Drones are new? They were used in WWII!

A German Fritz X
A German Fritz X

While there is much talk about the use of drones by today’s military, this is generally referred to as a completely new innovation; it is not often mentioned that they were used in history as well, including WWII. They had multiple uses, such as training targets for naval fleets. Rarely, however, were they used as weapons. With the advancement of technologies utilized in television, WWII drones grew to serve yet another purpose: that of reconnaissance.

Drones were a conceivable technology even before the outbreak of WWII. They were expected to act similar to many devices which only existed in dystopian literature up to that point. They would fly around capturing photographic images, similar to those captured by the Air Force in photoreconnaissance missions, and would send these back to a home base with no threat of death should they be discovered and fired upon.

It is important to remember, given that these were operated using the same cameras used in television, that television itself was not a household commonality until after WWII was over. While the technology was used before then, it was far from perfected. The best that the military could do with what they had at the time was to hollow out the insides of light bomber jets, make sure that the cameras were properly affixed, and fill the insides with explosives in case the drones were noticed by the enemy, the Paleofuture reports.

While the bombers were remote controlled to some extent, the control was not absolute. To make up for this, some of the drones were manned for at least part of their missions. Once they had been directed toward their mission goal, the pilots would eject and parachute to safety. While there were some which were developed with offensive capabilities during WWII, dropping their explosives rather than running into the enemy with them, they often did not do quite as much damage as expected. Still others which were built were never even used at all, either because they were deemed useless or because they did not survive testing.

The United States Navy publicized the use of the WWII drones following the end of the conflict, as a way of showing their intent to trudge toward innovation. They could not pretend that usage of such machines had been ultimately successful, as the machines claimed many lives when some would be caused to explode with the pilot still inside. Although they were not yet at the top of their game, it still stands to reason that without WWII drones, there would likely exist no facsimile today.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE