Operation Aphrodite

Aphrodite and Anvil were the World War II code names of United States Army Air Forces and United States Navy operations to use B-17 and PB4Y bombers as precision-guided munitions against bunkers and other hardened/reinforced enemy facilities, such as those targeted during Operation Crossbow.[2]

The plan called for B-17 aircraft that had been taken out of operational service (various nicknames existed such as "robot", "baby", "drone" or "weary Willy"[3]) to be loaded to capacity with explosives, and flown by radio control into bomb-resistant fortifications such as German U-boat pens and V-weapon sites.

It was hoped that it would match the British success with Tallboy and Grand Slam ground penetration bombs but the project was dangerous, expensive and unsuccessful. Of 14 missions flown, none resulted in the successful destruction of a target. Many aircraft lost control and crashed or were shot down by flak, and many pilots were killed. However, a handful of aircraft scored near misses. One notable pilot death was that of Lt Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., USNR, the elder brother of future US President John F. Kennedy.

The program effectively ceased on January 27, 1945 when General Spaatz sent an urgent message to Doolittle: "Aphrodite babies must not be launched against the enemy until further orders".[4]

Aphrodite, BQ-7, BQ-8
Aphrodite drone at takeoff
TypeRadio-controlled bombers as guided missiles
Place of originUnited States
Service history
In service1944
Used byUnited States Army Air Forces (Aphrodite)
United States Navy (Anvil)
WarheadPayload: 30,000 LB (13,600 kg) [1] Torpex

Azon (TV sensor, radio control)
Castor (radar & TV sensors, radio control)


By late 1943, General Henry H. Arnold had directed Brigadier General Grandison Gardner's electronic engineers at Eglin Field, Florida, to outfit war-weary bombers with automatic pilots so that they could be remotely controlled.[5] The plan was first proposed to Major General Jimmy Doolittle some time in 1944. Doolittle approved the plan for Operation Aphrodite on June 26, and assigned the 3rd Bombardment Division with preparing and flying the drone aircraft, which was to be designated BQ-7.[6] In the U.S. Navy's similar project, Operation Anvil, the drone was designated BQ-8.[7]

Final assignment of responsibility was given to the 562nd Bomb Squadron at RAF Honington in Suffolk. Similarly, on July 6, 1944, the U.S. Navy Special Attack Unit (SAU-1) was formed under ComAirLant, with Commander James A. Smith, Officer in Charge, for transfer without delay to Commander Fleet Air Wing 7 in Europe to attack German V-1 and V-2 sites with PB4Y-1s converted to assault drones.[8]


After completing 80 323rd BS missions, Aphrodite B-17F (The Careful Virgin) was used against Mimoyecques but impacted short of target by controller error.

Old Boeing 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.), relieving about 12,000 lb (5,400 kg) of weight. To allow easier exit when the pilot and co-pilot were to parachute out, the canopy was removed. Azon[9] radio remote-control equipment was added, with two television cameras fitted in the cockpit to allow a view of both the ground and the main instrumentation panel to be transmitted back to an accompanying CQ-17 'mothership'.

The drone was loaded with explosives weighing more than twice that of a B-17's normal bomb payload. The British Torpex used for the purpose was itself 50% more powerful than TNT.

A relatively remote location in Norfolk, RAF Fersfield, was the launch site. Initially, RAF Woodbridge had been selected for its long runway, but the possibility of a damaged aircraft that diverted to Woodbridge for landings colliding with a loaded drone caused concerns. The remote control system was insufficient for safe takeoff, so each drone was taken aloft by a volunteer pilot and a volunteer flight engineer to an altitude of 2,000 ft (600 m) for transfer of control to the CQ-17 operators. After successful turnover of control of the drone, the two-man crew would arm the payload and parachute out of the cockpit. The 'mothership' would then direct the missile to the target.

When the training program was complete, the 562nd Squadron had ten drones and four "motherships".


