By Jeffery A. Lindell
I knew then, that I would be the folklorist to uncover this mystery and bring it to life. This time period fascinated me to no end. Having served in the US Air Force as an Electronic Warfare Systems Analyst, I had a keen intrest in the technological advancements of avionics during the war. The foo fighters were a golden opportunity for me to explore both the folklore of WW II aviators and the advanced technologies of the most sophisticated combat units to see action during the war, the Night Fighters.
At this time I was also interested in scholarly works on the folklore of the supernatural. The Folklorist Dr. David Hufford had just recently published his research on the influence of Sleep Terror Paralysis on the formation of supernatural belief legends in, The Terror that Comes in the Night. In this work, Dr. Hufford successfully concluded that many ghost legends may be the result of anomalies in sleep behavior. The Psychologist, Dr. Robert Baker had taken this research one step further showing the relationship between sleep disorders and UFO abduction cases. These two men have profoundly influenced my interpretations of supernatural belief legends. At this time, I was studying under the Folklorist Dr. John Johnson who had inspired me with a historical perspective on the UFO phenomenon. I was determined to uncover the foo fighter's history as well as examine their folkloric and psychological components. After about a year of intense research I discovered the works of Drs. Ashton Greybeil, Brant Clark and Edgar Vinacke. These men formed the core of the US Navy's Bureau of Medicine (BUMED) project X-148 -AV-4-3, which was formed in April of 1945. This project pioneered the study of illusions experienced by night time aviators. It was these works which inspired my interpretations of foo fighter-like encounters as experienced by night time combat aviators. A vast majority of the sightings of apparently intelligently controlled "balls of fire" took place at night, thus I limited my research to night fighter outfits and bomber crews which flew night missions. I'm positive there were daylight sightings of anomalous objects, but these seemed to be very rare. Thus, my research was confined, by intent, to nocturnal sightings during the war. This approach yielded a mountain of data.
Now, are the foo fighters supernatural belief legends? No, but they fall within the category of belief legends because they involve beliefs in a reality that is unexplained by using traditional scientific rhetoric. To clarify things, a "belief legend" can tend to be a highly biased and convoluted concept which implies that the "belief" in question is false, or rather, mistaken. I do not consider the foo fighters as being any single phenomenon, hence beliefs will vary as will the contexts of the sightings. There is no single "belief" which I consider to be more correct than another, although I do insist that the entire phenomenon can be explained outside of the realms of "belief." The very nature of "belief legends," such as tales about ghosts, devils and the fairy people of antiquity, implies a greater reality than that which can be explained by using a natural and scientific method, thus it is labled as "super-" natural. In this sense the foo fighters are of a supernatural variety but they do not imply beliefs in the supernatural as such. Many beliefs which have been implied by the foo fighters point to historical beliefs in real German and Japanese weapons. These types of beliefs fall within the genre of folklore known as belief legends, more precisely, technological belief legends. After all, isn't a UFO by it's very nature a technological belief as opposed to a belief in demons, spirits and a netherworld?
From this perspective, the foo fighters can be seen as an arising form of technological beliefs from a highly evolved and technological culture. It is no accident that these beliefs arose among the sophisticated and highly trained airmen of the Night Fighter forces. In due course, I would like to demonstrate that the foo fighters are the incarnation of this new and evolving form of technological folk-belief, where technology is rapidly replacing magic and the supernatural. The same types of encounters these airmen experienced during the war were known in antiquity as the Will-o'-the wisp lights or more popularly, the Jack-o'-lantern. "Jack," a pseudonym for the devil, usually appears in folklore as a "ball of fire" known to chase night travelers. Very often, in these folkloric texts, this "ball of fire" is pursued by a night traveler to no avail. I did a brief survey of the names of the Will-o'-the-wisp from around a hundred sources in the IU library's Folklore collection and came up with about 650 names for this phenomenon in 15 European languages. Over half of these names are phonological variations of a few popular belief traditions with a good portion of these names having polygenetic origins, or rather, multiple names which allude to unique stories about strange moving terrestrial and heavenly lights. Because of the fact that there are so many names for this phenomenon exemplifies the exact nature of the difficulties that are encountered in assigning these experiences into the proper categories. The foo fighters of WW II are a direct descendent of these tales.
Now let us proceed with the history of the foo fighters. Early in October of 1944, British, Canadian and American Night Fighters and Bomber Crews began to report strange, intelligently controlled "balls of light" and "jets" operating in various formations and conducting rather spectacular manoeuvres over the night skies of Belgium, Holland and Western Germany. Later in February of 1945, American and British Night Fighters also began to report encounters with "balls of light" and "jets" over the Po Valley of Northern Italy. From early April until late May of 1945, hundreds of sightings of these mysterious "balls of light" were made by Bomber Crews of the 20th Air Force over the night skies of Japan. The Army Air Force Intelligence services were also perplexed by the mass sightings of this nature. General Henry Huglin, Commander of the 9th Bomb Group, 20th Air Force, who had served under General Curtis LeMay in the 20th Air Force and later at Headquarters Strategic Air Command in the 1950's had asked General LeMay after the war was over if he had ever found out what those "balls of light" were. General LeMay reportedly professed ignorance.
In the European Theater as early as September and October of 1944, rumors began to spread rapidly among Allied Night Fighters and their Ground Control Radar sites concerning encounters with these "balls of light." A Capt. Robert O. Elmore and Lt. Leonard F. Mapes of the American 422nd Night Fighter Squadron (NFS) encountered the unit's first "jet," believed to be a Me163, on a night patrol over Germany. (Pape) According to one of Lt. Mapes' good friends, a Lt. John W. Anderson, this "jet" appeared as a "ball of light" which chased their aircraft through a variety of high speed combat manoeuvres until they had finally ditched it when they flew into a cloud formation. Lt. Mapes was "terrified and appeared as white as a ghost," Lt. Anderson commented upon Mapes' return from this mission. "Something up there sure scared the hell out of him, he was nearly frantic when he got out of his aircraft," Lt. Anderson remarked.
