The supposed radar sightings


Reports that the Rendlesham ForestUFO was tracked on radar are investigated. No evidence is found to substantiate these reports, either from Ministry of Defence files or from those who were on duty at the time.

The claims

‘The first sighting of the craft over England was recorded on a radar screen at RAF Watten [sic], 50 miles away from where it landed. They reported: “Tracing [sic] unidentified object.” Radar operators followed the progress as it flew over the East Coast until it disappeared.’

So reported the News of the World in its front-page story about the Rendlesham Forest UFO on 1983 October 2. [Pedantic note: the actual wording differed slightly between different editions of the paper due to re-editing.]

Various other accounts of the case have made similar claims, which would surely be of considerable defence significance if true. But in my researches on the case stretching back to 1983, I have never found any evidence that the supposed Rendlesham Forest UFOs were tracked on radar. Release of the Ministry of Defence file on the case confirms that there were no radar sightings on any of the days the UFOs were seen. The supposed radar sightings are simply another part of the Rendlesham mythology.

Here follows the documentary substantiation of that statement.

Questioning the MoD

As part of my initial investigation, I wrote to the Ministry of Defence on 1983 October 9 asking for their comments on the apparent radar sighting of a UFO about the time of the Rendlesham Forest incident. My letter can be found on p.162 of the MoD file DEFE/24/1948.

On 1983 October 19 Pam Titchmarsh of Defence Secretariat Division 8 (DS8) replied, noting that ‘no unidentified object was seen on any radar recordings during the period in question and that the News of the World article was inaccurate on this point’. Her reply is p.160 in the MoD file, but the link above is to a scan of the original in my possession.

On 1983 November 14 I pressed the MoD again on this matter, asking if it was true that they had begun to investigate the case even before Col Halt’s memo was received and whether radar records had been confiscated, as was then being alleged by some. My letter is p.136 of MoD file DEFE/24/1948. Pam Titchmarsh replied on December 7, informing me that no investigations were carried out by the MoD until Col Halt’s memo was received two weeks after the event, and that there was no truth in the story that radar records had been confiscated. Her reply is p.128 in the MoD Rendlesham file, but again I show a scan of the original in my possession.

Over a decade later the situation had not changed. By now Nick Pope was in charge of the department that handled UFO inquiries. In 1994 January he prepared an information note in response to inquiries from Central TV in England, which re-emphasized that ‘No unidentified object was seen on radar during the period in question’, and there was no evidence of anything having intruded into UK airspace nor of it having landed near RAF Woodbridge.

The second night – a first-hand account

Particularly significant from the air defence point of view were the events of the second night, when Col Halt reported three starlike objects hovering for several hours over Rendlesham Forest, apparently sending down beams of light. While this was going on, Halt asked his command post to contact Eastern Radar at RAF Watton, which was responsible for air defence of that region. ‘Twice they reported that they didn't see anything,’ Halt recalled for journalist Salley Rayl in an interview published in the 1994 April issue of Omni. Thanks to British researcher Nick Redfern we know that Eastern Radar logged a call from Bentwaters at 3.25 a.m. on December 28.

The senior operations officer on duty at RAF Watton that night was Squadron Leader Derek Coumbe. In 2003 he recalled for BBC Radio 4 that several calls had come through from Bentwaters asking them if they were seeing anything unusual in the Bentwaters and Woodbridge area. ‘We scrutinized the radar time and time again completely, and kept a watch on it through the whole period when these phone calls were going on and nothing was seen. Nothing at all,’ Coumbe told the BBC. (Thanks to Dave Clarke for the transcript. See also under the heading ‘Radar and Radiation’ on this page from Clarke’s website.)

Undoubtedly, it is the lack of any radar contact that led the MoD to dismiss the case as of no defence significance back in 1981.

Hence, unless some UFO researcher has evidence to the contrary which they have not yet published, claims that the Rendlesham Forest UFO was tracked on radar must be regarded as false.

A source of misinformation

One source of misinformation about radar tracking of the Rendlesham UFO was the Strange But True TV programme broadcast on 1994 December 9. This gave the impression that Mal Scurrah, a former radar operator at RAF Neatishead in Norfolk, had seen the Rendlesham object on radar. However, in the 1995 May/June issue of UFO Magazine (UK) Scurrah went on record as saying that his radar sighting, which took place during a training exercise, had happened in late October or early November 1980 and was not linked with the Rendlesham case.

Now, if there was genuine evidence of a radar sighting at Rendlesham, why would the makers of a programme about it choose instead to use a story they knew to be unconnected?

Content last revised: 2020 December

© Ian Ridpath. All rights reserved