10 January 2011

British Defenses Against the Summer 1944 V-1 Bombardment

Cutaway view of the Fiesler Fi 103, or V-1 "Buzz Bomb"
Within a week of the Allied landings on Normandy on 6 June 1944, the Germans initiated a new form of bombardment against London, launching ten of Hitler's "Revenge Weapon No.1" or Vergeltungswaffe 1- V-1 for short. Of the V-1s launched in the early morning darkness of 13 June, six suffered failures that prevented them from even reaching the English coast from launch sites at Pas de Calais. Four bombs made it into British airspace, three of them hit in open land causing no casualties. One of those four V-1s, though, hit Bethnal Green, 2 miles from the famous Tower Bridge (which was used as the nominal aiming point) where it killed six people and injured nine more. British intelligence had predicted history's first cruise missile bombardment for a year, but the opening salvoes were far smaller than what was feared. It took three days to resume the launches and by 16 June 244 V-1s had been fired at the British capital. Of those missiles, 153 crossed into British airspace and of those V-1s, 73 hit the London area causing widespread damage and civilian casualties. 

German launcher crew prepare a V-1 on its firing ramp in France
In the three day lull following the first attack, the Royal Air Force and British Army swiftly deployed its defenses to southeast England. The first line of defense consisted of nine squadrons of Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Tempest fighters as well as two squadrons of De Havilland Mosquito night fighters. The aircraft three lines of standing patrols, the first line 20 miles off the coast, the second line at the coast, and the third line 15 miles inland. Behind the fighter patrols came the gun zone made up of 192 heavy caliber AA guns and nearly 200 light-caliber guns in an area 20 miles deep. If a fighter pursued a V-1 into the gun zone, gunners were ordered to hold their fire to allow the fighter to complete its pursuit. Behind the gun zone on the southeast suburbs of London was the balloon zone made up of 480 barrage balloons. Over a quarter million mothers and children were evacuated out of London itself during the bombardment. Up to the end of June 1944, an average of 153 V-1s were fired at London. One-third failed or were shot down before crossing the English coast. Another one-third crashed or were shot down over southeastern England before reaching London. But that left a significant amount that managed to hit the London area. 

By mid-July, the defenses were revised based on the experience so far. This time each defensive measure was given a predefined zone for unrestricted engagement of any flying targets. The British Army's AA gun batteries were increased to 412 heavy guns and nearly 600 light guns in a 65-mile long strip along the coast that allowed the gun-laying radars of the batteries a clear view over the English Channel. Fighter pilots were prohibited from crossing the new gun zone, knowing that the gun batteries had unrestricted rules of engagement. The fighter zones were now split into two, with an outer zone over the English Channel that stopped five miles from the coast where the gun zone began. The inner zone began at the rear of the gun zone along the coast and extended back to the barrage balloon zone in London. In less than a month the number of barrage balloons increased to over 2,000. With the new defensive layout, over one-half of incoming V-1s were stopped from reaching the capital. 2 August would be the heaviest bombardment day, with 316 V-1s launched from 38 launchers in Pas de Calais. Of that number, 107 would impact in London. On that day, the nominal aiming point for the V-1 batteries in France, the Tower Bridge, took a direct hit from a V-1. 

A Spitfire pursues a V-1 at treetop height
By early August, the first Gloster Meteor jet fighter units were becoming operational and were tasked with V-1 interception. However, there were three developments that would vastly improve the British defenses, all technological wizardry courtesy of the United States. First was the SCR-584 gun laying radar that was the state of the art in 1940s radar technology and could lock onto targets instead of having to be manually directed by operators. A new device called the the Number 10 Predictor was the second device, it could exploit the improved fidelity from the SCR-584 to direct the AA fire more accurately. And the third bit of wizardry would also save many US Navy carriers and warships in the Pacific- proximity-fuzed AA shells that no longer needed a direct hit to bring down a target. With these three advances, the average V-1 engagement by a British Army gun battery only used a mere 156 rounds to bring down a V-1. 

The last V-1 launched from Pas de Calais came on 1 September, by which point the launch sites were all overrun by British Army units on the breakout from the Normandy beaches. From that point on, the V-1s that hit London were delivered by air-launching which was less effective and more prone to interception. During the first phase of the bombardment from June to September 1944, until the British defenses received new radars and proximity-fuzed AA shells, the most effective defense was actually the Allied air attacks on the French rail system. V-1 launch sites often had to wait days before receiving new missiles to fire due to attacks on supply trains and the rail network itself. Throughout this first V-1 bombardment phase, the launchers at Pas de Calais never launched V-1s at their intended capacity. 

The V-1's magnetic compass in the nose was enclosed in a wooden sphere
By far the most interesting defense that nearly got fielded in the summer of 1944 also came from the United States. Dr. Don Hare and his team at the Airborne Instruments Laboratory in New York were working on radio countermeasures systems when they were asked by the US government to assist in developing a counter to the V-1 attacks on London. Since the V-1 required no outside cues, it was invulnerable to jamming. Its direction guidance came via a magnetic compass in the nose that cued the master gyroscope that controlled the rudder. As the V-1 had to be simple to produce, it lacked any ailerons and its straight wing lacked any dihedral to provide stability. RAF pilots had already discovered a V-1 could be thrown off course and downed by forcing the bomb into a steep bank by tipping one wing. Dr. Hare's team reasoned that if a suitably strong magnetic field could be created, the magnetic compass could be tricked into cueing the master gyroscope to put the V-1 into a tight turn, thereby downing it. The American team's idea was to use existing railway lines that formed a loop around London 60 miles in circumference as a giant magnetic loop. By connecting specific rail lines in a giant circuit, it would take 1,000 amps of DC power to create a magnetic field over London that could confuse the V-1's autopilot. It was determined that 20 to 30 megawatts were needed which was within the capacity of a large commercial power station. Design work began on the needed equipment, but the "Mightiest Magnet" program ended when the launch sites in Pas de Calais were overrun by Allied forces. 

Source: International Air Power Review, Volume 27, Winter 2010/11. "Pioneers & Prototypes- Vergeltungswaffe 1- Adolf Hitler's revenge weapon" by Dr. Alfred Price and P.G. Cooksley, p150-159.

1 comment:

  1. Magnetic compass adjusting and plotting of deviation card.
    Magnetic compass surveys are carried out and large errors are corrected on site, with remnant errors, a deviation card is issued which needs t be displayed on board vessel.