Soon after this encounter, Lts. Herman E. Ernst and Edward H. Kopsel of the 422nd NFS also reported the first Me262 sighting on a night patrol over Aachen, Germany and later reported two encounters with Me163 rocket fighters. (Pape) Earlier in 1944, Allied daylight fighters and bombers began to report sightings of jets all over the Western theater, but these sightings in October of 1944 were the first sightings of "jets" at night. According to seven pilots and radar operators I have interviewed from the 422nd NFS, all have described these "Jets" as "balls of light," and according to the 422nd's Assistance Intelligence Officer, Phillip Guba, Jr., "At first we thought they (the pilots) were seeing things, and they kept saying that these things were chasing them around. Whether they actually identified... not while I was on duty, they did not identify a jet as such." According to Oris (Obie) B. Johnson, Major-General (Ret.) Commander of the 422 NFS, "They saw something, of that I am convinced." On 7 November of 1944, the Associated Press Corps in Paris released this statement concerning an interview with Lt. Col. Obie Johnson of the 422nd NFS:
New Aerial Weapons Used By Germans
PARIS (AP) The Germans are using jet and rocket propelled planes and various other "newfangled" gadgets against Allied night fighters, Lieut. Col. B. Johnson, Natchitoches, La., commander of a P-61 Black Widow group, said today. "In recent nights we've counted 15 to 20 jet planes," Johnson said. "They sometimes fly in formations of four, but more often they fly alone."
~The Day, New London, Connecticut
The 422 NFS earlier that year had been accredited with five nocturnal "kills" on V-1 Buzz Bombs flying to their targets in England. Of all of the pilots and radar operators who had sighted and destroyed V-1s, none had mentioned any similarities whatsoever with these "balls of light." Pilots who had both encountered V-1s and "balls of light" attest to the fact that these were completely different experiences. In the same light, many Night Fighters had also experienced St. Elmo's fire, and again they have stated that there is a world of difference between these static electric discharges from their aircraft and their encounters with these apparently controlled "balls of light." So far as "jamming" devices were concerned, none of the Radar operators I interviewed saw any evidence of jamming, in fact, they never reported having any Radar contact whatsoever.
By late November and early December of 1944 the 415th, 417th and 425th NFS's stationed in France began reporting similar encounters with "balls of light." On the 27th of November one of the most popular sightings in UFO history during the war occurred; the following weird excerpt comes from Lt. Schlueter's report of an intruded mission:
Upon returning to base saw a red light through area about 35 miles ENE of point A. Came in to about 2000 feet off starboard and then it disappeared in a long red streak.
~27 Nov. 1944, 415th historical data. U.S. Army
This sighting of "a red light" flying through the air was made by Lts. Edward A. Schlueter and Donald J. Meiers, and was the first encounter with what Lt. Meiers would later refer to as a "foo fighter." On December 31st, Bob Wilson, an Associated Press corps correspondent, visited and interviewed members of the 415th NFS at their base in Dijon, France. On the 2nd of January the AP syndicate article hit all of the major U.S. newspapers. The Chicago Tribune ran the story as, "Mystery Flares Tag Along with U.S. Night Pilots; Yanks call Nazi Weapon a 'Foo Fighter." The St. Louis Post Dispatch ran it as, "Mysterious 'Foo Fighters,' Balls of Fire, Trail U.S. Night Flyers." and The Indy News spiced it up as, "Foo Fighters' Are New German Secret Weapon." The New York Times ran the story as, "Balls of Fire Stalk U.S. Fighters in Night Assaults Over Germany." and in it was Lt. Meiers' description of the "Mysterious" foo fighters:
A foo fighter picked me up at 700 feet and chased me 20 miles down the Rhine Valley," Meiers said. "I turned to starboard and two balls of fire turned with me. We were going 260 miles an hour and the balls were keeping right up with us. On another occasion when a foo fighter picked us up, I dived at 360 miles an hour. It kept right off our wing tips for awhile and then zoomed into the sky. When I first saw the things, I had the horrible thought that a German on the ground was ready to press a button and explode them. But they didn't explode or attack us. They just seem to follow us like the Will-o'-the-wisp.
~N.Y. Times, 2 Jan. 1945
Now by February of 1945 these sightings had spread from Belgium and France to the US Night Fighter bases at Pontedera and Pisa, Italy. The 416th NFS stationed in Pisa also began to spot "foo fighters" in February of 1945. Here are some excerpts from the 416th NFS' historical data:
Our crews are beginning to report mysterious orange-red lights in the sky near La Spezia and also inland. These "foo fighters" have been pursued, but no one has been able to make contact. G.C.I. (Ground Control Radar) and intelligence profess to be mystified by these ghostly apparitions. The hypothesis that the foo-fighters are a post-cognac manifestation has been disproved. Even the teetotallers have observed the strange and mysterious foo-fighters which have also been observed in France and in Belgium.
~17 Feb. 1945, 416th historical data. U.S.Army
Three patrols were also flown, and several foo-fighters were observed.
~18 Feb. 1945, 416th historical data. U.S. Army
At just about the same time the 416th NFS was reporting "foo fighters" the 414th NFS based out of Pontedera began spotting these "balls of fire" early in the month of February. Here is an encounter with what is believed to be a jet propelled aircraft, primarily the Me262:
At 0150 hours, fighter saw a spurt of flame, which went out immediately just west of Viareggio. This spurt of flame appeared to be between 10,000 and 13,000 ft. Fighter gave chase immediately. During chase two more spurts of flame were observed with last spurt of flame continuing until it was lost in clouds below 6,000 ft. This believed to be jet propelled aircraft made two 290 degree turns then continued on a strait course and losing altitude during chase. Fighter chased the jet propelled aircraft for fifty miles out to sea west of Pisa, on a 240 and 270 deg. heading where aircraft was lost in clouds. Due to shortage of gas, fighter broke off chase at 0215 hours and returned to base. During chase, on a straight and level course, fighter was indicating an air speed of 290 M.P.H. (ground speed of approximately 350 - 360 M.P.H.) and as fighter dove to 6000 feet, he indicated an air speed of 400 M.P.H. Fighter was unable to obtain A.I. contact. (A.I. is an Aircraft Intercept Radar)
~12AF-AB1-H2, 16 Feb. 1945, Operations Report, 414th Night Fighter Squadron
And yet another encounter the 414th NFS had with "balls of fire:"
Five of our Widows patrolled front lines in the area north and south of Bologna for a total of 12:05 hours without incident last night. Between 2200 hours and midnight Lt. Gordon and F/O ( Field Officer-- who served as the Radar operator) Gigerrich , Lt. Dohrman and F/O Beam saw 'balls of fire' north and north west of Bologna ranging from 10,000 ft. to 5,000 ft.
