24
$\begingroup$

There are stories regarding V1 flying bombs being nudged off course that I have heard numerous times over the last 50 years. I can understand the reluctance to shoot a bomb from directly behind it but I really wonder how often a V1 was truly nudged. Does anyone have any evidence that this was a common occurrence or was it something that happened once and the story was repeated ad infinitum?

Please note that I am not questioning whether this strategy ever occurred but the frequency/commonality of it occurring.

$\endgroup$
0

4 Answers 4

36
$\begingroup$

Probably not often. Catching up with the V-1 in level flight was not easy for the (piston-powered) aircraft of the time. Quotes from Osprey book "Meteor I vs V-1 Flying Bomb".

[L]egendary British test pilot Capt Eric Brown described the performance of the [Meteor] Mk I as ‘pedestrian’. Compared with the high performance piston-engined fighters then in service with the RAF (the Tempest V and Spitfire XIV), the Meteor offered little in the way of superior performance. Where it excelled, however, was at low level – exactly where the V1 operated. The Meteor I was faster than any of its contemporaries at such altitudes. This was just as well, for the V1 boasted an average speed of roughly 400mph between 1,000ft and 3,000ft. At those heights the Tempest V and Spitfire XIV could make 405mph and 396mph, respectively, using 150-octane fuel. The Meteor, on the other hand, had a top speed of 410mph at sea level.

The few experimental Meteors were pressed into service for that reason.

Most fighter attacks on the V-1 were diving attacks, even with the Meteor.

While the first V1 to be brought down by a Meteor was not shot down by cannon fire, the remaining 11 credited to No. 616 Sqn were, using the Meteor I’s quartet of nose- mounted 20mm cannons. In order to negate the missile’s high speed, a pair of jets would climb to an altitude well above the V1’s average height of 1,000–3,000ft. Once the incoming weapon had survived the hail of flak from the guns located on the coast it was the Meteor’s turn. Vectored by radar, the pilot would then get into the right position and altitude, open the throttles and begin scanning the terrain below. Once the V1 was spotted, he would trade height for speed. Diving at speeds in excess of 400mph, the pilot would position his Meteor above and astern of the V1. Because the Meteor’s guns were mounted in the nose and not the wings, the pilot did not have to worry about converging fire. Engaging the missile at long-range once he had the V1 in his state-of-the-art Ferranti Mk II gyroscopic gunsight, pilots routinely registered hits from 700 yards astern, but in most cases the damage was done at the more lethal range of 300–100 yards.

There was one tipping attack by a Meteor (too) on August 4:

This event occurred on 4 August 1944 when Flg Off T. D. Dean (flying EE216/YQ-E) used the wingtip of his Meteor to flip a V1 on to its back, sending the missile diving to earth.

He did it that way because his cannons had jammed, which was not an uncommon occurrence on the early Meteors.

I half expected the guns to jam because several other pilots had experienced that problem before me. I also knew that any sudden movement would upset the V1, and so when my guns failed I already had a good idea of what I should do. I just followed on in and tipped it up. When I got back to base I found that there was a small dent in my wingtip where I had hit the flying bomb. This was the only damage to the aircraft, which was serviceable again after a few hours.

A similar attempt had been made by a Meteor on July 27, and again due to similar jamming, but on that occasion the approach was called off due to proximity of balloons.

Sqn Ldr Watts (EE213/YQ-A) was unfortunate in having trouble with his guns as he was about to open the squadron’s Diver score near Ashford. Flg Off Dean (EE215/YQ-C) sighted one Diver and followed in line astern at 405mph. He had closed to within 1,000 yards of the bomb, estimated to be flying at 390mph, when he was turned back by control owing to the proximity of balloons. Pilots are convinced that given favourable weather and good plots nothing can prevent the Meteor knocking down the latest Axis weapon.

Given all these factors, I'd venture a guess that less than 1% of the V-1 kills were by tipping.

Over a comparable on month period in the summer of 1944, there were over 750 V-1s claimed by British fighters. Most (498) were shot down by Tempests (0.21 kills per sortie), followed by Spitfires (227 kills; 0.10 kills per sortie.) The Meteors were only credited with 12.5 kills (one shared with a Mustang), and a rather lower ratio of 0.046 kills per sortie. Some of these failures were attributed to gun malfunctions or being interrupted / targeted by allied AA or aircraft, whom mistaken them for German (jet) fighters etc.

Overall in 1944 some 1,902 V-1s were claimed by British fighters (and some 40 by Americans). So the tipping attacks, while spectacular, have to be kept in that perspective.


