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.
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" – 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.
|Aphrodite, BQ-7, BQ-8|
Aphrodite drone at takeoff
|Type||Radio-controlled bombers as guided missiles|
|Place of origin||United States|
|Used by||United States Army Air Forces (Aphrodite)
United States Navy (Anvil)
|Warhead||Payload: 30,000 LB (13,600 kg)  Torpex|
Azon (TV sensor, 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. The plan was first proposed to Major General James H. 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. In the U.S. Navy's similar project, Operation Anvil, the drone was designated BQ-8.
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 Fleet Air Wing 7 in Europe to attack German V-1 and V-2 sites with PB4Y-1s converted to assault drones.
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 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".
|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.|
|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").|
|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, and that 1 drone crashed killing 1 crew of 2 men).|
|Watten||August 6, 1944||B-17 30342
B-17 30212 (Quarterback)
|Crews abandoned the missiles without complications; a few minutes later one lost control and fell into the sea. 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. 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||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|
|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.|
|Heligoland U-boat pens||September 3, 1944||PB4Y-1 63954||Second USN "Anvil" project controller flew aircraft into Dune Island by mistake.|
|Heligoland U-boat pens||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.|
|Heligoland U-boat pens||October 15, 1944||B-17 30039 Liberty Belle
|Both drones missed target due to poor weather conditions|
|Heligoland U-boat pens||October 30, 1944||B-17 30066 (Mugwump)
|Mission 693A: 2 of 5 B-17s make an Aphrodite attack on Heligoland Island, Germany; escort is provided by 7 P-47s. 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||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||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.|