World Battlefronts: BATTLE OF THE SKIES: Air Power v. V-2 Power

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How much the Allies had managed to learn about the ingenious German enemy's devilish V-2 rocket bomb was a security secret last week. But it was no secret that they believed they knew one source of its superspeedy power: its fuel. They did something about it.

In sleet-streaked weather a fleet of 400 U.S. Eighth Air Force fighters ripped out to strafe oil storage depots in the Munich area and at Hanau (near Frankfurt). To the Germans the targets were important enough to send up fighters—for the first big-scale air battle in three weeks. Results: 86 Nazi aircraft destroyed; 16 U.S. lost. The same day a fleet of 650 U.S. heavy bombers, protected by 300 fighters, flew up from Italy to the Vienna area. Again the target was rocket-bomb fuel supplies.

These were serious strategic measures against the threat that German rockets might become something more than haphazard morale and propaganda weapons of the future. Patently the Allies could see serious consequences if V-2 were not beaten down.

Whatever military intelligence might have gleaned about V2, the Allied public was given almost no inkling of what got it off the ground, what made it zip to 60-plus mile altitude, what actual damage it was doing. Launchings in The Netherlands were in sight of Allied front lines (at night there were gigantic flashes and a cometlike streak of light through the sky). Some of the rockets fizzled at about 20,000 feet, exploded behind German lines.

On the Rocket Coast. Hollanders on liberated Walcheren island told of the German's careful guarding of V-2 launchings; the enemy hustled all civilians indoors when rockets were brought to the island on long, covered truck trailers. Related the Dutch: sometimes the V-2s soared in half-circles before being sent away.

One U.S. reconnaissance pilot was astonished at finding a V-2 zooming toward his plane over Europe, close enough for him to try for a picture. But the whooshing rocket was too quick for his camera and his plates showed only V-2's trail of vapor—"like a Bronx cheer in smoke."

London took it one more week. Fifteen persons were killed in one night of repeated salvos (the Germans were sending over V-1 as well as the wingless rocket). October's toll (172 civilians killed, 416 injured) was considerably less than in the early days of V-1 last summer, included an unspecified number of V-2 victims.