The Secrets of Room 801 And Britain’s “Lost” 1950s UFO Cases

Marcus Lowth
Published Date
June 11, 2017
Last Updated
October 14, 2021
Estimated Reading Time
14 min read
Posted in
UFOs, Cover-Ups

For years the official British stance on UFOs was there wasn’t one! Much like the United States and other nations, the Ministry of Defense would claim there was nothing to investigate. Of course, we know now that was far from the truth. Not only was the MoD very much interested in UFOs, they were actively investigating and cataloging them.

If not for persistent researchers and whistleblowers, many of the early UK UFO cases might have become lost to history. And who knows how many might have already slipped through the net or are awaiting discovery?

London skyline in the 1950s.

London skyline in the 1950s.

While UFO sightings and accounts have undoubtedly happened for hundreds, if not thousands of years, most UFO researchers agree that following the Second World War, these sightings have increased tenfold. Why this is the case, however, is open to debate, with theories ranging from the mundane to the outrageous.

Before we move on to some of these early UFO cases in the United Kingdom, check out the video below. It features researcher, Timothy Good, who is responsible for many of the accounts that are now in the public arena.


Early 1950s Sightings

Like their American and German counterparts, British Royal Air Force pilots [1] were no strangers to “foo fighter” sightings. The sightings were rife in the Second World War.

The early 1950s is also awash with strange UFO sightings – many of them from trained military personnel. These sightings would ultimately force the British military and government to “officially recognize the UFO” – if only privately.

During Operation Mainbrace, a NATO exercise in September 1952, reports of several UFO sightings surfaced from the very first day. The crew aboard the Danish destroyer, Willemoes would report a triangular UFO over their ship. Remember, this sighting came when reports of triangular crafts were far from common. If anything, they were unheard of.

Another sighting occurred over the aircraft carrier, U.S.S. Franklin D. Roosevelt. Multiple crew would witness a “silvery, spherical” object seeming to follow their fleet. A reporter, Wallace Litwin, would report on the sighting. He would also capture several clear, color photographs. According to the captain of the ship, Edward J. Ruppelt, these pictures would go for developing straight away and “turned out to be excellent!”

The pictures themselves, however, have since “vanished” and their whereabouts remain unknown. Incidentally, according to Litwin, rumor was rife that President Eisenhower was on board the aircraft carrier at the time of the sightings.

Six days later near Topcliffe in Yorkshire, several RAF personnel – including three pilots – witnessed an object apparently giving chase to a Meteor fighter jet. At one point the object hovered in the air “rotating on its own axis!” As the fighter jets approached, the craft shot upwards at terrific speed. Six British pilots would also report an almost identical object over the North Sea, several days later.

Newspaper cover page from Yorkshire Evening Press showing the Topcliffe sighting.

Newspaper cover page from Yorkshire Evening Press showing the Topcliffe sighting.

The Secret Investigations Inside Room 801

In the best-selling book, Beyond Top Secret, author and researcher, Timothy Good revealed the one-time existence of Room 801 – an otherwise nondescript and ordinary room in what was once the Hotel Metropole in London. [2] It would play host to research and investigations into anything but the ordinary. Within these walls, did the reports of strange lights, “flying saucers”, and any other aerial activity go under scrutiny. Albeit secretly.

In the 16th June 1954 edition of the “London Reynold News”, came the largely forgotten about article (until Good’s book) making brazen mention of Room 801. The piece would state that in this room, “Britain’s Air Ministry is investigating Flying Saucers…..and that’s official!”

What is particularly interesting about the article, are the claims are that “fighter planes are kept ready to intercept” any UFOs that might stray a little too close to British airspace. The legion of declassified files, both British and other countries, prove this to have been very much the case.

The article would go on to state those charged with investigating these claims, had around 10,000 such cases on file. A huge map of the United Kingdom spread out along the walls, with many colored pins marking such sightings.

Strange then that for years following, the MoD would claim these files were all either destroyed or lost.

Interestingly or not, the following month on 16th July in the “Sunday Dispatch”, Air Chief Marshall Lord Dowding would state quite clearly that he was “clear these objects do exist” and that they “are not manufactured by any nation on Earth!” Furthermore, he would propose that there was “no alternative to accepting the theory that they come from an extra-terrestrial source!”

