the foo fighters
of world war II
PART TWO OF THREE PARTS
WERE IT NOT for Associated Press war correspondent Robert C. Wilson's serendipitous encounter with the flyers of the 415th Night Fighter Squadron in France at the end of 1944, the story of the mysterious 'foo fighters' might have come and gone unnoted.
Wilson had learned of the phenomena -- described either as balls of fire or balls of light which closed in and sometimes pursued Allied planes on missions over Germany -- while he was sharing cognac with the air crews of the 415th on New Year's eve and into New Year's day.
His report on the experiences of the 415th was printed in newspapers across the U.S. the next day. He labeled the unknown aerial objects 'foo fighters', using the nickname that had been given to the phenomena by members of the 415th after the popular comic character Smokey Stover, a daffy firefighter who called fire foo and himself a foo fighter, and who drove around in his foo mobile.
Time Magazine would summarize Wilson's story in its January 15, 1945 edition...
If it was not a hoax or an optical illusion, it was certainly the most puzzling secret weapon that Allied fighters have yet encountered. Last week U.S. night fighter pilots based in France told a strange story of balls of fire which for more than a month have been following their planes at night over Germany. No one seemed to know what, if anything, the fireballs were supposed to accomplish. Pilots, guessing that it was a new psychological weapon, named it the "foo-fighter."
Their descriptions of the apparition varied, but they agreed that the mysterious flares stuck close to their planes and appeared to follow them at high speed for miles. One pilot said that a foo-fighter, appearing as red balls off his wing tips, stuck with him until he dove at 360 miles an hour; then the balls zoomed up into the sky.
Skeptical scientists, baffled by the whole affair, were inclined to dismiss the fireballs as an illusion, perhaps an afterimage of light which remained in the pilots' eyes after they had been dazzled by flak bursts.
But front-line correspondents and armchair experts had a Buck Rogers field day. They solemnly guessed: 1) that the balls of fire were radio-controlled (an obvious absurdity, since they could not be synchronized with a plane's movements by remote control); 2) that they were created by "electrical induction of some sort"; 3) that they were attracted to a plane by magnetism.
The correspondents further guessed that foo-fighters were intended: 1) to dazzle pilots; 2) to serve as aiming points for antiaircraft gunners; 3) to interfere with a plane's radar; 4) to cut a plane's ignition, thus stop its engine in midair.
Some scientists suggested another possibility: that the fireballs were nothing more than St. Elmo's Fire, a reddish, brushlike discharge of atmospheric electricity which has often been seen near the tips of church steeples, ships' masts and yardarms. It often appears at a plane's wing tips.
That short burst of publicity would be all the coverage that the 'foo fighters' would get for the duration of the war. Then in December, 1945, American Legion magazine would publish a piece by journalist Jo Chamberlin, entitled The Foo Fighter Mystery, revisiting the December, 1944 'foo fighter' experiences of the 415th over Germany.
But strange aerial encounters would later come to light as having occurred both before and after those of the 415th in that bitterly cold December of 1944. And those experiences not only involved both British and American flyers, but objects as well as lights.
December, 1943 Popular Science article on German guided missile.
WHEN REVIEWING THE EVENTS of 1944-1945, it is helpful to remember that 'precision' guided missile technology, such as it was, depended on human sight and control, either from the ground or from a companion plane. Although some limited radar was incorporated in ground to ground missiles near the end of the war, there were no known systems in use which allowed a guided missile to track after an aerial target independently of a human observer/controller. And yet time after time, reports came in of objects which did just that.
Breaking in the new year of 1944, a 'Raid Report' from M/263 Squadron recounted the experience of a Mosquito pilot (the Mosquito was a British fighter whose airframe was built of wood composites) on the night of January 2/3, 1944...
Engaged by two rockets in the vicinity of HALBERSTADT and later near HANOVER, 90 degrees alteration of course made and definitely established that rockets altered course. Overtook us slowly, appearing with a fiery head and blazing stern on a parallel course. Initial velocity seemed to be fairly great. Duration approximately one minute; Disappeared without explosion.
A follow-up intelligence memo noted...