There's also one USAAF pilot which claimed such wingtip victory. As related in Osprey's V1 Flying Bomb Aces:

USAAF pilots also continued to play a small part in anti-‘Diver’ operations until their units’ eventual move to France. Among them was eight-victory ace Maj Richard E Turner, the CO of Mustang-equipped 356th FS/354th FG. On the evening of 18 June he flew along the coast near Hastings looking for V1s, and at 2100 hrs he found one; ‘I sighted one below and dived on it, pulling out behind it, but slightly out of range. I tried to close the distance, but the missile was just a little too fast. I chased the infernal machine for ten minutes, alternatively diving to gain speed and pulling up to lob long-range bursts at it. Eventually one of my bullets must have scored a chance hit in the engine, for suddenly it emitted a long streamer of yellow flame and quickly lost speed. In a curving dive, it plunged into a vacant field below, where the missile exploded harmlessly. ‘Encouraged by my success, I proceeded back to the Channel area to pick up another. I began to wonder how I was going to get the next V1 because most of my ammo was expended and my gun barrels had burnt out. Soon I saw another one and made a very steep dive in order to gain extra overtaking speed. This bomb must have been moving more slowly than the first one, for I almost overran it as I pulled out of my dive. As I flew alongside the little monster, I had a new idea. I knew they were controlled by a gyro-guidance “brain”, and perhaps this mechanism could be upset without gunfire. I carefully edged closer to it and placed my wingtip about a foot under its tiny fin. Rolling my aeroplane suddenly neatly flipped the V1 upside-down, and it promptly spun into the shallows of the Channel near the shoreline, where it blew a useless hole in the water. Jubilant with my success, I rushed back to Maidstone and hastened to tell the other pilots of the new pastime that I had discovered.’

There was another USAAF pilot which claimed a similar feat:

2Lt Melvyn Paisley of the P-47D-equipped 390th FS/366th FG, shot down the last V1 to be claimed by the USAAF. Participating in his unit’s first mission from Asch, in Belgium, Paisley had become separated in cloud from his section. He later recalled; ‘As I broke out of the cloud cover an object caught my eye at “eight o’clock”. It was low, maybe 2000 ft below me, steady on course and black as night. With a brisk “phut . . . phut . . . phut”, the Jerry V1 buzz bomb sped on its course to England or maybe Antwerp. I shoved the throttle to the wall and went into a shallow dive, following close behind for 50 miles, plotting its course on my kneepad map. It was on a line towards Brussels. ‘Surveying the area, I noticed there was mostly farmland ahead of the V1. I switched on the water injection and moved up on the V1, carefully placing my wing under its wingtip. The Doodlebug was much steadier than my “Jug”, probably owing to the absence of a nervous pilot flying it. With a prodding right roll of my aileron, my “Jug” tipped the V1’s right wing into the sky. Within seconds the V1 lost its brains and tumbled downward. Rolling back, I took a short blast at the black body as it fell, hoping to get a little camera coverage. What a stupid move that was. My plane lurched upwards as the V1 burst into the open field below – I barely escaped the explosion, which sent hoards of mud spurting into the air.’

I'm not sure if any Tempest pilots managed that. There's a brief account of 3 failed attempts by Canadian Plt. Off. David Ness of No 56 Sqn (which had just converted to Tempests).

One of No 56 Sqn’s Canadians, Plt Off David Ness, was less successful, however, as having used up all his ammunition he then tried three times to turn the V1 over with his wingtip.

It's not exactly spelled out why he failed.

WO Tadeusz Szymanski of the USAAF (flying a Mustang) however related in more detail that some V1 were apparently somewhat resistant to tipping:

‘The thing was jerking along and the elevator was flapping with each vibration of the cruise jet motor’, Szymanski later recalled. ‘I noticed there were no ailerons, and also that on the front of the bomb was a silly little propeller. It looked ridiculous. I decided to try to tip the “Doodlebug” up with my wingtip. As soon as I put my port wing under the “Doodlebug’s” wing it started lifting. I let it straighten itself out, then I put enough of the front part of my wingtip under its wingtip, taking care to keep my aileron out of the way, and then by a sharp bank to starboard I hit it with the port wingtip.’ However, this failed to topple the bomb. ‘I then tried a slightly different manoeuvre, hitting it very hard with my wingtip as I went up like in a loop. To my dismay the “Doodlebug” continued to fly on perfectly straight. Then I realised that the engine was now underneath. I had turned it upside down! I could see that it was gradually going into a dive, and then down it went.’

Szymanski also recounted that he only managed to catch up with the V-1 after damaging it with gunfire, which slowed it down, before his ammo ran out. From what I've read elsewhere, this seem plausible because the V1 engine could take machine gun hits and still kept operating.

