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German Secret Weapons of WWII
by Emmanuel Gustin
The A-4, also known as the V-2, was a ballistic missile. Its
rocket engine used liquid oxygen and alcohol, pumped in the thrust
chamber by specially developed turbopumps. The V-2 could carry its
910kg warhead at distances up to 320km. Once launched it could not
be intercepted. The launchers were mobile, including a so-called
Meillerwagen to carry the missile itself. Slave workers in
underground plants produced about 10,000, but less than half were
actually fired, primarily at London and Antwerp. Planned developments
included the winged A-4b and the intercontinental A-10. The A-4
was extensively tested by the allied after the war, and the engineers
who developed it contributed to later ICBM and space programmes.
However, the V-2 was probably a failure as a weapon, because its
cost was too high compared to the damage it did.
Fieseler Fi 103
Also known as the V-1 or FZG 76, this was the first
practical cruise missile. The Fi 103 was a small aircraft, with a
wing span of 5.3m or 4.87m depending on the model. It was powered
by a pulse-jet engine, the noise of which lead to the nickname of
buzz-bomb. To bring the V-1 up to the working speed of the
engine, the Fi 103 was launched from a ramp or carried into the air
by a launch aircraft. A compass controlled the course, and the travelled
distance was measured by a small propeller. At the end of the range,
the V-1 was steered into a steep dive. The acceleration then caused the
engine to stop, but because this gave prior warning of the impact later
V-1s were modified to prevent this. The V-1 flew at low altitude, and
its speed just allowed the fastest allied fighters to intercept it.
This, and the use of proximity fuses by the AAA, made an effective
defence against it possible. London was hit by 2419 V-1s; Antwerp by
See also the V-1
The Rheinbote was a four-stage, unguided long-range artillery missile.
It was a solid-fuel missile with very slim proportions. It was 11.4m
long, weighed 1715kg at launch, and had a range of 215km. Its
warhead was only 44kg. About 200 were fired at Antwerp in late
The V-3 or Hockdrückpumpe was not a missile system, but an
advanced gun. The concept was to accelerate a fairly conventional, big
projectile by detonations of charges in multiple chambers that were
spaced out along the barrel.
Blohm und Voss Bv 143
The Bv 143 was a glide bomb for anti-ship use, accelerated by a
rocket engine. It was a primitive sea-skimming missile. A feeler
arm was designed to keep the Bv 143 about 2m above the water, but
it did not work properly, and the missile was cancelled.
Blohm und Voss Bv 246 Hagelkorn
The Hagelkorn was an unpowered long-range glide bomb. It
had an excellently streamlined fuselage, and wings with a very
high aspect ratio. Construction of the wings was unusual: The
aerofoils were made of concrete, around a steel core. Range
was up to 200km if released from 10,000m. Several guidance
systems were tried, including the Radieschen radar homing
system. This made Hagelkorn one of the first anti-radar
missiles. Over 1100 were produced before the project was
The Friedensengel was a set of wings and tail surfaces, designed to
extend the range of a standard 765kg air-launched torpedo. The
onboard control system also freed the launch aircraft from the need
to maintain the exact speed and altitude required by the torpedo.
About 450 were produced.
Fritz-X, also known as FX-1400, was the first successful
guided bomb. It consisted of a 1400kg armour-piercing bomb, fitted
with four wings in a cruciform arrangement, and a tail ring with
spoilers for control. It was usually carried by specially equipped
Do 217 or He 177 bombers. In the launch aircraft, an operator steered
the bomb to its target using a radio command link. Two hits with
Fritz-X sank the Italian battleship Roma. Others
seriously damaged the Italia and the British battleship
Warspite, sank the cruiser Spartan, and damaged the
cruisers Savannah and Uganda. Production of
Fritz-X was limited to about 1400.
Henschel Hs 293
This was the first guided missile that entered service in large
numbers. The Hs 293 was a glide bomb of aeroplane configuration,
with a underslung rocket engine. It was carried by bombers like
the He 111, He 177, Do 217 or Fw 200. A radio command link was
standard, and a flare in the tail burned to help the operator
sighting. There were also versions with wire guidance, and the
experimental Hs 293D had TV guidance. The sloop HMS Egret,
on 27 August 1943, had the dubious honour of being the first ship
sunk by a guided missile. Many other victims followed, including
five destroyers. Over 2300 Hs 293 missiles were fired.
