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A weapon of many names, the V-1 stood for Gernany's Vergeltungswaffe first "vengeance weapon,"[1] and one of Adolf Hitler's vaunted Nazi secret weapons. Its industrial designation was Fiesler Fi-101. Using a generous interpretation of the term, it was the world's first production cruise missile, a pilotless airplane relatively cheap to build.

Operational use

The V-1 had very crude guidance. It was first launched from a fixed ramp on the desired azimuth, but these ramps were relatively easy to find and attack. [2]

V-1's were later launched from aircraft, flying in the generally correct direction. Regardless of the launcher, the missile had a compass and gyroscope counter that kept it on the programmed azimuth. For range control, it had a mechanical distance measuring device that, after it traveled the desired distance, cut off fuel to the engines, and adjusted the elevator to send it into a steep dive.

Due to its relatively low speed (360-400 mph), 160 mile range, steady course at a medium-low altitude of 2000-3000 feet, and characteristics of a small airplane, it could be intercepted by fast fighter aircraft or shot down by anti-aircraft artillery, as opposed to the more complex German V-2, a ballistic missile of equal inaccuracy. The supersonic V-2, however, gave no warning of its approach.

Its warhead, in excess of 2000 pounds of high explosive, would detonate on contact. People in the target area had a slight warning separate from air defense sirens; the V-1 was powered by a unique and inexpensive pulse-jet engine, which had a sound more like the buzz of a loud lawnmower than the roar of a modern jet. When the buzzing stopped, one could expect an impact in one's general area, which could be measured in square miles.

Effects and coutermeasures

The first V-1 was launched in 1943, most aimed at London but a substantial number at Antwerp after the Allied invasion. Only 25% of the nearly 10,000 fired landed in the general target area, although, statistically, some did hit significant targets.

It can primarily be regarded as a psychological weapon. One argument, based on the damage done, suggests that Germany probably would have done better to have put the same resources into building reusable piloted aircraft. An alternative analysis, that considered the cost of defense against a weapon with significant psychological effect, shows it as cost-effective. Psychological effects should not be forgotten; consider the Gulf War diversion of other plans by the perceived need to defend against Iraqi SS-1 SCUD, essentially a copy of the V-2.[2]

Attack on development center

By the time, in August 1943, that Operation HYDRA heavily bombed the Peenemünde Army Research Center, the basic V-1 and V-2 work had been done. The bombing certainly affected the amount of technical advice available to units in the field, and slowed future projects.

Attacks on launch and ready storage sites

Operation CROSSBOW attacked V-1's in storehouses and their fixed launching sites.

The highly secret Double-Cross system, which, as far as is known, neutralized or doubled every German spy in Britain. Using the double agents as a disinformation channel, the agents reported back on the missile impact points, which the Germans would use to correct their firing tables. The actual impact points were not necessarily what was reported, and, in fact, the reported points were slowly moved until Germany was aiming a fair number of weapons at open fields.


Operation DIVER was the development of interceptor tactics against the V-1, coordinating their use through new radars, and integrating anti-aircraft artillery and barrage balloons.

Attacks on manufacturing

Allied technical exploitation and implications for the present

A copy, called the JB-2 Loon, was built by the U.S., with slightly improved guidance. Nevertheless, the inaccuracy of the V-1, V-2, and Loon would have only have been seriously adequate had they had nuclear warheads.

In 1947, the U.S. Navy and Army both started programs for improved, longer-range missiles, still basically pilotless airplanes rather than today's semi-stealthy cruise missiles.[3] The Army Matador and Navy Regulus were essentially the same vehicle, using the same engine, many of the same parts, and the same crude guidance. The Navy prevailed, however, because it had a more plausible launchig system: surfaced submarines. In the latter part of the 1950s, five submarines, each carrying two missiles, did make war patrols with what was essentially a longer-ranged V-1 with a nuclear weapon. The UGM-27 Polaris submarine-launched ballistic missile, a quantum leap in capability, replaced it in the early 1960s.

Modern cruise missiles, even with conventional guidance, are hard to find, accurate, and present a significant defensive problem if launched, in volume, even from rusty ships. With modern electronics, especially GPS guidance, and commercial light aircraft technology, terrorists indeed might be able to build a small number of cruise missiles. Before minimizing the minimum damage they could do, consider the demand for, and cost of, defense.


  1. Fighter Factory, German V-1 Buzz Bomb
  2. 2.0 2.1 Cully, George W. (Spring 1990), "A KIND OF DÉJÀ VU: Some Historical Perspectives on Cruise Missile Defense", Airpower Journal
  3. Federation of American Scientists, Regulus