He estimates that one of them was at range of approximately 200 yards at its closest and kept pace at this range with M/463 for 30/40 seconds. He did not fire, in case a hit might detonate it, causing damage to the aircraft at that range.
Another incident is found in a January 28, 1944, report (partially) titled Report from Headquarters, MACAF, and concerning a pilot from No. 23 Squadron...
Airborne red light seen dead astern. Mosquito orbited, but made no contact. Continued on course and was seen again astern, and was seen several times, but the Mosquito was unable to trace any aircraft.
This incident would be mirrored in a January 29, 1944, report titled Rocket Phenomena of a pilot with 49 Squadron...
At 52 32N 13 03E, 2037 hours, 20,500 ft. heading 082 degrees True. A red ball leaving trail of yellow/red flames and black smoke at about 1000 yards and at the same height dead astern. It was seen closing in. I dived to starboard and the object followed, appearing to fizzle out and then immediately to reappear. I turned hard to port and it followed us round to a tighter turn than we were in. When with 100 years or less of the aircraft, it finally fizzled out.
And again on February 3, 1944 in records for the period at Britain's National Archives categorized as Enemy defences: phenomena, for the period from September 1942 thru February 1944, an incident involving a Lancaster bomber (which had a rated top speed of 280 m.p.h.)...
It was a ball of red fire on port side 2 miles away at same height with yellowish red flame coming out behind and black smoke. It was 30/40 m.p.h. faster than the Lancaster. It went like this for a period of 3/4 to 1 minute. It did not explode at any time. Fizzled out and not seen again. The smoke was very black and showed up well against grayish night background. It followed when Lancaster went into a dive and again on corkscrewing. It seemed to go out once but sprang into life again when Lancaster changed from dive to starboard into a corkscrew.
Reports such as these resulted in an analysis by Bomber Group No. 5 air intelligence, which in a February 8, 1944 report titled Rocket Phenomena stated...
Reports by aircrews suggesting the use by the enemy of some form of anti-aircraft rocket projectile have been received many times over the past year, and with increasing frequency during recent months. Observations have often been characterised by a visible trace and many of the reports have referred to changes of course to follow in the path of the aircraft under attack.
Amongst the conclusions reached...
There is no evidence whatever available, nor is it considered practical, that any rocket fired from the ground would be capable of following an aircraft.
Later that month, on the night of February 19/20, 1944 -- which saw massive raids against multiple cities in Germany -- came "many reports of unusual phenomena" as described in the Consolidated Liaison Flak Officer Report of March 7, 1944. As in all such summaries of multiple events, most of such 'phenomena' undoubtedly related to conventional anti-aircraft weapons. But there were two intriguing incidents...
Two observations were reported, one near COBLENZ and the other a few miles SW of AACHEN, of a "silver cigar-shaped object like an airship," which in the first case was seen at a distance of about 2-3,000 yards from the aircraft, flying on a parallel course at the same height and gradually dropping astern; it appeared to turn in towards the aircraft, passing from starboard to port well astern. In the second case, it was stated that there appeared to be a line of windows along the bottom of the object.
A similar report came less than a week later, on the night of February 24/25, 1944, as described in a March, 1944 Military Attache Report...
Southwest of St. Quentin, three silver objects about 30 ft. long were seen 1,000 ft. below and 600 yards astern of the observers. They were described as resembling Zeppelins and, although moving in unison independently of the wind, were apparently not interconnected. Similar phenomena were described in Consolidated FLO report No. 205 and, although on this occasion a closer view was obtained, there is no explanation at present of the purpose they may serve.
That February had also seen a report from a raid over Frankfurt of a "stationary ball" estimated to be 10 miles distant and which "appeared to be a shiny silver ball of several feet in diameter and shining by its own incandescence," followed four days later by a report of...
Ball like object, appeared silvery, hung in air at 30,000 feet. No chute was observed to be attached to the object, and it remained under observation for approximately fifteen (15) minutes by the crew while in the target area. The crew did not see the object fired from the ground.
But along with the unexpected, the skies over Germany would soon be filled with the dreaded.
Top: A Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet rocket plane, the world's fastest aircraft, capable of an awe-stirring rate of climb. Middle: A Messerschmitt Me 262, the world's first operational fighter jet. Below: Heinkel He 162 jets, Germany's second jet fighter to see service. Like the British Mosquito fighter, the He 162 was composed primarily of wood composites.
