By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Targeting the Big Apple

According to legend, in the year 1307 the bailiff/agent of the Hapsburg Duke of Austria placed a Hapsburg hat on a pole in the town square of the small village of Altdorf, Switzerland. Once the hat was in position, he demanded anyone walking by to uncover their hats before it. As a local hunter/farmer and his son passed by, the older man refused to obey the decree.

According to legend, in the year 1307 the bailiff/agent of the Hapsburg Duke of Austria placed a Hapsburg hat on a pole in the town square of the small village of Altdorf, Switzerland. Once the hat was in position, he demanded anyone walking by to uncover their hats before it. As a local hunter/farmer and his son passed by, the older man refused to obey the decree.

Infuriated, the Hapsburg representative ordered an apple placed on the son’s head and told the hunter, William Tell, to mark off 120 paces then shoot the arrow off his son’s head. If William failed, he and his progeny would be executed. William marked off 120 paces, loaded and aimed his crossbow, and let loose the arrow. A perfect hit, the apple fell.

“Your life has been spared,” the bailiff said. “But why did you place a second arrow in your jacket?”

William Tell replied, “If my first arrow had killed my son, I would have shot the second at you, and I would not have missed.”

As folklore asserts, the apple was really an easy target for William Tell because he never missed. Fortunately, William never targeted the real Big Apple: New York City.

In the eyes of friends and foe alike, The Big Apple epitomizes the United States of America, more so than Washington, DC. The city is a genuine melting pot, a multinational potpourri of race, creed, color, Libertarians and Liberals, Communists and Conservatives. New York City is who and what we are. Thus, the reason for 9/11. Its importance as a target has never been lost on our enemies.

Adolf Hitler was 8 years old in 1897, the same year the German military first seriously considered the United States as a potential target. Future wars and war planning would heighten that interest. In 1903, German Vice Admiral Wilhelm Bushsel alleged, “A landing on and occupation of Long Island with a resulting threat to New York from the western end of this island seems feasible.”

During the late 1890s through the early 1910s, the finishing touches on a ‘surprise attack’ called for: Two sizeable naval units blocking access to the harbor, one at the eastern end of Long Island Sound, the second in New York’s lower bay. A battalion of engineers and several battalions of infantry would land on Long Island, assemble, and attack Manhattan the next day.

During the ‘Roaring 20s’ an aspiring young German naval officer studied these plans for an invasion of New York. The ambitious officer was Karl Donitz, the commander of Hitler’s U-boat fleet and, after Hitler, the last Fuhrer of the Third Reich. In 1901, German Kaiser Wilhelm advocated an invasion of Cuba so bases could be established for a future invasion of the United States.

Along comes World War Two. A strike against New York, similar to the American raid on Tokyo by Jimmy Doolittle, became an obsession with Hitler and German military planners. Damage was not the actual goal, but, like Doolittle’s raid, a psychological shot in the arm for the German people while spreading ‘terror’ among the American populace. The idea that additional money and time would be spent by America to upgrade their coastal defenses was not lost on the Nazis.

A long-range attack across the Atlantic Ocean certainly presented large, but not insurmountable, problems. Stratagems hit the drawing boards, new aircraft called the ‘America Bomber’ were designed and built, and desiring a piece of the action, the Italians jumped into the planning for a strike against New York. In truth, the Italians had the best means and experience to actually pull off an attack.

First, the Germans. The ‘America Bomber’ favored by most in the Nazi hierarchy was Willy Messerschmitt’s Me-264.

Initially flown on Dec 23, 1942, the lustrous four engine bomber was approved for the long-range mission after necessary improvements were made on engine upgrades, armaments, and midair refueling capability. The wingspan was slightly over 141 feet, about the same as an American B-29, and over 30 feet longer than a B-24. Luckily, on June 18, 1944, Allied bombs destroyed the prototype and two other partially completed Me-264s.

