The Greek Ghost Rockets of 1946
By Thanassis Vembos
The wave of the so-called “ghost rockets” of Scandinavia during the summer and early autumn of 1946 is well-known. Less-known is its Greek “offshoot”. In fact the ghost rockets were crossing the skies of other countries outside Scandinavia –especially in the Mediterranean area. Needless to say the general impression and the standard interpretation of the time was that they were secret weapons, most probably of Soviet origin.
To my knowledge, the most comprehensive report on the Greek ghost rockets was and still is a few paragraphs that noted UFO historian Loren Gross (left) devotes in his 1974 booklet The Mystery of the Ghost Rockets (p. 25). This and dozens other booklets constitue a dedicated and praiseworthy attempt to construct a chronological history of early UFOogy. Gross' sources were most probably exclusively news reports of the time, particularly New York Times, Manchester Guardian and Chicago Tribune which used reports of Associated Press and other agencies. Gross also cites a table of the sightings on pages 50 & 51. There are also a few lines cited by Timothy Good in his Top Secret, which circulate over and over in the Internet. My own research was based on the existing contemporary Greek newspapers. A presentation of the whole story through the Greek media of the time follows.
On September 5, 1946, Greek prime minister Constantine Tsaldaris, while in London, stated during a press conference that “flying rockets” were sighted in the skies of Northern Greece. In particular, twelve rockets were spotted during the night of September 1 by Greek divisional commanders and British officers; they flew from north to south and to other directions too; their nature and origin remained unknown. One of them was seen by British officers in Thessaloniki; the rest were seen in various areas, from Stavroupoli to Kastoria, over Serres and Drama (cities in western central and eastern Macedonia). Note that all the above regions border with Albania, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, countries that actively supported the bloody Communist Rebellion (1946-49); tensions with northern neighbors were extremely high at the time and the presence of British military was strong. “We do not know where the rockets were from”, stated Tsaldaris diplomatically, “or from which direction they came”. Tsaldaris statement hit the headlines in most of Greek newspapers the next day, September 6.
Front pages of Athens newspapers Acropolis and Embros, 7 & 6.9.1946. The ghost rocket sightings story is indicated with red lines
The statement, which was later confirmed by active foreign minister Stephanos Stephanopoulos, was the delayed official recognition of various stories and grapevine from Northern Greece about the rockets (mind that nothing appeared in the newspapers before Tsaldaris’ statement; reasons of national security were imposing a kind of voluntary censorship in these difficult years).
The objects were described as “flares” emitting brilliant white light and leaving a contrail or a trail of smoke, like shooting stars. The ghost rocket of Thessaloniki was observed on 19.15, September 1; it was moving in a great altitude, estimated over 2,000 m, from NE to W; no sound of any explosion was heard after its disappearance (Embros, 6.9.1946). The rockets that crossed the skies over Serres (observed by three British officers, according to the correspondent of Reuters news office in Athens) were following the same route but were brighter. Another one was spotted moving from Katerini to Giannitsa (from south to north) something that seemed odd since the untold conclusion was that these were communist actions (Embros, 6.9.1946).
Confirming prime minister Tsaldaris statements, Minister Stephanopoulos told the foreign reporters at a press conference held on the evening of September 5, that the estimated altitude of the rockets was 5-10,000 m, confirmed that they were seen also by British high officers and that no other sightings were reported until today (Embros, Acropolis, 6.9.1946). The British had reported the sightings to their embassy; according to some official sources, the rockets were launched from Albania and Yugoslavia (Eleftheria, 6.9.1946). Vradyni (6.9.1946) wrote that Greek Army was continuing investigations regarding the origin of the rockets.
(from left) Tsaldaris, Stefanopoulos and a typical pro-royalist poster
Plebiscite and Rockets
Something that made the incident seem more dramatic was that the sightings happened on a very critical day: on Sunday, September 1, an important plebiscite was held regarding the return of the exiled king George II; royalists won by a landslide victory of 69%; in some regions of mainland Greece the pro-king votes reached up to 97%. This was not due to a particular desire for the return of the king, as it was a vote against the Communist Party. Communists had started intensifying operations in the summer of that year.
