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The West Freugh Incident, 1957:

Revenge of the Saucers

The Flying Saucer Working Party had been dissolved in 1951 amidst a frenzy of scepticism that had clearly been fuelled by the Americans. The response that Churchill received to his 1952 enquiry showed that the sceptics still had the upper hand within the MOD. But this was soon to change. During the period 1952 to 1957 there were a series of UFO sightings involving the military, which forced the MOD to rethink and then reverse its policy. These included sightings during Operation Mainbrace in September 1952 (including those at RAF Topcliffe), the West Malling incident on 3 November 1953, Flight Lieutenant Salandin's near-collision with a UFO on 14 October 1954, the Lakenheath/Bentwaters radar/visual sightings on 13 and 14 August 1956 and the RAF West Freugh incident on 4 April 1957.

("Commentary on DSI/JTIC Report No 7 (Working Party)", by Georgina Bruni and Nick Pope).

The observations:

The incident started in Luce Bay, Scotland, in the morning of April 4, 1957.

Luce Bay was used as a bombing test range by the R.A.F. West Freugh bomb trials unit, and there were several mobile radar units there to track the aircraft during bombing operations. There was a full cloud cover on the entire sector.

A group of civilian radar operators of the Ministry of Supply who was in charge of the bombs test were first altered that a bomber aircraft from RAF Farnborough is scheduled to enter their area. Radar operators were thus ready to follow that plane. Soon after, they were informed that its arrival has been delayed.

However, one of the mobile radar units, that of Balscalloch near Corsewall Point was not informed of the delay and their operators stayed ready to track the announced plane.

The radar operator of that unit thus saw on his screen that a large and solid unidentified echo was clearly visible, almost stationary object, located above the Irish Sea.

This echo remained in a nearly stationary location for 10 minutes at an initial height of 50,000 feet according to the height finder radar and a position of 20 to 25 miles north of Stranraer. (Their equipment was capable of locking targets for automatic following.) At some time its height appeared to alter from about 50,000 to 70,000 feet.

The Balscalloch mobile radar unit soon phoned the West Freugh air traffic control officer Flight Lieutenant Ken England and informed that their crew were catching what were now several moving targets moving at speeds in the order of thousands of miles an hour, and that these objects echoes were nothing the radar operator had ever seen before.

Flight Lieutenant Ken England at West Freugh told the Balscalloch caller that they should phone the radar unit at Ardwell, 14 miles to their south, to get a confirmation of their echoes. The West Freugh radar station also picked up the targets.

Ardwell was one of the other mobile radar unit, also operated by civilian servants of the Ministry of Supply, Charles Hollands and Stanley Farley.

When asked by Balscalloch whether there was something on their own radar screens, they did confirm that they detected the same objects than those detected at Balscalloch, at the same range and height. Their radar set also had lock-on capabilities.

The radar detection information of Ardwell and Balscalloch were thus plotted on an electronic board displaying the objects positions and heights.

After ten minutes of being shown of the electronic plotting board, he position begun to move to the north-east direction at speed gradually increasing up to 70 mph, and a height of 54,000 feet.

Then a third radar station 20 miles away from one or the other was asked to search for the object too. This third radar station was equipped with similar height/position monitoring equipment and immediately locked on to a target that was at the same range and direction as the others radar stations reported. After the radar echo had traveled about 20 miles, it did an "impossible" sharp turn and proceeded in a south-easterly direction whilst increasing its speed.

This third mobile radar station then tracked four objects at 14000 feet altitude and 4000 yards line astern from each other, which were confirmed by the Balscalloch radar station. The radar operators noted the sizes of the echoes were much larger than those of normal planes, with size nearer to a ships echo.

In an RAF meeting minutes document of 1970 discovered by David Clark and Andy Roberts, Wing Commander Peter Whitworth who was the base commander at West Freugh at the time of the sighting, indicated that:

"After remaining stationary for a short time, the UFO began to rise vertically with no forward movement, rising rapidly to approximately 60,000 feet in much less than a minute. The UFO then began to move in an easterly direction, slowly at first but later accelerating very fast and traveling towards Newton Stewart, losing height on the way."

"Suddenly the UFO turned to the southeast, picking up speed to 240 mph as it moved towards the Isle of Man. It was at this stage that the radar signals became contradictory. Balscalloch tracked a single 'object' at high altitude while Ardwell picked up what appeared to be four separate objects moving line astern behind each other at a height of 14,000 feet. As the echoes disappeared; all three radars fleetingly traced the four smaller UFOs 'trailing' behind the larger object. The UFO had been tracked for 36 minutes."

