The Strange Mystery of the FOO FIGHTERS
During the closing months of the war our fighters
chased weird colored balls of fire that suddenly disappeared.
By Harold T. Wilkins
One of the most baffling mysteries of the second World War were strange aerial apparitions in the shape of blazing balls which were encountered over Truk Lagoon, in the skies of Japan, the West Rhine area of Alsace Lorraine and over the Bavarian Palatinate. They were met by U.S. night fighter pilots at night, by U.S. day bomber squadrons and, I am informed, by some British air pilots.
These weird balls were of fantastic and variable speeds, glowed from orange to red and white and back to orange, and appear to have been sighted first at 10 p.m. on November 23, 1944, by a U.S. pilot in the area north of Strasbourg in Alsace Lorraine. Three nights later they were again seen by a U.S. pilot flying in the same area. They were seen for a third time on the night of December 22-23, 1944, by a U.S. pilot flying a mission over the same area.
Just before the Allies overran and captured the secret German experimental stations east of the Rhine these balls vanished. But in no such station was the slightest clue discovered even hinting that the Nazi technicians had invented and flown these mysterious blazing balls.
Over Japan, Nipponese air pilots met the blazing balls and took them to be secret and mystifying aerial devices of the Americans or the Russians. On the other hand, equally mystified U.S. pilots supposed that the balls were a curious device thought up by Japan as a last-ditch expedient to stave off mass-bombing raids.
One pilot chatting in the mess with others who had met the balls on night flights — and had been “ribbed” by intelligence officers who heard their reports — had a brain wave. “Let's call the so and so’s foo fighters,” he said. The name stuck. It seems to have been suggested by a comic strip in which one “Smokey Stover” said: “Yeah, if there’s foo, there’s fire.” Probably the slang word foo is a corruption of the French word feu, or fire.
I myself have seen what may have been a foo fighter. I quote from my diary of November 2, 1950:
“At 6:20 p.m. I went into the garden of this house at Bexleyheath, Kent, which stands on a low hill and has a commanding view of a region of Kent just 12 miles from Charing Cross in central London. I merely sought a breath of fresh air and was looking for nothing. Glancing up casually into the starry sky, I suddenly saw a yellow luminous ball appear in the southern quadrant of the sky. It flew silently, with no gas or spark-emission, on a level trajectory and at no great velocity. It vanished into a belt of cumulus cloud near the zenith. It did not reappear. Was no sort of balloon, weather or cosmic. Was no meteor, and no sort of pyrotechnic. Its altitude was about 2,500 feet up and it shone with lunar brilliancy.”
Next morning I read in the “London Daily Telegraph” a report that on the same night but one hour 40 minutes later than the time of my own observation, people on the Herts-Bucks border, some 25 miles west, were mystified by a strange orange light flashing across the sky and visible for some seconds. Some 30 miles west of the Herts-Bucks border is the British Ministry of Supply’s atomic station of Harwell, Berks.
What I saw was, I believe, a foo fighter of the same type as that encountered six years before by U.S. pilots. Exactly three weeks earlier — October 12, 1950 — a woman cycling from Gloucester City, England, reached the Barnwood suburb of the town when, as she told the local newspaper:
I was startled at 11:15 p.m. that night to see four lights, like huge stars, stationary over Barnwood. After a few moments their lights began to wink in and out . . . Two friends tell me they saw these lights that same night and that two of them moved over a hill about two miles away. I refuse to believe they were airplanes. Can any reader tell me what they were?”
I told this woman that what she and her friends saw were probably foo fighters but it must be understood that probably not one English person in a million knows what is meant by foo fighters or has ever heard of them. My request to the Public Relations Branch of the British Air Ministry in Whitehall, London, inquiring what reports were made to intelligence officers by British pilots who are said to have met these weird balls on war missions remains without answer after four weeks.
