Operation Crossbow

Preliminary missions for the Operation Overlord

A V2 rocket is fired by the Germans from the Peenemünde launch pad in West Pomerania. Photo: Bundesarchiv

A V2 rocket is fired by the Germans from the Peenemünde launch base in West Pomerania.
Photo: Bundesarchiv

The threat of German rockets

While the Allies regained the advantage from the German defeat at Stalingrad in February 1942, Hitler was convinced that he could definitively win the war with the help of the new weapons, the famous Vergeltungswaffen or “weapons of retaliation” Which are likely to destroy strategic locations in a single strike. The V-1 and V-2 rockets are part of this logic and have been striking England continuously since the cancellation of the German Seelöwe operation, which consisted of invading Great Britain.

The launching ramps of these rockets as well as the factories of construction of these “weapons of retaliation” are installed in various places in the north-west of Europe and the constructions are relieved by the local resisters who transmit this information to London. In addition to these valuable data, Allied Aviation equips planes to seek intelligence and photograph these sites. Once the information is deciphered, it appears that ninety-six launch bases and eight supply centers (with a capacity of 250 V-1 rockets per center) are under construction and must be operational by spring 1944.

This German strike capability poses a definite threat to the Allies, who are obliged to take it into account and treat it. Their adversaries could, if these sites were operational for the month of June 1944, destroy all the ships of the fleet crossing the Channel as well as the bridgehead forming in Normandy. The Allies decided to attack the former.

Launch of Operation Crossbow

As early as December 1943, the first aerial bombardments began on the referenced sites. The Allies can not be sure of the effectiveness of their strikes, so they decide to drop their bombs regularly and in large quantities until the moment of disembarkation.

These bombings result in the closure of a number of sites. The latter are particularly vulnerable to air attacks and the Germans lack the means to massively increase the production of launching ramps and rockets. The solution, devised by Helmuth Walther, is to set up modular sites that can be dismantled and transferred to another location in twenty-four hours. This system bears the name of Belhamelin, which is taken from the place where the first modular site is located, near Cherbourg in the Cotentin. It consists of a metallic ramp six meters long.

Consequences of Operation Crossbow

The Allies, with Operation Crossbow, do not suppress the danger of German rockets. However, they prevent their opponents from intervening or, when they wish, and especially in the strong way. These lightweight modules have nothing comparable to the heavy-duty strike power of the heavy sites and the accompanying supply logistics. To compensate for these losses, the Germans multiplied the number of these installations: 156 ramps are arranged between Cherbourg and Calais.

When the disembarkation began on 6 June 1944, rocket launcher sites were totally powerless and failed to stop the allied war machine. Allied bombing has had the effect of slowing down the construction of these installations and modifying the German strategy for the development of rockets V-1 in the north of France, thus erasing a potential threat to the smooth running of Operation Overlord.


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