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The V-1 Flying Bomb: The First Cruise Missile

Overview

The Luftwaffe began development of a flying bomb in 1939. The resulting aircraft was the Fieseler Fi 103. The Fi 103, and its variants, were the only production aircraft powered by a pulse jet engine. The Germans designated it the V-1, Vergeltungswaffe 1 (Reprisal Weapon 1).

The one moving part of a pulse jet engine works like a venetian blind. The V-1’s Argus As 109-014 engine had 660 pounds of thrust at sea level.[i] The Fi 103 used gyroscopes for a guidance system. The V-1 had a maximum speed of about 400 mph (640 km/h). It carried a 1,870lb. (850kg) warhead. It had a range of 160 miles (250km). The V-1 would fly until it ran out of fuel then crash and explode. The V-1 lacked accuracy so large cities were their only practical targets.


[i] Warplanes of the Third Reich by William Green, © 1970. P.171.

Development

Dr. Ing. Gunther Dietrich began developing the Argus pulsejet in 1938. The Reichsluftfahrtministerium (RLM) gave backing to the project in 1939. In April 1941 an Argus pulsejet was fixed to a Gotha Go 145 biplane. The RLM placed an order for the Argus As 014 engines in June 1942. By 1943 the As 014 was mated to the Fieseler Fi 103. The development for the flying bomb had begun.[i]

Photographs from British reconnaissance aircraft made the British aware of the V-1 flying bomb and V-2 rocket programs. On the night of August 17/18, 1943 RAF Bomber Command attacked the development site at Peenemünde. The site was heavily damaged and caused many casualties. Bomber Command lost 40 bombers. That night the Germans deployed another novel weapon. Some Bf 110 night-fighters were equipped with upward firing cannons. These Bf 110s are believed to have shot down 6 of the bombers that night.[ii] The 8th Air Force lost 60 heavy bombers and 4 written off against other German targets on August 17. The RAF bombing delayed the V-1 program for 6 weeks. The Germans moved the program to an underground complex in Mittlewerke. They had 60,000 concentration camp slave laborers producing the Fi 103s. About 20,000 of the slave laborers died because of maltreatment.[iii]

Test pilot Hanna Reitsch and Hauptmann Heinrich Lange came up with an idea to train pilots to fly suicide missions. The idea of using a piloted version of the Fieseler Fi 103 was initially rejected. The Me 328 and Fw 190 were considered but ruled out. SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Otto Skorzeny[iv] suggested a piloted version of the Fi 103 for missions. The pilots could bail out prior to impact. Since technically it wouldn’t be a suicide mission it had more appeal to the higher ups. In reality chances of survival were slim. A pilot couldn’t safely bail out unless the engine was turned off. Survival was calculated at 1%.[v]

Piloted trials began in September 1944. An Fi 103 was launched from a Heinkel He 111. The Fi 103 pilot mistakenly jettisoned the canopy and the Fi 103 crashed. The second flight test ended with the loss of a Fi 103. Hanna Reitsch took over the tests and flew some successful flights. On one occasion the Fi 103 struck the He 111 with its tail. On another test flight Hanna Reitch crashed when a sand ballast broke loose. Of the 7 pilots involved in the test program 2 were killed and 4 were injured. Only Hanna Reitsch came through the program unscathed.[vi]

Obsertleutnant Werner Baumback took over KG200, the wing the piloted Fi 103s were under, in October 1944 and he suppressed the program. None of the 175 piloted Fi 103s were used operationally. The program did yield some information that improved the pilotless Fi 103s.[vii]


[i] German Jet Genesis by David Masters, © 1982, P.52.

[ii] The Bomber Command War Diaries by Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt © 1985. P.424.

[iii] National Interest.org, The Nazis Built 30,000 V-1 ‘Buzz Bombs’ to Terrorize Lindon into Submission (It Didn’t Work Out That Way) The Nazis Built 30,000 V-1 ‘Buzz Bombs’ to Terrorize London into Submission (It Didn’t Work Out That Way) | The National Interest, last accessed 12/28/20,

[iv] Otto Skorzeny is best known for leading a commando raid that rescued Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

[v] Warplanes of the Third Reich by William Green, © 1970. P.171.

