Operation Aphrodite and Operation Anvil
Contributor: Hugh Martyr
ww2dbaseOperation Aphrodite was the code name for an operation planned by the US Army Air Force to load "war weary" B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator bombers with a large amount of explosive and fly them by radio control to explode on heavily reinforced enemy targets. By stripping out all non-essential gear, space could be created to load up to 12,000 pounds of Torpex, the British made explosive which was 50% more powerful than TNT.
ww2dbaseIt was planned that the loaded aircraft would be under control of a pilot until, after taking off and reaching the required height, he would bail out after arming the explosives and passing the control to the following "mother aircraft." With control established the "bomb" would be flown to an enemy target. On impact, the detonating Torpex would explode with a blast that would be equal to several Tall Boy bombs which the British were using.
ww2dbaseThe first flights started in early Aug 1944 at an Advanced Landing Ground on the British east coast in the County of Suffolk. Woodbridge ALG became the home base of a detachment of the 562nd Bomber Group. The old B-17 bombers were labelled BQ-7 and became radio-controlled drones. It was planned to use them against difficult or highly armored targets such as the submarine pens and V-1 and V-2 launching sites. To avoid any problems with the pilots baling out the bombers, each bomber's cockpit was made into an open one with only a windshield to protect the pilot.
ww2dbaseThe first targets were to be the Siracourt V-1 bunker in France and the large structures at Memoyecques and Watten/Wizernes believed to be involved with the Nazi planned Vengeance weapon program. In the first plane, attacking Memoyecques, the crew bailed out successfully, but the radio control sets failed, and the aircraft spun out of control and crashed. The aircraft attacking Siracourt also suffered control problems and crashed at Sudbourne, a small village in Suffolk the pilot was killed when he abandoned the aircraft too soon. The third aircraft, like the second, had control problems and crashed in woodland near Orford. It exploded on impact, destroying two acres of woodland and killing the flight engineer. Only the fourth Aphrodite aircraft arrived successfully at its intended target at Watten/Wizernes. It crashed 1,500 feet short, shot down by ground fire and as a result did very limited damage save destroying the flak battery.
ww2dbaseAnother flight of three BQ-7 aircraft was sent out against V-1 sites on 6 Aug 1944, one loaded with high explosive and the others with 160 incendiary bombs and 800 gallons of napalm. This time the crews got clear but within minutes the control problem arose again, one aircraft crashing into the sea. Another lost control and headed back inland and started to circle around the large industrial town of Ipswich, fully armed. To the relief of the accompanying planes, after a while it steadied and went out over the sea again and crashed when its fuel ran out; a disaster was avoided by luck. The third aircraft named "T'aint A Bird II" got as far as the coast and was brought down by enemy flak. The third plane was brought down by flak over Gravelines on the French coast.
ww2dbaseFollowing these failures the whole Aphrodite operation was put on hold whilst investigations were carried out in order to improve performance. Using a different guidance system two more attempts were made. The first against the submarine pens on Heligoland, Germany. Like the others it failed due to being shot down; a pilot was lost when his parachute failed to open. The next mission used four aircraft against the town of Heide again targeting submarine pens, but the mission again had only limited results; one drone exploded near the target causing damage and a large number of casualties.
ww2dbaseFollowing the USAAF's failures, the US Navy came up with their own version of the drone. The Navy operation was codenamed Operation Anvil. This time an old PB4Y-1 Liberator bomber was stripped down and loaded with explosives. The target once more was to be Heligoland. The pilot was Lieutenant Joseph Kennedy, Jr. USN, eldest son of Joe Kennedy, the US Ambassador to Great Britain and elder brother of John "Jack" Kennedy who would become President of the United States in the future. He, like all other crew was a volunteer; a successful flight in one of the drones was rewarded with 5 mission credits and decoration for the bravery shown in crewing such a dangerous aircraft. The Liberator aircraft successfully took off from RAF Fairfield, 16 miles southwest of Norwich, following them in a USAAF F-8 Mosquito aircraft to film the mission were pilot Lieutenant Robert A. Tunnel and combat camera man Lieutenant David J. McCarthy, who filmed the event from the Perspex nose of the aircraft. As planned, Kennedy and his engineer Lieutenant Wilford John Willy remained aboard as the drone, labelled BQ-8, completed its first remote-controlled turn at 2,000 feet near the North Sea coast. Kennedy and Willy removed the safety pin, arming the explosive package, and Kennedy radioed the agreed code "Spade Flush", his last known words. Two minutes later, near RAF Manston, the Torpex explosive detonated prematurely destroying the BQ-8 Liberator drone, killing Kennedy and Willy instantly. Wreckage landed near the village of Blythburgh in Suffolk, causing widespread damage and small fires, but there were no injuries on the ground.
ww2dbaseSeveral more drone attacks would be attempted but the results were dreadful; the drones either crashed or were picked off by enemy anti-aircraft fire. Finally, Operation Aphrodite and Operation Anvil were terminated on the personal order of General Carl "Tooey" Spaatz, the US Army Air Forces commander of the Strategic Air Forces in Europe, who recognized the program as an abject failure.
Colin Philpott, Secret Wartime Britain: Hidden Places That Helped Win the Second World War, Pen and Sword Books.
Roderick Hill, Air Operations by Air defence of Great Britain and Fighter Command in connection with the flying bomb and Rocket offensives, 1944-1945, National Archives, Kew. London.
Jack Olsen, Aphrodite: A Desperate Mission, 1970 Putnam's & Sons.
Warfare History Network
Last Major Update: Feb 2019
Operation Aphrodite and Operation Anvil Timeline
|26 Jun 1944||Major General James Doolittle authorized Operation Aphrodite.|
|6 Jul 1944||US Navy Special Attack Unit (SAU-1) was formed under Commander James A. Smith for Operation Anvil.|
|4 Aug 1944||Four bomb laden BQ-7 drones were flown out of Britain to attack German targets in France. All failed to reach their targets.|
|6 Aug 1944||A flight of three BQ-7 Aphrodite drones was launched in Britain, carrying high explosive bombs, incendiary bombs, and napalm. Control problems caused two of them to crash into the sea (one of them nearly crashed into the town of Ipswich). The third was shot down by German anti-aircraft fire on the French coast.|
|13 Aug 1944||A BQ-7 drone carrying 2,000 pounds of explosives reached the French coast, but missed its target.|
|3 Sep 1944||A BQ-8 drone dove into DŁne island on the German coast; the drone's controller had mistaken it for the island in the Helgoland archipelago where a German submarine base was located.|
|11 Sep 1944||A BQ-7 drone was shot down by German anti-aircraft fire and crashed into the sea.|
|14 Sep 1944||Two BQ-7 drones successfully crossed into northern Germany, but missed their targets due to poor weather conditions.|
|15 Oct 1944||Two BQ-7 drones successfully reached the Helgoland archipelago, but missed the German submarine base due to poor weather conditions.|
|30 Oct 1944||Two BQ-7 drones were launched against targets in Germany. One crashed into the sea, and the other crashed in Sweden.|
|5 Dec 1944||Two BQ-7 drones were launched against targets in Germany. Both crashed outside of Haldorf, Germany, their secondary target.|
|1 Jan 1945||Two BQ-7 drones were launched against the power station in Oldenburg in northern Germany. Both drones were shot down by anti-aircraft fire.|
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Joachim von Ribbentrop, German Foreign Minister, Aug 1939