Legend of the Spitsbergen saucer
For almost 40 years rumors have told of a crashed flying saucer on the remote island of Spitsbergen. As the story goes, the wreckage was discovered by jet pilots and later transported to Narvik, Norway, where an investigation determined it was composed of unknown metallic alloys and was of extraterrestrial origin.
But what really happened - if anything happened at all - on Spitsbergen in or around June 1952? In this article we will document the story's evolution over the years, with all the surrounding rumors, elaborations, and misunderstandings. The article is a summary of a 38-page special issue of UFO, the periodical of UFO-Norway, devoted entirely to the Spitsbergen legend.
Some of you are no doubt familiar with the basic elements of the story, but let us start nonetheless at the beginning, with the original source. We believe the first mention of a saucer crash on Spitsbergen probably appeared in an article in a German newspaper, Saarbrücker Zeitung on June 28, 1952. The piece was entitled "Auf Spitsbergen landete Fliegende Untertasse." An english translation follows:
FLYING SAUCER LANDED ON SPITSBERGEN
The puzzle finally solved? - "Silvery disc with dome of plexiglass and 46 jets on the rim" - Soviet origin?
Norwegian jet planes had just started this year's summer maneuvers over Spitsbergen. A squadron of six planes were approaching, at maximum speed, the Nordaustlandet, where units of the supposed opponent had been reported. The jets had just crossed over the Hinlopen Straits when crackling and rustling noises could be heard on all ear phones and radio receivers. Radio contact among the jets was no longer possible; all means of communication between the jets seemed to be out of order. The radar reading, which had been showing "white" since from Narvik, was now on "red". This indicated an alert, the approach of a metallic alien object equipped with a radio direction finder that had a different frequency from that of the fighters.
Nevertheless, the highly experienced pilots were able to communicate with each other by means of circling and diving, so that each of them was aware of circling and diving, so that each of them was aware of their common situation, each one searching the horizon with the utmost attention. The six fighters circled for some time not finding anything that was out of the ordinary.
By chance, Air Capt. Olaf Larsen happened to look down. Immediately he started to dive, followed by his squadron. On the white snowy landscape, the crusty surface of which had an icy glitter, there was a metallic, glittering circular disc of between 40 and 50 meters diameter, which was even brighter than icy snow. Between some wires and a tangle of supporting struts in the middle, the remains of an apparently partly destroyed cockpit protruded. While circling for 60 minutes, the jet pilots could neither detect any sign of life nor determine the origin or type of the vehicle. Finally, they took course for Narvik in order to report their strange findings.
Just a few hours later, five big flying boats, equipped with landing skis, took off for the place of discovery. They landed safely next to the bluish steel disc, which was sitting in a bed of snow and ice of more than one meter's depth.
"Undoubtedly one of the infamous flying saucers", claimed Dr. Norsel, a Norwegian rocket specialist, who had insisted on joining the flight. He also established the reason why all means of communication of the fighter planes had broken down on entering the zone of the landing spot, and why the radar equipment had signaled the alarm: a radio direction finder equipped with a plutonium core was undamaged and transmitting on all wave lengths at a frequency of 934 Hertz, which is not known by any country.
A presise inspection of the remote-controlled flying disc that landed on the Nordaustlandet of Spitsbergen due to interference problems, led to the following indisputable information.
The Norwegian specialists assumed that the disc had started from the Soviet Union and had gone down over Spitsbergen due to a mistake in transmitting or receiving, being incapacitated because of the hard landing. The strange, remote-controlled, unmanned jet plane will be brought to Narvik on board a ship for further investigation. After hearing of the description of the disc, the German V-weapon designer Riedel stated: "That's a typical V-7 on whose serial production I have worked myself".
The author of the Zeitung article, J.M.M., has proven untraceable. Newspaper archives have no useful information on the matter. The very same article was also published by another newspaper, Berliner Volksblatt, on July 9, 1952. In early August 1952 the story got another mention in the German periodical Der Flieger, in a piece by a Dr. Waldemar Beck. This mention probably spread the story to a far greater audience, even carried by the AFP news service into the CIA archives. Later authors often refer to the Der Flieger version.
