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Royal Marine recalls UFO sighting in Cyprus, 1971

During my time as Director of Investigation for the British UFO Research Association (BUFORA) I had the pleasure of cooperating with UFO researchers and UFO research organisations in both the UK and around the world. BUFORA had many regional UFO groups affiliated with them and also used to cooperate with others on a regular basis. One such organisation was the Plymouth UFO Research Group (PUFOG) in Devon in the UK. Its chairman was Robert (Bob) Boyd and in February of 1995 Bob passed a very interesting UFO photographic case to me. The sighting in question came from a former Royal Marine and took place while he was still serving with H.M. Forces in Cyprus.

On the 20th of April 1993, PUFOG were interviewed by their local BBC radio station. As a result of that broadcast PUFOG were contacted by a former Royal Marine. He had been a Regimental Sergeant Major and he wanted to relate a UFO sighting from 1971. According to Bob Boyd this turned out to be one of the best UFO reports they had ever received.

Map showing Malta and Cyprus. (Credit: Google Maps)
Map showing Malta and Cyprus. (Credit: Google Maps)

The witness in question didn’t want any publicity so his name was changed and he was simply referred to as ‘Steve’. What follows is a verbatim reproduction of his UFO sighting. He was interviewed by PUFORG and this interview and photographs are reproduced here with permission of Bob Boyd. The photographs are copyright PUFORG.

“I used to be a member of the Royal Marines, and we were part of a group called 41 Commando Group that was stationed in Malta. We used to depart from Malta 2 or 3 times a year and go to Cyprus for what’s called field exercises. I don’t know if you know the shape of Cyprus, but it looks something like a rugby ball laid on its side. On this particular night (31st May, 1971), we were deployed in the field. The unit deployed with Echo company on the left hand side, in other words on the west end of the island. We had 2 companies on the north and my unit which was Command HQ, was due south at a place called Ghoshi Trooli. Altogether there were about 1400 men on the exercise.

At our position, we were doing what is known as a night move and what happens is you move a Command HQ, from one place in the field to another place in the field in darkness. One of my jobs was to control that move. So I would depart, set up a new location and then the unit would have to move to me, and we would have the spaces where they all went. Shortly before 8.00 pm, we drove to a new location. There was a particularly bad piece of track on the way there and I dropped off a young marine, a policeman, and said to him to stay on this track and when the unit comes, make sure you push them towards me in the right direction. There was one place where they could make a bad turn.

Shortly after getting on the ground, I located the various places and cleared them out. About 8 o’clockish a very bright light appeared behind a crest maybe a thousand metres away. What it looked like initially was the headlights of a car on full beam, situated behind the hill.  Because this was a night move with no lights, I got on the radio gave my call sign and told them to turn their lights off. The light just got stronger so I transmitted again, negative lights. As I’m talking this light came over the crest about a thousand meters away, and you go ‘it’s not bloody headlights it’s a flare’. I thought at first this was a mortar flare I was looking at. Mortar flares are stationary. You fire it up in the air and the aim is to illuminate the area. They hang by a parachute. The initial reaction was mortar flare and I was pretty concerned because we were in carbon grove, which is dry trees and if a flare lands amongst them you’ve got major problems. Twelve men had been killed in similar circumstances. A flare started in the Troodhos forest and a large number of English troops were killed. This was years before in 1957, which was in my time.

UFO photo taken by Royal Marines. Click to enlarge. (Credit: PUFORG)
UFO photo taken by Royal Marines. Click to enlarge. (Credit: PUFORG)

So now when I’m in a senior position in 1971 I think I’ve got a phosphorous flare hanging above a bloody carob grove and I’m not going to be very happy. It appeared from a thousand meters, which as I said was from behind the crest but it could have been quite high in the sky. The impression I got was that initially it was quite low. My initial impression was that this object of light was about 5-10,000 feet. That’s a complete guess.

There was about 20 of us at this place, looking at this light, when we suddenly realise that it isn’t a flare and you say ‘well what else can it be. The more you looked and the more people spoke, you couldn’t relate it to something else you’d seen, it was difficult to pin a label on. This was a massive thing. It appeared to be about the size of a golf ball at arms length. That’s the angle we were looking at (pointing 45 degrees). You had no obvious sign of movement. The main mass of light was almost spherical but it was putting out so much radiance, it looked like nothing you’d ever seen before. All it was like, was a burning ball of light. The light was extremely bright and when I’m talking about extremely bright, I’ve never seen anything as bright in my life.

