- Bogart, Charles H.
- Naval Aviation, WWII operations
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 1980 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
AMONG THE SHIPS on the firing line off Normandy on 6 June 1944 was the battleship HMS Warspite. Firing broadsides from six of her eight 15” guns she engaged targets not only at the beachhead but far inland. Silent throughout Operation Neptune was X turret. The amazing fact was not that X turret was silent, but that the other three turrets were firing, for in truth any naval surveyor would have under normal circumstances, eight months previously, declared Warspite a constructive loss. In fact not a few surveyors would still have held to this opinion. That Warspite was in such poor structural shape was due to her being hit by what today would be called a ‘smart bomb’.
The origin of this weapon was the result of Luftwaffe field experience during the Spanish Civil War. While air prophets in the 1920s and early 1930s had claimed that the horizontal bomber would wipe out military installations and sink the navies of the world, German bombing experience during the Spanish Civil War showed this premise to be false. As the RAF would learn during WWII the problem of finding the target and then hitting it with any accuracy with existing bombsights was purely a matter of luck.
The Luftwaffe quickly recognised that if a stationary target was hard to hit, a moving target was even harder to hit. To solve this problem two solutions were investigated, the first was divebombing and the second was remote radio guidance of the bomb to its target. The second solution, while theoretically feasible, proved to be just beyond the existing technology. The first solution was not only technically feasible but had been proven in combat by the US Marine Corps in the 1920s and 30s in Central America, during the Banana Republic Wars. Enchanted by this cheap quick simple solution, the Luftwaffe insisted that all of its bombers, whether single, twin or four engine, have the ability to dive bomb. Though this ability added extra weight to the air frame it appeared worth the cost, even at the price of reduced range, when one calculated the tonnage on target by dive bombing versus the tonnage on target by horizontal bombing.
When war broke out in September 1939 it seemed that the Luftwaffe had made a wise choice as their divebombers blasted paths for the German Army though Poland then the Lowlands, Norway and France. The summer of 1940 was, however, to expose the illusion of dive bombing when the Luftwaffe struck at England. Against a steady defense, possessing the firepower to hit back with, the dive bomber proved to be a relative easy target to destroy as compared to the horizontal bomber. The dive bomber would not die in 1940 but its period of ascendancy was over. It would still kill ships and hit military targets, but the cost in aircraft and crews by 1943 would grow out of all proportion to the damage inflicted.
The Luftwaffe in late 1940 thus found itself in a quandary, which every day grew worse. The horizontal bomber, while relatively safe from anti aircraft fire and to a certain extent fighter attack, could not hit with any accuracy a stationary target, much less a moving ship. The dive bomber could hit the target, but was a relatively easy target to a resolute fighter or anti aircraft battery. The only solution to the problem seemed to be to return and explore the possibility of a radio remote controlled bomb. What only a few years before had been technically impossible was now feasible due to advances in the electronic field.
Work on a remote control bomb had been investigated in 1938 by two different German companies, Ruhrstahl and Henshel, and in 1940 both had successfully tested their missiles. The first of the bombs to be completed was the HS293 developed by Henshel aircraft company: The HS293 was the result of mating a small aircraft frame with the SC 500 bomb, power for the missile being provided by a Walter rocket motor attached to the underside of the bomb. The rocket motor provided a maximum speed of 375 mph and a range of 6.8 miles when released at an altitude of 3,280 feet or a maximum range of 10 miles when released at an altitude of 19,700 feet. Total weight was 1,500 lbs, of which 1,100 lbs was the warhead and 140 lbs was fuel. Overall length was 11.7 ft with a wingspan of 9.5 ft.