Flying Bombs weren't new. The US had the idea first, not the Germans with the V1. In World War One the US had developed a simple paper-mâchée and plywood plane that could carry a 180lb warhead. This flying bomb was called the Kettering Bug. After reaching set range, determined by a simple mechanical counter the wings would be ejected and the engine stopped. Although several tests were carried out with limited success none were ever deployed in action.
As World War Two dragged on the USAAF found itself with a growing number of bombers that, while unusable for continued service, could still fly. A similar problem, only with engines, was encountered by the Japanese. This resulted in the development of the Nakajima Ki-115. The USAAF, however, were to try something new. In 1943 initial tests were made for fitting bombers with remote control systems. The idea was to then fly the bomber, packed with explosive into a target. In July 1944 the plan was approved. The USAAF program was called Aphrodite, while an almost identical USN program was named Anvil. The main difference between the two was the planes used. The USAAF used B-17's and the USN used PB4Y-1's, which were B-24's that had been used for maritime patrol duties.
|Aphrodite test footage.|
The net result of all this was the payload was now 20,000 pounds of explosive. This was crammed into every space in the aircraft in 55Lb boxes. Then the entire lot was wired together with one fuse. The volunteer aircrew would then take the plane off, fly it to 2,000 feet, hand over to the control aircraft, arm the fuse and bail out. The control aircraft would then guide the plane to its target, with a minimum altitude of 250ft being kept by the altimeter, and finally guide the drone into the target.
The 4th drone carried on to its target at Watten. However something went wrong, the aircraft missed its target by several thousand feet. Its not clear if it was shot down by German flak or not.
Another attempt was made on August the 6th, with much the same results, including one aircraft shot down by flak. On this mission all the aircrews made it out safely. However this mission was not without its own hair raising moment. One of the drones went out of control and began to circle Ipswich. Luckily after a few moments it flew out to sea where it crashed.
A mark II version of the Aphrodite drones were now on the scene. Full kits had began to arrive in the UK in July and were now fitted. These had several improvements including a nose mounted camera, a radio beacon to track the aircraft and the ability to lay a smoke trail for visual identification. An on board compass was also provided, by the simple expedient of welding it onto the airframe within the field of view of the nose camera. This new installation was given the code name Castor.
One of these Castor drones was launched against the U-boat pen at Heligoland. One aircrew was killed when his parachute failed to open, and the drone was shot down by flak.
Then came Operation Aphrodite's first success. Four drones were launched against the Oil production plant at Heide. The usual crop of malfunctions occurred with three aircraft crashing. The 4th made it to, and hit its target, causing considerable devastation.
Before you judge the projects, remember the level of technology at the time, and the aims of the project. Equally despite this rudimentary electronics they managed to iron out the control flaws that had plagued the earlier missions. The other flaw was the drones flew at 2,000 feet at about 200mph. This made them an incredibly easy target for the very experienced German Flak crews.