The U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II

Preemptive Defense

Allied Air Power Versus Hitler’s V-Weapons,
1943–1945

Adam L. Gruen


In 1943, the Allies knew that Germany was developing Vergeltungswaffe (vengeance) or “V” weapons that threatened to reverse the course of World War II. But the Allies did not know exactly what the weapons were or how to defend against them. Eventually, Allied intelligence and aerial reconnaissance identified two separate programs— a pilotless aircraft bomb (V–1) and a ballistic missile bomb (V–2)— that endangered London and other sites in southern England. The Allies decided that the best defense was preemptive strikes against any targets identified with the V-weapons programs, including launch sites and supply depots. Allied leaders disagreed on how much and what kind of air power should be diverted to the strikes, and on how long such strikes should continue. Germany withheld launching V–1s until after D-Day and did not launch V–2s until September 1944. With Allied ground forces having returned to Western Europe in strength, the German bombardment of London and other European cities proved to be too little and too late to affect the outcome of the war.