The Chinese made the first rocket several hundred years ago. Spurred on by today's colflict, this ancient weapon is zooming across war-ripped skies with new, deadly refinements which the ancient Chinese never dreamed of.
X-raying the Nazi arsenal to flnd out exactly what weapons the enemy has, and learning just what these weapons can and cannot do is an important chapter in the book of successful military strategy. Ever since the first day Goering's playful aerial puppets polluted the skies to give the world its first taste of carnage, the Nazis have been hinting broadly of their 'secret weapons'. Recently, German claims have become more insistent than ever, and new weapons have begun to make debuts on the European war theatres.
With Elmer Electronics as best man, Miss Rocket Propulsion and Joe Aerodynamics have gotten married and given birth to an unusual brood of weapons.
Having dug into the not too fortified Fortress of Europe, the Nazis are beginning to show the whites of the eyes of their rocket weapons. Taken out of the position of a Buck Rogers fantasy, these devices are more than blazing their comeback into reality. They have passed the stage of mere experimentation, and we can safely say that the United States, Great Britian, Russia and Germany are all applying rocket weapons militarily.
Recently, the United States War Department has announced the study of new defensive weapons being used by the Germans, in their frantic attempt to prevent the United Nation's precision bombing of Nazi industrial centers. Perhaps, one of the weapons under examination by our ordnance experts is the rocket propelled glider bomb about which Prime Minister Churchill expressed concern in his recent address to the House of Commons. It may also be one of the many referred to in Hitler's latest speech in which he averred that military devices were being developed which would prevent the bombing of German industry.
The sum and substance of the English Prime Minister's address in his own words was that the Nazis are using "upon our shipping at close quarters a sort of rocket assisted glider which releases its bombs from a height and is directed toward its target by a parent aircraft." How much damage this rather sensational weapon was capable of wreaking was not discussed. Churchill just said that it was being used "at close quarters on ships close to the coast." Nor were any estimations given on how close the glider itself came to the target before releasing the bomb. He simply indicated some indefinite height.
From what can be gathered, a heavy German bomber carries the glider bomb near the battle zone. The bomber itself remains as far up, away from anti-aircraft fire as possible, and releases the glider bomb which is assisted and given added velocity in flight by rocket propulsion. The bombadier in the "parent" plane directs the flight of this glider bomb by means of remote control and steers it to the target. When the glider is over the target, the bombadier releases the bomb in the glider by radio control.
However, a Brooklyn engineer and rocket experimenter, Edward F Chandler, points out that the above described weapon referred to by Churchill is a close approach to the long awaited flying bomb, which instead of merely being fitted with glider wings is an integral part of a rocket propelled glider.
According to a statement recently issued by the War Department, the flying bomb is remotely controlled as to direction and has an impact fuse the same as ordinary bombs. Its wing area is relatively small otherwise the wings would be torn off by the terrific velocity in flight. The wing loading is extremely high and the device does no real gliding. From a distance, the bombadier in the plane from which this bomb is launched transmits radio signals to a receiver in the glider which guides it directly to the target. Or else, the flying bomb may be outfitted with some kind of electronic device like a magnetic mine which attracts it near or on the target.
However, so far advanced is radio control that many scientists maintain that the next radio controlled bomb will not require a "parent" plane. The radio control will operate from shore bases and the bomb will be carried by rocket straight to the target.
Actual descriptions of the new German weapon vary from source to source. Much is the contribution of the highly imaginative who have applied Munchausian and Wellsian touches to conjure up pictures of what it might be. For example, some authorities believe that the flying bomb is not rocket assisted at all. What observers might have mistaken for escaping rocket gases might have been a magnesium flare at the tail end of the glider bomb used to trace its path so that the observers or bombadier in the parent plane could see it to direct its flight.
Nevertheless, amidst all these reports, one thing is certain the Nazis do have a remotely controlled glider bomb, and in all likelihood it is rocket assisted, and has been used mostly against surface targets not aircraft.
This weapon may imply a dire threat to armored ships, formerly safe against the ordinary type of bomb which frequently had insufficient speed to penetrate the armored sides and decks of heavy vessels. There is a case where one of the new US battleships in the encounter at Santa Cruz was hit by a five-hundred-pound bomb. Not even the turrent armor was penetrated. However, the added push or velocity supplied by rocket propulsion would enable a bomb to penetrate the armor of even our heaviest ships. The rocket-propelled glider bomb was reported to have been used against our shipping in the Gulf of Salerno, and might supply the answer to the rather mysterious sinking of the Italian battleship Roma.
