Operation Aphrodite

Operation Aphrodite

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Aphrodite and Anvil were the World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 code name
Code name
A code name or cryptonym is a word or name used clandestinely to refer to another name or word. Code names are often used for military purposes, or in espionage...

s of United States Army Air Forces
United States Army Air Forces
The United States Army Air Forces was the military aviation arm of the United States of America during and immediately after World War II, and the direct predecessor of the United States Air Force....

 and United States Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

 operations to use B-17
B-17 Flying Fortress variants
The following is an extensive catalogue of the variants and specific unique elements of each variant and/or design stage of the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber...

 and PB4Y bombers as precision-guided munition
Precision-guided munition
A precision-guided munition is a guided munition intended to precisely hit a specific target, and to minimize damage to things other than the target....

s against bunkers such as those of Operation Crossbow
Operation Crossbow
Crossbow was the code name of the World War II campaign of Anglo-American "operations against all phases of the German long-range weapons programme—operations against research and development of the weapons, their manufacture, transportation and their launching sites, and against missiles in flight"...

.

The plan called for B-17 aircraft which had been taken out of operational service (various nicknames existed such as 'robot', 'baby', 'drone' or 'weary Willy') to be loaded to capacity with explosive
Explosive material
An explosive material, also called an explosive, is a reactive substance that contains a great amount of potential energy that can produce an explosion if released suddenly, usually accompanied by the production of light, heat, sound, and pressure...

s, and flown by radio control into bomb-resistant fortifications such as German U-boat
U-boat
U-boat is the anglicized version of the German word U-Boot , itself an abbreviation of Unterseeboot , and refers to military submarines operated by Germany, particularly in World War I and World War II...

 pens and V-weapon sites. It was hoped that this would match the British success with Tallboy
Tallboy bomb
The Tallboy or Bomb, Medium Capacity, 12,000 lb, was an earthquake bomb developed by the British aeronautical engineer Barnes Wallis and deployed by the RAF in 1944...

 and Grand Slam
Grand Slam bomb
The Grand Slam was a 22,000 lb earthquake bomb used by RAF Bomber Command against strategic targets during the Second World War.Known officially as the Bomb, Medium Capacity, 22,000 lb, it was a scaled up version of the Tallboy bomb and closer to the original size that the bombs' inventor,...

 supersonic ground penetration bombs but the project was dangerous, expensive and unsuccessful.


Proposal


By late 1943, Maj. Gen. Henry H. Arnold
Henry H. Arnold
Henry Harley "Hap" Arnold was an American general officer holding the grades of General of the Army and later General of the Air Force. Arnold was an aviation pioneer, Chief of the Air Corps , Commanding General of the U.S...

 had directed Brig. Gen. Grandison Gardner's electronic engineers at Eglin Field, Florida, to outfit war-weary bombers with automatic pilots so that they could be remotely controlled. The plan was first proposed to Major General
Major General
Major general or major-general is a military rank used in many countries. It is derived from the older rank of sergeant major general. A major general is a high-ranking officer, normally subordinate to the rank of lieutenant general and senior to the ranks of brigadier and brigadier general...

 James H. Doolittle
Jimmy Doolittle
General James Harold "Jimmy" Doolittle, USAF was an American aviation pioneer. Doolittle served as a brigadier general, major general and lieutenant general in the United States Army Air Forces during the Second World War...

 some time in 1944. Doolittle approved the plan on June 26, and assigned the 3rd Bombardment Division with preparing and flying the drone aircraft, which was to be designated BQ-7. Final assignment of responsibility was given to the 562nd Bomb Squadron
562d Flying Training Squadron
The 562d Flying Training Squadron was part of the 12th Flying Training Wing based at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas. It operated the T-43 conducting navigator training.-History:...

 at RAF Honington
RAF Honington
RAF Honington is a Royal Air Force station located south of Thetford near Ixworth in Suffolk, England. Although used as a bomber station during the Second World War, RAF Honington is now the RAF Regiment depot and home to the Joint CBRN Regiment.-RAF use:...

 in Suffolk
Suffolk
Suffolk is a non-metropolitan county of historic origin in East Anglia, England. It has borders with Norfolk to the north, Cambridgeshire to the west and Essex to the south. The North Sea lies to the east...

