R e s e a r c h 
" C l o u d   c i g a r "   o v e r   S a i n t - P r o u a n t ,   F r a n c e

An influential many-witness sighting in a rural region of western France on September 14, 1954 of a so-called "cloud-cigar" exhibits some features that are strikingly reminiscent of a tornado-type funnel cloud. There is no historical record of a tornado on this date. But we present meteorological data to show that the synoptic weather pattern was not inconsistent with a set of conditions known to be associated with the occurrence of non-mesocyclonic tornadoes in France. Such conditions favour a weaker "cold-core" tornado that may cause little damage on touch-down, or a funnel cloud that does not develop to touch-down and so would not be recorded in the tornado catalogues.

However, several features of the published descriptions are inconsistent with such a funnel cloud. The theory requires that the descriptions are imperfect and/or have been inaccurately reported and exaggerated. Since original testimonies are only available (a) in translation from sources not clearly attributed, or (b) are newspaper accounts of uncertain accuracy written during the excitement of a busy wave of saucer sightings throughout France, this may be the case. We conclude that whilst some questions remain, a conventional funnel cloud cannot be ruled out.

 The sighting reports

In his second UFO book Mystérieux Objets Célestes, published in 1958, UFO pioneer Aimé MICHEL dedicated some space to a peculiar type of unidentified aerial phenomenon which has since become known as "the cloud cigar" (in French: "le grand cigare des nuées"), a big, cigar-shaped object or light, often in a vertical position, and either cloud-like in appearance or surrounded by cloud-like structures. Cloud cigars are sometimes said to be accompanied by secondary or satellite objects that seem to emerge from and/or enter into the parent object.

One of the most intriguing reports from MICHEL's book is certainly the one in which hundreds of witnesses, scattered through half a dozen villages in Western France, observed a "cloud cigar" over some fields in the afternoon of September 14, 1954. One of the most detailed and best-known accounts of this event was given by Georges FORTIN, then 34 years old. At the time, M. FORTIN operated a farm at a place called La Gabelière [1], a little village of 300 inhabitants near Saint-Prouant in the department of Vendée, about 400 km (250 miles) southwest of Paris. This is his story as quoted by MICHEL:

It was about five in the afternoon. I was working in the fields with my men when all at once, emerging from the thick layer of clouds that looked like a storm coming up, we saw a sort of luminous blue-violet mist, of a regular shape something like a cigar or carrot. Actually, the object came out of the layer of clouds in an almost horizontal position, slightly tilted toward the ground and pointing forward (like a submerging submarine).

This luminous cloud appeared rigid. Whenever it moved (and its movements had no connection with the movement of the clouds themselves) it did so all of a piece, as if it actually were some gigantic machine surrounded by mists. It came down rather fast from the ceiling of clouds to an altitude which we thought was perhaps a half mile above us. Then it stopped, and the point rose quickly until the object was in a vertical position, where it became motionless.

During this time, the clouds went on scudding across the sky, dimly lighted from underneath by the violet luminosity of the object. It was an extraordinary sight, and we watched it intently. All over the country-side other farmers had also dropped their tools and were staring up at the sky like us.

Artist's impression

Fig. 1: Artist's impression of the object observed by Georges Fortin. (1) The carrot-shaped cloud emerges from the clouds. (2) The trail of white smoke is jetted out from the base of the "cloud". (3) The cloud back in a more horizontal position before it disappears.
[France-Dimanche No. 423, October 3, 1954, p. 1]

All at once (by now we had been watching for several minutes) white smoke exactly like a vapour trail came from the lower end of the cloud. At first it pointed toward the ground, as if spun from an invisible shuttle falling free, then it gradually slowed down while turning around, and finally rose up to describe around the vertical object an ascending spiral which wound it up in its coils. While the rear of the trail was dissolving rapidly in the air, carried off by the wind, the beginning got sharper and finer all the time, as if it were gradually drying up at its source, but without any slowing down of the unseen object that was continually spinning it into the air.

It thus went on up, turning around, up to the very top of the vertical object, and then started to come down again, turning in the other direction. Only then, after the smoke trail had vanished entirely, could we see the object that was "sowing" it, a little metallic disk shining like a mirror and reflecting, in its rapid movements, flashes of light from the huge vertical object.

The little disk almost immediately stopped turning around the luminous cloud and went down toward the ground again, this time moving away. For quite a few minutes we could see it flying low over the valley, darting here and there at great speed, sometimes speeding up, then stopping for a few seconds, then going on again. In this manner it flew in every direction over the region between St-Prouant and Sigournais, villages about four miles apart. Finally, when it was almost a mile from the vertical object, it made a final dash toward it at headlong speed, and disappeared like a shooting star into the lower part where it had first come out. Perhaps a minute later, the "carrot" leaned over as it began to move, accelerated, and disappeared into the clouds in the distance, having resumed its original horizontal position, point forward. The whole thing had lasted about half an hour [2].
locations between St-Prouant and Sigournais

Fig. 2: Some recorded eyewitness locations between St-Prouant and Sigournais. Other locations recorded in early sources are Chassay and La Godinière, but we have been unable to identify Chassay and the nearest findable La Godinière is near Bournezau, about 17 km SW of the area.