Aphrodite missions
Target Date Aircraft Notes
Mimoyecques August 4, 1944 1 B-17 Mission 515: Pilot Lt. Fain Pool and autopilot engineer "S. Sgt. Philip Enterline" successfully parachuted, and the drone spun out of control.[10]
Siracourt V-1 bunker August 4, 1944 B-17 39835 Mission 515: Control problems led to drone crashing in wood at Sudbourne ("pilot killed when abandoned aircraft too soon").[11]
Watten, Wizernes August 4, 1944 2 B-17s Mission 515: One plane lost control after the first crewman bailed out, and crashed near Orford, making a huge crater and destroying more than 2 acres (8,000 sq m) of the surrounding countryside; the second crewman was killed. The view from the nose of the other drone was obscured as it came over the target, and it missed by several hundred feet. (Alternate sources claim 1 hit 1,500 feet short & 1 was shot down,[12] and that 1 drone crashed killing 1 crew of 2 men).[13]
Watten August 6, 1944 B-17 30342[14]
B-17 30212 (Quarterback)
B-17 31394
Crews abandoned the missiles without complications; a few minutes later one lost control and fell into the sea.[15] Both 30342 and 31394 experienced control problems and crashed into the sea, while B-17 30342 *T'aint A Bird II* impacted at Gravelines, probably due to flak damage.[16] The other also lost control, but turned inland and began to circle the important industrial town and port of Ipswich. After several minutes, it crashed harmlessly at sea.
Heligoland August 1944 After modifications to change to a different control system, the second casualty of the operation was suffered during this mission, when one pilot's parachute failed to open. The missile also failed, most likely shot down by flak before reaching the target.
Heide August 1944 4 drones Three aircraft failed to reach their target due to control malfunctions, the fourth crashed near enough to cause significant damage and high casualties.
Mimoyecques[16] August 12, 1944 PB4Y-1 32271 (ex USAAF B-24J 42-110007) The single US Navy BQ-8 detonated prematurely over the Blyth estuary, eastern England, killing Lieutenant Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. and Lieutenant Wilford J. Willy[17]
Mission 549/Le Havre August 13, 1944 1 B-17 The drone with 2,000 lbs (907 kg) of bombs missed the target and a supporting de Havilland Mosquito was destroyed by the exploding bombs.[13]
Heligoland U-boat pens[11] September 3, 1944 PB4Y-1 63954 Second USN "Anvil" project controller flew aircraft into Dune Island by mistake.
Heligoland U-boat pens[16] September 11, 1944 B-17 30180 Hit by enemy flak and crashed into sea
Hemmingstedt September 14, 1944 B-17s 39827 & 30363 (Ruth L III) Against the Hemmingstedt/Heide oil refinery target of the Oil Campaign (unsuccessfully attacked by conventional bombers on August 4), both drones missed the target due to poor weather conditions.[11]
Heligoland U-boat pens[11] October 15, 1944 B-17 30039 Liberty Belle
B-17 37743
Both drones missed target due to poor weather conditions
Heligoland U-boat pens October 30, 1944 B-17 30066 (Mugwump)
B-17 3438
Mission 693A: 2 of 5 B-17s make an Aphrodite attack on Heligoland Island, Germany; escort is provided by 7 P-47s.[13] Concluding that the BQ-7 was not successful against 'hard targets', United States Strategic Air Forces Headquarters ordered that it be sent against industrial targets instead, and 2 more missions were flown. Bad weather prevented the primary target from being identified, and both aircraft were directed towards Berlin. 3438 soon crashed into water due to low fuel. 30066 flew independently to Sweden where it crashed. The escorting aircraft had previously had to return due to low fuel.
Herford marshalling yard[11] December 5, 1944 B-17 39824
B-17 30353 (Ten Knights in the Bar Room)
Target not located due to cloud cover, so both directed at alternate target of Haldorf. Both crashed outside town.
Oldenburg power station[16] January 1, 1945 B-17 30178 Darlin' Dolly and B-17 30237 Stump Jumper Stump Jumper pilot was Captain Jack L. Hodson who received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions. Both shot down by flak before reaching target.

