The Second World War was fought with large leaps and bounds in technology. Truly, in the wars fought between the Age of Revolution in Europe and the Korean War, technology had made vast strides in each iteration of warfare. World War II saw the inclusion of enhanced armaments and armor, propulsion, and stand-off weapon systems. The British were largely successful with their Earthquake bombs, which are the ancestor of modern day Bunker Buster weapons. The American's made their mark with the atomic bomb. The German's had a suite of successful weapons systems that were deployed. The notorious V weapons systems.
The V-1 Flying Bomb
The V-1 flying bomb was the first attempt to move away from long range artillery and rocket systems to a more substantial payload delivery system. The V-1 was launched initially from a large rail system where the booster on the bomb would gain acceleration. The pulsejet that was employed in the weapon is still a matter of research today, as the engineering and design behind this method of propulsion is not yet perfected. Guided by radio control, the bomb was designed to crash into its target, detonating two separate explosive shells in its main body. V-1's were launched in large quantity against London, with subsequent attacks continuing against France after the Normandy invasion. Attacks spanned between late 1942 and concluded by March of 1945.
A small quantity of these bombs were launched from aircraft, but in generally the most common platform for launch was from the ground.
Defense against V-1's proved to be precarious. The most frequently displayed method of downing a V-1 was through the use of "wing-tipping", where British Spitfire aircraft would fly alongside the bomb and tip the wing of the plane into the wing of the bomb, causing it to fly off course or crash. Anti-air defense systems were in place by 1944 over much of Britain, and allowed for additional defense against the V-1's, but the idea of filling the sky with led was not one that was pleasing to the British.
By mid 1944, the Germans had begun to export the V-1 to Japan. However, none of these V-1's are ever known to have been fully assembled.
About 23,000 casualties resulted from V-1 attacks from their first reported use against British cities in 1943 through the last attacks in Belgium in 1945.
The V-2 Rocket
The V-2 weapon system was the gateway system that eventually lead to the development of modern Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) systems. A standard design, the V-2 has the honor of being the first weapon to ever punch through the atmosphere and as such is the first manmade object ever to reach space. The V-2's existence at the end of World War II was one of the key justifications behind Operation Paperclip and the recovery of German scientists immediately following the war. In addition, it would be an American launched V-2 that would take the first picture of Earth from outside of the stratosphere in 1948.
Unlike it's cousin, the V-1, the V-2 utilized its rocket purely for the purpose of achieving escape velocity. Gravity is what would bring the V-2 crashing into it's target after radio control adjusted the rockets trajectory towards its target. A larger design, the V-2 also allowed a much larger payload. The V-2 did not appear on the scene until after the Normandy invasions, and subsequently saw targets in the interior of France (namely, Paris), London, and Antwerp. V-2 launches continued well into 1945 until the Allies finally silenced Peenemunde. Air raids were typical at Peenemunde, however, their effectiveness was always at question due to the nature of the terrain. The initial raid - Hydra - included raids on the V-1 launching facilities and the V-2 research facilities. Of the many scientists and prisoners there, prisoners made up the bulk of the casualties in the bombing raids.
The V-2 also was difficult to defend against. The incoming velocity of the rocket was such that there was no time to intercept it. Likewise, radar proved to be ineffective against an orbital threat. The British attempted to deploy various methods of jamming, but due to the rockets in-orbit trajectory adjustment, this proved to be largely minute in effectiveness. Raids on the V-2 launch sites proved to be the most effective means to stop the attacks.
The V-3 Cannon
In World War I, the Germans reportedly bombarded Paris from as far as 118 km with artillery fire. The Germans were not in regular artillery range at the time that the bombardment occurred. Subsequently, the Allies were concerned that the Germans were using new high altitude bombers. After the push back across the Rhine, the Allies discovered remnants of what appeared to be a large and powerful long range cannon. Studies suggested that the cannon may have been a weapon that had the range to strike Paris from its current location over 120 km away.
In World War II, this gun resurfaced, but with a number of different modifications on it. The idea of long-range artillery was not new by this time. The V-3 cannon of World War II only has three known potential examples, and only two of these were deployed at any stage. They were generally 150 mm guns, and the deployed methods differ greatly from what recovered blueprints suggested for their actual application.
Supposedly, the V-3 had a range of anywhere between 165 and 300 km, depending on the source cited. It was capable of up to 300 rounds per minute per barrel. This is where sources diverge on the application of the V-3. The weapon was either a standalone cannon that was deployed in a single battery, much like the Paris Gun of World War I, or it was a series of cannons that were deployed in a battery. Multiple-barrel concepts depict four to six barrels to a battery, and these depictions usually include an entire launching site consisting of four to eight different batteries.
The V-3 system utilized a series of explosive charges within the barrel to accelerate a projectile to extremely high speeds. The velocity that the projectile would break through the end of the barrel would be such to allow it to travel over immense distances in a short amount of time. This hypothesis was not unique to the Germans having it's roots traced back to at least the 1880s when American designers came up with a similar concept for coastal artillery defense systems.
Terrifying in theory, the V-3 suffered from a distinctive issue. None of the concepts had a method of setting azimuth or vector. Presumably, this could be corrected on an X axis, but a site crossing at a Y access would be required to provide full coverage - and even then, this would only address as many as thirty-two different vectors and as few as four, depending on the cluster being deployed. Nevertheless, the V-3 survived the Second World War, appearing in other weapon systems and research in subsequent years.
As previously mentioned, defense of these weapons was difficult. The most effectively intercepted weapon was the V-1, due to its subsonic nature. No defenses were definitively effective against the V-2's or what limited deployment the V-3 may have had. It was found that the best defense against the V weapons was false reporting of casualties and damage. Reporting that London was "decimated" when a V-2 rocket landed in an open field causing little damage was the main means to deceive the enemy into firing away from populated areas.
The V weapons were only one sequence of innovations the Germans had deployed during the Second World War, but they were the most notorious. Many other unique weapons were deployed, and dozens more were theorized or in prototype phase when the Third Reich collapsed. Most, if not all, of the V weapons however were not retired from service until well into the 1950s.
While the V-weapons eventually saw retirement during the Cold War (primarily the V-2), their legacy in weapons development carried on for much longer. The V-2 provided the foundation for future space travel and ballistic missile technology, while systems such as the V-3 and the captured Krupp K5's went on to aid in the development of high-altitude and long range artillery. Several pieces of similar development can be found elsewhere on this site.