~12AF-AB1-H2, 27 Feb. 1945, Operations Report, 414th Night Fighter Squadron
Of key importance in understanding the 414th's sightings of "jets" is the fact that a detachment of six P-61s and 26 Officers from the 414th were sent to Florennes, Belgium on the 27th of January of 1945 to complete their conversion training from the British Beaufighter to the P-61 Black Widow. They received this conversion training from none other than the 422nd NFS. Of the pilots I spoke with from the 414th, they all recalled having heard stories from 422nd pilots concerning the sightings of "jets." Trained P-61 Crews began arriving back in Pontedera, Italy on the 8th of February, 1945. Within days the 414th was also spotting these "balls of fire" and on the 16th spotted the unit's first "jet." Something very similar occurred with 416th pilots right about the same time frame. On the 16th of December, 1944, the Germans began their thrust into the Ardennes in Southern Belgium, known as the Bulge. This operation was planned by the Germans at this time because of bad weather so that the Allies could not use their air power to thwart the offensive. The only aircraft the Allies could fly in this weather was their night fighter force, hence the 416th was ordered to send a small detachment of Mosquito aircraft from Pisa, Italy to Etain, France to assist the 425th NFS. Upon their rotations back to Italy in early February, several crews from the 416th's detachment made a stop at the 415th NFS in Dijon, France to gas their aircraft, make minor repairs and visit friends. It was at this time that the 416th pilots became familiar with the foo fighter. After their return to Italy, on the night of 17 February of 1945, the first foo fighter was reported over the Po Valley by Lts. George Schultz and Frankie Robinson. I verified these facts with these two men during interviews.
These facts necessitate an investigation into the German Jet night fighter operations during the period of October 1944 to February of 1945. The only operational German Jet Night Fighter unit, 10/NJG/11 was only beginning operations in mid-December of 1944 just 50 miles south of Berlin. Adolf Hitler personally assigned this unit with the task of defending Berlin, and Berlin only! Fritz Wendel, the chief test pilot of the Me262 paid a visit to 10/NJG/11 at its station in Burg bei Magdeburg. His report on the 19th of February of 1945 continues:
The NJG 11 (Night Fighter Squadron) has been stationed in Burg bei Magdeburg for the last few weeks, this unit belonging to Kommando Welter. Oberleutnant Kurt Welter is at the moment carrying out night flying operations using the method "Wilde Sau" with the Me262. (This night fighting method incorporated the use of a day fighter, not equipped with air intercept radar, and large detachments of ground searchlight batteries to illuminate Allied bombers.) He is using the standard Me262 type with some additions: a UV-light, map reading light and an emergency turn indicator. Welter is the only one flying this type of operation at this time, and using the said system has shot down five enemy aircraft. The other five pilots under his command at the moment are being retrained. The unit has six aircraft, and all should be operational within a few days.
Kurt Welter was appointed to form the first Me 262 Night Fighter test detachment (Erprobungs-Kommando) on 2 November of 1944. This was the only German Jet Night Fighting outfit in WWII and until the last week in February of 1945, Kurt Welter was the only pilot flying the Me 262 aircraft at night. Welter's detachment did not become operational until mid-December of 1944 with only two Me 262 1-a's. His orders were to intercept the nightly assaults of Mosquito bombers hitting Berlin known as the "Berlin Express." These facts allow Welter very little time to organize, recruit, equip and fly all of the missions which Allied pilots claim were flown. No night missions were ever flown by either the Me262 or the Me163 in the Italian theater of operation. (Morgan)
Mano Zeigler who flew as one of the chief test pilots assigned to Erprobungs-Kommando 16 and later a Rocket pilot in JG 400 commented on the practicability of flying such a nocturnal mission in a Me163, "Trying to land in the dark you'd spread yourself in small pieces around the countryside!" (Ziegler) This aircraft also had an effective combat radius of no more than 25 miles under perfect visual conditions and thus limited JG 400's operations to the Leipzig area for the duration of the war. So far as I have been able to research, I have found no Allied night sightings of "jets" in either the greater Berlin or Leipzig areas.
The Italian sightings of "jets" and "foo fighters" are very important from the standpoint that these events were reported only after the pilots had made contact with their sister squadrons in France and Belgium. Of the Pilots and Radar operators I have spoken with from the 414th and 416th NFSs, these men recall hearing about these encounters from members of the 415th and 422nd NFS and not from Air Intelligence (S-2) officers in their own squadrons nor from 12th Air Force intelligence briefs. Because of the fact that both the 422nd and 415th NFSs sightings were taken seriously enough for their Squadron Intelligence officers to report them to 9th Air Force Intelligence, this made it a little more easier for pilots to report these "weird" experiences without fear of retribution. Of the 23 pilots and radar operators I have interviewed from the 415th and 416th NFSs that had reported seeing foo fighters, none could be convinced of the fact that these were sightings of "jets." Even from our historical perspective today, which conclusively shows the lack of any documented evidence that either the Me163 or the Me262 flew night missions over the Rhine or Po Valleys from October of 1944 until March of 1945, pilots from the 414th and 422nd NFSs are at a loss to explain their encounters with "jets." I asked those veterans who had flown in All-Weather fighters after the war if they could relate their sightings of jets with more contempory sightings of jets at night. This stirred a little confusion, these pilots could not say for a fact that these were similar events.
