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  • Writer's pictureJ.P. Robinson

Before Rendlesham: The Bentwaters-Lakenheath UFO Incident

For a detailed overview of the UFO/ET situation read The Alien Enigma by JP Robinson.

RAF Bentwaters will always be synonymous with the Rendlesham Forest Incident of 1980, often dubbed as 'Britain's Roswell', but the following 1956 sighting reported in the predominantly 'phony' Condon Report of 1969 reveals that UFOs had already been officially reported over the Air Force base nearly 25 years earlier.

Undoubtedly one of the most important UFO events in both the Blue Book files and the Condon Report, the Bentwaters/Lakenheath UFO Incident which was a nighttime case occurring near both bases in east-central England between 13-14 August, 1956 impressed Dr. James E. McDonald and Dr. J. Allen Hynek, and was also significant enough to catch the eye of the Condon Committee just over a decade later.

The initial reports centred around RAF Bentwaters, located near the coast about six miles east of Ipswich, while much of the subsequent action took place some 20 miles northeast of Cambridge, around Lakenheath RAF Station.

Dr. James E. McDonald wrote, 'This "Lakenheath case" was not known outside of USAF circles prior to publication of the Condon Report. None of the names of military personnel involved are given in the Condon Report. (Witness names, dates, and locales are deleted from all of the main group of cases in that report, seriously impeding independent scientific check of case materials.) I secured copies of the case-file from Bluebook, but all names of military personnel involved in the incident were cut out of the Xerox copies prior to releasing the material to me.'

'The Condon Report, although disposed to suspicion that perhaps some sort of anomalous radar propagation might be involved, does concede that Lakenheath is an unexplained case. Indeed, the Report ends its discussion with the quite curious admission that, in the Lakenheath episode, '...the probability that at least one genuine UFO was involved appears to be fairly high',' said McDonald.

The first radar sighting of a UFO occurred at 21:30, followed by the second radar sighting between 21:30 and 21:55. In the report to Bluebook, the Technical Sergeant (name omitted from report) revealed that "these objects appeared as normal targets on the GCA scope and that normal checks made to determine possible malfunctions of the GCA radar failed to indicate anything was technically wrong."

Ranging between 80 and 125 mph, the dozen or so unknown flying objects were moving together towards the northeast and "the 12 to 15 unidentified objects were preceded by 3 objects which were in a triangular formation with an estimated 1000 feet separating each object in this formation." The official report states that the dozen objects to the rear "were scattered behind the lead formation of 3 at irregular intervals with the whole group simultaneously covering a 6 to 7 mile area".

21:55 - Extremely high speed radar-visual approximately 18,000 mph E-W radar track a brilliant white light which from about 30 miles E to 30 miles W passed directly over the radar site and "streaked under" C-47 at 4,000 ft near base. Radar confirmed the anomaly to be at an extremely low altitude, roughly 2,000 ft, which was also estimated by ground visual observers.

Third radar sighting happened at 22:00 when the T/Sgt detected an unidentified target about 30 miles east of the Bentwaters GCA station and tracked it in rapid westward motion to a point about 25 miles west of the station. According to the T/Sgt it was then that the object "suddenly disappeared off the radar screen by rapidly moving out of the GCS radiation pattern" .

23:00 to 00:30 - Radar-visual of hovering-darting objects that outmanoeuvred a Venom NF-3 jet interceptor began just after midnight followed later by attempted intercepts at around 2-3 a.m. which were unsuccessful.

USAF ground observers at RAF Lakenheath reportedly observed a luminous object come in on a southwesterly heading, stop, and then move off out of sight to the east, followed by the sighting of two moving white lights where "ground observers stated one white light joined up with another and both disappeared in formation together".

No discernible features on the UFOs were sighted by the ground observers but both the radar operators and the ground observers concurred in their reported descriptions that "the objects (were) travelling at terrific speeds and then stopping and changing course immediately."

McDonald stated, 'the fact that radar and ground visual observations were made on its rapid acceleration and abrupt stops certainly lend credulence (sic) to the report.

The incident saw another intercept mission where the pilots who faced an 'unknown form of reality' were very frightened by the nocturnal encounters. Flying a Venom, the pilot on this occasion tried numerous evasive manoeuvres but was unable to lose the UFO which radar continuously tracked as 'a distinct echo behind the aircraft echo' implying that the distance between the two was greater than about 500 ft. According to the Bluebook report, 'Pilot advised he was unable to 'shake' the target off his tail and requested assistance.'

Lakenheath then ordered a second Venom to tail the unknown object but before he got close enough he began experiencing engine malfunction and returned to base. The following conversation was monitored by the Lakenheath watch supervisor between the two Venom pilots:

Number 2: "Did you see anything? "

Number 1: "I saw something, but I'll be damned if I know what it was."

Number 2: "What happened?"

Number 1: "He - or it - got behind me and I did everything I could to get behind him and I couldn't. It's the damnedest thing I've ever seen."

The pilot of Venom Number 1 also stated that "there was something there that was solid" as he had radar gun lock for several seconds before he lost contact.

Below is the Bentwaters/Lakenheath Incident from the Condon Report in its entirety:

'The Condon Report Case 2. Lakenheath, England 13-14 August 1956

The Condon Report: 2230-0330 LST. Weather: generally clear until 0300 LST on the 14th. (For details see Section IV.)

The probability that anomalous propagation of radar signals may have been involved in this case seems to be small. One or two details are suggestive of AP, particularly the reported disappearance of the first track as the UFO appeared to over fly the Bentwaters GCA radar. Against this must be weighed the Lakenheath controller's statement that there was "little or no traffic or targets on scope," which is not at all suggestive of AP conditions, and the behaviour of the target near Lakenheath -apparently continuous and easily tracked. The "tailing" of the RAF fighter, taken alone, seems to indicate a possible ghost image, but this does not jibe with the report that the UFO stopped following the fighter, as the latter was returning to its base, and went off in a different direction. The radar operators were apparently careful to calculate the speed of the UFO from distances and elapsed times, and the speeds were reported as consistent from run to run, between stationary episodes. This behaviour would be somewhat consistent with reflections from moving atmospheric layers -- but not in so many different directions.

Visual mirage at Bentwaters seems to be out of the question because of the combined ground and airborne observations; the C47 pilot apparently saw the UFO below him. The visual objects do not seem to have been meteors; statements by the observers that meteors were numerous imply that they were able to differentiate the UFO from the meteors.

In summary, this is the most puzzling and unusual case in the radar-visual files. The apparently rational, intelligent behaviour of the UFO suggests a mechanical device of unknown origin as the most probable explanation of this sighting. However, in view of the inevitable fallibility of witnesses, more conventional explanations of this report cannot be entirely ruled out.'

This 1956 account is extremely revealing as it highlights that intelligently operated flying machines are visiting sites housing nuclear weaponry, and as the 1980 Rendlesham Forest Incident later showed, UFOs over Bentwaters and the other RAF bases have played host to a number of UFOs over the years. Such evidence suggests a solid connection between nuclear activity and UFO sightings as I discuss in an earlier post 'Atomic Interception'.

This particular case is of paramount importance because of the reliability of the RAF officials involved. As Gordon D. Thayer wrote, 'Taking into consideration the high credibility of information and the cohesiveness and continuity of accounts, combined with a high degree of "strangeness," it is also certainly one of the most disturbing UFO incidents known today.'


The Alien Enigma, JP Robinson

The Condon Report


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