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"Enemy AA Rockets and Air Bombs" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following report on WWII antiaircraft rockets and guided bombs was published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 42, January 13, 1944.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]


Rockets are designed to engage attacking aircraft, both seen and unseen, by day and by night. The accuracy of rockets is not as great as that of heavy antiaircraft guns, but they are employed in groups which produce a considerable concentration of fire and are valuable for thickening up heavy antiaircraft defenses where there is a lack of depth. Rockets are not capable of engaging low-flying aircraft effectively. The factors determining the siting of rockets are similar to those relating to heavy antiaircraft artillery.

The following excerpts from an article appearing in AFGIB (Air Forces General Information Bulletin) issue No. 17, explain certain characteristics of German rockets.

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Radio-controlled aerial devices are not new. They were being tested by the end of World War I, and more than 30 years ago a certain Mr. Alban Roberts gave demonstrations in English music halls of a radio-controlled model airship which he flew around the theater, controlling it from the stage.

The obvious advantage of a radio-controlled bomb is that errors of calculation or judgment can be corrected after firing; that is, the projectile can be guided right up to the target. Another advantage is that the guiding aircraft can remain beyond enemy gun range.

From a British source comes this paraphrased report of a radio-controlled glider bomb in the Bay of Biscay last August:

"Along with two other sloops, we were proceeding in line abreast about midday last summer, when we spotted two twin-engine German fighters shadowing us astern out of our gun range. About a half-hour later a number of enemy aircraft, subsequently counted as 22 and apparently consisting of Do-217s and Me-110s, approached and disappeared out of range.

"The aircraft then reappeared, flying in small groups of two, three and four, and flew aimlessly around our ships. Each group, however, developed an attack in similar manner, which consisted of approaching us on the starboard bow, flying downwind on a parallel course to the vessels.

"This eventually took them past us at a minimum distance of four to five miles. Then the leading aircraft signalled with a bright, white light, whereupon each aircraft in the group was seen to develop a trail of white smoke approximately 100 feet beneath it. At the head of each trail was a dark object.

"This object gradually forged ahead to a position approximately 100 yards in front of the aircraft, and after a time, variously estimated at five to ten seconds from release, it turned off in the direction of our ships. A devious course and a steep angle of dive were then observed, after which the object, subsequently seen to be a glider bomb, steadied up and headed in our direction at a shallow angle. During this part of the flight, the bomb was seen to be gliding on a steady course, with occasional well-regulated banked turns to maintain its direction toward the target. In some cases in final stages of its path, the glider bomb became less stable, and one observer described its behavior as exceedingly 'erratic' and 'frantic.' Twelve glider bombs were believed to have been launched, and seven fell in the target area. All but one exploded on impact with the water. Five came uncomfortably close. Only one hit a ship; this one appeared to fall rather than to be controlled towards its target, ripped through the rigging and exploded harmlessly in the water 30 feet beyond."

Other sources report that this same glider bomb carries a green light in its tail, apparently so it can be easily spotted from the parent plane. This device is necessary as it is guided by eyesight, instead of a bombsight. The glider bomb is driven by a jet-propulsion unit which involves the generation of gas that is forced to escape at the tail. Roughly speaking, this is the same principle that makes a toy balloon jump around when you blow it up and then let the air rush out.

There is another German radio-controlled bomb. This is not a glider bomb. It is dropped from very high altitudes, with the trajectory controlled by radio, and it carries a blue taillight for purposes of guiding. Apparently there is no type of propulsion. A much heavier bomb than the glider type, it is also used on shipping and is capable of piercing heavy armor.

So-called "rocket projectiles" are not radio controlled. They are carried underneath the wings of fighter planes and are aimed simply by pointing the parent plane at the target, which of course, does not permit a great degree of accuracy. By this method, however, fairly heavy shells can be launched from aircraft as the rocket propulsion eliminates the recoil problem, and the rockets may be released 2,000 feet from the target.

Rocket projectiles were well publicized when they were lobbed into our heavy bomber formations while we attacked the ball-bearing plants at Schweinfurt on 14 October. The rockets are carried by single- and twin-engine fighters.

Describing the Schweinfurt mission, one of our men reported: "The German fighters attacked in 'layers' of sixty at a time, and when they fired their rocket guns you could see the deadly projectiles in flight. For the first 200 yards, they seemed to leave a trail of smoke and appeared to be gaining momentum. Finally they exploded in your face with twice the force of flak bursts."

In point of fact, these "deadly projectiles" did not destroy many of our planes. It seems rather to have been the enemy's intention to cripple our planes with these weapons so that they would fall out of formation, and could be finished off by enemy fighters. Smaller projectiles of this same general type have been reported in use in the Mediterranean theater.

Another enemy projectile has been dubbed "the flying doughnut." Shaped like a doughnut or a pie-plate, this type is a disk with a hole in the center. One crew with the Northwest African Air Force reports that their B-17 was hit by one of these projectiles which exploded against the cockpit just above the co-pilot's window. Damage was slight.

Over Italy another B-17 was hit by a similar projectile which penetrated the wing behind the engine and exploded. Flames streamed from the wing but were quickly extinguished. On the basis of interrogation of crews, it is questionable whether these projectiles are launched directly from a projector on the attacking aircraft. It appears likely that a container holding a number of such projectiles is fired or dropped from an enemy plane, and that this container later bursts, probably as the result of an explosive charge, hurling the projectiles from it.

This variety of weapons testifies to German ingenuity, and to the German willingness to experiment with new ideas. As a potential threat, of course, they should not be minimized. But they also testify to Germany's desperate efforts to defend herself. They are a compliment to our increasing air strength.


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