Several points in the Zeitung article are of particular interest. They include the speculation about possible Soviet origin as well as the names of two persons presumably involved in the discovery and investigation of the disc itself: Air Capt. Olaf Larsen and Dr. Norsel. This we must keep in mind as we proceed with our investigation.
A few books published in 1953 and 1954 briefly mentioned the Spitsbergen story. I refer specifically to Donald E. Keyhoe's Flying Saucers From Outer Space, Harold T. Wilkins' Flying Saucers on the Moon (published in America as Flying Saucers on the Attack), and Jimmy Guieu's Les soucoupes volantes viennent d'un autre monde (an English translation appeared in 1956 as Flying Saucers Come From Another World). Additional information comes then to our attention through yet another German newspaper, Hessische Nachrichten, which published this account on July 26, 1954:
"FLYING SAUCERS" ARE NO FABLE
Norwegian military report of "unknown flying object" on Spitsbergen
Only now a board of inquiry of the Norwegian General Staff is preparing the publication of a report on the examinations of the remains of a flying saucer crashed on Spitsbergen, presumably some time ago. The chairman of the board, Colonel Gernod Darnhyl, stated, during an instruction lesson for Air Force officers: "The Spitsbergen crash was very rewarding. True enough, our science still faces many riddles. I am sure, however, that they can soon be solved by these remains from Spitsbergen. A misunderstanding developed, some time ago, when it was stated that the flying disc was probably of Soviet origin. It has - this we must state emphatically - not been built by any country on earth. The materials are completely unknown to all experts, either not to be found on Earth, or processed by physical or chemical processes unknown to us".
According to Col. Darnhyl, the board of inquiry is not going to publish an extensive report until "some sensational facts" have been discussed with experts from the USA and Great Britain. "We must tell the public what we know about the unknown flying objects. A misplaced secrecy may well one day lead to panic!"
The North Pole, base for unknowns?
The Norwegian fighter pilots, Lt. Brobs and Lt. Tyllensen, who, since the Spitsbergen event have been assigned as observers of the polar area, claim that, contrary to American and other sources, the flying discs have already landed repeatedly in the northern polar zone.
"I believe that the polar area is an air base for the unknowns. Especially during snow and ice storms, when we, with our machines, must retreat to our base, it is my belief that the flying objects take advantage of this to make landings. I have, shortly after such bad weather conditions, seen them land and take off three times", said Lt. Tyllensen. "I noticed then, that having landed, they execute a very speedy rotation around their axis. During flight, and take off, or landing, the brilliant light prevents any view of the events behind this wall of brilliance and on, or inside, the flying object itself."
Enough of physical evidence
Col. Darnhyl thinks that, within the next twelve months, a solution to these technical problems will be found, or, at least, science will be on the right track towards solving the UFO problem. "We now have material at hand, on which we can start. That means laboratories can start the work right away and they might give us preliminary results shortly. Norwegian scientists think that the material from Spitsbergen can only give away its secrets by nuclear crushing; this because it does not change either at absolute zero, when air is liquified, or at the highest temperatures technically possible with our technology. Also, every chemical treatment has been tried. Scientific results will only be released subsequent to a UFO conference in London or Washington."
The communication from Swedish TV-set owners, that their reception recently was interfered with every time flying saucers were reported over northern Sweden, caused sensation in circles of the Norwegian board of inquiry. In consequence of this Colonel Darnhyl hopes, sooner or later, to track down the communication system of unknown flying objects. Sven Thygesen.
Perhaps many will think that this is a change for the better. The wreckage is no longer of possible Soviet origin but extraterrestrial. And we also get additional names: Chairman of the board Col. Gernod Darnhyl (misspelled Darnbyl by some later sources), and Norwegian Lts. Brobs and Tyllensen. Sven Thygesen, the author of the Nachrichten article, is another person we have not been able to trace. Yet in this case we have a name, not just initials.
A new twist to the Spitsbergen story appears in the December 19, 1954, edition of the Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang. It goes like this:
SOUTH AMERICAN REPORT OF FLYING SAUCER IN NORWAY!
Contradicts information of it having Russian writing
The Uruguayan newspaper "El Nacional" of Montevideo has recently, with big fuzz, brought a message "about the Norwegian scientist Hans Larsen Løberg's discovery of a flying saucer on Heligoland". It concerns, says the newspaper, the same flying saucer that "was reported to have fallen down into the mountains of Spitsbergen in August 1952".