It was at 10 p.m. on November 23, 1944, when Lieut. Edward Schlüter, U.S. pilot of the 415th Night Fighter squadron, stationed at Dijon, in south central France, took off from Dijon, on a routine patrol to intercept German planes west of the Rhine between Strasbourg and Mannheim. As the crow flies he had to fly 150 miles on a patrol that would take him east over the Vosges mountains, a very lonely, grim and isolated range buttressing the westward approaches to the Rhine.
Schlüter is a finely built man, the last word in aeronautical efficiency, and a very experienced night fighter of the second World War. He is a native of Oshkosh, Wis. With him, in the darkened cockpit of the plane, were the radar observer, Lieut. Donald J. Meiers, and an intelligence officer, Lieut. F. Ringwald. Nothing happened till their plane had crossed the Vosges and they had sighted the shining waters of the Rhine, rolling rapidly towards Mainz.
The sky that night was clear, with light clouds. Visibility was good and the moon was in the first quarter. U.S. radar stations, covering all U.S. pilots in that area, had not notified the crew of any other plane in the sky. Some way to the east, Schlüter could see the white steam jetted from the smokestack of a German freight locomotive, running in black-out conditions, with fire-box door clamped up and blinded.
At this time, in 1944, Germany stood at bay and the Allies were closing in on her. Some 20 miles north of Strasbourg, Lieutenant Ringwald, the U.S. intelligence officer, glanced to the west and noticed eight or ten balls of red fire moving at an amazing velocity. They seemed to be in formation and could be seen clearly from the darkened cockpit of the U.S. night fighter.
“Say,” said Ringwald to Schlüter, "look over there at the bright lights on those hills yonder. What are they?”
Schlüter: “Hell, buddy, there are no hills over there! I should say they were stars. You don’t need me to tell you that it is not easy to guess at the nature of lights you see on night flights. . . . Not when they are distant, as these are.”
Ringwald: “Stars, d’ye say? I don't reckon they are stars. Why, their speed is terrific!”
Schlüter: “Maybe they are just reflections from our own 'plane. We are going pretty fast.”
Ringwald: “I am certain, absolutely sure, that those lights are not reflected from us.”
Schlüter now gazed hard at the lights. They were now off his port wing. He got into radio telephone contact with one of the ground radar stations.
“There are about ten Heinie night fighters round here in the sky. Looks as if they are chasing us and their speed is high. I'll say it is!”
U.S. radar station: “You guys must be nuts! Nobody is up there but your own plane. Ain’t seein’ things, are you?”
Meiers in the plane glanced at the radarscope. No enemy planes showed up on the screen! Schlüter now maneuvered the fighter for action and headed toward the lights. They were blazing red. Suddenly they seemed to vanish into thin air! Two minutes later they reappeared but now a long way off. It looked as if they were aware of being chased. Six minutes later the balls did a glide, levelled out, and vanished.
None of the occupants of the U.S. night fighter could make out what the red balls were. Schlüter guessed they might be some German experimental devices like the red, green, blue, and white and yellow rockets that flashed up amid the flak of antiaircraft batteries when a big enemy night bomber raid was on. I have myself seen such rockets when on night patrol on the edge of London at the time of the big German bomber raids in 1942 and 1943. The Germans appear to have had these mystery devices, as had the British, but I have never been able to find out what purpose they served.
But the bewildered night fighter pilots did not let this mystery spoil their mission. Lieutenant Schlüter that night bombed hell out of eight fast German freight trains on the Rhine railroads. Back at the base at Dijon, knowing they would not be believed by intelligence higher-ups and might be charged with hallucinations and war neurosis, Schlüter and his two companions said nothing. They made no report to base at Dijon.
On November 27, 1944, another act in the foo fighter drama was staged. Lieutenant Henry Giblin, native of Santa Rosa, Calif., was flying a U.S. night fighter in the Alsace Lorraine region, south of Mannheim-am-Rhein. He had with him Lieutenant Walter Cleary of Worcester, Mass., as radar-observer. As they were approaching the German town of Speyer on the Rhine south of Mannheim, they got a shock. Some 1,500 feet above their own plane a “hell of a huge fierce, fiery orange light” shot across the night sky at an estimated speed of 250 miles per hour. Again U.S. ground radar stations reported when called: “No enemy machines in the vicinity. Only your own plane in the sky over there.”
