The V-1 was
an unmanned, un-guided, flying bomb. Although primitive by
today's standards, it was the first of what we now call a
"cruise missile." It was designed by the Fiesler company
and designated the FZG-76. The Germans called it "Vergeltungswaffe"
or "retaliation weapon." Since it was the first such weapon, it was designated the V-1.
The V-1 was a liquid fuelled, pulse-jet drone aircraft
that could carry a 2,000 lb warhead. There was no
navigation system, so it was simply pointed in the direction of
it's target. Simple gyrocompasses kept it level and range
was controlled by the fuel supply. It's typical target was
a city in southern England.
The first V1
flew in 1942 at Peenemunde on the southern Baltic coast. A series
of fixed launching sites were constructed in
France, Holland, Denmark and Germany to allow the Germans to
shower V-1s on any part of southern England. However, German
planning did not take into account a strong bomber and
fighter-bomber offensive against the V1 launch sites. This forced
the Germans into creating mobile launch sites and launching some
from Heinkel 111 bombers.
The first offensive launch was on June
12, 1943. Once the Germans got their stride they launched an
average of 190 V1 rockets a day. The British quickly became expert
at spotting and shooting them down and only some 25% of the V1s hit
their target. They English established defensive zones, first were the
fighters (Mosquitoes, Spitfires and Typhoons) over the English
channel, then came a thick zone of heavy AA guns equipped with the
first radar proximity fuses, then a zone of light AA guns and
rocket projectors and finally barrage balloons. Once the Allies
captured the launching sites the target of choice switched to
Antwerp, the main Allied port. It received a pounding by 11,988
V1s and most of the 1,766 V-2 missiles launched. Fortunately, for
the Allies they overran the launch sites that could have deluged
the Normandy beachhead with these high explosive bombs, interfering
greatly with the supply and logistics of an army in Europe.