And:

"The sharp turn made near Newton Stewart would be impossible for any aircraft traveling at similar speed."

The incident leaked to the Press because civilian radar operators talked to journalists, and briefly made the headlines, internationally. The Sunday Dispatch, U-K., published this article on April 7, 1957:

Clues to radar sky riddle

By Sunday Dispatch Reporter

That mystery object in the sky which was seen only on radar screens was too fast, too big, and too maneuverable (it turned at an "impossible" angle) to have been a plane.

This conclusion was reached yesterday by experts studying the clues of the sky riddle which was recorded exclusively by scientific apparatus that cannot lie.

Full reports of the incident have gone to the Air Minister in London. Their experts take a serious view of them, it was stated officially yesterday.

No planes about

The blips on the radar screens were reported last Thursday from an R.A.F. station at West Freugh near Luce Bay on the southwestern tip of Scotland.

The operators estimated the object's height as 60.000 ft (just over 11 miles up.)

The official world height record for a plane is 65.870 ft. Civil planes normally fly at 10.000 - 20.000 ft. over Britain.

A check with other stations showed there were no planes in that section at the time.

It reached the US on April 6, 1957, with an Associated Press newsbrief:

"Flying Object" alerts Britain

London, April 6. -- Radar stations throughout Britain were alerted Saturday to look for a mysterious flying object tracked by Air Ministry observers over Southwest Scotland.

Three radar operators reported independently that the object flashed across their screens traveling at 60.000 feet.

The operators said the object suddenly dived to an altitude of 14.000 feet, made two whirls, then vanished to the south. And Air ministry spokesman said: "We do not know what the object was. Intelligence experts are studying the reports and a detailed statement may be made next week."

The object was sighted by two lonely radar posts in Scotland's hilly Wigtownshire. A Royal Air Force station near Luce Bay on the southwestern tip of Scotland also caught it on radar. It was reported heading toward the Isle of man.

Royal Air Force officials said no planes were in the area at the time. The mystery object was described by some unofficial sources as too fast, too big and too manoeuverable for a plane.

The newsbrief appeared in many US newspapers such as the The Newark Sunday News, New York, USA, on April 7, 1957.

The article below, in the daily newspaper The New York Journal - American, New York City, USA, on April 7, 1957, shows that the British Press was not willing to let the Mod get away too easily with the issue:

RAF Radar Sees 'Object'

London, April 6 (INS). -- The authoritative British Press Association today reported that an RAF radar operator saw an "unidentified object" on his screen Friday.

The incident occurred at West Freugh near Stranraer, Wigtonshire. An air ministry spokesman confirmed that the West Freugh station had reported the incident, but he refused to elaborate except to say that the matter "is still being investigated."

French newspaper "Le Provençal" reported on page 1 on April 7, 1957 what the London "Evening Standard" had written:

A MYSTERIOUS FLYING CRAFT
IS SEARCHED SINCE TWO DAYS
BY R.A.F. RADAR STATIONS

London. (A.F.P.)

All British radar screens have sought for two days a mysterious flying object which one could not identify yet. By order of the services of safety of the ministry for the Air the various radar stations are forbidden to reveal their observations.

The "object" was seen for the first time Friday on two screens of the air base of West Freugh, in the solitary base of Luce Bay, in Scotland. The station had been alerted of the flight of plane which was cancelled thereafter. Nevertheless, the observers of the screens being in two different buildings saw appear the alarm signal and followed during a few moments the evolutions of a flying machine.

"It was impossible to detect any characteristic of the machine, declared the base commander. All that we can say with certainty, it is it exists. We do not have the right to give the position, the direction and the speed which it had at the time when our devices detected it." The only known indication is that it flew over the Western coasts of Scotland.

The ministry for the Air ordered an "uninterrupted investigation by day and night" to all British Air stations, while experts examine the report of the base of Luce Bay.

The base commander quoted in the article is of course Peter Witworth. He was targeted by journalists who wanted to know more, but the MoD who was trying to convince people that UFO sighting reports are only lies and confusions asked him to hide any information on the UFO performances. This was because they wanted too explain it as a balloon, and indeed days later only, the MoD told the Press "off the record" that their investigation suggested that the UFO was a balloon released from the Aldergrove airfield. When the journalists found out that this explanation was incorrect, the MoD said that it was not the explanation but only "a possible" explanation - but it is not.

