Sep 17, 2022 I Nick Redfern

The Rendlesham Forest "UFO" Affair - How the Story Came Tumbling Out of Secrecy

Most people know of the famous "UFO landing" in Rendlesham Forest, England in the final days of December 1980. It's kind of like the Roswell affair and the Betty and Barney Hill case. In other words: it's mega-sized and never goes away. However, while a lot of people know of the case, I've come to see that many others don't know how the story came to be revealed and put into the public domain. It is, indeed, a most fascinating story. In the final days of December 1980 multiple, strange encounters and wild incidents occurred in the depths of Rendlesham Forest, Suffolk, England. And across a period of three nights, no less. Based upon their personal encounters, many of those who were present believed that something almost unbelievable came down in the near-pitch-black woods on the night of December 26. Lives were altered forever – and for the most part not for the better, I need to stress. Many of those who were present on those fantastic nights found their minds dazzled, tossed and turned – and incredibly quickly, too. Those incidents involved American military personnel who, at the time it all happened, were stationed in the United Kingdom. Their primary role was to provide significant support in the event that the Soviet Union (as it was then) decided to flex its muscles just a little bit too much – or, worse still, planned on hitting the proverbial red button and ending civilization in hours. Maybe, even in minutes. 

Reportedly, those U.S. personnel who were in the area and helped to protect the U.K., came face to face with something much stranger than the likes of a crashed Soviet satellite, a secret Stealth-type plane that malfunctioned and went off-course, or something similar to today’s drones – all of which have been suggested as potential candidates for whatever it was that landed more than four decades ago. Some, though, are absolutely certain that unearthly entities were encountered: aliens from another world, no less. It’s fair to say that when it comes to UFOs, Rendlesham Forest is right up there. It’s no wonder, at all, that the case has become known as “Britain’s Roswell.” Not because anything actually crashed in the forest – it was described as being much more like a touch-down – but because of the widespread visibility and notoriety that surrounds the case.

(Nick Redfern) This photo represents my view on the Rendlesham incident.

The December 1980 encounters have been the subjects of countless prime-time television documentaries on both sides of the pond, and of more than a few books, too. One of my books, too. As an aside, now there are numerous books on the case. Mostly, the authors behind those same books take the view that extraterrestrials really did come down in picturesque Suffolk – and not on just one occasion. More than a few of the military personnel involved have come forward to tell their stories of what happened. Some of them are sure they had encounters with extraterrestrials. For them, no other answer can be considered. What if, however, there is another explanation for what happened four decades ago? And what if that explanation, if revealed, would prove to be even more controversial than the notion that extraterrestrials really manifested within our very midst? The ramifications for the field of Ufology could be – and likely will be - immense. 

The questions get even more inflammatory: were U.S. Air Force personnel subjected to mind-bending technology of a terrestrial – rather than of an extraterrestrial – nature? Was the whole thing really a series of top secret experiments of American intelligence, U.K. intelligence, scientists and military agencies? Was the entire, wretched thing initiated to see how – and to what extent – the minds of targeted individuals could be manipulated and to the point where the witnesses would believe just about anything? Even to the point of convincing some of them airmen that aliens had appeared and, maybe, even communicated with us? Yes. Were human-rights waved away for reasons relative to national security? Without doubt. Did both the U.S. and the U.K. governments engage in high-level cover-ups and conspiracies to hide the bizarre and frightening truth behind the legend? Maybe. With that said, let's now see how the story came tumbling out.

On the issue of how Ufology learned of the story, there’s no doubt at all that it was the team of Brenda Butler, Dot Street and Jenny Randles that got the ball rolling. They were the authors of the very first book on the mystery, Sky Crash: A Cosmic Conspiracy, which was published in 1984. There is also no doubt that without their combined investigations, our knowledge of the incidents would be nowhere compared to where we are today. Possibly, even, without those three persistent investigators the truth behind those incidents would have remained totally hidden and locked away. Forever? I would not bet against it. That gives you some idea of the depth and determination of Dot, Jenny and Brenda to get the answers of what really happened in those Suffolk woods.

 How about a bit of background for you on how the story began to surface? I'll share it with you: Luckily, Brenda lived not at all far from the forest and had more than a few contacts in the region, which was a very good thing. Notably, that included friends who were employees of the U.S. military in the area. It wasn’t one hundred percent inevitable that Brenda would hear tales of something strange having taken place just outside the confines of RAF Woodbridge. It was, however, highly likely that such a thing would eventually occur. And as the history books have shown, such a thing most assuredly did occur. Dot and Brenda were friends and decided to take a deep and careful look at the potentially sensational story. Jenny Randles - a long-time ufologist - joined their team soon after, in early 1981. The three were soon hot on the trail of the story – and barely a month after Lieutenant Colonel Halt had put his memo together for the U.K.’s Ministry of Defense. And, the three never looked back. It was a story that suggested, just maybe, a spacecraft from a faraway world had come down in the woods. In the world of Ufology, this was a development that could not have been envisaged just a short period earlier. But, such a development did happen. Now, moving on...

