The Rendlesham Forest incident is the name given to a series of reported sightings of unexplained lights and the alleged landing of one or more craft in Rendlesham Forest, Suffolk, England, on two separate nights in late December 1980, just outside RAF Woodbridge, which was used at the time by the U.S. Air Force. USAF personnel including deputy base commander Lieutenant Colonel Charles I. Halt claimed to see things they promoted as a UFO sighting. It is the most famous of claimed UFO events to have happened in Britain, ranking among the best-known purported UFO events worldwide. It has been compared to the Roswell UFO incident in the United States and is sometimes referred to as “Britain’s Roswell”. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) stated the event posed no threat to national security, and it therefore never was investigated as a security matter. The sightings have been explained as a misinterpretation of a series of nocturnal lights – a fireball, the Orford Ness lighthouse and bright stars.
Around 3:00 am on 26 December 1980 (reported as the 27th by Halt in his memo to the UK Ministry of Defence – see below) a security patrol near the east gate of RAF Woodbridge saw lights apparently descending into nearby Rendlesham Forest. These lights have been attributed by astronomers to a piece of natural debris seen burning up as a fireball over southern England at that time. Servicemen initially thought it was a downed aircraft but, upon entering the forest to investigate they saw, according to Halt’s memo, what they described as a glowing object, metallic in appearance, with coloured lights. As they approached, it appeared to move through the trees, and “the animals on a nearby farm went into a frenzy”. One of the servicemen, Sergeant Jim Penniston, later claimed to have encountered a “craft of unknown origin” while in the forest although there was no mention of this at the time and there is no corroboration from other witnesses.
Shortly after 4:00 am local police were called to the scene but reported that the only lights they could see were those from the Orford Ness lighthouse, some miles away on the coast.
After daybreak on the morning of 26 December, servicemen returned to a small clearing near the eastern edge of the forest and found three small impressions in a triangular pattern, as well as burn marks and broken branches on nearby trees. At 10.30 am the local police were called out again, this time to see the impressions on the ground, which they thought could have been made by an animal.
The deputy base commander Lt Col Charles Halt visited the site with several servicemen in the early hours of 28 December 1980 (reported as the 29th by Halt). They took radiation readings in the triangle of depressions and in the surrounding area using an AN/PDR-27, a standard US military radiation survey meter. The significance of the readings they obtained is disputed. Halt recorded the events on a micro-cassette recorder.
It was during this investigation that a flashing light was seen across the field to the east, almost in line with a farmhouse, as the witnesses had seen on the first night. The Orford Ness lighthouse is visible further to the east in the same line of sight.
Later, according to Halt’s memo, three star like lights were seen in the sky, two to the north and one to the south, about 10 degrees above the horizon. Halt said that the brightest of these hovered for two to three hours and seemed to beam down a stream of light from time to time. Astronomers have explained these starlike lights as bright stars.
Primary and secondary sources
The Halt memo
The first piece of primary evidence to be made available to the public was a memorandum written by the deputy base commander, Lt. Col. Charles I. Halt, to the Ministry of Defence (MoD). Known as the “Halt memo”, this was made available publicly in the United States under the US Freedom of Information Act in 1983. The memorandum (left), was dated “13 Jan 1981” and headed “Unexplained Lights“. The two-week delay between the incident and the report might account for errors in dates and times given. The memo was not classified in any way. Dr David Clarke, a consultant to the National Archives, has investigated the background to this memo and the reaction to it at the Ministry of Defence. His interviews with the personnel involved confirmed the cursory nature of the investigation made by the MoD, and failed to find any evidence for any other reports on the incident made by the USAF or UK apart from the Halt memo. Halt has since gone on record as saying he believes that he witnessed an extraterrestrial event that was then covered up.
The Halt Tape
In 1984, a copy of what became known as the “Halt Tape” was released to UFO researchers by Col Sam Morgan, who had by then succeeded Ted Conrad as Halt’s superior. This tape chronicles Halt’s investigations in the forest in real time, including taking radiation readings, the sighting of the flashing light between trees and the starlike objects that hovered and twinkled. The tape has been transcribed by researcher Ian Ridpath, who includes a link to an audio download and also a step-by-step analysis of the entire contents of the tape.