London, UK, August 1944. The Allies have successfully landed in Northern France and have pushed out of Normandy, breaking the back of the German Army Group opposing them. Strategic Bombing of Great Britain by the Luftwaffe has ended, but now there’s a new and unmistakeable ‘drone’ in the sky.
It was your only warning that a terrible new German Weapon was coming, the V1 Flying Bomb, a Pulse Jet powered predecessor to the Cruise Missile. While the Droning was in the sky you knew you still had a chance. It was when the quiet descended that it was all over. The V1 had run out of fuel having reached its target and was plummeting to the ground.
Seconds go by and then relief as you hear the sound of a distant explosion.
Since early June 1944, these weapons had been fired by the Germans from bases in Belgium, Holland and France, their only means to strike back against the encroaching armies of the Allies. They caused over 20,000 casualties and damaged or destroyed over 1 Million buildings in their target zones.
More so however, they made Allied High Command take note. Bombers were diverted from German Industrial Targets to the V1 Launch sites in an attempt to stem the numbers of bombs being fired. The attempts were unsuccessful and a more direct approach was taken. Operation Crossbow was launched which re-deployed over 1000 Anti-Aircraft guns to protect London, East Anglia and eventually the Lincolnshire-Yorkshire Coastline. High Speed Interceptor Aircraft were also used against the V1s to great effect; most famously stopping one aimed at Buckingham Palace.
The German command hoped that repeated and consistent use of the V1 Flying Bombs would eventually force a British Surrender, with London bombed out of existence and other major industrial centres severely damaged. They were sorely mistaken however, there were never enough V1s to launch consistent attacks and of those that were launched they only had a 25% chance of reaching their intended target thanks to the efforts of British Intelligence.
By September 1944, the V1 launch sites in France had been overrun by the advancing Allies and it was only a matter of time before those based in Belgium and Holland were lost as well. While they could still be launched from Aircraft such as the Heinkel HE-111, there was little chance they could effectively hit Great Britain from Surface Launch sites again.
The German High Command resorted to a more advanced version of the cruise missile concept and deployed the V2, the first ballistic missile and the first man-made object to reach Space.
This time there was no droning warning; there was no chance for Anti-Aircraft guns or the Fighter Aircraft of the RAF to intercept. The V2 was the ultimate strike weapon, with no countermeasure. All that could be done was for Bomber Command and the United States Army Air Force to attack V2 launch sites deep in the heart of the German Reich a costly solution in terms of aircraft and crew.
Over 3000 V2 rockets were launched against targets in Great Britain, France, Belgium and Holland. The first, launched yesterday, 8th September, 70 years ago, struck Chiswick in South West London, it took 5 Minutes to travel the 200 miles from its launch site in The Hague and caused 3 deaths and 17 casualties. The attacks continued right up to March 1945 when the last rockets were fired. Launching sites had been overrun, compounded by the hopeless German logistical situation by that time.
1,402 V2 rockets struck the UK; 1358 hit London, 43 hit Norwich and 1 hit Ipswich; 2754 people were killed in the attacks and a further 6000 injured. The effectiveness of the weapons cannot be overstated, however due to successful deception efforts many rockets landed off course with MI5 leaking false targeting information into the German Intelligence network.
Memorials to the victims can be found across London including the site in Chiswick where the first rocket struck and at the site of Woolworths store in Lewisham where 168 people were killed on 25th November 1944.
Do you have any stories to share about the V Weapons? perhaps a member of your family was one of the fighter pilots assigned to shoot the V1s down? Tell us your story here or on the Forces War Records facebook page.