Lt. Joe Kennedy
Above, Photograph of Lt Joe Kennedy taken the afternoon of his last flight.
Joseph Patrick Kennedy (pictured above) was the elder brother of President John F. Kennedy, and was born on the 28th July 1915. He completed his flight training at Jacksonville U.S.A. in 1942. As a volunteer U.S. Navy pilot he flew Mariner flying boats from Puerto Rico, Central America, before converting to the B24 Liberator and serving in England at Dunkeswell, Devon, with squadron VB110. After completing his normal combat tour of 30 missions, he volunteered for an extra 10 - somehow managing to talk his crew in to flying with him. Just before his last mission Lt Kennedy volunteered for one further final mission which involved low level flying and a parachute jump. This mission was to be Top Secret as part of project Anvil, the target being the German V3 Supergun site at Mimoyecques, France. The details of this mission remained secret until 1966, although the identity of the crew was not released until 1970.
On the 31st July 1944 a U.S.N. special air unit, codenamed Project Anvil, moved to Fersfield from Dunkeswell in Devon. The mission was to involve the use of explosive-laden PB4Y-1 Liberator bombers under radio control. The crew of two, Lt Joe Kennedy (pilot), and Lt. Wilford John Willy (radio control technician/co-pilot), were to take off with 21,150 lbs of Torpex in 347 boxes and establish radio control of the Liberator by a Ventura mother-ship. Once full control was established and tested, at a pre-determined point the crew would parachute from the aircraft through the nose wheel bay emergency exit and the bomber would continue the rest of its mission under radio control, finally crashing onto the target.
Wilford John Willy, pictured above, was born on the 13th May 1909. He volunteered for the U.S. Navy in 1933 as an able seaman and worked his way up through the ranks, studying electronics and becoming an expert in radio controlled systems for Top Secret U.S. Navy weapon projects. He also became a pilot and was certified to fly various aircraft including the B24 Liberator.
Lt Willy had not seen any action during the war because of his involvement with Top Secret projects - project Anvil had prevented him from serving on active duty. He designed most of the weapon system for the Liberator drone he would eventually die in. Lt Willy had pulled rank on Lt Kennedy's co-pilot Ensign Simpson, not because he could not do the job, but because he was determined to make project Anvil work, the V3 weapon site just had to be destroyed.
At 5.59pm August 12 1944, after all the aircraft had taken off from Fersfield airfield, Lt Kennedy lined up his drone on the main 6,000 ft runway. After making a text book take-off he slowly climbed to the operating height of 2,000 feet and continued to fly on the planned course, forming up with the rest of the formation over Halesworth, Suffolk. The formation consisted of two Ventura motherships (because if there were a problem with one, the second could assume radio control of the drone once the crew had bailed out), one P38 camera aircraft, 4 Mustangs from the 20th Fighter Group as low level escort, one B17 filming, and two American Mosquitoes on detachment from the 25th Bomb Group Photographic Wing observing the mission.
Once the formation had cleared Halesworth the Liberator switched over from manual flight to radio control. The pilot in the Ventura mothership was making test turns under full control. Lt Kennedy, now flying as a passenger, radioed the codename "Zoot suit" to tell the other crews that every thing was fine. Lt Willy then switched on "Block", which was the codename for the TV camera in the nose used to guide the drone onto the target (Mimoyecques V3 Site). Two minutes later the drone suddenly exploded over New Delight Wood, Blythborough, Suffolk.
The wreckage was scattered over an area 3 miles long and about 2 miles wide. 3 square miles of heath land was set on fire, 147 properties - some up to 16 miles away were damaged, and hundreds of trees in New Delight Wood were felled as a result of the blast. Despite all this, no civilians were killed. However, no remains of the crew were ever found. The cause of the explosion is believed to be a lack of electrical shielding on "Block" which caused electromagnetic emissions to open up a relay solenoid that should have been closed. When the solenoid opened it set off one of the MK9 detonators, which in turn set off the load of Torpex.
A display dedicated to the Anvil project can be seen at the Norfolk & Suffolk Aviation Museum.
WING SPAN 110 FEET
LENGTH 67 FEET
SERIAL NUMBER 32271
PILOT LT KENNEDY
CO-PILOT LT WILLY
FLIGHT DECK : 17 BOXES OF TORPEX 1,071 LBS
NOSE WHEEL BAY : 16 BOXES OF TORPEX 1,008 LBS PLUS 1 MK9 DEMOLITION CHARGE
COMMAND DECK : 28 BOXES OF TORPEX 1,764 LBS PLUS 1 MK9 DEMOLITION CHARGE
FORWARD BOMB BAY : 141 BOXES OF TORPEX 8,883 LBS PLUS 2 MK9 DEMOLITION CHARGES
AFT BOMB BAY : 172 BOXES OF TORPEX 10,836 LBS PLUS 2 MK9 DEMOLITION CHARGES
TOTAL LOAD 374 BOXES OF TORPEX EACH WEIGHING 55 LBS
TOTAL WEIGHT 21,170 LBS
The site was built by prisoners forced to work as slave labour and they were of various origins, political deportees, Jews who had been taken from the death camps, Polish prisoners who had been resisting the German occupation of their country, French workers under the compulsory work system, and German servicemen who were not on duty.
Of the 60,000 men who worked on the vast construction, half were worked to death. Their life expectancy ranged from 3 weeks to 3 months, and if they resisted or caused any trouble they were hanged publicly in front of their fellow workers as a deterrent. Food consisted of soup made from scraps or leftovers from the SS.
The V3 Supergun was built in two sites; the east site at Mimoyecques, and the west 3 kilometres away. Both sites would house 25 gun barrels in five banks of five. Each gun barrel was approx 420 feet long, built in segments bolted together with a bore of 150 mm firing a projectile measuring 7 feet 9 inches made from chrome nickel steel. Each projectile cost the same to produce as a ME109 aircraft, and in all 20,000 of them were made.
Each projectile was loaded into the breech of the barrel and fired electrically to set off a series of charges, two every 12 feet of the barrel length. The expanding gases inside the barrel reached a pressure of 4,000 kilograms per cubic centimetre, accelerating the projectile to a speed of 5,000 feet per second (about Mach 6) which would have enabled it to reach London 95 miles away. Each firing on test weapons was unpredictable, barrels would sometimes explode on firing. This problem was never solved, and although some barrels were installed the V3 sites were never completed. The V3 sites were bombed by 14 Lancaster's from 617 squadron, led by Group Captain Cheshire in July 1944, but the Tallboys dropped at Mimoyecques only did minor structural damage to the site. However, a shock wave opened up water bearing chalk in the lower under ground levels, drowning an estimated 10,000 men who were unable to escape. In 1947 their remains were sealed in the tunnels under a plug of 50 feet of concrete by the French government, as it was impossible to retrieve their remains.
The picture above is the main entrance to the underground structure, which would have been the intended target if Lt Kennedy's and Lt Willy's Liberator Drone had not exploded. In September 1944 the Canadian Army attacked the Mimoyecques sites but found the Germans had deserted the structure taking with them all documentation and as much equipment as they could, this was done on direct order of Hitler himself, the main purpose of the V3s Superguns was to destroy London.
To day, Mimoyecques is a privately owned museum dedicated to the memory of all those who died there during the Second World War, assisted by financial help from the French Government.
By Trevor Jermy
Edited Lester Curtis