. Similarly, on July 6, 1944 the US Navy Special Attack Unit (SAU-1) was formed under ComAirLant, with Commander James A. Smith, Officer in Charge, for transfer without delay to Commander Fleet Air Wing 7 in Europe to attack German V-1 and V-2 sites
V-2 rocket facilities of World War II
V-2 rocket facilities were military installations associated with Nazi Germany's V-2 ballistic rocket, including bunkers and small launch pads which were never operationally used.-Development, testing, and production facilities:...

 with PB4Y-1's converted to assault drones.

Mission theory


Old B-17 Flying Fortress bombers were stripped of all normal combat armament and all other non-essential gear (armor, guns, bomb racks, transceiver
Transceiver
A transceiver is a device comprising both a transmitter and a receiver which are combined and share common circuitry or a single housing. When no circuitry is common between transmit and receive functions, the device is a transmitter-receiver. The term originated in the early 1920s...

, seats, etc.), relieving about 12000 lb (5,443.1 kg) of weight. To allow easier exit when the pilot and co-pilot were to parachute out, the canopy  was removed. Azon
Azon
AZON was one of the world's first smart bombs, deployed by the Allies and contemporary with the German Fritz X.Officially designated VB-1 , it was invented by Major Henry J. Rand and Thomas J...

 radio remote-control
Radio control
Radio control is the use of radio signals to remotely control a device. The term is used frequently to refer to the control of model vehicles from a hand-held radio transmitter...

 equipment was added, with two television cameras fitted in the cockpit to allow a view of both the ground and the main instrumentation panel to be transmitted back to an accompanying CQ-17 'mothership'. The drone was loaded with more than twice a B-17's normal bomb payload. British Torpex
Torpex
Torpex is a secondary explosive 50% more powerful than TNT by mass. Torpex is composed of 42% RDX, 40% TNT and 18% powdered aluminium. It was used in the Second World War from late 1942. The name is short for Torpedo Explosive', having been originally developed for use in torpedoes...

, 50% more powerful than TNT, was the explosive used.

A relatively remote location in Norfolk
Norfolk
Norfolk is a low-lying county in the East of England. It has borders with Lincolnshire to the west, Cambridgeshire to the west and southwest and Suffolk to the south. Its northern and eastern boundaries are the North Sea coast and to the north-west the county is bordered by The Wash. The county...

, RAF Fersfield
RAF Fersfield
RAF Fersfield is a former World War II airfield located southwest of Norwich, Norfolk.Built in 1943/1944, the airfield was originally a satellite of RAF Knettishall. It was constructed to Class-A bomber specifications, with a main runway , and two secondary runways of...

 was the launch site. Initially RAF Woodbridge
RAF Woodbridge
Royal Air Force Station Woodbridge, more commonly referred to as RAF Woodbridge, is a former Royal Air Force military airbase situated to the east of Woodbridge in the county of Suffolk, England...

 had been selected for its long runway, but the possibility of the damaged aircraft that diverted to Woodbridge for landings colliding with a loaded drone caused concerns. The remote control system was insufficient for safe takeoff
Takeoff
Takeoff is the phase of flight in which an aerospace vehicle goes from the ground to flying in the air.For horizontal takeoff aircraft this usually involves starting with a transition from moving along the ground on a runway. For balloons, helicopters and some specialized fixed-wing aircraft , no...

 and each drone was taken aloft by a volunteer pilot and a volunteer flight engineer to an altitude of 2,000 ft (600 m) for transfer of control to the CQ-17 operators. After successful turnover of control of the drone, the two-man crew would arm the payload and parachute out of the cockpit
Cockpit
A cockpit or flight deck is the area, usually near the front of an aircraft, from which a pilot controls the aircraft. Most modern cockpits are enclosed, except on some small aircraft, and cockpits on large airliners are also physically separated from the cabin...

. The 'mothership' would then direct the missile to the target.

When the training program was complete, the 562nd Squadron had ten drones and four 'motherships'.
Aphrodite missions
Target Date Aircraft Notes
Mimoyecques August 4, 1944 1 B-17 Mission 515: Pilot Lt. Fain Pool and autopilot engineer "S. Sgt. Philip Enterline" successfully parachuted, and the drone spun out of control.
Siracourt V-1 bunker August 4, 1944 B-17 39835 Mission 515: Control problems led to drone crashing in wood at Sudbourne
Sudbourne
Sudbourne is a village and civil parish in Suffolk, England, located approximately north of Orford.Sudbourne is recognisable for Captain's Wood, a nature reserve owned by Suffolk Wildlife Trust and Crag Farm Pit which is listed as a Site of Special Scientific Interest in Suffolk. Sudbourne is also...