Another version of this and corroborative accounts can be found in the Nantes newspaper La Résistance De l'Ouest, September 20, 1954 [3]:

In La Gabelière de Saint-Prouant, Mr. George Fort [sic], aged 34, gave us this account:

- It was approximately five in the afternoon. I was there in this field, when suddenly, from the cloudy sky where the storm went up, I saw a curious cloud emerging, blue-purple, and which had the shape of a carrot, coming towards us with the point slightly ahead.

- Was it really a cloud?

- It appeared to me and my servant to be like a cloud, but it seems that it was rather a machine surrounded by vapor or an artificial cloud. Arriving at approximately 4 to 500 meters from us, and at an equal height, it took up a vertical position and became motionless. We looked at the phenomenon intensely.

- And you were not afraid?

- Of what? Moreover curiosity drove us. Anyway it was only afterwards that I realized the strangeness of the event.

The cloud, or the apparatus, was thus motionless when suddenly, similar to the trail which a jet leaves, a white smoke was detached from the "tail" of the apparatus and rose in a spiral, surrounding it in its coils. The smoke reached the top then returned down again, turning in the other direction, and it was at this time that a very shiny disc, like a mirror, was detached and, turning and fluttering, came towards us, then went to other parts of the valley, before rejoining the "apparatus" at a tremendous speed "quicker than a shooting star." The "carrot" then took an horizontal position, point ahead, and resumed its course at an accelerated speed before disappearing from our sight. The whole thing was visible for about half an hour.


- Mr. Louis Grellier, aged 36, servant in La Gabelière, confirms this account in all respects, adding some further details about the walk of the famous disc.

- At the nearby village, the same statement was given by Mr. Mercier, by Mr. Jean Perrocheau, aged 50, day labourer, and by several women who saw the "cloud" from the courtyard of the farm, but could not see the "disc" because of the buildings.

Mrs. Pizou, widow, aged 67, an astute farmer who after having lost her husband and her son in the war, maintains her farm whilst awaiting the arrival of her grandson currently on military duty, was also witness to the appearance.

- I was in the field close to Mr. Fortin, busy in "curving" the cabbages when my attention was drawn by this curious cloud. I looked at it with astonishment during the whole time it was above us, i.e. half an hour. It had the shape of a carrot with a kind of hat above. I saw a white smoke escaping and drawing lines around it.

- Did you notice a white disc?

- Possibly, but the trees obstructed me, because the "cloud" was right at their height. But was this really a cloud? Surely not, it was something else. But what? I saw it leaving then, after having become horizontal.

Mrs. Pizou's daughter's statement echoes that of her mother, as do the assertions of the day labourer working with her, who also describes this "cigar" and the spiral of smoke.


Mr. Tissot, of La Lègerie, is very affirmative too, as is young Daniel Bornufart [Daniel BONIFAIT], an electrician who was busy working on a power line in La Gabelière.

In Libaudière, Godinière, Lègerie. Everywhere people give us the same account and everywhere people speak about a "carrot" which obviously reminds us of the previous sightings of "cigars."


Once again we attest the good faith of the witnesses, some of whom had not seen each other since Tuesday, and some of whom had never dared to speak about their sighting for fear of being branded fantasists and jokers.
Aimé MICHEL's version of the account of M. FORTIN has already been quoted. MICHEL also gives a version of the account by Mme PIZOU as follows:

My attention was first attracted about 5 o'clock by the arrival of a strange carrot-shaped cloud that seemed to have detached itself from the ceiling of clouds that were moving fast, carried by the wind. It came near us, point downward, and then straightened up. It looked to me as if another, smaller, cloud then formed above the carrot, making a kind of hat for it.

The white smoke came out like a thread from the base of the vertical carrot and began to draw designs all around it. Then the trail went away towards the valley, where trees hid whatever happened next; I was told that a disk came out of the trail, but I cannot say that I saw it, because from where I stood the treetops reached almost to the base of the vertical cloud. In my opinion it was not a real cloud, for it stayed motionless and kept its shape while other clouds were gliding away very fast above it, towards the horizon.

Finally, when I had been watching for about half an hour, it moved down into a horizontal position again, and went away rapidly in the direction towards which it was slanted.

MICHEL said that he learned of the case through a letter from a reader of one of his books, and that an investigation was then begun. But the nature and extent of this investigation is not made clear. MICHEL may have obtained fuller versions of the testimonies - perhaps by approaching the local journalist - as a couple of small details seem to hint that MICHEL may have had other information. But it appears that almost everything, if not quite everything, in MICHEL's account could have come from the article in La Résistance De l'Ouest, which MICHEL does cite. (This does not necessarily invalidate either source, but provably independent sources would have had more value.)

 Notes & references

[1] In both the French and the English versions of MICHEL's book, and in the newspapers, the name of this village is spelled as "La Gabelière", whereas a later account by investigators for the magazine Phénomènes Spatiaux mentions "La Gabellière". We have found no reference to a village of either spelling anywhere, only a street called "rue de la Gabellière" some 75 km NE of Saint-Prouant. We believe the true location to be the phonetically near-identical "La Gadebillière" (Geoportail) or "La Gadbillère" (Google Maps), some 3.25 km SSW of Saint-Prouant in the same district as other locations - La Lègerie and Libaudaire - cited in contemporary accounts (see Fig. 2). But for consistency we use "La Gabelière" in the text.

[2] MICHEL, A., Flying Saucers & The Straight Line Mystery, Criterion, 1958, pp. 23-26 (English edition, translation by Lex MEBANE).

[3] Amended text based on a translation by Patrick GROSS.