Thursday, July 30, 2020

US Army Colonel Robert B. Rigg, Flying Saucer Visionary

Robert B. Rigg (1913 – 1986) was an artist, writer, and a career US Army man who retired as a colonel. Rigg had a vision for the future of war, and it included flying saucers. This article from the Boston Globe Sunday magazine, July 12, 1959.

Machines for Future Wars
by Nat L. Kline

The picture on the cover of today’s magazine and those on these pages illustrate amazing new war machines which could he used at some future date. Some of them are being studied by the Army and other of the military services. Some are actually being developed right now.

The pictures are from original paintings by Lt Col Robert B. Rigg, formerly with the Army's Research and Development division at the Pentagon, now assistant deputy director of the Combat Development Group, U.S. Army Armor School, Ft. Knox, Ky. During World War II, Col Rigg was military observer for the War Department, serving with six different allied armies, including the Soviet Army in Azerbaijan and Manchuria. While on Gen George C. Marshall's staff in China right after the war, he was twice captured by the Chinese Communists, imprisoned, tried for espionage, and narrowly escaped death sentences. He served with Gen James M. Gavin, former chief of Army Research and Development, both in Germany and in the Pentagon.

About a year ago his book, "War-1974" (Military Service Publishing Co.) startled military men with its introduction which declared the book might sound like science fiction but "is an indication of a military technique to come." The book gave a dramatic account of possible future warfare, and machines of combat for "shoot-and-scoot" strategy like those pictured here were shown. Col Rigg pointed out that none of the 3-D weapons of war needed new scientific discoveries. Radar, jet engines, helicopters, rockets, television principles revealing developments being made in continuous, steady fashion by the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, private industry all

At Fort Benning, Ga., home of The Infantry School, demonstrations recently gave realistic views of rocket-shooting helicopters; paratroopers dropping en masse with a whole team of assorted weapons in support; small units completely self-sufficient, in line with the Army groups' new pentomic, streamlined structure. Nothing is amazing in the age of megatons, satellites and missile-shooting atomic submarines. Weapons such as these only stir military planners to "the step beyond."

Decades later, Army Space Journal Fall 2003, ran an article, “from the eyes of The Past” that explained the origin of the paintings and reproduced them in crisp color.

Somehow, Rigg also got into the flying saucer business, but before we go there, let’s look at how he established his reputation as a visionary of the future of warfare.

Armor Nov-Dec 1955

Rigg began fleshing out his thoughts in preparation for a book, and in his article,“Soldier of the Futurarmy,” Army, November 1956, he expanded his examination to the arms and armor of the infantryman and looked at the other ways technology could change the battlefield from vehicles to the delivery of fuel to power them.

In some of his work Rigg was thwarted by military secrecy polices. During Dec. 1957, Rigg was in the news twice for matters of National Security. In two separate articles, syndicated columnist George Dixon reported how US government secrecy affected projects by Robert Rigg. Not UFO secrecy, though, just the regular kind. Overzealous security censors would not approve his painting of a nuclear explosion, and they also scuttled his book on military history.

Guns magazine Feb. 1958, featured an article by Rigg tailored for their audience, “

War - 1974

In June 1958, Rigg’s book, War - 1974 was published by Military Service Publishing Co. Some people classify it as a science fiction or a future war book, but it’s a bit more grounded than that.

The book was 304 pages long, with illustrations by Riggs of aerial war. It discussed the current technology being developed with narrative extrapolation on how it could be deployed on a grand military scale -  dramatically depicted in a hypothetical scenario about a World War set in the near-future of 1974. As usual, flying military vehicles played a prominent role. A passage from War - 1974:

“Tomorrow, helmeted men will be riding on aerial jeeps and assault platforms- vehicles that will be lifted and propelled by two to four ducted fans inclosed in oblong or saucer shapes with two or three men in the middle- men possessed of TV cameras, electronic eyes, and automatic weapons.”

