Did The Nazi’s Try To Attack NYC Via Submarine Based Missile?

An interesting story about Andy Rooney’s WWII reporting on USA Today :

Amid the din, Rooney’s buddy, an intelligence officer, shared an astonishing story. The day before, which happened to be Election Day, Army Air Force radar had detected the Germans launching a missile aimed at New York City from a U-boat situated several hundred miles out into the Atlantic. Fighter planes up and down the East Coast had immediately been scrambled.

The officer swore he saw the projectile being tracked on a machine at Mitchel Field in Hempstead, Long Island. It was traveling 250 miles per hour when it disappeared off the screen, either falling short of its target or being shot down by an alert pilot. The enemy’s attempted attack on New York had not come as a complete shock, he told Rooney. War planners had long feared that Adolf Hitler would use one of his Vergeltungswaffen (“vengeance”) weapons against the continental U.S. It was not outside the realm of possibility that German scientists had armed a submarine with a variation of a V-1 buzz-bomb or a V-2 rocket.

This is pretty fascinating in itself. The war could have taken a very different turn had Germany attacked NYC. But is it possible this was true and not just a rumor?

At least as early as 1942 the Germans were experimenting with the idea of launching a rocket from a submarine. That’s two years prior to Rooney hearing about such an incident. They clearly had an intent to do so but didn’t make it in time if the historical record is correct. That’s a big “if”. When wars end the victor has the ability to control what goes public and what doesn’t. As well documented as it was, lots of WWII details are still unknown for various reasons.

Many Americans don’t know this, but German U-boats weren’t uncommon off the US coast. Several were actually sunk by US depth charges during WWII:
German U Boats Sunk Off US East Coast

The green points are major cities, the dark blue were sunk in 1942, orange 1943, light blue 1944, yellow 1945. You can see it’s a fair number and they were within reasonable distance. U-869 is the yellow one closest to NYC was sunk by it’s own torpedo. U-521 was sunk by US depth charges as were some others.

To protect ships coming out the Delaware from Philadelphia there’s actually a bunker in Cape May, NJ dating back to WWII. It was part of a network to help fend off attacks to ships leaving from the coast with some big guns. It’s still there to this day.

Could a U-boat have been within striking distance? I’d say that’s a safe bet. We had primitive ways of detecting subs back then and we found some quite close. Surely a few got close that nobody in the US ever discovered.

Here’s another curious note from the article:

“I have heard from my friends that they launched the first projectile before they were caught but they don’t know what happened to it,” he told Rooney, speculating that the attacking U-boats had been “immobilized” by radio beams that somehow disrupted their electric motors. “They (the U-boat crews) couldn’t move and they were all captured alive,” he said.

This is curious but unlikely as the V2 would not likely have been vulnerable to anything radio. It’s was largely analog with a few gyroscopes. I would guess magnetic interference would cripple the V2 guidance systems more effectively than radio jamming. There was no data link like a modern weapon.

A year earlier (1493) was the alleged, and largely discredited Philadelphia Experiment. Perhaps the origin of that story was some technology developed for this purpose. When the war was over Wernher von Braun and many he worked with were brought to the US under Operation Paperclip. By keeping this secret the US would have effectively gained a huge win in military superiority. The rocket knowledge as well as how to defeat it. It would take some time before the Russians could figure things out. The conspiracy theory the Philadelphia Experiment created would have been an effective cover for any little bits that leaked out.

Even more likely is the weapon simply malfunctioned and the US (at least internally within the War Dept) took credit for it.

Overall this story seems plausible to have actually happened. It would make sense for the US to have wanted to keep it quiet as an attack on the US mainland would have been very concerning to so many Americans. Even today knowing that something came close would be an amazing revelation. If I had to take a guess, I’d say it happened, it malfunctioned and the details were mixed up in history.

On Andy Rooney

One of the benefits of working at or near the CBS Broadcast Center is you never know who you’ll see walking the many hallways of the storied yet somewhat obscure complex. It’s not at all uncommon to hear a head of state, or celebrity sighting. Lots of things, including some you wouldn’t expect are taped there.

I likely saw Andy Rooney at least a dozen times in my years at CBS, always in or outside the Broadcast Center, generally on my way in and out. He’d always be slowly shuffling through with those iconic bushy white eyebrows, a few papers in his hand, hunched over. I mention this detail because it stands out in my mind. You don’t enter your late 80’s and early 90’s and continue the daily grind the way he did unless you enjoy your job at least a little bit. I could be wrong, but I imagine it must have been exhausting for him. It looked tiring. Most people want to be retired by 65 and he was working a generation beyond that. But I guess you don’t want that to love of your job to be terribly obvious when your known as “America’s Curmudgeon”. He made a career out of expressing his disdain for so many little nuances of life.

He said before he hated being recognized, but every time I or someone else said “good morning” or “good evening”, he’d always look up and return the pleasantry then continue on his way. Hardly a grump whenever I saw him.

There aren’t many people who could make a career out of complaining about the little things. Not many could even make a career complaining about the big things. He managed to do this with just a few minutes. He said in his last piece “When I went on television it was as a writer. I don’t think of myself as a television personality. I’m a writer who reads what he’s written.” Reading the transcripts is a reminder that a great wordsmith can say quite a bit in very few words.

Disclosure:As always, the views expressed in this blog are mine alone, and do not represent the views of CBS or CBS Interactive.