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Posted on Friday, November 10 - 2006

" German rocket scientists had two unofficial research projects "on the drawing board" as early as 1930: a "pilotless plane" (or "robot bomb"), and a long range rocket. The Nazis were sufficiently impressed to give their leader Werner von Braun a rocke..."

German rocket scientists had two unofficial research projects "on the drawing board" as early as 1930: a "pilotless plane" (or "robot bomb"), and a long range rocket. The Nazis were sufficiently impressed to give their leader Werner von Braun a rocket base and test-firing range at Peenemunde on the Baltic coast. By 1937 both projects were being developed by the Nazi German government. In 1940 it seemed that Germany had almost won the war - there was little urgency for new weapons. Britain stood alone - but refused to be defeated.

Nazis tried to crush RAF fighter plane resistance in the Battle of Britain; they tried to sap Britain's will to fight by bombing cities in the 'Blitz'. Both caused terrible damage, but failed. Operation Sealion, the German plan to invade Britain, was cancelled. Only then did Hitler give top priority to the long range rocket project. Thousands of people were sent to work at Peenemunde - most of them slave labourers. Test-firing the new fourth version rocket began in March 1942, and its fourth launch in Oct.1942 was successful. When Hitler heard the news he gave the immediate go-ahead to mass-produce the rockets, and to build concrete launching bunkers in the Pas-de-Calais.

Development of the V1 robot bomb 1942-43 : Hitler also authorised full-scale development work on the "pilotless airplane" in June 1942. On paper it looked ideal, given the bottlenecks and shortages plaguing Germany's war effort - it was built of plywood and sheet steel, so didn't use scarce aluminium; it burnt low grade petrol instead of aviation spirit; it only took 500 man-hours to manufacture (excluding the explosive and autopilot).The problem was, getting it to work! In tests it kept crashing. Eventually a brave woman pilot volunteered to fly one (with makeshift controls) to see what was going wrong. She found that the autopilot responded wrongly to cross-winds - by May 1943 the modified V1 was working OK...

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