See also



  1. ^ Weeks, Albert. "In Operation Aphrodite, explosive-laden aircraft were to be flown against German targets". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  2. ^ Spark, Nick T. (October 2004). "Television Goes to War". Secret Arsenal: Advanced American Weapons of WWII. Wings. Archived from the original on 2008-04-17. Retrieved 2015-05-16.
  3. ^ Nichol, John; Rennell, Tony. "Tail-End Charlies — The Last Battles of the Bomber War 1944–45". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  4. ^ Olsen, Jack (1970). Aphrodite: Desperate Mission. Putnam's Sons. p. 308.
  5. ^ Daso, D. A. (2002). Architects of American Air Supremacy: General Hap Arnold and Dr. Theodore Von Karman. Forest Grove: University Press of the Pacific. p. 72. ISBN 9780898758610.
  6. ^ "BQ-7". Encyclopedia of American Aircraft. Joseph F. Baugher. Archived from the original on May 1, 2007. Retrieved April 10, 2007.
  7. ^ "Consolidated BQ-8". Directory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles. Andreas Parsch. Retrieved May 16, 2015.
  8. ^ "World War II 1940–1945". Naval Aviation Chronology in World War II. Naval Historical Center. Retrieved April 10, 2007.
  9. ^ Reynolds, George A. "Azon Project". 458bg.com. Retrieved 2009-03-18.
  10. ^ Miller, Donald L (2006). Masters of the Air. Simon & Schuster. p. 300.
  11. ^ a b c d e Baugher, Joseph F. "Encyclopedia of American Aircraft". att.net. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  12. ^ Werrell, Kenneth P (September 1985). The Evolution of the Cruise Missile. p. 32. Retrieved 2013-08-07.
  13. ^ a b c "8th Air Force 1944 Chronicles". Archived from the original on 2007-09-12. Retrieved 2007-05-25. June, July, August, September, October/
  14. ^ "42-30342". American Air Museum in Britain. Retrieved 20 March 2018.
  15. ^ Norfolk Airfields in the Second World War Graham Smith. ISBN 978-1-85306-320-6.
  16. ^ a b c d "US Navy and US Marine Corps Bureau Numbers, Third Series (30147 to 39998)". Encyclopedia of American Aircraft. Joseph F. Baugher. Archived from the original on 2008-02-24. Retrieved 2007-04-10.
  17. ^ "Lt. Joe Kennedy". Norfolk & Suffolk Aviation Museum. Archived from the original on 2007-05-14. Retrieved 2007-04-10.

Further reading

  • Gray, Edwin (1996). Operation Aphrodite's B-17 "Smart Bomb". Aviation History.
388th Operations Group

The 388th Operations Group (388 OG) is the flying component of the 388th Fighter Wing, assigned to the Air Combat Command Twelfth Air Force. The group is stationed at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.

During World War II, its predecessor unit, the 388th Bombardment Group (Heavy) was an Eighth Air Force B-17 Flying Fortress unit in England, stationed at RAF Knettishall (Station 136). The group earned four Distinguished Unit Citations, flying over 300 combat missions (17 August 1943 – Regensburg; 26 June 1943 – Hanover; 12 May 1944 – Brux and 21 June 1944 on a shuttle mission to Russia). It also conducted Aphroditie radio-controlled B-24 Liberators as test guided bombs.


Blythburgh is a village and civil parish in the East Suffolk district of the English county of Suffolk. It is 4 miles (6.4 km) west of Southwold and 5 miles (8.0 km) south-east of Halesworth and lies on the River Blyth. The A12 road runs through the village which is split either side of the road. At the 2011 census the population of the parish was 297. The parish includes the hamlets of Bulcamp and Hinton.

Blythburgh is best known for its church, Holy Trinity, known as the Cathedral of the Marshes. The church has been flood-lit since the 1960s and is a landmark for travellers on the A12. The village is the site of Blythburgh Priory which was founded by Augustine monks from St Osyth's Priory in Essex in the 12th century. The priory was suppressed in 1537 and ruins remain at the site.The village is in the area of the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the area known as the Suffolk Sandlings. It is close to the Suffolk heritage coast located close to an area marshland and mud-flats along the River Blyth which were flooded in 1940 as part of British anti-invasion preparations at the start of the Second World War.

Cruise missile

A cruise missile is a guided missile used against terrestrial targets, that remains in the atmosphere and flies the major portion of its flight path at approximately constant speed. Cruise missiles are designed to deliver a large warhead over long distances with high precision. Modern cruise missiles are capable of travelling at supersonic or high subsonic speeds, are self-navigating, and are able to fly on a non-ballistic, extremely low-altitude trajectory.

