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Operation Eisbär

On May l6th, 1944, Hitler issued an order to start the missile attack on London by mid-June. Hitler wanted a massive attack with a 1,000 ground-launched missiles combined with aircraft-launched missiles, long-range coastal artillery, and bomber attacks. The codeword Rumpelkammer ("Junk-room") would alert the participating units to prepare the attack and would be followed ten days later by the codeword Eisbär ("Polar Bear") initiating the attacks. By early June, FR155W had an inventory of 873 missiles. In response to the D-Day invasion, Field Marshal von Rundstedt's headquarters issued the codeword Rumpelkammer late on June 6th (D-Day) with plans to begin the attack on June 12th. The regimental staff warned that they would not be ready in time, especially after P-47 Thunderbolts hit a fuel convoy on June 8th destroying 270,000 liters of missile fuel. That same day, Allied fighter-bombers also severely damaged one of the trains bringing missiles to the launch sites. Due to the D-Day landings, the nine ski sites and 31 modified sites in Normandy were abandoned without firing any missiles in combat. Likewise, the 23 new launcher sites for two new battalions located west of the Seine were never used.

Once near the launch ramp, the tubular wing spar and wings were finally mounted to the fuselage. From the details of the warhead, this is a standard FM03A-1 of the type used in the campaign against London. (NARA)

The codeword Eisbär was issued on June 12th, and General Heinemann departed for the FR155W command post at Saleux, southwest of Amiens. A rail-yard near the command post was heavily bombed that night which knocked out all the land-lines to the launch sites and forced a delay of the first launches to 2300hrs. The launch batteries reported that 63 of the 72 launch sites were ready to fire but, of the first salvo, only nine missiles actually left the launchers, and not one of these reached England. The second salvo, scheduled for 0330hrs, was only slightly more successful. Ten missiles were launched of which four immediately crashed in the vicinity of the launchers. Two more crashed into the Channel, and four reached England, one actually landing in London in Bethnal Green at 0418hrs. The Heinkel missile launchers were not yet ready and did not participate in the initial assault as planned. One of Churchill's advisors, Lord Cherwell, remarked that, "The mountain hath groaned and given forth a mouse!"

Heinemann ordered a cessation of launches and camouflaging of all launch sites until an inquiry could be made. It became quite clear that the launch troops, although very enthusiastic, had taken too many shortcuts to get the launch sites ready for the attack. The next attack, on the night of June 15th/16th, was far more successful. A total of 55 launchers fired 244 missiles, of which 45 crashed after launch, 144 reached the English coast, and 73 fell on London. Seven were shot down by fighters and 25 by anti-aircraft guns. On their own initiative, the 65th Corps also launched 53 missiles against the ports in the Portsmouth-Southampton area, hoping to disrupt Allied naval forces and shipping. When higher headquarters was informed of the port attacks, 65th Corps was reprimanded for violating Hitler's orders to concentrate on London.

Churchill held a meeting of the War Cabinet on the morning of June 16th and activated the "Diver" air defense plan. The British Anti-aircraft Command had developed the Diver plan in December 1943, but when the flying bombs failed to appear, the gun-belt shriveled due to the demand for anti-aircraft guns for Normandy. Instead, fighter aircraft were given a more prominent role. A balloon barrage was added on June 22nd, increasing from 480 balloons to 1,400 balloons. By moving guns from elsewhere in Britain, by June 28th there were 376 heavy guns and 576 light guns in the Diver belt protecting London against the "Doodlebugs", plus a further 560 light guns of the RAF Regiment and two US Army radar-directed AA battalions. Th Allies used many nicknames for the Fi-103. Besides official terms like Crossbow and Diver, popular names included Doodlebug, Buzz Bomb, and Hellhound, but V-1 became the most widely used.

A member of the launcher section makes final adjustments to the missile autopilot assembly prior to launch. (NARA)

After a brief survey, the RAF concluded thai its Tempest lighter was by far the best choice for daylight interception both due to its excellent speed and the potent effect of its 20mm cannon. The pilots were aided by the fact that the V-1s often slowed down from their peak speed after about 15-20 minutes of flight due to the gradual disintegration of the shutters at the front of the pulse-jet. German radar plots in late June indicated that the V-1s were flying about 80km/hr (50mph) below their anticipated speed. Pilots soon realized that care had to be taken in firing on these small missiles from too close a range since a 20mm cannon round could detonate the V-1's one-ton warhead with unpleasant consequences for the fighter. Some of those destroyed by fighters were not actually shot down. In late June, pilots accidentally discovered that if they could fly alongside the V-1 they could tip it over by banking their aircraft. When upset in this fashion, the V-1 gyroscopes could not cope with the sudden change and the missile plummeted to the ground. The top V-1 ace of the war was Squadron Leader Joseph Berry flying a Tempest with No. 501 Squadron with 60 victories. Of the aircraft types, the Tempest was the high scorer with 663 claims, followed by Mosquito night fighters with 486. The two top-scoring squadrons were both Tempest units, No. 3 Squadron (257 kills) and No. 486 Squadron (221).

By mid-July 1944, FR155W had fired about 4,000 missiles. Only about 3,000 actually reached the air defense corridor to London and 1,192 were knocked down, 924 by fighters, 261 by guns, and 55 by balloons. Hitler was exhilarated by press accounts of the terror the missile was causing in London and ordered the Luftwaffe to expand the effort. On July 12th, surveys began for additional launch sites, and on July 17th, the new FR255W was formed in order to create a V-1 missile brigade.

The V-1 attacks caused panic in London and there was an unofficial exodus from the city that summer. In addition, under a government plan, over 360,000 women, children and infirm were evacuated. What was especially frightening about the Doodlebugs was their eerie sound during (he final approach. The pulse-jet engine was extremely noisy and could be heard from a great distance, but after the auto-log locked the tail controls into a dive, the engine usually shut off. The sputtering roar of the pulse-jet abruptly ended, followed by a sinister silence as the Doodlebug descended. This was not caused by the exhaustion of fuel as was widely believed, nor was the engine shut off intentionally. The Germans expected that the Fi-103 would go into a powered dive, not realizing that the engine vanes were so weakened by the hammering of the pulse-jet during the flight that the dive usually caused a massive shutter failure which ended engine combustion.

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