Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher and Dr. Sylvia Naylor, Archivists at the National Archives at College Park.
In May 1948 the Office of Military Government for Bavaria, Germany, issued instructions for reporting sightings of “flying discs.” These instructions were issued as a result of requirements from higher headquarters in Germany and in the United States. They were the result of the flying saucer phenomena that began in 1947.
During the last week of June 1947 people in the Western United States began seeing “flying discs” in the sky. The United States Army Air Force announced on July 3rd that preliminary inquiry into report that strange “flying disks” had been whizzing at 1,200 miles an hour over the Western United States “has not produced enough fact to warrant further investigation.” The Air Force spokesman said that Air Force personnel were inclined to believe either that the observers just imagined they saw something or that there was some meteorological explanation for the phenomenon. However, Wright Field public relations officials said that the Air Material Command was making an investigation of “saucer-shaped” missiles seen recently in the Pacific Northwest and Texas.
On July 4, The Washington Post reported that “flying saucers” reports had prompted the U.S. Army to begin an investigation, noting that persons in 10 states reported they had seen “flying saucers.” The paper observed that the air research center at Wright Field was looking into the reports and all service intelligence agencies were at work on them. “Army experts,” the paper indicated, “suggested, as a bare possibility, that some civilian inventor had been making experiments of some kind” and an Army Air Force spokesman at Washington said “‘If some foreign power is sending flying discs over the United States, it is our responsibility to know about it and take the proper action.”
Two days later The Washington Post reported that the Nation had been baffled the previous day by “flying saucers” reported seen in 28 states by hundreds of persons and that a check with the War Department and other agencies the previous night resulted in no new information being available in Washington, “but a new tendency to take the reports a bit more serious was apparent.”
Then came the Roswell Incident, when on July 7, about 75 miles north of the town of Roswell in New Mexico, debris from a highly classified project used by the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) to detect atomic bomb tests in the Soviet Union, was recovered from a ranch. Ranch worker William Brazel, who had first seen the debris on June 14, and subsequently gathered up part of it on July 4th. On July 5 Brazel heard about the flying disks, and wondered if what he had found might be the remnants of one of them. So on July 7 Brazel took some of the debris to Roswell where he told Sheriff George Wilcox about his find. Wilcox immediately reported the encounter to the USAAF base at Roswell. Major Jesse A. Marcel, the intelligence officer of the 509th Bombardment Group, accompanied Wilcox from the base to the sheriff’s home where they retrieved the debris. Marcel would take the debris to the airfield. Either that day or the next morning Marcel and a detail from his office went to the ranch and recovered the remainder of the debris.
The public information officer at Roswell Army Air Field (RAAF), Lt. Warren Haught, released a statement to the press the following day, that read:
The many rumors regarding the flying disks became a reality yesterday when the intelligence office of the 509th (atomic) bomb group of Eight air force, Roswell army air field, was fortunate enough to gain possession of a disk through the cooperation of one of the local ranchers and the sheriff’s office of Chaves county.
The flying object landed on a ranch near Roswell some time last week. Not having phone facilities the rancher stored the disk until such time as he was able to contact the sheriff’s office, who in turn notified Major Jess A. Marcel of the 509th bomb group intelligence officer.
Action was immediately taken and the disk was picked up at the rancher’s home. It was inspected at the Roswell army air field and subsequently loaned by Major Marcel to higher headquarters,
At noon on July 8 the intelligence office of the 509th Bombardment Group at Roswell Army Air Field announced that the field had come into possession of a flying saucer. According to information released by the office that the “disk” was recovered on ranch after a rancher had notified the Sheriff, and Marcel and a detail from his office went to the ranch and recovered the “disk.” The Roswell Daily Record on July 9 reported that the intelligence office had no details “of the saucer’s construction or its appearance had been revealed” and that after the intelligence office had inspected it, it was flown to “higher headquarters.”
Brig. Gen. Roger Ramey, commander of the Eight Air Force, with headquarters at Fort Worth, Texas, on July 8 said the debris had come to him and he described it as of “flimsy construction, almost like a box kite” and stated it as “apparently some sort of tin foil.” He reported that the debris was being shipped by air to the Air Force research center at Wright Field.
Quickly, the story became that the debris was not from a flying saucer, but from a weather balloon. Brazel, told the press that he had previously found two weather observation balloons on the ranch, but that what he found this time did not in any way resemble either of them. “I am sure what I found was not any weather observation balloon” he said.
On July 9 the New York Times reported that “Celestial crockery had the Army up in the air for several hours yesterday before an Army officer explained that what a colleague thought was “‘a flying disk” was nothing more than a battered Army weather balloon” and noted that “This denouement closes the New Mexico chapter in the ‘flying saucer’ saga that already had contributions from forty-three other states in the Union as well as from Australia, England, South Africa, Mexico and Canada.” It added that much confusion began with the startling announcement from an Army lieutenant that “‘a flying disk” had been found on a ranch near Roswell, near the scene of atomic bomb tests. The officer, Lt. Warren Haught, public information officer of the Roswell Army Air Field, made no bones about the discovery in his detailed report as carried by the Associated Press.
