Cold War Balloons and the Greek UFO Wave of 1954
By Thanassis Vembos
Examining the now-so-distant era of the early Cold War and its relation with the fascinating phenomenon of UFOs, is an enthralling work. Many ignored or overlooked details come to light, helping us to understand better many incidents of that time. Someone investigating the UFO subject in Greece must come in terms with facts such as the lack of organized archives (or even the lack of archives in many cases) or the various difficulties in accessing them. Nevertheless, by searching old newspaper archives and other sources I managed to unearth a lot of stuff from this bygone era, unknown even to Greek researchers.
The great UFO wave in the autumn of 1954 in France and southwestern Europe was always one of my favorite subjects for research. I had managed to make a preliminary report by collecting material from newspaper files and books. Further search in libraries and archives and the onset of modern technology -digitalization of archives and digital cameras- opened up new vistas. This article replaces the old report which I had posted here ten years ago.
During my research I realized that some, seemingly irrelevant, things were of much interest. During this distant era, when Cold War tensions were gradually increasing, Europe was deeply divided and the two superpowers were standing opposite to each other with their finger on the trigger. Western propaganda was trying to breach the nearly impenetrable Iron Curtain.
One of the means to penetrate this barrier was the propaganda balloons. From August 1951 till November 1956 Central European skies were brimming with hundreds of thousands of balloons, carrying hundreds of millions of leaflets and other printed propaganda material. The balloons were launched from West Germany and were carried by the winds over Iron Curtain countries, like Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. According to official estimates, 590,415 balloons were launched, carrying 301,636,883 propaganda items
Balloons were and are one of the most usual candidate to explain (or explain away) UFO reports. Truly, many of the latter can be attributed to weather and other balloons floating in the upper or lower atmosphere. On the other hand, balloons are one of the most popular “interpretation” used by skeptics to discard the UFO phenomenon altogether. But truth, as always, lies somewhere in the middle.
Yet, one that has a thorough knowledge of the nature and history of UFOs, will know that the phenomenon is characterized by the strange trait of disguise. It masks itself behind various camouflages. The possible reasons are not a subject to be discussed and analyzed now; nevertheless the Camouflage Factor is an actuality.
There are many cases where UFOs “used” the facade of the balloon to play their indecipherable games –in the same way that they “used” the mask of planet Venus, of bizarrely shaped clouds, of mirages, of hallucinations. In my research regarding the 1954 UFO flap in Greece, I found out much information showing that propaganda balloons were intricately connected with many contemporary flying saucer reports. I do not simply mean that UFO sightings were just balloons. There is something more than that. But before we survey the cases, we must first take a look at some facts about this six decades old propaganda campaign.
Balloons Storm Eastern Europe
At the late 1940s the Soviet dominance over Eastern Europe was consolidated; the borders closed and an Iron Curtain was raised between East and West. This nearly impassable barrier had cut off not only free travel of people but free exchange of information as well. Now the monopoly (and subsequent control) of information was under the control of Moscow and the aligned governments of its satellite communist countries. On 17.12.1947 the newly founded National Security Council of the United States issued decree NSC-4-A giving the green light to the conduction of clandestine operations of psychological warfare against the Soviets and their satellites. A part of this campaign were radio stations transmitting to countries under Soviet control. These radio stations were not officially affiliated with the American government –they could transmit programs and the American government could deny any responsibility.
In 1948 CIA’s Special Procedures Group (SPG) set up Project ULTIMATE for the dispersion of propaganda leaflets in Eastern European countries but was assessed that the time was not still ripe. In June 1948 NSC 4-A decree was replaced by NSC 10/2; the new one was more detailed on psychological war operations (psy-ops). In June 1949 National Committee for a Free Europe was founded in New York; its airwaves branch was Radio Free Europe (RFE). RFE transmitted its first program on July, 4, 1950.
The first balloons with propaganda material were launched on August 13, 1951, from a field just 5 kms away from Czechoslovakian border, thus commencing Operation Winds of Freedom. Each balloon was carrying nearly 3,000 leaflets. Weather conditions permitting, up to 2,000 balloons were launched every night. A total of 11 million leaflets were sent to the Iron Curtain this way.
The operation was not especially effective from a political point of view but RFE and CIA gained valuable experience. Helium-filled balloons of various sizes and types were used. The spherical rubber balloon containing leaflets was carried away by the wind up to an altitude of 10 - 12,000 m. When the inside pressure became much higher than the external, the balloon blew and the leaflets were falling like rain. The smaller, pillow-shaped plastic balloon was carrying the leaflets in a carton underneath. When the balloon reached a high altitude, expansion of gas triggered a leaking mechanism; thus the balloon leaked gas and soft landed with the carton hanging underneath. Below the carton there was dry ice, as ballast. When it evaporated, the carton containing the leaflets overturned dropping them. To disperse the propaganda leaflets to specific populous urban centers a clever system was designed; it took into account the weight of the dry ice, the quantity of gas in the balloon, the weight of the leaflets and the direction and intensity of the prevailing winds. These balloons were first used for Hungary since the country was too far for the simpler latex balloons to reach it.
