Who Dares Wins?: Britain’s Roswell meets the SAS

‘If you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise…’ (Anne Murray)

Christmas 2018 marks the 38th anniversary of the mysterious events in the Rendlesham forest near RAF Woodbridge in Suffolk that became Britain’s best known UFO legend.

credit: Wikipedia

At the height of the Cold War US air force personnel reported seeing ‘unexplained lights’ in the forest beyond the runway of the nuclear-armed NATO complex.

The sensational events were reported by the US base commander in a memo that was sent to the British Ministry of Defence.

But since the story was first broken by the News of the World both the UK and US governments have denied any of the incidents had ‘defence significance’.

The lack of interest shown by the US and UK authorities has not been shared by story-tellers: believers, skeptics and fantasists of every kind.

Since the basic story leaked out, the legend has been kept alive with a stream of new theories, claims and fictional adaptations.

In November Sony Pictures announced Hollywood actor Lawrence Fishburne will play a lead role in an 8-part TV drama Rendlesham, directed by Joe Ahearne (of Doctor Who fame), set in the Cold War and present day.

At least two other documentaries are in production as the UFO industry gears up for the 40th anniversary of the legend in December 2020.

But so far none of the many and varied attempts to reveal ‘the truth’ about the events have mentioned the alleged involvement of the Special Air Service (SAS) – the British Army’s Special Forces Unit (motto: Who Dares Wins).

Some time ago a person who claims to be a SAS insider wrote to me after he saw me talking about Rendlesham on a TV documentary. I will call him Frank. His motive? It was ‘about time that the truth is revealed’ about the incident.

I investigated his incredible story by talking to trusted (and open) sources in the British military, including some high profile former SAS troopers. I reached my own conclusions. Then I sat on the story for three years, waiting to see if Frank would cast his fishing rod elsewhere. Now I call his bluff.

Frank says that in 1980 the twin USAF bases at Bentwaters-Woodbridge housed tactical nuclear weapons and responsibility for guarding these lay with the USAF 81st Security Police at Woodbridge.

East Gate, RAF Woodbridge – where the ‘sightings’ began in the early hours of 26 December 1980 (credit: Ian Ridpath’s Rendlesham photo album: http://www.ianridpath.com/ufo/photos.htm)

The base was also home to the 67th ARRS (Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron), a US Special Forces unit.

One of its tasks was locating and recovering Apollo command modules and other US space hardware for NASA.

The sensitive nature of what went on at RAF Bentwaters-Woodbridge led the authorities to conduct a series of ‘exercises’ from the 1960s onwards.

These were designed to test the ability of the UK and US security forces to detect and intercept any attack by Soviet forces on the nuclear weapons store.

All the simulated exercises were unannounced and carried out UK Special Forces (SAS and their naval equivalent, the Special Boat Service or SBS). But according to Frank in 1980 the USAF quietly enhanced and upgraded their ability to monitor the air above the base as well as ground targets.

Rumours about a confrontation between British and US forces in the forest prior to the ‘UFO’ incident are nothing new. This item by Graham Birdsall appeared in the Yorkshire UFO Society journal Quest in the summer of 1992

In August the SAS mounted a covert night exercise to penetrate the Bentwaters SSA. Troopers parachuted into the forest from a C130 that had ‘strayed’ into the area from a training zone.

But the plan was rumbled when their black parachutes were detected by the new base surveillance equipment. The entire squad were captured and they were interrogated by a young ARRS lieutenant who was unaware of the ongoing security testing programme.

Special Forces or aliens? An easy mistake to make…(creative commons)

The troopers identified themselves as British special forces. But they were abused and roughly treated by their captors for a period of 18 hours before release. Frank claims:

‘The language used by the young US officer was unusual (to British ears) in that he repeatedly referred to the Brits as unidentified aliens who posed a threat in their presence on the sovereign US soil of the airbase

‘Although the word alien is commonly used in the US (for example by immigration officers to describe non-US citizens) it has gained a rather different usage in the UK.

‘After their release, the troopers made no complaint at their rough treatment but determined to get their own back on the USAF for the beating that they had received.

‘In particular, their repeated characterisation as “aliens” sowed the seeds of a plan –

“They called us aliens! Right, we’ll show them what aliens really look like!”

The headline that broke the story – from the British tabloid The News of the World, October 1983 (Ian Ridpath)

What happened next, according to Frank, would be bread and butter for special operation soldiers trained to deceive and misinform whilst remaining invisible.