The brilliance wasn’t burning enough to burn your eyes but it was just…..awesome. The nearest I can get to it is if you lowered the sun. And this is what I mean by a burning ball of light. The thing was that bright you see. It was like a burning orb of light, one orb of brilliance. I could also see other lights amongst it or thought I could. Not obvious lights. They weren’t like porthole lights with little people putting their heads out and waving at you. It was just what I thought indications of other lights, the same colour as the main one. You had this burning ball coming overhead like that and I am seeing something, not actually a cross but other lights roughly that shape within the centre light.

Front and back of it, especially when it was lower in the sky, you had like a vortex of movement as though you had displacement of air. In other words if a thing is moving it would push air backwards and forwards. I could see something like that. You get a lot of dust in Cyprus, especially at that time of year. Very dry dusty conditions and you get a lot of dust in the atmosphere. If you had a burning ball of phosphorous, you would have the central core of phosphorous, then the glare of the diffused light. If you were moving that phosphorous through conditions where there was dust, you would get movement, a push vortex and a vortex behind.

UFO photo taken by Royal Marines. Click to enlarge. (Credit: PUFORG)
UFO photo taken by Royal Marines. Click to enlarge. (Credit: PUFORG)

There was a lot of chat among the 20 men. You’re all talking about it. You’ve never seen anything like it in your life. We are now watching this for some minutes.  Remember I told you that I’d left a marine corporal guarding at the track. We all of a sudden we hear this (beats hand on table) and this guy came over the hill doing about 600 mph!! This is in full kit. And you know Cyprus is a hot and sticky place. Anyway, he came up and after panting for a bit said ‘Can you see that?’ We said yes and he said ‘Thank Christ for that’. It wasn’t till that happened that you realised that by being in a group of people watching, it wasn’t frightening as it was if you were alone. I mean for a Marine Corporal to disobey my orders and bugger off, and then it was something.  To a lone individual…..to run away from something is a serious offence, let’s not disguise the fact. He deserted the post that I had given. For a lone individual, what he saw by himself…..meant it was a bit more serious than that.

Everybody on the exercise, about 1400 men, saw the light. During this period the unit you remember, is doing a night move. As I said we had radio sets and we could hear transmissions of other people taking about the light, and at one stage the following dialogue took place between a call sign which is a unit and a commanding officer, Sunray. There was a little bit of chat about the light then Sunray said ‘It must be a flying saucer ha ha’. There were the words he used.

We watched this for 22 minutes. We were all professional observers. I carry powerful binoculars, night glasses, and there was about half a dozen pairs of binoculars there. Now you may think that what I was going to tell you is stupid, but the light went from ground zero and took 22 minutes to disappear out of sight of binoculars to the right of the moon. WE didn’t use the glasses when the light was easily visible because it was so bright it might have damaged your eyes through binoculars. It was when it was at height that we used the binoculars. So using night glasses leaning on a land rover, watching this light, the moon is now hanging over Dekali Garrison and the object ended up to the right of the moon.

A point I want to make is that there was no impression of speed, sound or movement. You were looking at something that seems to drift past you. I’ve been trained for 27 years to judge distances, that’s what I’m paid for. But I couldn’t tell you if that was 1000 meters high, 5000 metres high, 50 mile high. I’m also a professional parachutist, so I knew distances in the air, gut I couldn’t tell you how far away it was or how high. It was just something you’d never seen before.  The day we saw the light was the same day that the Americans had launched on of their moon shots. I think it was the second one.

We then moved back to the barracks. When I got back to base, I wrote a complete report of everything we’d seen that night. It covered about 5 pages. I posted it to my wife first and told her to keep the letter because I knew it was something different – and she ditched it!! The next morning, we were all talking in the mess about the light, so I rang Aquitiri and asked to speak to the station Net. Officer and I couldn’t get hold of him. The lines were burning. So I contacted my opposite number there and spoke to him. He said ‘Is it about the light we saw last night, and I said yes. He said ‘the switchboard had been jammed solid’. The he said that ‘it was the Mariner shot (NARAS) that’s all we were watching’.

Later that morning the colonel sent for me and (we were referring to the light in general discussion) he instructed that all sub-units who’d seen it, were requested to write a report on it and anybody who had taken photos to hand them in as part of the research into this Mariner thing. And this was done. I then got to draw ammunition. I used to lodge my ammunition in a compound. Bring it off a ship, put it in the compound and draw from the army barracks.  Everyone you saw would say did you see that light and you’d have a chat about it. I went down there and was talking to the blokes about it. One bloke had come out of the mess, drunk: out of an army mess, drunk. He gets to the car park and goes to start his car and he looks up and sees what we saw and he said in seconds he was stone cold sober. He raced back into the mess goes ga a ga and they all run out to watch the light.