[vi] Historynet.com, Hanna Reitsch: Hitler's Female Test Pilot (historynet.com), last accessed 12/17/20.

[vii] Warplanes of the Third Reich by William Green, © 1970. P.171.

In Combat

In May 1944 there were no British casualties from air raids. This was the first time that happened since before the Battle of Britain.[i] On June 13, 1944 the Germans began their V-1 attacks. The targets were London and other large cities. A cartoon mocked the V-1 offensive by depicting Hitler tossing a small V-1 against a large mass of allied ships and bombers. On June 15, 1944 an RAF Mosquito, piloted by Flight Lieutenant J.G. Musgrove, became the first aircraft to shoot down a V-1.[ii] Mosquitos shot down 428 V-1s during the war.[iii] On June 18 a V-1 struck the Guards Chapel near Buckingham Palace, killing 141.[iv]

In June 1944 V-1s had killed 1,953 civilians and wounded 5,906.[v] V-1 attacks also killed 799 UK and US military personnel. A military service club was hit as was a building that housed WAAF service members.[vi] The V-1s were averaging about 1 person killed for every one launched.

The U.S. and UK called the V-1s robot bombs, buzz bombs, and doodlebug. The V-1’s jet engine made a loud buzzing sound. When the buzzing stopped the crash and explosion was imminent. With a maximum speed slower than contemporary fighter planes and unable to take evasive action they could be shot down by aircraft or groundfire. They could also fall to barrage balloons. Their vulnerability was a military advantage. The Anglo-American forces used resources to shoot down V-1s and destroy their launch ramps. These resources could have been used elsewhere.

On July 3, a V-1 came down on an intersection. The blast killed 66 U.S. service members and 9 civilians. WAC (Women’s Army Corps) service members were among those wounded.[vii] One the night of July 23 RAF Tempest plot, Squadron Leader Joseph Berry shot down 7 Buzz Bombs and set a record for number of V-1s destroyed in a single mission. He was the highest scorer against V-1s with 59.5.[viii] Tempest pilots shot down 638 V-1s between June and August.[ix] The USAAF and RAF didn’t score V-1 kills the same as piloted aircraft so lists of air aces don’t include buzz bomb kills except as comments. On July 27, a Gloster Meteor I, piloted by Squadron Leader Watts, intercepted a V-1. This was the first jet vs jet combat. The Meteor’s guns jammed and the buzz bomb continued on its mission.[x] On Sunday, July 30 a buzz bomb came down near a Catholic church. The bomb killed a group of U.S. soldiers who were outside the church after a service.[xi] In July 1944 buzz bomb attacks killed 2,441 civilians and wounded 7,107.[xii]

At the end of July, the Germans began launching V-1s from He 111 bombers. A He 111 would carry a single V-1. He 111s launched 410 buzz bombs against England by the end of August. The target cities were London (300 V-1s), Southampton (90 V-1s), and Gloucester (20 V-1s).[xiii] These operations involved more expense and risk for the Luftwaffe.

USAAF P-61 Black Widows began night operations against buzz bombs on July 16. P-61s shot down 9 V-1s during the war.[xiv] The USAAF sent the new P-47M to Europe to combat the V-1s.[xv] RAF No.91 Squadron, flying Spitfire Mk XIVs, shot down 184 buzz bombs.[xvi]

On August 4, a Gloster Meteor, flown by Pilot Officer Dean intercepted a buzz bomb. His guns jammed so he used a tactic dubbed “tip and run”. This involved flying close enough to a V-1’s wingtip for air pressure to knock the buzz bomb off course. The tactic succeeded and Pilot Officer Dean was the first jet pilot to down another jet powered aircraft. Moments later Flying Officer Roger, flying another Meteor, shot down a V-1 with his cannons. Gloster Meteors shot down 13 V-1s during the war. These were the only jet vs jet kills of the war. Aircraft shot down 1,951 V-1s.[xvii] The air battle wasn’t all one sided. There were cases where exploding buzz bombs took down the plane that shot them down. There were cases where Allied anti-aircraft fire shot down Allied fighters.