Leaflet release mechanism (photo from Psywarrior)
Operations PROSPERO, VETO, FOCUS, and SPOTLIGHT followed. Three large installations were set up in Bavaria, West Germany; balloons were launched from there on a 24 hour basis.
Operation PROSPERO commenced in the summer of 1953 when 6,500 balloons carrying 12 million leaflets were launched to Czechoslovakia in just 4 days, starting on July 15. The communist authorities announced that the citizens had to give them whatever propaganda material had collected. This violent reaction showed that Operation PROSPERO yielded very satisfactory results.
Operation VETO started in April 1954 as a combined propaganda campaign with balloons and radio transmissions. Over 41 million leaflets were launched between May and August 1954.
Operation FOCUS started on October 1, 1954. Balloons aiming Hungary were launched from southeastern areas of West Germany, near the Austrian border. They had to cross the air space of a neutral country in order to reach Hungary. When FOCUS terminated, over 16 million leaflets were sent to Hungary [note 1]
Having gained valuable experience now, Committee for a Free Europe started Operation SPOTLIGHT on February, 12, 1955, launching more than 260,000 leaflets to Poland. Weather conditions were not so helpful; no launching was done in April and the operation ended in May.
Balloon operations stopped because they came of age; RFE had now large antennas and powerful transmitters in Portugal to reach its Eastern European audience. Another reason was probably the crash of a Czechoslovakian passenger plane in 1956. It was never proved that the balloons were the reason for its crash; nevertheless it was a fact that their flight path crossed with the plane’s course. It was the time for Eastern European propaganda to exploit the incident. Maybe this contributed to persuade the Committee for a Free Europe to cease balloon operations [note 2].
Balloon launch from somewhere in Germany (photo from Psywarrior)
The Flap Commences
Now it is time to present a comprehensive picture of the great 1954 Greek UFO wave. Sadly there are few cases with satisfactory details. Most reports come from daily newspapers and are brief, imprecise and of little real usage except to confirm that “something” happened on the particular date and place. Cross reference with other reports on the same day in other newspapers reveals mistakes in name spelling, in the time of the event, even in description details.
One cannot expect from a 1950s Greek journalist to pay much attention to a highly disputable and ridiculed phenomenon, devoting time and resources to investigate and present it to the public. UFO was a phenomenon largely unknown to the Greek public back then. Scientific and academic establishment was hostile and scornful to it. The country was still recovering from the ravages of 2nd WW and the Communist Rebellion that kept on bloodying Greece until 1949, and had much more important problems to cope with. In 1954 telecommunications, largely destroyed during the war, were still in a primitive state. Radios were sparse; radio stations belonged to the state. Newspapers were few and had strong political alignments; television would not come for another twelve years. Taking all these things into consideration, one understands that the lack of satisfactory data is expected –yet highly frustrating.
All this means that there is still plenty of unearthed material but unfortunately few if any of this will ever come to light. Nearly sixty years have passed; witnesses are dead or very old. One cannot make much retrospective investigation. Nevertheless, some interesting material may exist in the yellowed papers of provincial newspapers –in the surviving archives, if they exist. But this is an area in which I could not probe for practical reasons. Some gems may lie hidden. Maybe in the future complementary information will fill gaps and answer questions.
But the relation between propaganda balloons of the Committee for Free Europe and (some) Greek UFOs will become prominent. For reasons of order I will ust present the information chronologically, making comments and observations where necessary. Detailed sources are cited in the end. Since the UFO phenomenon is independent of the human definitions of time and space, I present some cases of the next year (1955), thus completing the picture.
Our survey starts in early October 1954; few if any flying saucer cases from Greece were reported before that. Yet, Greek newspapers contained lots of stories and features about flying saucer sightings in other countries. One of them described the summer of 1954, as “the season of the flying saucer”.
Occasionally the odd opinion of a scientist, a retired military officer or a notable was presented –usually negative or ridiculing. The few that believed UFOs existed, thought that they were probably secret American/Soviet weapons, or spaceships from other planets -Mars or Venus. There was a small but significant faction that believed the flying saucer phenomenon had strong links with Spiritualism. But this is another story which will be told some other time.
The show commenced on October, 2, at Agios Georgios village, on Pilion mountain, eastern Thessaly, when 50 year-old Elias Voyagis was returning home from his fields around 19.00. Half a kilometer from the village he looked at the sky and noticed a huge, bright object. It was a conglomeration of four extremely bright circles, “like luminous spots” constituting a longish thing moving with airplane speed. He described it like a long moving balloon target for anti-aircraft guns. It did not have any tail and was moving horizontally over Mount Othrys flying eastwards. The witness estimated its length to 10-12 lunar diameters, its altitude at 5,000 m. The whole sighting lasted no more than ten seconds. When he reported his experience to his fellow villagers, agriculturist Hatzigeorgiou revealed that he saw something similar but by the time he started to watch it, it had moved away [note 3].
