Jul 27, 2022 I Nick Redfern

John Keel and the Japanese Connection to the Roswell "UFO Crash"

It's an undeniable fact that if you bring up the name of John A. Keel to people, they will almost certainly focus on his classic book, The Mothman Prophecies. Of course, though, Keel wrote a good body of books, including Jadoo, UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse, and The Eighth Tower. They were all groundbreaking, albeit in very different ways. It's not well known, however, that Keel - in the late 1980s and the early 1990s - went looking for the truth of the Roswell incident of early July 1947. And, as for Keel, the truth had nothing to do with aliens, Flying Saucers or UFOs. Indeed, over the years, there has been a small amount of Roswell-related debate on John Keel’s assertion that what came down at the Foster Ranch, New Mexico in July 1947 was a modified Japanese Fugo balloon - they were balloons that carried bombs and were designed to reach the United States and to provoke disaster, death, fear and anxiety. But, Keel focused on what we could call "next-generation" Fugos. In fact, Keel, strongly suspected that at least some of the Fugos had crews. You can probably see where I'm going with all of this, already.

(Nick Redfern) John Keel: The man who brought the Mothman to the world...and a Japanese theory on Roswell, too

In 1990, Keel outlined his theories that the Roswell wreckage came from a Japanese Fugo balloon - possibly a much bigger type that had a Japanese crew . He did so in the pages of Fate, a still-popular magazine on the paranormal that has existed for decades. In Keel’s own words, and in relation to the post-Second World War era, we have this: “A curtain of secrecy continued to shield the unwary public from the explosive balloons in their midst. The biggest breach of this security occurred in July 1947, at the height of the first ‘flying saucer scare’ when, after a severe storm, the remains of one of the balloons was found on a ranch in Lincoln County, New Mexico. Local newspapers described the find, and the wire services picked up the story. Later, military authorities carted away the materials and announced it was nothing but a ‘weather balloon.’ Obviously, they were determined to keep the existence of the Fugo balloons a secret two years after the war. In fact, few knew about the Fugo project until the 1950s, when a small Japanese booklet on the subject was published.”

The Fugo balloons were, potentially at least, highly dangerous. The bombs they carried did, very unfortunately, result in loss of life in the United States, albeit only on one occasion, in Oregon in May 1945. But, the balloons were flimsy and they were certainly not capable of carrying a human crew. Keel, however, was most definitely onto something when it came to the matter of Japanese balloons. In the post-war period the U.S. military acquired top secret plans for new, massive balloons that the Japanese were building before Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed, and it was these specific balloons that are part and parcel of the story that this article tells. In fact, the people I interviewed for my Body Snatchers in the Desert book said that some of the secret 1947 flights involved gliders held aloft below massive balloon arrays. They were based on Japanese designs for what was specifically described as atter-day Fugos. But, most certainly, they were not the far smaller, less advanced designs that were used to attack the United States during the latter stages of the Second World War. There is, however, yet another aspect of Keel’s work that definitely needs highlighting, as we shall now see.

In 1993, Keel was once again hot on the trail of Roswell’s Japanese balloon. This time, however, his focus was on manned balloons. From 1990 to 1993, there was a deep and ongoing debate on the Roswell / Fugo matter in the pages of Fate magazine, with comments, observations and articles from the likes of Keel himself and Roswell authority, Kevin Randle. There is something I find very intriguing about this particular matter. Many of the people who, over the years, have commented on Keel’s Fugo theory failed to note - or didn’t even comment on the fact - that he also talked about uncovering data on Japanese balloons with crews that, allegedly, reached the U.S. in the closing stages of the war, and which - his sources said - were subject to stringent U.S. military secrecy. By crews, I mean people. In April 1993, in an article titled “Return of the Fugos,” Keel revealed that in the wake of the publicity given to his original “Roswell was a Fugo balloon” theory, he was contacted by three people who had an intriguing story to relate of certain things that occurred to them back in the 1940s, specifically in the California desert. These same things - which took place at some point in early 1945 – concerned the sighting by all three of a low-flying balloon that had a gondola attached below it, and which, said one of the trio of witnesses, contained people. Japanese people. Pilots.

