With England still reeling from the random attacks of the V-1 “Flying Bomb” that had rained death and destruction across London from June to October 1944, an even more terrible weapon made its debut on 8th September. A huge explosion of unknown origin devastated a part of Chiswick in West London, killing three people and injuring 17.
This was the first time the next generation terror weapon had been used on London – the V-2 rocket – that was a huge technological leap forward compared to the V-1. It was the first ever long-range ballistic missile and it was powered by ethanol and liquid oxygen giving it a range of 320 km. Launched from mobile sites around occupied France and the Netherlands, the 14 metre long rocket reached an altitude of around 88 km in a flight across the channel before descending at a speed close to 3000km/hr – well above the speed of sound.
Packed with 1000kg of Amatol explosive it struck with devastating force, creating a crater some 20 metres across and 8 metres deep, capable of taking out an entire block of housing. Because it was flying faster than sound, there was no audible warning. The noise of the supersonic “crack” and the impact explosion occurred before the actual sound of the approach. It was also travelling too fast to see so could not be detected in any conventional way until too late.
From September 1944 until the last impact in March 1945, some 1300 V-2’s were fired at England, killing an estimated 7250 Britons. There were many other casualties in other target areas such as Belgium and France.
In all some 9000 people died, and this does not include an estimated 12,000 labourers who were forced to work on the project over the previous 12 months – many from the Mittelbau – Dora Concentration Camp who worked amid brutal conditions in underground tunnels to construct the rockets.
Image: Wreckage produced by a V-2 strike on London on 27 March 1945. This killed 134 people, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.