Background: The news of the D-Day invasion was unsettling to Germans, but the arrival of the first of the “miracle weapons,” the V-1 missile, had a calming effect. The first V-1 missiles fell on London on June 12, six days after the beginning of the Normany invasion. Here was something entirely new, something that might reverse the tide of the war. This article from Das Reich, the weekly newspaper founded by Goebbels in 1940, suggests that the V-1 has disrupted Allied plans.
The V-Weapons were a problem for Goebbels. On the one hand, they gave welcome hope to the German population. On the other hand, they resulted in overconfidence. In his diary for 18 June 1944, Goebbels wrote: “People are already making bets that the war will be over in three or four or eight days. I see this as an enormous danger for us if these exaggerated hopes and illusions are not met. In the end, those carried away by enthusiasm will blame the government. I fear this excessive enthusiasm will end in great disappointment. That cannot happen. I have therefore given the press and radio firm instructions to reduce the revenge propaganda and keep to purely factual reporting.”
The source: Harald Jansen, “Erste V.1-Bilanz,” Das Reich, 2 July 1944, p. 4.
How has the war changed as a result of the advent of the V-1? The whole world is asking this question. New names, thoughts, and combinations result from the device, which day and night thunders down with fiery blows on the city on the Thames. The twilight of uncertainty prevails. Will it be overcome in a few days or weeks, or will a new weapon develop from it, just as happened with the airplane between the last war and this one?
There is a new wheel in the machinery of war, the river is flowing in a different direction. The first news was a sensation thoughout the world. Over the thundering of this weapon, we see how it changes all previous tactical considerations.
It was an evening a few weeks before the first use of this weapon. We were sitting on the old terrace of a chateau. German formations heading toward England thundered above us. We were quiet as we listened to them. Finally a captain who had seen duty in the last war shook his head thoughtfully and said: “London is like a large spider’s web. A fifth of all Englishmen live there and it has a high percentage of England’s critical industry. It can be wounded. Our cities are webs, too, but not as sensitive, since none of them has so central a place in population or industry. We can hit part of the dock facilities with our incendiary and explosive bombs, but repair work on the web will begin the next day. Our cities are just as resilient! The air war will be inadequate as long as it is not constant, every hour, every minute. When our new explosives are ready to hit London, one will tear a gap in the web, to be followed immediately by another, bringing traffic to a halt. The spider of this large web must not be allowed to rest.”
Weeks passed and now the missiles fly overhead. The invasion concentrated men and material in the southeast of the island and increased their vulnerability. Even in the first week, there was a division of labor between German warplanes and the new weapon. The long-range bombers received an ally. The V-1 took its place. This is unsettling for our opponents, and represents a two-fold danger to their war effort unless they find a defense as quickly as possible.
The enemy’s propaganda is based on the glories of four-motored bombers, on the fanfare of air power and shouts of triumph over burning German cities. The citizens of London were told: “1940 will not be repeated. The Germans can no longer do anything to us.” Still, they built the densest system of flak in the empire around London during the past five years.
The extent of the use of the new weapon is not yet clear, but it is certain that it has had a powerful effect on enemy morale, making the mass’s power of resistance sensitive and uncertain. The masses were living in expectation of rapid victory. They had pleasant dreams of having only 100 yards to go, when suddenly they hit a new wall. At first they were blinded, poking around looking for a way to eliminate the problem. Overnight the invasion leadership has a second front — the V-1 front. It is graver, more serious than a daily bombing attack on London. Since the ordinary means of defense failed, a significant part of their air force must be redirected to search for the launching pads. Scouts, fighters, fighter-bombers, and four-motored bombers have been diverted, taking them away from the task of supporting the ground forces. While the German air force is free to attack enemy bridgeheads, the enemy must divert his forces from the west. The Anglo-American air forces have to fight on two different fronts, located several hundred kilometers apart.
There is a second question. How do the new warheads compare with the bombs of long-range bombers? A terror attack by a large fleet of bombers follows a regular pattern. A sector in a city is attacked. It receives the mass of bombs. Why? Fire and ruins seal off a part of the city, rendering assistance impossible. There is a clear purpose. Frequently three or four incendiary bombs land next to each other, even though one would be sufficient.
During an air attack, the population stays in basements and shelters while the incendiary and explosive bombs fall above them. Once the all-clear sounds, however, they are free once again to move about. That is why air attacks are “incomplete.” Individuals now form a community that battles the fires, moves aside the rubble, and prepares further defenses. To fight this, the Anglo-American terror specialists used delayed action bombs. But they, too, are quickly neutralized by bomb experts. This makes the impact of the new weapon clear.
It is clear that defending one’s air space takes more manpower than attacking it does. Any new tactical weapon that gives the enemy any chance to resist at all — as for example is the case with the V-1, which can be seen in flight — puts an enormous burden on the defender.
Consider an example. 300 German bombers with crews totaling 1200 men attack London. We naturally do not know the exact strength of the night fighters that oppose them, but it probably is about the same numerically. To that must be added the ground defense forces, an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 troops. It takes about the same resources to manufacture the anti-aircraft shells as it takes to manufacture the German bombs.
Nonetheless the enemy has to admit that London’s air defenses, its best technology, its constant practice, and its best ideas have failed to deal with German tactics. This is clear proof that a numerically inferior air force can keep forces ten to a hundred times stronger in check, holding down large enemy forces.
What does that have to do with the new German warheads? The enemy has naturally observed the flight paths of the warheads, even photographed them, and learned that their speed is remarkably high. He has concluded the flight paths are more like those of aircraft than artillery shells. That means that he has to devote his full defensive capacity to opposing the secret weapons. He has been forced to establish a chain of flak boats along his coast. From the coast to London, the tracers of light and medium flak fill the sky and the shells flash. At night the lights of night fighters are visible, during the day the fastest Spitfires are in action. A few months back Eisenhower told his pilots: “You’ll get no sleep for days and weeks. You must give everything you have for the invasion.” These plans have collapsed. If the V-1’s only goal had been to disrupt the enemy’s plans, it would be well on the way to success.
London announces that the following is known:
The new warheads fly at elevations between 500 and 2000 meters. It is a steerable device resembling an airplane. The “flying robots” have engines that can be heard a long way off and leave a trail visible at a considerable distance against a clear sky.
That is sufficient to justify the greatest defensive efforts. Several train loads of shells have been fired, to no avail. But one has to shoot to calm the population. This is terribly expensive. But the German fire goes on day and night, interrupted by powerful explosions in the city, and something must be done. Even he who is convinced that the defensive fire accomplishes nothing will have to take shelter from the falling flak.
One can draw these conclusions after the first weeks:
And there is the unsettling knowledge that there now is the ability to attack the island without enormous and costly air armadas. Who can stop the weapon from immediately seeking out the most important target: London!
It is certainly true that an omnipotent miracle weapon will always remain the dream of uncombative souls. As a young lieutenant said as he rapped his knuckles against the steel flank of the new weapon: “We want to announce that you have done a lot to us. Now it is time to turn back the clock.” A corporal standing next to him nodded. His family was buried by bombs in Berlin. They and others had worked 73 hours without sleeping. There were deep bags under their eyes. Then they loaded the warhead. It is this spirit, and German genius, that will determine the outcome of this war for our existence.
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