explanation that the Ministry of Defence had nothing to say on the matter because there ‘was no reason to consider that the alleged sightings had any defense significance’, has been proven honest. The newly publicized documents show the MOD did investigate the sightings but could find little cause for concern.