Anti-aircraft artillery proved the greatest killer of V-1s. Initially they had little success but with the introduction of radar control and proximity fuses they became effective against the buzz bombs. Barrage balloons destroyed 231 V-1s.[xviii] In August buzz bomb attacks killed 1,103 and wounded 2921.[xix] The V-1 attacks caused Britain to evacuate 1.5 million people.[xx]

In September Allied ground forces overran the V-1 launch sites. This put London out of range for ground launched buzz bombs. I/KG53, the He 111 unit that was air launching V-1s, halted operations from September 3 – 15 while the unit moved from Venlo to Germany. The unit resumed operations on September 16. The unit launched 177 V-1s in September. In September V-1 and V-2 attacks killed 190 civilians and wounded 360.[xxi] The Germans had launched 10,492 V-1s from June to September. Air defenses claimed 4,261 buzz bombs destroyed and about 3,800 crashed for other reasons. Approximately 2,400 landed in Greater London.

On October 12 the Germans began sending V-1s against Antwerp. Allied defenses destroyed 2,183 out of the 2,394 buzz bombs sent against Antwerp.[xxii] On January 21, 1945 a buzz bomb hit Antwerp and killed 76 and wounded 57. [xxiii] One hit on an oil depot caused a fire that lasted a month.[xxiv] The V-1 and rocket attacks against Antwerp killed about 3,000 and wounded about 15,000 before the attacks ended in March, 1945.[xxv] The intent was to disrupt supplies coming through the city. An average of about 25,000 tons came through Antwerp daily despite the attacks.[xxvi]

KG53 air launched 282 V-1s in October and 316 in November. The He 111 ceased V-1 launching operations on January 14, 1945. He 111s launched 1,200 missiles against the British Isles. They lost 77 aircraft from all causes. Exploding Fi 103s caused the destruction of 12 He 111s on two operations alone. [xxvii]

The Germans created a variant which had a 250-mile (400 km) range.[xxviii] A V-1 struck Datchworh in Hertfordshire on March 29, 1945. It was the last bomb to fall on Great Britain during the war.[xxix] The last V-2 fell on Great Britain two days earlier. British civilian casualties from air attacks for March were 792 killed and 1,426 wounded.[xxx]

V-1 attacks killed about 6,200 people in Britain and 4,683 people in Continental Europe.[xxxi] Since the Germans used concentration camp slave laborers more people died making the V-1s than were killed by them.


[i] World War II Almanac 1931-1945 by Robert Goralski, © 1981, P.319.

[ii] Military History Now.com, Buzz Kill, 15 Amazing Facts about the V-1 Flying bomb, Buzz Kill – 13 Remarkable Facts about the V-1 Flying Bomb – MilitaryHistoryNow.com, last accessed 12/19/20.

[iii] War History Online.com, The de Havilland Mosquito is a Classic WWII Plane - They Called it the "Wooden Wonder" (warhistoryonline.com), last accessed 12/26/20.

[iv] Military History Now.com, Buzz Kill, 15 Amazing Facts about the V-1 Flying bomb, Buzz Kill – 13 Remarkable Facts about the V-1 Flying Bomb – MilitaryHistoryNow.com, last accessed 12/19/20.

[v] World War II Almanac 1931-1945 by Robert Goralski, © 1981, P.319.

[vi] Stars and Stripes, “Buzz-Bomb Facts Issued By Churchill”, July 7, 1944.

[vii] London Memorial.org, The ‘incident’: The bombing of July 3, 1944, The ‘incident’: The bombing of July 3, 1944 | London Memorial, last accessed 12/26/20.

[viii] HawkerTempest.se, https://www.hawkertempest.se/index.php/10-pilots/33-berry, last accessed 12/18/20. Allied anti-aircraft fire shot down and killed Squadron Leader Berry on October 2, 1944.

[ix] Air Force Magazine, “Hitler’s Buzz Bombs” by John T. Correll, March 1, 2020, Hitler's Buzz Bombs - Air Force Magazine, last accessed 12/26/20.

[x] HistoryofWar.org, Gloster Meteor during the Second World War, Gloster Meteor during the Second World War (historyofwar.org), last accessed 12/20/20.