ON THE PART OF THE ALLIED air forces, it was one of the most feared developments of the war -- the arrival of the world's first rocket-propelled and jet fighters on the scene. Potential game-changers sent aloft just as German forces were reeling from a series of body blows, the planes were nonetheless primarily ineffective due to poor maneuverability and pilot inexperience, limited numbers in production, unavailability of spare parts, and lack of fuel supply.
Not surprisingly, this development corresponded with reports of small craft moving too fast for detailed observation (air crews could only get very brief glimpses from their limited viewpoints aboard much-slower aircraft). Meanwhile, mid-1944 had brought with it not only D-Day and the Allied invasion of 'fortress Europe', but also the first flights of the deadly V-1 'flying bomb' against England.
And it was during that summer that a ground-based sighting of an unusual aerial event reportedly occurred. Though not to be found in contemporaneous military reports, it was a first-hand account written by Los Angeles Herald columnist George Todt and published in the paper on January 27, 1961. He introduced the subject by stating...
This writer is not dogmatic on the UFO matter, but there is a reason for my positive orientation in behalf of sightings which appear to be logical and responsible. And it is this: during the Battle of France in World War II I saw a pair of mystery objects that were very hard to account for, if at all.
It was in August, 1944 during the Normandy campaign in France, and Todt had been part of an infantry regiment "heading through the hedgerows toward Vire, near the Falaise gap." The story as printed...
It was 12:45 a.m. and I was officer of the day. The guard from regimental headquarters awakened me, as ordered, in time for me to take over from the regular staff at 1:00 a.m. As I rose from my foxhole and reached for my web belt, I noted what I at first took to be a V-1 buzz bomb approaching us from the direction of Omaha Beach to the north. I dashed to the HQ.
In charge was Lt. Col. Frank H. Boos, USA, from Janesville, Wis., the executive officer of our "Rock of the Marne" doughboy outfit. He had not previously seen a V-1.
Col. Boos had long wanted to see one of the gadgets the Germans had been directing to England, and I called him to come out and see the missile. The rest of the staff had gone off duty with the exception of Boos and 1st Lt. John J. Murphy of New York City, leader of the I&R Platoon. They both hurriedly came outside.
We three officers and the guard then saw something hard to explain. In the first place the glowing cherry-red object was headed in the wrong direction for a V-1, i.e., coming from England and headed towards the heart of France.
I had been in pilot training in the Class of [Illegible] a couple of years before -- got airsick in spinning and washed out -- and had a fairly educated concept of airspeed and altitude.
As I had first observed the object riding above the trees as 12:45 a.m. -- it was about five times as big as the largest star and perhaps a fifth the size of the moon -- it seemed to be traveling silently on a straight-line course towards our position at possibly 9000 feet altitude. The speed was about 180 miles per hour -- too fast for a dirigible; too slow for an airplane. Absolutely no noise whatsoever.
The cherry-red light would contract and expand every few seconds, rhythmatically and without once losing a beat. As it arrived over the American and German lines, it glided to a complete stop. After about a minute I glanced at my wristwatch to time it. It remained motionless overhead for another 12 minutes.
Then the object moved away at a right angle and disappeared into the clouds. What was it? I don't know. Except that it was not a hallucination, temperature inversion or static electricity.
Todt then related his second sighting came in February 1945 in Paris, but he gave no details.
Other accounts have been given of unusual sightings in the summer and fall of 1944, but like the British accounts of 1942-1943 -- with the exception of one story given later -- most were told long after the fact to researchers, and those accounts have not been made available in their entirety and unencumbered by paraphrasing or other editing, and so aren't included herein.
But even were such accounts included, when looking back from decades hence proper perspective is needed on the dynamics of the air war over Germany at the time to understand the possible military purpose of strange phenomena encountered in flight, as illustrated in an insightful piece by Major Alexander P. de Seversky, a renowned aviator, author and expert in strategic aerial bombing. From the September 6, 1944 edition of the Zanesville, Ohio Signal...
