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FEATURES


By Kris Hendrix, Researcher at the Royal Air Force Museum London


One week after the invasion of Normandy,London was hit by the first V1 flying bomb. Eventually around ten thousand of these unmanned aircraft would be launched against England in what became known as ‘the Second Blitz’. The V1 was officially known as the Fieseler Fi 103, but is better known by its propaganda name: Vstood for ‘Vergeltungswaffe’ which meant ‘Vengeance Weapon’, no doubt referring to the unabating bombing of German cities by RAF Bomber Command. Although most malfunctioned or were shot down, 2,419 hit London, causing 6,184 deaths and tremendous destruction.


Allied air superiority meant German bombers could no longer operate over Britain without suffering unsustainable losses. This led Nazi Germany to the development of the V1. Its innovative pulsejet engine propelled it to great speed which they hoped would make it impossible to intercept. Compared to a turbojet engine as used in jet fighters, a pulsejet was amuch more basic design, leaving out the elaborate compression of air prior to ignition. Due to this simplicity it was cheap to produce, perfect for an


12 Envoy Summer 2017


expendable weapon. To cut the costs further,slave labour from concentration camps was used to build these weapons. German records show that aV1costed only 2%ofthe cost of astandard German bomber aircraft.


The weapon was launched from arail pointed toward its target after which an autopilot with apowerful gyroscope kept it on course. Alittle wind-driven propeller was linked to an air-log which measured the distance that the missile had travelled. Once the distance had been reached, the V1 would go in a steep dive. The engine would suddenly seize and cut out, announcing its terminal dive to aterrified populace below. Interestingly,this was not adesign feature but because the increased speed of the dive damaged the engine.


In November 1943 Flight Officer Constance Babington-Smith from the Central Interpretation Unit was examining aerial reconnaissance photographs of aGerman base. She quickly realised this was an unmanned flying bomb. Her interpretation persuaded the RAF to start finding and attacking launch ramps in France. This Operation Crossbow greatly delayed


the start of the V1 campaign, although it costed the lives of 3,000 British airmen.


Nevertheless, the V1 campaign started on 13 June 1944 and over aperiod of two weeks two thousand were launched. To combat this threat hundreds of anti-aircraft guns and fighter aircraft were relocated to the V1 approach area to combat this menace. The guns were aided by radar as well as the secret radar-assisted VT-shells. The aircraft were modified with weapons converging at larger distance and made faster with engines uprated and lightened through the removal of armour.The preferred aircraft were late-Mark Spitfires and Tempests but also the first Meteor jet fighters were used. Although these guns and aircraft were able to shoot down a large proportion of the V1s, it also meant they were unavailable for the fighting in Normandy.Additionally,shooting down the V1 was especially dangerous for the RAF fighter pilots.


One of the top V1 killers was Belgian ace and recipient of the DFC with two bars Squadron Leader Remy Van Lierde who destroyed 44 V1s (with afurther 9shared). On 18 June 1944 he mentioned the dangers of friendly anti-aircraft fire in his combat report:


raf-ff.org.uk


An original V1 at the RAF Museum. Terror from the sky


©RAF Museum.


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