MoD had started by suggesting that it "max have been" a Russian spy plane. This appeared in the daily newspaper The Sunday News, U-K., April 7, 1957:

Hint Plane Over Scots was Red

London, April 6 (U.P). -- Royal Air Force officials said today that a mystery object spotted on radar screen in Scotland may have been a Soviet reconnaissance plane. Two radar screens on the West coast of Scotland picked up the unidentified object on Thursday but officials refused to say in which direction and at which speed it was traveling.

This disproves the theory that MoD would have covered-up UFO reports in order "not to alarm the population about Soviet intrusions in British airspace." This theory is put out by many "skeptics" but it is simply not verified.

Secret conclusions and cover-up:

In December 1956, the memo 11 G/S.1803/7/Air Int, classified "secret" had been issued by RAF HQ No 11 Group and paragraph 3 of this memo stated:

"It will be appreciated that the public attach more credence to [UFO] reports by Royal Air Force personnel than to those by members of the public. It is essential that the information should be examined at Air Ministry and that its release should be controlled officially. All reports are, therefore, to be classified CONFIDENTIAL and personnel are to be warned that they were not to communicate to anyone other than official persons any information about phenomena they have observed, unless officially authorized to do so."

Peter Witworth told another newspaper:

"I am not allowed to reveal its position, course and speed. It was no fluke or technical hitch. A double check was taken by putting on another scanner, and by switching from one to the other and the object was still there."

In their book, authors David Clarke and Andy Roberts indicate that Wing Commander Peter Whitworth further notes that the MoD has ordered him to submit a full report on the incident and that the report was classified secret and that he heard no more of it until 1971 when he was contacted by ufologist Julian Hennessey, a NICAP representative in Great Britain.

To help with Hennessey's investigation in the case, Wing Commander Whitworth contacted the MoD and asked to be authorized to reveal what he knew about the incident. According to David Clarke and Andy Roberts, this caused big embarrassment at the MoD because they had claimed that all UFO reports before 1962 had been destroyed. Clarke and Roberts say:

"Les Ackhurst of S4 advised his colleagues, 'We are therefore unable to discover from our own sources what information Wing Commander Whitworth intends to disclose.' Suddenly, some of the documents that no longer officially existed were 'found' in a DDI (Tech) folder!"

Secretly, the Mod had admitted that this incident has no commonplace explanation.

A surviving document by the Deputy Directorate of Intelligence (DDI) (Tech) dated April 30, 1957 (DDI /C.290/3/), said:

1. It is deduced from these reports that altogether five objects were detected by the three radars. At least one of these rose to an altitude of 70,000 feet while remaining appreciably stationary in azimuth and range. All of these objects appeared to be capable of speeds of about 240 mph.

Nothing can be said of physical construction except that they were very effective reflectors of radar signals, and that they must have been either of considerable size or else constructed to be especially good reflectors.

2. There were not known to be any aircraft in the vicinity nor were there any meteorological balloons. Even if balloons had been in the area these would not account for the sudden change of direction and the movement at high speed against the prevailing wind.

3. Another point which has been considered is that the type of radar used is capable of locking onto heavily charged clouds. Clouds of this nature could extend up to the heights in question and cause abnormally large echoes on the radar screens. It is not thought however that this incident was due to such phenomena.

The MoD, in 1971, finally told Witworth that he can talk about the incident but that he is not authorized to reveal the capabilities of West Freugh's radar, which was equivalent to maintain scientific censorship, although understandable from a strict Defense point of view.

According to Clarke and Roberts, a DDI (Tech) report notes that the investigation had ruled out private and military aircraft movements in the area, that radar operators had reported that the echoes were considerably larger than would be expected from normal aircraft and had considered that the size was nearer that of a ship's echo.

The report had also considered meteorological phenomenon: heavily charged rain clouds at high altitude, and rejected it, also rejected weather balloons, although the MoD had told the Press that the case was "possibly" explanable as caused by a weather balloon!

According to Clarke and Roberts, and to ufologist Jenny Randles, the final paragraph of the report was:

"It is concluded that the incident was due to the presence of five reflecting objects of unidentified type and origin. It is considered unlikely that they were conventional aircraft, meteorological balloons or charged clouds."

Because the case was in the Press headlines, Members of the Parliament such as Major Sir Patrick Wall, the Conservative MP for Beverley, asked questions to the Air Ministry, who was forced to admit they had no commonplace explanation for the incident.