One of the key sources for the story who the three women relied on - and whose unforgettable words galvanized the trio to look ever deeper into the story - was the pseudonymous “Steve Roberts.” Such was the sensitivity surrounding the man and his story, he was careful to mask his real name. A lot of water has gone under the bridge since the very early part of 1981, however. Today, we know so much more. That includes the real name of that prime, early source. Gary Heseltine is a former Royal Air Force Police officer who went on to have a twenty-four-year-long career with the British Transport Police, serving the majority of the time as a detective. Heseltine, who has spent a large amount of time studying what happened in Rendlesham Forest, says: “Surprisingly to this day, many people don’t realize that the mysterious ‘Steve Roberts witness’ has been identified for many years as J. D. Ingles. Ingles was on the base at the time of the incident, a Sergeant in the Reports and Analysis section of the 81st Security Police Squadron.” The story continues:

(U.S. Government) One of the many documents that played a role in the Rendlesham Forest incident.

The document was put together by the U.S. Government. That makes it in the public domain.

It was, to a large degree, the words of their source that caught the attention of Street, Butler and Randles. They did a very good, solid job of pursuing the story. As a result, a book was soon published. Even now, a few decades later, Sky Crash still makes for fascinating reading. Shadowy characters, Ministry of Defense chicanery, sinister goings-on in the woods (day and night, no less), tales of extraterrestrial visitation, and military figures hiding their real names for fear of what might happen to them, were just the start of things. In the weeks and months that followed ahead, the Ministry of Defense proved to be highly close-mouthed when it came to discussing the December incidents with members of the public and the media. No surprise. They were even more cautious about chatting with an energized team of UFO sleuths who weren’t going to give up. That’s Jenny, Dot and Brenda, of course. And they didn't stop.

In some ways, the Ministry of Defense was unable to do very much about it, as wild and crazy rumors of the startling events were already seeping out. Eventually matters would develop into a chaotic torrent. To demonstrate how incredibly careful and determined the MoD was to try and keep matters under wraps, it was not until April 13, 1983 that an official admission was made to Jenny Randles that a handful of “lights” had been seen in the vicinity of Rendlesham Forest and that remained “unexplained.” That’s right: two years passed before the rumors of something very strange and non-human having been seen in Rendlesham Forest began to chaotically unravel in the world of intelligence and the military. Those who were hiding the truth were now in the dangerous position of losing control of the situation. Bad for them. Good for us.

Almost two months later to the day, a copy of Lieutenant Colonel Halt’s memo was declassified in accordance with the laws of the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. It was provided to a now-deceased American UFO investigator by the name of Robert Todd. In a June 14, 1983 letter to Todd, Colonel Peter Bent – who, at the time, was the Commander of the 513th Combat Support Group (CSG) – made an amazement statement. He said: “It might interest you to know that the U.S. Air Force had no longer retained a copy of the 13 January 1981 letter written by Lt. Col. Charles I. Halt. The Air Force file copy had been properly disposed of in accordance with Air Force regulations. Fortunately, through diligent inquiry and the gracious consent of Her Majesty’s government, the British Ministry of Defense and the Royal Air Force, the U.S. Air Force was provided with a copy for you.”

It wasn’t very long at all before Brenda, Dot and Jenny found themselves in a definitive runaround. Somewhat curiously, during the course of an interview with MoD spokeswoman Pam Titchmarsh on August 18, 1983, Randles was told that – quite contrary to the statement that was made by Colonel Bent – the Ministry of Defense had not supplied the Americans with a copy of Halt’s almost legendary memorandum. Notably, Titchmarsh was very wary about discussing the case with Randles, who had, by now, made a trip down to London with Street and Butler. “I wouldn’t know,” was Titchmarsh’s distinctly uneasy and succinct reply when Randles asked her if the MoD’s “operational staff” had built up their own files on the Rendlesham Forest case. Nevertheless, since a copy of the Halt memo had been released to Flying Saucer seeker Robert Todd by U.S. authorities,

Titchmarsh was – at the very least - obliged to admit that her department in the Ministry of Defense (Defense Secretariat 8) did have a copy of Halt’s report on file. Despite that, the Ministry of Defense denied that the events of December 1980 were of any kind of defense significance. It was a stubborn, mule-like stance from which the Ministry of Defense has never, ever really wavered. The MoD just loves that mule. Always has loved it, always will love it. Thanks to Brenda, Dot and Jenny, the story began to open in quick-time. And, the media was soon opening the doors of secrecy. Rendlesham was now growing. And it still does. And it wasn't long before the now defunct U.K. newspaper, the News of the World, got deep into the story. Sensational tales of UFOs and aliens were splashed accross the newspaper. More media coverage surfaced. Others newspapers picked up on the story. So, that's how the story began to trickle out out of government secrecy and into the media. And, it's highly unlikely that the Rendlesham case will ever go away.

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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