Operation Aphrodite

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Aphrodite, BQ-7, BQ-8
TypeRadio-controlled aircraft as guided missiles
Place of originUnited States
Service history
In service1944
Used byUnited States Army Air Forces (Aphrodite)
United States Navy (Anvil)
WarheadPayload: around 20,000lb Torpex[1]

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 Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and Consolidated PB4Y bombers as precision-guided munitions against bunkers and other hardened/reinforced enemy facilities, such as "Crossbow" operations against German long range missiles.[2]

The missions were not generally successful, and the intended targets in Europe were either overrun by the ground advance of Allied troops or disabled by conventional attacks by aircraft.


The plan called for B-17E/Fs that 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.[1]

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.[4] The plan was first proposed to Major General Jimmy Doolittle some time in 1944. Doolittle approved the plan for Operation Aphrodite on 26 June, and assigned the 3rd Bombardment Division with preparing and flying the drone aircraft, which was to be designated BQ-7.[5] The USAAF also planned to outfit war-weary B-24 Liberators with explosives and automatic pilots to be used against defended targets in Japan, under the designation BQ-8.[6]

Final assignment of responsibility was given to the 562nd Bomb Squadron at RAF Honington in Suffolk. Similarly, on 6 July 1944, the U.S. 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.[7]


After completing 80 missions with the 323rd Bombardment Squadron, 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 them of 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[8] 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 B-17 "CQ-4" 'mothership'.[citation needed]

The drone was loaded with explosives weighing more than twice that of a B-17's normal bomb payload. The British Torpex (from "Torpedo Explosive") used for the purpose was itself 50% more powerful than TNT alone.[citation needed]

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 crew of a pilot and a flight engineer to an altitude of 2,000 ft (600 m) for transfer of control to the CQ-4 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.[citation needed]

When the training program was complete, the 562nd Squadron had ten drones and four "motherships".

For Anvil, the controller aircraft was a Lockheed PV-1, a B-17 accompanied to receive the television signals.[citation needed]

Service history[edit]

It was hoped that Operation Aphrodite and Operation Anvil would match the British success with Tallboy and Grand Slam ground penetration bombs but the project was dangerous, expensive and ultimately 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, though 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. The program effectively ceased on 27 January 1945 when General Spaatz sent an urgent message to Doolittle: "Aphrodite babies must not be launched against the enemy until further orders".[9][5]


Aphrodite missions
Target Date Aircraft Notes
V-3 cannon battery
4 August 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] Use of "earthquake" bombs and the advance of Allied troops had already stopped construction on the site by 30 July.
Siracourt V-1 bunker 4 August 1944 B-17 39835 Mission 515: Control problems led to drone crashing in wood at Sudbourne ("pilot killed when abandoned aircraft too soon").[11][12][13]
La Coupole, Wizernes
Blockhaus d'Éperlecques, Watten
4 August 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 (metres). (Alternate sources claim one hit 1,500 ft (460 m) short and one was shot down,[14] and that one drone crashed killing one of the crew of two men).[15]
Watten 6 August 1944 B-17 30342[16]
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.[17] 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.[18] 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 U-boat pens 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 oil refinery 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[18] 12 August 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.[19]
Le Havre naval base 13 August 1944 1 B-17 Mission 549: 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.[15]
Heligoland U-boat pens[11] 3 September 1944 PB4Y-1 63954 Second USN "Anvil" project controller flew aircraft into Dune Island by mistake.
Heligoland U-boat pens[18] 11 September 1944 B-17 30180 Hit by enemy flak and crashed into sea.[11]
Hemmingstedt oil refinery 14 September 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 4 August), both drones missed the target due to poor weather conditions.[11][12]
Heligoland U-boat pens[11] 15 October 1944 B-17 30039 Liberty Belle
B-17 37743
30039 was hit by flak and came down into sea. Both drones missed target due to poor weather conditions[11][12]
Heligoland U-boat pens 30 October 1944 B-17 30066 (Mugwump)
B-17 3438
Mission 693A: 2 of 5 B-17s made an Aphrodite attack on Heligoland Island, Germany; escort was provided by 7 P-47s.[15] 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 two 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] 5 December 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[18][failed verification] 1 January 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 aircraft downed by flak before reaching target.[11]

See also[edit]

  • Mistel, a contemporary German drone


  1. ^ a b Freeman, Roger A. (1970). The Mighty Eighth. New York: Doubleday and Company. p. 173. ISBN 0385011687 – via Internet Archive.
  2. ^ Spark, Nick T. (October 2004). "Television Goes to War". Secret Arsenal: Advanced American Weapons of WWII. Wings. Archived from the original on 17 April 2008. Retrieved 16 May 2015.
  3. ^ Nichol, John; Rennell, Tony. "Tail-End Charlies — The Last Battles of the Bomber War 1944–45". {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  4. ^ Daso, D. A. (2002). Architects of American Air Supremacy: General Hap Arnold and Dr. Theodore Von Karman. Forest Grove: University Press of the Pacific. p. 72. ISBN 9780898758610.
  5. ^ a b "BQ-7". American Military Aircraft. Joseph F. Baugher. July 25, 1999. Archived from the original on March 29, 2020. Retrieved March 30, 2020.
  6. ^ "Consolidated BQ-8". Directory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles. Andreas Parsch. Retrieved May 16, 2015.
  7. ^ "World War II 1940–1945". Naval Aviation Chronology in World War II. Naval Historical Center. Archived from the original on November 3, 2011. Retrieved April 10, 2007.
  8. ^ Reynolds, George A. "Azon Project". 458bg.com. Retrieved 18 March 2009.
  9. ^ Olsen, Jack (1970). Aphrodite: Desperate Mission. Putnam's Sons. p. 308.
  10. ^ Miller, Donald L (2006). Masters of the Air. Simon & Schuster. p. 300.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h Baugher, Joseph F. "1942 USAAF Serial Numbers (42-30032 to 42-39757)". Encyclopedia of American Aircraft. Joe Baugher. Archived from the original on 16 September 2009. Retrieved 29 August 2007.
  12. ^ a b c Baugher, Joe, "1942 USAAF Serial Numbers (42-39758 to 42-50026)", Encyclopedia of American Aircraft, Joe Baugher, archived from the original on 4 April 2009, retrieved 23 February 2009
  13. ^ Baugher, Joe, "1942 USAAF Serial Numbers (42-57213 to 42-70685)", Encyclopedia of American Aircraft, Joe Baugher, archived from the original on 30 January 2009, retrieved 9 January 2009
  14. ^ Werrell, Kenneth P (September 1985). The Evolution of the Cruise Missile. p. 32. Archived from the original on 27 July 2014. Retrieved 7 August 2013.
  15. ^ a b c "8th Air Force 1944 Chronicles". Archived from the original on 12 September 2007. Retrieved 25 May 2007. June, July, August, September, October
  16. ^ "42-30342". American Air Museum in Britain. Retrieved 20 March 2018.
  17. ^ Norfolk Airfields in the Second World War Graham Smith. ISBN 978-1-85306-320-6.
  18. ^ 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 24 February 2008. Retrieved 10 April 2007.
  19. ^ "Lt. Joe Kennedy". Norfolk & Suffolk Aviation Museum. Archived from the original on 14 May 2007. Retrieved 10 April 2007.

Further reading[edit]

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