An Investigation by Kevin McClure

CORE 1 - FOO FIGHTERS - A Red (and Yellow, and Blue) Herring

The 'foo fighter' phenomenon seems to have been so named after a wartime US comic strip which featured a character called Smokey Stover, whose catchphrase was "where there's foo there's fire". No doubt this seemed funny at the time, but it is in giving a memorable and appealing name to a very disparate, and under-researched, range of reports of aerial light phenomena that Stover has found lasting fame. Without that name, such different reports might never have been linked together.

In a way, the 'foo fighter' evidence doesn't help us much. It is reasonably clear that whatever was seen, the accounts are seldom, if ever, of solid, metal objects. Many of them actually come from the skies over Japan and other Far East countries. Nonetheless, reports of the existence and behaviour of the 'foo fighters' over Europe during the war underpin key strands of the 'Nazi UFO' mythos, and while this can't be the thorough examination that the subject deserves to receive one day, any investigation has to start somewhere. I can claim particularly little credit for the research into foo fighters which, effectively, sets the scene for my own research into the more exotic world of the Nazi UFO, but I hope that by setting it out here, it will become more accessible, and will eventually be seen in its proper - very distant - relationship to later claims of wartime flying disk development.

Two thorough and credible researchers have investigated the wartime 'foo fighter' phenomenon. One is the UK researcher and ufological iconoclast Andy Roberts, and the other is US folklore graduate Jeff Lindell. Both have, helpfully, published summaries of their material on the net, and it would be fair comment to say that they have reached somewhat different conclusions. Before turning to their more careful analysis, and ignoring the dubious material presented in post-war editions of Ray Palmer's largely fictional Amazing Stories , it is first worth considering the key, popular article on the subject which, as Roberts comments, "forms the substance of almost every piece written on the subject of foo-fighters". It appeared in the American Legion Magazine for December 1945, one with which Renato Vesco - who had worked in the USA - was familiar, but the German Rudolf Lusar, apparently, was not.

The article was titled 'The Foo Fighter Mystery', and was written by one Jo Chamberlin. This account is enlivened with contemporary "quotes" from the witnesses, making it that much more immediate and appealing. It begins with an account of reports from Japan, apparently after Germany had been defeated . . .

During the last months of the war the crews of many B-29s over Japan saw what they described as "balls of fire" which followed them, occasionally came up and almost sat on their tails, changed color from orange to red to white and back again, and yet never closed in to attack or crash, suicide-style . . "

"The balls of fire continue to be a mystery -- just as they were when first observed on the other side of the world -- over eastern Germany. This is the way they began.

At ten o'clock of a November evening, in late 1944, Lt. Ed Schlueter took off in his night fighter from Dijon, France, on what he thought would be a routine mission for the 415th Night Fighter Squadron. Lt. Schlueter is a tall, competent young pilot from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, whose hazardous job was to search the night sky for German planes and shoot them down. He had done just this several times and had been decorated for it. As one of our best night fighters, he was used to handling all sorts of emergencies. With him as radar observer was Lt. Donald J. Meiers, and Lt. Fred Ringwald, intelligence officer of the 415th, who flew as an observer.

The trio began their search pattern, roaming the night skies on either side of the Rhine River north of Strasbourg -- for centuries the abode of sirens, dwarfs, gnomes, and other supernatural characters that appealed strongly to the dramatic sense of the late A. Hitler. However, at this stage of the European war, the Rhine was no stage but a grim battleground, where the Germans were making their last great stand. The night was reasonably clear, with some clouds and a quarter moon. There was fair visibility.

In some respects, a night fighter plane operates like a champion boxer whose eyesight isn't very good; he must rely on other senses to guide him to his opponent. The U. S. Army has ground radar stations, which track all planes across the sky, and tell the night fighter the whereabouts of any plane. The night fighter flies there, closes in by means of his own radar until usually he can see the enemy, and if the plane doesn't identify itself as friendly, he shoots it down. Or, gets shot down himself, for the Germans operate their aircraft in much same way we did, and so did the Japanese.