As I have stated earlier, not only American Night Fighters were making sightings of this nature. British and Canadian Night Fighter crews were spotting foo fighters and "Balls of fire" pacing their aircraft on Intruder Missions over the Reich. Canadian aircrews flying in British Lancasters (Lancs) in Bomber Command reported encounters with what they called "scarecrows," which were believed to be "intelligently" controlled flares designed to terrify RAF and RCAF bomber crews on nocturnal incendiary missions. Interesting enough, after the war, British Scientific Intelligence, MI6, learned that Axis airmen also reported encounters with advanced weapons similar to "foo fighters." (Jones) That the British Lancaster bomber crews were familiar with the term "foo fighter" seems positive. I was able to track down an American pilot, Walter Sherrell, who flew a Lancaster for British Bomber Command until he was asked (forced under threat of revoking his US citizenship) to join the US Army Air Corps. Walt Sherrell informed me that the first time he had heard of the term foo fighter was from other British Lanc crews who had sighted them over Germany on night missions. Walt later learned of the foo fighters first hand, this time he was flying an American B-29 on a night incendiary raid over Tokyo:
He heard his co-pilot Orlo Hall exclaim, 'Oh, my God!' Sherrell turned his head just in time to see a shadowy shape with a fiery tail hit a B-29, after which the B-29 went down flaming. Seeing a thin cloud layer ahead, he flew into it, seeking cover. He had barely emerged on the other side when one of the gunners reported a shadow trailing the right. Sherrell put "Southern Belle" into a screaming dive and, with his airspeed indicator reading well over 300 mph, pulled out after loosing about 3,000 feet of altitude. Another possible Baka was sighted, this time on the left. Sherrell racked the B-29, at full power, into a steep climbing turn to the right and into some clouds. After several more dives and climbs, they saw no more 'foofighters.
Not only did I track down the commander of "Southern Belle," Walt Sherrell, but I was also able to interview other crewmen: Edward Ososky, navigator; Ernest Rasmussen, flight engineer; Eugene Horton, left gunner; Don Thrane, right gunner and Leland Sawyer, tail gunner. They all confessed to seeing several foo fighters that morning, I have approximately four hours of taped narratives from these crew members. This is perhaps one of the best multiple-sightings that I have collected concerning the foo fighters. The crew also calls the "ball of fire" which they saw chasing their plane a "Baka" bomb. In the Pacific this phenomena rarely went by the name of foo fighter, but was more commonly known as "balls of fire," "balls of light," "robombs," "baka bombs," "kamikazes" and "search light fighters." Here is an excerpt from the 499th Bomb Group's consolidated mission report of 20 April of 1945 concerning the sighting of a "robomb:"
At 1412z (Zulu time) a "robomb" attack came from the nose, 500' above and several hundred feet to the right, as reported by one A/C. (Aircraft Commander) it was a large red ball of fire seen first at 1000 yards, and passing overhead directly to the rear. This occurred just prior to bomb release.
~20 Apr. 1945, Consolidated Mission Report, 499th B.G.
Although the term "robomb" appears to have been isolated to the 499th Bomb Group at this time, hundreds of other sightings of "baka bombs," "kamikazes" and "balls of fire" were reported by all 20 Bomb Groups in 20th Air Force on night raids over Japan during the months of April and May of 1945. The documentary evidence of these encounters litter the Bomb Group records housed at the National Archives, Record Group 18. When I made a research trip to the National Archives in 1992, I had anticipated it would take several days of searching Bomb Group records from the 20th Air Force before I would find anything substantial on these "balls of light." Well, the very first day I was in the archives I soon realized that I was going to be swamped with sightings of this nature. The 504th Bomb Group alone had 40 sightings of the awesome baka bomb just on the May 25th mission alone. Most of the sightings made by 20th Air Force over Japan center on the May 23rd and May 25th incendiary raids on Tokyo with almost every description of baka bombs being that of a "ball of fire," or a "ball of light."
One combat veteran from the 52nd Squadron, 29th Bomb Group, 20th A.F., Fred Pawlikawski, recounted to me his experience with what he called a "ball of fire." His account is accurate and was checked with other crew members of his B-29, "The Fire Bug." Fred stated that he has no idea of what this thing was and would not speculate even though he had heard several speculations from fellow crew members. The "ball of fire" that followed their aircraft did not seem to pose a threat. He refused to believe that they were bakas etc., he knew of several other crews in the 29th Bomb Group who had also had this happen. I did verify this also. I have the greatest respect for this man because he has lived 50+ years after this experience and still has not found an explanation, UFOs included, which is satisfactory to him. He is not aware of anything that can move like the "ball of fire" he saw on the May 25th incendiary mission over Tokyo.
Now let's look at this key report made by a crew from the 500th Bomb Group, 20th A.F. on a raid on the Tichikawa aircraft plant, Tokyo, Mission No.# 38, 3 April 1945:
On this mission mysterious 'Balls of Fire' were observed by various crews during the course of the mission. Lt. Althoff and crew in Z Square 19 observed one near land's end at 9000 feet at about 0147. The 'Ball of Fire' was first seen at 5:00 level about 300 yards behind the B-29. As near as can be determined, the 'Ball of Fire' was about the size of a basketball. When evasive action was taken by the B-29 in the form of turns, the 'Ball of Fire' turned inside the B-29 and kept following. It appeared that each time the B-29 made a turn, the 'Ball of Fire' fell behind, but on the straightaway, it would catch up. The B-29 lost altitude, going down to 6000 feet, in order to gain speed and finally an air speed of 295, at which speed the 'Ball of Fire' followed for about five or six minutes. One crew member thought that he was able to see a wing in connection with the 'ball,' and that the wing had a navigation light on at the tip.