The Turks or the Greeks, I don’t know which but one of them believes a light, a bright light like this means the coming of the new Messiah. When I went for the ammo, locals worked in the ammunition dump, and one of them was telling us that his village had seen this as part of their sort of religion of Christ and that, and they all turned out and were praying in the streets, thinking that the Boss Man had arrived again. It wasn’t just a few people. It was reported in the local press so it could easily be checked I’m not giving you a load of waffle. You could dead easy get a check o it.

I started collating the reports and listening to other people talking about it. Echo Company was on the left of the Island. Now they had observed what we had observed, maybe ten minutes prior. So let’s say at about 7.35 pm, they’d noticed this light coming from West to East, so it was coming straight towards them. This light came from West to East. Halfway across the Island, it then turned from North to South. So Echo Company watch it coming towards them, it then comes inland turns from North to South. We watch it as it came over the mountain and flies south. I didn’t know they had Mariner craft that turn a right angle basically and then disappear. All the reports were handed in, photos and negatives and quite a lot got handed in. If you’ve got 1400 blokes in the field, you’re going to have a hundred of them with cameras, aren’t you? There was a large quantity of films handed in. I would say over a hundred rolls of film.

UFO photo taken by Royal Marines. Click to enlarge. (Credit: PUFORG)
UFO photo taken by Royal Marines. Click to enlarge. (Credit: PUFORG)

Weeks later it was confirmed that this was a UFO. You see what happened the first morning when the colonel asked me to get the reports; he didn’t give me a full brief. I would be responsible for running the unit and he would normally be dead straight with me. Now for some reason he had a top level meeting with his company commanders and would have discussed it with them, but he didn’t tell me the full story.

In the centre of Cyprus is a place called the Troodhos Mountains, on top of which they’ve got the most sophisticated radar in the world. They’re called golf balls because of their appearance and are maybe 3-400 feet in circumference. They used to monitor the U2 flights and long range radar transmissions. There’s a fighter base at Aquitiri and it’s a very sophisticated fighter base. On RAF bases abroad, they always have QRF (quick response) fighters burning internally. So on an operational base you always have the latest aircraft there, ready to go.

About 2 or 3 weeks later we were off the coast of (location deleted) doing a job. I went in for my morning sherry with him and he said ‘That UFO’s been confirmed’. So I said what UFO? “Didn’t I tell you?’ he said. I said, no but you’re going to tell me now, aren’t you? And then he explained that this was a UFO and it was an official job from reports, they went off and then it then came back as confirmed as a UFO.

I was told this by him, that is the colonel that during this, those ‘golf balls’ up on Troodhos had traces early on in the game. They put 2 Lightings up (RAF fighter aircraft), which were capable of about 1200 mph. They would obviously have an early interception course on this particular object, whatever it was, and they could be put alongside it. And the way it was said to me was ‘Two Lightings couldn’t touch it’. In service parlance that means that you can up two aircraft and they could not get those planes in contact with the object.

The radar at Troodhos pinged them early, and the Lightning’s went up. You never get a single plane going off QRF, you always get two. You’ve got two fighters depart from Aquitiri to investigate, told them to have a look, so they get a vector course. They pick it up on their radar long before it’s visible, probably 5 to 600 miles away. So the Troodhos radar would have picked it up at distance, the Lightings would be sent up to investigate it and they can’t touch it doing 1200 mph. Yet when you ask me how fast is it going and I’m telling you it is almost stationary. If it looked almost stationary, and the Lightning’s couldn’t touch it, it must have been a fair old height. But none of the facts relate, it doesn’t fit in with anything you’ve seen before.

I would be very interested in seeing what the Lightning’s saw. They would have been put up early enough by radar to get within good seeing distance to it. They all actually carry cameras on board, so they would trigger the cameras if nothing else. These would be cine cameras. These photos I’ve given you were taken by a naval publicity photographer. In the middle of the Island you had the support company, which was firing the weapons. The photographer, who took these, was with that company. He was using tripods set up for night firing. It wasn’t just a hit and miss affair with a guy with a camera. This is one of the few occasions that a guy was there with a proper set of equipment, tripods, etc.  This guy was photographing what id known as Wombats and Nobats. They’re anti-tank guns and have an open breech called venture and when the round fires, the propellant burns out the back in a big flash, so when you see them they look very dramatic. You know the gun crew, the hooded figures, the round going out, a big flash at the back. That’s what his camera was set up for.

