The Ministry of Defence (MoD) denied that the event posed any threat to national security, and stated that it was therefore never investigated as a security matter. Later evidence indicated that there was a substantial MoD file on the subject, which led to claims of a cover-up; some interpreted this as part of a larger pattern of information suppression concerning the true nature of unidentified flying objects, by both the United States and British governments. One such person to take this view was eyewitness and Deputy Base Commander Colonel Charles Halt. When the file was released in 2001 it turned out to consist mostly of internal correspondence and responses to inquiries from the public. The lack of any in-depth investigation in the publicly released documents is consistent with the MoD's earlier statement that they never took the case seriously. Included in the released files is an explanation given by defence minister Lord Trefgarne as to why the MoD did not investigate further. Skeptics regard the sightings as misinterpretation of a series of nocturnal lights - a fireball, the Orford Ness lighthouse and bright stars.
Rendlesham Forest is owned by the Forestry Commission and consists of about 5.8 square miles of coniferous plantations, interspersed with broadleaved belts, heathland and wetland areas. It is located in the county of Suffolk, about 8 miles east of the town of Ipswich. The incident occurred in the vicinity of two former military bases RAF Bentwaters, which is just to the north of the forest, and RAF Woodbridge which extends into the forest from the west and is bounded by the forest on its northern and eastern edges. At the time, both were being used by the United States Air Force and were under the command of wing commander Colonel Gordon E. Williams. The base commander was Colonel Ted Conrad, and his deputy was Lieutenant Colonel Charles I. Halt. Halt's memo to the Ministry of Defence on the incident, and his personal involvement in the second night of the sightings, has given the case credibility.
The main events of the incident, including the supposed landing or landings, took place in the forest, which starts at the east end of the base runway or about 0.3 miles to the east of the East Gate of RAF Woodbridge, where guards first noticed mysterious lights appearing to descend into the forest. The forest extends east about 1.0 mile beyond East Gate, ending at a farmer's field, where additional events allegedly took place. Orford Ness lighthouse, which skeptics identify as the flashing light seen off to the coast by the airmen, is along the same line of sight but 5 miles further east of the forest edge.
Retired Sgt. John Burroughs (LE) states that the events took place over three successive nights (pm into am); 24th, 25th, 26th, and 27th of December in 1980. One of the key pieces of primary evidence suggests that the first sightings were on the 26th, rather than 25th in a memo. The memo was written almost two weeks after the event and its author later agreed that he had probably made a mistake in his recollection of the dates. This discrepancy in dates has not only confused subsequent researchers but also led to confusion at the time, for example in the MoD's investigation and analysis of contemporaneous radar records.
Around 3 a.m. on the 26th of December, 1980 - strange lights were reported by a security patrol near the East Gate of RAF Woodbridge apparently descending into nearby Rendlesham Forest. Servicemen initially thought it was a downed aircraft but, upon entering the forest to investigate, they saw strange lights moving through the trees, as well as a bright light from an unidentified object. 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 allegedly flew away after their brief encounter. Penniston also claimed to have seen triangular landing gear on the object, leaving three impressions in the ground that were visible the next day. While undergoing regression hypnosis in 1994, Penniston subsequently claimed that the craft he encountered had come from our future, and was occupied by time travelers, not extraterrestrials. Sgt. Penniston's report made shortly after the incident contains no mention of physically encountering an unknown craft, nor of interacting with it. This report and associated sketches are neither signed nor dated, nor are they representative of AF Form 1169, Statement of Witness.
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, some miles away on the coast. Some reports claim that local farmyard animals had been behaving in a state of fear and panic. After daybreak on the morning of December 26th, servicemen returned to a small clearing near the eastern edge of the forest and found three small impressions in a triangular pattern, as well as burn marks and broken branches on nearby trees. Plaster casts of the imprints were taken and have been shown in television documentaries. At 10.30 a.m. the local police were called out again, this time to see the impressions on the ground, which they thought could have been made by an animal.
The servicemen returned to the site again in the early hours of December 28th with radiation detectors, although the significance of the readings they obtained is disputed. The deputy base commander Lt Col Charles I. Halt investigated this sighting personally and recorded the events on a micro-cassette recorder. The site investigated by Halt was near the eastern edge of the forest. It was during this investigation that a flashing light was seen across the field to the east, almost in line with a farmhouse. The Orford Ness lighthouse is visible further to the east in the same line of sight. Later, star-like lights were seen in the sky to the north and south, the brightest of which seemed to beam down a stream of light from time to time.