[xi] Sister of Omaha soldier killed by ‘buzz bomb’ during WWII is given memorial flag to honor him, by Steve Liewer, November 26, 2019, Sister of Omaha soldier killed by 'buzz bomb' during WWII is given memorial flag to honor him | Military | omaha.com, last accessed 12/19/20.

[xii] World War II Almanac 1931-1945 by Robert Goralski, © 1981, P.335.

[xiii] Warplanes of the Third Reich by William Green, © 1970. P.308.

[xiv] History of War.org, Northrop P-61 Black Widow – Combat Record (historyofwar.org), last accessed 12/24/20.

[xv] U.S. Fighters: Army – Air Force 1925 to 1980s by Lloyd S. Jones, © 1975 Aero Publishers, Inc.

[xvi] History of War.org, Supermarine Spitfire Mk XIV, Supermarine Spitfire MK XIV (historyofwar.org), last accessed 1/26/20.

[xvii] National Interest.org, “The Nazis Built 30,000 V-1 ‘Buzz Bombs’ to Terrorize London into Submission (It Didn’t Work Out That Way), The Nazis Built 30,000 V-1 ‘Buzz Bombs’ to Terrorize London into Submission (It Didn’t Work Out That Way) | The National Interest, last accessed 12/28/20.

[xviii] National Interest.org, “The Nazis Built 30,000 V-1 ‘Buzz Bombs’ to Terrorize London into Submission (It Didn’t Work Out That Way), The Nazis Built 30,000 V-1 ‘Buzz Bombs’ to Terrorize London into Submission (It Didn’t Work Out That Way) | The National Interest, last accessed 12/28/20.

[xix] World War II Almanac 1931-1945 by Robert Goralski, © 1981, P.335.

[xx] Churchill on the V1: “Maa Effects Overwhelm Detached Sentiment”, Churchill on the V1: “Mass Effects Overwhelm Detached Sentiment” (hillsdale.edu), last accessed 12/19/20.

[xxi] World War II Almanac 1931-1945 by Robert Goralski, © 1981, P.335.

[xxii] U.S. Auto Industry World War Two.com, The American Auto Industry vs. the German V-1 in Word War Two, The American Auto Industry vs. the V-1 (usautoindustryworldwartwo.com), last accessed 12/26/20.

[xxiii] World War II Almanac 1931-1945 by Robert Goralski, © 1981. P.374.

[xxiv] Skylighters.org, Antwerp X: The AAA War Against the Buzz Bombs, Skylighters, The Web Site of the 225th AAA Searchlight Battalion: The AAA War Against the Buzz Bombs, last accessed, 12/27/20.

[xxv] World War II Almanac 1931-1945 by Robert Goralski, © 1981. P.351.

[xxvi] World War II Almanac 1931-1945 by Robert Goralski, © 1981. P.361.

[xxvii] Warplanes of the Third Reich by William Green, © 1970. P.171.

[xxviii] National Interest.org, The Nazis Built 30,000 V-1 ‘Buzz Bombs’ to Terrorize London into Submission (It Didn’t Work Out That Way) | The National Interest, last accessed 12/29/20.

[xxix] War History Online,com, 20 Interesting V1 Buzzbomb Facts (warhistoryonline.com), last accessed 12/26/20.

[xxx] World War II Almanac 1931-1945 by Robert Goralski, © 1981. P.391

[xxxi] Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, V-1 Cruise Missile, V-1 Cruise Missile | National Air and Space Museum, last accessed 12/29/20.

Historic Footnote

France used the intact Fi 103s it captured as target drones. The U.S. and USSR were impressed with the Fi 103s and made copies. The Soviet Union built 300 copies, designated 10Kh. The U.S. copy was the JB-2 Loon. They were built by Ford Motor Company and Republic. On January 14, 1945 Army Air Force Chief, General Henry ‘Hap’ Arnold order 75,000 JB-2s for use against Germany. The Anglo-American strategic bombing campaign had cost over 158,000 airmen and 40,000 aircraft. The JB-2 cost about 3 times as much as the Fi 103. At $10,000 each the Loon was a bargain compared to the B-17 which cost $238,000 to build and $3,000 an hour to fly. Transporting the Loons was not so cost effective. The Army reduced the order to 12,000 Loons.[i]

