This review of UFO cases from the 1940s was written by Jan L. Aldrich, who is engaged in full-time research into the history of the UFO phenomenon. The article appeared in the Summer 1996 issue of the International UFO Reporter, and is subject to the same copyright as the printed version.
An inquiry into the beginning of the UFO era
By Jan L. Aldrich
In July 1952 a medical doctor at the Veterans Administration Hospital at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, wrote to Air Force Headquarters about his observation of a UFO made during the spring of 1947 near the Augusta, Maine, airport. In March or April of that year, as he was traveling from Rumford, Maine, to work at the VA hospital at Togus on an early Sunday morning, he saw several "saucer like objects" over the Augusta airport. "The objects were fairly close to the ground and appeared to scale like a pie plate through the air," he wrote. "They revolved and hovered over the landing field. They were not conventional landing or flying air craft as I know."
The objects reflected the morning sun, and "there was a trail of smoke not large like an exhaust from an auto coming from the edge of the revolving objects." The objects appeared to be 40 feet in diameter and revolving at a rapid rate. He would not see the UFOs again though he would travel by the airfield many times. He thought at the time that he had seen an experimental Air Force craft. He told only his colleagues of his sighting.
The physician's letter was not added to the 122 case files the Air Force had for 1947, but with 12 other 1947 incidents it was placed in a catch-all Project Blue Book file of hundreds of letters, many of which also reported UFOs, titled Public Response to the Life Magazine Article of April 1952. (Life's "Have We Visitors from Space?" appeared in the April 7 issue.) This file is not among the Blue Book records. The microfilm file was given to Herbert Strentz with over 30 other rolls of microfilmed records including the Air Force's extensive 1952 clipping collection. Barry Greenwood of Citizens Against UFO Secrecy now has this material.
Another physician who read the Life article sent an account of his experience to Civilian Saucer Investigation of Los Angeles, a group featured in the piece. The physician and his wife, a professional painter and sculptor, observed a slow-moving, luminous elliptical object on one of their nightly walks in Birmingham, England, during the spring of 1947. The long axis of the object had the apparent size of the moon's radius, and the small axis was about one-quarter of it. The object, which had a bright reddish-orange glow, moved silently from east to west and disappeared after about 15 to 20 seconds. The witnesses thought they had viewed an experimental aircraft and decided to remain silent about the event. (Report in CUFOS files.)
New light on 1947
Thousands of reports like these have languished in the files of UFO organizations and individuals or in the 1947 newspapers. In 1967 Ted Bloecher completed The Report on the UFO Wave of 1947, which recorded over 850 incidents, mostly from June and July. In compiling his report, he used 142 North American newspapers, fewer than two percent of the newspapers published in 1947. Another study by Loren Gross of more than one hundred 1947 California newspapers found 142 new UFO reports (UFOs: A History--1947 , p. 13). A pilot study for Project 1947 used several hundred newspapers, mostly from the eastern United States. As in the Gross study, many new reports were uncovered.
Project 1947, a two-and-a-half-year research effort, was conceived to build upon these prior efforts and expand our knowledge of the beginning of the modern UFO era. With contributions from researchers all over the world, the number of 1947 newspapers screened to date is over 3800, and the number of UFO incidents is well over 2700.
Extensive press coverage from Kenneth Arnold's sighting on June 24 until the official explanation of the Roswell incident on July 10 characterized the wave. The press seemed to accept the balloon explanation not only for Roswell but for all UFO reports, and with numerous stories of pranksters and hoaxers further discrediting the phenomenon, UFOs nearly--but not entirely--disappeared from the pages of American newspapers.
There was still a trickle of reports. In Boise, Idaho, at 12:30 p.m. on August 22, two pilots--Glenn Eichelberger, an instructor, and Ray Williams, an airplane salesman--observed two objects from the ground. The closer one had a flat bottom and a domelike top and appeared to be spinning as it flew. As the object went over the foothills, it bounced and weaved, then straightened out, turned sharply to the right, and disappeared. When the objects first appeared, they were flying on a north-northeast heading (Idaho Daily Statesman, August 22).
Outside the United States, sightings continued on both Canadian coasts after the American coverage subsided. In South America, especially Chile and Argentina, the reports started later but lasted longer, into late July. There were few reports in Africa, India, and Australia. The U.S. State Department and the Consular Service translated a number of Chinese newspapers which indicated UFO activity there. The rest of Asia is not well documented, with the exception of some official and unofficial reports by American military personnel in Japan.
The level of activity in Europe is yet to be determined. Approximately 100 reports are known. German and Austrian newspapers were still tightly censored by the Allies in 1947 and printed few sightings. Few newspapers have yet been screened for Switzerland, Italy, Spain, and Portugal. There are references to the "ghost aeroplanes" in England in March and April, sightings in Belgium in April and May, and newspaper accounts in Hungary in May and June. The London and Paris newspapers generally ridiculed the phenomenon as an American aberration. However, references in the Indian, Hong Kong, and Singapore press to July sightings in Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester, Northern Ireland, and the French countryside indicate that UFOs were reported in Europe more frequently than previously thought. Scandinavian researchers have supplied many sightings from their files. But European coverage remains spotty. The extent of UFO activity in Europe will be clear only after more European researchers check their files and local newspaper archives.