As the ballots were closed, ghost rocket reports came from sensitive northern Greece. Notably, there were also reports of ‘foreign aircraft’ flying over the city of Serres (Kathimerini, 1.9.1946; Acropolis, 2.9.1946). According to the brief report of Kathimerini, an aircraft flew over Serres at 19.20 leaving behind a trail of smoke –something that maybe indicates that this ‘aircraft’ was the ‘ghost rocket’ of the later reports. Unfortunately newspaper reports of the time are very brief and understandably vague, since they had to do with national security issues.
Also understandably, there was a big fuss in Northern Greece on these sightings; various rumors started to circulate. Thessaloniki newspapers wrote that, according to a Greek Air Force higher officer, a Greek fighter plane that was flying over Serres during the evening of September 1, not only spotted the rockets but also opened machine-gun fire against one of them (Vradyni, 6.9.1946). There was no confirmation or rebuttal by the Greek Air Force. The latter declined expressing an opinion about the origin of the rockets.
Vradyni, 6.9.1946 reported the alleged shooting of a ghost rocket over Serres
On September 7, Acropolis reported that “three nights ago” (probably September 4), “flashes” were seen in great altitude over a region near the town of Kastoria, western Macedonia. It was believed that they were flares used by communist rebels for communication. On the same day Ethnos reported that special teams of officers had started investigation on the origin of the rockets. The newspaper wrote that two of these rockets had exploded -one over the town of Aridaia, near the Yugoslav border, with deafening noise and the other to the direction of Mount Olympus, Thessaly, as seen from Thessaloniki (south direction).
Again on September 7, Embros newspaper reported that 4 rockets were seen during the night of September 1 over Thessaloniki, Sidirokastro, Giannitsa and Katerini. It reported also that during the day of the plebiscite “over 300 rockets were launched over Kastoria region”. When the results of the referendum became known, another rocket was launched. The journalist used the word “rocket” but most probably these were low altitude flares. There were strong fears that Macedonia was to be invaded by communists from Yugoslavia that particular night –especially when it became clear that the royalists had won the plebiscite. It is characteristic that this information accompanied the central news story of the day –that a Greek Spitfire plane was hit by Yugoslav anti-aircraft guns and was forced to land on Yugoslav soil; its pilot was arrested. Similar incidents characteristic of the tension between the two countries were reported nearly on a daily bases.
Nevertheless, the British Embassy in Athens issued a press release discounting the reports that these objects were rockets. According to this press release no British officer had reported seeing such missiles and most probably the objects were a type of “flare” reportedly sighted in the regions of Grevena, Kastoria, Nestori, Ptolemaida, and a couple of villages near Florina (all of them at western Macedonia). The British noted that the launch of a rocket would require special infrastructure which is most probably absent from countries neighboring Greece. Nevertheless, the embassy specified that the “rockets” were sighted over Beles Mount, Paiko Mount, Katerini and Thessaloniki. Similar unconfirmed information came from Stavroupoli, Paranesti, Drama, Pontokerasia, Askos and Edessa. (Gross, p. 25, Eleftheria, 7.9.1946, Acropolis 7.9.1946). According to Gross (p. 25) the special correspondent of Manchester Guardian (later The Guardian), based in Thessaloniki, admitted that the British Consul had witnessed a strange light in the sky the evening of September 1, but he dismissed the phenomenon as probably fireworks since the illuminations was so very near the ground.
Sir Clifford Norton, British ambassador in Athens in 1946; foreign observers for the Greek elections (photos from contemporary Life magazine)
Rocket Flyovers Continue
September 7 was again a night with significant activity. On the next day, September 8, Acropolis and Embros reported that at 1 am of the previous night, a rocket moving from northeast to west exploded over Thermaic Gulf emitting green flames. It added that other rockets were sighted during the same night over Kozani and Servia. The rocket sighted over the town of Servia crossed the sky at 5 am at an altitude of 500 m moving from north to south. Its point of origin seemed to be somewhere between Kozani and Veroia. During the same night, a rocket passed over Farsala and Larisa (further south, Thessaly) at 4.30 am. Another telegram from Kavala (far eastern Macedonia) reported that two rockets passed over the city moving from north to south, between 6 and 7 am. According to Eleftheria of the same day (September, 8) rockets were seen over Thessaloniki at 5.15 am, over Nikiforo, Drama at 5.30 am and over Agios Athanasios and Polykarpos villages of the same area at 5.30 am.