Giblin and Cleary decided to say nothing to intelligence, fearing ridicule from higher quarters. It is not wise for a war-time flyer to take such a risk. Let some one else do the reporting!
No other observations of queer things in the sky came the way of the U.S. 415th Night Fighter squadron until three days before Christmas, 1944. On December 22, 1944, Lieutenant David McFalls, of Cliff-side, N. C., and Lieutenant Edward Raker, radar observer, of Hemat, Calif., were flying at 10,000 feet just south of Hagenau in the old German Reichsland. Hagenau is 20 miles north of Strasbourg and 16 miles west of the Rhine.
Here is the report of U.S. pilot Giblin:
“At 0600 (six p.m.), near Hagenau, at 10,000 feet altitude, two very bright lights climbed towards us from the ground. They levelled off and stayed on the tail of our plane. They were huge bright orange lights. They stayed there for two minutes. On my tail all the time. They were under perfect control. Then they turned away from us, and the fire seemed to go out.”
On the night of December 24, 1944, McFalls and Baker had another amazing experience. Here is their report:
“A glowing red ball shot straight up to us. It suddenly changed into an airplane which did a wing over! Then it dived and disappeared.”
The reader should note the sudden disappearance of this weird thing in the sky. “They,” if the reports are to be believed, would appear to hail from some phenomenal world of a different wavelength of visibility from our own. “They" — whoever these etherian beings are — can operate controlled machines which suddenly appear from nowhere, fly at vertiginous speeds, and as suddenly vanish into thin air. Yet, in our world of radiological science, in which we have but touched the threshold of the unseen rays in the invisible octaves of the solar spectrum, let the physicist pause before he dismisses these stories of picked men as hallucinations.
It is true that in both London and New York in the late 1920’s, a man on a stage was rendered invisible by warping light rays in a field of rapidly rotating magnetic poles. But the phenomena of these weird foo fighters are on a scale that transcends anything we have yet produced.
FATE’S readers (see the summer issue, 1948) may recall the strange experience of Kenneth Elders, of the Landing Aids Experimental Station at Arcata, Calif. He directed a C-47 pilot to fly to a certain location, because of the appearance on his radarscope of what are technically called “discontinuities.” There appeared to be three signals, denoting that three aircraft were passing over the airfield at Arcata. Yet, when the pilot reached the spot in the air, he saw nothing nor did his instruments record any electrical reactions.
So far in 1944 the pilots of the 415th squadron had seen these weird balls at night and despite the ridicule of the higher-ups and the medical and psychiatric skepticism, other reports began to be made. In the Pacific theatre pilots began to be warned before starting out on missions that if they met strange phenomena in the sky they need not conclude that they were suffering from hysteria, war-induced neuroses, or hallucinations. Pilots talking war “shop" in the messes called the balls krauts, or kraut balls. Two British night fighter pilots, whose names I have been unable to ascertain, thought the foo fighters were secret German experimental devices, perhaps intended to strike fear in a war of nerves. Some U.S. intelligence officers supposed they were radio-controlled objects sent up to baffle radar, in the same way of the foil “window” that was dropped by bombers to confuse the radar watchers.
Yet if they had been secret devices, no war department of any country would have risked sending them over hostile territory where they might be shot down or intercepted.
There is the case of a U.S. bomber pilot of the 8th U.S. Air Force. He reported that he saw 15 foo fighters following his plane at a distance, with their lights winking on and off. A U.S. P-47 pilot saw 15 foo fighters by day at or near Neustadt in the same Rhenish area, some 40 miles west of the Rhine and 55 miles northwest of Strasbourg.