Mr. Larsen Løberg says that this saucer in reality crashed (fell down) on Heligoland (Hålogaland - Helgeland?) which is a small island in the North Sea (Nordsjøen), used as a submarine base by the Germans during the war. Of Hans Larsen Løberg is said that he won a prize in physics in Hungary. The newspaper also features his picture. (Editor/AFU: Due to it's bad quality the picture cannot be reproduced here, but it depicts a smiling, middle-aged man in suit and tie.)
Larsen Løberg also retracts the rumour that the saucer was supposed to have Russian writing. It had, he says, a diameter of 91 feet and a thickness on the middle of about 70 feet. In the spaceship's control room they found a number of push-buttons. It was deduced that it could travel aided by the magnetic forces that hold the planets in their positions in space, and these forces are controlled by said buttons. They found no engine in the spaceship, nor could they discover any rivets, fuses or bolts. The outer surface was shiny and transparent.
Pills and heavy water
The material used was as light as aluminum, but very much harder, and probably much heat-resistant. Of the things found in its interior, they noticed some water that was three times as heavy as normal water, and a few pills which were taken to be food. There was also an apparatus which probably was a radio. It was quite small and had no antenna. They also found some books, probably navigational instructions, in a completely unknown writing. The doors of the spaceship were open. Just inside of the doors were 7 bodies, burned beyond recognition. Scientists are of the opinion, according to Larsen Løberg, that the bodies were of men at the age of between 25 and 30 years, about 1,65 m tall. All had perfect sets of teeth.
Dr. Hans Larsen Løberg could also tell about the finding of a completely unknown weapon, a beam-gun which used magnetic rays. This gun, he thinks, explains a number of strange incidents in the USA. In Wyoming, Oklahoma City, Pittsburg and New York windows were broken, for unexplained reasons, on thousands and thousands of cars. And it must be obvious, he says, that the young pilot Mantell, who during a flight reported on radio that he had encountered a flying saucer and shortly thereafter crashed in pursuit of it, must have been shot down by this beam-gun.
Crew burned to death
The reason for the crash of this saucer, he thought, had to be that it was affected by the American hydrogen-bomb explosions. The material of the spaceship, and its apparatus, resisted the enormous heat, but the crew burned to death. The newspaper which picked up the story in Brazil, admits that it sounds fantastic, but draws attention to it not having been officially denied!
VG has investigated, in Oslo, whether there is a scientist by the name of Hans Larsen Løberg, but everyone queried, and who ought to know about him, says that the name is completely unknown.
Obviously somebody is mixing two versions of the story here. We are told that the saucer fell not on Spitsbergen but on the German island of Helgoland, in the North Sea. We are also given information about a magnetic beam-gun, heavy water, pills as food, books with unknown writing, and bodies. None of this has previously figured in our sources.
In addition we obtain yet another name, our seventh: Norwegian scientist Hans Larsen Løberg. The Verdens Gang article refers to an Uruguayan newspaper, El Nacional, which again has a Brazilian source. Our South American contacts have not yet been able to locate this article, but we have managed to track down the first mention of the Helgoland story as published in Sir!, a pulp men's maazine, for September 1954:
FIRST REPORT ON THE CAPTURED FLYING SAUCER!
By E.W. Greenfell
On a tiny island in the North Sea off the German coast, a secret investigation is in progress to determine whether hydrogen bomb explosions in the Pacific Ocean knocked a flying saucer to earth. Preliminary findings were revealed recently in Oslo, Norway, by Dr. Hans Larsen Løberg, a retired Norwegian scientist, who said investigators have already made some startling discoveries.
In his report, Dr. Løberg said the mysterious cracking and shattering of automobile windshields in several U.S. cities a few months ago may be explained when results of the investigation are in. Because, he added, the grounded saucer is reported to carry firing instruments capable of shattering glass with magnetic rays.
The saucer came down on Heligoland, a small island which the Germans used as a U-boat base during World War I. Since the Island is only a speck of land in a large body of water, Dr. Løberg believes the disk was forced to earth when H-bomb blasts created conditions of atmospheric pressure that made flight impossible.