Vradyni of September 9 reported that “yesterday” (September 8?) at 5 am a rocket passed over the towns of Nevrokopi and Doxato, over Thasos island and was lost in the horizon heading south. Another one passed over Farsala (Thessaly) at 4.30. Most probably these were events that took place on September 7.
On September 11, Embros reported that an anonymous but high standing military officer stated that there were three possibilities regarding the origin of the mysterious rockets. Either they were launched by Communist rebels who were receiving military aid from neighboring countries, or from evolved installations near the Greek border. A third possibility was that maybe the rockets were launched by aircraft flying in great altitudes. The officer considered the last two possibilities as most probable.
The same newspaper reported that during the night of September 7, a rocket originating from Yugoslavia had fell near Niki village at the Greek-Yugoslavian border. Also at 19.40 of September 10, a “luminous bolide” was seen near Pangaion mountain (eastern Macedonia), moving south.
On September 11 Acropolis reported that the previous day at 10 pm, “three rockets leaving red contrails” were seen over Thessaloniki. The same newspaper wrote that these rockets were seen over Athens too, emitting red smoke during the early hours of September 11, moving from north to south.
Paul Santorinis (also referred as Santorini), then associate professor of Applied Physics in Athens University and –as it would be later revealed- member of a secret committee for the investigation of the Greek ghost rocket mystery, spoke in Athens Radio Station on September 9. He commented on the Scandinavian wave of sightings saying that these must have been very advanced rocket weapons –not only radio-controlled but self-guided by computer, an incredible technological feat back then. These super-advanced missiles were used as a psychological weapon by the Soviets and their allies, sent over Scandinavia and other countries, Greece included, making a show of their abilities. Seemingly these rockets had a tremendously effective flight safety record –none of them was crashed or retrieved, therefore they should have been of high technology. He rejected the hypothesis that the Scandinavian ghost rockets were rather primitive and not able to be guided from a distance. Santorinis' comments appeared in Embros, September 11, as an article under the title “Ghost Rockets – Abilities of the New Weapon”.
Gradually, the ghost rocket phenomenon lost its initial weight. There were more pressing and immediate problems. A feature by journalist E. Thomopoulos in Acropolis, September 22, is enlightening. The journalist had made some local investigation in Thessaloniki. His first impression was that the “scores” of rockets seen over northern Greece was an exaggeration. Most probably three or four of them were truly sighted, leaving a “red-blue contrail”. This exaggeration was due to the mass hysteria and to the subversive communist propaganda. Thomopoulos also pointed to the fact that no trace or debris were ever found, which would have been rather improbable if there were so many rocket flyovers. He also pointed that lots of shooting stars and meteors can be observed in the autumn evening sky; some of them might have been misinterpreted for enemy missiles. He does not opine that the rockets were highly advanced; it would be stupid for somebody to use such an evolved weapon over enemy territory; the possibility of a crash and retrieval would have been a huge blow to this competitive advantage. He concludes that the rockets most possibly must have been flares or some other device to convey messages to the communist rebels in the Greek mountains. “In a few words”, he concludes “it must be a sort of optical telegraph able to send messages to great distances”, he wrote.
The signal hypothesis was also mentioned in Vradyni (10.9.1946) by the British correspondent in Greece; he proposed that the ghost rocket sightings multiplied because the rebels realized that the population was upset, so they increased the frequency of launches.
What Exactly Happened?
It is very difficult to get a clear picture of what exactly happened during September 1946 regarding the Greek ghost rockets. The only sources are the rather laconic stories in the (few) contemporary newspapers. Military files remain secret –and personally I doubt if they still exist. It seems that some unidentified luminous phenomena were observed over northern Greece –but since we do not have solid documentation, first hand witness testimonies, hard and reliable data in general, we must rely exclusively on these old newspaper accounts.
We must take into account several factors, like the Scandinavian ghost rocket wave which may have affected the way the sightings were reported; also the extremely high tensions in a war-ravaged country where a civil conflict had already started and where a possible communist invasion from the north was believed to be a very realistic possibility. All these must be taken into consideration. It was also a fact that Yugoslavian, Bulgarian and Albanian planes were frequently breaching Greek air space, flying over Northern Greece to parachute military materiel to rebels or for reasons of psychological warfare.
