Between the twin bases of RAF Bentwaters and RAF Woodbridge lies a large area of pine trees known as Rendlesham Forest. The bases held the US Air Force’s 81st Tactical Fighter Wing as well as a large stockpile of nuclear ordinance under heavy guard. 

It was not the presence of nuclear weapons that brought fame to the bases, though, rather than an incident that occurred over several nights during the Christmas season of 1980. It was an event that would not come to public light for three years and became known as The Rendlesham Forest Incident.

On the night of the 26th December 1980, an object was spotted in the sky over the forest by a man walking his dog. He watched as it glided overhead, heading in the direction of the airbases. Two guards posted at the east gate of RAF Woodbridge also saw it and at first feared that a plane was about to crash in the woods. When they saw that it gently hovered down amongst the trees, they called for backup. Two more men arrived in a jeep and three of them headed into the forest, leaving the fourth man by the gate. They soon found the UFO.

It was described as cone-shaped and about the size of a small car. The air around the object crackled, as though electrified and a strange mist clung around it. As they approached, the men found that their footfalls became heavier and heavier, as though they were ‘walking through treacle’ and before they could get close enough to touch it, the UFO streaked upwards and out of sight.

The next morning, deputy base commander, Lt. Col. Charles I Halt entered the security station at RAF Bentwaters. He found desk sergeant laughing and was told that some of the guards had been out ‘chasing UFOs’. While being amused by this, Halt told the sergeant to write the report into the desk blotter. He thought nothing more about the unusual report until two nights later when the flight commander for the security police unit rushed into the Christmas party the off-duty men were enjoying and reported that “the UFO is back!”

Halt was ordered to investigate and, after changing into a utility uniform, headed out to the base perimeter. He found a dozen men assembled with large, portable lights known as light-alls. For some reason they could not get them to work. He took half of the men and they ventured into the dark woods.

They found indentations in the ground, presumably caused by the object two nights earlier, and Geiger readings inside the triangular formation found that radiation levels were higher than normal. Halt had brought along a small cassette recorder and was taping what they said and heard as they progressed. Suddenly, they noticed a red light moving through the trees to the east. They knew that the Orford Ness lighthouse was to the southeast, so this object could not be that. The animals of a nearby farm were making a lot of noise, Halt noted.

The group dashed to the fence that delineated the boundaries of the farm and watched in astonishment as the object shot over the adjacent field, appearing to drip what Halt described as ‘molten metal’, before silently exploding into five lights that shot away in different directions. Then they saw three white objects to the north, each with different coloured lights flashing, manoeuvring with sharp, angular movements. Halt had the command post call the radar tower responsible for that sector, but they replied that they had nothing on their scopes.

Then from the south, a glowing object appeared and began beaming down a laser-like light right at the feet of the startled soldiers. Then it rose into the sky and vanished. The men continued to watch the lights in the north as they danced about the sky for an hour before Halt decided to return his men to the base.

The photos that they had taken came out fogged, but Halt had his tape recording and a soil sample from the landing site. He also had his men take plaster casts of the indentations.

On January 13th 1981, Halt typed out a memo that has become legendary in the field of ufology:

13 Jan 81

Reply to Attn of: CD

Subject: Unexplained Lights


1. Early in the morning of 27 Dec 80 (approximately 0300L), two USAF security police patrolmen saw unusual lights outside the back gate at RAF Woodbridge. Thinking an aircraft might have crashed or been forced down, they called for permission to go outside the gate to investigate. The on-duty flight chief responded and allowed three patrolmen to proceed on foot. The individuals reported seeing a strange glowing object in the forest. The Object was described as being metallic in appearance and triangular in shape, approximately two and three meters across the base and approximately two meters high. It illuminated the entire forest with a white light. The object itself had a pulsing red light on top and a bank(s) of blue lights underneath. The object was hovering or on legs. As the patrolmen approached the object, it manoeuvred though the trees and disappeared. At this time the animals on a nearby farm went into frenzy. The object was briefly sighted approximately an hour later near the back gate.

2. The next day, three depressions 1 1/2" deep and 7" in diameter were found where the object had been sighted on the ground. The following night (29 Dec 80) the area was checked for radiation. Beta/gamma readings of 0.1 milliroentgens were recorded with peak readings in the three depressions and near the center of the triangle formed by the depressions. A nearby tree had moderate (.05 - .07) readings on the side of the tree toward the depressions.

3. Later in the night a red sun-like light was seen though the trees. It moved about and pulsed. At one point it appeared to throw off glowing particles and then broke into five separate white objects and then disappeared. Immediately thereafter, three star-like objects were noticed in the sky, two objects to the north and one to the south, all of which were about 10 degrees off the horizon. The objects moved rapidly in sharp angular movements and displayed red, green and blue lights. The objects to the north appeared to be elliptical through an 8-12 power lens. They then turned to full circles. The objects to the north remained in the sky for an hour or more. The object to the south was visible for two or three hours and beamed down a stream of light from time to time. Numerous individuals, including the undersigned, witnessed the activities in paragraphs 2 and 3.

Charles I. Halt, Lt. Col. USAF

Deputy Base Commander

The USAF and the British Ministry of Defence refused to acknowledge that anything had happened on those nights and still do so, despite the memorandum being acquired through the US Freedom of Information Act in 1983. The incident certainly did not hinder Lt. Col. Halt’s career, as he was promoted to full colonel, was awarded full command of the base in 1984 and eventually retired with honours in 1991.

When Col. Halt’s memo went public, it caused a media sensation, with various newspapers reporting ‘UFO Lands in Suffolk – Official’-type stories.

Despite the strenuous denials of those present, many claimed that what the men saw that night was nothing more than the Orford Ness lighthouse, that the indentations were rabbit scrapings and the increased radiation was normal for an area close to a nuclear power station (although the nearest at Sizewell is about ten miles from RAF Bentwaters).

The men have literally been accused of making up their story or at the very least embellishing an ordinary event.

Did an alien spacecraft land in the pine woods of Suffolk in 1980? Eyewitnesses say that is exactly what happened. Can so many highly-trained servicemen really confuse a distant lighthouse with a red object floating through trees? Can a lighthouse flash laser-like beams at their feet?

No doubt the debate will rage on and on, but for many, the Rendlesham Forest Incident is as important to ufology as Roswell.

© Steve Johnson – 2005


The complete 18 minutes of Col. Halt’s audio recording can be found here:

Thanks to Andrew Fry for allowing me to use his link.



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Updated 16th August, 2012