Voyagis (right) and a journalist at the site of the incident (Embros, 16.10.1954)
We note that the witness compared the UFO with the balloon moving targets for anti-aircraft guns; yet the characteristics and behaviour of the object excludes this possibility. But this synchronistic resemblance is significant.
Interestingly several hours before the Pilion sighting, a real balloon created a big fuss in Rhodes island, Dodecanese. At 03.15 of October 2, a small white balloon coming from northwest, crashed on a fence at Kremasti town and blew off. In a little carton hanging below the balloon, leaflets in Hungarian were found. To my knowledge this was the first documented account of a stray balloon of Operation VETO that ended up on Greek soil. Significantly the operation had just commenced just the previous day!
In these paranoid Cold War years, at first the authorities thought the leaflets were communist propaganda but the translation showed that it was anti-communist. A few days later a sketch of the balloon appeared in an Athenian newspaper. The lengthy caption explained that this kind of balloon is currently used for sending propaganda material to communist countries. A description was cited about the dry ice mechanism for releasing the leaflets. Probably the ice did not evaporate in the estimated time because of intense cold, so the balloon passed over Hungary and Yugoslavia and the largest part of mainland Greece before ending up far south in Rhodes where it released it load [note 4].
"The Mysterious Balloon of Rhodes" (Sketch from Ethnos, 7.10.1954)
UFOs Love Lesvos
A few days later, on October 5, at 15.15 at Vrysa village of Lesvos island, the president of the local community and many residents observed a bright spot in an indefinite altitude. We do not know the weather conditions prevailing but the spot must have been really bright to be visible. The object kept on moving in small circles for a quarter of an hour. Finally, at 15.30 moved with “incredible speed” to northwest, then to the north and disappeared in the west. According to other information coming from Istanbul, Turkey, the UFO was spotted by two professors of Istanbul University, from the Turkish (Asia Minor) coast, opposite Lesvos. The report told about a “flying cigar” sometimes white, sometimes pink, moving in great speed for about a quarter of an hour [note 5].
During the 1954 wave, flying saucers showed a particular like to Lesvos. So, the next day, October 6, at 18.00 a bright spot large as the full moon and having a tail “like a frying pan” was seen over Anemotia village emitting golden-white rays. Three minutes later it disappeared moving in circles to northeast direction. Many people saw the UFO; at first they thought it was the Moon with a strange luminous tail. The phenomenon must have been quite spectacular and was seen by other parts of the island, particularly Petra and Molyvos villages, on the north coast [note 6].
Three days later, on October 9, again at Lesvos, S. Horiatellis and his 12 year old son were hunting near Stymi village 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 [note 7].
The UFOs settled over Lesvos for good. On October 13, at 11.30 over the sanatorium of Agiassos, patients and employees saw a round luminous body big as “an alarm clock” moving slowly, sometimes in circles, sometimes up and down. After ten minutes the UFO vanished. But after another ten minutes, two similar flying objects appeared moving in parallel to the same direction. They disappeared to the north, with slow speed. According to another newspaper report the UFO was seen by hundreds of people, was flying at an altitude of 2-3,000 m, vanished after 30 minutes and the two reappearing objects were of “undefined shape”, moved in circles and flew away to the west. At 16.30 in the afternoon, “a white vertical contrail” was observed at the cloudy sky; it made the impression that it was formed by a body moving in the clouds [note 8].
On October 16 a telegram by the police headquarters reported that a flying luminous body shaped like a frying pan was seen over Moudros town , Lemnos island, Northern Aegean Sea [note 9].
The next day, October 17, dentist Athena Gelemiri and Sophia Kapaoura saw east of Doxato, eastern Macedonia, a “red tail” moving in circles and changing colors continuously. The two women observed the object for five minutes until it vanished far away. At Horisti village, many people observed the same phenomenon too [note 10].
In the evening of October 22, strange rumors about an unknown parachutist that had fallen from the sky and about a sack of propaganda leaflets started circulating in the neighborhoods of Piraeus, the Athens port. The reason of all this was apparently the fall of a meteorological device launched on a balloon by Americans from Hellenikon Airport (the old Athens airport). This is an incident characteristic about the relations between propaganda balloons, UFOs and the general anxiety in Greek society at the time [note 11].
Probably at the same day, people at regions of Didymoteicho and Orestiada, Thrace, near the Bulgarian and Turkish border were upset; shepherds had testified that they had seen two cigar-shaped flying objects. One of them landed, remained on the ground for 20 minutes and then it “instantly disappeared”. This could also be another case of balloons that landed and lifted off after they got rid of their leaflet loads. On the other hand, the fact of the “instantaneous” disappearance perplexes things. Yet, the newspaper report is extremely brief; there are no conclusive data. On the other side, this could be another example of the Camouflage Factor in action [note 12].
Early in the morning of the next day, October 23, a luminous object emitting white and red light appeared in the sky west of Neapoli, Lasithi, Crete. The object which was reportedly moving with “instantaneous speed” (sic) changed direction many times and finally disappeared to the southwest. The sighting lasted for five minutes [note 13].