During the autumn nights were spent reconnoitring the perimeter of the twin base complex where it met the Forestry Commission plantation known as Tangham Forest (Rendlesham).

As December approached lights and coloured flares were rigged in the forest. Black helium balloons coupled to remote-controlled kites carried suspended materials into the sky, activated by radio-controls.

‘A great deal of nocturnal Christmas fun was had at the expense of the USAF – and the matter should have ended there,’ Frank continued.

‘Unfortunately, a senior US officer (Lt Col Halt) led the US contingent out into the forest on the second night and took along his tape recorder. The hovering and whizzing lights were sufficiently impressive for him to send a report to the MoD.

‘Someone in London recalled the events of the previous August and questions were asked. A few red faces but also some satisfaction and amusement followed…

‘The USAF was “reassured” at a very senior level and no UK investigation was undertaken – for obvious reasons!’

The bottom line, according to Frank, was the Rendlesham Forest ‘aliens’ were our ‘aliens’ on our soil (no encroachment on the US bases) so ‘no threat to UK security’ was the honest response to questions – from the Press, MPs and Lord Hill-Norton in the Houses of Parliament.

Frank says he finds it hilarious that the UFO legend in the forest was based on what he calls an old truism: ‘two nations divided by a common language.

So were the Rendlesham Forest UFOs really just pyrotechnics rigged up by British Special Forces to fool their American allies? Is the mystery finally solved? Or is the story just another winter’s tale – a big leg-pull?

Robin Horsfall, who served with 22 SAS at the time of the Rendlesham UFO incident (credit: YouTube)

One man who should know the truth is Robin Horsfall, a former SAS sniper. Robin took part in the famous Special Forces operation that stormed the Iranian Embassy to free hostages – just six months before the alleged ‘prank’ in Rendlesham forest.

Horsfall tells me the letter-writer is someone dangling a fishing rod. The language Frank uses provides ‘no evidence of a military background’.

The letter, he says, ‘is written by a person with a solid grounding in grammar which in my opinion excludes most SAS operatives during this period including the commissioned officers’.

More conclusively, as the alleged events happened during his time based in Hereford with 22 SAS he felt sure he would have heard about it via the grapevine.

‘We did undertake planned training actions against British military establishments but never against those of the US forces. Working against US units with live ammunition without strict safety protocols could have got people killed with huge political ramifications.

‘The idea of a revenge prank by [SAS] isn’t plausible as the rules controlling pyrotechnical devices within the regiment were very strict and any such action could have resulted in those involved being returned to unit’.

It remained a possibility, Horsfall added, that such a prank could have been played by ‘some other internal unit’, but the risks were great because pyrotechnics would have left behind easily-recoverable forensic traces.

‘If there is any truth in the story then I would be looking for the obvious prankster inside the US base not the SAS,’ he said.

So I took Frank’s story to the US Base Commander at the time of the incidents, Col Ted Conrad. It was Conrad who ordered police from the 81st Security Squadron to conduct an informal investigation of the UFO sightings in the forest reported by his personnel.

Col Conrad remains open minded about what his men saw. But he is on record as saying one unlikely but possible explanation is that the incident was a prank or hoax.

But in this case he agreed with Robin Horsfall: Frank’s story simply does not stack up. ‘US bases are not on US soil, rather all of them remain on sovereign British soil…US citizens who are stationed and work there are the “aliens”.

‘The SSA was guarded 24/7/365 by armed, trained security personnel who were instructed to shoot to kill, if necessary to prevent a breach,’ Col Conrad told me.

Col Ted Conrad (USAF retired), RAF Bentwaters-Woodbridge Base Commander 1980-81 (image Copyright Dr David Clarke)

‘It is unthinkable that either side would conduct such an exercise against an important facility where real weapons and ammo were present

‘The alleged rough treatment of British Special Forces by one US Lieutenant from the 67 ARRS is also unthinkable, but if it had been reported by complaint, the offender would have been more impacted by our disciplinary action that mounting a fake UFO landing could possibly have had.’

To paraphrase the folklorist Linda Degh we may never find resolution as to the ‘truth’ of any particular legend.

But the emphasis upon possibility and plausibility in stories like Frank’s provides them with their latent energy – and their potential to entertain and enthral the audience.

So there were have it folks: another winter’s tale from the Rendlesham forest.

The truth, though, remains persistently out there.