Dogfights (TV series)

Dogfights is a military aviation themed TV series depicting historical re-enactments of air-to-air combat that took place in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, as well as smaller conflicts such as the Gulf War and the Six-Day War. The program consists of former fighter pilots sharing their stories of actual dogfights in which they took part, combined with computer-generated imagery (CGI) to give the viewer a better perspective of what it is like to engage in aerial combat. Dogfights originally aired on the History Channel from November 2006 to May 2008. Repeats of the series are currently airing on the digital broadcast network Quest.

Grandison Gardner

Major General Grandison Gardner, USAF (18 September 1892 - 1 February 1973), service number O-10193, was an American military officer involved with weapons systems development and evaluation.

Guided bomb

A guided bomb (also known as a smart bomb, guided bomb unit, or GBU) is a precision-guided munition designed to achieve a smaller circular error probable (CEP).Because the damage effects of explosive weapons fall off with distance according to a power law, even modest improvements in accuracy (and hence reduction in miss distance) enable a target to be effectively attacked with fewer or smaller bombs. Therefore, with guided weapons, fewer air crews are put at risk, less ordnance spent, and collateral damage reduced.

The creation of precision-guided munitions resulted in the retroactive renaming of older bombs as unguided bombs or "dumb bombs".


Heligoland (; German: Helgoland [ˈhɛlɡolant]; Heligolandic Frisian: deät Lun lit. "the Land", Mooring Frisian: Hålilönj, Danish: Helgoland) is a small archipelago in the North Sea. A part of the German state of Schleswig-Holstein since 1890, the islands were historically possessions of Denmark, then became the possessions of the United Kingdom from 1807 to 1890, and briefly managed as a war prize from 1945 to 1952.

The islands are located in the Heligoland Bight (part of the German Bight) in the southeastern corner of the North Sea and had a population of 1,127 at the end of 2016. They are the only German islands not in the vicinity of the mainland. They lie approximately 69 kilometres (43 miles) by sea from Cuxhaven at the mouth of the River Elbe. During the period of British possession, the lyrics to "Deutschlandlied", which became the national anthem of Germany, were written on one of the islands by August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben in 1841, while he was vacationing there.In addition to German, the local population, who are ethnic Frisians, speak the Heligolandic dialect of the North Frisian language called Halunder. Heligoland used to be called Heyligeland, or "holy land", possibly due to the island's long association with the god Forseti.


Hemmingstedt is a German municipality in the district of Dithmarschen in the state of Schleswig-Holstein.

John H. Ross

John Henry Ross (June 8, 1918 – August 9, 2013) was a decorated World War II pilot who flew 96 missions for the 22nd Reconnaissance Squadron as part of the 7th Reconnaissance Group in the 8th Air Force. Ross flew the Lockheed P-38 Lightning as a photo-recon pilot out of RAF Mount Farm in England during the war. He received 11 medals and 2 Distinguished Flying Crosses.Ross' missions, which were integral to Allied victory at the Battle of the Bulge are detailed in the book, Eyes of the Eighth: A Story of the 7th Photographic Reconnaissance Group, 1942-1945. On three separate missions, Ross' plane was shot down over the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea. He also flew reconnaissance for Operation Aphrodite missions, which utilized radio-controlled bombers as PGM. Additional to reconnaissance missions to plot bombing runs, he also flew missions to photograph damage assessment. One of his photographs of the Cologne Cathedral still standing amongst the rubble is credited to Ross in several books.

Joseph P. Kennedy Jr.

Joseph Patrick Kennedy Jr. (July 25, 1915 – August 12, 1944) was a United States Navy lieutenant. He was killed in action during World War II while serving as a land-based patrol bomber pilot, and was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross. He was the eldest of nine children born to Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. (1888–1969) and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy (1890–1995). He was the only Kennedy son who never sought political office, though he had planned to.

Joe Sr. had aspirations for Joe Jr. to become president. However, Joe Jr. was killed while participating in a top-secret mission in 1944, and the high expectations of the father then fell upon Joe Jr.'s younger brother John, who was later elected president.


