Fighting Enemy Rockets with a U.S. Army Crossbow
February 2, 2009
The Allied ground and air campaigns against HitlerAca,!a,,cs Fortress Europe made significant strides during 1942 and 1943. Yet despite decisive defeats in North Africa and Russia, the German war machine continued to develop new weapons, some of which were known as wunderwaffee, or super weapons. In direct response to the Allied bombing of their cities, the Germans developed Vergeltungswaffen, meaning retaliatory, reprisal or vengeance weapons. Chief among these were long range rockets developed to strike Great Britain.
The V-1 Rocket was propelled by a pulse jet engine whose distinctive noise led to the nicknames Aca,!A"buzz bombAca,!A? and Aca,!A"doodlebug.Aca,!A? Although its guidance system was not sophisticated enough to hit specific targets, it carried a warhead containing 1,870 pounds of high explosives. The first V-1 hit London on June 13, 1944, killing eight civilians. Initially these rockets were launched from static land sites. Then between July 1944 and January 1945, the German air force air-launched more than a thousand rockets from modified bombers. The Germans achieved a great technological leap with the development of the A4, or V-2 Rocket, the first ballistic missile. The rocket, which travelled so fast that it was rarely seen or heard prior to detonation, carried a 2,200 pound warhead. The weapon became operational in September of 1944. More than 3,000 V-2s were launched; 1,600 targeted the vital port city of Antwerp, and another 1,300 fell on London. One struck an Antwerp cinema, killing 567 civilians.
Allied intelligence detected the V-weapons threat and began an aerial assault on the development and launch sites in France. The bombing campaign, initially codenamed Operation Bodyline but later renamed Crossbow, began in August 1943 with an attack on the research facility at Peenemunde and continued well into 1944. Crossbow was designated as a "Secondary Campaign/Special Enterprise".
During the second week of February, 1944, American airmen carried out a series of strategic and tactical bombing missions against V-weapons sites in coastal France. The attacks were flown by major elements of the U.S. Army Air Forces: 8th Air Force groups flying B-24 heavy bombers and 9th Air Force groups flying B-26 medium bombers. On 8 February, 8th Air Force B-24s flew 110 sorties against Watten and Siracourt. That same day, 9th Air Force B-26s flew over 300 sorties against V-Weapons sites and other installations in Northwest France. It was the first two-mission day for IX Bomber Command. Losses were forty-one B-24s damaged with ten airmen wounded. Crossbow missions continued throughout the month, intensified before D-Day, and reached a peak of over 10,000 sorties in August, 1944.
Although Crossbow missions significantly damaged V-weapons development, storage and launch facilities, the Germans eventually fired thousands of rockets. The sites were only fully eliminated when overrun by Allied ground forces. The V-2's legacy is its contribution to the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles and rockets for space exploration.
ABOUT THIS STORY: Many of the sources presented in this article are among 400,000 books, 1.7 million photos and 12.5 million manuscripts available for study through the U.S. Army Military History Institute (MHI). The artifacts shown are among nearly 50,000 items of the Army Heritage Museum (AHM) collections. MHI and AHM are part of the: Army Heritage and Education Center (AHEC), 950 Soldiers Drive, Carlisle, PA, 17013-5021.