KUGELWAFFEN AND SEIFENBLASEN
By Rob Arndt
In the fall of 1944 work was hurriedly carried out by the SS Technical Branch on a radical disc craft that had absolutely nothing in common with any aircraft ever produced up to that time. The unmanned interceptor VTO disc was to be the product of the Wiener Neustadter Flugzeugwerk (WNF) under SS control. The project was started in 1941 but stalled by technical difficulties with both the propulsion system and the development of a primitive field weapon.
The craft was being developed by the SS Technical Branch awaiting an experimental electrostatic field weapon being developed at Messerschmitt's secret Oberammergau facility in Bavaria with help from the O.B.F. (Oberbayerische Forschungsanstalt).
The aeronautical establishment at Wiener Neustadt (with help from the F.F.O.) developed the first of what WNF named the "Feuerball" (Fireball) in total secrecy.
The very first primitive Feuerball weapons were simple, small silver jet-powered discs launched off catapults and remote-controlled from the ground. These were psychological test weapons to gauge the Allied bomber crews response to the strange machines that defied explanation and which could out-maneuver the Allied aircraft at will. If they were destroyed it was no loss, yet most of them were brought back down to earth for retrieval and re-use.
On a bombing mission over Stuttgart on 6th September 1943, a number of small silvery discs in a pattern 8 feet long and 4 feet wide were observed from B-17s. One supposedly hit the wing of an aircraft and the observers saw the aircraft catch fire. The burning aircraft did not return. The observers were from the 384th Bomb Group. Several German aircraft were above the formation, but no one observed them drop any objects. It was suggested that the discs were some type of incendiary material and tests were run with a number of substances. It was thought that had the enemy planes dropped the objects the pattern would be more spread out before reaching the US aircraft. The possibility that netting was used to keep the objects close together was also suggested.
The incendiary tests were run with a number of possible substances to see what would cause aluminum to catch fire in such a manner. Allied Intelligence felt this might be some new device or technique to break up bomber formations. Obviously, such a report of a new weapon received high level attention. However, neither the USAAF nor RAF could classify what type of weapon they were dealing with until after the D-Day invasion of France.
The first generation production Feuerballs were equipped with Klystron tubes operating on the same frequency of Allied radar, eliminating their radar blip from Allied radar screens and allowing them to approach Allied bomber streams and other intruder aircraft with complete radar invisibility.
The Feuerballs, which were remote-controlled upon take-off were fitted with plume sensors to detect engine exhaust that guided them to Allied bombers. A highly advanced flattened turbojet pushed the Feuerball to speeds of 500-600 mph in the interception phase of flight.
Once the target was detected the Feuerball slowed to employ Messerschmitt's electrostatic field weapon which burned high concentrations of chemicals with additives (Myrol, acetylene, vinylic ethers, and aluminum powder) to produce a fiery “halo” around the weapon as well as a high strength electrostatic field that affected the working cycles of aircraft engines and aircraft radar systems. As a direct result of contact, the bomber radar ceased to function and the pilots struggled to maintain control of the aircraft as the engine ignition systems failed one by one.
But to accomplish this, the early Feuerballs had to slow to match the bombers speed and approach them often as close as 30 meters of the aircraft, right into the sights of the bomber gunners.
Since the Afrodita balloons worked with some measure of success, the ground-launched Seifenblasen were developed for use against Allied bomber and intruder aircraft radar.
Artist depiction of B-24 Liberators encountering “Foo Fighters
Artist depiction of B-24 Liberators encountering “Foo Fighters
Then to add even more confusion small, purely spherical devices that acted as armed aerial probes were launched - the AEG Kugelwaffen (Ball Weapons).
These probes were much smaller than the Feuerball (roughly the size of a medicine ball) and at first were tested unarmed which meant they were “non-burning“; hence, the December 1944/January 1945 newspaper reports comparing them to shiny Christmas tree balls. Later models carried a smaller version of the electrostatic field weapon that required the small craft to approach bombers much closer than the Feuerballs, usually in groups ranging from 3-10 for effectiveness.
Allied bomber and intruder aircraft could not tell the difference between the three weapons and as such Allied Intelligence labeled all mysterious burning, reflecting, and ball-shaped aerial weapons launched against them as "Foo Fighters".
The origin of this name is a play on the French word for fire (Feu) where the first French encounters took place and a mild reference to the popular US "Smokey Stover" comic about a bumbling fireman that actually started fires! Stover called himself a “Foo fighter” instead of firefighter, so the name stuck. The craft were also referred to as “Gremlins” and the derogatory “Krautmeteors” by the RAF.
The first documented attack of the "Foo Fighters" came on November 23, 1944. A Bristol Beaufighter of the 415th NFS based in Dijon 20 miles from Strasbourg was attacked by ten reddish spheres of small diameter- most likely AEG Kugelwaffen aerial probes. The aircraft's radar ceased to function.
Four days later on November 27, 1944 another Beaufighter from the 415th NFS flying over Speyer was attacked by a lone huge, orange colored sphere of light at an estimated speed of 500 mph several hundred meters above the plane. The object, a WNF Feuerball, was reported to Allied ground radar which failed to pick the Feuerball up.
