The Secret Weapon

Most of the following was taken from an article printed in the December 1945 issue of C.I.C. (Combat Information Center) published by the U.S. Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. 

As early as 1941 British Intelligence began receiving reports that the Germans were developing a bomb which could be remotely controlled from a parent aircraft. In August, 1943, a group of corvettes (smallest class of naval warships) on anti-submarine patrol in Spain's Bay of Biscay were attacked by what was identified as a remotely controlled bomb—a missile resembling a small fighter plane—capable of radical maneuvering both in azimuth and elevation. The parent aircraft were twin-engined Dornier bombers (DO217). One of the corvettes was sunk, another damaged. Later in August further highly successful attacks were made against shipping in the Mediterranean and Bay of Biscay. 

The bomb (designated HS293) was released by the parent plane at altitudes of 3000-5000 feet and ranges of three to five miles from the target. The missile was jet-assisted shortly after its release; its speed, variously estimated at the time, is now known to have been about 325 knots. The controlling operator in the plane was able to follow the bomb visually by observing a light in the tail.

During and immediately following the Salerno landings the German guided missile program moved into high gear. The enemy introduced another type of controlled missile, the FX, a radio-corrected 4400 pound bomb of tremendous power and accuracy, as anyone present in Salerno Gulf at that time will testify. The Luftwaffe caught units of the Italian Fleet racing to reach Allied ports and scored heavily with both HS293 and FX bombs. They attacked Allied shipping in Salerno Gulf, sinking and damaging several British and United States warships, large and small. It was estimated that nearly 50% of the bombs launched were hits or damaging near misses.

With these missiles the Germans were able to sink a number of ships, including the British WARSPITE, the Italian battleship ROMA, which was being delivered to the allies under the terms of the Italian surrender, the American curiser SAVANNAH which was taking part in the landings at Salerno and a good many others. 

Another WW2 tradegy was the sinking of the HMT Rohna which remains the greatest loss of life at sea by enemy action in the history of US war, killing 1015 US soldiers. The HMT Rohna, a passenger/cargo vessel converted to a troop ship in 1940, was sunk by the Germans on November 25, 1943. The War Dept kept its demise a secret until 1995. There is a documentary about the Rohna which is worthwhile:

The previously initiated program was accelerated by the German successes and the laboratory equipment that had already been developed up to that time at NRL was assembled and used to outfit two American destroyer-escorts, the USS Herbert C. Jones(DE-137) and the USS Frederick C. Davis (DE-136). The mission of the two DE’s was two-fold: (a) to find and record the frequencies and modulation for control of the bombs, and (b) to jam them.

The equipment supplied and installed on these two ships included an NRL laboratory model of a singled dial control, wide band transmitter (a forerunner of the models XCJ-CXGE and TEA) as well as models of the RDC receiver and RBK receiver with an RBW narrow band panoramic adapter. Also an early model of the "Blinkes" receiver developed by the Columbia Broadcasting System engineers was sent. Extensive audio recording apparatus for signal recording was included. Crews to move this very special equipment were hastily trained at NRL before they left for the Mediterranean. At least 10 or 12 of the German Missiles were turned loose on these two destroyer-escorts but neither was hit.

DO-217 with glide bomb under right wing

The Special Mission Crew

Thanks to  the family of James Aaron Combs for the following pictures and detail on the Special Missions Crew. This crew was responsible for the jamming of the German radio controlled bombs.

Handwritten note from George Gowling to Combs family.

This is a commendation from the Chief of Naval Personnel to James A. Combs.  The USS Frederick C. Davis family can take great pride in the crew's service to our nation and the sacrifices made by all that served on that ship.  The ultimate sacrifice  was made by so many on the day of her sinking. That loss stretches down through the years to this very day for all of our families.

This story about the Special Mission Crew provides magnification to that pride in service.  Understanding that the  application of the jamming on the German radio controlled bombs saved ships and lives takes it to a higher level and allows some acceptance of our direct loss of life.

Here is a string of letters between Victor Buck and George Gowling, written in December 2000.  Buck was an editor of the "Trim But Deadly" newsletter with the DE Historical Foundation. He was researching for an article on the USS Frederick Davis. The article appeared in the Second Quarter 2001 (Volume 7, number 2)newsletter. George Gowling was an Ensign, Ltjg. and served on the USS Frederick Davis. He was responsibile for the Special Mission Crew assigned to jamming the German radio controlled bombs.

Gowling to Buck Letter 2000.12.02.pdf
Buck to Gowling letter 2000.12.12.pdf
Gowling to Buck letter 2000.12.23.pdf