There are probably other threats to the security of the sea power of the United Nations. According to a dispatch dated September 16, by an Associated Press correspondent aboard a US warship, the Nazis have used a "new type of aerial torpedo" against the Allied invasion fleet in the Gulf of Salerno. Several naval officers reported having seen a winged object resembling a small plane flying toward a boat. It passed overhead, wheeled, and then dived.
This may be the same "flying torpedo" mentioned by Hanson Baldwin, military editor of the New York Times, on September 30. Mr Baldwin stated that "that they have already been used in this war": and can do particular damage in a crowded harbor.
The "flying torpedo" is also probably radio-controlled, and Mr Baldwin goes on to say that it might be able to glide with rocket propulsion right into the water, jettisoning its wings just prior to or upon entering the water. The torpedo can then travel under water with the same propulsion as is conventionally used, or by means of electric batteries which leave no telltale surface bubbles. Nor do they have to strike a ship to explode they can be detonated underneath or near a ship by magnetic or sonic means. However, the perfection of degaussing (a method of demagnetizing ships) may remove the possibility of their being detonated magnetically.
The torpedos when launched, can also circle in an expanding spiral until they seek out their target. This hawk-like quality of closing in for the kill give these robot weapons a lifelike quality which may hint at the nature of future aerial warfare.
The aforementioned weapons are of greater use to the Axis than to the Allies because they are primarily designed to be used against shipping and we are more dependent upon seapower than they are. It is our control of the sea that is enabling us to defeat the Axis, who are desperately trying to break it.
That these weapons constitute a formidable threat to Allied control of the main supply route, the North Atlantic convoy sea lanes, and that these new types of remote-controlled flying bombs and torpedos are being taken seriously by the Allies is evidenced in the fact that measures have already been taken to protect the North Atlantic supply routes from attacks by these devices. In all likelihood, the ever-alert British Admiralty and the United States Navy has been informed of them for some time and are undoubtedly working out a fool-proof defense against them.
As a matter of fact, neither remote control by radio nor the use of rockets are a mystery to us. Pilotless airplanes have been remotely controlled in successful experiments prior to the war. No radio engineer will in any way be impressed by the radio directed glider bombs being dropped or discharged from German heavy bombers. Not only have planes and ships sailing and flying under full power without benefit of crew been guided and controlled by radio in target practice by the United States Navy, but torpedos and other devices have been similarly guided. Even anti-aircraft guns have evolved which can be exploded by remote control at an indefinite height. Radio control is an old story.
When the mechanism of these new flying bombs and flying torpedos are completely understood, it will not be long before the Allied powers step forth on the war arena with even more destructive weapons along the same lines if they do not already have them in the process of completion.
As a matter of fact, both the rocket-assisted glider bomb and the flying torpedo have some very serious limitations. One of them is the difficulty the bombadier in the "parent plane" would have in directing these missles, from the height at which they are supposed to remain particularly in inclement weather and darkness. He couldn't do it very effectively by eye. He might manage fairly efficient direction with the use of telescopes and range finders and a magnesium flare to light up the path of the bomb in darkness.
Then again, if the parent plane is shot down, all the rocket glider bombs or flying torpedoes under its care will be doomed. "Jamming" the frequency these glider bombs are operating on will render their radio control useless and make it impossible to direct them.
The Germans are supposed to have other weapons besides these according to the War Department which has just described one equipped with a time fuse which the Nazis are now using. The enemy planes stay out of the range of our bomber's 50 mm [sic .50-caliber] guns and drop the bombs into the midst of our bomber formations. They have also tried dive-bombing these formations, remaining out of range of gun fire when releasing the bombs. The missile is carried towards our bombers by the force of gravity and momentum and is exploded by a timed fuse or an aneroid-activated fuse when it descends to the predetermined altitude.
However, as far as time bombs are concerned we are not asleep on the job. We have something that can be dropped on enemy formations, too, with a similarly unpleasant effect. This is a time bomb, the brainchild of Stanley H Emery of Pasadena, CA. The timing mechanism of Emery's bomb is connected with a dial on the instrument panel of the plane via a flexible cable. The pilot calculates how far away the enemy plane is through a sighting device, and sets the time fuse to explode at the proper moment. Then he releases the bomb.