Attacks against the 415th NFS continued through December 1944 by which time news of the new German secret weapon was circulating. It was subsequently reported in the newspapers on December 13, 1944 in the South Wales Argus, the New York Times on December 14, 1944, and in the New York Herald Tribune on January 2, 1945.
Work on the second generation Feuerball had already begun by the Zeppelin Werk back in 1943. Their projected machine would be a drastic improvement over the initial WNF produced version. While the WNF Feuerball had some anti-radar effectiveness and disabled a few Allied bomber engines they could not stop the Allied bombing campaign against the Reich.
The Zeppelin Werk therefore set about to enlarge the Feuerball considerably and test out various new systems that would make their model lethal. The first radical change was the propulsion system which removed the flattened turbojet powerplant and installed a liquid oxygen turbine engine built by the Kreislaufbetrieb und Fahrzeugmotor D.W. for the F.F.K.F. (Forschungsinstitut fur Kraftfahrt und Fahrzeugmotoren) at Stuttgart.
Highly complicated and prone to failure, that engine was replaced by another radical engine that burned a gelatinous organic/metallic fuel - a total reaction turbine. Proposals to adapt the Walter hydrogen peroxide turbine were rejected as impractical. The Messerschmitt electrostatic weapon was retained but now was added an experimental ejector gun that could spray a concentrated gaseous explosive first tested in Austria in 1936. Guidance was improved with the addition of an infra-red sensor to the plume sensor and some early television guidance equipment.
The first Zeppelin Werk named "Kugelblitz" (Ball Lightning) attacks were made in 1945 when the end was in sight. At least one group of Allied bombers were downed by using the gaseous weapon which Allied Intelligence had reported as "the use of antiaircraft bombs of firedamp against bomber formations over Garda Lake"
While this was inaccurate, the Germans did develop the first aerosol bombs - what we call today "fuel-air explosives“ or FAE. Several were discovered by the British in 1945 while the first concept of using firedamp rockets against the Allied bomber streams was illustrated in the October 1943 issue of the German magazine SIGNAL, launched by a pair of Me Bf 110 heavy fighters.
However, as the Russians advanced towards Austria, the Zeppelin Werk workshops were moved into the Schwarzwald for the last use of these weapons. In April 1945 on order from Berlin the SS destroyed all of the remaining weapons.
The "Foo Fighter" attacks then resumed in August 1945 with an attack on a B-29 bomber of the 20th Bomber Command based in China Bay; an oval shaped object of considerable size trailing blue-grey smoke.
Intelligence quickly wrote-off the incident as a test of the Japanese Funryu-2 missile, not eager to bring the "Foo Fighter" scare to the PTO. Nevertheless, at least two more attacks occurred in August 1945, the last on August 28, 1945 after VJ Day. Sightings by the 20th AF were made by many crews even when attacks were not pressed.
The Japanese, however, actually feared this weapon. Not understanding how such a machine like the Feuerball flew, the Japanese panicked when the Feuerball was ignited, attributing its flight operation as supernatural in nature. They referred to it as a "Demon Thing" and apparently chose to dynamite the last of them in a pit sometime AFTER VJ Day.
But after Japan was conquered, photographic evidence emerged of both the Kugelwaffen probes and Feuerball weapons. The AEG Kugelwaffen photos are dated from 1942 which means that Germany probably experimented with those first and transported the technology by long-range transport aircraft. Recent photographic evidence now shows that those same Kugelwaffen were spotted over Italian and German-held territory between 1943-1944.
Although the Japanese showed little interest in designing nor developing disc craft during the war, Dr. Giuseppe Belluzzo of Italy worked closely with the SS on the Schriever disc re-design as well as his own jet-powered flying bomb - the Turbo Proietti. The operation and turbine engine design of Belluzzo for the Turbo Proietti is very similar to a Feuerball in appearance.
It may well be that the Italians had a part in developing the early Kugelwaffen and Feuerball. Is it just coincidence that the lone Kugelblitz attack recorded came from the Riva Del Garda area?
Only recently in the early 21st century has declassified information revealed that the USAAF knew the weapons were German - they were classified under the designation “Phoo Bombs” .
The classic Allied “Foo Fighter” description was one of a “luminous rounded flying object” which was reported by hundreds of Allied aircrews between 1943-1945 in the skies over all three Axis nations - Italy, Germany, and Japan.
The basic description of these objects varied in diameter from six inches, to the size of small soccer balls and basketballs. But they were in fact closer to the size of a large medicine ball. Colors reported most often were a bright white followed by reds, yellows, and oranges.
These unusual “lights in the sky” were given various nicknames like “Gremlins” or “Kraut Meteors”, but the one name that seems to classify them best was the USAAF name of “Foo Fighter” which was both a play on the French word for fire (Feu) and a mild reference to the popular US comic “Smokey Stover” about a bumbling fireman who referred to himself as a “Foo Fighter” instead of a firefighter! The development of this term originates with the first encounters with the weapon(s) over occupied France; hence, the origin of “Feu”.