Henschel Hs 294
Derivative of the Hs 293. It was intended as a anti-ship weapon,
travelling to final trajectory to its target underwater.
Henschel GT 1200
The GT 1200 was a powered glide bomb for use against ships. It was
designed to dive into the water at the end of its trajectory.
The Mistel combinations consisted of a twin-engined bomber,
in practice almost always a modified Ju 88, with a fighter (Bf 109
or Fw 190) mounted on top. The bomber was unmanned, its cockpit
replaced by a large (3500kg) shaped-charge warhead, and additional
tanks were installed to transfer fuel to the fighter. The combination
was controlled by the pilot of the fighter. He would aim the
Mistel at a target, then uncouple his fighter to fly back
home. Over 250 were built. Plans for large scale operations, e.g.
against Soviet power stations, were abandoned.
This was an improvement of Friedensengel. Few were delivered.
Zitteroschen was the first supersonic, winged, and guided
missile. Intended for use against ground targets, it had small
triangular wings and two rocket motors. It did not enter
The design of Enzian was inspired by the Me 163 rocket-powered
fighter aircraft. Its delta-wing layout and relatively fat fuselage
were similar. It had four boost engines and a sustainer. A small
number was built, but problems with the engines and the guidance
system were never resolved.
Anti-aircraft missile. It had a streamlined body and twin tail fins.
It was powered by a rocket engine and had radio command guidance.
Although development continued until the end of the war, it was
Surface-to-air missile, in development until it was replaced
by more promising designs in 1941.
Henschel Hs 117 Schmetterling
Of all experimental surface-to-air missiles, this one came closest
to an operational weapons system. At the end of the war it was in
production, but it was never operationally used. With a length of
4.29m, it was a relatively small missile. Its shape was that of a
small aircraft, with a sustainer rocket engine in its body, and
two boost engines, mounted above and below its fuselage. Range was
about 32km, and it could be used against targets up to 10,000m high,
although in such cases guidance problems were considerable: Aiming
was visual, by means of a radio command link. There were also
experiments with air-drops, with the use of radar for guidance, and
with proximity fuses.
This was a large anti-aircraft missile, rather crude in design. It had
four tail fins, six fins on the center body, and four canard control
fins. It had a boost engine in the tail, and a sustainer in the front
fuselage. Control was again visual aiming with a radio command link.
Rheintochter III was smaller than Rheintochter I,
but had better performance. The project was abandoned in December
This was an unguided anti-aircraft weapon. It was a simple, 1.93m
long, spin-stabilized rocket with a 0.5kg warhead. Taifun was
accelerated to Mach 3+, and could reach altitudes up to 15000m.
It was intended to fire salvos of 30 missiles. At the end of the war
it was in mass production.
The Wasserfall SAM was developed at Peenemüde, and was
based on experience with the A-4, also known as V-2. It was smaller,
but of similar shape and also powered by liquid fuels. The operator
used input from radars tracking both the target and the missile to
steer it, using a radio command link. A proximity fuse would ignite
the 235kg warhead. The program was cancelled in February 1945, when
it was close to the production stage.
Henschel Hs 298
This was the world's first AAM, but it never entered production. It
had the shape of a small aircraft. Like other German missiles, it
used radio command guidance, although a wire-guided version was
also developed. It was planned to fit a proximity fuse for the 25kg
warhead. Over 300 were fired in tests. Range was about 9km.
The X-4, also known as RK 344, was probably the first practical AAM.
It had four wings, arranged in cruciform shape, and four small control
fins. Two guidance wires were unrolled from spools on the wings.
Range was about 3.5km, with the missile preferrably fired from about
1.5km distance. It had a 20kg warhead. Hundreds were test fired, and
in some occasions test missiles seem to have been fired in anger.
But no X-4 missiles reached operational units.
This was a simple unguided rocket, with a diameter of 55mm. They were
stabilized by eight folding fins. Fighters such as the Me 262 could
carry wooden racks with twelve R4M missiles under the outboard wing
panels. With a range of 1500m and a warhead of 0.5kg, they were very
effective against allied bombers. There was also a version with an
armour-penetrating shaped-charge warhead. The R4M was not used on a
large scale, but after the war many airforces introduced folding-fin
aircraft rockets (FFAR) based on the R4M.
Kramer X-7 Rotkäppchen
This was a wire-guided anti-tank missile. The X-7 had a short, fat
body, large twin fins, and a trailing arm carrying the guidance wire
spool. It had a 2.5kg shaped-charge warhead. Small numbers of
pre-production missiles were used in combat. There was also a
Steinbock version with IR homing guidance.
