Monday, March 13, 2017

Military History and Warfare: Weapons: The V-4 Rheinbote

The fourth V-weapon was a rocket missile known as the Rheinbote (“Rhine Messenger). Unlike the V-2 rocket, the V-4 used powdered, rather than liquid fuel. It stood at 11 metres and weighed 1,715 kg. 

Like the V-2, the V-4 was designed to deliver a warhead over a long distance. This was achieved through a four stage system. The V-4 had a range of 220 km and could reach speeds almost six times the speed of sound. However, unlike the V-2, the V-4 was not a guided missile and was less technologically sophisticated. The V-4 was fired at an angle using a ramp based system.

Approximately 200 V-4 rockets were launched against Antwerp from December 24 1944 until February 1945. However, none of the missiles hit the city. The designers had assumed that the rocket would only only have a range of 165km. In fact the V-4 reached 220km and overshot Antwerp by some distance. All work on the missile was stopped on 6 February 1945. The only casualties of the V-4 occurred during a test fire when a prototype V-4 landed on a German farm, damaging a building and killing and injuring a number of chickens, cows and a dog.

Like the V-1, V-2 and V-3, the V-4 was not a war winner. The modest size of the missile warhead did not justify the two tonnes of steel which was used for each V-4. The V-4 is therefore another example of a Nazi terror weapon which was deployed in insufficient numbers with technology which was too primitive to allow it be used effectively on the battlefield.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Military History and Warfare: Weapons: The V-3

In my last post I looked at the role played by the V-1 flying bomb and the V-2 rocket. This time I will be considering the less well-known V-3 weapons system and examining its role in the later stages of the Second World War.

Unlike the V-1, V-2 (and as we shall see in another post), the V-4, the V-3 was a more traditional weapon. The V-3 was an artillery piece designed to enable German forces in Calais to bombard central London with explosive shells. The intention appears to have been to re-create a modern version of the famous 'Paris gun' which had enabled German forces to shell Paris during the German offensives of 1918.

In essence, the V-3 was a piece of artillery with an extended barrel of 150 yards. Each shell fired received additional velocity from smaller explosions as it passed along the barrel, thus giving the V-3 an extended range. It was was code-named“Hochdruckpumpe” (High Pressure Pump). However, it was also know as the “Tausenfubler” (Millipede) or “Fleibiges Lieschen” (Busy Lizzie).

The V-3 was housed in a large complex outside of Calais with storerooms, magazines and a power-plant. There were crew rooms for staff of 1,000 linked by a network of underground tunnels and rails. Construction of the site began in August 1943 with a workforce of approximately 5,000 working underground. The V-3 itself consisted of 50 separate barrels (five 150-mm calibre barrels housed in ten battery shafts). Each barrel was buried into the ground at an angle to a depth of 120 metres. The intention was that each barrel would fire a shell every 12 minutes. If the weapon had become operational, it would have been an effective psychological weapon of terror. There were no defences to artillery shelling.

However, the V-3 never went into action against London. The V-3 site was bombed by the Allies in July 1944. At the end of August 1944 the base was overrun by Allied forces before it could become operational. A modified version of the V-3 was eventually brought into action during the Ardennes offensive of December 1944. Two of the gun barrels were brought up to the front and set up in bunkers. The weapon was eventually brought into use after 30 December 1944. The barrels were shorted to 50 metres and were fired at Luxembourg City. In total both barrels combined fired 183 projectiles before they were discontinued.

As the war drew to a close in 1945 the V-3 had had a negligible impact on ground operations. Like the V-1 and V-2, the V-3 was too inaccurate to be an effective weapon of war.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Military History and Warfare: Weapons: The German 'V' Weapons

This is the first in a new series of posts looking at the development and implementation of Germany’s secret weapons programmes. As part of this series I will be looking at the V1 and V2 weapon systems. In later posts I will look at the less well known V3 and V4 projects. In addition, there will be posts which assess the role played by Germany’s development of the jet fighter. Finally to conclude the series I will address the German atomic bomb project and its relationship to Germany’s other secret weapons programmes.

The V-1 was a flying bomb developed by the German air force as a means of penetrating enemy airspace in circumstances where the Luftwaffe no longer had air superiority. It resembled a mid-wing monoplane and was powered by a pulse-jet engine using petrol and compressed air. The V-1 carried a relatively modest explosive payload of under a ton. Once launched the V-1 could reach speeds of approximately 375 miles per hour and had a maximum range of 130 miles.

It was launched using a catapult ramp system. Once the rocket had reached its preset distance, the elevators in the wings would deflect, the engine would cut out and the rocket would dive. However, the V-1 was not an accurate weapon. It is estimated that 80% of V-1s landed within 8 miles of their targets. Furthermore two-thirds of the V-1s launched crashed before hitting their target. The V-1 was vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire or being shot down by enemy fighters. The Royal Air Force devised a manoeuvre of flying alongside a V-1 and then flicking a wing tip under the fins of the rocket. This would cause the V-1 to fly off course and crash. The first V-1s were launched against London on June 12-13, 1944. In total 22,400 V-1s were launched at targets in South-East England and Belgium.

The German rocket programme began as a joint venture in 1935 between the German Army and Luftwaffe. The collaboration between the two services led to the creation of the Peenemunde secret weapons centre on the Baltic coast in May 1937. In early 1939 the Luftwaffe and the army ended their joint programme for rocket research. Consequently, it was the Luftwaffe that developed the V-1 whereas the German Army was responsible for the A-4 rocket (which was later later designated the V-2). The first successful launch of a V-2 rocket took place on 3 October 1942. However, it was not brought into production until January 1944.

The V-2 was a 13-ton liquid fuel rocket which could reach speeds of 3,600 mph. It was 46 feet high and was launched from an upright position. The incredible speed of the V-2 made it impossible for RAF fighters to intercept it in the air. It could also reach a maximum height of 100,000 feet. However, like the V-1, the V-2 rocket technology was still in its infancy and results were inconsistent. Whilst there were no defences to the V-2 rocket, many of the them failed to reach their targets. In total only 3,200 V-2s were fired at targets in Britain and Belgium (primarily civilian targets in London and Antwerp. Whilst the attacks were terrifying for the civilian population, the number of rockets fired were insufficient to have had any impact on changing the course of the war. The total explosive payload of all of the V-2 rockets fired at Britain in 1944-45 combined was less than that of a single large-scale bombing raid against Germany by the RAF during that period.

Furthermore the resources required to construct the V-2 rockets were enormous. At the beginning of 1944 large-scale production of the rockets involved a work-force of 200,000 as well as 1,000 tons of aluminium a month (enough to build 2,000 FW 190 fighters).

The V1 and V2 were a foretaste of the future of modern warfare. The V1 flying bombs alone caused 24,000 casualties in England and an even greater number of casualties in Belgium. However, ultimately both the V-1 and V-2 programmes were failures. Neither the V-1 nor the V-2 were produced in significant enough numbers to have any affect on the outcome of the war. Furthermore whilst the technology was advanced for the time, the guidance systems on both weapons were too primitive too allow for accurate targeting and consistency. Both weapons systems were primarily weapons of terror which cost over 5 million marks and took up resources which could have been used to produce more conventional (and reliable) weapons which were desperately needed by the Germany military in 1944-45.