Lt. Schlueter was flying low enough that he could detect the white steam of a blacked-out locomotive or the sinister bulk of a motor convoy, but he had to avoid smokestacks, barrage balloons, enemy searchlights, and flak batteries. He and Ringwald were on the alert, for there were mountains nearby. The inside of the plane was dark, for good night vision. Lt. Ringwald said,
"I wonder what those lights are, over there in the hills."
"Probably stars," said Schlueter, knowing from long experience that the size and character of lights are hard to estimate at night.
"No, I don't think so."
"Are you sure it's no reflection from us?"
"I'm positive."
Then Ringwald remembered -- there weren't any hills over there. Yet the "lights" were still glowing -- eight or ten of them in a row -- orange balls of fire moving through the air at a terrific speed. Then Schlueter saw them far off his left wing. Were enemy fighters pursuing him? He immediately checked by radio with Allied ground radar stations.
"Nobody up there but yourself." they reported. "Are you crazy?"
And no enemy plane showed in Lt. Meiers' radar.

Lt. Schlueter didn't know what he was facing -- possibly some new and lethal German weapon -- but he turned into the lights, ready for action. The lights disappeared -- then reappeared far off. Five minutes later they went into a flat glide and vanished.

The puzzled airmen continued on their mission, and destroyed seven freight trains behind German lines. When they landed back at Dijon, they decided to do what any other prudent soldier would do -- keep quiet for the moment. If you tried to explain everything strange that happened in a war, you'd do nothing else. Further, Schlueter and Meiers had nearly completed their required missions, and didn't want to chance being grounded by some skeptical flight surgeon for "combat fatigue." Maybe they had been "seeing things."

But a few nights later, Lt. Henry Giblin, of Santa Rosa, California, pilot, and Lt. Walter Cleary, of Worcester, Massachusetts, radar-observer, were flying at 1,000 feet altitude when they saw a huge red light 1,000 feet above them, moving at 200 miles per hour. As the observation was made on an early winter evening, the men decided that perhaps they had eaten something at chow that didn't agree with them and did not rush to report their experience.

On December 22-23, 1944, another 415th night fighter squadron pilot and radar-observer were flying at 10,000 feet altitude near Hagenau. "At 0600 hours we saw two lights climbing toward us from the ground. Upon reaching our altitude, they leveled off and stayed on my tail. The lights appeared to be large orange glows. After staying with the plane for two minutes, they peeled off and turned away, flying under perfect control, and then went out."

The next night the same two men, flying at 10,000 feet, observed a single red flame. Lt. David L. McFalls, of Cliffside, N. C., pilot, and Lt. Ned Baker of Hemat, California, radar-observer, also saw: "A glowing red object shooting straight up, which suddenly changed to a view of an aircraft doing a wing-over, going into a dive and disappearing." This was the first and only suggestion of a controlled flying device.

By this time, the lights were reported by all members of the 415th who saw them. Most men poked fun at the observers, until they saw for themselves. Although confronted with a baffling situation, and one with lethal potentialities, the 415th continued its remarkable combat record. When the writer of this article visited and talked with them in Germany, he was impressed with the obvious fact that the 415th fliers were very normal airmen, whose primary interest was combat, and after that came pin-up girls, poker, doughnuts, and the derivatives of the grape.

The 415th had a splendid record. The whole outfit took the mysterious lights or balls of fire with a sense of humor. Their reports were received in some higher quarters with smiles: "Sure, you must have seen something, and have you been getting enough sleep?" One day at chow a 415th pilot suggested that they give the lights a name. A reader of the comic strip "Smokey Stover" suggested that they be called "foo-fighters," since it was frequently and irrefutably stated in that strip that "Where there's foo, there's fire." The name stuck.