When Churchill stated that the Nazis have other secret weapons, he perhaps meant the entire host of new rocket devices which the Germans have developed to stave off destruction. They have introduced a six-barrel rocket mortar which bears the picturesque name of Nebelwerfer 41. This fog-throwing rocket is used for smoke screening against air attacks. Along the same lines, a Nazi colonel talking over the radio about a month ago, claimed that the Germans had fog grenades of such fog-producing ability that they were capable of clouding up the air for a radius of 600 yards. This gigantic smoke screen can not only blind the enemy, but hide Nazi military movements and the Herr Colonel all at once. Nevertheless, it does not seem to prevent Allied planes from hitting targets in Germany. The grenades are supposedly thrown by motorized weapons which are lighter than orthodox weapons. Mass firing is permitted by the fact that the motorized weapons are outfitted with many barrels and electrical fuses.
Another versatile weapon spawned by German desperation was reported through neutral sources recently. This weapon can toss smoke, fire and explosive shells all at the same time.
In addition, some American pilots have reported the use of clusters of "silver fire" which fell in front of their formation. One Fortress was struck by a cluster and the burning material set the plane on fire. The plane later exploded. These clusters are believed to be white phosphorus disks.
Not to be daunted by the Russians who have mounted rocket guns on low-flying fighter planes for use against tanks and ground equipment, the Germans have installed rocket guns on their Me-109s, 110s, 210s and Ju-88s for use against our bombers. The rocket-launching cylinders are attached under the wings and are additions to the usual complement of cannon and machine guns carried.
The Germans are using rocket guns in anti-aircraft defense, making possible the projection of anti- aircraft shells to greater heights. On planes, the use of rocket guns enable the projection of missiles that carry a larger charge of explosive than ordinary aircraft cannon shells and at the same time, use lighter barrels and mounts so that the airplane has less weight to carry and is subjected to less strain because of the lack of recoil in rocket weapons.
The use of rocket guns are not a novelty, except in application. Rockets, in fact, are veterans in ground warfare. The German contribution in applying the rocket gun militarily is that while they were used previously only in ground vs ground, and air vs ground targets, they are now being used for ground vs air, and air vs air targets.
According to British reports, the rocket-launching cylinders aboard the Messerschmitts and Ju-88s carry anywhere from one to three shells. With good aiming, they can burst with tremendous force in the midst of a bomber formation and do a powerful amount of damage.
But, ever since the Germans first mounted them, the War Department has been intently studying the efiectiveness of the Luftwaffe's air-borne rocket guns with a view towards developing a counter- weapon.
On November 5, 1943, the USAAF raided Wilhelmshaven with well over 400 Flying Fortresses and Liberator bombers plus fighter escorts, constituting a total of 1000 planes in all. They blasted the Nazi naval base with tons of bombs, losing only five bombers and two P-47 fighter planes less than 1% of the raiding force. Whereas 20%, or 60 of our bombers, were destroyed in a raid over Schweinfurt which took place October 14, 1943. In the Wilhelmshaven raid, the fighters accompanied the bombers to their destination and back. In the Schweinfurt raid, the fighters turned back when the destination was reached, leaving the Forts on their own.
The success of this strategy of using fighter planes to combat the Nazi rocket-gun menace was again borne out on November 5, 1943. Huge armadas of Flying Fortresses and Liberators of the US Eighth Air Force raided western Germany. Here, too, they were escorted all the way through the raid by large numbers of fighters, P-47 Thunderbolts and P-38 Lightnings, and once more our loss of 10 bombers was very light.
Our fighters should prove more than a match against the German rocket-launching planes because whenever a rocket gun attachment is mounted on an aircraft, or rocket launching cylinders are placed under the wings, either the plane's speed, maneuverability, or both, are reduced considerably. Furthermore, since only a few rockets can be carried at one time, the plane will eventually have to rely upon its guns.
What are the primary differences in principle and operation between the rocket and the gun? Both operate according to Newton's third law of motion every action has an equal and opposite reaction. In the ordinary gun, action and reaction take place outside of the projectile. It is for this reason that the gun needs a thicker barrel and breech, and heavy absorber and base to cushion the sharp recoil. The rifling has much wear and tear placed upon it, and the projectile loses speed and power of penetration after being expelled from the barrel.
But in a rocket, action and reaction take place inside the projectile. Unlike the shell of a gun, it is not shot it moves because it recoils to its own jet sudden expansion of untold millions of gas molecules, the reaction of which adds up, and the combined recoil or thrust is what makes a rocket rise. The slight recoil in rocket weapons allow for the use of light mounts, and the low velocity and small pressure admits of the use of light barrels. After leaving the barrel, the rocket accumulates greater velocity and power of penetration.
The penetrating power of a rocket weapon is greater than the ordinary bomb or gun because of the added velocity and straightening out of the projecti1e's path of flight, or trajectory, whereas, the ordinary projectile in flight follows a curve. However, that curve is always standard, and when the target is sighted computations can be made, the gun set, and the bullets will proceed according to its trajectory.