Remarkable statements both, particularly as the government would continue to deny Room 801’s existence.

The Lord Mountbatten Incident

On 25th February 1955, while working as a maintenance man at the home of Lord Mountbatten, Broadlands in Hampshire, retired Army Sergeant, Frederick Briggs claimed to have witnessed a large saucer-like craft hovering overhead.

Furthermore, he would claim to have seen a light “descend from the middle of the object!” Then, a “small, fair-haired humanoid” float down from it. The figure soon noticed Briggs observing him. He claimed a “strange light beam” in the being’s possession would cause his body to go into paralysis.

As the craft left, Briggs regained use of his limbs again and immediately made his way back to the main house. Upon his arrival, Mountbatten’s chauffeur would comment to Briggs on how shaken he looked.

Amazingly, upon hearing Briggs’ account, Mountbatten would produce an array of photographs of UFOs. He asked Briggs if any of them resembled the object he had seen. For his part, Mountbatten firmly believed Briggs’ account. He would state in his own report that Briggs was “not the sort of man subject to hallucinations, or would in any way invent such a story!”

Mountbatten’s account was due to appear in the Sunday Graphic newspaper. However, a decision came to pull the piece at the very last moment so as “not to embarrass” him.

Incidentally, Briggs would claim to have a second encounter with the strange humanoid figure the following day. The being would appear in the middle of a quiet country road Briggs was cycling on. He telepathically spoke to Briggs and invited him to board the craft. He did so, and according to Briggs, it flew to the Pyramids of Giza, and back again in the space of thirty minutes.

Other “Royal” Connections

Apparently, Mountbatten dismissed this second account. Perhaps a little strange given the previous faith he had in his employee’s sound state of mind, not to mention his own rabid belief in such matters, a belief that began with his own sighting of a UFO years earlier. Perhaps as strange, is the story in the Sunday Graphic being “pulled” at the last moment.

The incident at Broadlands attracted the attention of Mountbatten’s nephew, Prince Philip, who also had an intense interest in UFOs. Former Ministry of Defense UFO investigator, Nick Pope, states that Prince Philip has a large map of the United Kingdom (like the map in Room 801?) with pins representing the locations of sightings. Furthermore, Philip requests that the MoD send to him copies of their UFO files.

Some even claim that in 1954, Philip requested an audience with self-confessed UFO contactee, George Adamski. Although there is no official record of such a meeting, many believe it to have taken place in secret.

Although it wouldn’t become public knowledge for another four decades, at around the same time as his apparent meeting with Adamski, one of Prince Philip’s closest friends would meet an alien being.

Before we look at that, however, check out the video below. It looks at the UFO encounter of Jessie Roestenberg in Staffordshire, England. What is interesting is this occurred at the same time as many of the above incidents, in 1954. They also share very similar descriptions of the “humanoid” figure described by Frederick Briggs.

The Meeting with Mr. Janus

Perhaps one of the strangest of all claims is that of Sir Peter Horsley, a close friend of Prince Philip. While serving under the Royals, Horsley claims to have received an invitation to meet an extra-terrestrial being. The meeting is claimed to have taken place in a typical London flat, sometime in 1954. He would write about the encounter in his autobiography, Sounds From Another Room published in 1997. [3]

According to Horsely, the being would introduce himself as Mr. Janus. He couldn’t recall any particular features, other than he “fit perfectly into his surroundings!” The meeting occurred in a dimly lit room, and as it progressed, Horsley felt more and more that Janus was reading his mind and “controlling the conversation!” This was something that he said left him feeling “quite disturbed!”

According to Horsley’s memoirs, Janus would inform him of many technologies to come. He would also speak of intricate knowledge of Britain’s nuclear capabilities.

Horsley incidentally, would re-enter the RAF in 1956, and positively shot up the ranks. At the time of his retirement in 1973, he was Deputy Commander-in-Chief RAF Strike Command. Whether his rapid rise has any connection to his time serving the royals or due to his meeting with Mr. Janus is unclear, but given his “stellar” career, resulting in a knighthood no less, would it make sense for him to lie in such a way near the end of his life?