Somewhat similar story by Flt Sgt Paul Leva of No 350 Sqn (not entirely sure what aircraft they flew, but it seems they were Spitfire XIV); he damaged a V-1 with gunfire, then tipped it over when his ammon ran out. He recounts that he could only catch up after damaging it, and he wondered how the thing still flew with numerous holes in its wings:

‘I climbed as quickly as possible to a nice comfortable altitude from where, in principle, I would be able to dive on any bomb passing underneath me. Soon after the familiar voice of the controller came on, telling me that a flying bomb had been spotted on the radar, and he gave me its position and heading. Soon, with my speed dropping after levelling off, I could see that the distance separating us had not diminished. Indeed, it had even begun to increase. Utterly disappointed, I nevertheless opened fire, aiming high to compensate for the distance. I had the happy surprise to see some impacts and bits flying off the wings. ‘I fired burst after burst, damaging the bomb still more. Although no vital part was hit, its speed diminished and it entered into a shallow dive. My hopes were soaring again. I was now approaching my target so fast that I had to throttle back. Ready for the kill, I positioned myself at what I estimated was the right distance. I depressed the trigger, but instead of the staccato of firing bullets I heard only the sound of escaping compressed air. ‘It was then that I suddenly remembered the briefing we had received about sending V1s out of control by tipping up one wing. Adjusting the throttle, I eased myself forward until I came abreast of the bomb. What a sight at close range! The wings were so ragged with the impacts of bullets that I wondered how it could still fly almost straight and level. Positioning myself slightly underneath, I placed my starboard wingtip under the port wing of the bomb. I came up slowly, made contact with it as softly as I could and then moved the stick violently back and to the left. This made me enter a steep climbing turn and I lost sight of the bomb. As I continued turning fast through 360 degrees I saw it well below me, going down steeply, hitting the ground with a blinding flash.’

So, yeah, it seems pretty clear that the technique, despite being taught after the early couple of successes, was generally used only as a last resort. And V-1s already damaged by gunfire seem to have been a somewhat sizeable proportion of such tipping kills.

$\endgroup$
1
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This answer has an amazing amount of information in it. I am surprised by the number of different types that accomplished this maneuver. I had halfway convinced myself that this had only occurred a couple times and the story was continuously repeated. $\endgroup$
    – SDH
    Mar 30 at 0:04
15
$\begingroup$

enter image description herePic source

It apparently did really happen, described in the book V1 Flying Bomb Aces by Andrew Thomas, page 19:

It was on 23 June that one of No 91 Sqn's Australian pilots, Fly Off Ken Collier, executed a cool act when on a 'Diver' patrol in Spitfire XIV...

The page subsequently describes how Collier had several shots at the V1 without anything happening and him running out of ammo, and

By this time Ken was really swearing mad, and was determined to do or die. He therefore formated with it and with his wing tipped it over.

The book also describes the normal procedure for destroying V1's, which was not by wing-tipping it over, but shooting at it from a range of 200-250 yards. From further away the flight controls or systems would often be hit, causing the V1 to dive to the ground and the warhead explode on impact. Closer than 200 yards and mostly the warhead would blow up, with the aeroplane following closely and being in danger from the explosion.

Mosquitoes, Spitfires, Mustangs, Thunderbolts are bing mentioned as successful V1 killers (by gunfire), with the Tempest V being the most successful plane during the day, and the night fighter Mosquitoes during the night.

$\endgroup$
1
  • 9
    $\begingroup$ My father flew C-47s in Burma and often had Spitfire escorts. If the air was smooth enough, the bored escort pilots would sometimes make a game of easing up to the Dakota's wing tip and trying to knock off the most outboard static wick with the Spit's wing tip. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Mar 28 at 2:16
6
$\begingroup$

It occurred on many occasions. Based on the book "Mister Brown" written by Jan Zumbach (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jan_Zumbach). I don't have the original French version, but I have the Polish translation. He mentions German countermeasures of placing small explosive charges under V1's wings to prevent tipping. Two pilots of No. 303 Squadron RAF, he commanded, died after these charges exploded on contact, which put an end to the tipping method.

$\endgroup$
5
$\begingroup$

www.historylearningsite.co.I’m claims it’s true:

Fighter pilots also learned new tricks to destroy V1’s such as flying alongside the weapon and tipping over one of its wings, thus knocking it off course. Pilots also flew in front of a V1 so that it flew in the fighter plane’s slipstream. This was enough to unbalance the V1 so that it flew off course.

$\endgroup$
2
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ The questions isn't whether it happened, but about how common it was. $\endgroup$
    – vsz
    Mar 29 at 14:23
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @vsz - Op asked whether it was common or happened only once. If it happened only once this quote would say “One fighter pilot even managed to fly alongside...” But it instead says, “pilots [plural] learned new tricks...” strongly implying that it happened more than once. But I admit this answer is not as good as others here. $\endgroup$
    – Jim
    Mar 29 at 14:29

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.