Friday, August 12, 2016


JFK+50:  Volume 6, No. 2037


London (JFK+50) Seventy-two years ago today, August 12, 1944, United States Navy Lieutenant Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr.*, eldest son on of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., was killed in an explosion of his aircraft flying over the English Channel.

Joe Jr., who graduated from Harvard in 1938 and became a naval aviator serving in England during WWII, was said to be...

"such a courageous and skilled flier that even after completing his designated number of missions...volunteered to fly bombing runs during the D Day invasion."

One of his mechanics, Alvin Jones, Jr. later recalled...

"Kennedy was such a good pilot that we would have flown with him anywhere."

Joe was scheduled to return home on leave, but instead volunteered for a special assignment known as Operation Aphrodite.  The target was to be a Nazi fortress in northern France known as Mimoyecques**, a V-3 Supergun site. The installation, when completed, was to house 25 cannons designed to reach London 95 miles away.

Joe, Jr. and co-pilot/radio control technician, Lt. Wilford John Willy, took off from the RAF station at Fersfield at 5:59 p.m. on August 12, 1944 in a B-24 Liberator PB4Y loaded with 21,150 pounds of Torpex*** explosives.

The B-24, accompanied by two Ventura mother ships, four Mustangs, one B-17 and two Mosquitoes, reached and maintained a cruising altitude of 2000 feet while the other planes climbed to 20,000 feet.  Joe Jr.'s aircraft became a drone as one of the mother ships flew it by remote control.  

The purpose of the B-24's pilot and co-pilot was to complete take off and position the plane for remote-control flying and then parachute out into the English Channel to be picked up by the Navy.  After the B-24 was in position at 2000 feet, Joe Jr. radioed the code words ZOOT SUIT which meant everything was working properly.

Lt. Willy then switched on a television camera in the nose of the B-24 which was to guide the drone into the target, but minutes later the drone exploded.
The remains of Joe Jr. and Lt. Willy were never found, and the wreckage of the B-24 was scattered over a wide area.

An investigation revealed the cause of the explosion was the failure to provide electrical shielding which allowed electromagnetic emissions to open a relay solenoid which in turn set off a MK9 detonator prematurely.

Joe Jr.'s death hit the Kennedy family really hard, but especially father Joe, Sr. who locked himself in his bedroom for days and weeks to come.  Before going on the mission, Joe Jr. had reportedly told a friend that if something happened to him... "tell my father I love him very much."

Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., 29 years old at the time of his death, was awarded posthumously the Navy Cross, the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal. 

In 1945, a destroyer was christened named the USS Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. and the following year the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation was established.

*Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. (1915-1944) graduated from Harvard in 1938.  He studied at the London School of Economics and was a delegate to the 1940 Democratic Convention.  Joe joined the US Navy earning his wings as a naval aviator in May 1942.  

**The Fortress of Mimoyecques, located in northern France, was an underground Nazi military complex built in 1943 and 1944.  It was to house 25 V-3 cannons which could fire 600 rounds an hour at London.

***Torpex (Torpedo Explosive) was a secondary explosive developed in the UK during WWII which had 50% more power than TNT.  Torpex is said to be obsolete today.


"Lt. Joe Kennedy," by Trevor Jermy, edited by Lester Curtis, Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum,

"Top Secret Drone Mission That Killed Joseph Kennedy, Jr." by Ed Grabianowski, February 21, 2013,

"What if Joseph Kennedy, Jr. had not died on WWII mission?," by Jagdtigerl,

Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr.
John F. Kennedy Library Photo

Map by Prioryman