There are claims that the incident was videoed by the USAF; but, if so, the resulting tape has not been made public. The release of this video, if it exists, would certainly clear everything up, unless the video shows proof of extraterrestrial visitation. In which case, for a government wanting to keep the truth hidden, then ti would be imperative to keep the video under wraps and its existence in constant wonder.
The first public report of the incident was published in the tabloid newspaper “News Of The World”, on October 2nd, 1983, beneath the sensational headline “UFO Lands In Suffolk - And That’s Official”. The story was based on an account by a former US airman, using the pseudonym, Art Wallace (supposedly to protect himself against retribution from the USAF), although his real name was Larry Warren.
The first piece of primary evidence to be made available to the public was a memorandum written by the deputy base commander, Lt. Col. Charles I. Halt, to the Ministry of Defence (MoD). Known as the “Halt memo“, this was made available publicly in the United States under the US Freedom of Information Act in 1983. The memorandum was dated “13 Jan 81” and headed “Unexplained Lights“. The two-week delay between the incident and the report might account for errors in dates and times given. The memo was not classified in any way. Dr David Clarke has investigated the background to this memo and the reaction to it at the Ministry of Defence. His interviews with the personnel involved confirmed the cursory nature of the investigation made by the MoD, and failed to find any evidence for any other reports on the incident made by the USAF or UK apart from the Halt memo.
Penniston's statement is the only one that positively identifies a mechanical object as the source of the lights. He states that he was within 160 feet of the object and it was definitely mechanical in nature. Penniston has subsequently claimed that, contrary to his statement at the time, he actually encountered a landed craft in the forest which he circled, touched and made notes of for 45 minutes, although there is no corroborating evidence of this from other witnesses. Penniston has shown on television a notebook in which he claims to have made real-time notes and sketches of the object. The notebook is headed with the date 27 December and the time 12:20 (00:20 GMT), which does not accord with the date and time given by the other witnesses for the incident. Penniston claims that he saw the object at a different landing site from the one investigated by Halt, much closer to RAF Woodbridge. This is inconsistent with his initial assessment that the light lay a mile and a half from East Gate. The witnesses were unnerved by their experience and believed that they had witnessed something, as Buran expresses it, “out of the realm of explanation“.
Also, in 1984, a copy of what became known as the “Halt Tape” fell into the hands of researchers. Unfortunately, because of static electricity and the fact that the tape had been dubbed on an old machine, much of its background conversations could not be discerned. The US Sci-Fi Channel acquired the original recording, which documents Halt and his patrol investigating a UFO sighting in Rendlesham Forest in December 1980. This tape not only reveals much more of the background conversations, but features names that could not be heard on the poor-quality 1984 dub. The tape has also been transcribed by researcher Ian Ridpath, who includes a link to an audio download.
In June 2010, retired Colonel Charles Halt signed a notarized affidavit, in which he again summarized what had happened, then stated he believed the event to be extraterrestrial and it had been covered up by both the US and UK. In 2010 base commander Colonel Ted Conrad provided a statement about the incident to Dr David Clarke of Sheffield Hallam University, UFO adviser to the UK National Archives. Conrad stated that “We saw nothing that resembled Lieutenant Colonel Halt's descriptions either in the sky or on the ground.” and that “We had people in position to validate Halt's narrative, but none of them could.” In an interview, Conrad, criticized Halt for the claims in his affidavit, saying he should be ashamed and embarrassed by his allegation that his country and England both conspired to deceive their citizens over this issue. He knows better. Conrad also disputed the testimony of Sergeant Jim Penniston, who claimed to have touched an alien spacecraft; he said that he interviewed Penniston at the time and he had not mentioned any such occurrence. Conrad also suggested that the entire incident might have been a hoax.
