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Room 101


A Room 101 Interview with Keith Chester:
Author of Strange Company -
Military Encounters with UFOs in WWII

Almost every book I've ever read dealing with UFOs seems to start with either Kenneth Arnold's June 24, 1947 sighting, or the early July 1947 Roswell Incident. Sometimes there's a brief mention of the foo fighters from WWII too, and better researched histories might mention the ghost aircraft of WWI or even the phantom airships that made headlines across the United States in the late 19th century. But Keith Chester's Strange Company- Military Encounters with UFOs in WWII is the first book I've come across that exclusively deals with pre-1947 sightings. What follows is an interview with Keith Chester about his unique book and research.

Richard Thomas: Just wanted to start by saying thanks for doing the interview, I remember your appearance on BoA: Audio back in 2007 and you've been on my list of people I'd like to interview for a while now. I know your book Strange Company mainly focuses on "military encounters with UFOs in WWII" and it's slightly off topic, but with the recent passing of Zecharia Sitchin what's your take on the ancient astronaut hypotheses, that is that aliens have been visiting the earth for thousands perhaps even millions of years and might have even played some kind of major role in mankind's genetic and/or technological evolution?

Keith Chester: Richard, glad we're communicating with one another. I have entertained the ancient astronaut hypothesis since the late 1960s, when I was first introduced to the topic by Erich von Däniken's work, especially after seeing the 1973 documentary, In Search of Ancient Astronauts. That film really got me thinking and I remember being fascinated by the possibility that Earth had been visited by extraterrestrials. I didn't start reading any of Sitchin's works until the late 1980s. It was his scholarly approach that attracted my attention. It seemed he had taken the subject matter to the next level. Whether Sitchin interpreted his research findings accurately, I don't know. But, for me, that really does not matter. The ancient astronaut hypothesis was one of the first subjects I discovered as a kid that excited me about the unknown. It was one of the first times I remember learning of such an idea. It inspired me to think outside the box. More importantly, it was responsible for my interest in the UFO phenomenon, of which I'm still passionately interested in studying. I have a very open mind regarding such concepts. That said, I must point out, however, it is important to keep myself grounded by a dose of healthy scepticism, and not fall prey to unfounded faith and belief systems. So, the ancient astronaut hypothesis can't be ignored.

Richard Thomas: Probably the most famous UFOs reported during WWII were the "foo fighters," what do you think these odd balls of light represented?

Keith Chester: When the foo fighters were reported, it was thought by most all they were some kind of secret German technology. Many reports seem to indicate the objects could be explained by a multitude of conventional explanations, such as rockets, flares, balloons and jets. Though the intelligence memoranda indicated the foo fighters were conventional objects, as the war progressed, and the sighting reports kept coming in, allied intelligence could not confirm what these objects were. Aircraft, some absolutely huge in size, that could hover, travel at phenomenal speeds, and conduct seemingly impossible manoeuvres, are mystifying. In fact, after the war ended in Europe and the sighting continued in the Pacific theater of operations, there were still no answers.

The objects seemed to have come right from the pages of science fiction.

The problem is that these incredible sightings are not available in the official documentation. That means we have to take the word of the veterans. And I am in no position to tell them that they are fools, were drunk, poor observers, or were suffering from war nerves. Some of the veterans I spoke with felt the objects were unconventional, meaning they defied known conventional technology of the day.

At this time, I don't see conventional explanations for some of the more remarkable sightings and am willing to entertain an extraterrestrial hypothesis.

Richard Thomas: Perhaps the most famous UFO sighting during WWII has to be the 1941 Los Angeles Air Raid, what do the official files say about the incident also known as the Battle of Los Angeles?

Keith Chester: The official documentation indicates something real was observed. Whatever these objects were, and aside from the civilian accounts, the military witness accounts varied dramatically; some observers witnessed one object, while others witnessed multiple objects. Descriptions of size, shape, speed, and color also varied. We know the anti-aircraft batteries opened fire. We have a dramatic photograph that appears to reveal an object caught in the crosshairs of several searchlights.

And we know a report was made and passed to President Roosevelt concerning the event. In 1942, due to Pearl Harbor, the United States, especially the east and west coasts, were on edge. Official thoughts about what occurred in those early hours on February 25, 1942, ranged from war nerves to a psychological warfare exercise. But, to my knowledge, there has been no official documents released that reveal what happened.

Richard Thomas: In Timothy Good's latest book, Need To Know, the best selling UFO author writes about an alleged 1933 UFO crash recovery in Milan, Italy, and the subsequent creation of a top-secret UFO group - Gabinetto RS/33 - to study "unknown aircraft." In my 2008 interview with Good he also mentioned that "Other governments – that of Sweden in particular – also became concerned about intrusions of strange flying machines that year," have you come across any other stories of pre-Roswell crashes and how significant do you think the RS/33 documents are for UFO studies?

Keith Chester: Starting in 1933, Sweden, Finland, and Norway were being over-flown by unknown objects. This was the first time known official military investigations were initiated relating to aerial phenomena. It was a time in UFO history known as the "Scandinavian Sightings." Known in the press as "ghost aviators" and "phantom fliers," the reports ranged from lights in the sky to craft with propellers. Though the objects seemed conventional, there were several issues that puzzled Military authorities. They were unable to establish how such flights could occur over rough mountainous regions in harsh weather, including blinding snow storms, especially since most all aircraft flying in the early 1930s were bi-planes. The authorities were further puzzled over the skill needed to operate in such conditions, since it exceeded that of Europe's best known pilots. Unless Russia or Germany, or both countries, were operating very secret and advanced aircraft, then some of the sightings defied conventional wisdom. And that is the primary reason these objects remained a mystery.

