In July 1944 Hitler tried to keep a promise to the German people. He promised over and over that his secret weapons would, at last, turn the tide and Germany would win. Of these the V1 Fying bomb and the V2 rocket saw action against London and Belgium. Hitler’s third vengeance weapon the V3 was a giant rocket assisted howitzer. It was capable of firing shells over 90 km to London.To do it he authorized the building of what was at that time the most potentially devastating weapon of the war – THE LONDON GUN!
It was also known as the V3 Cannon after the V1 Buzz Bomb and the V2 Rocket. These massive long range cannons had already been test fired in a remote Baltic sea location. They were big at 460 feet long. Timed explosions along the length of the barrel at angled T-junctions bumped the shell a little faster with each explosion as it proceeded along the barrel. This resulted in a muzzle velocity of over 1500mps (4,921 ft/sec) for a 140kg (308 lb.) shell. They could lob this shell more than 100 miles. By comparison, USS Missouri’s 16″ guns could fire about 20 miles depending on the type shell. So far, it was the largest gun ever built. Fifty of these guns along the coast of France sitting just across the channel near the port of Calais would lob some six hundred shells PER HOUR into London every day.
The fort comprised a 600m. long railway tunnel that went straight through the mountain. Off this a number of crosscuts and inclined shafts were sunk to accommodate the 130m long gun barrels. There were 5 inclined shafts in all. Each shaft had 5 cannon aimed at London. The shafts emerged through a reinforced concrete slab at the top of the hill.
Each cannon had charges placed along the length of the barrel which fired just as the shell passed imparting more energy and speed to the shell. Soon some five thousand engineers and workers (many slave) descended upon a small French town, Mimoyecques, just inland from Calais to build the first battery. These gun emplacements would have concrete and steel roofs 100 feet thick. Only the muzzles would protrude above ground but even they would have 8-inch sliding steel doors covering them until firing. They had their own rail line, their own storage facilities, and elevators to lift the huge shells to the breach. There were to be 25 guns in this, the first battery.
But the French underground soon spotted strange activity near the hamlet. They sent word quickly to British Intelligence. With this and other vital information, they soon deduced the activity and construction was for the LONDON GUN. But what could they do about it? It was built hundreds of feet underground. In late 1943 there was a plan hatched by the Americans and British to deal with the GUN. This plan, in addition to regular conventional and “penetrating bombs,” was very dangerous and had never been done before by the Allies although the Germans had successfully used similar, if smaller, radio-controlled drones – Nazi Smart Bombs. It involved an aircraft filled with explosives to be flown by pilots to a point near the target then flown into the construction by another following behind with radio guidance equipment. One young American Lieutenant named Joseph Patrick volunteered to command the drone until it was ready to attack. It was a B-24 Liberator that had a normal payload of 2,700 to 8,000 pounds. They removed the guns, ammo, crew (except for Joseph Patrick and his copilot) and everything else not nailed down. They loaded it with some 22,000 pounds of high explosives.
In November 1944, Joseph Patrick and his copilot struggled off from a base in Southern England. They were followed quickly by another Liberator. The plan was to get the overloaded B-24 near Mimoyecques where Joe Patrick and his copilot would bail out over enemy territory, making it very likely that they would spend the rest of the war as guests of the Germans – if they survived. The second Liberator using primitive remote control equipment would guide the now unmanned flying bomb into the LONDON GUN being built.
Shortly after takeoff something went very wrong! Something, perhaps a spark from the radio remote control, ignited the 22,000 pounds of high explosives which exploded over southern England. The blast was so huge that no remains of Joseph Patrick nor his copilot were ever found. To this day, results of the inquiry have never been released . . . if indeed there were results. We don’t know why the Liberator exploded.
A young lieutenant named Joseph Patrick had the last name of Kennedy. He was the oldest son of Joe Kennedy, the former ambassador to England and a crony of the wartime President Roosevelt. His father and FDR were grooming Joseph Patrick, known to all as Joe, to be president. He would, after the war, come home as a hero and possibly a former POW. If he had his younger brother Jack’s charm, he would certainly have beaten Nixon in 1960 instead.
Had he lived and become president, would President JOE Kennedy abandon the Bay of Pigs invasion that might have lead to Castro’s downfall in 1961? Would President JOE Kennedy escalate the war in Viet Nam? And finally, would President JOE Kennedy feel the need to shore up his political position with a visit to Dallas in November 1963?
Although the LONDON GUN never fired a shot, it inexorably affected US history, Cuban History, and SE Asian history in ways we will never know. As interesting as the story of the LONDON GUN is, it isn’t the most important part of the story.
One more final, bitter, irony
Before Joseph Patrick Kennedy’s abortive attempt, massive bombings of the site using conventional bombs continued to no avail. Then they used huge 5400kg (5.95 ton) “Tallboy Penetrator” bombs but they too failed to damage the construction until 6 July 1944 (4 months before the loss of Kennedy) when by sheer luck, one found its way into one of the shaft openings. It exploded 100 feet below the surface killing dozens. Work was then abandoned. Allied planners did not know this so the attempt by Joseph Patrick Kennedy went on as planned. They died never knowing that their sacrifice was not even needed!