Suffolk Constabulary have a record, dated 26 December 1980, of a report from the law Enforcement Desk of RAF Woodbridge, stating that “We have a sighting of some unusual lights in the sky, we have sent some unarmed troops to investigate, we are terming it as a U.F.O. at present“. The police investigated this report and the result is recorded as follows: “Air Traffic Control West Drayton checked. No knowledge of aircraft. Reports received of aerial phenomena over southern England during the night. Only lights visible this area was from Orford light house. Search made of area - negative.” Skeptic Ian Ridpath has speculated the reported “aerial phenomena” refers to the re-entry of the Soviet Cosmos 749 satellite's final stage rocket, which was widely seen over southern England shortly after 9 p.m. on the evening of December 25th. A letter in the police file notes that one of the PCs returned to the site in daylight in case he had missed something. “There was nothing to be seen and he remains unconvinced that the occurrence was genuine. The immediate area was swept by powerful light beams from a landing beacon at RAF Bentwaters and the Orfordness lighthouse. I know from personal experience that at night, in certain weather and cloud conditions, these beams were very pronounced and certainly caused strange visual effects.” A scan of the report is available at Suffolk Constabulary's website.
Some researchers have claimed that personnel from Porton Down visited Rendlesham in 1980 after the Rendlesham Forest Incident. No evidence has been presented and there seems to be confusion with other alleged UFO incidents. Admiral Lord Hill-Norton, the former Chief of the UK Defence Staff, argued that an incident like this at a nuclear weapons base was necessarily of national security interest. As a member of the House of Lords, Lord Hill-Norton asked Her Majesty's Government: “Whether they are aware of any involvement by Special Branch in the investigation of the 1980 Rendlesham Forest Incident". Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean gave the reply that “Special Branch officers may have been aware of the incident but would not have shown any interest unless there was evidence of a potential threat to national security. No such interest appears to have been shown.” Hill-Norton commented, “Either large numbers of people were hallucinating, and for an American Air Force nuclear base this is extremely dangerous, or what they say happened did happen, and in either of those circumstances there can only be one answer, and that is that it was of extreme defence interest.” In 2001 the British Government released its file on the incident to researchers following a request from Dr David Clarke under the Code of Practice for Access to Government Documents, a precursor to the Freedom of Information Act. The Ministry of Defence has since made these documents available online. The United States continues to remain silent despite the Sci-Fo Channel-sponsored investigation entitled “UFO Invasion at Rendlesham“, the History Channel’s “UFO Files - Britain's Roswell” and Coalition For Freedom of Information inquiries.
Larry Warren, who was the source of the original “News of The World” article has written extensively on the subject and is a firm believer in an extraterrestrial explanation. Warren was certainly a USAF airman at the Woodbridge base, but his own claims that he was a witness to the incident are disputed by others, notably by Col. Halt. Bruni and Warren do not agree on the details and have clashed publicly over the supposed inaccuracies of their respective accounts. Prominent amongst the skeptics is Ian Ridpath. Much of his research is available on his website, which also includes much of the raw evidence, including the original eyewitness statements.
Jenny Randles, one of those who originally brought the case to prominence, wrote an extensive article in her book with David Clarke and Andy Roberts, (The UFOs That Never Were) entitled “Rendle Shame Forest” where she came to the conclusion that “While some puzzles remain, we can probably say that no unearthly craft were seen in Rendlesham Forest. We can also argue with confidence that the main focus of the events was a series of misperceptions of everyday things encountered in less than everyday circumstances.”
One of the most prominent believers in the extraterrestrial origin of the Rendlesham UFOs is Nick Pope who worked for the MoD, researching and investigating UFO phenomena between 1991 and 1994. He discussed the Rendlesham Forest Incident in his various books and in his articles: “Selected Documents“, which relates to the MoD documents on the Rendlesham Forest incident, “Rendlesham - The Unresolved Mystery“, “The Rendlesham Files Reviewed” (a detailed commentary and analysis of the MoD documents) and “Rendlesham Forest UFO Incident”. He has gone on record as saying that the Rendlesham Forest Incident is bigger than Roswell. Lieutenant Colonel (later Colonel) Charles I. Halt, the former Deputy Base Commander of USAF Bentwaters and Woodbridge, who was a major witness to these events, is also a firm believer and contributor to books and documentaries. Halt believes he witnessed an extraterrestrial event that was then covered up. Halt was also a speaker at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. on September 27th, 2010, one of half a dozen former Air Force officers testifying on the subject of “U.S. Nuclear Weapons Have Been Compromised by Unidentified Aerial Objects.”
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