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The Race for Hitler's X-Planes: Britain's 1945 Mission to Capture Secret Luftwaffe Technology by John Christopher

The Race for Hitler's X-Planes: Britain's 1945 Mission to Capture Secret Luftwaffe Technology by John Christopher

Author:John Christopher [Christopher, John]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: The History Press
Published: 2015-07-15T16:00:00+00:00


Once the land-based V-1 launch sites in France had been overrun by the Allies in October 1944 the missiles were air-launched from modified Heinkel He 111 bombers over the North Sea.

From the moment of launch the rocket was propelled for up to sixty-five seconds under its own power before continuing on a free-fall trajectory to its target. It was guided automatically by rudders located on the trailing edge of the tail fins, and by four internal vanes directing the exhaust gasses. Its LEV-3 guidance system consisted of two free gyroscopes – one for vertical and one for horizontal guidance – and an accelerometer to control the engine cut-off at a pre-determined velocity.

An assembly line had been set up at Peenemünde by mid-July 1943 but barely a month later, on the night of 17/18 August 1943, the RAF unleashed Operation Hydra as the first strike in the Allies’ Operation Crossbow strategic bombing campaign, aimed specifically at destroying the V-weapon programme. An armada of 596 heavy bombers pounded the research centre at Peenemünde. Although the deputy director Walter Thiel (the engineer who had also designed the motor for the Wasserfall anti-aircraft missile) was killed in the attack, along with hundreds of civilian workers, Hydra failed in its objective as the V-2 programme was set back by about only six to eight weeks. Ironically its main outcome was to accelerate the drive to disperse and protect V-2 production underground.

The initial intention was to launch the V-2 rockets from a number of fixed bases in northern France, and processing and launch facilities were constructed in the Pas de Calais for this purpose. At Watten a massive blockhaus (‘bunker’) was constructed in the form of a concrete box 302ft (92m) long and 92ft (28m) high. The facility included a liquid oxygen plant and the rockets would be delivered by train for final assembly, fuelling and arming, with an anticipated launch rate from the site of up to thirty-six per day. Constructed by the Organisation Todt with walls of reinforced concrete up to 23ft (7m) thick the blockhaus was considered impregnable, but the Allies struck with Barnes Wallis’s Tallboy earthquake bombs before the construction work was completed and the concrete had had a chance to fully harden. The blockhaus was put out of action, and obviously it had become too conspicuous to fulfil its intended role. But just as the pyramids outlived the Pharaohs this massive structure will remain as a relic of the Third Reich for hundreds if not for thousands of years to come. Likewise the nearby ‘Coupole’ V-2 facility at Wizernes, constructed within a disused chalk quarry and capped by a shallow concrete dome 276ft (84m) across, also fell victim to the Crossbow raids before becoming operational.

With the large static sites attracting too much attention the Germans changed to individual mobile launch batteries which were known as Meillerwagens after the trailer vehicles used to transport the missiles. The V-2 had been designed with transportation on the existing railway system in mind, which meant



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