Celeberities and Things with Wings
On October 25, a case with perhaps the most celebrities as witnesses ever took place in Greece. During the shooting of the movie Golfo by director Orestis Laskos in Zachlorou, Achaea, Peloponnese, two seemingly metal objects shaped like “a frying pan without a handle” appeared moving in the sky with tremendous speed, keeping a stable distance between them. Suddenly the first object made strange loops and then started moving again followed by the other. The UFOs disappeared to the direction of Corinth (northeast). The objects were first seen by actor Mimis Fotopoulos who pointed them to the others. The whole team of the stage -10 to 15 people- were witnesses, among them actress Antigone Valakou, actor Nikos Kazis, famous producer Filopoimin Finos and others. The shooting was made on a mountain slope, across the railway station [note 14].
A few hours after the appearance of the two UFOs at Peloponnese, there was another incident, quite significant. During the night of October 25, Irene Sarris and Socrates Karliamis, residents of Antimacheia village, Cos island, Dodecanese, saw a UFO; they described it as a “basket” flying fast, emitting a blinding light. The object seemed to speed towards the village but then it changed course and disappeared. During the same night, George Kakamoundis, another Antimacheia villager, saw “a thing like a man with wings, flying”. The winged creature flew over his head and vanished with speed. The witness fled to the church village where he stayed for a long time, seriously scared [note 15]
Two days later, on October 27, at 21.00 or 22.00 a “huge flying saucer” appeared at Rhodes island flying in circles for about five minutes. The disk approached the anchored balloon of Voice of America radio station and then sped away to the west. The names of many witnesses were cited in newspaper reports. But note again this strange synchronicity with balloons and Cold War propaganda devices. We remember that, in the near future the propaganda balloons would become obsolete due to the powerful radio transmitters of Radio Free Europe! [note 16]
At 06.00 of October 31, near the hospital of the city of Pyrgos (northwestern Peloponnese) H. Theodoratos saw a strange luminous body over the village of Katakolo. He could not define its exact form, due to its blinding, golden light. He estimated it was as big as the full Moon and was moving with tremendous speed from west to south. Two seconds later it disappeared over the Ionian Sea leaving a luminous trail. There were at least two other independent witnesses of the event. Police officer Stefanatos saw a strange light like that of a spotlight over Katakolo, which vanished towards the horizon; strangely he said that it vanished slowly. Maritime agent D. Yannatos while in his house saw a blinding flash illuminating the rooms. Thinking it was lighting, looked out of the window and saw that the sky was clear. This is one of the numerous incidents that, due to the lack of data, could be attributed to a meteor. Nevertheless, the media reported the event as a flying saucer sighting [note 17].
The next sighting took place on November 7, at 04.45 outside the city of Patras, northern Peloponnese. Four men were in a taxi going to hunt at the foothills of Erymanthos mountain. When the car was at Isoma village, one of them noticed a luminous body in the sky, a little smaller than the full moon, moving to south. At first he did not pay any attention since he thought it was the Moon; soon he realized that the Moon had set long ago. He showed it to the others who considered it to be a flying saucer or at least something they had never seen before. They stopped the car and observed a sudden blinding flash which lit up the whole area “like a thousand flares”. The object flew away with tremendous speed and after a few seconds disappeared towards Erymanthos. The weather was clear [note 18].
Several hours later on the same day (November 7), at 22.30, two men at the city of Volos (Thessaly) saw in the sky above Pagasitikos Gulf a flying saucer emitting silver light. Its size was slightly smaller than the Moon, which was almost full and high up in the sky. The object rotated with great speed around the Moon and after a while it sped to the east and exploded with a hollow noise. The point of the explosion was covered with a dense white cloud emitting dazzling light, illuminating the whole sky [note 19].
On November 9, a “luminous flying saucer” was sighted over Komotini, Thrace. It vanished after jettisoning three luminous objects like “cigars” [note 20].
Probably on November 11, at 06.20 Nicolaos Stephanopoulos was driving from Faliro suburb to Athens when he saw a luminous body with “unusual shape” that disappeared after a few seconds. This is another one typically brief report which makes the case nearly useless [note 21].
But later on the same day, at 17.00 a crowd was gathered at Kypseli square, at a neighborhood in central Athens, trying to locate a flying saucer that some people claimed to have seen northeast, over the nearby Turkovounia hills. They described it as a “white star in high altitude”. A report by a student from Zografou neighborhood is much more detailed. Nineteen-year old Pharmaceutics student Nicolaos Kokavesis (left) and his friend Antonios Andreoulakis were walking on a street at 17.03 pm when they spotted a “flying cigar” in an estimated altitude of 10,000m. It was moving from north to east, emitting blinding silver light and leaving white smoke behind, which was immediately dissolving. The object was disappeared after 85 seconds. Fifteen minutes later, another flying saucer 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 the newspapers [note 22].
During the night of November 11, many residents of Playari village, at Paiko mountain, Macedonia, observed a very luminous “flying saucer” emitting bright flashes. The phenomenon lasted 2-3 minutes [note 23].
