Background & History
These 1956 events have become iconic in status among UFO historians as 'the Lakenheath case' or 'the Lakenheath/Bentwaters case', one of the few incidents classified as 'unexplained' by the 1969 Colorado University UFO study commissioned by the US Air Force, which conceded that "the probability that at least one genuine UFO was involved appears to be fairly high."
But the true extent and complex nature of the events in East Anglia have never been fully revealed, and divining the truth from a mass of contradictory evidence has confounded even the most dedicated of UFO researchers.
The origin of this difficulty appears to lie in what is perhaps the central finding of this present investigation - that there was not a single clear-cut incident but a somewhat complicated situation involving different incidents at different places and times. The relation of one incident to another is not always clear. A local 'flap' was evidently underway at several East Anglian airfields around this date, and not only was the 'Lakenheath incident' a complex of events, these events were themselves embedded in a context of ongoing 'alarums and excursions'.
The area of East Anglia, England, where the 'Lakenheath' incidents occurred
The particular events with which we are concerned here occurred on the clear summer night of August 13-14, 1956. They involved numerous RAF, USAF and US Army personnel on the ground at various airfields and RAF Air Defence Operations facilities in the region of East Anglia, England, as well as the crews of RAF and USAF jets in the air.
The earliest public discussion in 1969 by Environmental Science Services Administration radar specialist Gordon David Thayer for the University of Colorado's USAF-sponsored UFO study was of necessity based on limited information addressed in limited time. The following materials were then in the public domain:
Teletype BOI-485 in compliance with Air Force Regulation 200-2, classified "SECRET - CRYPTOPRECAUTION APPLIES" from the 3910th Air Base Group, USAF Strategic Air Command, RAF Lakenheath, transmitted at 1635Z [GMT], August 16 1956, to: Headquarters Air Defence Command, Ent AFB, Colorado Springs; 7th Air Division (ADC), South Ruislip, England; Air Technical Intelligence Center (Blue Book), Wright-Patterson AFB, Dayton, Ohio; and Headquarters Air Force Intelligence, Washington D.C.
Teletype IDO 7-3351, also classified "SECRET - CRYPTOPRECAUTION APPLIES", being a retransmission of BOI-485 by 7th Air Division on August 17 to three further addressees including USAF Europe (USAFE), Wiesbaden, Germany and CINCSAC, Offut AFB, Nebraska. (Note: We now have two versions of IDO-7-3351, re-sent from Wiesbaden and CINCSAC. The Wiesbaden version is a 6-page telex timed transmitted four days later at 1115Z August 21, addressed to ATIC and Hq USAF. The recently discovered SAC version is an Information Report SAC IR-2-56 dated August 17 from HQ SAC, Offut AFB to D/I HQ USAF Washington. Both versions are truncated copies of BOI-485 omitting material from sentence three of para.9 onwards.)
Air Intelligence Information Report IR-1-56, unclassified, sent August 31 1956 from the 81st Fighter Bomber Wing, USAF, RAF Bentwaters, to: Hq USAFE, New York; Hq 3rd Air Force, New York.
Letter from T/Sergeant Forrest D. Perkins, USAF (retired), formerly Radar Air Traffic Control Centre (RATCC) Watch Supervisor at RAF Lakenheath in August 1956, to: UFO Project, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, received February 13 1968.
The ATC supervisor's letter to the Colorado University project was the first public disclosure, and only months later were the 12-year-old intelligence documents finally recovered from USAF files. These documents were found to support Perkins' detailed testimony in every substantial respect.
Both sources agreed that USAF radar personnel at RAF Lakenheath, a US-tenanted nuclear bomber base in Suffolk - had been alerted to look out for a high-speed radar target which was seen visually from the ground and from the air; that Lakenheath radars subsequently tracked an unknown high-speed target which at times hovered and performed sudden turns at extreme acceleration; that an RAF jet had been vectored to intercept and had acquired AI (air intercept) radar contact with the target; and that radar personnel on the ground at Lakenheath had observed the "UFO" manoeuvre rapidly behind the interceptor and begin a tail chase during which it followed all manoeuvres of the fighter.