Here is a sampler of the records of Parliamentary questions in 1957:

AIR 20/9320 1957

Parliamentary Question from 17 April 1957 by Mr. Stan Awbery MP: To ask the Secretary of State for Air, what recent investigations have been made into unidentified flying objects; what photographs have been taken; and what reports have been made on this subject. Reply by Secretary of State (Mr Ward). Notes on UFOs provided for the Ministers use. Also: UFO incident at West Freugh in Wigtownshire in 1957; incidents and signals at RAF Church Lawford, RAF Bempton and RAF Lakenheath; newspaper clippings 6 April 1957 from the News Chronicle and The Evening Standard; photographs of object over the Channel Islands from the Daily Sketch of 6 April 1957.

AIR 20/9321 1957

Parliamentary Question 15 May 1957 from Major Patrick Wall MP: To ask the Secretary of State for Air, how many unidentified flying objects have been detected over Great Britain this year as compared with previous years; and whether the object picked up on radar over the Dover Straits on 29 April has yet been identified. Further questions to the Minister from Mr Frank Beswick MP. Notes for Minister on reported sightings. Replies by Mr Ward. Newspaper clippings April-May 1957: The Times, News Chronicle, Daily Worker, Daily Mirror, Daily Sketch, Daily Telegraph, Daily Express and the Evening News.

AIR 20/9322 1957

Parliamentary Question 15 May 1957 from Mr Frank Beswick MP: To ask the Secretary of State for Air, what was the nature of the aircraft or other aircraft sighted on the radar defense screens on Monday night and which occasioned the dispatch of Fighter Command. Reply by Mr Ward. Notes for Ministers.

The notes prepared for George Ward, The Secretary of State for Air to answer Stan Awberry, Labour MP for one of the Bristol constituencies on Wednesday, 17 april, 1957, said:

1. The Ministry of Supply Bombing Trials Unit at West Freugh, Wigtownshire reported a radar sighting made on 4th April of an object which was tracked 36 minutes, continually increasing in speed whilst losing height. Enquiries so far made reveal that no service or commercial aircraft was in the vicinity at the time. It is possible that the object was a private aircraft, and enquiries on this point are still being made. The object could not have been a balloon since it was moving against the wind.

2. A reference to this report was contained in the "Evening News" and "Evening Standard" on 6th April (cutting attached). If S. of S. is asked questions on this point, it is suggested that the reply should be on the following lines: That report is still being investigated, and the cause has not yet been established. It may well have been a private aircraft.

Of course the "private aircraft" explanation is a blatant impossibility since private aircraft could not fly at 70.000 or 54.000 ft altitude and could not remain stationary for 10 minutes or more. At least George Ward acknowledged that it could not have been a balloon. If the notes are what MoD told the Minister, then obviously they did not inform him on the size of the object, huge altitude of the object and the fact that it was hovering. This would mean that the Air Minister was kept ignorant of the real data, and suggests that MoD personal thought that it was uncertain that the Air Minister would have accepted to lie in Parliament.

Sir Patrick Wall had also asked how many UFOs have been detected over Great Britain in 1957, and George Ward again passed on a lie to him and the entire Parliament, as was decided on April 11, 1957 in a briefing memo by A. Giffen Peacock of D.D.I. (Tech) that read:

"It is unfortunate that the Wigtownshire radar incident fell into the hands of the press. The two other radar incidents have not been made public and reached us by means of official secret channels. We suggest that S. of S. does not specifically refer to these incidents as radar sightings. We suggest that in answering the original question S. of S. might reply: "Of the 15 incidents reported this year ten have been identified as conventional objects, two contain insufficient information for identification and three are under investigation."

The memo also said:

"...reports which are received in this office, in the majority of cases, can be explained or lack sufficient evidence for any explanation to be made. The only incident this year which has merited a report, is the recent one of a radar sighting in Wigtownshire."

("Wigtownshire" refers to the West Freugh incident, and the comment about "the only incident" applies to "this year" only, i.e. 1957.)

The memo added that DDI (Tech) investigated 64 reports in the 2 years before December 31, 1956, three of which were classed as "unidentified radar sightings" and three as "unexplained sightings."

