Peenemunde.

Usedom is an island of the shore of Germany in the Baltic. Peenemunde is a little town on Usedom. In 1936 the Luftwaffe bought a big chunk of the island to use as a weapons development and testing facility; in 1937 the German Army took over most of the site for the same purpose; and by the end of 1938 the Germans were engaged in rocket development projects at Peenemunde.[1] The V-1 and V-2 long-range weapons and the “Waterfall” air-defense systems were meant to be war-winning devices. Britain’s “Operation Crossbow” attacked these efforts.

By June 1943 a combination of Polish resistance reports and aerial photographic interpretation had persuaded the British that the Germans were conducting important rocket development at Peenemunde. Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered an attack.

The attack faced formidable difficulties. For one thing, the British intended to destroy the knowledge base of the program. That is, they meant to kill scientists, engineers, and technicians. Destroying the material base—machine shops, assembled rockets—formed a distinctly secondary object. Therefore, the bombing would be done from 8,000 feet, instead of the customary 19,000 feet. For another thing, the power of German air defenses had long since forced the Royal Air Force (RAF) to bomb at night. The RAF had developed radio guidance beams (Gee) to direct the bombers, but Peenemunde fell beyond the range. Therefore, the precision bombing require to destroy the German base would have to be done by moonlight. This meant that German night-fighters would have favorable conditions. Recognizing the dangers, the RAF committed all of Bomber Command to the attack. To improve the chances of the bombers, the RAF planned to launch a simultaneous mock diversionary attack on Berlin by “Pathfinder” units and fighter attacks on German airfields.

The attack—“Operation Hydra”–stepped off on the night of 17-18 August 1943. The 596 RAF bombers dropped 1,800 tons of bombs on a geographically limited area. Navigational, target-marking, and human errors cropped up. They killed 2 German scientists and 730 others, most of whom were Polish slave-laborers. (The RAF lost 40 planes and 215 aircrew killed.)

The attack did a lot of damage to the material base (machine shops, rocket components), but not a lot of damage to the intellectual base. However, the Germans could not afford to risk a second attack that might succeed. By the end of August 1943, the Germans began evacuating the Peenemunde operations to more secure locations. This delayed the German weapons programs by six to eight weeks.[2] V-1—“flying bomb” attacks on Britain began on 13 June 1944. V-2 rocket attacks began in September 1944. So, perhaps the V-1s might have begun flying in mid-April 1944 and the V-2s in July 1944.

How should we think about this historical event?

First, the British had a short time period in which to act. They had to stave-off some catastrophic event for a couple of years at the outside. After that, Germany would be defeated by other means. They did not have to resolve the problem of a long-term threat.

Second, in a short time-frame, attacking the intellectual base can work because it will take a while to get the successors up to speed. An educated nation, can fill holes eventually.

Third, attacking the physical weapons infrastructure didn’t do much good because it was viewed as secondary. Making it primary wouldn’t have changed much.

Fourth, the movie “Operation Crossbow” (1965) has Sophia Loren. Jus sayin’.

[1] Thereafter, all the guards made it difficult to for ordinary Germans to vacation on the “Sunny Isle,” sylph around in the nude as part of that weird German cult of the sun thing.

[2] Nevertheless, the Germans continued to test rockets at Peenemunde until February 1945.

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