What the 415th saw at night was borne out in part by day. West of Neustadt, a P-47 pilot saw "a gold-colored ball, with a metallic finish, which appeared to be moving slowly through the air. As the sun was low, it was impossible to tell whether the sun reflected off it, or the light came from within." Another P-47 pilot reported "a phosphorescent golden sphere, 3 to 5 feet in diameter, flying at 2,000 feet."

Meanwhile, official reports of the "foo-fighters" had gone to group headquarters and were "noted." Now in the Army, when you "note" anything it means that you neither agree nor disagree, nor do you intend to do anything about it. It covers everything. Various explanations were offered for the phenomena -- none of them satisfactory, and most of them irritating to the 415th. It was said that the foo-fighters might be a new kind of flare. A flare, said the 415th, does not dive, peel off, or turn. Were they to frighten or confuse Allied pilots?

Well, if so, they were not succeeding -- and yet the lights continued to appear. Eighth Air Force bomber crews had reported seeing silver-colored spheres resembling huge Christmas tree ornaments in the sky -- what about them? Well, the silver spheres usually floated, and never followed a plane. They were presumably some idea the Germans tried in the unsuccessful effort to confuse our pilots or hinder our radar bombing devices.

What about jet planes? No, the Germans had jet planes all right, but they didn't have an exhaust flame visible at any distance. Could they be flying bombs of some sort, either with or without a pilot? Presumably not -- with but one exception no one thought he observed a wing or fuselage. Weather balloons? No, the 415th was well aware of their behavior. They ascended almost vertically, and eventually burst.

Could the lights or balls of fire be the red, blue, and orange colored flak bursts that Eighth Air Force bomber crews had reported? It was a nice idea, said the 415th, but there was no correlation between the foo-fighters they observed and the flak they encountered. And night flak was usually directed by German radar, not visually. In short, no explanation stood up.

On Dec. 31, 1944, AP reporter Bob Wilson, was with the 415th and heard about the foo-fighters. He questioned the men until 4 a.m. in the best newspaper tradition until he got all the facts. His story passed the censors, and appeared in American newspapers on January 1, 1945, just in time to meet the customary crop of annual hangovers.

Some scientists in New York decided, apparently by remote control, that what the airmen had seen in Germany was St. Elmo's light -- a well-known electrical phenomenon appearing like light or flame during stormy weather at the tips of church steeples, ships' masts, and tall trees. Being in the nature of an electrical discharge, St. Elmo's fire is reddish when positive, and blueish when negative. The 415th blew up. It was thoroughly acquainted with St. Elmo's fire. The men snorted, "Just let the sons come over and fly a mission with us. We'll show em."

Through January, 1945, the 415th continued to see the "foo-fighters," and their conduct became increasingly mysterious. One aircrew observed lights, moving both singly and in pairs. On another occasion, three sets of lights, this time red and white in color, followed a plane, and when the plane suddenly pulled up, the lights continued on in the same direction, as though caught napping, and then sheepishly pulled up to follow. The pilot checked with ground radar -- he was alone in the sky. This was true in every instance foo-fighters were observed.

The first real clue came with the last appearance of the exasperating and potentially deadly lights. They never kept 415th from fulfilling its missions, but they certainly were unnerving. The last time the foo-fighters appeared, the pilot turned into them at the earliest possible moment -- and the lights disappeared. The pilot was sure that he felt prop wash, but when he checked with ground radar, there was no other airplane.

The pilot continued on his way, perturbed, even angry -- when he noticed lights far to the rear. The night was clear and the pilot was approaching a huge cloud. Once in the cloud, he dropped down two thousand feet and made a 30 degree left turn. Just a few seconds later be emerged from the cloud -- with his eye peeled to rear. Sure enough, coming out of the cloud in the same relative position was the foo-fighter, as though to thumb its nose at the pilot, and then disappear. This was the last time the foo-fighters were seen in Germany, although it would have seemed fitting, if the lights had made one last gesture, grouping themselves so as to spell "Guess What" in the sky, and vanishing forever.