(Nick Redfern) The Japanese edition of my 2005 book, Body Snatchers in the Desert

As the balloon came closer, said Keel, the “creature” could now be seen as “a very small man wearing some kind of headgear, probably radio headphones. The poor fellow was clearly agitated…He appeared to be Oriental.” The balloon then disappeared over the horizon. No sooner as it had done so, when a couple of U.S. military jeeps quickly appeared on the scene, heading in the direction of the balloon. A few minutes later, the ominous sounds of gunshots rang out. Realizing that the group of three friends had seen or heard pretty much all that had taken place, the military returned and sternly warned them not to say anything about what they had experienced - to anybody at all. They might as well have added “or else,” just to make sure the threat had left its mark. Keel himself commented on this matter - of secret Japanese balloon-based flights to the U.S. undertaken in the latter stages of the Second World War with people on-board - as follows: “If such a project was launched, they would have selected the smallest, lightest volunteers available...It is also likely they might have expired during the trip...their complexions would have been very odd, discolored by the cold…”

He concluded on this matter: “If even one such volunteer balloonist attempted the trip and crashed, we would have the answer to all those rumors and legends which persist to this day.” On this same issue, and as I noted in my earlier book on Roswell, my sources alluded to the fact that as well as hearing of the secret, domestic projects of the U.S. military which occurred in 1947, they too had heard rumors of a few examples of manned, balloon-based flights to the U.S. by Japanese military personnel in the latter part of the Second World War. They were flights which ended catastrophically for the crews, who did not survive the flights, for a variety of reasons, but chiefly as a result of altitude, weather and the rigors involved in undertaking such dicey, long missions. So, we have a highly complex situation in which, just before the power of the atom brought the Second World War to a shuddering end, Japanese military personnel were making clandestine flights in large balloons to the United States – for what were clearly nefarious purposes. And we have another situation in which, just two years later, the U.S. military made use of very similar Japanese balloon-based technology, and Japanese personnel, for its own purposes. Both angles were subjected to intense secrecy, as one would imagine. 

In the war, the secrecy existed so that the American public and the media would not learn that the Japanese – to an extremely limited, small degree – had made it to the United States in large balloons. Morale had to be carefully and diligently maintained. Telling the American people that the Japanese had reached the U.S. mainland –in balloons, no less - would definitely not have been a good thing. In 1947, however, the secrecy existed to prevent the same public and media from finding out that just a couple of years after the war was over, Japan and the U.S. were in cahoots of a very controversial kind. A few more words from Keel, who said that the reports of Japanese balloons, and particularly those with crews, “…would explain many other things, too, such as the persistent rumors in the 1940s about the bodies of small, Oriental-looking men in flight suits that were supposedly recovered in various western states.” 

In terms of those same “persistent rumors” to which he referred, Keel, was, of course, talking about tales coming out of the American southwest of dead, aliens and wrecked flying saucers. Roswell being the premier persistent rumor, with the alleged Aztec UFO crash dutifully trailing behind – as it always has done to its “big brother.” In pursuing the Japanese balloon angle, John Keel probably came closer than many realized to the truth of the Roswell-Japan connection. Probably closer than even Keel, himself, ever quite realized. Keel’s mistake was not that he chose to chase down the Japanese trail: he certainly got the right country. There was a Japanese attachment to Roswell.

Keel’s mistake was that he got the wrong Japanese balloon. Keel diligently went after the flimsy wartime Japanese Fugos, when he should have really been looking for the much bigger, and far sturdier, Japanese-originated balloons that had crews. They were the ones that were secretly tested in New Mexico in the summer of 1947, and which may also have been responsible for a handful of penetrations of the United States by the Japanese military in 1945, just before the war ended. Keel’s work was – and remains – an important part of the story you are reading right now. As I have said many times, there definitely was a connection between Roswell, Japan, high-altitude experiments, post-Fugo balloons brought to the United States and much more. Keel was on the correct way, but he just didn't quite get all the connections.

Nick Redfern

Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.

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