Ever since Operation Desert Storm was televised live to a global audience in 1991, the world has grown accustomed to and familiar with precision guided munitions and pin point accurate bombing. The Nazis led the way in pioneering that field, and were the first to design and successfully deploy such munitions, in the form of guided bombs that could be steered into their targets.
The Germans were the first to use glide bombs – regular dumb bombs, fitted with flight control surfaces that made them to glide when released, rather than just plummet straight down. That allowed bombers to release them at a distance from the target, instead of having to fly directly over the target before unloading. Once released, the glide bombs were manipulated with remote control mechanisms, and steered into the target.
The most successful of those bombs was the Fritz X, a guided anti-ship glide bomb that was history’s first precision guided bomb used in combat. It was a 3000 pound device, with a 705 pound explosive warhead, intended for use against heavily protected targets such as battleships. It had four stubby wings, and a box-shaped tail that contained the weapon’s controls. After releasing the Fritz X at a proper distance from and in the general direction of the target, the bomber maintained a radio link with the bomb as it glided towards its target. Radio signals manipulated vertical and horizontal fins on the bomb, to steer it weapon into its target.
The most successful use of the Fritz X came on September 9th, 1943, as the Italian government was in the process of switching sides, abandoning Germany and joining the Allies. In the wee morning hours, an Italian fleet led by Italy’s newest and biggest battleship, the 15 inch gun Roma, slipped out of a port in northern Italy and sailed out to join the Allies.
Later that afternoon, German bombers located the Italian ships, and around 3:30PM, a Fritz X guided bomb disabled the battleship Italia. 15 minutes later, around 3:345PM, the Roma was hit with a Fritz X, which smashed through seven decks, before blowing up beneath the ship’s keel. 5 minutes later, another guided bomb was steered into the Roma, blowing up the engine room and an ammunition magazine. At 4:12PM the battleship started going down, and within 3 minutes, had vanished beneath the surface. Of the ship’s 1849 man crew, 1253 died.