Probably the next day, November 12, at 17.00, crowds at Kaningos square, central Athens observed a round, disc-shaped bright (or reflecting) body at an estimated altitude of 10,000 m; it remained stationary on the zenith for 5 minutes and then disappeared gaining altitude gradually. Áround the saucer there were “contrails” clearly visible. If this last detail was absent, the lack of data could have made the balloon explanation seem reasonable [note 24].
During the night of November 16, at the small island of Halki, Dodecanese, George Spyrou and Mitsos Dimitriou were returning home from Potamos region when they saw a luminous object moving in the sky with great speed. A little later they realized that “strange creatures” were moving in some nearby outcrops. They approached carefully and managed to catch one of them; the “strange creature” was a little goat [note 25].
The Flying Car and More Balloons
November, 20. A strange report came from Vovoda village, near Aegion, Peloponnese. At 7:00 am, 84 year old Elias Coromilas was at his field, at Voulomeni area, outside Vovoda when he noticed a small object, resembling a small car, rolling on the road and then entering the field at a distance of about 100 m (300 ft) from the witness. Coromilas run to warn the driver of the "car" that there was a steep cliff in front of him, but when he approached it, suddenly, the "car" took off making no sound at all and, engulfed in dust, flew away in the sky. Coromilas said later that the "car" was dark in colour, had two wheels and was 1,5 X 2 m in size, and 1 m in height. He considered the whole incident “supernatural” [note 26]
On November 25, at Mesimvrina village, Alexandroupolis, Thrace, a villager found a deflated balloon made by waterproof white cloth. A large carton and a folder were found nearby. Similar objects were discovered at Fylakia and Kyprinos villages and were handled to the local police station [note 27].
The balloon reports were to be piled on the next days and weeks. On December 7, at 15.00 a 3m diameter balloon laded outside Dimitritsi village, near Nigrita (Macedonia). It was pear-shaped, made by gleaming white plastic. When people from nearby villages ran to it they saw that a man was lying down below the balloon, tied with ropes from his waist. Reportedly the man stood up and ‘activated’ the balloon which slowly started lifting up presumably taking him away. At the place the ‘man’ was lying, leaflets printed in ‘luxury paper’ were found; they were written in Cyrillic and contained photos. National Security Regiments (TEA) militia took the leaflets. The balloon seemed to come from the direction of Serres (east) and continued its course to the same direction. Almost surely the ‘man’ is an exaggeration or a misinterpretation. Nevertheless, this reminds of some rare reports of ‘men’ hanging from balloon-shaped UFOs [note 28].
The phenomenon intensified. According to newspaper reports, “the last few days a balloon rain falls at various areas of Northern Greece” (Apogevmatini, 9.12.1954). In the morning of December 8, a farmer at Vathylacos (Thessaloniki) was working in the fields when he saw a 2m wide balloon coming down slowly. Panicked, he ran to alert the people of his village, claiming that he saw a ‘passenger’ inside the box that was hanging from the balloon. The report lacks details but it seems that the balloon dropped its cargo of leaflets, written in Hungarian. Another balloon landed at Nigrita, near an agrarian policeman who thought some enemy was hiding inside. He hit is with his rod; the balloon lost all it gas and leaflets were scattered all over. Another balloon fell on a house at Polycastro. Two days ago, a similar balloon crossed the sky over the same village. At Drama, two balloons landed near Amfipolis and Psili Rahi. There were also reports of balloon falls or landings at Gefyra village (Thessaloniki) and at the regions of Veroia and Katerini. All these areas are in Macedonia [note 29].
PROSPERO balloon launch (Photo from Psywarrior)
During the early morning hours of December 13, a luminous body described as a “large star” was seen over Corinth, Peloponnese. The object remained stationary until 09.15. The report is again disturbingly brief but most probably this was a purely astronomical phenomenon. Using an astronomy program, I certified that at this particular time for this particular region, Saturn and Venus were clearly visible early in morning low over the horizon to the southeast. Presumably when the Sun rose, they faded [note 30].
Genuine UFO reports became rarer and rarer as 1954 was ending. At the same time, more and more balloon sightings were reported. On December 28, at 17.00, dozens of people at Patras, Peloponnese spotted a dark object moving in the sky, apparently blown by the wind, slowly gaining altitude. Flying saucer rumors proliferated. According to the newspapers it was a balloon launched by pranksters. The Meteorological Station of Patras issued an announcement informing the public that it would start launching meteorological balloons and that they should not be misinterpreted as “flying saucers”. But during the same day (or night), a “luminous meteor” appeared over Pilio mountain, Thessaly; many witnesses described it as a “flying saucer” [note 31].
During the night of New Year’s Day of 1955, residents of Doxato observed a luminous object in the sky; they thought it was a flying saucer. The object move to the north and finally landed on a field. It was a paper balloon launched by local boy scouts, with a lit candle underside [note 32].
On January 11, at 08.00 a “luminous object” flying from east to west appeared for one hour over Larisa or Lamia (two different sources refer two different cities). Venus was visible low in southern sky at that time, moving (very slowly) from east to west [note 33].