This anti-tank missile used electro-optical guidance.
This anti-tank missile used electro-optical guidance.
FuG 200 Hohentwiel
Anti-ship radar, installed on large maritime patrol aircraft such as
the Fw 200.
FuG 202 Lichtenstein BC
Nightfighter radar. Lichtenstein operated on 409MHz, had a maximum
range of 4km, and a minimum range of 200m. The aerials had four masts
on the nose of the aircraft, each with an X-frame on top that carried
four tandems of vertical dipoles.
FuG 212 Lichtenstein C-1
Nightfighter radar, a simplified and updated FuG 202. It had
longer masts, with a small streamlined cap over the nose of the
FuG 218 Neptun
Airborne radar. Frequency could be set between 158 and 187MHz,
its maximum range was 5km, its minimum range 130m. Its aerials
were arranged as a single nose mast with a large X-cross, or as
four masts, and a tandem set of dipoles on each tip of the cross.
A small mast on top of the vertical fin was fitted for tail-warning.
A version with four sets of three antennas was fitted to the Fw
FuG 220 Lichtenstein SN-2
Nightfighter radar. The first version operated at 91MHz, and had a
maximum range 5km, with a minimum range 500m. It was often combined
with FuG 202 and FuG 212 because of the large minimum range, until
this was cured. Later sets could use different frequency bands and
also had a switchover capability for short ranges. Typical for the
SN-2 radar were four large curved masts, each carrying a tandem set of
vertical dipoles. Later sets had the dipoles not vertical but at 45
degrees. Some sets also had a tail-waring antenna, fitted under the
tailplane or on the rudder.
FuG 227 Flensburg
The Flensburg was a passive homing device, tracking the allied
Monica tail-warning radar sets. Antennea were fitted to the
outer wing panels, projecting from the leading edges. The allied
reacted by removing Monica from their aircraft.
FuG 240 Berlin
Centimetre-wave airborne radar. Berlin used a wavelength of 10cm
and was based on captured examples of the British cavity magnetron.
The parabolic dish antenna was installed inside a streamlined nose
cover. Between 30 to 50 were issued to service units, mostly on the
FuG 350 Naxos Z
Naxos detected the emissions of the H2S ground-mapping radar sets of
allied bombers. It was installed in a teardrop-shaped cover. The use
of Naxos caused a scare among allied bomber crews, but it was not
actually capable of tracking H2S-equipped bombers with sufficient
precision for an intercept. It did guide nightfighters to the bomber
stream, detecting them at a distance of 60km.
Other versions of Naxos were used by U-boats to warn them against the
approach of allied aircraft with ASV radar.
FuGM 80 Freya
This was a long-range ground radar. It is little known that the
Germans had operational radar in the beginning of the war, and
used it effectively against British bomber raids. Freya had a
range of 120km. It operated at a frequency of 125MHz. Range
precision was 125m, angle precision 0.5 degrees.
FuGM 402 Wassermann
Long-range ground detection radar. Range 190km, frequency
between 120 and 158MHz. Range precision 300m, angle precision
The Knickebein was the radio navigation system used by German
bombers in the first phase of the battle of Britain. It was based on the
Lorentz landing aid system: A ground station transmitted two overlapping
beams, coded with Morse pulses. By listening to the receiver, the pilot
could determine whether he was in the left beam, the right beam, or in
the overlapping area that would lead him to the target. The receiver
was just a more sensitive version of the standard blind landing aid, and
therefore was not identified by the British. However, when the 30MHz
beams were finally detected, they were easily jammed. The rumour that
the British were able to "bend" the beams is baseless.
Wurzburg, FuGM 39/62
Short-range ground radar. Range 170km, frequency 560MHz,
range precision 100m, angle precision 0.2 degrees. This type
of radar was most frequently used to guide nightfighters to
FuMO 51 Mammut
Long-range ground detection radar. Range up to 300km, frequency
between 120 and 138MHz. Range precision 300m, angle precision
Also known as the Biscay Cross because of its shape, this was
a radar warning receiver carried by U-boats. It warned them against
the presence of aircraft with long-wavelength ASV radars. It was
ineffective against centimetric radars, for which the Naxos
receiver was developed.
Alternate antenna arrangment for the Lichtenstein (or Neptun?) radar.
A single mast carried three crosses of antennas, decreasing in size
towards the tip. This reduced drag. Sometimes fitted in a conical nose
cover, with the tips of the anttenas protruding from it.
