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Operation Aphrodite

Aphrodite, BQ-7, BQ-8
Aphrodite drone at takeoff
Type Guided missile
Service history
In service 1944
Warhead Payload: 30,000 LB (13,600 kg) [1] Torpex


Azon (TV sensor, radio control)

Castor (radar & TV sensors, radio control)

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 which 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 this 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 Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., the elder brother of 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]


  • Proposal 1
  • Mission theory 2
  • Aphrodite Missions 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5


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 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.[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 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.[8]

Mission theory

After completing 80 323rd BS missions, Aphrodite B-17F (The Careful Virgin) was used against Mimoyecques, but impacted short of target due to 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 the 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

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
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.[14] Both 30342 and 31394 experienced control problems and crashed into the sea, while B-17 30342 *Taint A Bird* impacted at Gravelines, probably due to flak damage.[15] 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[15] 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[16]
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 is 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[15] 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[15] 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.". 
  2. ^ Spark, Nick T. (October 2004). "Television Goes to War". Secret Arsenal: Advanced American Weapons of WWII.  
  3. ^ Nichol, John; Rennell, Tony. "Tail-End Charlies — The Last Battles of the Bomber War 1944–45". 
  4. ^  
  5. ^ Daso, Dik A., Major, USAF, "Architects of American Air Supremacy: Gen Hap Arnold and Dr. Theodore von Kármán", Air University Press, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, September 1997, Library of Congress card number 97-26768, ISBN 1-58566-042-6, page 72.
  6. ^ "BQ-7". Encyclopedia of American Aircraft. Joseph F. Baugher. Retrieved 2007-04-10. 
  7. ^ "Consolidated BQ-8". Directory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles. Andreas Parsch. Retrieved 2015-05-16. 
  8. ^ "World War II 1940–1945". Naval Aviation Chronology in World War II. Naval Historical Center. Retrieved 2007-04-10. 
  9. ^ Reynolds, George A. "Azon Project". Retrieved 2009-03-18. 
  10. ^ Miller, Donald L (2006). Masters of the Air. Simon & Schuster. p. 300. 
  11. ^ a b c d e  
    • Baugher. "1941 USAAF Serial Numbers (41-24340 to 41-30847)". Retrieved 7 September 2007. 
    • Baugher. "1942 USAAF Serial Numbers (42-30032 to 42-39757)". Retrieved 29 August 2007. 
    • Baugher. "1942 USAAF Serial Numbers (42-39758 to 42-50026)". Retrieved 23 February 2009. 
    • Baugher. "1942 USAAF Serial Numbers (42-57213 to 42-70685)". Retrieved 9 January 2009. 
  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". Retrieved 2007-05-25.  June, July, August, September, October/
  14. ^ Norfolk Airfields in the Second World War Graham Smith. ISBN 978-1-85306-320-6.
  15. ^ 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. 
  16. ^ "Lt. Joe Kennedy". Norfolk & Suffolk Aviation Museum. Retrieved 2007-04-10. 

Further reading

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