There is much to be said about the mind of Hitler. He was certainly a madman with insanely ingenious ideas that shored up his short-lived empire. The Holocaust, while horrific, actually lead to the German state being more financially secure due to the money stolen from Jewish citizens. And fewer citizens needing support equaled more profits all around.
Hitler had his army driving around in wooden tanks, hiding the real tanks until he was ready to deploy them, in order to catch the Allied powers off guard. His V1 and V2 rockets, while not the most accurate of weapons, were so fast that most penetrated the airplanes tasked to defend Britain.
It is safe to say that these V rockets were an obsession of Der Fuhrer. He was so wrapped up in the creation of these rockets, that many felt this compulsion caused the Luftwaffe’s compromised state in 1944 since the development of the V rocket diverted precious resources that could have been used for spare parts and new planes. Despite these accusations, one can see the rationale behind improving these unguided killing machines.
During the last year of the war, over 5,000 V1 rockets were fired into London and the surrounding areas from launch sites in Holland and (at first) France. At times, over a hundred a day fell on Britain’s island nation. In some ways the launch of these rockets might have been seen as a response to D-Day since the first V1 rocket was launched on June 13, 1944, seven days after the Normandy Landings.
Despite the large onslaught from these deadly weapons, the V rocket suffered from two fatal flaws. One was that they could go only as far as fuel would allow them to; if they ran out of fuel before reaching their targets they would crash and explode wherever they fell. The other flaw was that there was no way actually to aim these rockets or make corrections if calculations were off.
Hitler, desperate to destroy London, the city that was a constant nuisance to Napoleon in the 19th century and to himself in the 20th century, was not about to turn his back on the rockets. In fact, he made the rockets, even more lethal.
With the help of engineers, 150 V1 rockets were outfitted with cockpits, making them virtual jets. The plan was to have a squad of volunteers guide these craft toward London, where the pilots could bail out before the rockets fell.
The rocket itself was large enough to have a cockpit, without too many modifications being made. It was 28 feet long and had a 22-foot wingspan, more than enough space for a cockpit to be added.
The problem was that common sense had not completely vanished from the minds of Hitler’s pilots. At 550 mph the chances of a successful bailout was not good. There were so few volunteers that the entire program was scrapped, much to the relief of the German pilots.
Even without this suicidal plan, the V1 would claim just under 23,000 lives of the English populace before the final collapse of Germany.
Several of these aircraft were captured at the end of the war; only six have survived and they are centerpieces in museums on both sides of the ocean. One of these survivors is being held at the Lashenden Museum near Maidstone, which acquired it from the army after the museum opened in 1970.
This was such a rare find that the Museum held a fundraiser, acquiring 40,000 British pounds to pay not only for a complete reconstruction of the rocket but also a display specifically designed for it.
In 2000, the museum shipped the rocket out to a group of restoration technicians from Munich, Germany. The specialists restored it to working condition and after four years it was returned to England.