The prima facie cohesion of the account thus revealed provoked considerable debate among researchers of different persuasions during the next several years, but made little impact outside the essentially self-contained world of UFO literature even though an occasional brief caricature did escape into the general press. More considered appraisals appeared in specialist journals such as the organ of the American Institute of Astronautics & Aeronautics, in 1971 [Thayer 1971], and the proceedings of an American Association for the Advancement of Science symposium published by Cornell University Press the following year [McDonald 1972]. But the amount of first-hand information available was still frustratingly limited, leaving a good deal of room for guess work.
Then in 1978 a retired RAF Chief Fighter Controller responded with surprise to UK press publicity about an incident which he had for 22 years regarded as an official secret. Curious as to how the story by popular-astronomy writer Ian Ridpath in the London Sunday Times had now emerged, he wrote a letter to the editor lamenting the "garbled" reportage and explaining his facility's central role in controlling the attempted interception of the Lakenheath "object" in 1956 - contrary to the belief of US personnel that the fighter had been under US control.
As the full story later emerged this issue became the source of some confusion. Did the RAF Controller's story support the USAF evidence or contradict it? Who had controlled the interception, and why was there any dispute? Nevertheless he confirmed that RAF Neatishead's Ground Controlled Interception radars had also detected an unconventionally-moving target near Lakenheath that night and that RAF radar personnel, including himself, had watched it evade a jet interceptor.
Given the lapse of time and patchy contemporary documentation - in particular, the absence of first-hand information from the aircrew involved - it is not surprising that numerous questions raised by these sources remained without clear answers. Then in 1995 an unexpected breakthrough occurred with the chance discovery of two RAF aircrews who had been scrambled after a UFO over Lakenheath that night. For a time it seemed that the missing key piece of the puzzle had been found and that a clear resolution of the matter was in sight. But in a very real sense this is the point at which our investigation begins, for these aircrews turned out to be the first of several.
As members of the Lakenheath Collaboration pursued these and other leads, and as further documentary and witness sources came to light, the picture seemed to become ever more complicated and the attempt to complete the puzzle grew at the same time more fascinating and more frustrating.
There are a great many pieces of this puzzle. Many are new and are presented here for the first time, including eyewitness reports and official documents. But of the original records compiled by RAF radar personnel at the time, nothing remains. In assessing this fact an appreciation of the history of official 'UFO' reporting in the UK is essential. Two important essays, The MoD and UFOs: a short history and background and The Fate of British MoD Records, by Dr. David Clarke, provide this context from the point of view of Whitehall policy and practice. More detail on tracking down surviving information at the level of operational units is given in Royal Air Force Unit Records. An attempt to reassemble the sequence of events as they have become known to us over the years is available from the 'Reconstruction' button on every page, providing a common thread for exploration of the site. A range of further individual 'Opinion' pieces, interlinked commentaries and in-depth analyses is accessible from here (these are not listed in the Document Archive index; a complete file directory is given separately in the Page Index); but these are offered as informed guidance only and in no case represent a corporate opinion of the Collaboration.
So, what did happen around RAF Lakenheath on that night in August 1956? More than anyone might previously have guessed! But whether or not a wholly intelligible scenario emerges at the end of this investigation - indeed, whether or not an 'end' of any sort can ever be a realistic goal in an historical mystery - is a matter of opinion. There are five members of the Collaboration, and it is safe to say that at the present time there are at least five different views of what the evidence represents! The Lakenheath Collaboration Document Archive is intended to allow researchers to form their own conclusions.
The website is the product of three years work by the Lakenheath Collaboration - a team of British researchers that includes Martin Shough, David Clarke, Paul Fuller, Andy Roberts and Jenny Randles.
Building upon new testimony unearthed by Jenny, since 2000 extensive fieldwork by Clarke and Roberts has uncovered a host of new testimony and documentary evidence. Shough, the author of a detailed analysis of the case published in 1987, has compiled the existing and new material presented on the website.