But, the rocket, despite its greater speed and straight path is still more inaccurate than the orthodox weapon. One reason is that fuel charges vary as far as burning rate, time of burning, and thrust delivered from one second to the next is concerned. These infinitesimal differences add up and cause great deflections from the original path.
If the rocket guns were as accurate as ordinary guns or cannon, more bombers would be felled with the same number of hits. Right now, guns and cannon make our bombers look like flying sieves without downing them.
And, generally speaking, rocket bombs are more effective at low altitudes than high. When used in ground attacks, they create twice the amount of havoc the ordinary bomb does.
With future experimentations, means may be found of making the rocket more accurate. The German rocket-assisted glider bomb is one step in this direction. Another step would be making rocket charges identical and producing tables to correct variable factors.
Rockets fall into two general types those using solid and those using liquid fuels. Because solid fuels can be preloaded, they are used more extensively in rockets than liquid fuel. There are several solid fuels in use the English use cordite mixed with starch as a "deterrent" to keep the burning rate from going beyond the rocket's capacities. During World War 1, Prof R H Goddard was successfully experimenting with smokeless gun powder, nitrocellulose. The Germans may be using burning powder in the rocket motors of their rocket-assisted glider bombs. With smokeless powder as a fuel, rockets can reach a speed of 2000 feet per second in a mile of flight.
Today, although German propagandists have been howling loudly over their secret weapons, it is doubtful that they have advanced over us as far as rocket development is concerned. For scientific advances are usually roughly parallel in every major nation. Indeed, the minds of men everywhere are engaged in the development of secret weapons such as the terrifying English explosive, "RDX". If it comes to a business of retaliation, the Allies can play this grim game far better than the Germans.
For example, the British PAC, a rocket armament which carries aloft a parachute and steel cable, traps low flying German planes. Britain also has a weapon that discharges ten rockets concurrently at a raiding plane.
The Soviet Union has at least five types of rocket weapons. They have a cable-trailing contraption like the British PAC, and rocket guns mounted on planes. The Russian fighter bomber, the Stormovik, carries rocket bombs that plow under enemy ground equipment with crushing force. In 1941, these rocket bombs were an important factor in thwarting the final Nazi attack on Moscow. They are carried on rails under the wings and the diving plane aims it at the target. The way it's done seems like a Rube Goldberg cartoon. An electric spark sets off the charge which slides the bombs off the rails in a practically straight line at the target.
Rocket throwers, one of the most secret of Soviet Union war weapons, are fired by remote control. They played a significant role in the defense of Stalingrad by hurling a steady stream of self-prope1led shells. Because there is little recoil in firing, mounts for rocket guns are lightweight and they can be moved about easily. This explains the Russian success with the multiple-projector rocket gun mounted on airplanes. An orthodox cannon of the identical calibre would require too heavy a barrel and mount for this purpose.
The Soviet Union has developed several types of rocket throwers including one that consists of little more than a rail under the wings of Stormovik fighter-bombers. One of the important Soviet uses of rockets is assisting planes with heavy overloads to take off from cramped spaces. In fact, RAF catafighters carried on merchant ships as protection against long-range German bombers are launched from the deck by rocket propulsion rather than by a catapult.
The Luftwaffe also use rocket power to get overloaded Junker 88s and Heinkel 111Ks off the ground. Rows of large rocket cartridges attached to the body of the heavily-loaded bombers are discharged at the right moment. After the takeoff, the device is dropped.
So, we can parallel the Germans in any new experiments they may come out with or find a suitable antidote for Nazi military poison whenever it appears. Arvid Fredborg, a Swedish journalist, returning home after a two-year stay in Berlin, said of the new German weapons that they are not to be overrated, although it would be a mistake to believe they were just propaganda.
All in all, it looks like the future will bring deadlier and more accurate weapons of destruction into being with counter-weapons following closely on their heels. It won't take Munchausian exaggeration to visualize wars fought by remote control by engineers sitting at desks and at radio sets. If the war continues, rockets will become a more important food in the military diets of all nations. They will be served in all forms, shapes, and fashion s rocket bombs with and without wings, grenades, whole, fried and scrambled. When the Chinese invented a toy to play with on their holidays, they didn't know what they were doing.
This article was originally published in the February, 1944, issue of Aircraft Age magazine, vol 2, no 3, pp 14-15, 50-52.
The original article includes two speculative drawings of weapons described in the article.