Plane of the Week #18: V-1 Flying Bomb

This week’s plane of the week is the V-1 flying bomb.


The V-1 was a cruise missile of many names (but fortunately not many kills). In Germany it was called the Vergeltungswaffe-1 for the most part, Vergeltungswaffe meaning “retaliatory weapons” or “reprisal weapons”. It’s not hard to imagine why it was shortened to V-1. It was known informally as “Kerschkern”, or cherrystone, and “Maikäfer”, or maybug in Germany and by the Allies as the buzz bomb or the doodlebug. None of those, of course, beat Vergeltungswaffe-1, though. It was called the buzz bomb because of its unique engine sound, which comes from its unique engine.


It was powered by a pulsejet engine. A pulsejet engine is a type of jet engine in which combustion occurs in pulses. A pulsejet engine can be made with few or no moving parts, and is capable of running statically. (it does not need to have air forced into its inlet by forward motion or a fan, like standard jet engine.) The V-1 uses an Argus As 014 pulsejet invented Georg Madelung in 1934.


What made the V-1 so bad at its job was that it was fairly inaccurate. It was launched off a track and then flew automatically to its target. It determined distance via a spinning propeller on the nose. It had a countdown device in it and every thirty rotations of the propeller would tick the countdown down one number. Once it reached zero, the elevators went slack and it dropped out of the sky. Early versions had a different system that unfortunately for the bomb cut power to the engine and alerted all listeners to it having dropped out of the sky. They then knew to get the heck out of Dodge. Or London, as it were. Later versions allowed for powered dives. Even then, it was pretty bad. The first versions would land anywhere within a 19 mile circle of the intended target, while the last versions would land in a circle only 7 miles in diameter. Of course, their intended use was for terror bombing London, so it was for the most part an unqualified success. Sort of.


Only 25% of all V-1s actually hit their targets. The other 75% either had navigational failures or were taken down. It was very easy to shoot down a V-1. They were slow and unmistakeable, and they couldn’t fight back or get out of the way. They were picked off by either Allied pilots or AA gunners. Bored pilots were even known to fly next to a V-1 and ever so gently tip the bomb’s wing with their wing, moving the bomb off course. Only the Hawker Tempest was slow enough to complete this maneuver, or really even shoot it down at all, and only 30 were available. At least 16 bombs were destroyed by flipping them, so the Tempests were fairly effective. It was quite a bit harder for ground troops to hit them because they flew just beyond the effective range of the AA guns and were rather small. Barrage balloons were set up in the hopes that the bombs would snag on the mooring cables and be destroyed, but the Germans simply added cable cutters to the leading edge of the wings. Fewer than 300 bombs were destroyed by balloons. Eventually 70 more Hawker Tempests were purchased with the sole purpose of destroying incoming V-1s. On average, each V-1 killed 1.34 people. Part was from a good Allied defrnce, part was from just an inaccurate missile.


A short documentary on the V-1:

You get to hear the buzz bomb in the video, briefly, but I think it sounds more like a whistle than a buzz. But perhaps it was just poor audio, I don’t know.

An American knockoff of the V-1
An American knockoff of the V-1.

Next week: On the menu: Soup with Camel.

Can I make it any more obvious?

Plane of the Week #18: V-1 Flying Bomb

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