Mistel (German for "mistletoe") was the larger, unmanned component of a composite aircraft configuration developed in Germany during the later stages of World War II. The composite comprised a small piloted control aircraft mounted above a large explosives-carrying drone, the Mistel, and as a whole was referred to as the Huckepack ("Piggyback"), also known as the Beethoven-Gerät ("Beethoven Device") and Vati und Sohn ("Daddy and Son").The most successful of these used a modified Junkers Ju 88 bomber as the Mistel, with the entire nose-located crew compartment replaced by a specially designed nose filled with a large load of explosives, formed into a shaped charge. The upper component was a fighter aircraft, joined to the Mistel by struts. The combination would be flown to its target by a pilot in the fighter; then the unmanned bomber was released to hit its target and explode, leaving the fighter free to return to base. The first such composite aircraft flew in July 1943 and was promising enough to begin a programme by Luftwaffe test unit KG 200, code-named "Beethoven", eventually entering operational service.

Other Mistel composites included the Ta 154/Fw 190, Ar 234/Fi 103, Do 217K/DFS 288 and Si 204/Lippisch D-1. Projects included the Ju 287/Me 262 and Ar 234C/Arado E.377.

Project Brass Ring

Project Brass Ring was a 1950 United States Air Force project designed to deliver an early hydrogen bomb to within 2 miles of a target using a drone version of the B-47 Stratojet, which would be guided by a mother ship and destroyed in the detonation. This project was given considerable support, due to uncertainty concerning the possible yield of a hydrogen bomb, then estimated to lie between 10 and 40 megatons. Brass Ring was meant to provide an interim nuclear weapons delivery capability while more capable (and less costly) systems were under development. The fear and concern surrounding the Soviet Union's development of its own nuclear weapons capability was the impetus to quickly begin the project. Project Brass Ring was similar in concept to the World War II Operation Aphrodite.

RAF Fersfield

Royal Air Force Fersfield or more simply RAF Fersfield (originally known as RAF Winfarthing) is a former Royal Air Force station located 16 miles (26 km) southwest of Norwich, Norfolk, England.

Radio control

Radio control (often abbreviated to R/C or simply RC) is the use of control signals transmitted by radio to remotely control a device. Examples of simple radio control systems are garage door openers and keyless entry systems for vehicles, in which a small handheld radio transmitter unlocks or opens doors. Radio control is also used for control of model vehicles from a hand-held radio transmitter. Industrial, military, and scientific research organizations make use of radio-controlled vehicles as well. A rapidly growing application is control of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones) for both civilian and military uses, although these have more sophisticated control systems than traditional applications.

Siracourt V-1 bunker

The Siracourt V-1 bunker is a Second World War bunker built in 1943-44 by the forces of Nazi Germany at Siracourt, a commune in the Pas-de-Calais department in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France. Codenamed Wasserwerk St. Pol (Waterworks St. Pol), it was intended for use as a bomb-proof storage facility and launch site for V-1 flying bombs. However it never went into operation due to intensive Allied bombing that made it the most heavily attacked of all the German V-weapon sites.

Submarine pen

A submarine pen (U-Boot-Bunker in German) is a type of submarine base that acts as a bunker to protect submarines from air attack. The term is generally applied to submarine bases constructed during World War II, particularly in Germany and its occupied countries, which were also known as U-boat pens (after the phrase "U-boat" to refer to German submarines).


Torpex is a secondary explosive, 50% more powerful than TNT by mass. Torpex comprises 42% RDX, 40% TNT and 18% powdered aluminium. It was used in the Second World War from late 1942, at which time some used the names Torpex and RDX interchangeably, much to the confusion of today's historical researchers. The name is short for torpedo explosive, having been originally developed for use in torpedoes. Torpex proved to be particularly useful in underwater munitions because the aluminium component had the effect of making the explosive pulse last longer, which increased the destructive power. Torpex was used only in critical applications, e.g. torpedoes, depth charges, and the Upkeep, Tallboy, and Grand Slam bombs. It was also used in the Operation Aphrodite drones. Torpex has long been superseded by H6 and PBX compositions. It is therefore regarded as obsolete, so Torpex is unlikely to be encountered except in old munitions or unexploded ordnance.


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