~3 April, 1945. Consolidated Mission Report, Mission no.# 38, 500th Bomb Group
This report was funnelled up to the 73rd Bomb Wing Intelligence, then to 20th A.F. and then passed on to the Director of Intelligence, Army Air Forces, Pacific Ocean Areas. The resultant report published through this office on 7 April 1945 was titled: "B-29s observed on 3 April 1945 a 'BALL OF FIRE' which was subject to some definite control. This is an attempt to describe the phenomenon and to define it with an eye toward the most recent Japanese fields of interest and development." Now read the conclusion of this report:
The three probabilities discussed are based on the interest the Japanese have held in the German development of jet units. It is impossible from the fragmentary evidence of an initial experience with this weapon to be more definite.
Unfortunately, this mild disclaimer was not circulated back to the Bomb Groups. The individual unit intelligence officers were sent detailed information on the baka bombs and pictures and diagrams of the bakas captured on the Island of Okinawa. Several officers from the baka unit on Okinawa were captured and interrogated. These interrogation reports were redistributed and teletyped messages were received by the individual Bomb Groups. This report entitled "Another Rocket?" was dispatched to the Bomb Groups' S-2 Intelligence officers on 22 May 1945 from the Office of the Chief of Counter Intelligence, GHQ, Air Forces Pacific Command:
The probable existence of a second Japanese rocket-propelled plane has been disclosed in prisoner of war interrogation. The first was BAKA. The new plane is described as designed for interceptor duties, in particular to combat B-29s. It has an extraordinarily high rate of climb, and is reputed to be capable of reaching 30,000 feet in approximately three minutes. This figure is matched only by the German Me163 rocket propelled interceptor. In general appearance the new plane is said to resemble BAKA, being approximately 20 feet long and 20 feet in wing span. Its weight is approximately 3,000 pounds.
According to the POW two 20 mm cannon are fixed in the nose and propulsion is achieved by means of solid rockets, with the possibility that jet control is available to increase maneuverability. The plane is launched from the ground and is said to be airborne in about 100 feet. No landing gear or skids are fitted. Maximum flight time is limited to seven minutes, compared to 10-12 minutes for the Me163 at full power.
~Extract From Daily Intelligence Summary -22 May 1945, Office of the Chief of Counter Intelligence, GHQ, AFPAC
In a post war interview with the director of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Yasujiro Okana laid out Japan's attempt to duplicate the German Me163 which was named the Oka 22, the next in the series to the Oka 11. This was accomplished be receiving the German technical data for this rocket fighter and simply attempting a duplication. The result was two experimental aircraft, the J8M1 Shusui and the Ki-201. The J8M1 was flight tested without an engine on the 8th of January of 1945 with limited success. It was not until the 7th of July of 1945, however, that it was tested with a rocket engine. It crashed upon take-off, ending abruptly the Japanese rocket fighter program. (U.S.S.B.S., Appendix 5)
So far as I have been able to determine, no bakas were ever used against any American bombers. Too many of the crews who had experienced these sightings could not swallow the notion that a glider with a one ton warhead packed into its nose could chase a bomber, in some cases up to 500 miles and at night! During the months of April and May of 1945, the 20th Air Force intelligence offices were wracking their brains trying to understand what all of these bomber crews were seeing. No real answers were ever reported back to the individual Bomb Groups and then the war ended. These airmen were sent home with no real answers as to what these mysterious "balls of fire" were. This phenomenon was at near epidemic proportion in late May of 1945 and on one occasion a B-29 crew who had reported one of these "balls of fire" was sent to Hawaii on leave for their refusal to believe that what they had seen was a Japanese suicide bomb. Many crews were told that what they had seen chasing them, and in many cases what their gunners were firing on, was none other than the planet Venus. Many men had bought the Venus interpretation but many more did not. Even if it could suffice that Venus was spooking the hell out of aircrews over the Pacific, how do we explain what had happened in Europe.
With the foo fighters over Europe and the baka bombs over Japan no real answers were ever supplied to the witnesses as to what they had really seen. Perhaps the Army Air Corps really had no idea of what was going on, this seems to be the most accurate conclusion. Concerning the ease at which I was able to locate official unit histories, intelligence records and de-classified mission reports, the Army Air Corps really made no effort to cover-up their ignorance. Thus, any "cover-up" conspiracy is really out of the question. At the time, the intelligence services had no real way of tracking such a huge phenomena, especially from theater to theater, and because these encounters lacked any real threat, they were discounted in favor of doing their job and fighting the war. Not even a year had passed after the foo fighters had made their appearance over the night skies of Europe, when, in November of 1945, an Adjutant from General Harold (Hap) Arnold's office delivered a sealed packet, of then classified documents, to a Journalist for the American Legion Magazine, Jo Chamberlin. Chamberlin was the first journalist to publish any real information on the sightings of the foo fighters in his December of 1945 article, "The Foo Fighter Mystery." In an interview I had with Mr. Chamberlin, he acknowledged that those documents were still in his basement, untouched since 1945 and that he promised never to circulate them. After the war was over and these men returned to their civilian roles in life, none of them really heard anything more about this mystery, that is, until the sightings of strange UFOs began to appear in their daily newspapers. Many of these veterans began to believe that these foo fighters they had seen during the war were UFOs.
So why have I gone through so much trouble to undermine the validity of "historical" sightings of Me163s, Me262's and Baka bombs? I'm certain some Allied airmen may have spotted Me262s over the Berlin area at night, but the absolute number of such encounters may only be in the tens of sightings. As one Canadian Night Fighter told me, those who were unlucky enough to have seen a Me262 over Berlin may not have lived long enough to tell about it. Originally, when I began collecting narratives concerning "jets" sighted at night, I wanted to contrast them with foo fighter sightings, that is, dividing them into separate events. Soon afterwards, I began to realize that either the foo fighters were naive descriptions of "jets" or vice versa. The problem at this point was in finding someone with rank to verify these "jet" sightings. This was questionable at best, in the 422nd in Belgium, both the Commanding Officer and the Assistant Intelligence Officer were in serious doubt as to the validity of the "jet" hypothesis, while the Commander of the 414th in Italy was fairly certain that these events were "jets." This, to me, seemed to be backwards.