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20 Responses to Who Dares Wins?: Britain’s Roswell meets the SAS

  1. How many more stories do you have in your folklore locker David ? This was a good one i must admit.

  2. ianbroadmore says:

    is it April 1st?…😀 what a load of tosh

  3. Fin Handley says:

    If only the skeptics could get together and agree on ONE of their imagined versions of events, they might appear more credible with their theories.

    2003: BBC Inside Out “investigates” Rendlesam. (Btw, they don’t)
    “Not only can we tell you that most of it was a hoax but also how it was done.”

    2010: Evan Davis (economist & tv presenter) goes for a stroll with Ian Ridpath. Opens the article with “Let me be completely honest. I do not believe in alien UFOs. Nothing could persuade me that extra-terrestrials are hovering above us or getting ready to drop in for tea.”

    Later goes on to state “I have never felt any need to read up about “Britain’s Roswell”, completely sure as I was that an alien craft had not been seen in the skies over Suffolk. But nonetheless, this week I went out to the woods to investigate.”

    Again, no actual investigation done. Just talks to Ridpath.


    2018: This. Why even bother?

    Here’s why: every 7-8 years, or whenever feels like a good time, we get a reminder that, bah, it was probably just gullible airmen who mistook something mundane for aliens flying around the woods, two nights in a row. But ironically, anyone who actually takes the skeptics seriously, must now think Halt and co. were fooled by –

    a lighthouse once every few seconds, AND a guy playing a prank flashing his car lights, AND some SAS guys also pranking, sneaking around playing clever tricks.

    WHAT A NIGHT!!!! Wow. The perfect storm of pranks, misidentified lights in the sky, and idiotic, probably drugged up “gullible airmen”. Sounds entirely legit.

    • Skeptics have agreed on one version of events, Fran.
      Ian Ridpath’s explanation is the only one that stands up to scrutiny and can be shown to fit the facts reported contemporaneously.
      If by ‘skeptic’ you are referring to me, then please don’t shoot the messenger.
      If you had read my post you would know that I am not promoting the SAS story as a true explanation for the Rendlesham mystery.
      It is clearly a prank, just another story to add to the legend. Every legend in existence, from King Arthur to Robin Hood, has multiple versions all with their own believers and non-believers.
      UFO legends are no different.
      There is no one agreed ‘version’ of what happened and no one person ‘owns’ the legend even though some folks are trying to position themselves as the gatekeepers.

      • Richard Thomson says:

        You must be sick to death of Rendlesham, David.
        I’ve listened to lots of your interviews (Linda Moulton-Howe seems a lovely person, but slightly tippy in her teacup!)
        Your UFOLore podcasts are excellent. I really hope to hear more soon.
        And your interview with Howard Hughes, in my opinion, is a classic. It’s hilarious!.
        A special thank you for getting Project Condign released David (and for the breadcrumbs from your interview with John)
        ; )

      • Doctorpsylus says:

        One has to ask the obvious question
        how come not one person was shot ?
        wasnt this a base with nuclear weapons ( & more ) ?
        they lassooed these people ? who must have been dressed for ” action ” ergo look the part ? tbh this story is worse than any UFO story ive ever heard ! Its utterly preposterous & was timed for 2 things ,Halt had a book ,im sure everyone including the woodbridge milkmans writing a book on it ,but im pretty sure it was to counter the larry warren film Capel Green that was amusingingly put back due to Covid 19 😀 given warren passed the Lie detector & everyone seems to think a lie detector is more evidence than actually being there ?! no wonder govts keep secrets 😛
        Cheers 🙂

  4. TARDIS_man says:

    “- as the UFO industry gears up for the 40th anniversary of the legend in December 2020.”

    The key word is, legend, which the 1980 Rendlesham ‘incident’ is, and nothing more. An analysis of the paltry evidence reveals nothing whatsoever extraordinary, and all the main witnesses
    are revealed as fantasists and liars. The Frank story is somebody playing a prank.

    • David Clarke says:

      Tardis, are you calling the Deputy Base Commander Charles Holt, a liar? You are right about the ‘Frank’ fairy tale.

  5. Reminds one of the feeble attempt to foist blame for the infamous April 1964 Socorro sighting event on college students perpetrating a prank on police officer Lonnie Zamora. In both cases the “hoax” or “prank” explanation is one of the least likely explanations, IMO.

  6. Steven Ross says:

    The enduring mystery from this case is how John Burroughs (the only witness present on two of the nights) managed to finally obtain a settlement from the US Veteran’s Association after having to undergo heart surgery. This was based upon a claim that he suffered injuries to his heart in the line of duty during the period of the incidents. He fought for a period of years via Senators Kyle and McCain and specifically quoted from the UK MoD’s Condign Report as below.