Here is his report:
“We were flying west of Neustadt when a golden sphere, which shone with a metallic glitter, appeared, slowly moving through the sky. The sun was not far above the sky line, which made it difficult to say whether or no the sun’s rays were reflected from it or whether the glow came from within the ball itself.”
A second P-47 (Thunderbolt) pilot also saw the same or another “golden, or phosphorescent, ball which appeared to be about four or five feet in diameter flying 2,000 feet up.”
By this time the higher-ups in the U.S. Air Force had been forced to take notice of die increasing reports of level-headed pilot-observers. It was no longer enough to wave these reports away with a smile and half-serious reference to hallucination and combat-neuroses. Nor were the men satisfied at the explanation that they were flares. Whoever saw a flare that behaved as did the foo fighters? Flares are not maneuverable!
The final attempt at a brush-off came from New York, in January, 1945, when “scientists” insulted the intelligence of the men of 415th. The New York scientific wallahs said the men of the 415th and the 8th Air Force had been seeing St. Elmo’s lights! It may be noted that St. Elmo’s lights are seen on sea and land in times of electrical meteorological conditions. They have been seen at the top of Pike’s Peak, from ships’ mast-heads, and from the tops of towers and spires. In the days of Julius Caesar there was one occasion when these lights flashed from the tops of the spears of his legionaries. In our own time the White Star Liner Germanic, in mid-Atlantic, ran into a heavy thunderstorm at 1 a.m. Electrical flames one-and-a-half-inch long jetted from the foremast truck and small balls, one-half inch to two and one-half inches long, ran up and down the mast but were "tied” to it.
But what possible resemblance could there have been between these weird foo fighters, under intelligent control, and St. Elmo’s lights?
In 1945 the foo fighters made their appearance in the seas of the Far East — the other side of the globe from the German Rhine — over Japan, and over Truk Lagoon. Crews of U.S. B-29 bombers reported to intelligence that balls of fire of mysterious types came up from below their cockpits over Japan, hovered over the tails of their bombers, winked their lights from red to orange, then back from white to red. It was the same thing that had happened a few months before on the other side of the globe over the Rhine! Here too the weird balls were inoffensive — just nosey and exploratory, albeit unnerving.
One night a B-29 pilot rose into a cloud in order to shake off one of these balls of fire. When his plane emerged from the cloud-bank the ball was still following behind him! He said it looked to be about three and one-half feet wide and glowed with a strange red phosphorescence. It was spherical, with not one sign of any mechanical appendage such as wings, fins, or fuselage. It followed his bomber for five or six miles and he lost sight of it as the dawn light rose over Mount Fujiyama, some 60 miles southerly of Tokyo. Here it seemed to vanish into thin air!
The B-29’s found that even at top speed they could not outdistance these balls of fire. Some 12,000 feet up over Truk Lagoon in the Caroline archipelago, a pilot of a B-24 Liberator was startled by the sudden appearance of two glowing red lights that shot up from below and for 75 minutes followed on his tail. One flaming ball turned back while the other still dogged his bomber. It maneuvered in such a way as to suggest intelligent direction from some remote control. It came abreast of the Liberator, then it shot ahead, and for 1,500 yards held the lead. After that it fell behind. Its speed was immensely variable.
As dawn came, the strange ball climbed some 16,000 feet above him into the sunshine. In the night hours the pilot noticed changes in the colors of the ball, which were precisely what had been seen over the Rhine, in 1944. It was just a sphere with no appendages.
The pilot radioed to base and had the reply: “No: no enemy planes are near you. Your own bomber is the only one up there, as the radarscope shows.”
Now while the foo fighters were making their appearance in the Far Eastern theater, they were, at about the same time in January, 1945, again sighted by pilots of the U.S. 415th Night Fighter squadron. These pilots reported to U.S. intelligence at the Dijon base, that over Western Germany they had met the blazing balls alone, in pairs, and in formations. One pilot said that three formations of these lights, red and white in color, followed his plane. He suddenly reduced speed and apparently took them off guard. They came on with undiminished speed and then, to avoid any collision, also reduced speed and fell back, though still dogging him.
