The Swedish "Ghost Rockets"
The mystery of unidentified objects seen in the sky is nothing new. Just how old it is, on the other hand, is impossible to say. The mystery that goes under the name "flying saucers" is new, at least in name and in the reactions it has caused. For centuries before 1947 strange aerial objects were seen and duly recorded as something mysterious. Today, and for at least the past 12 years, strange aerial objects are being reported in even greater number and detail.
In the "flying saucer" mystery, however, there are two major differences: (1) A more complete record has been kept of the modern reports; (2) It is no longer admitted that the objects--call them "omens in the sky" or "flying saucers" are a mystery. In short, "flying saucers" or UFOs have been pointedly ignored as unworthy of serious, scientific attention. The evidence for them has been glossed over and buried deliberately by some responsible officials, and incidentally by droves of self-appointed experts and seers.
At the close of World War II, strange fiery-looking globes of light, which came to be known as "foo-fighters," paced Allied planes both in Europe and Asia. In the daytime they often resembled silvery spheres. The Allies suspected that they belonged to the enemy. As it later turned out, the Germans and Japanese thought they belonged to the Allies. When this fact was realized, the sightings were glossed over and assumed to be caused by "something natural." These objects have never been explained. *
Thus began the modern era of UFOs. Since World War II the record of UFOs has swelled producing a mystery of gigantic proportions. A mystery consisting largely of silvery
* See Jo Chamberlin, "The Foo Fighter Mystery," American Legion, Dec. 45, p. 9
spheres and discs in daytime, and fiery globes at night. The best evidence for the "foo-fighters," however, remains locked up in the limbo of classified military documents.
In 1946 another type of UFO made its debut. Reports on these objects, concentrated in Sweden, were printed in the press. All during the summer of 1946 thousands of people in Sweden sighted the strange objects. The first impression, since the objects were mostly elongated ones, was that they "must be" German V-2 type rockets. Since the war was over and many of the reports came from the Baltic Sea area, the Russians were prime suspects. Nevertheless, the Russians vigorously denied knowledge of the missiles.
Before the "ghost rockets" disappeared as mysteriously as they had come, Swedish authorities, annoyed at the flagrant violations of their air spaces, had clamped down with stringent security measures to prevent the owners of the missiles from gaining any useful information about the progress of the flights.
The Swedish "ghost rocket" mystery in many ways parallels the later "flying saucer" mystery, and warrants careful study on that account. For at least five months the inexplicable "fireballs" or "rockets" cavorted around in Scandinavian skies causing much confusion and displeasure. Then authority spoke. Dr. Manne Siegbahn, Swedish nuclear physicist and Nobel Prize winner, said on September 17: "There is no clear evidence that any guided missiles have been flying over Sweden. I myself have examined one reported to be such a missile and found it was a meteorite. I am very suspicious about the existence of any such thing." Dr. Siegbahn went on to say that "hysteria" might have been a factor in the reports. *
Does this sound familiar? It is an example, perhaps the first in the modern UFO era, of a competent scientist passing personal judgment on something which he has not even investigated, except very superficially. Since, by his own admission, he had only examined one report, his statement amounts to nothing more than personal skepticism. In the popular view, however, "science has spoken." The scientific method, it should be made clear, does not allow one scientist's opinion based on investigation of one incident to be called a "scientific" Conclusion. The fact of the matter is that science has yet to
* New York Times; Sept. 17, 1946, p. 8
investigate UFOs, and even to recognize that UFOs are a problem. As later in the United States, the Swedish military evidenced much more concern and came to very different conclusions after a long investigation.
By July 28, the UFO situation in Sweden had induced conditions reminiscent of war-time:
Stockholm, Sweden (AP): "A limited censorship has been imposed on information concerning unidentified flying missiles --believed to be flying bombs or rockets—that have been sighted over Swedish territory in recent weeks. The authorities have banned the publication of names of localities where the missiles have been sighted and newspapers have been required to use the dateline 'Somewhere in Sweden' when writing about the subject." *
All through July and into mid-August, according to an AP wire on August 11, the flying "fireballs" were reported nearly every day. From July 9-12 alone, the Swedish military received 300 UFO reports. The objects usually flew at great height making no appreciable sound. One such flight was measured over a course of 600 miles. Some of the objects observed at lower altitudes appeared to be almost square and were red on the underside.
The latter observations raise an interesting point. Since 1947 the name "flying saucer" has been used somewhat misleadingly to describe objects of many shapes, though discs have been the most common type. When the American mystery began, the objects were initially called "saucers" and that name stuck. In Sweden it was first assumed that the UFOs were rockets similar to the German V-2. The appellation "rocket" was used initially, and it too was misleading. Though the rocket shape did seem to predominate, the "ghost rockets" were nearly as often seen as plain fireballs. At that time the rocket or cigar-shaped UFOs were something new to the observers, but they are now a well-established type.