Air Power and the War
By Major Alexander P. de Seversky
The Nazis talk big about new and more devastating secret weapons. Their claims of the potency of the as yet unrevealed weapons, indeed, are in direct proportion to the speed and size of their defeats.
These threats, of course, are the consequence of two facts: (1) Dire military necessity -- the need that is, to match the overwhelming Allied quantities of force by some surprise innovation; and (2) the importance of bolstering German morale at home and in the field.
From many directions even the possibility that the Nazis are preparing to use poison gas against us as a "weapon of desperation" is raised. Should this be true, they would be flirting with mass extermination. For if ever a nation could ill afford to invoke this weapon, it is Germany today.
With our present decisive superiority in the skies over Germany, we are in the most advantageous position to get the maximum results from the use of poison gas in retaliation. Unless they have lost the last shred of the instinct of self-preservation, it is hard to believe that the Germans would bring into play a method of destruction that could only boomerang against them.
As to any other new or secret weapon, the vital element in the equation is the German lack of industrial capacity, as a result of our strategic bombardment. No matter how remarkable any novel weapon may be, its effectiveness will depend on the volume in which it can be produced. The rapidity with which the German industrial potential has shrunk, plus our ability to continue shrinking it, is the best guarantee we have against Hitler's secret weapons, no matter how deadly they may be.
There is room for speculation as to the character of the new
weapons the Germans may be experimenting with. The main threat to Germany, as it draws its forces inside its own frontiers, is undoubtedly represented by Allied air bombardment. That is the factor which cancels every real possibility of turning Germany into a "fortress," within which it can produce these marvel weapons to repel the Allied assault with hideous losses to our forces.
Therefore, from the German point of view, the strategic bomber must be destroyed. And it is reasonable to assume that they must be thinking and searching for some means of accomplishing this. One attempt along these lines has already had its debut, in the German jet-propelled fighter using rocket ammunition. This innovation for a while loomed dangerously. It was able to elude our fighter escorts and inflict serious damage on our bombing forces. But the damage has not been decisive and could not impede our operations. Again it was inadequate industrial capacity, limiting the number of these planes they could put in the skies, which played into our hands.
Another solution which military scientists know is always possible because it has so often been discussed and experimented with, comes to mind. We must assume that the Germans have been seeking some method of detonating explosives while they are still in their magazines -- that is to say, to explode bombers before they are dropped and thus destroy the planes which carry them.
As a military problem there is nothing new about this, but a solution, as far as we know, has not yet been found. If some method could be found to detonate T.N.T., let us say, by remote means, the whole air picture would change -- at least until a countermeasure could be developed.
One day, of course, some method will be found, either by firing shells containing the appropriate detonating charge or perhaps through some form of electronic force. But even assuming the worst, that Germany has such a solution up its sleeve, our strategic bombardment would be stymied only temporarily, and certainly not long enough to alter the course of the war.
The respite to German industry and the lift to Nazi morale would last only as long as it took us to perfect counter-measures. In the first place, the explosive itself could be substituted for new ones already under development, and the enemy's detonators would be ineffective. The Germans would then face the problem of discovering a new method. In addition, bomb bays could be appropriately armored and, should we have to face any electronic device, ray or other method of remote detonation, they could be correspondingly shielded. Whatever the threat, a remedy would be found to match. Given our vastly superior resources and unmolested industrial capacity, it would be once more merely a question of time before we reestablished our superiority.
All of this, of course, is in the realm of speculation. The best the Germans can hope for from the most miraculous weapons would be a delay. Since they failed to provide themselves with a strategic air force which would assume command of the air over the British Isles in order to destroy its industrial capacity and isolate it from the rest of the world, their doom is sealed.
And it may have been such German experiments in disabling aircraft or exploding their bombs in flight which resulted in an unnerving experience by four pilots of the Ninth Air Force's 358th Fighter-Bomber Group on October 12, 1944 near Strasbourg, at Germany's border with France, as related in a "Top Secret Urgent" message sent to the War Department on October 26, 1944...