Project 1947 is a massive collective effort with the 1947-era UFO sighting as the principal focus. During research visits, when time permits, other areas are examined. After 1947 the priorities are the 1900-1946 period, early official and scientific interest, the early UFO era (1948-1965), and finally more recent events. I personally have visited over 120 archives, libraries, and newspapers in 36 states and provinces. Additionally, I have ordered directly or via interlibrary loan material from 50 more institutions. Over 100 individuals worldwide have screened over 1500 newspapers of 1947, contributed thousands of newspaper clippings, reports, and other items from their files, and offered their services.
Some of these data yielded interesting hints of little-known activity for other periods. From the work of several researchers, we have found small airship waves during World War I (see Just Cause, September 1995, and Thomas E. Bullard's The Airship File, privately published). Concentrations of reports are indicated in July-August 1949 in the northwest quarter of the North American continent (see Homer E. Fansler, et al., History of the Alaskan Air Command: 1 January 1949-31 December 1949 . p. 50, and "If It's in the Sky, It's a Saucer," Doubt, no. 27, pp. 416-17), in southern New England in August 1956 (see Richard Hall, ed., The UFO Evidence, NICAP, 1964, p. 135), and the northern plains states (the Dakotas and Minnesota) in October-December of the same year (see Loren Gross's self-published booklets for September-October and November-December 1956, and Leon Davidson's microfilmed newspaper clipping collection 1954-1962, located at Columbia University). Considerable data have also been collected on better-known periods such as the spring of 1950, the 1952 wave (especially the early concentration in Canada and Alaska during March and April--much material was found in Loren Gross's January-May 1952 booklet, the CUFOS files, the British Columbian Legislative Library Newspaper Index, and John Musgrave's Canadian UFO Collection), and the 1957 wave.
We have learned more about the World War II era. Martin Caidin, in his Black Thursday (1960), told of silver discs encountered during the 1943 Schweinfurt raid. Archivists at the National Archives could not locate confirmation of this report. There are, however, other references to small silver discs. Under the heading "Miscellaneous Phenomena," in a report of A-2 Section of the 42d Bomb Wing, the following appears: "Also, on 18 October , a shower of silver objects about the size of silver dollars was reported in the vicinity of Alfonsine. These objects were seen floating at 10,500 feet and descending very slowly."
In December 1944 the New York Times reported that American pilots over Germany were reporting silver spheres. A spokesman at Army Air Force headquarters said that the only reports reaching Washington were from the newspapers and that no reports were received from the theater (New York Times, December 14 and 21, 1944). Yet the XII Tactical Air Command's Intelligence Information Bulletin, no. 6, January 28, 1945, carries a report under the heading "Flak Developments":
There have however been several reports of the phenomenon which is described as "silver balls", seen mainly below 10,000 feet; tentative suggestions have been made as to their origin and purpose, but as yet no satisfactory explanation has been found.
The bulletin for June 4, 1945, discusses reports from Japan:
DON'T LOOK NOW, BUT --:
Mention has previously been made in these pages to the existence of German airborne controlled missiles Hs.298, Hs.293, X4 and Hs.117. Many reports have been received from Bomber Command crews of flaming missiles being directed at, and sometimes following the aircraft, suggesting the use of remote control and/or homing devices. It is known that the Germans kept their Japanese Allies informed of technical developments and the following report, taken verbatim from Headquarters, U. S. A. F. P. O. A. G.2 Periodic Report No. 67, further suggests that the Japanese are using similar weapons to those reported by our own crews:
"During the course of a raid by Super-Fortresses on the Tachikawa aircraft plant, and the industrial area of Kawasaki, both in the Tokyo area, a number of Super-Fortresses reported having been followed or pursued by "red balls of fire" described as being approximately the size of a basketball with a phosphorescent glow. Some were reported to have tails of blinking light. These "balls" appeared generally out of nowhere, only one having been seen to ascend from a relatively low altitude to the rear of a B-29. No accurate estimate could be reached as to the distance between the balls and the B-29's. No amount of evasion of the most violent nature succeeded in shaking the balls. They succeeded in following the Super-Fortresses through rapid changes of altitude and speed and sharp turns, and held B-29s' courses through clouds. One B-29 reported outdistancing a ball only by accelerating to 295 mph, after which the pursuing ball turned around and headed back to land.
Individual pursuits lasted as long as six minutes, and one ball followed a Super-Fortress 30 miles out to sea. The origin of the balls is not known. Indication points to some form of radio-direction, either from the ground or following enemy aircraft. The apparent objective of the balls, no doubt, is destruction of the Super-Fortresses by contact. Both interception and AA [anti-aircraft] have proved entirely ineffective, the enemy has apparently developed a new weapon with which to attempt countering our thrusts."
(SOURCE: RAF, Fighter Command Intelligence and Operational Summary No. 30, dated 15 May 1945).
I expect more detailed official documents concerning World War II reports to become available within the next six months.
Project 1947 still needs many kinds of assistance: newspaper research, search for material in the UFO literature, translations, unpublished items in private and organizational files, and research in official archives. If you can help in these areas, please contact me at Project 1947, P. O. Box 391, Canterbury, Connecticut 06331.