When the light appears the guy put his camera on it and included these on the same reel of negs. And these were handed in as part of what I told you. These I imagine are the only 3 surviving photos of this. He handed the roll in but a couple of days later, he was in the dame mess as me, gave me a set of the prints he had done. And that’s what these are. I had more photos than this but a couple have been nicked. I think I had 5 or 6 originally. When I showed them to people, I loaned them to one or two of them and possibly they kept one or two. I had about half a dozen at first. Luckily I’ve still got these. I’m well aware that it’s taken me 20 years to tell you this. Now if I was trying to do a snow job, I wouldn’t wait 20 years to tell you what I saw. I’m also no idiot. You could probably falsify photos 1, 2 & 3, by a dark room, a neon light and a clever photographer. But there is no way you could do this one (photo 2) which shows the lights of Dekalia Garrison, 6 or 7 miles away.

The photos are time exposures, so don’t show the ball of light as such but its trail across the sky. I don’t know how long he left the shutter open. You can get a good idea of how bright it was. The photos also show the illuminated dust in the atmosphere as it passes through. Lots of people who saw this are still serving. You’ll find that the senior officers like me have gone but lots of the younger ones will still be serving.

It’s taken me 20 years to tell you now, because you don’t like getting ridiculed.  I’ve told it to other people because the beauty of it is I can prove what I’m saying. Luckily I’ve still got the photos showing the horizon. There was no cover up or hush up on the base because it fitted in with the Mariner thing, but we all knew it wasn’t that. What was surprising was that it didn’t make the English press. I’ve sometimes read or heard on the radio, that someone has seen a flying saucer. It’s amazing that on a thing like this where you’ve got, in my case, at least a thousand or more trained observers, whether they are junior or senior, all looking at the same object, and I’m talking about at least half an hour or more.  Plus from different locations spread over an area of a couple of hundred square miles. You’ve got the whole small isolated community like Cyprus seeing it, and reported on their radio, their own media and yet it never got any massive press coverage over here.

I just heard you by accident on the radio and what clicked in my mind was when you said the MoD had got something on these lines. I thought I’ll tell him about the photos. Otherwise they would have just lain there forever.”


The 3 photos are reproduced here in full. You can see as ‘Steve’ described in photo number 2 the lights of the garrison at the bottom of the photo.

At the time when the photos and interview were conducted PUFORG contacted the Ministry of Defence in the UK to see if they could obtain any further information on this event. After all ‘Steve’ had told them that he collated lots of reports and photos and that later his colonel had confirmed that it was a UFO.  The reply from the UK Mod was:

The files for 1971 would have been sent to the public records office a long time ago and are covered by the terms of the public records act, remaining closed from public viewing, until 30 years after the last action was taken.

Of course those 30 years has now passed and in the last few years the UK Ministry of Defence has begun releasing its UFO files to the National Archives. The main man behind this is Dr David Clarke. I recently asked Dr Clarke to check to see if there was any sign of this incident in the released MoD files:

Nothing. I’ve gone through the files for that year at Kew with a fine tooth comb and would have a note of it if it was there. But as it was Royal Marines the report might have gone to the Navy and never reached the Air Staff. There are any number of reasons why it doesn’t appear in the UFO files. If they knew it was a military exercise of some description it might never have been treated as a UFO at official level. That’s the problem with following up cases like this that rely upon the memories of a single individual decades after the event.

I don’t agree with Dr Clarke that we are relying purely on the memories of one individual. If the witness is correct then he collected numerous reports as ordered by his commanding officer and photographs as well. The fact that they are not in the released files will only fuel speculation in some quarters that the MoD has not released everything and that there is indeed some kind of cover-up in place. I’m not sure I share such an idea but I can fully understand why some researchers do support such a notion.

