World War II: V-1 Flying Bomb

V-1 Flying Bomb
V-1 rocket. (US Air Force)

The V-1 flying bomb was developed by Germany during World War II (1939-1945) as a vengeance weapon and was an early unguided cruise missile. Tested at Peenemünde-West facility, the V-1 was the only production aircraft to utilize a pulsejet for its power plant. The first of the "V-weapons" to become operational, the V-1 flying bomb entered service in June 1944 and was used to strike London and southeastern England from launch facilities in northern France and the Low Countries. When these facilities were overrun, V-1s were fired at Allied port facilities around Antwerp, Belgium. Due to its high speed, few Allied fighters were capable of intercepting a V-1 in flight.

Fast Facts: V-1 Flying Bomb

  • User: Nazi Germany
  • Manufacturer: Fieseler
  • Introduced: 1944
  • Length: 27 ft., 3 in.
  • Wingspan: 17 ft. 6 in.
  • Loaded Weight: 4,750 lbs.


  • Power Plant: Argus As 109-014 pulse jet engine
  • Range: 150 miles
  • Max Speed: 393 mph
  • Guidance System: Gyrocompass based autopilot


  • Warhead: 1,870 lbs. Amatol


The idea of a flying bomb was first proposed to the Luftwaffe in 1939. Turned down, a second proposal was also declined in 1941. With German losses increasing, the Luftwaffe revisited the concept in June 1942 and approved the development of an inexpensive flying bomb that possessed a range of around 150 miles. To protect the project from Allied spies, it was designated "Flak Ziel Geraet" (anti-aircraft target apparatus). Design of the weapon was overseen by Robert Lusser of Fieseler and Fritz Gosslau of the Argus engine works.

Refining the earlier work of Paul Schmidt, Gosslau designed a pulse jet engine for the weapon. Consisting of few moving parts, the pulse jet operated by air entering into the intake where it was mixed with fuel and ignited by spark plugs. The combustion of the mixture forced sets of intake shutters closed, producing a burst of thrust out the exhaust. The shutters then opened again in the airflow to repeat the process. This occurred around fifty times a second and gave the engine its distinctive "buzz" sound. A further advantage of the pulse jet design was that it could operate on low-grade fuel.

V-1 cutaway
Cutaway drawing of V-1. US Air Force

Gosslau's engine was mounted above a simple fuselage which possessed short, stubby wings. Designed by Lusser, the airframe was originally constructed entirely of welded sheet steel. In production, plywood was substituted for constructing the wings. The flying bomb was directed to its target through the use of a simple guidance system that relied on gyroscopes for stability, a magnetic compass for heading, and a barometric altimeter for altitude control. A vane anemometer on the nose drove a counter which determined when the target area was reached and triggered a mechanism to cause the bomb to dive.


Development of the flying bomb progressed at the Peenemünde, where the V-2 rocket was being tested. The first glide test of the weapon occurred in early December 1942, with the first powered flight on Christmas Eve. Work continued through the spring of 1943, and on May 26, Nazi officials decided to place the weapon into production. Designated the Fiesler Fi-103, it was more commonly referred to as V-1, for "Vergeltungswaffe Einz" (Vengeance Weapon 1). With this approval, work accelerated at Peenemünde while operational units were formed and launch sites constructed.

German V-1
A German crew prepares a V-1, 1944. Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1975-117-26 / Lysiak / CC-BY-SA 3.0

While many of the V-1's early test flights had commenced from German aircraft, the weapon was intended to be launched from ground sites through the use of ramps fitted with steam or chemical catapults. These sites were quickly constructed in northern France in the Pas-de-Calais region. While many early sites were destroyed by Allied aircraft as part of Operation Crossbow before becoming operational, new, concealed locations were built to replace them. While V-1 production was spread across Germany, many were built by the forced labor of enslaved people at the notorious underground "Mittelwerk" plant near Nordhausen.

Operational History

The first V-1 attacks occurred on June 13, 1944, when around ten of the missiles were fired towards London. V-1 attacks began in earnest two days later, inaugurating the "flying bomb blitz." Due to the odd sound of the V-1's engine, the British public dubbed the new weapon the "buzz bomb" and "doodlebug." Like the V-2, the V-1 was unable to strike specific targets and was intended to be an area weapon that inspired terror in the British population. Those on the ground quickly learned that the end of a V-1's "buzz" signaled that it was diving to the ground.

Early Allied efforts to counter the new weapon were haphazard as fighter patrols often lacked aircraft that could catch the V-1 at its cruising altitude of 2,000-3,000 feet and anti-aircraft guns could not traverse quickly enough to hit it. To combat the threat, anti-aircraft guns were redeployed across southeastern England and over 2,000 barrage balloons were also deployed. The only aircraft suitable for defensive duties in mid-1944 was the new Hawker Tempest which was only available in limited numbers. This was soon joined by modified P-51 Mustangs and Spitfire Mark XIVs.

Spitfire "tipping" a V-1
Seen in silhouette, a Royal Air Force Supermarine Spitfire manoeuvres alongside a German V-1 flying bomb in an attempt to deflect it from its target. Public Domain

At night, the De Havilland Mosquito was used as an effective interceptor. While the Allies made improvements in aerial interception, new tools aided the fight from the ground. In addition to faster-traversing guns, the arrival of gun-laying radars (such as the SCR-584) and proximity fuses made ground fire the most effective way of defeating the V-1. By late August 1944, 70% of V-1s were destroyed by guns on the coast. While these home defense techniques were becoming effective, the threat was only ended when Allied troops overran German launch positions in France and the Low Countries.

With the loss of these launch sites, the Germans were forced to rely on air-launched V-1s for striking at Britain. These were fired from modified Heinkel He-111s flying over the North Sea. A total of 1,176 V-1s were launched in this manner until the Luftwaffe suspended the approach due to bomber losses in January 1945. Though no longer able to hit targets in Britain, the Germans continued to use the V-1 to strike at Antwerp and other key sites in the Low Countries that had been liberated by the Allies.

He 111 with V-1
A German Luftwaffe Heinkel He 111 H-22 with a V-1 mounted. US Air Force

Over 30,000 V-1s were produced during the war with around 10,000 fired at targets in Britain. Of these, only 2,419 reached London, killing 6,184 people and injuring 17,981. Antwerp, a popular target, was hit by 2,448 between October 1944 and March 1945. A total of around 9,000 were fired at targets in Continental Europe. Though V-1s only struck their target 25% of the time, they proved more economical than the Luftwaffe's bombing campaign of 1940/41. Regardless, the V-1 was largely a terror weapon and had little overall impact on the outcome of the war.

During the war, both the United States and the Soviet Union reverse-engineered the V-1 and produced their versions. Though neither saw combat service, the American JB-2 was intended for use during the proposed invasion of Japan. Retained by the US Air Force, the JB-2 was used as a test platform into the 1950s.

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Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: V-1 Flying Bomb." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Hickman, Kennedy. (2023, April 5). World War II: V-1 Flying Bomb. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: V-1 Flying Bomb." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 9, 2023).