There was a greater likelihood of night fighters flying over North-West Germany of sighting "jets" than there was over Northern Italy. Given the historical facts, I have come to the conclusion that "if" the Me262 was flown in North-West Germany or the Po Valley of Northern Italy, it was only a very small number of times. This still leaves a rather large majority of "jet" sightings unaccounted. My absolute aim here is for historical accuracy, and no other ulterior motive, simply the truth. This has been a hard decision for me to make, I do not feel comfortable in taking away the laurels of many highly decorated airmen. I have also consulted with other aviation historians and they too doubt the sheer volume of claims.
If we can begin to accept the fact that neither the Me163, the Me262 or the Baka flew night missions over the areas where aircrews reported seeing them, we must understand that these airmen did, in fact, see something. What did they see? The variety of sightings are indeed complex, some reports are of single lights being spotted while other airmen reported formations of lights. When I interviewed members of crews that reported these events, the individual descriptions were very different as were their individual beliefs as to what they had seen. Very rarely did aircrews fully agree on exactly "what" they had seen, in other words, these sightings tended to be highly subjective. In the case of Donald J. Meiers' sighting of foo fighters, his pilot, Ed Schlueter could not verify for certian what Don was seeing. These men were in the same aircraft and yet they had completely different experiences. Of all of the sightings I have collected, very few of them are lone sightings, primarily, these objects were sighted by two or more airmen aboard the same aircraft simultaniously. But I must clarify the fact that there is little, if any, agreement among all of the airmen I interviewed as to what they had seen.
The first and foremost conclusion which is typically made by people who have read about the foo fighters, and not seen them, is that these are sightings of UFOs. Many of the veterans who had seen foo fighters will admit to the fact that these were sightings of UFOs. The majority of the veterans, however, believe that what they had seen were real German and Japanese weapons. The prevailing winds of belief among these WW II vets points towards attempted "rationalizations" of these events. Of all of the sightings I have explored, none can be positively identified as anything other than an encounter with a "ball(s) of light" which seemed to be under intelligent control. That is the bottom line. The rest is conjecture not fact. Thus, anyone may speculate whatever they may, it's a free world. A Leonard Wirkus of the 416th NFS told me he believed that the foo fighters were Nazi flying saucers. Today, there is a popular movement towards this belief. And yes indeed, I classify this as a technological belief legend. I personally don't give the Nazi's that much credit. Also, the Nazi flying saucer theory has one major flaw, it fails to address the hundreds of sightings made over Japan.
As a Folklorist, I have to place stories into categories. Some stories resemble others, in such instances we call them a "version" of a tale. But some stories resemble known types of stories, but differ to an extent that the story may be labled as a "variant" of that type. The foo fighters can be labled as both variants of UFO legends or Will-o'-the wisp legends, they resemble both to some degree. So what comes first, the chicken or the egg? As the foo fighter is a continuation and modification of the Will-o'-the-wisp legend, it rightly stands alone as it's own variant. Thus, the foo fighter is it's own legend type with versions such as the Me163, the Me262 and the Baka bomb. The Baka bomb itself may be further broken down into it's own versions such as "balls of light,""kamekazies," "robombs," "Betty bombers," "searchlight fighters" and the "planet Venus." So what does this all mean? Humans tell stories about their unusual experiences and they rarely ever agree upon the exact nature of those experiences. Stories concerning "supernatural" experiences follow a similar path in that they tend to sub-divide into a variety of differing interpretations. That the foo fighters and the Will-o'-the-wisp lights resemble this dynamic story type structure indicates that what is being described is a real and recurring "natural" phenomenon.
So what is this "natural" phenomenon? Nearly all of the stories I have collected concerning the foo fighters and the Will-o'-the-wisp lights involve speculations as to the nature of the "ball of light" being observed. In all instances this "ball of light" is described to move in an apparently intelligent manner. Thus, the movement of the light in question should be considered to be of paramount intrest. In 1799, the phenomenon of the autokinetic illusion was discovered by an astronomer, Alexander Von Humbolt. He noticed that if one stared at a bright star or a planet with the naked eye, it would begin to swing in a back and forth motion. He named this phenomenon, "Sternschwanken" or "Swinging Stars." He assumed that this was an astronomical occurrence but yet was at a loss on how this was possible. From 1799 until 1857 this phenomenon was treated as a real and physical attribute of some stars, that is until a Dr. G. Schweitzer discovered that this swinging motion could be observed with terrestrial borne lights also. (Schweitzer)
Dr. Schweitzer then embarked upon a search to find other such instances where terrestrial lights were observed to have this swinging motion. He was soon flooded with written accounts from all over Europe concerning the "Irrlicht" or rather, the German version of the Will-o'-the wisp. One such version of the tale had a headless ghost wandering around the countryside swinging a lantern back and forth searching for his severed head. The English version has Jack, a devil, as the bearer of the swinging lantern, hence Jack of the Lantern, or Jack-o'-lantern. In this tale, Jack roams the countryside swinging a lantern in search of his head. In almost all of the tales the "swinging" lantern is a constant and recurring description. Dosn't it sound strange that a headless ghost would need a lantern to search for it's head? It's eyes are on it's head, so why would the ghost roam the countryside swinging a lantern to and fro unless this is truely a core description of what is being seen. In French this phenomenon goes by the name of "Feu Follet" or a fiery lunatic. This name is derived from the apparently random movement of this "ball of fire." In Latin the name for this phenomenon is ignis erraticus, or an erratic fire.