Yet Allied Intelligence could not discern that the “Foo Fighter” term was actually describing four separate weapons developed by the Germans: the pure attack weapon WNF Feuerball (Fireball), its enlarged version the Zeppelin Werk Kugelblitz (Ball Lightning), the spherical AEG Kugelwaffen (Ball Weapons), and a decoy called the Seifenblasen (Soap Bubbles). In appearance, they all seemed to be related but in function they were quite different.
The WNF Feuerball was the first weapon developed, initiated in 1941. It was supervised by the SS and at first consisted of small, remote-controlled silver discs that were launched by catapult into the sky operating with a small turbojet engine. These were used to test bomber crews response to the weapon- especially the gunners. WNF then built an oval-shaped machine with a flattened turbojet that was a VTO disc still under limited remote control until it approached the bombers. At that time a plume sensor helped guide the weapon onto target which were the aircraft engines and radar systems.
At a close distance the Allied radar would cease to function, but to get at the engines the Feuerballs had to approach the wings of the bombers as the chemically-induced electrostatic weapon carried had a very limited range. This weapon was developed by Messerschmitt at its secret Oberammergau facility in Bavaria. Ignition of the chemicals caused the object to burn or glow in flight, which caused the Allied crews to name the weapon “Foo Fighter”.
The second weapon started in 1942 was the purely spherical AEG Kugelwaffen (Ball Weapons).
Under the AEG project “Charite Anlage”, which involved plasma physics, the company was awarded the “Kriegsentscheidend” (Decisive for War) category in July 1942. Work was carried out immediately, led by Dr. Richard Kramer and many other plasma physicists. The project involved the use of tremendous voltages and spinning containers of mercury at fantastic speeds within a ceramic bell-shaped object to create an anti-gravity effect. In effect, the engine was a mercury-plasma gyro. Others believe the propulsion was ion-plasma; regardless, it was some form of plasma engine.
The first unarmed versions of the Kugelwaffen were tested in 1942 and some were even transported to Japan for research. It is difficult to say with any certainty whether the AEG iplasma engine for this device caused the glowing effect or if it was produced by latter armed versions of the weapons which carried Messerschmitt’s electrostatic weapon.
What is known is that the Kugelwaffen are seen in Japan as unarmed in flight testing , usually with a Sally (Japanese Army Mitsubishi Ki-21) bomber. In 1943, the Kugelwaffen were in the Mediterranean theater in the skies over Italy approaching B-17s. No reports of hostile action, so they were still unarmed.
But after D-Day, the first attacks occurred in the skies over France. In the first encounter a formation of ten reddish Kugelwaffen approached a Beaufighter intruder and immediately its radar ceased to function. In ensuing confrontations with Allied bombers of the USAAF and RAF reports of engine failures were common whenever the Kugelwaffen and Feuerballs appeared. The Allied gunners attempted to destroy the weapons but they always responded by rising vertically at high speed and shooting far away from the aircraft, the result of a contact sensor trip mechanism.
Too add to Allied Intelligence confusing regarding these weapons, a third object was introduced - the Seifenblasen. These were large metallic-coated meteorological balloons that trailed foil strips to confuse Allied radar. Seen in the daylight sun or moonlit night the eerie slowly ascending Seifenblasen looked like a “Foo Fighter’ due to its reflection. But the Allies soon discovered what they were because they could be destroyed or either eventually destroyed themselves at high altitude.
The fourth weapon was the enlarged version of the WNF Feuerball which started in 1943 but was not deployed until 1945, shortly before collapse. This was the Zeppelin Werk Kugelblitz (Ball Lightning) which was larger than a Feuerball and powered by a total reaction engine burning a gelatinous, metallic fuel. In addition to the electrostatic weapon, the Kugelblitz also carried an explosive aerosol ejector gun and was fitted with various sensors including the previous plume sensor but now adding to it an infrared sensor and early television guidance. One Kugelblitz (the lone constructed one) destroyed a group of B-24 bombers over Garda Lake using the aerosol weapon which Allied Intelligence quickly reported as German “use of anti-aircraft bombs of firedamp used against the bombers over Garda Lake”.
Obviously, the Allied authorities wanted the “Foo Fighter” phenomenon kept secret. Similar misleading reports were given once these objects were in use in Japan. The most often used excuse for those unexplained attacks was the Japanese experimentation of the Funryu-2 missile. The Allies were not eager to spread the “Foo Fighter” fear into the PTO.
In Germany, all Kugelwaffen and Feuerball weapons were ordered destroyed by Berlin in April 1945. The Japanese destroyed theirs sometime after VJ day - dynamiting the last of them in a pit. Unlike the Germans, the Japanese were uncomfortable with these weapons and called them “demonic things” due to the basic lack of understanding of the anti-gravity operation of the machines. The Japanese thought they were “spirit-driven”, therefore demonic in nature.
After the war, Kugelwaffen were seen in a few reported US incidents with US fighter aircraft and trainers which means that their technology might have been captured and experimented with briefly.