Taking all these into account, we cannot exclude the possibility that maybe natural phenomena e.g. meteors were misinterpreted as “rockets”. Judging by the reported descriptions, no rocket-like objects were really observed. The observational data are quite meager but the existing descriptions talk about flare-like or bolide-like objects which were surmised to be rockets by the observers, the authorities or the media. The fact that the sightings were reported over a very large geographical refion may supports the meteor theory; a meteor high in stratosphere would have been visible from all parts of Macedonia, and even further away.
Yet, there are some corroborating data regarding unexplained aerial activity during this general period. The shift of the ghost rocket phenomenon from Scandinavia to Mediterranean is a parameter we must keep in mind. But there is also a first-hand case unearthed by researcher George Balanos (b. 1944) and presented in his book Creatures from Space (1975). It had taken place at Samos island, in the end of July or early August 1946, a month before the ghost rockets of northern Greece. Twenty-four year old designer Amfitryon Moschonas was at Pountes, near Pythagoreion on that eastern Aegean island around 9 pm when, whole walking, saw an “egg-shaped object with a small tail, emitting an extremely brilliant pink-orange light” moving from NE to SW. The object was visible for 15 seconds and the witness had the impression that it was emitting a soft noise. The duration of the sighting excludes the possibility of a meteor. The UFO was seen by other people in the village too.
Sketch of the 1946 Samos UFO by the witness (from George Balanos archive)
Santorinis’ Later Revelations
As it was later revealed, Santorinis, considered an expert on the subject of radio-guided missiles, was given a group of engineers and was put head of the investigations launched by the Greek authorities. Paul Santorinis (1893-1986) was a prominent scientist with international fame; he had been a developer of the proximity fuze on the first atom bomb and held patents on guidance systems for Nike missiles and radar systems.
Later Santorinis would became an ardent supporter of the extraterrestrial origin of UFOs. During a lecture he gave in early February 1967 at the Greek Astronautics Society, a private club dedicated to the promotion of astronautics, probably surprised his rather skeptical audience by claiming that highly evolved aliens were visiting out planet. He noted that “even the thought of alien visitors of higher psychic, physical and technological level is extremely disturbing for all the authorities on this Earth. So the latter try to tackle with the problem by ridiculing and refuting it”. He also supported that the 1965 power black out in United States was a result of UFO interference. Santorinis elaborated on close encounters of the third kind.
He also revealed for the first time the nature of his involvement with the 1946 ghost rocket investigations. “We soon established that they were not missiles”, he said. “But, before we could do any more, the Army, after conferring with foreign officials ordered the investigation stopped. Foreign scientists [from Washington] flew to Greece for secret talks with me". (Sources: “Flying saucers are real”, Athinaiki 3.2.1967; “Flying Saucers exist”, Ethnos, 3.2.1967 ; “Flying Saucers”, extended feature on Santorinis' speech, Eleftheros Kosmos, 8,9 & 10.2.1967)
Santorinis' revelations, Athinaiki, 3.2.1967
Later Santorinis told UFO researchers such as Raymond Fowler that secrecy was invoked because officials were afraid to admit of a superior technology against which we have "no possibility of defense” (Timothy Good, Above Top Secret, 1988,p. 23; Donald Keyhoe, Aliens From Space, 1973, p. 142)
Santorinis was also involved in Cosmology. In 1968 he proposed the radical theory of “multiple successive microexplosions” regarding the creation of the Universe. In 1975 he proposed the principle of Decreasing Entropy. He was also involved in the philosophy of Physics and believed that the Mind is the fourth fundamental factor in the Universe (the other three are Time, Space and Matter). He died in Athens, in 1986.
Paul Santorinis in 1967 (left) and later in his life
Ghost Rockets of a Later Date
Maybe the ghost rockets of 1946 were not really rocket-shaped. But rocket-like or cigar-shaped UFOs were to be sighted many times over Greece the next decades. A list of some sightings follows.