White objects were spotted crossing the skies over many towns and villages of Lasithi prefecture, Crete, on January 17. One of them flew low over Perivolakia village and was shot down by a TEA man who opened fire. It was a balloon 3 X 2 m [note 34].
On March 24, at 18.00 a “flying barrel” was seen flying with “blowing wind speed” in an altitude of 500 m over the bridge of Simopoulo village, Elis, Peloponnese. Around the same time, between Zytineika and Malakasi villages of the same area, two men saw a strange barrel-shaped object hovering low over the ground. They approached and they found an empty carton on the ground. The object lifted up in an altitude of 15-20 m; it hovered there for a while and then started moving towards the city of Pyrgos; no accounts were reported from there [note 35].
This balloon wave broke out at western Peloponnese and some islands of Ionian Sea. On March 26, at 16.30 a witness at Argostoli, Kefallonia island, saw a green triangular object landing on the sea, 300 m away from the shore. Two minutes later, the object lifted off with “tremendous speed” and disappeared to the west. An exaggerated description of a balloon landing or something else? Again, the data are irritatingly scarce. The same report said that “a few days ago” a small box with leaflets fell at Hionata village, on the same island. Again on Kefallonia, people at Lixouri saw an object landing on the fields and then moving away. The residents of Vlahata village managed to retrieve another object; it was a carton 0.25×0.75 m.
There were other reports from Central Greece. Outside the city of Lamia an “aluminium spherical parachute” was found and handled to the police. Another two “parachutes” found at Makrakomi and Amfikleia, at the same general area. In the morning of March 25, at Elaiofyto village, near the city of Agrinion, western Central Greece, a 2 m wide balloon was seen; an empty box was hanging below it. A same balloon fell on nearby Trichonida lake and was retrieved by fishermen [note 36].
A Meeting Over the Aegean
Almost surely these reports concern genuine propaganda balloons. Nevertheless, the Camouflage Factor came into play. A very interesting incident took place on March 26, at 17.50, some miles north of Skiathos island, Aegean Sea. Remarkably, there are many details available; the report came from the crew and passengers of a commercial aircraft flying from Thessaloniki to Athens who saw a triangular UFO from close range at an altitude of 5,500 feet.
The plane, a DC-4, lifted off from Sedes airport, Thessaloniki. A little before flying over Skiathos the pilot, colonel Margopoulos, left the controls to the co-pilot, major Nicolaos Stasinopoulos, and went to the passenger cabin. Stasinopoulos asked a glass of water from flying hostess Margarita Zaharaki. When she entered the cockpit, they both spotted the flying object. It was 5-10 miles away and at first Stasinopoulos thought it was another aircraft. It was gleaming brilliantly under the sun. It hovered over the north slopes of Othrys mountain and was right in the middle of the aircraft’s course. Stasinopoulos turned the plane 5 degrees to the right to avoid any collision. But “the object approached with tremendous speed”, as he described later. “Far away, when I first saw it, it seemed big. But when we approached it, or it approached us, I had the impression that it shrank”.
He kept observing the object for 1.5 to 2 minutes. “I was stunned. It was not another airplane. It was a strange object 2-3 meters in size. I know all kinds of weather balloons. This is not a balloon, I thought. Balloons are round. It was like a large church bell, upside-down. Its outer shell was transparent, seemed like cheesecloth, nylon or glass, a little opaque. Inside there was something indescribable. It was something solid, wide on top, with an upper protuberance. It was white, white as cotton. It seemed, allow me the metaphor, like a pelican bird with no legs; it was not touching the outer shell, seemed like floating inside […] I passed 30-70 m next to it, saw it sideways. The shape was the same. I sent the air hostess to call the pilot. He came immediately and then we turned the plane to the left, flying in a large circle in order to see it again. But the object was lost. If it was a balloon, we ought to see it again, because until we completed the turn we were no more than a couple of miles away from it. I made a sketch of the object. The air hostess agreed on its shape. One passenger who had also seen it agreed too”.
The air-hostess described the object as a “glass ball, turned upside-down […] It was transparent and I could see something bright white inside, something I could not describe. Something like a tripod, with one leg taller than the others, like a geometrical pattern”.
From left: co-pilot Stasinopoulos, air hostess Zaharaki and a sketch of the mysterious object by Stasinopoulos
Passenger Leonidas Petrakakos, sitting on seat 16 saw the object but he thought is was a weather balloon.
The Meteorological Service excluded the possibility of a meteorological balloon. One such balloon had been actually launched at Thessaloniki at 15.30 but as lieutenant colonel Peroyannakis of the MS stated, these balloons lift off with great speed, reaching an altitude of 20,000 feet in only a quarter of an hour. He remarked that it was simply impossible for a balloon to stop at 5,500 feet. He said that the wind was blowing from the north, and such an encounter with a balloon at the referred point “would have been against the laws of nature”.