The New York Times reported on July 10, that the United Press recorded that a ‘blistering rebuke” had been sent from Army Air Forces headquarters to the Roswell Air Base for having somewhat prematurely “discovered” a disk.
“The flying saucer story, it seems to us, has got a little out of bounds” began an opinion piece in The Washington Post on July 11:
We don’t want to be uppity about this business, but it seems to us that the boys have only themselves to blame that the story has got out of hand. Some of them are pretty bitter about Lieut. Warren Haught, USA, official press agent for the Army Air Forces command near Roswell, N. Mex., because he sent out a story beginning, ‘The many rumors regarding the flying disk became a reality yesterday when—‘ It seems to us that Lieutenant Naught was only doing his job according to his lights, and, after all, he got the name of Roswell Field into the first pages of almost every newspaper in the country before the thing that was found there turned out to be some kind of meteorological kite.
In the days following the Roswell Incident, reports of flying saucers being seen were made in 44 states, various locations Canada, the Netherlands, England, Chile, Iran, Australia, Manchuria, France, and other countries. When asked about the flying saucers, Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei A. Gromyko, in the United States for an United Nations meeting, said “Some attribute it to the British for exporting too much of their Scotch whisky into the United States. Some say it is a Russian discus thrower training for the Olympic games who does not realize his own strength.” Gromyko said he believed these explanations were correct. The United Press asked Orville Wright for his opinion. He responded that “It is more propaganda for war to stir up the people and excite them to believe a foreign power has designs on this nation.”
But reports continued through the remainder of 1947. That fall the United States Air Force took official notice of reports of unidentified flying objects (UFOs), the so-called “flying saucers,” because they represented a possible threat to national security, and had become a subject of public concern. The Air Force was designated the responsible agency due to the fact that most of the objects were reported to be flying. On December 30, 1947, the Air Material Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, was directed to establish a project to collect and evaluate all available facts concerning sightings of UFOs. The objectives of this project were to determine if those objects constituted a threat to national security; determine if any scientific and/or technical information was available from the sightings; and, identify and/or explain all UFO sightings. From 1947 until February 1949, the program was identified as Project SIGN. In February 1949, the name of the project was changed to GRUDGE, remaining so until March 1952, when it was further changed to BLUE BOOK.
During January and February 1948 reports of “ghost rockets” continued to come from air attachés in foreign countries near the Baltic Sea. People in North Jutland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Germany reported “balls of fire traveling slowly across the sky.” The reports were very sketchy and incomplete, most of them accounts from newspapers. According to Edward J. Ruppelt, former head of Project Blue Book, “In a few days the UFO’s were being seen all over Europe and South America. Foreign reports hit a peak in the latter part of February and U.S. newspapers began to pick up the stories.” He added that “All during the spring of 1948 good reports continued to come in. Some were just run-of-the-mill but a large percentage of them were good, coming from people whose reliability couldn’t be questioned.” It would be that May that the Office of Military Government for Bavaria would issue its instructions and cautionary note.
For more information about NARA’s holdings regarding Unidentified Flying Objects, or UFOs see:
- Project BLUE BOOK – Unidentified Flying Objects
- The Text Message: “No Enemy Contact, but Alien Contact” by Joe Gillette
- Press Releases from Gerald Ford – UFO, 1966
“‘Flying Disks’ Fail to Stir Air Forces,” New York Times, July 4, 1947, p. 26.
“Mysterious ‘Flying Saucers’ Reported Seen Over 10 States,” The Washington Post, July 4, 1947, p. 1.
“Scientists Scout Wide Reports of Discs Flying Over Nation,” The Washington Post, July 6, 1947, pp. M1, M3.
“RAAF Captures Flying Saucer on Ranch in Roswell Region, Roswell Daily Record, July 8, 1947, p. 1.
“Army Declares Flying Disk Found,” Spokane Daily Chronicle, Final Empire Edition, July 8, 1947, p. 1.
“Army Finds Flying Saucer,” Los Angeles Evening Herald and Express, Sunset Edition, July 8, 1947, p. 1.
Murray Schumach, “‘Disk’ Near Bomb Test Site Is Just a Weather Balloon,” New York Times, July 9, 1947, p. 1.
“Harassed Rancher who Located ‘Saucer’ Sorry he Told About It,” Roswell Daily Record, July 9, 1947, p. 1.
“Saucers? Maybe a Mighty Russian Throwing a Discus, Gromyko Hints,” New York Times, July 10, 1947, p. 23.
“Heavenly days!,” The Washington Post, July 11, 1947, p. 18.
“Yes, Disks Fly On, But Interest Lags,” New York Times, July 11, 1947, p. 7.
“Those Saucers Reported in China, France,” The Washington Post, July 14, 1947, p. 6.
Edward J. Ruppelt, The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects (Garden City, New York: Doubleday& Company, 1956)