By Richard L. Tobin
From the Herald Tribune Bureau
Copyright, 1944, New York Tribune Inc.
LONDON, June 16. -- The Germans have been using in numbers a formidable new weapon of war, a pilotless plane carrying high explosives, to attack the southern part of England since Tuesday, it was announced officially at London today.
Rate of Output a Question
This pilotless plane is not, in all probability, radio-controlled, and is essentially only a bomb with wings and an engine to propel it. It is destroyed when it explodes. It is undoubtedly sent into the air by catapult somewhere on the northern coast of France, an area where Allied planes for months have been bombing "mystery installations", as they did again today. That coast, at the nearest point, is about ninety miles from London.
There were dozens of unanswered questions today, such as how the plane works, whether radio really controls it and how expensive it is to manufacture. No one in this country knows the answers, or if any one does know, he is not saying.
The rate of manufacture of the new German weapon is important. If it can be made easily and cheaply, it may yet prove important. But since its mechanism must be fairly complex, and since German industry is undoubtedly in disrepair after so much aerial bombing and so many years of war, it does not seem likely that the pilotless plane will turn the tide.
Held in Searchlights
The robot bombers were seen by many persons in southern England last night and today. As intense an anti-aircraft barrage as has been put up in some time in that area was augmented by other measures of defense.
Eyewitnesses interviewed today by this correspondent said, for example: "It was a ball of fire as big as a barrage balloon." "It looked like a plane on fire." "It was going so slow it was like shooting a sitting duck." "It scared the hell out of me."
Some of the robot bombers were held by searchlights last night for minutes at a time and were seen plainly before they exploded. They looked to some observers like homemade box kites with a fuselage longer than one usually sees on an airplane. They seemed to have a top velocity of 300 miles an hour and a low trajectory. There was a "phosphorescent" glow about them which suggested to some eyewitnesses that they might be rocket-propelled after all.
Steps Being Taken
Probably a Diesel engine propels the robot bomber once it is in the air. It has been noted that when the engine stops and a light at the rear end of the device goes out, the explosion of the device follows in five to fifteen seconds. The explosive charge seems, from the effects produced, to be large.
The robot bomber amounts to a projectile which is aimed by the Germans in the general direction of a target and may or may not strike it. It looks much like a skyrocket and is launched substantially as skyrockets are.
Herbert Morrison, Minister of Home Security, told the House of Commons today, "It has been known for some time that the enemy was making preparations for the use of pilotless aircraft against this country, and he has now started to use this much-vaunted new weapon.
"A small number of these missiles were used in the raids of Tuesday morning. A few were scattered over a large area. A larger number were used last night and this morning.
"On the first occasion, they caused a few casualties, but the attack was light, and the damage on the whole was inconsiderable. Last night's attack was more serious, and I have not as yet full particulars of the casualties and damage, nor the number of pilotless aircraft destroyed before they could explode.
"The enemy's preparations have not, of course, passed unnoticed, and counter-measures have already been and will continue to be applied with full vigor. It is, however, probable that the attacks will continue and, subject to experience, the usual siren warning will be given for such attacks.
"Meanwhile, it is important not to give the enemy any information that would help him in directing his shooting by telling him where his missiles have landed. It may be difficult to distinguish these attacks from ordinary air raids, and therefore it has been decided that for the present, information published about air raids in southern England -- that is to say, south of the line from The Wash to the Bristol Channel -- will not give any indication where the air raid has taken place, beyond saying that it had occurred in southern England.
"While I think it right to give the House, at the earliest opportunity, information about the use of this new weapon by the enemy, the available information does not suggest that an exaggerated importance need be attached to this new development.
Statement Is Issued
"All possible steps are being taken to frustrate the enemy's attempts to supplement his nuisance raiding by means which do not imperil the lives of his pilots.
"Meanwhile, the nation should carry on with its normal business. Further, as the raids with pilotless aircraft may occur during the time when the streets are full of people and anti-aircraft guns will be used to shoot down the machines, I must impress on the public the importance of not exposing themselves unnecessarily to danger by remaining in the streets, out of curiosity, instead of taking the nearest cover while the guns are firing.
"For the time being, at any rate, the guns will shoot. But this is liable to review as we go along, in the light of experience, and what is expedient. Members will notice the arrangements we have made with the press with a view to avoiding the enemy knowing where his pilotless aircraft have fallen.
"I am sure members, in any questions they may put down or supplementary questions or observations, will themselves act up to the practice we have asked the press to observe."
The Ministry of Home Security issued tonight a statement about the robot bomber.
Nazis Report a "Panic"
"The damage it has caused," the statement said, "has been relatively small, and the new weapon will not interfere with our war effort and our sure and steady march to victory.
"The enemy's aim is clearly, in view of the difficulty of the military situation, to try to upset our morale and interfere with our work. It is essential that there should be the least possible interruption in all work vital to the country's needs at this time, and the government's counsel is that every one should get on with his or her job in the ordinary way, and only take cover when danger is imminent. There is already an efficient system for giving warning of imminent danger in factories.
"For the general public, the advice is that if they see or hear one of these things or hear gunfire near them, they should keep under cover. When the engine of the pilotless aircraft stops and the light at the end of the machine is seen to go out, it may mean that explosion will soon follow, perhaps in five to fifteen seconds. So take refuge from the blast. Those indoors should keep out of the way of the blast and use the most solid protection immediately available.
"There is no reason to think that raids by this weapon will be worse than or indeed as heavy as the raids with which the people of this country are already familiar and have borne so bravely."
The German propaganda machine went into high gear today, talking about "panic" at London and giving full credit for this alleged development to the secret weapon touted in recent months by Propaganda Minister Paul Joseph Goebbels.
Foe Paints Glowing Picture
Berlin broadcasts declared a "general uprising" of the British people would compel the Allies to stop bombing the German supply system in France beyond the Allies' Normandy beachhead and would force them to attack instead the northern coast of France -- where the launching apparatus for the robot bombers is understood to be situated.
The Nazis declared, among other things, that the robot bomber is Germany's first secret weapon and that it ushers in a period of reprisals against the British, carries a new type explosive of especially great force, is a new anti-invasion weapon and has complete novelty and super-effects. One Berlin announcer said: "One can be happy to be in Berlin tonight instead of in London."
A broadcast by the German Transocean news agency tonight declared: "Damage of the greatest extent has been caused by new German high explosives in London. Warehouses on the Thames are in flames and rail communications are partly disrupted."
One enemy broadcast described the robot plane as a "new invasion weapon which works most effectively," and declared it "has the importance of a strong air fleet."
The German radio said also: "There is no German who has not received the announcement with deep satisfaction and a full heart. It will be an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." Previously, it said, the German air force had been careful to hit only military objectives in Britain, but from now on it will be different, and "they (the Allies) will now learn that crimes against the German civilian population and cultural monuments do not remain unpunished."