The Rendlesham Forest UFO Incident: A Brilliant Meteorite, an Alien Spacecraft from Another World, or Perhaps Something Else?

The Rendlesham Forest UFO incident (December 26, 1980), for the spectacularness of the claims surrounding it, its witnesses, and for the documentary evidence accompanying it, has been called “Britain’s Roswell.” It is England’s most famous alleged UFO sighting. With regards to the Rendlesham Forest incident, the above is one of the chief primary source documents concerning the matter, and is known as the “Halt memo.” It was written just three weeks after the incident. Here’s what Wikipedia says about this document:

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.

One thing interesting about this memo is that it was not marked as “Classified.” In other words, if the U.S. government is concertedly covering up UFO sightings, it missed a significant opportunity to keep a very telling primary source document out of the public domain. In any event, Col. Halt also actually recorded (on audio cassette) his survey of the scene immediately after the UFO was allegedly witnessed rising from the forest floor, and this primary source recording is known as the “Halt tape.” You can listen to the Halt tape here. The taped recording is about 17 minutes long. A transcript of the recording can be read at Ian Ridpath’s website here. Ridpath, by the way, is a skeptic with regard to the incident. He doesn’t think that what was witnessed by American servicemen was a spacecraft of any sort. Ridpath thinks that the UFO incident and the subsequent forest search was triggered by a “fireball” (an especially brilliant meteorite). He offers this YouTube as an example of the phenomenon. Note that the meteor appears to “crash” nearby (in spite of the fact that it may be many miles away):

Still, the testimony of people like James Penniston, in its vividness, seems difficult to square with a large meteor theory:

James Penniston’s testimony strikes me as an honest recounting of his experience, but Ridpath suggests that he’s wildly embellishing:

The only witness to claim he saw a mechanical object was Penniston. The others have only ever described seeing lights. During the incident, Penniston estimated that he got no closer than about 50 metres to the object and that every time he tried to approach it, it moved ahead of him. This was relayed at the time by radio to his supervisor, Master Sergeant Chandler, who confirms it in his own statement. There was no mention at the time of the much closer and extended encounter that Penniston has since claimed.

Penniston may well be embellishing. Who can say? People exaggerate for lots of reasons. Below is a transcript of the “Halt memo” shown above. It seems to me consistent with both Penniston’s account and Ridpath’s theory that Penniston was being tricked into chasing distant lights taken to be nearby. However, the noise from animals (probably deer and not farm animals) suggests something nearby: 

1.  Early in the morning of 27 Dec 80 (approximately 0300L) two USAF security police patrolmen saw unusual lights outside the back gate at RAF Woodbridge. Thinking an aircraft might have crashed or been forced down, they called for permission to go outside the gate to investigate. The on-duty flight chief responded and allowed three patrolmen to proceed on foot. The individuals reported seeing a strange glowing object in the forest. The object was described as being metallic in appearance and triangular in shape, approximately two to three meters across the base and approximately two meters high. It illuminated the entire forest with a white light. The object itself had a pulsing red light on top and a bank(s) of blue lights underneath. The object was hovering or on legs. As the patrolmen approached the object, it maneuvered through the trees and disappeared. At this time the animals on a nearby farm went into a frenzy. The object was briefly sighted approximately an hour later near the back gate.

2.  The next day, three depressions 1.5 inches deep and 7 inches in diameter were found where the object had been sighted on the ground. The following night (29 Dec 80) the area was checked for radiation. Beta/gamma readings of 0.1 milliroentgens were recorded with peak readings in the three depressions and near the center of the triangle formed by the depressions. A nearby tree had moderate (0.05–0.07) readings on the side of the tree toward the depressions.

3.  Later in the night a red sun-like light was seen through the trees. It moved about and pulsed. At one point it appeared to throw off glowing particles and then broke into five separate white objects and then disappeared. Immediately thereafter, three star-like objects were noticed in the sky, two objects to the north and one to the south, all of which were about 10 degrees off the horizon. The objects moved rapidly in sharp, angular movements and displayed red, green and blue lights. The objects to the north appeared to be elliptical through an 8-12 power lens. They then turned to full circles. The objects to the north remained in the sky for an hour or more. The object to the south was visible for two or three hours and beamed down a stream of light from time to time. Numerous individuals, including the undersigned, witnessed the activities in paragraphs 2 and 3.