The Junkers Company built an enormous aircraft, the Ju-390. First test flown on Oct 20, 1943, its wingspan was 40 feet wider than a B-29 and the fuselage 11 feet longer. The Ju-390 was powered by six 1,700 BMW engines and supposedly made a test run to the east coast of the United States. Two were built, both destroyed by Allied bombs or blown up by retreating Germans.

Ernst Heinkel’s company built the He-277. First flown in Dec of ’43, the company built at least 8 ‘America Bombers’ before production halted in favor of fighter protection against Allied bombing. All 8 bombers were lost to Allied bombing.

Focke-Wulf’s brainchild was the Ta-400. Its fighter aircraft, the Fw-109 and Fw-190, were legendary. The Ta-400 never flew, but had Germany spent the time and resources to take the Focke-Wulf design beyond the wind tunnel model, the American east coast would have fallen victim to its 22,000 pound payload. Powered by six big BMW radial engines, with the design later altered with two Jumo 004 jet engines, this beautifully designed plane would have wreaked havoc on American cities.

Had the war continued, no doubt Wernher von Braun and his scientists could have easily targeted New York with their highly successful rocket program. The slower V-1 and supersonic V-2 had rained destruction on European cities near the end of WWII. Plans were in the works for the A-9 and A-10, rockets with extended range, including two or three stage capabilities. After the war, von Braun admitted to American interrogators that studies had been conducted for construction of the A-11, a booster rocket attached to an A-9/A-10 combination that, due to its orbital capabilities, could hit any target on earth.

A plan for German submarines to ‘haul’, actually ‘tow’, V-2 supersonic missiles enclosed inside a launcher for use against New York City came very close to reality. The predecessor for submarine launched ballistic missiles, one ‘canister’, as they were identified, was completed and two more near completion when the Soviets overran the project complex in Stettin in early 1945. The ‘canisters’ and everything else at the complex were sent back to the Soviet Union.
German engineering was no doubt good enough to hit New York City or other east coast targets in the United States, if for nothing more than a morale booster for the German masses, but Hitler’s priorities bounced around like a rubber ball near the end of the war. Perhaps we should all be grateful Hitler was a candidate for a rubber-padded cell as well.

Now, the Italians. My grandparents came over on a boat from Italy to start a new life as patriotic, hard-working American citizens. Albeit, a few folks of Italian lineage during WWII had plans to ride pigs into the Big Apple.

A “Pig” was a remarkably successful weapon used by the Italian Navy’s assault teams, the most famous being the Tenth Light Flotilla. The men of the Tenth were responsible for sinking or severely damaging 31 ships for an aggregate loss of 265,000 tons. These warriors used speedboats, miniature subs, and manned torpedoes.

The Tenth called their manned torpedoes “Pigs.” Twenty two feet long and 21 inches in diameter, two men sat astride the weapon with their feet in stirrups to guide the torpedo to the preselected target, attach a 661 lb. explosive device with timer, then hopefully slip away.

On Dec 18, 1941, the Italian submarine Scire released 3 “Pigs” near the entrance to Alexandria harbor. Evading 3 British destroyers, the “Pigs” sank two British battleships, a fully loaded tanker, severely damaged a destroyer, and lived to tell the tale as POWs.

Bigger and better plans were drawn up, including an attack in New York Harbor. Carried to outside the harbor by four engine Cant Z.511 float planes, four “Pigs” would be released, the men would pick their targets in New York Harbor, then return to a designated pickup point. The plan did not have enough time to materialize.

However, a strike by Italian miniature subs was given approval. Limited in range, Italian submarine ‘mother ships’ would transport mini subs to within range of New York Harbor. The mini sub crews spent over a year in training for the New York mission. Once inside the harbor, each sub would release two torpedoes and a wide assortment of limpet mines.

The strike date was set: December of 1943. The strike was canceled in September, 3 months short of the attack date, after the Italians signed an Armistice with Allied forces. The men of the Tenth were heartsick. These men believed in their mission, and most military historians agree the Tenth would most likely have succeeded.

The Big Apple was spared. William Tell would have been disappointed.

Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran, columnist and freelance writer. You can reach him at or