From ground radar came the usual reply: “Nothing up there but your own plane!”
On another occasion, when the queer formation of foo fighters got on the tail of a U.S. night fighter of 415th squadron, the perplexed and exasperated pilot swung his craft around and headed for them at top speed! As he came, the lights vanished into thin air. They simply were no longer there.
Note what this pilot reported:
“As I passed where they had been I’ll swear I felt the propeller backwash of invisible planes!”
Came the reply from a derisive ground radar station:
“Are you fellows all plum loco? You must be crazy! You’re up there all alone!”
The puzzled pilot flew on and, glancing back, was now startled to see that the balls had reappeared about half a mile astern of his plane. He thought to himself: “I’ll show these spook planes a trick!” The night was starry but, near the zenith, was a bank of cumulus cloud. He headed his plane at top speed right into the mass of cloud. Then he throttled back and glided down for about 1,800 feet. He turned the machine around and headed back from the cloud the way he had entered it, but on a much lower level. Sure enough, the balls had been caught napping! They emerged from the cloud ahead but now on a course opposite to his own!
It is true that, when the Allies overran Germany, no more foo fighters were seen. On the other hand, when secret German experimental stations were seized and their secrets examined by intelligence men, nothing was found blueprinting plans for blazing balls that can be made visible or invisible in the wink of an eyelid! Such a discovery would have been the most tremendous accomplishment of mid-twentieth-century science! It could not have been kept secret!
But the foo fighters, like other types of “flying saucers,” have been seen in other days!
Let us draw on the great reservoir of information of the late Charles Fort, so often tapped without acknowledgment. In his “Book of the Damned,” he cites Robert Mallet’s Catalogue (Rept. British Association, 1852): “Globes of light seen in the air over Swabia (S.W. Bavaria or Bayern, Germany), on May 22, 1732.”
1877: March 23. Dazzling balls of fire appeared from a cloud, and moved slowly over Venice, France. Visible for more than 1 hour. Similar balls seen in sky over Venice eight or ten years before. October 5. Mysterious balls like electric lights seen over West Wales coast. They appeared and vanished suddenly. High velocity.
1848: September 19. Two bright globular lights, blazing like stars, seen over sky of Inverness, Scotland. Sometimes stationary, sometimes moving with high velocity.
1880: July 30. At night, in a ravine near St. Petersburg (now Leningrad), Russia, a large sphere and two smaller ones, all illuminated, seen for three minutes moving along a ravine. They vanished noiselessly.
1893: May 23. Captain Charles J. Norcock, of H.M.S. Caroline, saw globular lights for two hours in sky at 10 p.m., between Shanghai and Japan in East China Sea. These balls of light were also seen the same night for 7½ hours by Captain Castle of H.M.S. Leander. He changed the ship’s course to chase them but they fled from him.
1896: A U.S. postal clerk saw a round red light rise 100 feet over a train he was in at night, at Trenton, Md. It rose higher and went north. At first it outsped the train, then it fell behind.
1950: October 30, from 10:50 to 11 p.m. Two brilliant blue spherical lights travelled at a terrific speed over Devon, England, from north to south. They came inland from over the Bristol Channel. Numerous eyewitnesses included naval men at Devonport.
December 2, in daytime. Noiseless globes of fire vanished in a flash of light over Towyn, Merioneth, Wales. At Penzance, Cornwall, players in football matches stopped play to watch a long black object, with a flaming tail four miles long, rush across the sky. At Looe, East Cornwall, a blue light, “like a sausage,” rushed across the sky.
December 7. Balls of light seen by farmers in Cumberland, England. All descriptions tally.
Authority in England and in the United States is all out to play down the phenomena and explain them away even if the “explanations” ignore or distort the full facts.
One thing it is safe to say: The derided flying saucers and other strange aerial phenomena will continue to be seen in the skies of Britain and in other parts of the world long after the one-sided talk has been forgotten. No amount of talk or conspiracy of silence can hide the truth.