Our front page opens with a surprise - a photograph dated 1955/56 showing the control console in the tower at RAF Bentwaters complete with UFO graffiti.
Follow the links into the body of the Lakenheath/Bentwaters/Neatishead incident of 13/14 August 1956. No user is likely to be able to touch all areas of the site in a single visit. If you get lost you can always navigate back by using the Archive Index button (or the comprehensive Page Index accessible from there).
The Collaboration have gathered together all the available evidence, including new material relating to the RAF's response to the incident that has slowly emerged since 1996. We make no apologies for the complexity of the intertwined issues addressed here - it is the nature of the beast! Also, please remember that the site remains under construction, with further documents (including several that are the subject of FOIA requests) to be added in the near future. It is an open-ended project.
The re-investigation did not set out to debunk the case, but rather to look closer at what might have happened, with surprising results for both 'believers' and 'skeptics.' We present the evidence and take care to separate facts from speculation. We provide no resolution, as it emerges that Lakenheath-Bentwaters is a far more complex and multi-layered mystery than was ever suspected in 1969.
The site contains more than 270 text and image
files, including, in addition to the original USAF intelligence
reports and other Project Blue Book official documents:
22 new official British Royal Air Force and Ministry of Defence documents;
36 new interview transcripts and statements from pilots, ground personnel and operations staff;
23 web-pages of in-depth commentary and analysis, fully interlinked;
14 pages of meteorological data, with detailed tables, charts and analysis;
14 pages of detailed radar and avionics specifications . . .
plus dozens of archived letters between investigators and principal witnesses between 1975 and 2001, and much more, with numerous links and bibliographical references to research material.
We are agreed that the puzzle of what was seen on the radar screens and in the East Anglian skies in 1956 is embedded in a human, political and military-historical puzzle every bit as fascinating, and almost as inscrutable. We hope that our attempt to illuminate this intricate enigma will be useful on several different levels, historical, investigative and scientific. All five contributors, despite having differing approaches and opinions, agree this is an instructive case and its re-investigation has brought to light information that not only overturns all previous accounts, but provides the sort of data that scientists claim has been previously lacking in the field of UFOlogy.
The Lakenheath Collaboration would be pleased to receive your comments, criticisms and contributions to what we hope will be a on-going peer review process of our evolving case file.
In addition to individuals and sources cited in the Archive index or References, the Lakenheath Collaboration would like to particularly acknowledge the following organisations and individuals for help and permissions at various stages of this enquiry:
The Ministry of Defence; the Public Record Office; HMSO; the Meteorological Office; the RAF Museum, Hendon (the late Frederick Flower & Peter Elliott, Senior Keeper, Department of Research & Information Services); RAF Air Defence Museum; American Philosophical Society; Military Officers Association of America; Jan Aldrich & Project 1947; Bruce T. Neale, Consultant, and Marconi Radar Systems Ltd; Dr. David Atlas; Dick Barrett & RadarPages; Gene Mcmanus & Radomes Inc., The Air Defense Radar Veterans' Association; Army Military History Institute; Air Force Historical Research Agency; Andreas Parsch & designation-systems.net; Nike Preservation Group - Tom Vaughn, John Braun, Col. William J. Lawrence, & Ed Thelen; Rod & Kate Ploessl, Army Insignia Homepage; Stan Friedman; Phil Klass; G. David Thayer; John Brady; David Chambers; Ivan Logan; Ian Fraser-Ker; Grahame Scofield; Les Arthur; F.H.C.Wimbledon; Forrest Perkins
Crown copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queens Printer for Scotland. Met Office Crown copyright material is reproduced under Licence Number MetO/IPR/2/2002 0050
Constructive opinions, offers of information, corrections of errors, enquiries or other communications are welcome at the various contact addresses below.
Dr. David Clarke, Paul Fuller, Jenny Randles, Andy Roberts, Martin Shough