In another intelligence digest known as "The Red Book", entry No 59 12-17 for April 1957, the Air Ministry said there were 16 UFO reports received since January 1, 1957 that they investigated, of which 10 had commonplace explanations, two remained without commonplace explanation and four other, which were all radar cases, are under investigation:

UNIDENTIFIED FLYING OBJECTS

[SECRET]

7. Reports of unidentified flying objects are received at the rate of approximately one a week. Since 1st January 1957, sixteen reports from official and unofficial sources have been received. A satisfactorily explanation has been found to account for ten of these sightings, two remain unexplained and the remaining four are under investigation.

8. The ten explained incidents were due to nothing more alarming than meteorological balloons (1 case), aircraft navigation lights (2 cases), aircraft flares (2 cases), Meteorite [sic] (1 case), an engineer's amateur experiment (1 case), one case of a photographic hoax, one of faulty radar equipment, and a Newspaper review of a book published on German Wartime Weapons.

9. Lack of evidence and a cold scent account for one of the two unexplained incidents and the other might feasibly have been a meteorological balloon but this cannot be confirmed.

10. The remaining four incidents still under investigation are all radar sightings. In each, unusual behavior of the radar blips in terms of course, speed and heights were reported. Attempts are being made to trace the cause of these sightings to aircraft known to have been near, inexperienced operators or spurious echoes of unexplained origin.

In their summaries on UFOs, MoD documents however always maintain that UFOs are only lies and confusions. When detailed documents are asked, MoD maintains that all UFO sighting investigations reports and related documents prior to 1962 have been generally destroyed, and indeed, only few appear to have survived destruction. Dave Clark suggests about one such report that survived, "The DDI Tech file on the Lakenheath incident", survived "presumably because it was never subject to a Parliamentary question." Dave Clarke further suggests that the MoD claim that their pre-1962 UFO documents were "generally destroyed", "must be regarded with scepticism" and "it appears entirely possible that additional intelligence material relating to UFOs may be hiding..."

In May 1957 the DDI Security at the Air Ministry asked West Freugh Commander Peter Witworth to instruct the base personnel that "nothing which occurs on the station is a proper subject for conversation in public places, nor even in private should it be discussed with anybody who has no need to know about it."

"Skeptics" opinions:

Clarke and Roberts who believe there is nothing uncommon in the UFO phenomenon, have suggested in their book that the UFO could have been a U2 spy plane about which only high rank RAF or MoD people would not know, but that is only an irrational explanation since planes have been eliminated by a) the size of the echo that was larger than any plane and larger that the rtather small U2 which was not a good radar reflector, b) the fact that it had remained stationary c) the fact that it flew at a speed increasing from stationary up to of 70 mph at one time. Clarke and Roberts also show faulty analysis when, to explain why there were several targets, they suggest that the other echoes could have been of escorting T33 and T38 US escort planes while it is true that the U2 could fly so high, no other escort plane could, and d) it is clearly stated that there was a turn impossible to known aircraft!

To the best of my knowledge, this is the only say of the UFO-skeptic community on this case so far.

Comment:

Neither ships nor birds nor clouds nor objects detected by anomalous radar propagation fly fast at 60.000 ft then dive down to 14.000 ft. This is also not a popssible behavior for any high flying spy plane.

Because at least 3 different radar stations at different location were involved and reported the same location for the target, anomalous radar wave propagation phenomena, failures and interferences are excluded.

Because the echo was stationary at some point, aircraft are excluded. Because high speeds and maneuvers are reported, balloons are excluded.

Because the target moved against the prevailing winds, it could not have been clouds or balloons. It was noted by MoD that there were no balloons in the area.

Because several height finder radar sets at different locations targeted the same echo, and because of its altitude, almost all planes are excluded, so are all ships and all helicopters and any other know device made by men then or since.

The MoD exerted a cover-up and deceived the Press with suggestions of wrong explanations, probably partly for Defense reasons, but on the other end it seemed they would rather admit Soviet intrusions in British airspace with no British capacity to intercept it than anything more ... "otherworldly".

Nowadays, a lot of UFO related documents have been declassified and can be read by the public at the National Archive, Kew, U-K. When members of the public discover the good cases they contain, and ask for official statements on UFOs, the usual official answer is in the shape of: "It is not within MOD's remit to provide an official Departmental comment on alleged incidents and policy from the 1950s and 1960s, and noted that the files were in the Public Record Office and were open to anyone to draw their own conclusions."

Secretly, MoD acknowledged the lack of commonplace explanations imposed by the data. In my own conclusion, the case has only one rational explanation so far: extraterrestrial craft.

References:

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