Sunday, April 2, 2017

Military History and Warfare: Weapons: Final Thoughts on the V-Weapons

The V-1 and V-2 weapons systems stand out as precursors to their modern day ancestors (the Cruise missile and the Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile). Hitler had hoped that the V-weapons would eventually give him a decisive edge in defeating the Western Allies. However innovative the new weapons were, it is important to remember that the majority of the war was fought using conventional weapons.

Tanks, propeller based aircraft and combined arms infantry tactics were all used to great affect during the Second World War. After the entry of the United States into the war, it became clear that Germany was being outproduced by the combined industrial bases of the United States, Britain and the Soviet Union. Whilst Germany attempted to compensate for this by producing better weapons, its initial advantage in equipment and tactics had been lost. German tactics of blitzkrieg, rapid tank movement and encirclement of enemy forces were copied and used by the Allies. The German Air force was heavily engaged over the Eastern Front and lost its initial advantage in numbers and equipment in Western Europe. As the Allied bombing campaign intensified in 1942-43, the Luftwaffe was unable to retaliate. It was in this context that the German government authorised the mass production of the V-1 and V-2.

However, neither the V-1 nor the V-2 had the potential to change the course of the war. Both weapons could inflict casualties and cause terror. However, neither weapon was sufficiently accurate to allow for the kind of precision bombing required in modern warfare. Given the significant costs incurred in its production, the V-2 was particularly poor value for money.

In his memoir “Inside the Third Reich”, Albert Speer commented that he supported the V-2 programme. However, with the benefit of hindsight he realised that the use of the the V-2 rocket as a means of retaliating against the Allies was “absurd”:

The fleet of enemy bombers in 1944 were dropping an average of three thousand tons of bombs a day over a span of several months. And Hitler wanted to retaliate with thirty rockets that would have carried twenty-four tons of explosives to England daily. That would have been the equivalent to the bomb load of only twelve Flying Fortresses.”

The only means by which the V-2 could have become a truly decisive weapon would have been through delivering a more powerful warhead. Whilst Germany did attempt to develop the atomic bomb, many of the top nuclear physicists and scientists had fled from Europe in the late 1930s and were subsequently recruited into the Manhattan Project.

Early on in the war, both the Allies and the Germans had recognized the potential of nuclear technology as a war winning weapon. However, despite this recognition only the Americans ultimately invested the necessary resources to build 'the bomb'. Whilst the American government invested significant resources and built facilities to develop the technology, the German government instead invested much of its resources in developing what it believed would be the decisive war winning weapon – the V-2 rocket. In contrast to the British and Americans, who combined and concentrated their intellectual and industrial resources to build the atomic bomb, in Germany several different projects co-existed and competed for limited resources and funding.

It is also worth taking into consideration that even with the world's most pre-eminent scientists, 150,000 workers and the full industrial might of the United States, the Allies were only able to complete the atomic bomb after the war in Europe had ended.

Whilst Germany did attempt to develop and research the atomic bomb, it was the rocket program which received the support of the military and powerful patrons such as Albert Speer. Consequently, towards the end of the war Germany was able to put into production the V-1 flying bomb and V-2 rocket, weapons which Hitler believed would be critical in demoralizing and defeating the Allies.

If D-Day had been defeated, the Germans would have had time to stockpile and launch considerable numbers of V-1s and V-2s, all which could have caused significant damage to London. However, it is unlikely that a further 'blitz' could have changed the outcome of the war. The German bombing campaign against Britain in 1940 failed to break morale. The Allied bombing campaign against Germany caused significant damage to both industry and to civilians. However, that too failed to break civilian morale.

Whilst there is little doubt that the four V-weapons systems were unique and innovative, ultimately they failed to have any impact on the outcome of the Second World War. Of the four weapons, the V-2 has probably had the greatest long-term impact. Its legacy was both the ICBM and space travel. The V-2 rocket continued to be studied and developed after the Second World War. The V-2 project's technical director, Wernher von Braun, surrendered to the Americans in 1945. Von Braun and his team were then transported to America where they spent 15 years developing the Jupiter medium ICBM rocket. Von Braun was eventually recruited by NASA and assisted in designing the Saturn V rocket which formed the basis of the Apollo programme during the 1960s.

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