Pilot one reported rough engine and noise on radio while flying north south at 11,000 to 13,000 feet, pilot two complained of rough engine and excessive radio interference, also that ammeter showed fifty amps when noise and engine roughness were present, at one time when radio noise was excessive radio was turned off and ammeter returned to normal, pilot three mentioned excessive radio noise and engine roughness simultaneously, pilot four first noticed engine roughness and afterwards accompanying static on the radio.
Radios of all here on "C" channel at time of observations. All four pilots attempted to smooth out the engine by manipulation of propeller mixture and throttle control to no avail.
If it had been an electronic attack, it carried with it all the implications in the above Seversky article and more, for it occurred outside of the presence of enemy aircraft, and implied the power to project electronic interference, either from the ground or from the air, over great distances. And though various means of jamming radio transmissions were common, the effect on the engines of multiple aircraft was rare, if not unprecedented. In February 1945, as will be covered later, it would occur on a night which also included strange lights.
Come October, 1944, air crews began reporting sightings of multiple night-flying German jets, a development which defied Allied intelligence assessments of German capabilities, as mirrored in a November 13, 1944 message from General Carl Spaatz (commander of U.S. Strategic Air Forces in Europe) to his superior, General Henry "Hap" Arnold...
RAF sightings and claims of jets at night made mainly by heavy bomber crews are accepted with reserve by British Air Ministry. Possibility exists that small numbers of jet aircraft are being employed experimentally at night, but there is no evidence than any normal night fighter units are equipped with jet aircraft.
But just one week before, U.S. newspapers carried a wire story saying that such night fighter jets were being seen in numbers by U.S. pilots. From the November 7, 1944 edition of the Albert Lea, Minnesota Evening Tribune comes this account, which in describing a 'trick weapon' may also inadvertently include the earliest reported American sightings of what would come to be known as 'foo fighters'...
Nazis Use Jet, Rocket Planes
Other New Gadgets Being Hurled Against Allied Night Fighters
Paris, Nov. 7 (AP) -- The Germans are using jet and rocket propelled planes and various other "new fangled" gadgets against allied night fighters, Lt. Col. Oris B. Johnson, Natchitoches, La., commander of a P-61 Black Widow group, said today.
"In recent nights we've counted 15 to 20 jet planes," Johnson said. "They sometimes fly In formations of four but more often they fly alone."
Johnson described a new kind of flak which he said might be a phosphorus bomb.
"It exploded in a large ball of fire at 10,000 feet and I could see drops of fire dripping away from It," he said. "The same ball of fire exploded several times, each time at a lower altitude. The dripping process followed each explosion," he added.
The Germans also have a trick weapon which sends a dummy airplane into the paths of daylight bombers purely for a "psychological" effect.
"It looks like the tail or other part of a plane on fire, but It does no damage," Johnson said. "They merely intend it to get you excited."
It was later that month that an air crew would have the 415th's first sighting of 'foo fighters' according to the December, 1945 piece by Jo Chamberlin. The flight had consisted of Lt. Ed Schlueter, pilot, Lt. Donald J. Meiers, radar operator, and Lt. Fred Ringwald, intelligence officer of the 415th, who flew as an observer...
Lt. Schlueter was flying low enough that he could detect the white steam of a blacked-out locomotive or the sinister bulk of a motor convoy, but he had to avoid smokestacks, barrage balloons, enemy searchlights, and flak batteries. He and Ringwald were on the alert, for there were mountains nearby. The inside of the plane was dark, for good night vision.
Lt. Ringwald said, "I wonder what those lights are, over there in the hills."
"Probably stars," said Schlueter, knowing from long experience that the size and character of lights are hard to estimate at night.
"No, I don't think so."
"Are you sure it's no reflection from us?"
Then Ringwald remembered -- there weren't any hills over there. Yet the "lights" were still glowing -- eight or ten of them in a row -- orange balls of fire moving through the air at a terrific speed.
Then Schlueter saw them far off his left wing. Were enemy fighters pursuing him? He immediately checked by radio with Allied ground radar stations.
"Nobody up there but yourself." they reported. "Are you crazy?"
And no enemy plane showed in Lt. Meiers' radar.
Chamberlin's version varied slightly from the original January, 1945 reporting by Robert C. Wilson, which indicated it was Lt. Schlueter who had thought the lights were over a hill. From the January 2, 1945 edition of the Dixon, Illinois Evening Telegraph...