 ("pilot killed when abandoned aircraft too soon").
Watten
La Coupole
La Coupole , codenamed Bauvorhaben 21 , Schotterwerk Nordwest or Wizernes, is a Second World War bunker complex built by the forces of Nazi Germany between 1943 and 1944 to serve as a launch base for V-2 rockets against London and southern England...

, Wizernes
August 4, 1944 2 B-17s Mission 515: One plane lost control after the first crewman bailed out, and crashed near Orford
Orford
-Places:* Orford, Cheshire, a suburb of Warrington, England* Orford, Suffolk, England, the location of:** Orford Castle** Orford Ness* Orford, Quebec, in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada** Mont Orford, a ski resort in Quebec, Canada...

, making a huge crater and destroying more than 2 acres (8,000 sq m) of the surrounding countryside; the second crewman was killed. The view from the nose of the other drone was obscured as it came over the target, and it missed by several hundred feet. (Alternate sources claim 1 hit 1,500 feet short & 1 was shot down, and that 1 drone crashed killing 1 crew of 2 men).
Watten August 6, 1944 B-17 30342

B-17 31394
Crews abandoned the missiles without complications, a few minutes later one lost control and fell into the sea. Both 30342 and 31394 experienced control problems and crashed into the sea, while B-17 30342 *Taint A Bird* impacted at Gravelines, probably due to flak damage. The other also lost control, but turned inland and began to circle the important industrial town and port of Ipswich
Ipswich
Ipswich is a large town and a non-metropolitan district. It is the county town of Suffolk, England. Ipswich is located on the estuary of the River Orwell...

. After several minutes, it crashed harmlessly at sea.
Heligoland
Heligoland
Heligoland is a small German archipelago in the North Sea.Formerly Danish and British possessions, the islands are located in the Heligoland Bight in the south-eastern corner of the North Sea...

August 1944 After modifications to change to a different control system, the second casualty of the operation was suffered during this mission, when one pilot's parachute failed to open. The missile also failed, most likely shot down by flak before reaching the target.
Heide
Heide
Heide is a town in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. It is the capital of the Kreis Dithmarschen. Population: 21,000.The German word Heide means "heath". In the 15th century four adjoining villages decided to build a church in the "middle of the heath". This remained the town's name to date...

August 1944 4 drones Three aircraft failed to reach their target due to control malfunctions, the fourth crashed near enough to cause significant damage and high casualties.
Mimoyecques August 12, 1944 PB4Y-1
B-24 Liberator
The Consolidated B-24 Liberator was an American heavy bomber, designed by Consolidated Aircraft of San Diego, California. It was known within the company as the Model 32, and a small number of early models were sold under the name LB-30, for Land Bomber...

 32271 (ex USAAF B-24J 42-110007)
The single US Navy BQ-8 detonated prematurely over the Blyth
River Blyth, Suffolk
The River Blyth is a river in Suffolk, England, with a tidal estuary between Southwold and Walberswick.It can be crossed by pedestrians by a public footbridge called the Bailey Bridge about a mile upstream from the sea or by the Walberswick rowing boat ferry between 9am-5pm daily.The estuary mouth...

 estuary, England, killing Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr.
Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr.
Joseph Patrick "Joe" Kennedy, Jr. was an American bomber pilot during World War II. He was the eldest of nine children born to Joseph Patrick Kennedy, Sr., and Rose Elizabeth Kennedy....

 and Lt. Wilford J. Willy
Mission 549/Le Havre
Le Havre
Le Havre is a city in the Seine-Maritime department of the Haute-Normandie region in France. It is situated in north-western France, on the right bank of the mouth of the river Seine on the English Channel. Le Havre is the most populous commune in the Haute-Normandie region, although the total...

