The V-1 (Vergeltungswaffe: German for “vengeance weapon”) was the first guided missile used in war. Most V-1s were launched from catapult ramps, while others were dropped from aircraft. A simple pulse jet engine gave a flying V-1 a distinctive sound, earning it the nickname of “buzzbomb” or “doodlebug” (after an Australian insect). Before launch, a counter was set to reach zero upon arrival at the target. As the missile flew, a small propeller in the nose turned. When the counter reached zero, the V-1 went into a steep dive. Sudden silence alerted those below that the V-1 would impact nearby.
The V-1 was manufactured at various sites but the main production facility was the notorious underground complex known as Mittelwerk at Nordhausen in the Hartz Mountains. Here, slave-laborers assembled V-1s in appalling conditions. Around 35,000 V-1s were fabricated, with approximately 10,000 fired at England. Of that number only 2,419 actually reached London—about a 20 percent success rate.
Did you know?
V-1 wings were made of wood, skinned with plywood.