"I saw lights off the right and told the pilot, who said, 'Oh, those are lights on a hill,'" Ringwald reported. He added: "I looked in that direction a few minutes later and then, told him, 'Well, that hill is considerably closer to us now'."
But regardless of who first said 'hills' and who first replied 'no', come December, 1944 members of the 415th would be making multiple reports, as recorded in a January 30, 1945 report to Tactical Air Command by intelligence officer Fred Ringwald...
1. In compliance with paragraph 3 of 1st Incl., the following extracts from the Sortie Reports of various pilots who have encountered the Night Phenomenon are submitted for your information.
Night of 14-15 December 1944 - "In vicinity of Erstein (V-9381) flying at 1000 ft. observed large red light at 2000 ft. going East at 18:40 hrs. Travelling at approximately 200 MPH"
Night of 16-17 December 1944 - "20 miles North of Breisach (W-0173) at 800 ft. observed 5 or 6 flashing red and green lights in "T" shape. Thought they were flak. About 10 minutes later saw the same lights much closer and behind me. We turned port and Starboard and the lights followed. They closed in to about 8 O'clock and 1000 ft. and remained in that position for several minutes and then disappeared."
Night of 22-23 December 1944 - "Patrolling at Angels 10 from Strassbourg North and South of highway. At 06:00 hrs. saw two lights coming towards A/C from the ground. Upon reaching altitude of plane, they leveled off and stayed on my tail for approximately 2 minutes. Lights appeared to be large orange glow. After staying with A/C for approximately 2 minutes, they would peel off and turn away, fly along level for a few minutes and then go out. They appeared to be under perfect control at all times. Lights were seen somewhere in vicinity of Hagenau."
Night of 22-23 December 1944 - "Observed reddish colored flames at considerable distance and at approximately 10,000 ft."
Night of 23-24 December 1944 - "Approximately 10 miles South of Point I (Q6745) noticed to NE approximately 5 miles a glowing red object shooting straight up. Changed suddenly to a plane view of an A/C doing a wing over and going into a dive and disappearing."
Night of 26-27 December 1944 - "At 01:45 hrs. saw two yellow streaks of flame flying at same level at approximately 3000 ft. off port side. We also saw red balls of fire that stayed up for 10 seconds approximately 45 miles away. After seeing yellow streaks, made starboard vector, lost altitude and streaks disappeared from view. Called CGI Blunder and asked if any E/A were in vicinity. They answered No. Instructed to return to Angels 10. We felt what was thought to be prop wash; very distinct. Noticed several groups of lights off port while patrolling in vicinity of Q-9050 and R-1556. Lights made distinct lines somewhat like arrows."
Night of 26-27 December 1944 - "While on vector 090 near F-7050 during patrol we observed airborne white lights. They were staggered evenly vertically and we could see from 1 to 4 swing at once. They appeared stationary at 10,000 ft."
Night of 26-27 December 1944 - "Observed light at same altitude while in vicinity of Worms. Observer saw light come within 100 ft. Peeled off and took evasive action but light but light continued to follow for 5 minutes. Light then pulled up rapidly and went out of sight."
Night of 27-28 December 1944 - "While on North heading in patrol area noticed in vicinity of Q-1378 lights suspended in air moving slowly and would then disappear. Were orange in color. Lights appeared singly and in pairs. Observed these lights four or five times during period."
Night of 27-28 December 1944 - "Eight miles NE of Luneville at 19:10 hrs. saw three sets of three lights (red and white) one on starboard and one on port from 1000 ft. to 2000 ft. and closing in at Angels 10. Pulled up to Angels 8 and lights went out. Called Churchman to see if there was anything in area. Received a negative reply."
Night of 30-31 December 1944 - "Saw a group of lights flying through the air 30 or 40 miles East of base while flying at Angels 9 - 10."
Night of 1-2 January 1945 - "Saw*Foofighters North of Strasbourg and North of Saverne".
Night of 14-15 January 1945 - "Observed a large orange glow in sky appear. 5 ft. in diameter in vicinity of Ingweiller at 6000 ft. at 20:00 hours."