August 13, 1944 1 B-17 The drone with 2,000 lbs (907 kg) of bombs missed the target and a supporting de Havilland Mosquito
De Havilland Mosquito
The de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito was a British multi-role combat aircraft that served during the Second World War and the postwar era. It was known affectionately as the "Mossie" to its crews and was also nicknamed "The Wooden Wonder"...

 is destroyed by the exploding bombs.
September 3, 1944 B-17 63954 Second USN "Anvil" project controller flew aircraft into Dune Island by mistake.
Heligoland
Heligoland
Heligoland is a small German archipelago in the North Sea.Formerly Danish and British possessions, the islands are located in the Heligoland Bight in the south-eastern corner of the North Sea...

 U-boat pens
September 11, 1944 B-17 30180 Hit by enemy flak and crashed into sea
Hemmingstedt
Hemmingstedt
Hemmingstedt is a German municipality in the district of Dithmarschen in the state of Schleswig-Holstein.-History:Hemmingstedt is the namesake of the Battle of Hemmingstedt, which took place south of the place in today's municipal area of Epenwöhrden...

B-17s 39827 & 30363 (Ruth L III) Against the Hemmingstedt/Heide
Heide
Heide is a town in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. It is the capital of the Kreis Dithmarschen. Population: 21,000.The German word Heide means "heath". In the 15th century four adjoining villages decided to build a church in the "middle of the heath". This remained the town's name to date...

 oil refinery target of the Oil Campaign
Oil Campaign of World War II
The Allied Oil Campaign of World War II was directed at facilities supplying Nazi Germany with petroleum, oil, and lubrication products...

 (unsuccessfully attacked by conventional bombers on August 4), both drones missed the target due to poor weather conditions.
Heligoland
Heligoland
Heligoland is a small German archipelago in the North Sea.Formerly Danish and British possessions, the islands are located in the Heligoland Bight in the south-eastern corner of the North Sea...

 U-boat pens
October 15, 1944 B-17 30039 Liberty Belle
Liberty Belle (B-17)
Liberty Belle was the name of several individual combat Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses of World War II. The first Liberty Belle B-17 crashed near Wakes Colne after an accidental on-board fire on November 30, 1943; while the BQ-7 Aphrodite variant named Liberty Belle against the Heligoland U-boat...


B-17 37743
Both drones missed target due to poor weather conditions
Heligoland
Heligoland
Heligoland is a small German archipelago in the North Sea.Formerly Danish and British possessions, the islands are located in the Heligoland Bight in the south-eastern corner of the North Sea...

 U-boat pens
October 30, 1944 Mission 693A: 2 of 5 B-17s make an Aphrodite attack on Heligoland Island, Germany; escort is provided by 7 P-47s. Concluding that the BQ-7 was not successful against 'hard targets', United States Strategic Air Forces
United States Strategic Air Forces
The US Eighth Air Force in World War II, later designated the United States Strategic and Tactical Air Forces was the first and became the overall command and control authority of the United States Army Air Forces against the European Axis members during World War II, where it'd started as a...

 Headquarters ordered that it be sent against industrial targets instead, and 2 more missions were flown.
Herford
Herford
Herford is a town in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, located in the lowlands between the hill chains of the Wiehen Hills and the Teutoburg Forest. It is the capital of the district of Herford.- Geographic location :...

 marshalling yard
December 5, 1944 B-17 39824
B-17 30353 (Ten Knights in the Bar Room)
Target not located due to cloud cover, so both directed at alternate target of Haldorf
Edermünde
Edermünde is a community in northern Hesse, Germany.-Location:Edermünde lies in the north of the Schwalm-Eder district not far southwest of Kassel. This is where the river Eder empties into the river Fulda...

. Both crashed outside town.
Oldenburg
Oldenburg
Oldenburg is an independent city in Lower Saxony, Germany. It is situated in the western part of the state between the cities of Bremen and Groningen, Netherlands, at the Hunte river. It has a population of 160,279 which makes it the fourth biggest city in Lower Saxony after Hanover, Braunschweig...

 power station
January 1, 1945 B-17 30178 Darlin' Dolly and B-17 30237 Stump Jumper Both shot down by flak before reaching target.


On January 27, 1945 Spaatz sent an urgent message to Doolittle "Aphrodite babies must not be launched against the enemy until further orders".

Results


The only drone that hit the target did not explode, supplying the Germans with an intact B-17 and a set of radio controls. Only one drone had done any damage. The failure of the program was attributed to the lack of suitable implementations of available technology.