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Circa 1944

HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "...Operation Aphrodite SAU-1 (Special Attack Unit)..." WebSite: Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/ [17OCT2008}

Operation Aphrodite was the code name of a secret program initiated by the United States Army Air Forces during the latter part of World War II. The United States Eighth Air Force used 'Aphrodite' both as an experimental method of destroying V weapon production and launch facilities and as a way to dispose of B-17 and PB4Y bombers that had outlived their operational usefulness, although only two PB4Ys were modified for the Navy's sister operation, Project Anvil.[1]

The plan called for B-17 aircraft which had been taken out of operational service (various nicknames existed such as 'robot', 'baby', 'drone' or 'weary Willy')[2] to be loaded to capacity with explosives, and flown by radio control into bomb-resistant fortifications such as German U-boat pens and V-1 missile sites. It was hoped that this would match the British success with Tallboy and Grand Slam supersonic ground penetration bombs, but the project is now remembered as dangerous, expensive and unsuccessful.

The plan was first proposed to Major General James H. Doolittle some time in 1944 (the original author and date of submission are unknown). Doolittle approved the plan on June 26, and assigned the 3rd Bombardment Division with preparing and flying the drone aircraft, which was to be designated BQ-7. Final assignment of responsibility was given to the 562nd Bomb Squadron at RAF Honington in Suffolk. Similarly, on July 6, 1944 the US Navy Special Attack Unit (SAU-1) was formed under ComAirLant, with Commander James A. Smith, Officer in Charge, for transfer without delay to Commander FAW-7 in Europe to attack German V-1 and V-2 launching sites with PB4Y-1's converted to assault drones.

In preparation for their final mission, several old B-17 Flying Fortress bombers were stripped of all normal combat armament and all other non-essential gear (armor, guns, bomb racks, transceiver, seats, etc.), thus relieving the bomber of about 12,000 lb (5,400 kg) of weight. The stripped aircraft were then equipped with an Azon[1] radio remote-control system and loaded with up to 18,000 lb (8,200 kg) of explosives, more than twice the normal bomb payload. The explosive chosen was the British Torpex ("TORPedo EXplosive") which was 50% more powerful than TNT.

A relatively remote location in Norfolk, RAF Fersfield was chosen as the launch site. Initially RAF Woodbridge had been selected for its long runway, but the possibilities of the damaged aircraft returning that diverted to Woodbridge for landings colliding with a loaded drone caused concerns.

HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "...Dates in American Naval History: August..." WebSite: Naval Historical Center http://www.history.navy.mil/ [17OCT2008]

August 6, 1944 - LT Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., USNR, the older brother of John F. Kennedy, was killed with his co-pilot in a mid-air explosion after taking off from England in a PB4Y from Special Attack Unit One (SAU-1). Following manual takeoff, they were supposed to parachute out over the English Channel while the radio-controlled explosive filled drone proceeded to attack a German V-2 missile-launching site. Possible causes include faulty wiring or FM signals from a nearby transmitter.

HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "...Operation Aphrodite SAU-1 (Special Attack Unit) - RAF Fersfield - Operational Use..." WebSite: Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/ [17OCT2008]

Fersfield is most notable as the operational base for Operation Aphrodite, a secret plan for drone B-17s (redesignated as BQ-7s) to be used against German V-1 flying bomb sites, submarine pens, or deep fortifications that had resisted conventional bombing.

From July 1944 to January 1945, approximately 25 high-time Fortresses (mainly B-17Fs) were assigned to the 562d Bomb Squadron, 388th Bomb Group stationed at RAF Knettishall, along with two B-24s from the United States Navy (PB4Y-1), to be used in Aphrodite missions. Originally RAF Woodbridge was going to be used, however Fersfield was chosen as a better location due to its relative remoteness. The plan was to use these stripped down war weary bombers as explosive packed, radio controlled flying bombs. Pilots would take-off manually and then parachute to safety leaving the bomber under the control of another aircraft and then flown to its target in Europe.

The first mission took place on 4 August 1944 The target was a V-1 site in Pas-de-Calais. In the first phase of the mission, two motherships and two drones took off. Unfortunately, one of the drones went out of control shortly after the first crewman had bailed out. It crashed near the coastal village of Orford, destroying two acres of trees and digging an enormous crater. The body of the other crewman was never found. The second drone was successfully dispatched toward the Pas-de-Calais. Unfortunately, clouds obscured the television view from the nose just as the drone approached the target site, and the plane missed the target by 500 feet. The second phase of the mission fared little better. One robot BQ-7 had a control malfunction before it could dive onto its target and was shot down by German flak. The other one missed its target by 500 yards.

Several subsequent missions were attempted, one of them being a Navy PB4Y-1 which exploded over the village of Blythburgh, Suffolk, killing Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. the brother of future President John F. Kennedy.

The last Aphrodite mission was on January 20, 1945, against a power station at Oldenberg. Both drones missed their targets by several miles. After this last effort, the *Aphrodite* concept was abandoned as being unfeasible, and the USAAF scrapped the effort. The reality was that 1944 technology was simply not good enough to do the kind of job that was required.

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