Night of 29-30 January 1945 - "At about 00:10 hrs. sighted a Foofighter about half way between Weissenbourg and Landau. Foofighter was off to the starboard and rear at Angels 2. Lights were amber and one was 20 - 50 ft. above the other and of about 30 seconds duration. Foofighter was about 1000 feet away and following. The lights were about a foot in diameter. Lights disappeared when Travel 34 turned into them."
2. In every case where pilot called CGI Central and asked if there was a Bogey A/C in the area he received a negative answer.
* Foofighters is the name given these phenomenon by combat crews of this squadron.
British bomber crews also had unusual aerial encounters between the 1st and 5th of December, 1944. They are referred to only as lights, and no color is mentioned. What makes these encounters particularly unique, however, is that the lights were apparently destructible (as far as is known no night fighter of the 415th ever fired at the 'foo fighters'). From the December 27, 1944 Operational Research Section report entitled A New Phenomenon...
A new phenomenon was first reported by crews of 6 Group after their attack on Oberhausen on 1/2, and was confirmed by the experience of the other groups on the next few nights, particularly at Bochum on the 4/5.
It was at first claimed by the crews that jet-propelled fighters had been encountered, but apart from uncertainty as to the practicability of using this type fighter at night, the apparent ease with which our gunners were able to destroy the objects made this seem improbable.
Careful re-interrogation of the crews concerned made it quite clear, however, that some new type of weapon had been tried by the enemy and, while individual reports varied somewhat, the following general picture was provisionally deduced from them:
The phenomenon is seen as a light, moving very fast. The general consensus of opinion is that no shape can be seen and no aircraft identified, and that the objects do not fire; when fired at by the bombers a large proportion of them burst into flames or explode. Some have been seen to explode spontaneously or dive to the ground and it is therefore assumed that they are self-destroying. No bombers have been damaged or, so far as is known, even rocked by the explosion of these bodies.
A tentative opinion is that they may be robot projectiles, possibly of the V-1 type, probably launched from the air into the bomber stream. On the night of 4/5 when they were seen in the greatest profusion, they appeared to have been sent into the stream, not over the target, but mainly on the return journey west of Cologne. Although bomber losses on this night were heavier than for some time previously, there is no suggestion that the new weapons played any part. There is no evidence of any aircraft destroyed or even damaged by one of them.
The differences here with the reports of the 415th are subtle, but significant. The 'foo fighters' were said to close in and then follow single planes, these apparently were sent into the midst of general formations; the 'foo fighters' were capable of high-speed mid-air maneuvers, no such maneuvers are mentioned in the British report; the 'foo fighters' were said to extinguish or veer off level or upwards, these were said to explode or dive to the ground. The last mentioned is the most significant, as German flying bombs such as the V-1 did indeed dive after running out of fuel. And the light seen may well have been the exhaust flame. As for 'moving very fast', British air crews at first assumed the lights were jets -- the V-1 in flight ranged between 350 and 400 mph, and although German jets could reach close to 600 mph, accurately judging the precise speed of an object of unknown size is notoriously difficult.
Or it may have been something akin to an unpiloted radio-controlled model of the Me 163 Komet rocket plane, which Allied intelligence said had been reported to be in the works according to interrogations of captured Germans personnel.
In any case, the coming sightings over the year 1945 would more closely resemble the 'foo fighters' reported by the 415th.
A de Havilland Mosquito.
ON THE SELFSAME DAY that war correspondent Robert C. Wilson filed his dispatch on 'foo fighters' and the 415th -- January 1, 1945 -- a British Mosquito reconnaissance aircraft was flying over the Zuiderzee area of Holland some 300 miles northwest of the 415th's base near Nancy, France. Though not on a combat mission, the danger was extraordinarily high -- a lone aircraft, unescorted, crewed by a pilot and navigator, their mission to gauge meteorological conditions over Germany, and in this case the most heavily defended part of Germany -- Berlin. From the after-mission report by the base intelligence officer...