For their part, the Ministry of Defense responded by saying, “How unfortunate that the public will learn that the man who had his finger on the button of Strike Command was seeing little green men!”

Make of that what you will!

The Kilgallen Story

In May 1955, noted journalist, Dorothy Kilgallen, would report on information given to her by a “British Official of Cabinet rank” [4] concerning a recovered crashed UFO in the possession of the British military.

According to Kilgallen, the crashed object had been studied and reverse-engineered in part by the British military and scientists. Furthermore, quoting her source as saying, “It’s frightening, but there is no denying the flying saucers come from another planet!” According to Kilgallen, “the British government is withholding an official report” due to a concern of “frightening the public!”

Most would regard the story as a hoax, and eventually, Kilgallen would distance herself from it somewhat. Was the story fed to Kilgallen as purposeful disinformation? Perhaps to discredit both her as a serious journalist and the UFO phenomenon in one swoop? While it is certainly a possibility, long-time UFO researcher (until his death in 2003), Gordon Creighton, believes not. [5]

Creighton believes the crash Kilgallen referred to happened in the latter years of the Second World War. He also firmly believes that the source of her story to be, Lord Mountbatten. Kilgallen and her husband had been together with Mountbatten in the days before at a cocktail party hosted by the Lord.

Interestingly enough, Kilgallen, who was one of the first to voice loud doubts about the assassination of President Kennedy, died in somewhat suspicious circumstances in November 1965. The inquest into her death would state the cause to be a “fatal combination of alcohol and barbiturates!”

Check out the video below which looks at her untimely death in a little more detail.

The 1964 Penkridge UFO Crash Incident

It is very much worth our time examining an incident alleged to have occurred in early 1964, an incident that claims a vehicle from another world crashed in the small English town of Penkridge and was subsequently recovered by the military.

The claims first filtered into the wider public arena through the research files of respected UFO researcher the late Leonard Stringfield, with further revelations coming from the extensive research of veteran paranormal investigator, Nick Redfern, who wrote about it at length in his book Cosmic Crashes. [6]

According to Stringfield’s initial claims, the account came from a former third-class petty officer who Stringfield referred to as “S M Brannigan” who was assigned to a US military vessel that operated as a “spy ship” somewhere in “either the Caribbean or the Atlantic”. According to the former officer, his task was to intercept Soviet military transmissions. It was one of these transmissions that was of particular interest.

Essentially, the transmission told of an unidentified object that was tracked flying over Europe. At some point, the object – obviously in trouble – split into two separate pieces, possibly due to an explosion. Part of the object was claimed to have fallen to the ground in West Germany. The other, the larger part, came to ground in Penkridge in England.

As well as a UK military presence, Brannigan claimed American military intelligence were also part of a recovery mission, one that resulted not only in the recovery of the craft itself, but several dead bodies of the apparent extraterrestrial crew. These recoveries were made primarily by UK and German military teams.

Even though it was over decades after the events when Brannigan spoke about it to Stringfield, the researcher had the impression that he was still somewhat hesitant to reveal too much of what he knew, particularly of “coded information” – a term that suggests his involvement in such an intelligence-based environment was genuine.

The incident remained largely unexplored until the mid-1990s when veteran researcher and investigator, Nick Redfern became more actively involved in researching the case. Redfern would go back though his research files and locate a report that he suspected just might match up with the information provided by Brannigan.

According to the report, in the early hours of 19th March 1964, Captain E Morrison was piloting a Boeing from New York heading to London, while Captain R. Botthos was piloting DC-8 around 200 miles off Land’s End. Both of them saw a strange craft appear in the sky seemingly heading directly for the United Kingdom.

Morrison would state in the report how the object, which he firmly believed was not a meteor, “woke up the sky in a great white flash”. Botthos’ account was even more intriguing, claiming he saw the object “explode in a big flash and trailing columns of smoke on reentering the atmosphere”.

As Redfern asks in Cosmic Crashes, “Was this the same object Brannigan was talking about?” It certainly would appear so.

It was, though, following a chance conversation with the founder of the Staffordshire UFO Group (SUFOG), Irene Bott that things really began to open up.