*Early May 1948. According to a very brief newspaper report, the Greek Army announced that “luminous rockets” were sighted over the regions of Herso, Doirani, Callindria and Katerini –a wide area covering a large part of Macedonia; an investigation was ordered (source: Eleftheria, 8.5.1948. Loren Gross probably refers to this case which was reported by United Press, but mistakenly dates it in 1947)
* September, 8, 1950. Between 7 and 10 pm, two rockets were seen over Rhodes island, southeastern Aegean, flying to northwest direction with an estimated speed of 800 mph. They were leaving a luminous contrail and emitting a soft noise. People sitting in two seaside restaurants were impressed by the tremendous speed and the light of the rockets. (Source: Acropolis, 21.9.1950)
* April, 10, 1952. A “luminous phenomenon […] rocket-shaped and blue colored” was seen moving from west to east for 10 seconds over Corinth, Peloponnese at 10.35 pm. “It is believed that it was a flying saucer since it did not have any common traits with natural heavenly phenomena”, concluded the brief newspaper report (Source: Athinaiki, 11.4.1952)
* October, 9, 1954. S. Horiatellis and his 12 year old son were hunting near Stymi village at Lesvos island, northeastern Aegean sea when they a saw a luminous cigar-shaped object moving horizontally. After a while it started moving vertically and it was divided in two. The divided parts were also cigar-shaped and moved in a constant distance from each other. (source: Hellinikos Vorras, 10.10.1954).
*November, 11, 1954. 19 year old Pharmacology student Nicolaos Kokavesis and his friend Antonios Andreoulakis were walking a road at Zografou suburb, greater Athens, at 5.03 pm when they spotted a “flying cigar” in an altitude they estimated at 10,000m. It was moving from north to east, was emitting a blinding silver light and left white smoke behind it, which was immediately dissolving. The object was disappeared after 85 seconds. Fifteen minutes later, a flying saucers appeared northeast, moving “wobbly” in the same altitude with the “cigar”; it was also emitting brilliant silver-white light. It disappeared after 5 minutes and 17 seconds. The UFOs did not make any noise. Two other people observed the objects by binoculars. The unusual meticulousness of the report was due to the detailed account the student sent to newspapers. (source: Apogevmatini, 12.11.1954).
*December, 9, 1959. At 8.30 pm a strong flash of light was observed in the sky over Kalymnos island, Dodecanese. This lasted for 30 seconds. After that a loud bang reverberating for over 1 minute shook the island. Then a rocket-shaped object moving from east to west was seen in a great altitude. According to information the sound and the flash were heard and seen from nearby Turkey. (Source: Apogevmatini, 10.12.1959)
* Mid-May 1968. At Xiromero, western Central Greece, at 7-8 pm, a car mechanic observed a UFO shaped like a “bullet”. It was hovering vertically and its bottom was flat, emitting smoke and flames. Later the object turned in a horizontal position and flew to the west. The witness was driving his motorcycle during the incident. (Source George Balanos, Creatures from Space, 1975, p. 120).
*October, 3, 1985. About fifteen fishermen and farmers standing on the shores of Molyvoti and Imeros or Rhodope saw a very dark flying object shaped like a “huge cigar” moving slowly to the north after standing still for a while. It is indicative that the fishermen were so much impressed by the sight that they cancelled their regular night fishing excursion and returned to their coastal villages to tell their experience. (Source: Eleftheros Typos, 5.10.1985)
* December 14, 1985. Three flight controllers at Naxos, Lemnos and Corfu islands, independent from each other, reported to Greek Air Force Headquarters a UFO like a “fiery cigar” passing above. The Air Force estimated that the object moved with over 3,000 miles per hour. Officers expressed the opinion that it could have been a “space vehicle or American laser tests” (Strategic Defense Initiative or Star Wars was a very popular topic back then). (Source: Elftherotypia, 15.12.1985)
Map of Greece with place names referred in the text
1.Thessaloniki/Stavroupoli. / 2.Kastoria / 3.Serres / 4.Drama / 5.Kavala / 6.Thasos island / 7.Pangaion mnt / 8.Doxato / 9.Nevrokopi / 10.Beles mnt / 11.Paiko mnt / 12.Florina / 13.Ptolemaida / 14.Kozani / 15.Grevena / 16.Edessa / 17.Veroia / 18.Thermaicos gulf / 19.Servia / 20.Giannitsa / 21.Aridaia / 22.Sidirokastro / 23.Katerini / 24.Olympus mnt / 25.Larisa / 26.Farsala / 27.Corfu island / 28.Lemnos island / 29.Xiromero / 30.Lesvos island/ 31.Athens / 32.Naxos island / 33.Kalymnos island / 34.Rhodes island / 35.Samos island