Crew observed pairs of bright yellowish orange lights evenly spaced which seemed to be floating around in the air, never in front, but always in rear or on either side. Lights were brilliant while on and at times faded, either in the distance, or were turned off. Aircraft was at 30,000 feet when lights were first seen. While over Zuder Zee at 02:30 hours lights were seen for first time and as aircraft approached Berlin at 03:10 hours two more were observed. Getting closer to Berlin, at 0330 hours, three were seen. No attacks were made on aircraft hence the crew was not certain as to identity of lights.
That February the early days of month brought reports from the 415th of a green light "moving rapidly" east to west below 4,000 feet over Colmar, Germany; a report that "10 miles northwest of Strassbourg" a crew had watched "a yellow light at 9,000 feet"; and the next night between Breisach and Strassbourg "a very bright light moving slowly through the air at 6,000 feet , which lasted for 20 seconds."
In such reports it is fascinating to see how much else was going on at the time, as in the following account which includes an encounter with oddly behaving lights...
UNIT REPORTING : 415TH NIGHT FIGHTER SQUADRON
MISSIONS: 3 MISSIONS 3 SORTIES
DATE 13/14 FEBRUARY
1. Intruder Mission - 1800-1945 hours. East of Rhine between Freiburg & Rastatt, sighted no convoys - scattered trucks. Strafed at R-2510 at 1845 hours and damaged 1 M/T.
2. Intruder Mission - 1700-2000 hours. Neustadt, Karlsruhe and Manheim. Dropped leaflets and Landau at 1830. At 1840 sighted convoy going north at R-3082, strafed and damaged 8 M/T; while strafing, some of shots veered off at Neustadt M/Y and caused a tremendous explosion and fire, believed it a tank car. Fire could be seen for 15 miles. At 1845 hours, sighted another convoy going east at R-3095 - damaged 5 M/T. At 1850, fired at lights at R-7090 causing explosion and five separate fires; thought to be Branch Ordnance Depot at Heidelberg. About 1900 near river at Bruschal, strafed but had to leave due to accurate 10 gun, 40mm flak at R-6856. 3 minutes later, sighted 3 vehicles going south at R-4131, strafed them, destroyed 1 and damaged 2 M/T. About 1910, between Rastatt and Bishwiller, encountered lights at 3000 ft., two sets of them, turned into them, one went out and the other went straight up 2-3000 ft, then went out. Turned back to base and looked back and saw lights in their original position again. Large explosion near Luneville, thought it one of our P-47s that crashed.
3. 2245-2305 - Scramble. Nothing to report. Returned early due rough engine and radio trouble.
It is perhaps pertinent to note that although the second and third sorties occurred three hours apart, the report of 'rough engine and radio trouble' forcing a return to base seems to mirror the experience of the four pilots who reported trouble with their radio and engines on October 12, 1944 near Strasbourg.
The next night an aircrew reported "a string of lights north of Freiburg (1 red one in center, 4 white ones on each side) blinking off and on." But even so, by February, 1945 reports of 'foo fighters' from the French-based 415th were dwindling, and would remain only sporadic for the duration of the war -- the reasons for which can only be surmised.
But that same month, the 'foo fighters' would be making their appearance one country over... in Italy.
1. The quote from Fred Ringwald taken from the January 2, 1945 edition of the Dixon, Illinois Evening Telegraph was part of a highly-edited and summarized version of the story by Robert C. Wilson which went out as an alternate to the Robert C. Wilson detailed piece. Curiously, the Ringwald quote only appears in the alternate piece, and not in the original.
2. The January 1, 1945 report of lights over the Zuider Zee is recounted by witnesses in vivid and exciting detail in Keith Chester's book Strange Company, which gives as its source Aerial Intelligence of the 8th Air Force by George Sesler. The Sesler book appears to be a limited run and further research revealed accusations of plagiarism, and for those reasons the purported personal accounts of the pilot and navigator, though thrilling, are regretfully not included here even in summary. Chester's book, however, does also include further vivid detail obtained through personal interviews and correspondence. These accounts also illustrate the wide gulf between the official reports given in dry terms, and the vivid accounts told by pilots to interviewers.
3. The February, 1945 reports of a green light near Colmar, a yellow light near Strassbourg, and a "very bright light" between Breisach and Strassbourg, and a string of lights near Freiburg comes from Keith Chester's book Strange Company, which gives as its source various operations reports.
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