First Person I Singular.
At that time, I was an eight-year-old boy living at Ewell, just outside the southern periphery of London. The town's location meant that a sizeable proportion of every example of nastiness hurled at the capital had to pass close to my home.
One day, soon after the beginning of the V-1 bombardment, we heard that an airplane had crashed about half a mile from my home. Being mad keen about planes -- a weakness I have never been able to shed -- I nagged my mother to take me there. When we arrived at the scene, a semi-detached house sat dejectedly with the walls on one side missing. Like hurricane survivors, shaken residents and friends were picking through the rubble to salvage what they could. I learned that the culprit was not a plane, but one of the new German flying bombs. That was not what I had come for, and when I visibly lost interest, my mother was happy to head for home.
On the way, IT came over our heads. I believe Union troops in the US Civil War have said that if one heard a rebel war whoop and was not scared half to death, then one had not heard a true rebel war whoop. I would relate those exact feelings to the flying bomb. From later experience, I reckon that particular V-1 cleared my head by about 150 ft. Maybe the overwhelming roar was close to the resonant frequency of my backbone, because it struck fear to the very tips of my toenails. It was as if my feet were nailed to the ground. My mother and I just stood there and watched it, mouths agape. I now know how young rabbits must feel, as a ferret slowly closes in for the kill. Fortunately for us, the missile continued on its way until it was lost to sight and sound.
Naturally enough, that incident raised my level of interest in the V-1. In the days and weeks to follow, the sight and sound of flying bombs coming past my home was part of everyday life. And, fortunately for me, none of the later missiles came as close or made as great an impression as the first one had.
Like all streetwise youngsters at that time, I learned about the foible peculiar to the flying bomb. If the missile's roar ceased, we had between 5 and 15 seconds to get to cover before the missile hit the ground and the warhead exploded. We were told to get up against a brick wall, or something similarly strong, and lie on our stomach with hands over our ears and eyes tightly shut. At the time, some people speculated that perhaps Adolf Hitler had had the delay incorporated in the weapon, so it would destroy property, without killing too many civilians. If only!
Much later, when I had the opportunity to study the flying bomb's method of operation in detail, I learned that the reason for the cut-out was more mundane. In the V-1, range along the route was measured by a propeller on the nose turning a counting mechanism. When the propeller reached a preset number of turns, equivalent to the distance to the target, a pair of electrical contacts closed to set off two detonators. One detonator locked the elevators and rudder in the neutral position, while the other released spoilers which sprung into place on the underside of the horizontal stabilizer.
The spoilers forced the tail of the missile to rise sharply, to make the missile dive into the target. The harsh G forces, induced by the sudden bunt into the dive, hurled the remaining gas in the front-top corner of the now-almost-empty fuel tank. That left the feed pipe uncovered, causing the pulse-jet engine to cut out.
What has any of this to do with electronic warfare? About 20 years ago, when I was conducting research for Volume I of "The History of US Electronic Warfare," commissioned by the AOC, I interviewed Dr. Guy Suits. It was a fascinating and memorable day. During World War II, he had headed the Division 15 organization, with overall responsibility for the design, development and production of radio-countermeasures systems (as they were then called). Suits was a genial host, with a fund of interesting and amusing stories. Then, as the discussion was drawing to a close, he mentioned in passing that he was involved with a project to jam the V-1 flying bomb.
With my previous interest in that weapon, my ears immediately pricked up. I knew the flying bomb was held to its predetermined heading by a crude but effective system using a magnetic compass linked to a simple automatic pilot. At first sight, it seemed there was no part of that system vulnerable to jamming. I was wrong.
I pressed Suites for more detail, but he said the jamming project had gotten no further, and he didn't think it was of interest to me. When I told him of my wartime experiences with the V-1, he opened up. He said that Dr. Don Hare and his team at the Airborne Instruments Laboratory, one the laboratories working under contract to Division 15, had dreamt up the idea. They envisioned taking part of the rail network around London and electrically connecting the rail lines to form a huge loop with a circumference of about 60 mi. They planned to run 1,000 amperes direct current through that loop, to produce a humungous magnetic field. The power requirement was estimated at between 20 and 30 MW, to be supplied from a commercial power station.
That magnetic field, it was calculated, would be sufficiently strong to cause a large swing in the magnetic compass needle of any flying bomb passing over the loop at altitudes up to about 6,000 ft. When it tried to follow the sudden demand to alter heading, the autopilot would command a full-rudder correction. That would cause the flying bomb to yaw violently and bank at an angle of about 30[degrees]. But for cheapness of production, the V-1 had no ailerons and was controlled only by elevators and rudder. So, once it had entered a 30[degrees]. bank, the weapon had no way of recovering and would fall out of control.
The magnetic-loop scheme had reached the detailed proposal stage when, at the end of August 1944, Allied ground forces overran the last of the flying-bomb launching sites along the north coast of France. The main part of the bombardment came to an end, and Hare's scheme came to nothing.
I think that was a pity. I have often tried to picture what might have happened if such a jammerhads ever become operational. Perhaps, at a railway line near to me, some young friends and I might have sat on a hill at a safe distance and watched a succession of flying bombs come thundering towards us, then suddenly tumble from the sky, hit the ground and detonate with satisfying bangs.
There really ought to be an entry in the Guiness Book of Records for the most powerful electronic-jamming system ever considered. Hare's flying-bomb jamming system would win that title hands down: power input, 20 to 30 MW; frequency coverage, DC.
Dr. Alfred Price is a retired Royal Air Force EW officer, who now writes on EW-and aviation-related subjects. To date he has had 43 books published, including Volumes I and II of The History of US Electronic Warfare. He is currently in the process of completing Volume III of that trilogy.