It was popularly believed that if one tried to follow this ghostly lantern, this devil would lead him astray and drown him in a swamp. This was known as "lantern-led" or "pixie-led" or "pixilated," which is to be led astray by a Pixie whom also carried a swinging lantern. It was because of this type of folklore that led Dr. Schweitzer to conduct experiments in a laboratory that observed this random swinging motion of a point of light. Through these experiments Dr. Schweizer conclusively demonstrated that this movement was a subjective phenomenon and that the stars themselves did not move. In 1887 H. Aubert coined the term "autokinetische Empfindung," or, "the autokinetic sensation." (Adams) Here, one such Dutch term for the Will-o'-the-wisp, "dwaalster", or a "wandering star," is of great interest. Here are a few Dutch names for the Will-o'-the-wisp that are very revealing: Dwaallicht --wandering light; Wildelanteern --wandering lantern; Spooklicht --spook light; Dwarloch --wandering light; Wandelende Kaars --wandering candles. These names alone decry the fact that the legends concerning the Will-o'-the-wisp have had, and do have a relationship with visual and perceptual illusions of motion, especially when viewing lights at night. Almost all of the pilots I have interviewed who had encountered the foo fighters remarked that the lights seemed "to play with them." The Latin base of the word illusion is illudere, meaning to play with or to mock.
The study of the auto kinetic illusion was primarily isolated to the laboratory that is, until April of 1944 when Drs. Ashton Graybiel and Brant Clark began to experiment with this illusion on airmen flying at night. It was discovered that this illusion had a huge impact upon aviators flying at night. In particular this illusion would occur when airmen began to form up on stars, planets or bright ground lights mistaking them for other aircraft. Pilots who had witnessed the random auto kinetic movements of bright lights in the night sky very often mistook them for aircraft and would begin a pursuit. Because the airmen were not aware of the fact that they were suffering from false visual cues and illusions they would begin to interpret these visual sensations as "real" movement and would thus begin to believe that an otherwise stationary light was making remarkable manouvers. In fact, naive pilots were not the only ones to observe these illusory sensations in night flying, pilots were also trained on how to initiate illusory fixations on stationary lights with these pilots also suffering from extensive illusory sensations. In other words, the auto kinetic illusion had both a sever impact on trained and untrained observers, suggesting that even highly trained night fighters would also be likely to suffer from extensive illusory sensations during night flights. (Graybiel)
The auto kinetic illusion was not the only illusion studied by the US Navy, other illusions were discovered to impact night flying, such as the oculorgyral and oculargravic illusions. These illusions were discovered to impact a pilot's vision in even slight and undetectable angular and gravical manouvers. Heavy turns and archs made by a night flyer were discovered to initiate impressive illusions where a stationary light would appear to wander across the pilot's field of vision. Thus, because a pilot flying at night may not be aware of the fact that they are in an ideal environment for producing illusions it is very natural for them to interpret the anomalous movement of a bright light as being characteristic of the light and not an illusory sensation in and of itself. This type of niave observations is among the most hazardous of conditions which can be experienced by night flyers simply because they are "not" aware of the fact that they are suffering from illusions. The false visual cues produced by the above illusions are among several key factors that can lead a pilot into a more complex state of disorientation. During the time frame of the foo fighters, no such research on the impact of illusions were avalible to any of the organizations who were operating extensively at night.
Because of the fact that pilots who fly by the seat of their pants tend to relate illusory experiences with vertigo, I also interviewed pilots who have professed experiencing vertigo in night flying. Many of these stories bore a striking similarity with other pilots' experiences with the foo fighters. In particular, I found that many experienced night fighters had several tales about following ground lights and stars which appeared to move like aircraft. It was only when these "lights" began to manoeuvre in a remarkable fashion that the pilots broke off pursuit and recognized the experience as vertigo. Not all pilots, however, have this level of training, the pilots whom had claimed experiencing vertigo were high ranking and experienced night fighters. Not all high ranking and experienced pilots were able to make these types of distinctions though. When I asked pilots who had seen foo fighters if they had ever experienced vertigo in night flying, they offered me typical disorientation types of experiences and not stories involving illusions in flight. When I inquired about their experiences with illusions they offered a variety of different experiences but none which involved the illusory perceptions of lights moving like aircraft.
In the pursuit of fairness I tracked down a Col. Bill O'Dell who was the commander of the only US night fighter training facility at Orlando Florida. In an interview, Col. O'Dell professed the fact that there was absolutely no training given to any of the aircrews concerning vertigo or illusions in night flying. There just wasn't anything about vertigo in general academic or medical literature during this time period. I have scoured both aviation and medical literature in an attempt to outline a brief history of the study of vertigo and illusions in night flying and have found nothing that could be considered as a systemic analysis of these problems in night flying prior to 1945. In June of 1945, the very first attempt to study illusions experienced by nighttime aviators had been undertaken by Drs. Ashton Graybiel and Brant Clark at the US Naval School of Aviation Medicine. The generic title "Project X-148-AV-4-3" was given to the Navy BUMED study of visual and perceptual illusions as experienced by nighttime aviators. By 1957 the last of 47 reports totalling over some 400 pages were published. Within this study several new illusions were discovered which had a direct impact on vestibularly induces illusions in night flying. In almost all aviation and related materials concerning the study of vertigo, they almost all refer to this original research project which pioneered the study of Aviator's Vertigo. After X-148, Dr. Ashton Graybiel went over to NASA to head the medical research division for space flight. Today, the Spatial Orientation Laboratory at Brandeis University, Boston is named in his honor.
Apologetics aside, is a foo fighter a naive sighting of a real, historical weapon? No, it is absolutely not. Is it a Nazi flying saucer or an extraterrestrial spaceship? I'm afraid not, but these theories sell magazines and make lots of bucks. Many Ufologists have been very receptive to my refutation of the "jet" hypothysis because it tends to support their own claims of alien visitors. My intentions from the outset have been to resolve this mystery using a rational, although unorthodox, scientific method. It is my stern belief that what these airmen were reporting was an intensely real set of illusory experiences which have become associated with disorientation-vertigo syndromes in night flying. Perhaps one of the most steadfast reasons that Allied intelligence services were so baffled by these "encounters" was due to the fact that no studies existed at the time concerning vertigo, especially when night flying was involved.
