Smokey Stover was a comic strip character created by Bill Hollman in the thirties. Stover was a clumsy firefighter that travelled on a vehicle called a “Foo Fighter.” This term would often be used interchangeably with the word firefighter. This cartoon was known to use turns of phrases and puns as part of its main trait. Yet nobody expected that the term would become part of history during the Second World War as one of the most mysterious and bizarre moments of the conflict.
In 1944 American pilots, flying on board a Northrop P-61 Black Widow, reported strange sightings hovering over the German skies. These red, orange, and green glowing balls seemed able to maneuver at impossible speeds before disappearing as quickly as they’d appeared. They seemed to constantly fly in groups and in formation around the Allied planes. They never showed up on any radar.
Some sources claim the first sighting of these bright lights happened on November 27, 1944, when Donald J. Meier received reports on the sightings. Since Meier was a reader of the comics, it’s believed that he was the one responsible for giving them the name of Foo Fighters.
Five years into the Second World War, a rumor began to circulate about a secret weapon developed by the Germans. Pilots who’d had encounters with these strange objects were terrified and confused. Keith Chester wrote about these bizarre moments in his book, “Strange Company: Military Encounters with UFOs in World War II”. Yet the Germans and Japanese reported the same sort of sightings. The Foo Fighters were never hostile and, according to witness accounts, they seemed to be controlled by superior intelligence.
It wasn’t long before the news reached the international press. In the United States, newspapers like The New York Times and the New York Herald Tribune began to mention the phenomenon. On January 15, 1945 Time Magazine presented an entire feature on the Foo Fighters, including statements from pilots who had seen them up close.
That same year, several scientists began to offer explications to the occurrence. Some believed these were hallucinations brought on by stress and exhaustion. While some chose to consider this could be blinding anti-aircraft fire or electrical charges from the plane’s wings.
Scientist now believe the lights phenomenon that terrified aviators could be due to St. Elmo’s Fire. This occurs when the air ionizes within an electrical field caused by storms, resulting in a bluish light. This is not unlike sparks coming from a metallic object. French mariners used to watch these from the mast of their ship and was often seen as protection against bad weather. This phenomenon also occurs on planes mid flight. Perhaps something not too far off happened to American pilots who thought they were coming face to face with a new weapon of war. One thing to keep in mind is that the light described by the pilots were erratic. St. Elmo’s fire is usually static.
To this day there is no conclusive answer on what the Foo Fighters were, nor where they came from, nor their purpose. That topic is part of the greatest mysteries the Second World War left us with.
Translated by María Suárez