On a June 13, 1945 test flight, a JB-2 turned around in flight over the Gulf of Mexico. A chase plan shot down the wayward Loon. The U.S. Navy planned to launch JB-2s from escort carriers and LSTs during the Invasion of Japan. Japan surrendered before the scheduled invasion. The U.S. had 1,391 JB-2s when Word War II ended and the U.S. stopped production.[ii]

Test continued on existing JB-2s. The U.S. had test launches from B-29 and B-36 bombers. The air force eventually used them as target drones.[iii]

The U.S. Navy launched a version of the Loon from the submarine USS Cusk on February 12, 1947. A U.S. Navy test showed how much improved with remote guidance systems. Loons launched from the submarine USS Carbonero and the seaplane tender US Norton Sound defeated flack guns and fighter planes. [iv]

[i] National Interest.org, “U.S. Reverse Engineered Hitler’s Buzz Bomb and Used it Against Japan”, The U.S. Reverse Engineered Hitler's "Buzz Bomb" - And Used It On Japan | The National Interest, last accessed 12/29/20.

[ii] Military History Now.com, “Buzz Kill: 13 Amazing Facts about the V-1 Flying BombBuzz Kill – 13 Remarkable Facts about the V-1 Flying Bomb – MilitaryHistoryNow.com, last accessed 12/29/20.

[iii] Military History Now.com, “Buzz Kill: 13 Amazing Facts about the V-1 Flying BombBuzz Kill – 13 Remarkable Facts about the V-1 Flying Bomb – MilitaryHistoryNow.com, last accessed 12/29/20.

[iv] Military History Now.com, “Buzz Kill: 13 Amazing Facts about the V-1 Flying BombBuzz Kill – 13 Remarkable Facts about the V-1 Flying Bomb – MilitaryHistoryNow.com, last accessed 12/29/20.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Robert Sacchi

Comments

Robert Sacchi (author) on January 03, 2021:

Thank you for asking.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on January 02, 2021:

Robert, thanks and you're welcome.

Robert Sacchi (author) on January 02, 2021:

Yes, today there is the technology for precision strikes. The technology isn't perfect so sometimes the bombs miss. There are also other factors such as intelligence failures. A bit of caution there, poor intel tends to be the go to excuse for operational failures.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on January 02, 2021:

Robert, thanks for the explaining. But we do have the tech these days.

Robert Sacchi (author) on January 01, 2021:

Thank you for reading and commenting. I'm glad you found the article interesting.

Sankhajit Bhattacharjee from MILWAUKEE on January 01, 2021:

interesting to read your article...

Robert Sacchi (author) on December 31, 2020:

Thank you for reading and commenting. To be fair the concept of strategic bombing was based on the theories of Giulio Douhet. The theory was by bombing enemy civilians you can break their morale and win. The Germans first put the theory into practice but the British and Americans also believed in the theory. Under Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris RAF Bomber Command worked on the theory in order to bomb anything you have to bomb everything. The USAAF subscribed to bombing specific industries. The reality is the technology wasn't there for such accurate bombing. Over Japan the USAAF carried out fire bombings of major cities. Civilian casualties from strategic bombing were heavy on both sides.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on December 31, 2020:

Robert, when it comes to war, the German Army seems to be the most inhuman machine. They target from the air are mostly civilians, instead of military formations. Thanks for sharing.

Robert Sacchi (author) on December 30, 2020:

Thank you both for reading and commenting.

MG Singh emge - Area bombing couldn't have a decisive effect, Most likely had they come earlier in the war the Allies would have probably duplicated the technology and/or resorted to poison gas. such possibilities make for good alternate history stories.

Pamela Oglesby - This was the forerunner of the modern cruise missiles. History has shown how effective a system can be with a good guidance system.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on December 30, 2020:

This is an interesting article about the V-1 Flying Bomb, Robert. The test pilots had it rough.The U.S. and the UK sure had some ccrazy names but this seems to be a very good plane.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on December 30, 2020:

Nice article Robert about the V-one rocket. Unfortunately it came too late in the war and this could not have a decisive effect

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