But they didn't. The foo-fighters simply disappeared when Allied ground forces captured the area East of the Rhine. This was known to be the location of many German experimental stations. Since V-E day our Intelligence officers have put many such installations under guard. From them we hope to get valuable research information -- including the solution to the foo-fighter mystery, but it has not appeared yet. It may be successfully hidden for years to come, possibly forever. The members of the 415th hope Army Intelligence will find the answer. If it turns out that the Germans never had anything airborne in the area, they say, "We'll be all set for Section Eight psychiatric discharges."

Meanwhile, the foo-fighter mystery continues unsolved. The lights, or balls of fire, appeared and disappeared on the other side of the world, over Japan -- and your guess as to what they were is just as good as mine, for nobody really knows."

Had this article not been published, then we would probably have heard little more about this unusual range of events, in different times, in different places, which has been gathered together under the foo-fighter name. Fortunately, others have gone on to gather more accurate, less dramatised accounts, and to make informed judgments about the possible causes underlying the reports.


Andy Roberts is a seasoned UK researcher with a reputation for unravelling seemingly complex cases. He went out and found a number of first-hand experiencers

"I wrote to every air-related magazine in the UK with a request for information from ex-aircrew. To date I have had some thirty replies from pilots and crew detailing their experiences with strange balls of light (incidentally not one of them knew them by the name "foo-fighters," or any other name for that matter).

Official confirmation of wartime phenomena was not so easy to come by

"My research so far with the RAF/MOD/PRO in the UK has drawn a total blank regarding official documentation and investigation of the subject, as have preliminary investigations in the USA. UFO skeptics will of course say that this is because it doesn't exist, proponents, especially cover-up buffs, will say it is because it is being kept secret.

The simple facts are that if documentation does exist in the UK I am unlikely to be able to get at it easily because of our archaic procedures for obtaining any government documents. We are not blessed by a FOI Act as is the USA, and obtaining any document depends on whether a department can be bothered to answer your letters or if so, can be bothered to undertake a meaningful search of their records. The situation is further complicated by the fact that many records in our Public Records Office are hard to locate due to how it is organised and furthermore are subject to "rules" such as the 30 year rule whereby information is not available for 30 years from date of classification. Worse still many W.W.II records are languishing under a 75 year rule for reasons I have not yet fathomed! In addition to this fact I have spoken to some ex-wartime RAF intelligence people in the UK and they claim no knowledge of the phenomena."

Roberts has a very low opinion of most 'foo fighter' research. I fully support his view, which he illustrates by identifying one certain 'foo' hoax, and another probable one: these are summarised in the 'False Histories' section, below. Yet Roberts is not entirely disillusioned by his discoveries, and concludes of the many apparently guileless reports of aerial lights that

"Out of all this some clear facts are apparent. Hundreds of aircrew saw and recorded what we now call foo-fighters during W.W.II. There must be many thousands of ex-aircrew who have stories to tell. The problem is finding them and the odd ad. or article is only going to draw a few out and I have yet to attempt to get to American information from squadron survivors units etc. The situation regarding German information is further complicated by a language barrier but it is only a matter of time.

I firmly believe that foo-fighters were a real, although non-solid phenomena and I reject the hallucination/misperception hypothesis almost entirely. These people's lives depended on being able to see and identify aerial objects very quickly. One mistake and it was their last. Some crew have admitted misperceiving Venus etc., but realising it in seconds, and certainly not a whole crew being fooled for any length of time."


