SMDC History: 1945 report recommends missile defense research and development

By Sharon Watkins Lang, USASMDC/ARSTRAT Command HistorianJuly 22, 2015

SMDC History: 1945 report recommends missile defense research and development
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
SMDC History: 1945 report recommends missile defense research and development
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – With a planned production rate of 900 to 1,800-per month, the A4 (popularly known as the V-2) missiles were given the highest priority by the German government. Measuring 50 feet in length and six feet in girth the missiles weighed 28,557 pounds and ... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

World War II saw incredible advancements in technology and equipment. These advancements which included the introduction of ballistic missiles brought new threats both to the military personnel serving in the field and to their families on the home front.

To address these issues, the War Department established a New Developments Division in October 1943. Headed by Cornell and Harvard University graduate, Brig. Gen. William A. Borden, the division was responsible for coordinating weapons and equipment research and development.

As the war in Europe came to a close, the Army began to assess its requirements for the future. One such group, a delegation of Army officers was assembled by Borden in May 1945 to study the use of ballistic missiles during World War II and the possible means and methods to address them.

Just six days after the German surrender, on May 14, 1945, the delegation was sent to Europe. Their specific assignment was to "investigate any techniques to detect, track, and destroy V-2 missiles, particularly the use of predicted or barrage antiaircraft artillery fire against V-2s."

Armed with one-ton warheads, the first V-2 missiles fell on London Sept. 8, 1944. Unlike their V-1 predecessors whose tell-tale engine noises alerted citizens on the ground, the V-2 guided missiles flew at speeds faster than sound and fell to Earth with no warning. While focused on London and Antwerp, the V-2 campaign also targeted thirteen other towns in England, Belgium, France and The Netherlands.

Initial countermeasures saw the redeployment of eight fighter squadrons, 480 barrage balloons, nearly 200 heavy and 200 light anti-aircraft guns in successive belts around south eastern England. With regard to the V-2 added another tactic as technicians employed jamming systems in an effort to block the radio waves thought to be guiding the V-2s to their targets.

These efforts were later abandoned as research found no radio receivers in the V-2 debris.

Meanwhile along the east coast, Britain had reactivated the Chain Home radar stations. With the radar data collected, the officials were able to calculate the general time and point of impact for the attacking missiles.

Given the speeds at which the missiles were flying, however, the actual warning time was minimal. Nevertheless with this data researchers explored other options for missile defense. The Anti-Aircraft Command, headed by Gen. Sir Frederick Pile, for example, developed a heavy barrage theory in which thousands of rounds of antiaircraft fire exploding in mid-air would "create a barrier of shrapnel" to destroy the V-2 missiles.

As the resulting debris would potentially cause more damage than the V-2 alone and the projected intercept rate was only three to 10 percent, his superiors were reluctant to test the concept. Ultimately, the allied advance captured the V-2 launch sites and plan was never implemented.

Although a few missiles were shot down soon after launch, in the final assessment, once the V-2 was launched there was no defense. The missiles flew too high and too fast. The only option that remained was to destroy or capture the V-2 factories and launch sites.

Allied fighter, bomber sweeps kept the launchers on the move and effectively reduced the number of attacks but the V-2 launches continued until the last launch site was captured.

In their report entitled "Detection and Plotting of the V-2 (Big Ben) Missile as Developed in ETO" issued July 4, 1945, Borden's delegation assembled a wealth of data on the missile program and the countermeasures developed.

Based on these assessments, they recommended that the United States pursue a missile defense program. The initiative they argued should explore all possible countermeasures with particular emphasis given to "guided counter missiles."

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