The Intriguing Claims Of Harold South

Following a talk Redfern gave at the SUFOG conference on September 1996 Redfern and Bott would speak privately of the incident. The conversation would result in Bott writing of the incident in The Chase Post newspaper which, in turn, resulted in a man named Harold South contacting Butt out of the blue. He would claim that he had details of the incident she had written of as he was there at the scene of the downed craft.

Several weeks later in early December, Bott and Redfern would meet South at his flat. He would inform the pair that at the time, he was working for Bendix washing machines in an area to the north of Cannock. On the day in question he was driving to his next customer when he happened upon a military roadblock. With them were local police who were busy redirecting traffic away from the area.

He also spotted a large RAF transport carrier landed in a field nearby. Before he had chance to take in any more details, though, he received orders that he would have to turn around and reach his destination another way. Although he was annoyed and already late, he did as he was told. At least, he did until he was a safe distance away from the roadblock. He then pulled his van to the side of the road and snuck out and headed back to the scene through the fields and woodland in order to get a closer look.

When he reached the area, he could see a throng of activity as various military personnel moved back and forth over the area, while a group who South recalled as looking like scientists appeared to be intensely interested at some specific spot in the field. Carefully, he nudged himself closer so that he could get a better view.

Photographic Evidence That Was Secured By The Authorities

After taking a few more steady steps, he could clearly see the huge transporter, also noticing that it had a large trailer attached to it. However, when he looked closer at the trailer, he realized perhaps for the first time that what he was seeing was the aftermath of something truly strange. The object on the trailer was elongated somewhat, and from the parts protruding from the material covering, certainly didn’t resemble a plane or a helicopter.

At this point, realizing the vehicle was something he should document, he raised the camera he had brought with him from his van (he was a keen photographer of trains and always carried the camera with him) and snapped a picture. While he did indeed believe he had managed to capture a clear image of the scene, the sound of the camera alerted the military to his presence.

Before they could react, though, South turned and ran to his van, quickly fleeing the area. After being sure he wasn’t being followed, he went about his rounds once more. It was only when he returned home that he realized, for him, the incident was far from over. His mother greeted him almost immediately and promptly informed him that he had received a visit from the police while he was out and that he was to “report to Bloxwhich police station”. Apparently, someone had reported him for “cutting up a motorcyclist” – something he knew he hadn’t done, not least due to the fact he was a motorcyclist himself.

With that, he made his way to the police station where he was taken into a room for questioning about the alleged incident. It wasn’t long, though, before the talk turned to the pictures he was “observed taking”.

Ultimately, he didn’t deny taking pictures, claiming he had done nothing wrong by doing so. To this, the police simply said they wanted to film from the camera. Even more alarming to him, they had obtained a search warrant for the house where he lived with his mother. He was informed that officers told his mother that the warrant was to look for a stolen camera. She would ultimately – “being naïve”, as South put it – gave her son’s camera to the police.

After being at the station for around six hours, he was finally released around midnight with no charges brought against him – either for taking the photographs or for the alleged motoring offense. Around three weeks later, his camera arrived in the post, the film having been removed and replaced with a new one.

Although South would return to the location around a month after the events, the area now showed no signs that anything untoward had taken place there, almost as if it had intentionally been cleaned up.

A Definite Military Interest!

Before South had begun speaking, he claimed he had only minutes previously received a phone call from the Ministry of Defense police, who even left a phone number for him to call them back on, something which concerned him and the two investigators somewhat, not least as the voice on the other end had specifically warned him not to speak with the pair.

Ultimately, Bott would call the phone number after retrieving it by the dialing system 1471. According to Redfern’s writing, it was a “Midlands-based operator service controlled by the military”. The woman at the other end of the line, while pleasant, was described by Redfern as “cagey” regarding revealing her name. What was learned, however, was that the operator system was responsible for channeling calls of several military facilities in the region, meaning they were still unsure of exactly where the call came from.

Then, however, they recalled the phone number that had been given to South. With his permission, Bott called that number. They soon established that this number operated out of the Ministry of Defense Guard Service at Whittington Barracks. However, they were unable to establish much more, with the person at the other end of the line insisting that the phone call hadn’t come from that location.