US folklorist Jeff A Lindell is a retired USAF electronic warfare systems analyst. He has conducted extensive interviews with airmen who witnessed light phenomena during WWII, and tends towards a rationalist explanation of all such reports, utilising the possible misinterpretation of different kinds of natural events. In his paper 'The Foo Fighter Mystery: Revised' in the context of historical accounts identified as 'Jack o'Lantern' and 'Will o' the Wisp', he sets out some key 'foo fighter' reports from earlier sources

"Let us proceed with the World War II version of this legend type. Early in October of 1944, pilots in the 422 Night Fighter Squadron (NFS), based out of Florennes, Belgium began to report "balls of light" pacing their fighters over Western Germany. By early November several 422nd pilots and radar operators had reported encounters with Me163 rocket fighters and Me262 jet fighters on night missions over the Reich. On the 7th of November of 1944 the Associated Press Corps in Paris released this statement:

Paris (AP)-- The Germans are using jet and rocket propelled planes and various other 'newfangled' gadgets against Allied night fighters," Lt. 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, p.1)."

In an interview with Philip Guba, Assistant Intelligence Officer of the 422 NFS, he states

"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. But I think that was the only conclusion we could reach... that was a jet. It could not have been a Will-o'-wisp or something like that. What they reported seeing was simply the exhaust, you see. They did mention that these guys (the jets) seemed to play around with them. They did mention that these guys (the jets) never shot at them and I can't recall whether the Radar observer actually saw them on the screen. It was mostly visual in other words."

Meanwhile, the 415th N.F.S. based out of Dijon France began to report the "balls of fire" which they had affectionately dubbed, "foo fighters." On the 27th of November the first foo fighter was sighted over Western Germany by an Ed Schleuter and Don Meiers flying a Beaufighter, here is Don's account:

"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, p.1,4.)

Well, to complicate things even more, the 416th N.F.S. stationed in Pisa Italy also began to spot "foo fighters" in February of 1945. Here are some excerpts from the 416th NFS' historical data and operations records respectively:

17 February 1945: "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.l. 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 teetotalers 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.)

17 February 1945: "At 21:30 saw reddish white light going off and on in spurts about 6 or 8 miles away, near La Spezia at 10,000 ft. going NE. chased it at 280 MPH for 11/2 minutes. It took erratic course and faded out. At 21:40 saw some type of light 10 miles South of La Spezia and it went North and turned East of La Spezia at 9000'. Faded near La Spezia. Pilot came within 5 miles of La Spezia, suspected Ack Ack trap. At 21:55,10 miles south of La Spezia chased another and it went across La Spezia and pilot followed. Faded 10 or 15 miles North of La Spezia. Our aircraft at 300 MPH couldn't catch it. No ack ack at La Spezia. At 22:50, 5 miles south of Pisa, saw same light from distance of 10 miles. Chased it for 2 or 2 1/2 minutes. It took north course, disappeared over Mt. this light 10,000'. Light described as glow that alternates between weak and bright. No contacts on Al (radar). Apparently no jamming." (17 Feb.1945. Daily Operations Report, 416th NFS, 12th AF-SCU-01.)

The above sighting was made by George Shultz and Frankie Robinson."

Lindell presents a convincing case for accepting that whatever the cause of the reports, because of their low numbers and limited geographical range, Me163 rocket fighters and Me262 jet fighters were seldom responsible. He reports

"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, 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 Al-a's. His orders were to intercept the nightly assaults of Mosquito bombers hitting Berlin known as the "Berlin Express." This allows Welter very little time to organize, recruit, equip and fly all of the missions which Allied pilots claim were flown. (From Hugh Morgan's "Me262, Stormbird Rising")

This still leaves us with the question of the Me 63 rocket fighter. The Second Squadron of Jagdgeschwader (JG) 400, the first and only Me 63 Combat Wing, was stationed at Venlo airfield in the Netherlands and saw limited action until it was withdrawn to the home wing in Brandis, south of Leipzig, in July of 1944. At Brandis, JG 400 saw it's peak of operational performance on the 28th of September of 1944 when it was able to scramble 9 Me 63s in order to intercept an Allied day-light bombing raid. This rocket fighter was only used as a day interceptor for bombers, no records exist concerning the night testing of the Me 163 at the German experimental airfield, Estelle Retime, which is where all of the experimental aircraft were tested for night flying. (Morgan, Price, Ziegler.) Mano Zeigler who flew as one of the three 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 Me 63, "Trying to land in the dark you'd spread yourself in small pieces around the countryside!" (Ziegler p.113) 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."

