The Rendlesham Forest (Woodbridge/Bentwaters) UFO Incident

The Rendlesham Forest UFO incident has often been called “Britain’s Roswell” after the famous New Mexico UFO event and at first blush does seem to be a close encounter of some kind, but as is often the case closer inspection can reveal confusion and contradiction in eyewitness testimony, supposed facts can turn out to be conjecture and the lack of tangible evidence is always a definite minus. Claims and counterclaims fly fast and furious as skeptics shake their heads and believers cry cover-up.

The forest of today is a far cry from the forest of the 1980s, extensive replanting following a devastating storm in 1987 has significantly changed its appearance, but important landmarks, connected to the "Incident" and linked by walking trails have been preserved. A sign and map provide details of what purportedly happened, where and when.

To the west projecting into the woodland is RAF Woodbridge and to the north RAF Bentwaters. The bases are presently deserted, but in 1980 during the height of the cold war they were fully functional NATO installations occupied by American forces under the overall command of Colonel Gordon E Williams. Woodbridge was under the command of Colonel Ted Conrad (replaced by Colonel Sam Morgan in midsummer 1981) with Colonel Charles I Halt as Deputy Commander.

The alleged encounter began on December 26, 1980, when an unidentified object was observed in the sky by personnel at the Woodbridge base who fearing a possible downed aircraft entered the forest by way of the base’s east gate. What happened next is somewhat confusing and at times contradictory.

The first thing the airmen noticed were mysterious lights flitting about amongst the trees with another extremely bright light shining forth from an unknown source. Apparently a few personnel also saw a cone shaped object hovering over a clearing, one eyewitness (SSgt Penniston) later claiming to have seen landing gear. All concerned maintained that the object began to move away forcing them to give chase.

According to some reports, those involved were later found to be somewhat bewildered about what they had witnessed and afterwards were forced to sign documents swearing them to secrecy the process couched in thinly veiled death threats.

The next day a follow up investigation of the clearing where the mysterious object had been observed revealed three small depressions, some burn marks on nearby trees, and a few broken tree branches.

Apparently determined to lay the matter to rest Halt himself investigated on December 28. He and a number of personnel armed with radiation detectors entered the forest only to soon find themselves involved in an encounter of their own, this time near the forest's eastern boundary and the adjacent farmer’s field.  A voice on an audio tape made by Colonel Halt stated that local farm animals were frightened and noisy “We‘re hearing very strange sounds out of the farmer‘s barnyard animals. They‘re very, very active, making an awful lot of noise.” A bright pulsing light close to the horizon and several star-like objects in the sky were also observed.

Initially reports of higher than normal radiation levels from the original landing site, in the depressions, at the center of the triangle they formed and on a nearby tree gave greater credence to the story, but later the equipment used was proven to be of the wrong type and never intended to measure background radiation, its readings virtually worthless. In addition rumors that the overall Base Commander communicated with diminutive aliens using sign language also appear groundless there being little or no solid evidence to back them up.

Many local residents when questioned stated that in their opinion the bright light was the local lighthouse, a fact seemingly corroborated by the Halt tape of the incident in which an airman can be heard calling out “There it is again. Watch, straight ahead of my flashlight, sir. There it is.” the frequency of his calls matching that of the flashing light from Orfordness Lighthouse. The locals also stated that they believed the landing marks were simply rabbit diggings and the alleged burn marks nothing but the axe cuts used to mark trees designated for felling. It was also pointed out that there were no farm animals in the immediate vicinity, so they couldn’t possibly have been the source of any noise.

Police from the local constabulary, after investigating, reported that the airport had no knowledge of aircraft that night, although; their were reports of aerial phenomena (possibly) alluding to a very bright meteor sighted over southern England or the report by a nearby resident of an unidentified object in the sky over his house, that the only lights that were visible were from Orfordness Lighthouse and that a physical search, of the immediate area, had produced no tangible results.

Other possibilities have been advanced over the years and include a bright planet, the Shipwash lightship (lightvessel) and even a downed Soviet spy satellite.

If the event has its detractors it also has high profile believers such as Nick Pope, a former MoD (Ministry of Defense) investigator, and Lord Peter Hill-Norton, former First Sea Lord, Admiral of the Fleet and Chairman of the NATO Military Commitee who questioned the British Government on whether they knew if Special Branch was involved. The answer he received was that while Special Branch may have been aware of the incident, they would not have shown an interest unless they perceived a threat to national security. Later after evidence came to light that there was in fact an extensive MoD file on the matter,  the answer seemed contradictory and led to claims of government cover-up.

The authenticity of the Halt audio tape has also come into question. When asked if he thought the episode a fake Colonel Morgan (successor to Colonel Conrad) replied: “I do not think it is a hoax. I think the men really were out there that night and they saw something which frightened them. You can hear their excited conversations and references to frightening bright lights. The only opinion I have, is that based on the evidence available, those guys definitely saw something which cannot be explained. As for them fabricating it all and putting on an act, I do not think they could pull it off.”

Opinions, unfortunately, as per Colonel Morgan, are easily influenced by the incorrect, imprecise or somtimes vacillating interpretations of others; witness Lt. Fred A. Buran 81st Security Police Squadrons' in hindsight, seemingly flawed assessment of SSgt Jim Penniston one of those directly involved: "After talking with him face to face concerning the incident, I am convinced that he saw something out of the realm of explanation for him at the time. I would like to state at this time that SSgt Penniston is a totally reliable and mature individual. He was not overly excited, nor do I think he is subject to overreaction or misinterpretation of circumstances." [1]

[1] As the years have passed Penniston's story has grown, becoming more and more outlandish, a lack of consistency and contradictory statements casting serious doubt on his integrity.

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