Building a Space Force

In Armor, July-August 1959, Rigg returned to his flying tank concept in "Some Thoughts on the Army of the Future." 
The article included a photo from the science fiction movie, The Mysterians, saying, “Depicted here, is a concept of a future tank whose main weapon is an energy concentrator which beams its rays upon the enemy.” We’ll come back to The Mysterians in our conclusion.

Military Review

Rigg was made a full colonel in late 1959 or early 1960, and in his article in Army Feb. 1960, “Robert B. Rigg discussed the future role of the infantry squad, but the area of our interest is the role he had for flying saucers:
“Significant improvements in mobility lie ahead in such developments as zero ground-pressure vehicles, aerial assault saucers, and eventually perfected VTOL STOL aircraft that will serve combat units and reconnaissance elements.”

Most of the later work we found from Col. Rigg focused on more conventional pragmatic concerns, He served in Viet Nam, and both wrote and painted about his experiences there. He retired from the Army in 1966 but continued to write for military magazines and was an associate editor for Army magazine. In his article for Army Jan. 1968, "Made in USA." Rigg discussed the possibility of domestic unrest causing guerilla warfare that would have to be dealt with by the military. “Army units must be oriented and trained to know the cement-and-asphalt jungle of every American city. Possibly the sight of such maneuvers in several cities could prove a deterrent to urban insurrection.
The article received a lot of attention and was reprinted in the Congressional Record

Colonel Robert B. Rigg died in 1986 at the age of 72 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
One of the most peculiar legacies he left behind was a series of paintings about a flying saucer invasion.

The Mysterians and the art of Robert B. Rigg

The US poster made it explicit that the aliens came to Earth to “Abduct Its Women!”
How did Lt. Col. Rigg wind up painting promotional material for a Japanese science fiction movie about alien invaders? It was for The Mysterians, a 1957 movie by Toho studios. The film’s basic plot was that aliens came here from a dying world to conquer the earth. They had destroyed their own planet by nuclear war and are suffering from deformities, so they needed earth women to revive their dying race. When the Mysterians’ true motive was revealed, the nations of earth banded together to defeat the alien invaders. (There was also an extraneous giant monster, a late addition to the story, designed to make the film more marketable to Godzilla fans.)

The Mysterians

RKO Teleradio picked up The Mysterians and dubbed it into English for a 1959 US release, but the timing was bad. Unfortunately, it was just as RKO was shutting down their film business, so they had to use MGM to distribute the movie. RKO had already prepared posters and promotional material for the movie and the press book sent to theaters suggested how exhibitors could market the film:
“There are many books on the market today dealing with SCIENCE FICTION and particularly with OUTER SPACE. One of the most popular books currently is “War – 1974” by Robert B. Rigg (Lt. Col., U.S. Army), the famous artist who created the special series of paintings depicting THE MYSTERIANS, and the fantastic equipment used by them in invading the earth. Use these timely books in setting up tie-ins to your playdate…”

It would seem that Rigg was approached by RKO due the success of his 1958 book, and he accepted this as a work-for-hire gig, apart from his Army job, just as his book had been a private endeavor. When MGM stepped in, perhaps they didn’t follow up on whatever RKO had planned, so Rigg’s artwork for the film was not prominently publicized as originally intended.

(In a strange bit of trivia, the UK press book for 

Col. Rigg’s spectacular paintings were used to create a special set of 10 lobby cards that theaters could order to create a display. In addition, two of Rigg’s paintings were used in the conventional set of the lobby cards sent out to promote the film, which had far greater public exposure.

In any case, it was some of Rigg’s best work and although the monster and aliens were a bit outside his usual fare, he was right at home with the battle scenes with planes rockets and flying saucers.

For the complete set of illustrations Col. Rigg painted for the movie, please see:

1 comment:

  1. Good God, Rigg painted those things? They looked so horrible I never wanted to buy them when I was into those movies growing up.