How Spitfire Pilots Really ‘Rammed’ a V1 Bomb Out Of The Sky
A Royal Air Force Wing Commander has described how WWII Spitfire pilots might have used their airborne skills to tip V1 Flying Bombs out of the sky to bring them down.
The tactic has become the subject of urban legend, with many social media commentators discussing if the method is simply a myth, or whether pilots really did use this risky tactic to bring down the feared bombs that were also known as buzz bombs or doodlebugs and which were the early forerunners for modern drones or cruise missiles.
Wing Commander Nick Robson, of today’s RAF Air Command High Wycombe, said: "This was not a routine action.
"The bumping action was a last resort. The idea was to get the wing of the plane as close to the missile as possible.”
A lively debate was sparked online around the subject in 2018 after Hanger 7 Art, which features historical military digital aviation art by Mark Donoghue, posted one of its creations on social media showing how the Spitfire vs V1 wing tipping might have looked mid-flight.
Amy Casey, of Forces Radio BFBS, got the debate going on air when she discussed the concept during a broadcast at the time.
Spitfires often scrambled to intercept a V1 when one was detected in the airspace.
It is thought that some pilots would not shoot down a flying bomb but instead use the tip of their aircraft’s wing to bump the wing of the V1 – throwing its gyroscope off kilter and in effect ramming the flying bomb out of the sky, forcing it to nosedive to the ground.
Pilots are said to have used the tipping method in a bid to save their limited ammunition or as a last resort once they had expended all their ammunition while still airborne.
The tactic is also thought to have mitigated some of the risks involved in shooting down a highly explosive flying object, as V1s were packed with 1,000kg of Amatol-39, a mixture of TNT and ammonium nitrate, and pilots often had to fly in close to them to take a shot, especially as the pulse-jet-propelled doodlebugs flew at speeds of up to 400mph.
Spitfires reached speeds of about 369mph which meant that pilots had to target a V1 by diving from higher altitudes, about 5000ft, to build up enough speed to allow them to close in on their target at ranges as close as several hundred yards.
This meant that debris from an exploding doodlebug sometimes shattered through a pilot’s fuselage.
If a pilot could dive in and gain enough speed to fly alongside, the tipping method is thought to have saved them from any blast risks, albeit that the tactic posed enough danger in itself.