Lindell goes on to present information about later sightings of mysterious - and possibly responsive - lights in the Far East where, of course, the war continued after Germany's defeat. Interesting, and broadly similar, as that material is, it doesn't really form part of our investigation into the flight of high-performance German disks. His careful conclusions are, however, helpful. He admits to a fairly sceptical approach to the material, but conclusions drawn from such thorough research have considerable value. He says

"At this point it is of vital interest to relate the above terms with that of "aviator's vertigo." In May of 1946, Dr W E Vinacke submitted the first ever report concerning folk beliefs among aviators concerning anomalous experiences associated with flying. In his report 'The Concept of Aviator's Vertigo', Vinacke states

"Vertigo is primarily a psychological problem. It appears to be associated with the mental hazards of flying, and with the 'mysterious' events which sometimes happen in an aircraft. there is thus a two-fold source of emotional loading in the term 'vertigo', ie dangerous conditions and unexplained, though actual, phenomena. (Vincacke p.2)

In the pursuit of fairness I have also interviewed the same pilots periodically and concerning various topics involving nightflying. This effect has been significant. Pilots who never reported seeing foo fighters were asked if they had experienced vertigo. The vertigo stories could easily be classed as foo fighter stories. These persons tended to be either commanders or high ranking experienced night fighters. The point is that there are a wide variety of "conditions" in which a story can be recounted concerning an anomalous personal experience. Persons who had not seen foo fighters could offer no such similar experience other than a "mistaken identification" interpretation such as St.Elmo's fire, jets, Venus, etc. Persons who had experienced "visual-vertigo" in night flying offered experiences which are, for all practical purposes, identical to first hand experience narratives concerning foo fighters, baka bombs, jets, Venus, balls of fire and the Jack-o'-lantern. Edgar Vinacke writes,

"Pilots do not have sufficient information about phenomena of disorientation, and, as a corollary, are given considerable disorganized, incomplete, and inaccurate information. They are largely dependent upon their own experience, which must supplement and interpret the traditions about 'vertigo' which are passed on to them. When a concept thus grows out of anecdotes cemented together with practical necessity, it is bound to acquire elements of mystery. So far as 'vertigo' is concerned, no one really knows more than a small part of the facts, but a great deal of the peril. Since aviators are not skilled observers of human behavior, they usually have only the vaguest understanding of their own feelings. Like other naive persons, therefore, they have simply adopted a term to cover a multitude of otherwise inexplicable events." (Vinacke p.5.)

Surprisingly, this is probably the most thorough account of 'foo fighter' reports yet published, and I've almost completely ignored the reports from outside the European theatre of war. There is an excellent book to be written about the whole 'foo fighter' issue, which ideally would include the research conducted by both Andy Roberts and Jeff Lindell. I would strongly suggest, however, that none of the 'foo fighter' evidence correlates in any objective manner with the later claims for the existence of high-performance flying disks.

A final point about 'foo fighters'. There are various photos of planes seemingly accompanied by blobs of what may be light, or emulsion flaws, or tiny aircraft, or whatever. They are paraded periodically - Mark Ian Birdsall of the UK UFO Magazine seems keen on them - as evidence of the physical reality of the phenomenon. To date, I have found no evidence of the specific provenance of any of these photos - who took them, on what date, where, with what camera, in what circumstances, and so on. In the case of the photo most commonly reproduced, it is not even clear what type of aircraft is shown. Others images look as if they might well have been manipulated. At present, these photos are evidence of nothing but the willingness to accept inadequate evidence to support an inadequately evidenced belief. Of course, if relevant provenance could be established, my opinion might well change.

   > Core 2 - Renato Vesco, Feuerball and Kugelblitz