Allied surveillance had located the “ski” launch sites used to launch V-1 bombs in the May of 1943. The Allied plan Operation Crossbow gave Dwight Eisenhower priority bombing authority, making anything associated with the V-Weapon program. When the V-1 bombings began on the nigh of June 12th and 13th, 1944, Eisenhower made Crossbow superior to everything except Operation Overlord, the push to reclaim Western Europe from German Forces.
Despite the pressure from aerial bombings and Allied troops, V-1 bombs were still raining down on London. To counteract this, Great Britain used a variety of methods, from conventional to quite creative.
Barrage balloons are designed to stop aircraft from leaving the optimal range for anti-aircraft fire. The metal cables connecting the balloon to the ground could destroy a plane outright. The V-1 was soon outfitted with wings that could sever these cables, meaning Britain would now need to focus their efforts on shooting down these missiles.
The buzz bombs were quite fast and very difficult to track by anti-aircraft gunners. The bombs flew at an altitude just above effective light AA gun range while staying below heavy AA gun range. When Britain built the appropriate guns, they implemented radar and the Kerrison Predictor, designed to target high-velocity aircraft at low altitudes.
The new electronic systems implemented improved the anti-air success rate. Initially utilizing 2,500 rounds to down a V-1, two months later each V-1 only required 100 rounds. The consistent flight path of a V-1 soon made the “gun belt” also impenetrable.
The Royal Air Force became interested in taking down these bombs themselves, initially using the Hawker Tempest. These planes would actually position their wings within six inches of the V-1, disturbing the airflow and “tipping” the bomb, sending the bomb into a harmless dive short of London.
As more planes, including the P-51 Mustang, joined the fray in the defense of Britain, the RAF began a much more aggressive approach to the V-1. Fighters would pursue and shoot down these bombs. However, the buzz bomb could only be destroyed by a cannon round, its metal coating almost impervious to machine gun rounds. The ensuing explosion would also destroy the fighter. When a special zone, only allowing the fastest fighters, was created, pilots were able to down hundreds of bombs with little harm to them.
Most interesting is role of German spies within London. Many had been turned, acting as double agents serving Britain and feeding the German war machine false information. When V-1 bombs were outfitted with radio transmitters, they clearly demonstrated that they typically fell short of London. However, this data was ignored in favor of the (false) testimony of the spies.
These actions directly saved hundreds of lives.
By September 1944, the Allies had eliminated the V-1 threat, advancing through France and eventually into Germany. Interestingly, the last V-1 that landed in Great Britain landed in Datchworth on March 29th, 1945, and 9AM, landing in an empty field.
And with that, the era of the V-1 ends, as does the first series here on Reckless Historians. Be sure to leave a comment, suggestions, or even a request on what you would like to see us write about. A new series will be launching soon!