It was not a crash-up, and investigators found most of the saucer's instruments in good condition. On ground near the ship were found the bodies of seven men, all burned beyond recognition. They may, or may not, have been passengers aboard the weird flying craft.
Dr. Løberg, one-time winner of the Hungarian Physics Award, said descriptive details of the saucer were told him by a fellow-scientist who is with the investigating team on Heligoland.
If magnetic rays from the flying saucer shattered auto windshields, then police in several American cities will close the books on a case which drove then to the boiling point a few months ago. it all began in the city of Bellingham, Washington, where horrified citizens learned that, in one week's time, 1500 automobiles had turned up with cracked windshields - and no one could explain the reason why. Bellingham's 34000 people began to wonder if ghosts had invaded their midst. Even house and store windows slithered into bits. The windshields at times cracked up while cars were in motion, but no one could pin down any concrete cause.
While the astounding story made headlines throughout the US, Bellingham's city officials were dodging frantic citizens, police were going crazy, and local glass manufacturers were making a fortune. Then windshields began falling apart in Wyoming, in Oklahoma City, in Pittsburgh and finally in New York City. Nobody, not even glass experts, could come up with a reasonable explanation.
The saucer's magnetic ray gun, which Dr. Løberg believes responsible for all the disintegrating glass, may also provide a solution for yet another mystery - an airplane crash near Fort Knox, Ky., on January 7, 1948. On that day an unidentified object was sighted over Goodman Air Force Base [sic] at Fort Knox by both military and civilian observers. Air Force Captain Thomas K. Bandell [sic], flying his plane over the base, radioed the Goodman tower and reported the object was travelling at half his speed.
"I'm closing in now to take a good look," he reported. "It's directly ahead of me and still moving at about half my speed. This thing looks metallic and of tremendous size... It's going up now and forward as fast as I am. That's 360 miles per hour... I'm going up to 20000 feet and if I'm no closer I'll abandon chase."
The time was 1:15 P.M. and that was the last radio contact Bandell [sic] ha with the Goodman [sic] tower. Several hours later, his body was found in the wreckage of his plane near the base.
If the Heligoland saucer's magnetic ray gun is in good condition, it may reveal the power to shatter airplanes as well as glass.
Dr. Løberg contends the craft apparently landed under guidance of its own instruments and the investigators studied it at a distance for two days before risking closer observation. The area where the saucer came down was bombarded with cosmis rays, Geiger counters and other protective devices before investigation began.
The seven charred bodies found around the saucer are yet unidentified. Their clothing was burned away completely and there were no clues to indicate whether they were passengers aboard the craft, or whether they were Heligoland residents ventured too close to the saucer too soon. Curiously, all seven men seemed to be from 25 to 30 years of age and of the same height - about 5 feet 8 inches. All had excellent teeth.
Investigators have one theory: That the seven men were passengers who were consumed by fire inside the descending ship. The blaze had been caused by sudden changes in atmospheric pressure conditions inside the saucer's hermetically sealed cabin. Atop the craft was a trap-door through which the seven bodies could have been thrown by the impact of landing.
Even more curious were the ship's measurements. It was 91 feet in diameter and the cabin 70 feet high. In fact, all dimensions were dividable by seven. On the control board were a series of push-buttons, but investigators are still studying the interior mechanism to learn what propelled the saucer in flight.
Dr. Løberg's theory is that the disk may have travelled by harnessing magnetic lines of force which scientists know encircle the nine planets of the solar system. He points out that there was no motor and no propeller, but if magnetic force is involved, the saucer would move just as a nail moves when approached by a magnet.
The landing gear resembled a tripod of three metal cylinders which would revolve in any direction. There were no bolts, rivets or screws on the saucer and in the construction were found two metals which are entirely unknown to scientists. Outer metal of the ship was light in weight and resembled aluminum, but it was so hard that even 15,000 degrees Fahrenheit could not melt it down. Two men could easily lift one side of the saucer.
Although it was not immediately established that the seven burned men were former passengers of the ship, investigators found equipment inside which definitely resembled living quarters! Well-enclosed bunks were ingeniously placed on one side of the cabin's interior.
A liquid resembling water but almost three times as heavy as normal drinking water, was found in two small containers. On a wall-bracket was a tube filled with a large number of pills, possibly tabulated food.
