HS-293 and FRITZ-X IN COMBAT

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Luftwaffe aircraft armed with these glide bombs went into combat at the end of August 1943, attacking Allied shipping in the Bay of Biscay. On 25 August 1943, they sank the escort sloop HMS EGRET and badly damaged the destroyer HMCS ATHABASCAN. These attacks were among the first recorded instances of operational use of guided weapons. The British Admiralty ordered their warships to stay at least 320 kilometers (200 miles) from the French coast until countermeasures could be devised.

The glide bombs were used more intensively in the Mediterranean, with spectacular results at first. Late on 8 September 1943, the terms of Italy’s armistice with the Allies went into effect, and the Italian fleet left their anchorage on the Italian mainland, bound for Malta, where the ships would be surrendered. The Italians told the Germans that the fleet was going to sea to help fight the Allies, but the Germans were suspicious, and Luftwaffe aircraft shadowed the warships to see where they were going.

The next day, as the fleet passed through the Straits of Bonafacio, which separate Corsica from Sardinia, it was attacked by 11 Do-217s carrying Fritz-X glide bombs. The bombers concentrated their attacks on the large modern battleships ROMA and ITALIA. The ROMA was hit twice, bringing it dead in the water while fires raged below decks. Twenty minutes after the first hit, the fires reached the ROMA’s magazines, the resulting explosion breaking the ship in half. It folded up and sank with most of her crew. The ITALIA was hit by a single Fritz-X, but although the battleship took on water, it managed to limp to Malta.

That same day, the Allies landed on the beach at Salerno to begin their movement into Italy. The Luftwaffe responded with a week of glide bomb attacks, badly damaging the battleship HMS WARSPITE, the cruisers HMS UGANDA and the USS SAVANNAH, and sinking or damaging several other lesser vessels. The WARSPITE was hit by three Fritz-X bombs, one of which penetrated six decks and blew a hole in the ship’s bottom. The ship took on a good deal of water and was completely disabled, but fires didn’t break out and casualties were only 9 dead and 14 wounded, blessedly light for so devastating an attack. The battleship was towed away and did not return to action until June 1944.

• The Luftwaffe also mounted a number of raids in October and November 1943 against Allied convoys in the Mediterranean, using Hs-293As? to attack escort vessels so the merchantmen could be struck by torpedo-carrying Ju-88 bombers. However, the days of the Luftwaffe’s success with the glide bombs were short-lived. Allied air superiority was steadily growing, and when the Allies landed at Anzio in January 1944, German bombers encountered fierce fighter opposition and suffered badly, though they did sink the cruiser HMS SPARTAN.

The Allies also introduced electronic countermeasures against the Kehl-Strassburg? control system. One system was a broadband jamming transmitter that simply disrupted the control transmission with radio noise. Another system was more subtle, “spoofing” the bomb by sending false control signals to the Strassburg controller that slammed the weapon’s control surfaces to an extreme position, causing it to stall and tumble, or descend in an aimless spiral. When the Luftwaffe attempted to attack the Allied fleet during the Normandy landings in June 1944, they were unable to overcome Allied fighter defenses. What few glide bombs they dropped were ineffective due to jamming and spoofing. The Hs-293A and Fritz-X were no longer useful weapons.