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STEVEN J. ZALOGA, illustrated by JIM LAURIER
A collapsed Walter WR 2.3 launcher ramp discovered by US troops after the January 1945 Ardennes fighting pushed III/FR155W out of the Eifel region of northwestern Germany. These well-camouflaged launch sites in dense forests were shielded by winter overcast and ground fog, making them almost impossible for Allied aircraft to find. (MHI)
When Antwerp was captured by British forces in September, Field Marshal Montgomery recognized that the port would be a likely target for the Doodlebugs and asked Eisenhower to provide US anti-aircraft battalions to help defend the city. IX Air Defense Command originally deployed three gun battalions in mid-October, but as the pace of the German attacks increased, this grew to two AA brigades, four AA groups, seven gun battalions, two automatic weapons battalions, and a British searchlight regiment by early November.
The 65th Corps was renamed the 30th Army Corps on October 24th, 1944, for deception purposes. The original plan had been to use the corps headquarters to control both the V-1 and V-2 units, but when control over the V-2 missiles was usurped by the SS in the summer of 1944, the rationale for the corps disappeared. The corps was disbanded on November 16th, 1944, and the Luftwaffe combined FR155W and the partially organized FR255W into 5th Flak Division (W) with Colonel Walter of the corps staff as its commander.
On November 20th, 1944, III/FR155W began Operation Ludwig, launching missile attacks on Liege. This was prompted by continued requests from Army Group B since Liege was the center of US Army supply efforts for the fighting around Aachen. Anti-aircraft defense of Liege was begun on November 23rd, 1944, and proved far more difficult than at Antwerp due to the significant number of anti-aircraft rounds that fell into US Army troop concentrations nearby. To avoid this problem, the anti-aircraft units were moved as close to the front-line as possible.
One of the curiosities discovered by the US 29th Infantry Division at the Luftwaffe's Karlwitz munitions depot near Dannenberg in April 1945 were these incomplete Fi-103Re.4 piloted missiles. The fairing that sat behind the cockpit canopy can be seen in the lower right. (NARA)
As the tempo of launches increased, FR155W began reconstituting a third battalion but the location of launch sites remained contentions. By December, 20 sites had been completed along the Rhine and eight launchers erected, but the continued high rates of crashes led to reluctance to launch from sites near German cites. Instead, the regiment decided to establish new sites in the Netherlands since, according to the regimental diary, "in Holland there is no need to worry about the civilian population in respect to premature crashes." Two battalions deployed to new sites around Deventer in the Netherlands, beginning their campaign against Antwerp on December 16th, while III/FR155W continued its attacks from the Eifel against Liege.
One of the few Fi-103Re.4 piloted missiles found with its intended warhead was this one, found near Rheinmetall's Hiller-sleben artillery proving ground on its TW-76 trolley. Its wings are stacked near the side of the rail car and show the ailerons that were added to this version of the missile. (USAOM-APG).
The start of V-1 attacks from Holland in December forced a reorganization of the Antwerp defenses to cover the northeastern approaches, but when the Germans launched their Ardennes offensive on December 16th, the US Army removed seven AA battalions from the defenses. Two British heavy AA regiments were added in their place. The anti-aircraft units assigned to Liege were in the thick of the Ardennes fighting, and were reassigned as improvised anti-tank units. Air defense of Liege was never reestablished.
The Dutch missile sites proved more vulnerable to Allied aircraft, in part due to the help of the Dutch resistance in identifying the sites. For example, on January 24ih, 1945, a flight of P-47 Thunderbolts caught a crew loading a missile which was destroyed on its launch rail. The next day an attack destroyed a missile storage area, blowing up 30 missiles and a considerable amount of fuel. The vulnerability of the sites led to a revival of the tactics used in France to move the sites periodically to avoid detection. The test of this tactic, called Operation Mülleimer ("Trashcan"), shifted batteries of II/FR155W to the Rotterdam area, and fired about 300 missiles in eight days starting on January 27th, 1945.
The failure of the German counter-offensive in the Ardennes in December 1944 threatened the Eifel launch bases and, on January 27th, III/FR155W was told to prepare for Operation Oktoberfest, a concentration of all three missile battalions in the Netherlands. Since not enough sites were ready there, one battery began launches from the abandoned launch sites around Cologne for a week starting on February 11th, 1945. The US Army restored the Antwerp defenses in late January, with the northeast corridor facing Holland receiving the most guns. The most important change was the decision to permit the use of proximity fuzes, which increased the kill rate. Nevertheless, air defense was difficult due to the close range of the launch sites, restrictions on die placement of guns due to Allied airfields and populated areas, and the low altitude of the missile approach. In total, FR155YV launched 8,696 Fi-103s against Antwerp, 3,141 against Liege and 151 against Brussels. Of the 8,696 launched against Antwerp, only 4,248 actually reached the Antwerp region, and of the 2,759 that entered the air defense zone around Antwerp, 1,766 were shot down and only 211 fell into the port area. The last Fi-103 struck Antwerp on March 27th, 1945, at 2245 hours. Casualties due to the Fi-103 totaled 3,736 civilians and 947 military killed, plus 8,166 civilians and 1,909 military . wounded. Of the total 14,758 casualties in Belgium, Antwerp bore the brunt of the share, 10,145 (8,333 civilian, 1,812 military), and Liege most of the remainder.
FR155W was subjected to more reorganization in early 1945 due to the declining fortunes of the German war effort. Fuel was strictly rationed, and the supply of missiles was cut from 160 to 100 per day. At the end of January 1945, the 5th Flak Division was ordered to convert part of its force into an infantry regiment for dispatch to the Eastern Front, which cut the manpower in the launch units to a bare minimum. In mid-February, SS-Gen.Lt. Hns Kammler, SS special commissioner for missile operations, took over control of the division, and Walter was replaced by Wachtel as divisional commander after he refused to switch to the Waffen-SS.
The new extended range Fi-103E-1 missile became available in February 1945 and could reach London from launch sites in the Netherlands. A total of 21 launch sites was prepared for Operation Pappdeckel ("Pasteboard"). The attacks began on March 3rd, 1945, and 275 missiles were launched against London through March 29th, 1945. Of these, only about 160 flew any significant distance, 92 were downed by air defenses and only 13 reached London, the last on March 28th, 1945. With their launch sites about to be overrun in the Netherlands, the missile campaign came to an end. In total, the Doodlebug attacks had killed about 5,500 people and wounded 16,000 in England as well as causing substantial damage.