In conclusion, a foo fighter is a class of events, or rather, a collection of illusory sensations, which tends to mislead an airman, believing that a distant "light," either airborne or terrestrial, is another aircraft. It has been well proven that these instances of mistaking stationary ground lights, bright stars or planets gives the pilot of an aircraft conflicting sensory information which can lead to both visually and perceptually induced veritgo syndromes. Once a pilot has fallen under such a state, the light will seem to manoeuvre in a remarkable fashion, one that will defy all of the airman's attempts to "rationalize" the light's behavior. This is why most of the airmen I interviewed tended to believe that the "balls of light" they had witnessed seemed to be under "intelligent control." Although this interpretation lacks any greater implications, such as being tracked, tagged and disected by an alien race for tens of generations or that the Nazis themselves had invented flying saucers, it seeks out the mundane and familiar as a root cause. The mechanisms of our human nocturnal vision differ drastically from that of our diurnal counterpart. Now throw an airman, who six months earlier was operation farm machinery, with this unknown mechanism of nocturnal vision into a high speed aircraft flying at night over enemy territory. What do you get? A foo fighter! It only seems natural that they reported seeing things, if it wasn't for the foo fighter these events probably would have gone virtually unnoticed in the annals of history as jets and baka bombs with their validity never being contested. Perhaps, now that we have a better understanding of how the foo fighters were created we can begin to better understand the advent of the UFO era Foo-Fighters
Chamberlin, Jo. "The Foo Fighter Mystery." American Legion Magazine. Dec.1945.
Illusions in Night Flying:
Adams, Henry Foster. 1912. The Autokinetic Sensations." Psychological Monographs. 15:1-44.
National Archives and Records Administration [NARA]
Opflash Report, CG IX ADC, 422nd N.F.S. 11 Nov.- 30 Nov. 1944.
Lindell, Jeffery A., "Notes and Extracts from Communications and Interviews." Correspondences with: Wesley Galliger, Associated Press[Ret.] and Roger Pineau, Japanese Aviation Historian.
Interviews with 20th Air Force:
Lt. Gen. James V. Edmundson, Commander 498th (Bomb Group) BG; Maj. Gen. Henry Huglin, Commander 9th BG; Chester W. Marshall, 20th Air Force Historian; Glen McClure, 73rd Bomb Wing Historian; Hurth Tompkins, Historian 500th BG; Herbert Hobler, 9th BG Historian; Jack Burton, Historian 29 BG, 6 SQ; Edmond Sullivan, Combat Intelligence Officer, 444th BG; Christopher Williston, Combat Intelligence Officer, 314th Wing and 20th A.F. Intelligence. Crew members of "Southern Belle" 498th BG, 874th Sq: Walter Sherrell, Aircraft Commander; Edward Ososky, Navigator; Ernest Rasmussen, Flight Engineer; Eugene Horton, Left Gunner; Don Thrane, Right Gunner; and Leland Sawyer, Tail Gunner. Rennie Fontham, Aircraft Commander "The Fire Bug" 29th BG, 52nd Sq; Fred Pawlikawski, "The Fire Bug" 29th BG, 52nd Sq; James Ferrell, Aircraft Commander "Hell's Belle" 505th BG, 482nd Sq; Sam Greenwood, Tail Gunner "Hell's Belle" 505th BG, 482nd Sq; A. T. Early, CFC Gunner "Hell's Belle" 505th BG, 482nd Sq; James Pattillo, Aircraft Commander "Bengal Lancer" 468th BG, 792nd Sq; Ian Boggs, Aircraft Commander 19th BG, 28th Sq.
Interviews with 9th Air Force:
415th Night Fighter Sq.; Harold F. Augspurger, Sq. Commander; Charlie Horne, Operations Officer; Frederick B. Ringwald, Intelligence Officer; Murphy C. Painter Jr., Pilot; Edward A. Schlueter, Pilot; David McFalls, Pilot; Raymond Neyer, Radar Operator; Richard Urich, Radar Operator; Warren Rodick, Radar Operator; Samual Krasney, Radar Operator. 422nd Night Fighter Sq.; Oris (Obie) B. Johnson, Maj. Gen., Sq. Commander; Phillip M. Guba Jr., Assistant Intelligence Officer; Charles McEwen, 422 NFS Historian; Robert Tierney, Radar Operator; John W. Anderson, Pilot; Robert G. Bolinder, Pilot; Alfred F. Dorner, Radar Operator; Robert F.(Shorty) Graham, Radar Operator; Theodore I. Jones, Pilot; James W. Mogan, Radar Operator.
Interviews with 12th Air Force:
Carl Morrison, Commander 416th NFS; Leonard Wirkus, Radar Operator 416th NFS; Frankie Robinson, Pilot 416th NFS; George Schultz, Radar Operator 416th NFS; Carroll H. Bolender, General, Sq. Commander 414th NFS; Jack Gordon, Pilot 414th NFS.
The most asinine theory advanced to date is the Hallucination/Mirage explanation, and its most recent version put forward by Jeff A. Lindell, a retired USAF Electronic Warfare Systems Analyst is the silliest. In this nonsense, the Foo Fighters were the product of auto suggestion and self induced hallucination.
Apparently, when under stress the aircrews started seeing childhood "Folk Stories" Will O' the Wisps etc. That so many men from different back grounds and parts of the world, should suffer the same hallucination taxes the levels of credibility. Lindell claims that the phenomena were only encountered by isolated aircraft. This is absolute rubbish, as the report by former B-17 pilot Charles Odom clearly shows. B-17's never flew alone, they relied on formation flying and the defensive fire of the other bombers for protection. Entire formations of American bombers all suffered the same hallucination at the same time? The RAF raid on Peenemünde where many crews reported the same "pulsating light" negates Lindell’s "theory" still further. Granted that some men may have had ‘War Jitters’ but so many? Since photos of the phenomenon exist, how is it possible to photograph a hallucination? The reader will note that Lindell does not allude to use of Electronic Warfare as a possible source of the reports.