In the early morning of 13 June 1944 people in the Grove Road area of London heard a curious buzzing noise, later described as being similar to a distant motor bike, followed by silence as the sound abruptly ceased. A major explosion followed soon after that demolished several houses and killed eight people.
This was England’s first taste of the infamous German V1 flying bomb – or “Doodlebug” that was a weapon launched from across the channel and aimed at southeast England – in particular London. The “V” signified Vergeltungswaffe – or vengeance – and it was intended to generate terror across England through its random and unpredictable flight path.
The V1 was an unmanned missile consisting of a steel fuselage approximately 8.3 metres long equipped with wooden wings and powered by a so called “pulse jet” engine that produced the characteristic “motorbike” sound. It was packed with 850 kg of the explosive Amatol 39 that produced a fearsome and destructive punch.
After the launch from ramps within occupied France and Holland the aircraft flew across the Channel at low level, reaching speeds of around 640 km/hr. After a predetermined distance had been flown the machine pitched into a dive, with the engine cutting out –after which it crashed into the ground and exploded.
The British developed countermeasures that proved to be of some assistance in stopping the bombs from arriving. These included the use of barrage balloons, antiaircraft fire, and intercept fighters, while the launching ramps across the Channel were also intensively bombed.
Although not in any way accurate the V1 was suitable for hitting a large target area and between June and October 1944 over 9500 flying bombs were launched against southeast England, including London itself. During this time there were an estimated 22,000 casualties with over 5,000 deaths reported.
Image: A V1 bomb – Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1973-029A-24A, Marschflugkörper V1 vor Start, photographer Lysiak, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.