Regarding the Italian documents, if real, they are definitely significant. I have not seen any documentation during my research that indicates any crash and retrieval operations took place during the war. I am, however, open-minded about such a possibility.

Richard Thomas: The newspaper headlines from the late 1940s speak of "flying disks" and "ghost rockets" but the idea that UFOs might be from outer space didn't really gain popularity until Major Donald Keyhoe's 1949 article in Fate magazine, "The Flying Saucers Are Real," which in 1950 Keyhoe expanded into his best selling book. (Although, I know Mussolini made some odd comments (probably just in jest) about the "warlike inhabitants of the planet Mars" in a speech once.) Do any of the pre-1947 UFO files you've looked at indicate the Allies thought UFOs might represent something other than Axis weapons or experimental aircraft or vice versa even?

Keith Chester: During WWII, the first, and foremost, thoughts by allied air intelligence were the sightings represented enemy technology, after satisfactorily ruling out conventional ordnance and other possibilities. If the sightings were not misidentifications of conventional weaponry, meteorological and celestial phenomena, war nerves, or secret axis weaponry, then there is reason to suggest an extraterrestrial explanation was explored.

I feel the most important document uncovered that strengthens the case that unconventional aircraft were observed comes from a document discovered by British researchers, Dr. David Clarke and Andy Roberts, in the National Archives in London. Over Turin, Italy on November 28/29, an "object , 200-300 feet long, travelling up to 500 mph, with "four red lights spaced at equal distance along its body, " was reported by Lancaster bomber crew. What gives this report real strength that something very unusual was observed appears in a follow-up report to Royal Air Force (RAF) Bomber Command by No. 5 Group: "Herewith a copy of a report received from a crew of a Lancaster after raid on Turin. The crew refuses to be shaken in their story in the face of the usual banter." No. 5 Group's statement to Bomber Command is very telling in that it reveals the air crew reports were not well received by the air intelligence men debriefing them. The reports were too unbelievable. And this is very important.

The intelligence memoranda I uncovered reveals confusion existed at the highest military levels. When reading some of these reports, of which many excerpts are included in my book, one can clearly see the struggle to find conventional answers for the sightings. It's as if the sightings were lifted from the pages of pulp science fiction; truly "Buck Rogers" and "Flash Gordon" material. When these intelligence reports are combined with the witness testimony, not included in the official reports, and are viewed as a collective whole, then the overall picture changes, thus strengthening the extraterrestrial hypothesis. This gives what I've assembled in my book its power. This is what I'm hoping the reader of my book will appreciate.

Richard Thomas: In his book The Hunt for Zero Point, Jane's Defence Weekly journalist Nick Cook speculates that "anti-gravity" aircraft technology captured from the Nazis by the United States during WWII might be responsible for UFO sightings in the post-war era. What are your thoughts on what Cook calls "the legend" in his book, and how strong in your opinion is the evidence for Nazi flying saucers? Also have you looked into the Nazi "bell" device in Joseph P. Farrell's The SS Brotherhood of the Bell at all?

Keith Chester: If I understand "the legend," correctly, it is basically the accumulation of documents and testimony that collectively address a subject, such as the Nazi UFO story, but when each piece of information is scrutinized, one finds out that particular piece of information is either false or can't be verified, thus becoming what is considered, in the industry, "the legend."

When I read Nick Cook's book, The Hunt for Zero Point, I was fascinated. I knew little about the anti-gravity subject. "The Hunt" grabbed my attention and I wanted to learn more about the story. I found Cook's investigation fascinating and I definitely began to question if such a breakthrough in anti-gravity had occurred. Aeronautics and aeronautic applications, such as anti-gravity, is subject matter related to Cook's field of expertise, so for him to become interested in following the alleged "Bell" story, I felt compelled to follow his journey. Farrell's research adds a new layer of information to the "Bell" investigation. I must say, though, both Cook and Farrell, and others, have helped open awareness to a possibility that is pretty interesting.

Richard Thomas: What do you think were the most impressive UFO sightings documented in your book, and are there any cases you learned of after publishing you wish you could go back and include now? The WWII RAF sighting that supposedly resulted in PM Winston Churchill calling for a cover-up perhaps?

Keith Chester: For me, the most impressive sightings are those provided by the witnesses. Again, this is information that has not been verified. The most spectacular sightings, for me, were: A June 25, 1942 when a large circular object with high manoeuvrability was fired upon by a RAF bomber crew; A May 28/29 1943 sighting of a cylindrical object with portholes, hanging motionless and then speeding away at thousands of miles per hour; August 12, 1944 similar type sighting; November 1944 sighting of an circular object that some of the crew felt its heat and followed their bomber for 50 minutes; 1945 sighting of small several circular objects low above the ground, moving silently at low altitude; and, of course, Leonard Stringfield's daytime sighting of three tear-drop shaped objects flying in formation, possible causing malfunction to his aircraft.

The latest release of documents pertaining to one of Prime Minister Winston Churchill's RAF bodyguards, who claimed he heard a discussion between Churchill and General Eisenhower discuss remarkable UFO encounters is very interesting. Unfortunately, the new documents are only those generated by the RAF bodyguard's grandson, wanting information from the British government.

Since publication of my book, I have not located more documentation, but I'm still actively searching.

Richard Thomas: Thanks for doing the interview Keith, where can readers buy the book, and have you got a website or anything else you would like to plug?

Keith Chester: Richard, thanks for giving me the opportunity to have this interview. I enjoyed it. For those interested in my book, you can get it on-line from Anomalist Books. It can also be ordered from Amazon.com and at your local books stores, including Barnes and Noble and Borders, along with their on-line sites. You can find my web blog at keith-chester.blogspot.com

Richard Thomas, BoA UK Correspondent and Columnist.