Whether that was true or not, the fact that both the 1471 number and the number that South claimed was given to him during the phone call he received prior to the UFO investigators’ arrival showed that the military were still very much interested and actively involved in the alleged events of March 1964 in Penkridge. And that suggested that there was indeed something to cover up. It also suggested that Redfern and Bott themselves very likely were under the watchful eye of the Ministry of Defense.

A Case Of Intentionally Leaked Information?

Although nothing of great detail would surface following that meeting between Redfern, Bott, and Harold South, Redfern would ask some intriguing questions in the aftermath.

Why, for example, had it seemingly been made so easy for he and Bott to trace the military through the 1471 operating service (they could have simply withheld the number, for example), as well as through the phone number they themselves had given to South? Might it have been, as Redfern and Bott discussed, that somewhere within the Ministry of Defense, there was a potential whistleblower who was looking to get little suggestions of information out by so “clumsily” leading the two investigators right back to the facility that seemingly placed the call? Was the warning, given that they seemingly knew that South was due to speak with Redfern and Bott, set up in the hope that the investigators would act exactly as they did and ring the number themselves?

What we should make of the apparent crash in the quiet English town is perhaps open to debate. Although Stringfield’s habit of using false names for his sources is frustrating for some researchers, generally speaking, his research is widely respected, suggesting that we should probably treat the Penkirdge incident as a potentially very credible case.

There is also the two pilots whose reports were uncovered and brought back into the public arena by Redfern. Surely what they witnessed resonates very nicely with the apparent claims made by Brannigan over two decades later.

We might also note that Bott and Redfern believed Harold South to be a credible and honest witness. As well as appearing to have been genuinely concerned with the apparent sudden out-of-the-blue contact from the Ministry of Defense regarding his imminent meeting with the UFO investigators.

If there is any truth in the claims that a vehicle from another world seemingly crashed to the ground in Penkridge (and West Germany) in March 1964, then we might wish to reexamine some of the many other claims of UFO crashes from around the world which span many decades right back to the start of the modern UFO era. And, in turn, ask just how much might be known regarding the UFO and alien question by successive governments around the world?

Still More Questions Than Answers!

While the Ministry of Defense maintained for some time that no UK files relating to UFOs before 1962 exist, it is obvious that was anything but the truth. As is the claim that they didn’t take UFO sightings seriously.

And given the military connections of such people as Lord Mountbatten and Prince Philip, it would appear their interest in the UFO phenomena came from these files and reports, made available to them upon their request.

If we are to believe Sir Peter Horsley’s claims, along with the claims of Dorothy Kilgallen, and Frederick Briggs, then there is no doubt these sightings are the result of extra-terrestrial beings.

Or might the sightings have been secret military craft, possibly developed from reverse-engineered alien technology? Might such training exercises as Operation Mainbrace have actually been opportunities for these crafts to go through active testing?

Given the overall murkiness of the subject, it might not be surprising if we should learn one day that both theories have a degree of truth to them. Of little doubt, however, is that these UFO sightings did occur. And the UK military – much like their US and Soviet counterparts – kept a very close eye on them. Much like they seemingly still do today.

Check out the video below. It looks at the aforementioned claims of Sir Peter Horsley in a little more detail.


1 Britain’s Secret UFO Hunters
2 The U.K. Government and UFOs, Julian J.A. Hennessey, Project 1947
3 Sounds from Another Room, Peter Horsley, ISBN 9780850 525816
4 A WWII-Era UFO Crash In England?, Nick Redfern, Mysterious Universe, March 29th 2016
5 A diplomatic approach to alien visitors, Gordon Creighton, Flying Saucer Review
6 Cosmic Crashes: The Incredible Story Of The UFOs That Fell TO Earth, Nick Redfern, ISBN 97870671 033064

Marcus Lowth

Marcus Lowth is a writer with a love for UFOs, aliens, and the Ancient Astronaut Theory, to the paranormal, general conspiracies, and unsolved mysteries. He has been writing and researching with over 20 years of experience.

Marcus has been Editor-in-Chief for several years due to his excellent knowledge in these fields. Marcus also regularly appears as an expert on radio talk shows including Troubled Minds and Unexplained Radio discussing these topics.

Read Marcus' full bio.

You can contact Marcus via email.

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