It never became clear if the object was moving or was stationary. A plane could be spotted from another one if the distance is less than 5-7 miles. The DC-4 could cover this distance in 2-3 minutes. From the time the crew spotted the UFO until it crossed paths with it, 2 minutes had passed, therefore the UFO was most probably stationary. Yet, since it was shining brightly maybe the initial distance was more than 5-7 miles, so maybe the UFO was moving with great speed. This could explain the fact that it had vanished when the aircraft turned and after one minute passed from the spot of the initial encounter.
It is also remarkable that on the same day, March 26, people at Elefsina, a town outside Athens saw a flying object crossing the sky at an estimated altitude of 30,000 feet, changing shape continuously. We also saw that just one and a half hour before the aircraft’s encounter, an object landed on the sea at Kefallonia island and then lifted off with tremendous speed.
Another brief report which may relates to the mystery, concerns a “triangular flying machine” around 2 m in size which landed at Halandritsa, near Patras, Peloponnese. A little later it took off before the approaching villagers could reach it [note 37].
The balloon wave continued. According to Acropolis (28.3.1955), at least ten balloons were seen over villages at Elis, landing, releasing their boxes and lifting off again. The locals called them “ghosts”; many claimed that they took off suddenly when they were approaching to retrieve them. Nevertheless, on March 27 the people of Lantzoi village managed to retrieve such a balloon; it was made of nylon and was 3 × 2.5 m, with a carton below. Another empty box was found outside Tripotamia (Belesi) village at Arcadia [note 38].
Student V. Barkolias from Belesi village, holding the carton (Apogevmatini, 28.3.1955)
Balloons kept on dropping from the Greek skies. On June 11 a “mysterious flying machine” landed between Amnissos and Kalos Agros villages, at the district of Drama, eastern Macedonia. When the witness approached, it took off [note 39].
The following years, lots of sightings would familiarize Greek public with the UFO phenomenon. More than ten years would pass until the first private groups of UFO researchers were formed. Unfortunately the 1954 UFO wave was not investigated at its time and lots of data are now lost forever. Nevertheless, a restrospective analysis can shed some light in a forgotten aspect of the old enigma, especially about the role of the Camouflage Factor.
Special thanks to SGM Herbert A. Friedman (Ret) for his permission to use photos from his article at Psywarrior website
1. Operation FOCUS had results in Hungary. In December 1956, after the failed revolution and the subsequent bloody Soviet invasion, a huge wave of 200,000 political refugees reached the West. Radio Free Europe compiled a report based on interviews with over 1,000 refugees. The question “from which source did you learn the news before the uprising?”, the answer “from foreign radio” was (expectedly) in the highest position (86%). Unexpectedly the percentage for the answer “from balloons and leaflets” was 21%.
2. Sources are “Balloons over East Europe: The Cold War Leaflet Campaign of Radio Free Europe” by Richard H. Cummings, an article adapted from his paper "Attacks from the East Against Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty," presented in 5th International Meeting of International Intelligence History Study Group (18-20 June 1999, Tutzing, near Munich). It was published in The Falling Leaf. No. 166, autumn 1999 (http://www.psywarsoc.org/FallingLeaf/balloons.php) Complementary data exist in “Free Europe Press Cold War Leaflets”, by Herbert A.Friedman (http://www.psywarrior.com/RadioFreeEurope.html). A valuable source is Allan A. Michie's, "Voice Through the Curtain: The Radio Free Europe Story," Dodd, Mead & Co., New York, 1963.
3. Sources: “Luminous Cigar Sighter at Orthrys [sic] the Night Before Yesterday”, Athinaiki, 12.10.1954 (The newspaper wrongly cites October 10 as the day of the sighting). “A Giant Cigar Over Pilion”, Embros, 16.10.1954. In this detailed feature, the journalist made a field investigation, met the witness and made a long report. He notes that Voyagis, was a simple peasant yet self-educated and with a significant background of encyclopedic knowledge; noticeably he knew the position of the planets in the night sky.
4. “The Mysterious Balloon of Rhodes”, Ethnos, 7.10.1954
5. Apparently the only source is a telegram by the commander of Lesvos Police based on a report of the president of Vrysa community. “A Flying Saucer or Cigar to Some Others Was Seen for 15 Minutes Over a Mytilene Village”, Acropolis, 7.10.1954; “A Flying Saucer was Seen over Mytilene the Day Before Yesterday”, Eleftheria, 7.10.1954; “Two Turkish Professors Saw the Mytilene Flying Saucer”, Apogevmatini, 7.10.1954. Note that “Mytilene” is the name of the capital of Lesvos island, but sometimes is (wrongly) used as the name of the island itself.