The saucer's radio, which had no tubes, no wires and no aerial, was about as small as a king-size cigarette package. Pamphlets and booklets, which seem to deal with navigation problems, were also found but investigators are still trying to decipher the script used in the text.
Dr. Løberg emphasized that when the Heligoland investigation is completed, the report will add a new chapter to flying saucer history.
Where, or by whom, these two stories have been mixed up is a question perhaps resolvable when we obtain the South American articles, but it is clear that we are dealing with two different stories.
Now, moving forward in time to November 1956, we find that the Dutch magazine UFO-Gids published, with minor changes, almost the same text as the Hessische Nachrichten. But the Dutch magazine does not cradit Hessische Nachrichten for the story. Instead it lists Stuttgarts Dagblad for September 5, 1955, as its source.
In later accounts, Stuttgarter Tageblatt has been alleged to be the source of the Darnhyl version, a story that had surfaced already in 1954. Evidently someone tried to germanize Stuttgarts Dagblad and did not investigate his source.
Several authors have used Stuttgarter Tageblatt as a source for the Spitsbergen story. It is, in fact, a nonexistent newspaper. Neither CENAP nor other researchers have ever found any trace of either such a paper or such an article published on, or around, the date given by UFO-Gids.
Actually Stuttgarts Dagblad may simply mean "a newspaper from Stuttgart" in Dutch.
In 1966 Frank Edwards' best-seller Flying Saucers - Serious Business gave the Spitsbergen story new life. In it Edwards claimed to have corresponded with a member of the Norwegian board of inquiry. He said, "In 1954 when I wrote to a member of the Norwegian Board of Inquiry which had investigated the Spitsbergen case. I received, after four months, a cryptic reply: 'I regret that it is impossible for me to respond to your questions at this time.' Could he, then, answer my questions at some other time? To that inquiry I received no reply. I am recovering from the shock."
Edwards' account must be judged suspect. He does not name his alleged contact, and copies of the letters, which one would have thought Edwards would include in his book, did not appear there and have yet to surface anywhere.
In 1968 Arthur Shuttlewood's Warnings From Flying Friends recounts an article by Bruce Sandham, "Invasion from Space," said to have appeared not long before in an undated issue of the Western Daily Press. Sandham claims that a Catalina flying boat, not six jets, discovered the object, and he gives May 1952 and not June 1952 as the date. He cites no sources.
Through the years the Spitsbergen story has surfaced in a number of books and magazine articles, so many that in this article we can deal only with the most important ones - that added new information, or still more confusion.
Oh yes, confusion. More of that is supplied in 1986 by William S. Steinman and Wendelle C. Stevens, authors of UFO Crash at Aztec. First of all Steinman, the primary author, gets the Spitsbergen and Helgoland stories mixed up. He also gives us new "data" which assert that the pilot who first discovered the saucer, and reported his find, never came back.
The most recent article of note is "New Information on the Spitsbergen Saucer Crash" by William L. Moore, in Focus 5 (December 31, 1990). Moore includes a translation of a French newspaper article which appeared in the October 15, 1954, edition of Le Lorrain. It tells of a Swiss report published by D.A.T. (Territorial Air Defense) on flying saucers, describing World War II Schriever/Habermohl/Miethe Nazi saucer experiments. The Spitsbergen wreckage, from one of these craft, was "recovered by Canadian commandos." Moore, who has not done his homework, states that "this account remains the best and most authoritative explanation I've heard so far for the Spitsbergen saucer crash rumors."
A modern investigation
This is, basically, the Spitsbergen UFO crash/retrieval story as of today. Now we can either let it keep wandering from magazine to magazine or conduct a little basic research and investigation to check the story out. What I will do now is to tell you what investigation others have done myself, and finally we will concentrate our attention on the Norwegian Air Force jets around the winter 1951/spring 1952 period.
If we look at page 118 of Robert G. Girard's An Early U.F.O. Scrap Book (1989), we find an undated newspaper clipping which is most interesting. It tells what the Der Flieger article said about the incident; it remarks that "Norwegian Air Force headquarters denied all knowledge of the report and said it never had heard of Dr. Norsel." This clipping is probably dated around August or September 1952.
