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STEVEN J. ZALOGA, illustrated by JIM LAURIER
This map illustrates a typical "ski site," No. 13 built near a farm along the Chemin du Moulin á Vent outside Le Rocher near Hardinvast in Normandy. The launcher (1) and launch bunker (2) are aligned with the non-magnetic guidance building (3). To the east are three of the distinctive "ski" buildings (4) used to store V-1 missiles. The support buildings are to the west and include the fuel bunkers (5, 7); blockhouse (6); assembly building (6); pump building (9); and preparation garage (10). (Author)
In late August 1943 a FZG-76 crashed on the island of Bornholm and Danish resistance workers spirited out photos of the wreckage to Britain. British technical intelligence was on the lookout for missile sites due to intercepted signals and other evidence. By October 1943 British intelligence had also learned from the French resistance of a flurry of unusual construction in Normandy and the Fas de Calais. One of the first sites to be completed was located in a wooded area near Abbeville called Bois Carré and, after receipt of a detailed French report on the site, it was photographed by RAF reconnaissance aircraft in late October. The most distinctive features of the sites were three long storage buildings which an RAF photo interpreter thought resembled skis turned on their side, so the missile bases were called "ski sites" or "Bois Carré" sites. Ominously, the ramp structure at the site was aimed at London. Photos taken over Peenemünde in November revealed a small winged aircraft and another reconnaissance run over Zempin on November 28th actually showed one of the missiles on a launch ramp like those in France, along with several of the characteristic buildings. Intelligence analysts estimated that each site could store 20 missiles, suggesting that the missile bases could launch up to 2,000 missiles per day against England.
The original launch sites had large walls to protect the launch ramp. This is one of the eight sites constructed on the Cotentin peninsula in Normandy which were never used due to the Allied Crossbow air attacks. (NARA)
By this time, Allied work to identify German missiles and missile sites had come under the heading of "Crossbow", named after the investigative committee set up by Churchill in the summer of 1943 to coordinate all of the reports emerging from occupied Europe about secret missile programs. RAF photo interpreters quickly identified new sites because of their use of standardized buildings. A German Air Force officer assigned to the missile units later described efforts to camouflage the sites as a farce. By December 1943, more than half the sites were complete, and by late January, Allied intelligence had identified all 96 launch sites of Site System 1.
This is how the "ski" buildings appeared from the ground. These long storage bunkers could contain 20 missiles on their shipping trolleys. This particular site is one of those on the Cotentin peninsula in Normandy captured by the US Army in June 1944. (NARA)
Besides the dispersed ramp sites, four Wasserwerk ("Waterworks") heavy sites were begun in September 1943, Siracourt and Lottinghen in the Pas de Calais and Nardouet and Brecourt on the Cotentin peninsula. The massive missile bunkers were 212m (232 yards) long and 36m (39 yards) wide and could house up to 150 missiles. A single ramp exited the middle of the structure, aimed at London. The first of these to enter construction, Wasserwerk St. Pol near Siracourt, was identified almost immediately by Allied reconnaissance aircraft. Due to their complexity, the heavy sites were not expected to be ready until August 1944. The sites would require another regiment to operate them and the planned ten sites would have a rate of fire of 480 missiles daily and 1,680 weekly.
The first Allied air attacks on the Grossbow sites began on December 5th, 1943, when B-26 aircraft of the US Ninth Air Force attacked three sites near Ligescourt. Due to weather conditions the results were poor, and the RAF became convinced that heavy bombers would be needed. The first Bomber Command attack took place on the night of December 16th/17th, 1943, on sites near Abbeville. The results were poor due to the difficulties of conducting precision bombing against such small and bomb-resistant targets at night. On December 15th, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) decided to begin employing US heavy bombers in daylight, and when clear weather arrived on Christmas Eve, 672 B-17 and B-24 bombers delivered 1.472 tons of bombs on 24 sites. By the end of the year, 52 sites had been attacked and nine were believed to have been seriously damaged. Actually, seven sites had been put out of action of which three had been completely obliterated.
This is an illustration from the wartime Sanders' report showing how the Wasserwerk St. Pol missile bunker near Siracourt might have looked had it been completed. The launch ramp was oriented towards London but was never finished. (NARA)
The December attacks were only the beginning of a long air campaign against the Crossbow sites which added to the problems FR155W had in preparing for combat. The relentless Allied air attacks systematically pulverized Site System 1. According to the regimental diary, by the end of March 1944, nine sites had been destroyed, 35 seriously damaged and 29 had suffered medium damage, By the end of April, 18 sites had been destroyed and 48 suffered heavy damage, and by mid-May, 24 had been destroyed and 58 had suffered serious damage. The large bunker sites received special attention. Siracourt was bombed 27 times with a total of 5,070 tons of bombs including an 11-ton Aphrodite guided-aircraft bomb and several Tallboy 6-ton bombs, making it the most heavily attacked of all Crossbow sites.
The Crossbow campaign absorbed about 14 percent of all Allied heavy bomber missions from August 1943 to August 1944, and about 15 percent of the medium bomber missions. The diversion of reconnaissance aircraft was greater, absorbing about 40 percent of the missions from May 1943 to May 1944. The figures below summarize the scale of Crossbow missions, though it should be kept in mind that these included attacks on V-2 sites as well as V-1 sites, and also raids on Peenemünde, production plants, storage areas, and fuel depots.