6. “Residents of Anemotia Village Observe the New Flying Saucer of Lesvos”, Apogevmatini, 7.10.1954; “Flying Frying Pan Appeared Over Lesvos Emitting Golden-White Rays”, Athinaiki, 9.10.1954; “A Flying Saucer with a Tail and Rays Sighted at Lesvos”, Eleftheria, 10.10.1954
7. Hellinikos Vorras, 10.10.1954
8. The only source must have been a telegram from local police authorities. “Strange Luminous Spots Appeared 2-3 kms High in the Sky Over Mytilene”, Acropolis, 16.10.1954; “The Official Report for the Lesvos Flying Saucer”, Athinaiki, 18.10.1954; “The Heavenly Phenomenon of Lesvos”, Ethnos, 18.10.1954
9. “Flying Frying Pan Seen Over Moudros”, Athinaiki, 26.10.1954
10. Ellinikos Vorras, 20.10.1954
11. “Imaginary Rumors Due to the Fall of a Meteorological Device in Piraeus”, Eleftheria, 23.10.1954; “Meteorological Device Falls in Piraeus Misinterpreted as… Parachutist with Leaflets!”, Acropolis, 23.10.1954
12. Unknown clipping, 23.10.1954
13. “In Crete Also”, Eleftheria, 26.10.1954
14. “Flying Saucers over Zachlorou Seen by Mimis Fotopoulos”, Apogevmatini, 27.10.1954
15. “Flying Basket and Winged Human Creature Seen at Cos”, Athinaiki, 29.10.1954
16. “Huge Luminous Flying Saucer Appeared in the Sky of Rhodes”, Vradyni, 28.10.1954; “Huge Luminous Saucer Flew for Five Minutes Over Rhodes”, Ethnos, 28.10.1954
17. “Blindingly Luminous Flying Saucers was Seen at Pyrgos”, Athinaiki, 1.11.1954; “Flying Saucer Over Katakolon!”, Apogevmatini, 1.11.1954
18. “They Claim That they Saw Flying Saucers at Patras and Volos”, Acropolis, 9.11.1954; “Flying Saucer Seen on Sunday at a Village of Patras”, Athinaiki, 9.11.1954
19. “They Claim That they Saw Flying Saucers at Patras and Volos”, Acropolis, 9.11.1954; “The Claim that the Saw Silver Brilliant Disc Over Volos”. Apogevmatini, 9.11.1954
20. “A Flying Saucer Over Komotini Also”, Apogevmatini, 10.11.1954
21. Acropolis, 11.11.1954
22. “A Flying Saucer Appeared Over Kypseli!”, Eleftheria, 12.11.1954; “A Flying Saucer Was Seen at Zografou!”, Apogevmatini, 12.11.1954
23. Macedonia, 12.11.1954
24. Acropolis, 13.11.1954 [?]
25. “The Flying Saucer ‘Men’ Were a Flock of Goats!”, Ethnos, 19.11.1954
26. Patris Pyrgou, 26.11.1954
27. “Mysterious Balloons with Boxes and Folders Found at the Border”, Apogevmatini, 26.11.1954
28. “Balloon Dropped Leaflets Near Nigrita”, Athinaiki, 8.12.1954
29. “Nylon Balloon Rain Falls in Various Areas of Northern Greece”, Apogevmatini, 9.12.1954; “Lots of Balloons Containing Hungarian Leaflets Fell at Macedonia”, Eleftheria, 9.12.1954
30. “Luminous Phenomenon Like a Large Star Seen for Hours at Corinth”, Athinaiki 13.12.1954
31. “The Patras’ Flying Saucer”, Athinaiki, 29.12.1954; “Not to be Misinterpreted as… Flying Saucers”, Eleftheria, 29.12.1954; “Flying Saucers Over Pilion!”, Eleftheria, 29.12.1954
32. “The Doxato Flying Saucer was a Paper Balloon”, Ethnos, 4.1.1955
33. “Heavenly Phenomenon Over Larisa”, Ethnos, 11.1.1955; “Luminous Object Over Lamia”, Ta Nea, 11.1.1955
34. “Flying Saucers Were Balloons”, Vradyni, 18.1.1955
35 “Barrel-Shaped Object Seen 500 m Over an Elis village”, Apogevmatini, 26.3.1955
36 “Mysterious Flying Machine Appeared the Day Before Yesterday at Argostolion”, Acropolis, 27.3.1955; “Cartons Dropped From Aeroplanes Reported as Flying Saucers at Kefallonia”, Eleftheria 27.3.1955
37. “Mysterious Flying Object Seen by TAE Aircraft Crew 5 Miles North of Skiathos”, extended coverage by G. Karagiorgas, Ethnos 28.3.1955
38. “Ten Balloons Carrying Boxes with Leaflets Sighted Over Elis – One was Retrieved”, Acropolis, 28.3.1955
39. “Mysterious Flying Machine Landed at Drama Area”, Vradyni, 11.6.1955
Map of Greece with place names referred in the text
1. Othrys mnt / 2.Pilion mnt / 3.Volos / 4.Doxato / 5.Orestiada / 6.Didymoteicho / 7.Neapolis / 8.Zachlorou / 9.Patra / 10.Pyrgos / 11.Athens / 12.Komotini / 13.Playari / 14.Aegion / 15.Alexandroupolis / 16.Nigrita / 17.Thessaloniki / 18.Drama / 19. Polykastro / 20. Katerini / 21.Veroia / 22.Corinth / 23.Lamia / 24.Larisa / 25.Area of encounter between commercial aircraft and UFO, 1955