    “”The well-reported Rendlesham Forest/Bentwaters event is an example where it might be postulated that several observers were probably exposed to UAP radiation for longer than
    normal UAP sighting periods. There may be other cases which remain unreported. It is clear that the recipients of these effects are not aware that their behaviour/perception of what
    they are observing is being modified”

    (Taken from : Condign Report Volume 2, Working Paper 1, Annex F, page F-4, para 13).”

    Now this doesn’t mean anything out of this world that injured John Burroughs But it does suggest that there might be something more to this case that the US military would rather kepe quiet about.

    • David Clarke says:

      As far as I know, Burroughs did not get as close to the object as did Jim Penniston, who said that he actually touched the object. Presumably he has had no heart problems. Another mystery is that Burroughs was not able to give a description of the object to back up Penniston. I was not aware that Burroughs was a witness on two separate occasions.

      • Steven Ross says:

        Burroughs name is heard on the cassette tape that Colonel Halt recorded. An officer states Burroughs and one other are wanting to come forward to Halt’s location. It’s been known since the 1990s that John was there on two nights. He ventured ahead of Halt with another air force soldier and was then engulfed in a light

        He fell ill in 2010. then fighting a lengthy legal battle involving Senator John McCain. You might wish to research the fine details or contact John yourself about it?

      • David Clarke says:

        Steven, sorry to cause confusion to you and many others, with my name. I am in my mid 70’s, so have had my name a lot longer than the good Doctor Clarke. I have followed the case since I bought the book by Larry Warren: “Left at East Gate”.(Published 1997)
        The strange thing is, everytime I read some of it , it seems different. I thought there was Penniston’s drawing and description of the object. No, he is only mentioned a few times. In the book, Burroughs says he touched the object. I don’t remember that.There was a mention of heart trouble.
        Sorry to say, I am totally confused by the whole incident. Larry Warren does not seem to feature very much in general discussions.

      • Can I just make it clear to ‘confused Brit’ (from Above Top Secret newsgroup) that the David Clarke who posted this message is not Dr David Clarke (the owner of this website), but my namesake who is a completely different person.
        This has quite hilariously created a long thread on ATS with people asking how someone as familiar with the Rendlesham documents could not be aware that Burroughs was a witness on two separate occasions.
        Of course I knew that, but it’s not my job to educate every other David Clarke who didn’t know it.

  7. TARDIS_man says:

    “Tardis, are you calling the Deputy Base Commander Charles Holt, a liar?”

    Dr Clarke,
    I just commented on your, New Light on Rendlesham page, regarding what I think of Holt and, Penniston in particular. I direct you to that comment (if you’ve allowed it.)

    As for Holt, IMO he’s a Walter Mitty type and his commander at Woodbridge said so. I believe at the time, he refered to Holt as a ‘bit of a twit…’ First hand accounts by USAF personel who were there, say the whole ‘incident’ was a non event and basically, ‘a bunch of guys goofing off in the woods.’ Interestingly, exactly the same improvements & embelishments with time are observed with the Roswell UFO myth.

    As Ian Ridpath said: There is no evidence that anything crashed in Rendlesham Forest. Once you realize this, everything else falls into place.

  8. Doctorpsylus says:

    So wheres the letter ? surely youd post the actual letter
    anyone can just jump in & say its not etter its a lighthouse

  9. Doctorpsylus says:

    also Mr ridpaths lighouse theory doesnt explain Southwold kessingland,Lowestoft pakefield who had sightings from 21 dec to NYE 1980 where several people in lowestoft saw a triangluar shaped object tumbling anti clockwise in the general direction of the east coast ,point being you cant even see lowestoft lighthouse in lowestoft let alone orford ness ,seems convenient to forget the bloke fishing longlines or the couple out for NYE .
    Of course the letter must be checked out ,just annoying its not published ,im sure the SAS man left details that prove hes a regiment member ?

  10. m.newark says:

    The idea that the SAS would try and breach the US defence of the Nuclear Storage bunkers is very hard to believe. With orders to shoot to kill, who would take any chance of being killed on such a stupid exercise.
    It smells of coverup this SAS story, with what very well could be a genuine Ufo landing in the forest.
    The fact the animals all kicked up a racket at the farm during the time Holt was in the woods watching the craft proves they were disturbed by the Ufo well before daybreak.
    Plus the fact others saw these craft from different positions on the night in question, plus all radar records went missing says it all for me.

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