In 1954 the Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang made inquiries, in Oslo, about the name of Hans Larsen Løberg (as we remember, involved with the Helgoland story), but everyone asked, who presumably would have known or known of such a man, stated that the name was unfamiliar.
The UFO Evidence (1964) recounts NICAP's effort to look into the story. When the organisation wrote to the Norwegian Embassy in 1958, it got this reply: "Our Air Force's UFO material is mainly of security graded nature and cannot be put to the disposal of NICAP." The letter has been used as evidence of a secret classification of the Spitsbergen incident report and analyses, but in fact it does not mention that case specifically, just UFO-related documents generally. And UFO-related material beng classified at that time, ties in with my own research.
According to Scientfic Study of Unidentified Flying Objects (1969, known informally as the Condon Report), "it seems well established that this story has no basis in fact."
Further inquiries in Norway
Norwegian researcher Arne Børcke visited the Ministry of Defense in late 1973. There he sifted through all the material it had about this case. Ever since the story surfaced in 1952, the ministry had received numerous letters from interested persons but beyond that knew nothing of any such incident.
Another Norwegian, Jon-Ingar Haltuff, determined in 1978 that the original story was an impossibility, physically as well as politically. Kevin D. Randle, who would later achieve eminence for his research on the Roswell case, rejected the story and so wrote disparagingly of it in Ronald D. Story's Encyclopedia of UFOs (1980). Margaret Sachs, author of The UFO Encyclopedia (1980), writes that "although rumors continue to circle about the alleged Spitsbergen crash, no conclusive evidence has been presented to support the story."
My own research consists of sifting through the entire 1952 edition of Svalbardposten, the local newspaper for Svalbard/Spitsbergen. I found no mention of any saucer crash. Neither were there any such stories in any of Norway's main newspapers, Aftenposten, Morgenbladet, Morgenposten, or Verdens Gang, in 1952. I also checked all editions of Hvem Er Hvem for the period 1912-1984, the Norwegian equivalent of who's Who. None of the names mentioned in connection with our story figured in any of these editions.
During 1990-1991, through correspondence, I learned that the Defense Museum in Oslo had no knowledge of any of the names mentioned in the published accounts. The authorities at the museum do not consider it likely that Norwegian jets could have operated around Svalbard in 1952.
The Press and Information Division of the Norwegian High Command do not have any papers on the Norwegian pilots and military personell allegedly involved in the event. They do, however, have data on all those officers who did exist.
Norwegian jet fighters
Then we come to the aircraft. According to all the versions, except the one by Bruce Sandham, the wreckage was discovered by jet pilots. The only jet fighters in the Norwegian Air Force in 1951-52 were De Havilland DH 100 Vampires (in three versions: FMK3, FBMK52, and TMK55) and Republic F-84 Thunderjets (in two versions: F-84E and F-84G).
According to information supplied by the Defense Museum as well as the available literature, the Vampire jets were stationed at Gardermoen AFB (about 50 km north of Oslo). Because they had an action radius of only 980 km, we can definitely rule these out.
Our last, and only, alternative is therefore the F-84. Six F-84Es were delivered on September 10, 1951, and were included in Squadron 334 at Sola (outside Stavanger). These were the only F-84Es delivered to the Norwegian Air Force. During the spring and summer of 1952 Norway received 24 F-84Gs. Two hundred were delivered, in all, with deliveries completed in 1955. F-84G had an action radius of 1610 km, so this looks promising. But that's all. Why?
Because, according to research done in part by Anders Liljegren and myself, the airfields in northern Norway were either too short or in the process of extensive upgrading to meet the new NATO standard. All F-84 aircraft were stationed in the southern part of Norway at the time, and then the action radius becomes too short. In addition, it was said that the aircraft circled around the saucer wreckage for almost an hour. In other words, the story is hopeless.
The Spitsbergen story, along with the Helgoland story, is - as readers will already have surmised - fiction. The original authors, mainly J.M.M. and Sven Thygesen (if these were their real names), had a cursory knowledge of Norwegian military aircraft but beyond that were too ignorant to pull off an entirely successful hoax.
Even though this case is empty of substance, we may safely predict that it will continue to show up in print for years to come, as long as there are "researchers" who think it deserves their enthusiastic attention and will not allow prosaic truth to stand in their way.
Last updated 30/06/1996 by Ole Jonny Brænne