Mysterious UFO Sightings During 1952 NATO Exercises Made Winston Churchill Panic

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It is probably the year 1952 when the British government started taking UFOs seriously. It began during the Mainbrace exercises that involved 200 ships, 1,000 planes, and 80,000 soldiers from multiple NATO countries. It was the first large-scale naval exercise by NATO countries to stimulate the attack on Europe by the Soviet Union after World War II.

During the naval exercises, several officers of the UK Royal Air Force reported about unidentified objects in the sky. On September 19, 1952, the RAF crew spotted a silvery, circular UFO flying thousands of feet above the British Gloster Meteor fighter jet that was returning to the Topcliffe airfield from exercises over the North Sea.

RAF Flight Lieutenant John Kilburn described the object descended toward the Meteor jet in a pendular motion. But then, it suddenly took a pause in mid-air rotated on its axis and accelerated towards the horizon at incredible speed.

Topcliffe incident
Here are five of the R.A.F. men who saw the Flying Saucer. Left to right standing: L.A.C. Grime, Sgt. T.B. Dewys, Master Sigs. A.E. Thompson, Flight-Lieut M. Cybulski, Flight-Lieut. J.W. Kilburn

Kilburn reported: “The acceleration was in excess of that of a shooting star. I have never seen such a phenomenon before. The movements of the object were not identifiable with anything I have seen in the air.”

Somehow, the Topcliffe incident got leaked into the press which later put a great impact on the British military intelligence as the media started asking them serious questions.

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1952 UFO photo  NATO
One of three photos taken by Metropolitan Group news photographer Wallace Litwin on September 20, 1952 while aboard the USS Roosevelt during Operation Mainbrace. Litwin’s story can be read in the “notes” section of this entry, and stories on Operation Mainbrace are included below.

There were other sightings on September 13 and September 20 by the allied forces during the NATO exercises. NICAP report shows that a reporter named Wallace Litwin, who boarded the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt, allegedly took photographs of a UFO whom he described as “a white ping-pong ball,” but the photos are still classified. He mistook the objects for weather balloons but the ship’s executive officer confirmed no weather balloons were released that day.

The British Ministry of Defence (MoD) had always denied involvement in any study of the UFO phenomenon, but the documents from the Government archives revealed that a secret committee was set in 1950 to investigate sightings of flying saucers.

In regard to this investigation, Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill wrote a letter to the Secretary for Air dated July 28, 1952, requesting an explanation on flying saucers.

He wrote: “What does all this stuff about flying saucers amount to? What can it mean? What is the truth? Let me have a report at your convenience.”

A decade ago, MoD released thousands of UFO-related files to the National archives. Among those files, there were letters from the grandson of an RAF personnel who served as the bodyguard of one of the Prime Ministers. According to the letters, during World War II, Churchill, preventing “mass panic,” ordered the 50-year classification of an encounter between the RAF aircraft and the mysterious flying object.

Nick Pope said: “The interesting thing is that most of the UFO files from that period have been destroyed. The reason apparently was because Churchill believed it would cause mass panic and it would shatter people’s religious views.”

Churchill’s interest in extraterrestrial life had been long before reports of UFO sightings hit the world. During his life, before the Second World War broke out, he had written down several scientific articles on evolution and cells. He believed in the possibility of life outside Earth. It was confirmed in his 11-page article “Are We Alone in the Universe?” written for a newspaper publication, but it never happened. The letter had remained in the US museum until it was rediscovered in 2016.

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