One of the best early sightings of the "flying cigar" occurred on August 12. The night before, a swarm of the "rockets" had passed over Stockholm at about 10:00 p.m. One report described a cigar-shaped "bomb" travelling slowly at about 1, 500 feet altitude. Then the next day an unnamed astronomer made the following report:
* New York Times; July 28, p. 32.
New York Times, (Special), August 13, 1946: "I was studying some clouds through a telescope when suddenly I observed a luminous point in the sky. I first believed it to be an airplane, but soon I noticed it was traveling much too fast for that, and within two seconds I got a good view of the projectile. I managed to get a good view of the bomb's body and estimate that it was at least 90 feet long. The body was torpedo-shaped and shining like metal. No sound could be heard, although the bomb was only 2 kilometers away. At the explosion, a terrific light flashed up that for a moment completely blinded me. No fire, smoke, or sparks were noticeable. "
Note that the astronomer was observing the object while presupposing it was a bomb or explosive device. He then interpreted the bright flash of light as an explosion even though no fire or smoke resulted. There is no mention of an explosive sound, and it would be interesting to know whether one was heard. At any rate he clearly observed a "torpedo-shaped" unidentified flying object.
On the previous night, the same article reported, three of the objects had crashed and tight censorship had been invoked. The Swedish General Staff termed the situation "extremely serious." Sweden was now using radar in an effort to learn more about the objects. General James H. Doolittle, who was headed for Sweden, was rumored to be going there to inspect the radar equipment. Swedish authorities were getting fed up and were eager to get to the bottom of the mystery as soon as possible.
Then on August 13 more "rockets" were seen in Sweden and Denmark. One burst into, pieces and fell into the water narrowly missing a boat. Some Boy Scouts reported seeing one of the objects turn about 35° and then return to its original course. A night watchman in West Jutland watched a "rocket" approach from the northeast and explode with a roar and bright flash.
The same day Swedish authorities indicated that the original explanation, missiles akin to the V-2, did not seem to be correct:
"Swedish Military authorities said today they had received no tangible proof that the freak celestial phenomena observed over Sweden resulted from foreign experiments with aerial missiles." *
* Stockholm (AF), Aug. 13, 1946.
The objects had been demoted to "freak celestial phenomena."
As the mystery wore on, no explanation was forthcoming. Later in the United States officials also stated that "no authentic physical evidence...“had been found to indicate that UFOs were space ships. The alleged lack of physical evidence has been an important consideration to scientists and others in evaluating the UFO mystery. In both cases, it should be noted, the official statements were weasel-worded. Neither statement said that no physical evidence of the phenomenon in question had been found. The Swedish statement denied tangible proof of foreign missile experiments, and the later U. S. statement denied physical evidence of space ships. It is incorrect to construe these statements as denial of physical evidence of UFOs. The Swedish UFOs just could not be explained in terms of conventional devices, but that did not mean that the objects were nonexistent.
On October 11 Swedish military authorities announced that they had been unable to discover the origin or nature of the "ghost rockets" after investigating for four months. Of the 1,000 reports handled, 80 per cent could have been "celestial phenomena," they said. The radar study, however, had detected some objects "which cannot be the phenomena of nature or products of imagination, nor be referred to as Swedish airplanes." They were not, the report added, V-type German bombs either. *
Considering later official reports in other countries, this was a remarkably frank statement of the facts. While pointing out that a great many reports could not be attributed to careless or inexpert observations, the report stated explicitly that real unidentified flying objects had also been seen. In the United States the large percentage of "identified" objects often have been used to negate reports of unidentified and unidentifiable objects. The very reports which should receive serious attention, those from competent observers which resulted in "unknowns," have been treated as if they were less valuable than the bulk of inaccurate reports. Curious logic indeed, but not uncommon to officials handling UFO reports.
Five months after this announcement, on March 21, 1947, several people in southern Sweden watched a cigar-shaped metallic-appearing object move slowly across the sky from
* New York Times: Oct 11, 1946, p. 3
east to west at high altitude. Visible for a considerable time in bright daylight, the object left a smoke trail which remained long after the object itself had disappeared. * It may be that the "thing" was headed for the United States where less than four months later, the name "flying saucer" was coined as the American branch of the UFO mystery burst into print.
Both in Sweden and, later, in the United States, the investigations of UFOs centered around military sightings, in both places military security prevented the public from seeing the whole picture and hampered free and open discussion of the controversial objects. Civilian scientists of both countries either were kept ignorant of the best data or were not interested enough to examine it. The files of the Swedish Air Ministry certainly must contain many keys to what is now popularly known as the "flying saucer mystery."
The modern era of UFOs, then, can be said (arbitrarily) to have begun with the World War II reports of silvery circular objects and fiery globes. In 1946 the torpedo-shaped "rockets" and fireballs came into prominence in Scandinavia. As will be shown, silvery discs, spheres, and "torpedoes" in the daytime, and fiery globes or fireballs at night have been reported consistently ever since. Slowly but surely a solid body of careful reports from competent observers has accumulated. Inexorably the evidence continues to mount, crying out for open recognition and scientific study.
* New York Times; March 22, 1947, p. 8.