And what of the three photographs provided. I asked UFO photographic analyst Winston Keech to comment on them:

My first pass of the photos and report look good – unless I find finer detail I would consider them genuine print copies of a real illuminated object taken with a standard lens on a tripod on long exposure. I have identified the tracks of stars in the background which should confirm the exposure duration etc. There is one effect from the forward scattered light around the object in one print that I need to explain, that is unusual – but that aside, they appear genuine … proper report to follow

There are a few typos in the report, which I suspect are due to phonetic interpretation of an original conversation … nothing drastic – except that the correct spelling of the RAF base is ‘Akrotiri’. I did Ii n fact put in for detachment to that very base when I was a pilot with the RAF in the early 80’s … along with half the RAF, as it is considered a prize detachment … almost sea and sun holiday in fact!

It has always been a very strategic base for refueling and reach of the middle east/turkey … and I can confirm that it was the home to the no 56 squadron, who would have just converted to Mk 6 Lightning’s (not quite as quick in climb, but with longer fuel range) from the Mk 3 model, in 1971.

Note also, that the radar referred to with 500 mile range is the hilltop radar, not the lightning’s onboard radar – the lightning would have only be good for less than 50 miles targeting radar range depending on model and conditions. The hilltop system would have been similar to the early Fylingdales modified ‘sage’ system.

Hope this of help,

really interesting case,


 p.s. for a commissioned officer to desert his post like that would normally be considered an extremely bad/unthinkable thing … it generally results in dishonorable discharge – so to not be, speaks volumes in my opinion. 

I also asked Winston Keech if he thought that the Mariner 9 launch could have been misidentified and be a possible explanation for this sighting and photographs:

I would say that it would not be possible to see the launch phase of the mariner 9 probe from Cyprus at that time. It was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 22:23 gmt in a direct ascent and separated from it’s launch vehicle at 22:36 gmt (a 13 min ascent) then deployed its solar cells at 22:40 gmt. The ground observation visual range to low earth orbit height (about the separation height) would be around 300 miles max. As this was a direct (vertical) ascent this means that the earth could only have rotated Easterly by around 250 miles by that point, so at absolute best it could not be seen in more than an area from 300 miles offshore from Florida to 550 miles inland from Canaveral and +/- 300 miles North South during the entire launch phase. The local launch time in Cyprus would be 23:23 to 23:36 and the probe would not be visible at all until around 20 hours later as Cyprus would be rotating away from the launch site, which is around 1/5 of the Global circumference away to the West. (as it was quoted as vertical ascent therefore controlled to fly directly from the launch point towards its target – mars, so would be flying westerly downrange at around 1000 mph by separation). I think we can pretty much rule out the Mariner probe. Presumably his ‘8 pm’ would be local time, or he would have quoted it as 1900 Zulu (as Cyprus is GMT +1 hr I believe).

Hope this is of help,


And just to be on the safe side I consulted with former RAF Wing Commander Alan Turner just to see if he knew anything about the operations of the base there at the time in Cyprus and to check that the witness’s recollections were indeed accurate:

“Many thanks for your article on what was observed in Cyprus – very convincing stuff.  What is impressive is the fact that the sighting was acknowledged formally as a UFO.I was involved with 56 Lightning Squadron when it returned from Cyprus in early 1974,  but I don’t know if that particular squadron was there at the time of the Royal Marine’s sighting.  Having said that, a couple of the pilots alluded to “sightings which were weird” although they didn’t go into detail”.

Many UFO researchers will tell you that UFO sightings made by trained observers, especially members of the military, are held in high regard. They are less likely to be fooled by misidentifying known natural phenomenon although they are not infallible of course. They are after all only human like the rest of us. This sighting would seem to fall in to that category. It seems highly unlikely that it was not a misidentification of the launch of Mariner 9. If it was, then why ask for all the reports to be collected? Mariner 9 was a mission to Mars and was launched in the full blaze of normal publicity.  This case has the potential to be quite unique simply by the amount of military observers involved. One would of course like to speak to more of them and as a researcher I’d like to know where within the Ministry of Defence these reports are stored because so far they have not been released. Are they simply buried in red tape and languishing in a dusty file somewhere, or are the conspiracy theorists correct and there really is a cover- up? I for one don’t have the answers but hopefully one day someone will.

References: PUFORG Report No: 9308.

Winston Keech (private correspondence)

Dr David Clarke (private correspondence)

Wing Commander Alan Turner (private correspondence)

About the author: Philip Mantle is the former Director of Investigations for the British UFO Research Association and is the publisher at FLYING DISK PRESS. He can be contacted at: http://flyingdiskpress.blogspot.co.uk/

Philip Mantle

Philip Mantle is an international UFO researcher, author and broadcaster. He can be contacted via email at: philip.mantle@gmail.com http://flyingdiskpress.blogspot.co.uk/

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