Charles I. Halt, Lt Col, USAF
Deputy Base Commander

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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4 Responses to The Rendlesham Forest UFO Incident: A Brilliant Meteorite, an Alien Spacecraft from Another World, or Perhaps Something Else?

  1. Patrick says:

    It happened. I know the guys are telling the truth. Something extraordinary happened to them that night and to be honest I think the fault lies in all the people who swear blind that this could not have happened and will tell you anything else happened that night except what the people involved say happened. I mean thats the way it is. Everybody says, that what these guys say happened, didnt really happen, and then they try and go on and say what THEY think probably happened, and then they go on to say all this complete crap about lighthouses, and all the other bullshit. Nver mind the fact that they werent there.Its the same as saying-I dont believe that it happened because my mind will not allow me to believe these men, when they say what happened. Its such bullshit. This has gone on for far too long and we, the public should be told the truth about this matter. We ARE being lied to by the powers that be. Its the only thing that makes sense. If we were to learn about who this intelligence really is thats visiting us, I think a lot of other unanswered questions about ourselves as homosapiens and our origins would start to make sense.I think a whole load of unanswered questions would be answered. I think this intelligence is something other than aliens by definition. I dont think the answer is as straight forward as that.

  2. Patrick says:

    I really hate when we see the witnesses appear on a t.v program to tell their story, and then a sceptic comes on to say, well it was the russian cosmos satellite etc. These people come on to tell what happened to them. They dont go on the program to debate whether extraterrestrial life exists or not, they are there to tell WHAT HAPPENED TO THEM. Of course the sceptic thinks thats not the case. They think they are there to debate an issue. Its like if a woman appeared on t.v telling her story about how she was walking home one night and got raped and shes relating the story, how it all happened etc, to the interviewer. Well, you dont get a sceptic on the show to say “well maybe she imagined it” or ” Maybe it was the lighthouse” just because no body was arrested and the police didnt catch the guy that raped the woman. U.F.O cases like the Rendlesham Forest Incident are treated absurdly by the media. We know for a fact that the event really happened yet the media, instead of letting the witnesses have their say, have to go and bring on a sceptic who for one wasnt even there, didnt even research the case, nevermind the fact that there are over forty witnesses who WERE there. Thats forty people who saw something happen against one man who says nothing happened and who wasnt even there. The show descends into a pointless debate on whether it is possible that aliens could be here observing earth in a covert fashion, which by the way is not at all impossible. Meanwhile, the military, the ones who should be speaking up for their men but who end up hanging them out to dry gets to slink off into the background knowing full well they can claim plausable deniability till the cows come home.

  3. santitafarella says:


    Your overconfidence about what happened is off putting. You don’t know either. You weren’t there. People who have not been present for a sighting should be skeptical of claims, and people should also exercise skepticism towards alternative theories as to what might have happened.

    Don’t you agree that critical inquiry and skepticism should be of the highest importance when investigating claims—or do you wish to turn UFO belief into a religious faith?


    • Patrick says:

      Santitafarella, you have missed the point of my argument entirely. What I am saying is that this subject need to be properly treated, with a proper investigation of the highest caliber. It is not being properly treated at all. The witnesses have not been properly treated either, by their country, by the skeptics, and by the public who they signed up to protect. These witnesses, are also people of the highest caliber you could wish to have. It is vital we know the answer as far as this subject is concerned. What I am trying to say is that the medias set up, of, “believer” vs skeptic, debating it out on a t.v show, is not the proper way this subject should be treated. That is not a valid way of getting to the bottom of any subject. Its a trivial way of treating any subject.
      As far as trying to turn u.f.o belief into a religion, well the same could be said of the skeptics, who have done a good enough job of turning skepticism into a religion also. Personally speaking, evidence, and testimony is what does it for me, and theres more than enough of both in this case to warrant a full investigation.

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