That time London was nearly destroyed by Nazi paleo-drones


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The V-1’s were slow and could be, and were, intercepted and shot down by planes. The later V-2’s were full-fledged rockets and could not be shot down. They did far more damage and killed more people.


8000 V1s, 23000 casualties.
3000 V2s, 9000 casualties. At 12,000+, V2 production killed more people than V2 explosions did.


They weren’t that slow. My great uncle, a pilot in the Royal Air Force, for several months was on duty to intercept these and destroy them. Shooting them down was not easy to do: they were usually over populated areas by the time they were found, so simply pumping bullets into them was not effective and could turn, effectively, into strafing the country and towns they were over. Instead, he and other fliers used a technique of flying alongside, putting their wingtip under the wingtip of the V1, and flipping them over. The gyroscopic systems didn’t recover, and the drone would go into a dive and crash. You could control where that happened, and minimize or eliminate injuries and damage that way.

The logic of the drones was the shortage of pilots. Building the drones was much cheaper than airplanes that you’d send into combat: the shortage and cost of pilots, and the increasing losses faced by the Luftwaffe, and the need to preserve pilots and aircraft for bomber escort, and the generally weak abilities of the Lutfwaffe in long and medium range bombing all made the V1 quite a well-thought-out option. And of course, there was the element of terror, which aside from actual damage or killing, was a great deal of the point - as it is with US drones now.

  • NOT ONE WORD in this documentary about “radar.” You’d conclude from the newsreel that the British knocked down all those high-speed V-1s by staring at them with binoculars.

RADAR was still a top secret development during World War II. Even the fighter pilots who were being dispatched based on radar reports were told as little as possible about it. The belief that eating carrots will improve your eyesight was supposedly started as a cover story, spread by the British to confuse the Germans as to how the British were managing to dispatch fighters to intercept night-time bombing raids.

There was no way it could be mentioned in a newsreel, even had the journalists known about it, which is unlikely.


Aw, I came here to post that!

The space museum I worked at had an exhibit on the V1 and V2, and were working on a V2 replica when I was there.


There were three technologies that came together to effectively deal with the buzz bombs: radar, electrical fire control computer to control the gun connected to the radar, and the proximity fuse. The electrical fire control computer was inspired by a dream of a researcher at Bell Labs, working on an entirely different sort of problem, part of which involved a new electrical device that would become known as the operational amplifier.

I had been working on the level recorder for several weeks when one night i had the most vivid and peculiar dream. I found myself in a gun pit or revetment with an anti-aircraft gun crew. … There was gun there … it was firing occasionally, and the impressive thing was that every shot brought down an airplane! After three or four shots one of the men in the crew smiled at me and beckoned me to come closer to the gun. When I drew near he pointed to the exposed end of the left trunnion. Mounted there was the control potentiometer of my level recorder! There was no mistaking it-it was the identical item. … It didn’t take long to make the necessary translation+ the potentiometer could control the high-speedmotion of a recording pen with great accuracy, why couldn’t a suitably engineered device do the same thing for an anti-aircraft gun?

There was some serious brain power at Bell Labs at that time and the spin-offs from the work to solve the problems on the electrical fire control computer have paid off in significant ways we still benefit from. A good accounting of the story can be found here: Automation’s Finest Hour: Bell Labs and Automatic Control in World War II by David A. Mindell


Also, Bowie never wrote a song about he V1.


But Von Braun did okay anyway. Maybe the Mars mission will be undertaken by former Predator engineers under the auspices of the Caliphate. Or maybe the whole analogy isn’t very useful.


…But the Dead Kennedys wrote a song titled “Buzzbomb”… but it was really about driving…


London can (could) take it.


Quite right. Tactics respond to resources. The Japanese relied on Kamikazes in part because they knew their planes would get shot to crap trying to attack allied warships, so dropping one or two bombs – even assuming a hit – wasn’t a good trade-off when they were running low on planes, pilots, and fuel. One airplane taking out an entire ship was easily worth the trade-off to Japanese high command, and so they went that route.

My Dad did a fair amount of business in Japan in the 1970s and worked with a fellow there who had – as a 17 or 18 year old – been training as a Kamikaze in preparation for the resistance to the invasion when the war ended. His only comment ever on this was: “I was glad the war ended when it did.”


The Germans were well aware of radar, having developed it before the U.S. and the British. Besides, it would be hard to keep dozens of enormous towers ringing the coastline secret for long.


Do you have a source? Not doubting, just interested to learn more


No primary sources but I double-checked on Wikipedia for what it’s worth.

It’s common knowledge that the Luftwaffe targeted British radar stations during the Battle of Britain. They wouldn’t have been doing that if they didn’t know about them. If radar was a secret it was a poorly-kept one, but it does stand to reason that they wouldn’t blab about it on newsreels.


Cheers, I’ll have a look


The thing with the V1 was that it had terrible guidance. Well, no guidance, just a compass. The range was determined by where it ran out of fuel.

Their main plus point was that they were cheap to build. Those pulse-jet engines are very mechanically simple. So cheap, that they’re within reach of the hobbyist. As are computing platforms with general-purpose IO built in, and GPS boards (£25!).

Forget the plot of “Under Siege” - why steal $1.2M Tomahawk missiles when you could easily build a thousand terror drones for that kind of money?


I’m not sure whether these paleo-drones are just fuelled entirely on bacon or if they look the same going backwards as they do forwards.


I’m not citing sources, but I recall the Brits implemented radar first. The Luftwaffe would quickly analyse the pattern of interceptions by the RAF and deduce the Brits could ‘see’ them coming, and basically attack anything that might have somethin to do with that.

From the mouths of people who lived through the blitz in London - V1s were terrifying. You’d here them buzzing, then they’d suddenly go quiet, and you’d anxiously wait to see if it was going elsewhere. V2s just blew up out of nowhere, like an act of god, and people couldn’t live constantly on edge, so just put up with them, as it were


The Kammhuber Line had a function comparable to the Chain Home, the latter was deployed a few years earlier. It’s fair to say that the UK had the first widely implemented radar system.

for teh lulz: The German intelligence totally fucked up - they suspected in the mid-30s the Chain Home towers are part of a radar deployment but didn’t thought of decimeter multimeter* waves and scanned only in the meter decimeter* range. So they concluded the UK does not use radar tracking.

* fixed