IR detectors. Spanner I used an IR searchlight, Spanner II used
passive detection only. Only Spanner I was of any use.
Another radio navigation aid, this was far more sophisticated than
Knickebein. Apart from a broad and narrow beam that guided the
bomber in the direction of the target, three crossing beams were used,
that allowed the calculation of ground speed and the timing of the bomb
release. In this way blind bombing was possible. A disadvantage was that
X-Geräte was a fully automated system, and more sensitive to
The Y-Geräte navigation system again used a single
directional beam. A transponder in the aircraft retransmitted the signal
to the ground station, thus allowing it to calculate the distance to the
target. Like X-Geräte, it was used by elite "pathfinder"
crews in specially equipped aircraft.
The G 104 was an enormous recoilless gun, with a calibre of 365mm and
10m long. The idea was that the carrier aircraft would swing out the
barrel, then make a diving attack on the target. The tube was open
at both ends, and a weight was fired rearwards at the same time as
the projectile. It never entered service.
Muzzle velocity was 470m/s.
Gustloff Suhl Reichswerk HF 15
The HF 15 was a highly unusual gun. The round contained a single
charge and seven or nine 15mm projectiles, fired in a single burst a
at an extremely high (36000rpm) rate.
Hermann Goering Werke SG 116
The recoilless SG 116 used the barrel of the MK 103 high-velocity 30mm
cannon. It fired a weight rearwards to cancel the recoil. Each barrel
was a single-shot weapon, so a number were installed, triggered by a
Mauser MG 213C
This was a revolutionary design: The first revolver cannon. It used
a five-chamber cylinder, with the firing split in three actions. The
MG 213C was never produced in series, but after the war it inspired
the American Pontiac M39, the British Aden and the French DEFA cannon.
Both 20mm and 30mm versions were developed. The 20mm had a rate of fire
of 1400rpm and a muzzle velocity of 1050m/s. The 30mm version fired
at 1200rpm, but muzzle velocity was down to about 550m/s.
Rheinmetall SG 113
The SG 113 was a simple recoilless 77mm gun. Each barrel contained
a charge, a projectile and a counterweight. A few were installed
in service aircraft, firing downwards or upwards.
Rheinmetall SG 117
This was a seven-barrel recoilless gun. The barrels were fired
in sequence when the gun was triggered by a photocell. The barrels
of the MK 108 low-velocity 30mm cannon were used. The SG 117
Rheinmetall SG 118
This was a 21-barrel version of the SG 117.
Rheinmetall SG 119
This was a combination of seven SG 117s, and therefore had 49
Type XVIII U-boot
The XVIII was the first operational submarine design to use the Walter
drive. The Walter engine used hydrogen peroxide for combustion, instead
of outside air. Hydrogen peroxide is a liquid that can be stored in
tanks aboard a submarine, but it also highly reactive and therefore
dangerous. With the Walter engine the Type XVIII reached a speed of 24
knots underwater, but it was considered too dangerous. Orders for
this type were cancelled in favour of the type XXI.
Type XXI U-boot
Derived from the hull of the type XVIII, the type XXI had a
diesel-electric engine system comparable to that of older U-boats, but
with greatly enlarged battery capacity. This earned it the name
"Elektrik Boot". Together with the streamlined hull this allowed the
type XXI to reach high speeds under water (17 knots submerged, 16 knots
on the surface) and stay under water for up to three days. This made the
2100-ton type XXI U-boot a much more dangerous adversary than the older
type VII, which had become far too vulnerable to allied aircraft. It
carried 23 torpedoes for its six tubes, which were loaded hydraulically.
Shipyards delivered 120 of this type to the Kriegsmarine, but it was
too late. The type XXI was much copied after the war.
Type XXIII U-boot
The type XXIII was a 275-ton submarine for coastal operations. Like the
XXI, it had an enlarged battery capacity. It was much smaller, and
carried only two torpedoes. About 60 were delivered.
The T4, T5 Zaunkönig and T11 torpedoes were fitted with primitive
acoustic homing devices. These were primarily intended for use against
escort vessels. However, both the T4 and T5 were easily diverted by
noisemaking decoys, which were towed by allied ships. The T11 did not
In a different category were the FAT and LUT devices. Fitted to
standard torpedoes, these caused them to run in a preset pattern,
instead of a straight line. They were intended for use against
Written by Emmanuel Gustin
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